• Carson vs. CSUDH Goes More Rounds

    • 03/26/2018
    • Lyn Jensen
    • News
    • Comments are off

    By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter

    For the third time, the City of Carson is taking legal action against California State University, Dominguez Hills due to a plan to develop a piece of university property. The city continues to argue it should be designated the lead agency for conducting the required environmental review of the proposal to build thousands of square feet of retail, industrial and business space; more than a thousand residential units are also proposed. The developments would be on the east side of the 344-acre campus, which is located entirely within Carson city limits.

    The most recent case was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 24, and a pre-trial conference is scheduled for May 22. Besides CSUDH, defendants named in the lawsuit include California State University and the State of California, acting by and through [Governor Jerry Brown’s] Office of Planning and Research and Kenneth Alex, the office’s director.

    Two previous lawsuits ended with the Planning and Research Office determining the university as lead agency for the environmental impact report.

    The controversy involves an updated university master plan for the eastern third of the campus. It includes a “University Village” that would consist of up to 2,000 market-rate residential units, 94,300 square feet of retail space and 721,188 square feet of industrial and business parks.

    “Because CSU and/or Cal State Dominguez propose(s) to engage in development or facilities or improvements which are not exclusively related to educational purposes, the same are therefore subject to the City’s plenary land use authority,” the lawsuit reads.

    The city’s argument also maintains the university must be compliant with the city’s building and zoning ordinances.

    A city staff report further argues the university has a conflict of interest and that Carson should be designated the public agency with general land use authority.

    Echoing this theme in a recent Random Lengths News editorial, Carson’s mayor, Albert Robles, complained the development is not being undertaken for exclusively educational purposes and “this massive for-profit project obviously must be extensively reviewed for its impacts on the city.”

    “The City’s legal actions have had no effect on our planning,” Jay Bond, a planning consultant at the university, responded via e-mail. “The city attempted to stop us from developing the EIR, but the courts have said we can continue.”

    According to court documents, on Dec. 22, 2017, the city sent the university a cease-and-desist letter demanding that any environmental review cease pending the resolution of the lead agency dispute. On Jan. 4, the university’s lawyers informed Carson that the planning and environmental review would continue while awaiting determination from the Office of Planning and Research regarding the lead agency designation. By the time the office again designated the university to be the lead agency on Jan. 26, Carson had filed another lawsuit on Jan. 24.

    Bond commented on why the university is pursuing the development, “The state no longer provides the CSU with capital dollars for the development of campus facilities. The CSU must find other ways to meet those needs.  The development of this vacant land gives CSUDH a significant resource it can leverage to meet those academic needs.”

    According to a financial impact analysis the university shared with the city at an Oct. 25, 2017 meeting, the University Village development could generate as much as $1.9 million in annual tax revenue for Carson.

    Bond further commented the purpose of an environmental impact report is to analyze impact upon the community, “We will also be responsible for our fair share of the costs involved in mitigating any negative impacts. While the benefits of University Village will be available to the community, the ultimate beneficiary of the development is strictly the educational mission of California State University, Dominguez Hills.”

     

    The university’s master plan may be accessed via the following links:

    www.csudh.edu/Assets/csudh-sites/fpcm/docs/campus-master-plan/csudh_2018-draftmasterplan_report_final-draft_4aug17.pdf

    www.csudh.edu/Assets/csudh-sites/fpcm/docs/campus-master-plan/csudh_2018-draftmasterplan_appendix_final-draft_4aug17.pdf

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  • Sight, Taste and Place: Paul Buchanan and the Palos Verdes Art Center’s Wild Event

    By Richard Foss, Dining and Cuisine Writer

    On March 16, the Palos Verdes Art Center hosted an examination of the natural environment of its Peninsula by artists of two unrelated disciplines.  One was visual art: the opening of a show of plein air works painted amid nature, tranquil landscapes that are sometimes sun-drenched, sometimes brooding. These are exhibited near technical drawings by the Olmsted brothers, the property developers who shaped the peninsula into the place we know. Together they highlight the way a rugged, treeless hill was sculpted into a Mediterranean fantasy, an overlay of one continent on another.

    The other element was food: a dinner utilizing both foraged and farmed items from the same neighborhoods in the paintings. To Chef Paul Buchanan, who consulted Tongva tribal culinary historian Craig Torres, the pairing makes perfect sense.

    “The style of plein air is about a sense of place. You’re painting something in its own location… As plein air involves capturing the sense of a place with paint, we’re doing it with food.”

    For Buchanan, the foraged ingredients are the elements of his art, while to Torres they are connections to his culture. The Spanish systematically broke the links between native peoples and their traditional foods to make them dependent. The farmed vegetables and proteins supplanted a culture of sustainable harvesting. Torres is lyrical when he reflects on his people’s traditional practices.

    “Our life cycle was dictated by the seasons, what we harvested and gathered. The Los Angeles basin was our world. We had variety because the area probably has the most diverse flora of any place in California. You can go ten miles in any direction and end up in a different environment. Our culture was based on alliances, intermarriage, and trade, and there was something in every ecology [to barter].”

    The flavors of California native plants weren’t as varied as the crops that were brought by the conquerors, he admitted.

    “My ancestors’ diet would be regarded as pretty bland today. We didn’t have a lot of ways to spice our food, or any items that had much sweetness. It wasn’t part of our culture, so we savored the simple, natural goodness of what we foraged and grew. To introduce people to traditional foods we come up with recipes that mix them with familiar things, but we focus on the simple flavors in their basic form.  We want people to transition to rediscovering things that are usually covered up. It’s almost like developing a relationship with your food, because you learn about those flavors over time.”

    Striking a balance between the simplicity of the native diet and our modern cravings was Buchanan’s job, and he is particularly qualified to do it. He met Torres at a native cooking event in downtown Los Angeles about a decade ago, and the two developed mutual respect.

    Buchanan is the founder and chef of Primal Alchemy catering, based in Long Beach. As he describes it, “We were local, seasonal, and sustainable before it was a fad.” The chef, who spent his youth in Thailand, trained in San Francisco along with a cohort of chefs who explored the flavors of foraged items and neglected crops; Buchanan adopted and extended their ideas. In the case of Palos Verdes, that involves highlighting the flavors of ingredients that most people don’t consider to be food.

    “The prickly pear is everywhere, and we made a vinegar out of it for the ceviche. The stinging nettle is delicious in soup and there is a local guy here who brings them to the farmer’s market when we ask for them,” Buchanan said. “He may regard me as the guy who buys weeds, but he’s happy to sell them and I’m happy to buy.”

    Those crops are generally available, though obscure, but there are problems with trying to present wild foods in a commercial setting. A sudden cold snap or unexpected rain can shift what is available, scrambling the plans of a chef who has a particular dish in mind.

    It’s a problem Torres knows well, as he has sometimes had to improvise when presenting programs about the indigenous diet. He is a member of a Tongva tribal group called the Chia Café Collective that started as a seed and food bank for tribal elders. The workers talked and traded recipes, learning so much that they eventually collaborated on a cookbook called  Cooking The Native Way.  Despite the name the group doesn’t own a restaurant, or want one, both for practical and ideological reasons.

    “We don’t have enough of our traditional foods to supply our own communities, much less start a food business. I tell people that we aren’t caterers or cooks, we’re not a nonprofit; we’re a philosophy. We’re trying to get people to refocus their cultural lens on some questions. What is their relationship to their environment, to the indigenous here that have survived for thousands of generations? We’re asking people to renegotiate their relationships with nature. We want them to eat things from here instead of thousands of miles away. We encourage people to rip out their lawns and put native plants there, and then they can eat from the land. It looks like it’s about food, but it’s about your relationship with the world.”

    Interviewed separately, Buchanan echoed some of the same themes in equally passionate language.

    “We want to remind people that there is food right at their feet, and most of us don’t open our eyes and look at it. There’s mallow growing everywhere and it’s a great green, less bitter than arugula. I’ve got kids in my Days of Taste class that I teach every year, and when they find that this weed is edible they eat it by the handful. It’s a great resource, one of many that we don’t use. That’s what this PV Wild event is, a look at the resources that were historically there and how they were used.”

    The painters, chef and cultural historian all had things to say about the natural landscape of the Peninsula, and each hopes to continue the dialog in their own way. The plein air exhibit runs through April 22. Chia Café Collective events may be found on their Facebook page.

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  • The Future Comes to MOLAA

    • 03/26/2018
    • Andrea Serna
    • Art
    • Comments are off

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Dr. Lourdes I. Ramos-Rivas arrived at the Museum of Latin American Art at an auspicious moment in its 22-year history, and in her own. To become the museum’s new director, the native of Puerto Rico left behind a homeland poised to be hit by a catastrophic hurricane. Meanwhile, a triumphant exhibition, Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago, was just opening at MOLAA. The connection signified a positive  omen. Relational Undercurrents, curated by Tatiana Flores, was arguably the highlight of the 2017-2018 PST LA/LA exhibitions, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art.

    In her first year, Ramos has shown that she is well prepared for the position she filled. She came to the museum with a vast resume that included 12 years as the director and chief curator at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. She is also an accreditation commissioner for the American Alliance of Museums, which is how she first came to the attention of the board at MOLAA. She is the first Latina to hold the post.

    Ramos is focused on bringing concrete progress to MOLAA, which has struggled to establish credibility since its founding in 1996. After years of adhering to a rigorous process the museum was finally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2016.

    Carrying forth the initial success of the  Relational Undercurrents  exhibit, Ramos has arranged for the show to travel to four other museums this — Walach Art Gallery in New York City, Florida International University in Miami, Portland Art Museum in Maine and the Delaware Art Museum.

    “We have worked hard to [share] the values of Latin American art, also different aspects of the culture, including music, food and design,” Ramos said recently during an interview with Random Lengths News.

    Many in the art world are starting to take note of the museum’s new direction.  A notable milestone in donor support for MOLAA was achieved with a bequest valued at $1 million from the estate of Dr. Michael E. Brown, a committed arts patron and lifelong resident of Long Beach. The museum also received several important art donations in 2017, including, most notably, Camilo Ontiveros’ Pink Lady Kenmore Dryer (2009), which was donated by art collector, actor and comedian Steve Martin, a former student at CSULB. Add to this a significant partnership forged with noted Chicano art collector Cheech Marin and MOLAA shows the maturity of a real Los Angeles art institution.

    Outside the walls of the museum, Ramos believes that MOLAA must be a vital part of the local community.

    “I would like to see the museum drive values for the community—to be a facilitator for the community,” Ramos said.

    Towards this goal, she has created collaborations and partnerships with several Long Beach arts institutions. MOLAA now boasts two murals on the external walls of the building which were created by the international street art group Pow Wow!  One mural (appropriately) covers the wall that was used for many years to present Gregorio Luke’s popular Murals Under the Stars lectures. The world-renowned Long Beach Opera performed Frida in the outdoor setting of the sculpture garden, while in the galleries the museum displayed Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray. The museum also welcomed a new tenant on their campus, Leadership Long Beach, which has mentored civic leaders since 1989. Partnerships with the Long Beach Aquarium and the Arts Council for Long Beach are ongoing.

    The proof of Ramos’ efforts is in the numbers. Attendance was up 40 percent in 2017. This includes 6,175 school children who received tours and art workshops, and 200 teachers who were trained during educator nights.

    “For me, it is a priority,” Ramos declared. “I don’t see how the museum can serve the community without these alliances. We believe strongly in community engagement.”

    In August 2018, MOLAA will present another history-making exhibition with Judith Hernandez: A Dream is the Shadow of Something Real. Hernandez was a founding member of the Chicano Art/Los Angeles mural movement. She will be the first Latina to have a solo show at MOLAA.

     

    Venue: Museum of Latin American Art, 628 S. Alamitos Ave., Long Beach

    Hours: Wed. Fri. Sat. Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

    Cost: $10 General admission. $7 Students and Seniors

    Details: (562) 437-1689 or molaa.org

     

    Editor’s Note: Writer Andrea Serna was the membership manager at the Museum of Latin American Art from 2000-2008.

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  • Rising Tide Summit Convenes at AltaSea

    AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles will host the Rising Tide Summit on March 28 convening business leaders, thinkers and innovators to discuss and identify rapid solutions for ocean conservation.

    The conference will feature panel discussions, keynote presentations, Q&A sessions and workshops with science experts, investors, business leaders, ocean advocates and foundation executives.

    Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 28-29

    Details: risingtidesummit.net

    Venue: AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, 2456 Signal St., San Pedro

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  • The Egyptian Lover is Loved Around the World

    • 03/23/2018
    • Melina Paris
    • Music
    • Comments are off

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    From Europe, East Asia and back through the United States, Greg Broussard, aka the Egyptian Lover, has been on tour since 2018 began. He is bringing the West Coast electro sound of the 1980s to the world. And he’s still rolling.

    On his brief return to the states and just ahead of Long Beach’s 13th annual Freestyle Festival in May, the turntable master spoke to Random Lengths News about the emergence of the early ‘80s local hip-hop scene and the upcoming festival.

    Broussard got his start after he was promoted to main disc jockey with Uncle Jams Army, the Los Angeles based  hip hop crew. Their singles What’s Your Sign, Dial-a-Freak, and Yes, Yes, Yes influenced electro, old school hip hop, and early West Coast hip-hop.

    Uncle Jams Army partied locally at The Penthouse in L.A. and The Playpen in Carson, which is no longer open, Alpine Village, Veteran’s Auditorium in Culver City and hotel parties at The Holiday Inn in downtown Long Beach, to Pomona Fairgrounds. Students even got up close and personal with the group at many high school parties.

    As the ‘80s began, their popularity progressed so fast that a bigger venue was needed to house their parties. Alpine Village became the site of the groups Breakout Dances, which  garnered attendance that got them dubbed the Number One Dance Promoters in Los Angeles. By 1983 the group expanded its roster recruiting underground DJs and MC’s who were creating a cult following. The most well known was the Egyptian Lover.

    Uncle Jams Army played in such iconic halls as the Bonaventure Hotel, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Los Angeles Convention Center. Ultimately they performed at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in front of 10,000 people.

    Hip-hop being fairly new, Uncle Jams Army was the first on the West Coast to play fresh singles by Run DMC and Houdini before anyone knew who they were.

    At that time, rap was pretty new to everyone, Broussard said. “Everyone wanted to hear that music loud and the only way to hear it loud was to go to parties.”

    And Southern California fans liked the parties. Still do.

    There is a lineup of nearly 20 bands at the Freestyle Fest, but Broussard has only performed with the West Coast groups flavored with hip-hop and rhythm-and-blues. One of those outfits is Freestyle Evolution (formerly Freestyle), of Don’t Stop the Rock fame. They were the first ones to use the term “freestyle.”

    Broussard is used to performing for a couple hours at a time. He performed for at least that long this past December at Jim Callon’s JDC Records in San Pedro, and his groove-inducing style of electro funk kept a full house of fans, notably including millennials, dancing to his beats.

    Though Broussard’s set at Freestyle will be shorter, he is aiming to bring his best. So what can one expect from the Egyptian Lover’s performance?

    “I am going to rock the house and kill the show,” said Broussard. “When I bring my 808 live, it’s going to leave a memory for everyone at that show.”

    That 808 is his Roland 808 drum machine from the ‘80s which he still uses for his music.

    “When you hear this analog drum machine through the speakers, live, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever heard in your life,” Broussard said proudly.

    Broussard returns to JDC Records in August to celebrate the release of his new record, 1985. His album, 1984 is out now. He calls it 1984 because he recorded it the same way he recorded his first album in 84, in the same studio and on the same equipment.

    1985 comes with a few old school surprises, featuring songs with two more artists who enjoy fame around the world,  including Newcleus, who produced Jam On Revenge (The Wikki Wiki Song) and Juan Atkins, who started the group Cybotron.

    The last leg of Broussard’s international tour included stops in Munich and London. He noted that European fans really do their homework on the artists they pay to see.

    “The fans in Europe really love the music,” he said. “It’s all new to them, even though it’s from the ‘80s. The kids hear the drum machine for the first time and they lose their minds. They will do more research on the artist, find out how many records he has, what studios they recorded in and they know the words to the songs.”

    While this will be the first Freestyle Fest for Broussard, he stays in demand, touring every month except December. He has a performance in South Korea on March 22,  followed by a couple dates in Johannesburg, South Africa before his return to Long Beach for the Freestyle Festival.

    Details: ticketstripe.com

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  • Hello, You Must Be Going

    • 03/23/2018
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    POLA Evicts POC Restaurant Just as they Receive Offer to Stay

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    For months, the Port of Los Angeles told Ports O’Call restaurant owner Jayme Wilson that a lease agreement couldn’t be negotiated with him until he had a letter of intent from the LA Waterfront Alliance, the developers who are overseeing the San Pedro Public Market project; it will erase and replace all of Ports O’Call Village. Wilson was in the process of negotiating with those developers, and finally received their letter of intent on March 6. But on March 7, the port served him eviction papers.

    It was yet another example of thinly-veiled hostility from the port in the decades-long process of waterfront development, though the exact nature of what was involved remains shrouded in secrecy.

    On March 12, a broader group of Ports O’ Call tenants—mostly ethnic minorities—and their supporters held a press conference, where they alleged widespread corruption at the port in the public process, offering hundreds of supporting documents. They called for investigations by federal, state and local authorities,

    Port spokesman Phillip Sanfield called the allegations “baseless and without merit,” but these events, leading up to the long-delayed public meeting on waterfront development on March 20 (see story above), once again cast the port’s credibility into question.

    “The port gave me a notice terminating our lease effective March 1,” Wilson told Random Lengths News. “We countered to the port, ‘No, the [environmental impact report] states that existing businesses will be relocated,’ and those discussions continued, to no avail.”

    “Parallel discussions were going on with the Ratkovichs and the Johnsons,” partners on the development team. “We met with them in December, I think we met with them again in January, because the port had said they can’t work on an interim plan for you, Jamie, until you have a deal with, a letter of intent with the developers,” Wilson explained.

    “So we spent the last couple of months getting that done, and we received a letter of intent, in draft form, the end of February, and they said the final form, the final letter would be released on March 6, which is a Tuesday,” Wilson said. “We received that letter signed by Mylan Ratkovich, and basically said that they would like to have Spirit Cruises and Ports O’Call Restaurant in the new development,” with construction starting in 2020, and occupancy in late 2021.

    “The next day, we get served by the port that we have to vacate the restaurant immediately,” Wilson recounted. “That of course is a legal matter, and we responded on Monday [March 12].” At the same time, “The port decided that the boat docks are not designed to have boats, which doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “There have been boats at those since my business started 35 years ago, but in trying to avoid a dispute with the port, we have complied, and we moved the boats.”

    The court requires settlement efforts before any hearing, and Wilson was hopeful at first. “Our belief is the EIR is clear, that states that the project will be built in phases, and existing tenants will be relocated to the newly completed phase, after the construction starts,” he said. “Clearly that is what they decided to do for the Fish Market and Crusty Crab and International Café and Harbor Breeze operations. I believe that we should be treated the same way.”

    The broader group of tenants that called for an investigation feels similarly. “I have been part of Ports O’Call Village for [more than] 20 years and I cannot believe that this has happened in America,’ said Akibu Jimoh, owner of African American Gifts.

    “We have sadly discovered that the Port of Los Angeles manipulated the San Pedro Waterfront Project Developer selection process, selected the least qualified bidder, illegally changed the approved project Environmental Impact Report 7 years later and then evicted only the ethnic minority-owned tenants, an act of discrimination and racism,” said Jesse N. Marquez, a spokesman for the tenants.

    While Wilson has been intent on trying to work with the developers, this broader group alleges substantial improprieties in the developer selection process, as well as in the reshaping of the development since its approval in broad outline in the 2009 Waterfront Development EIR.

    “Eviction due to construction is a core complaint common to both, running directly contrary to what had been publicly announced on multiple occasions, until this past September, when things abruptly changed — at least, in terms of what the public was told.” Wilson said. “So we’re really befuddled by what’s happening right now. Why are they not doing the project in phases like they promised the community? Why are they taking the largest restaurant, the oldest restaurant in San Pedro, choosing to push us out, when the developer wants us as part of the project?”

    As Wilson now understands things, the crucial change in the port’s planning occurred over this past summer. “Something happened between spring of ‘17, and the fall of ‘17 where the entire thing was turned around and the Fish Market gets put where Ports O’ Call Restaurant is,” he said. “When that happened, I don’t know. I know we weren’t told until September that everything is being demolished at once, and the development is going to start at the south end instead of the north end, but something happened through that process.”

    While the port and the developers seemed to send conflicting signals, they were obviously in close contact, as revealed in documents obtained by Random Lengths under the Public Records Act, which further cloud the picture of who was responsible for what.

    “Fundamentally, we believe it to be in our mutual best interests to have a professional relationship with Wilson that limits public and political debates while preserving the port’s rights and our development opportunities,” Wayne Ratkovich wrote to POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka in a December 27 email. “Wilson has requested the opportunity to operate his Ports O’ Call restaurant through 12/31/18 and to have the use of slips for his Spirit Cruises to continue in operation…. If the port can accommodate this request without budget or scheduling impact, we think it would go a long way toward limiting conflicts among the involved parties.”

    On Dec. 22, Seroka responded in a letter saying that “allowing Ports O’ Call Restaurant and Spirit Cruises to continue to operate through Dec. 31, 2018 would impact both the budget and scheduling of the construction” but that POLA “would consider allowing these entities to continue to operate” under a set of conditions, including having the developers pay for the added construction costs, releasing the port’s “obligation to timely deliver the premises,” and “to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless” the port and city for any costs related to the delay or to lawsuits from other, minority-owned Ports O’Call Village tenants, resulting from treating the restaurant different from them.

    “My understanding is that LA Waterfront Alliance, LLC has declined to accept these conditions for allowing Ports O’Call Restaurant and Spirit Cruises to continue to operate past March 1, 2018,” Seroka’s letter continued. “As a result, I consider any negotiations regarding this matter to be concluded and the Harbor Department will proceed to meet its obligations under Lease No. 915 by vacating the premises currently occupied by Ports O’Call Restaurant and Spirit Cruises as soon after March 1, 2018 as possible.”

    Nonetheless, the developers subsequently did send Wilson the letter he had been waiting for, in order to negotiate staying open with the port. Was this all just an exercise in obfuscation? It still remains unclear.

    “The decision to lease to existing businesses in the new development is solely a developer decision.” Sanfield told Random Lengths. “However, the port and the developer must mutually agree on final project phasing including accommodating existing tenants during construction.” He added that decision was made for the following reasons:

    • The economic importance to the project to maintain an operation expected to have generated close to $25 million in gross receipts for calendar year 2017.
    • Maintaining ongoing operations will assist in financing and maintaining economic activity during construction and
    • Adjacent location of these businesses with the San Pedro Fish Market provides opportunity to maintain a small core of businesses during construction without increasing project cost or risk of project delays.

    None of this, however, addresses the underlying question: why, how and when did the port decide to fundamentally change the approach toward redeveloping Ports O’ Call? And why has it never felt the need to explain this in public? It is hard—if not impossible—to imagine that San Pedrans would have accepted the 2009 EIR, if it had contained this plan for wiping out and replacing Ports O’ Call Village, rather than the now-broken promises it made.

    More stories by Paul Rosenberg:

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  • Eternity Resounds in The Invention of Morel

    By Greggory Moore, Curtain Call theatre reviewer

    When an opera’s first sound is a thunderstorm, it’s a good bet things will get gothic. That’s The Invention of Morel all over, as for 90 minutes we find ourselves on an island populated only by a fugitive from justice and a cadre of ghostly sybarites who exist seemingly only in spirit. Although we never learn why the fugitive needed to exile himself so completely from society, eventually we do find out why he does not register in his co-inhabitants’ reality. It’s a piece of information that will shape his life forever.

    Perhaps The Invention of Morel’s most compelling aspect is co-creators Stewart Copeland (yes, that Stewart Copeland) and Jonathan Moore’s choice to present the fugitive through two look-alike performers. Lee Gregory plays him as an epistolary narrator reflecting on the strange events of his island stay, while Andrew Wilkowske plays him as he lives them out. Whether they are separated in song and action, coming together in complementary fashion, or working in tandem, their dual presence is always effective, giving the man’s tale a haunting chronological remove that ultimately is revealed to have deep significance. Moore’s directorial choices are spot-on, and Gregory and Wilkowske couldn’t be better cast. Some of the show’s finest singing comes in a cappella moments when the two utter short, simple phrases, their harmonies so close in tone and notes grouping that we feel them as branching strands of a single thought or emotion.

    The sybarites are less compelling. As a whole, they’re like a group of castaways from The Great Gatsby. Looking straight out of an Erte print, they drink champagne and dance (to a vaguely Roaring ‘20s theme that is the most generic part of Copeland’s score) and partake in a lot of self-congratulatory patter about how wonderful they are. We wonder about their presence, but otherwise they’re not very interesting—not even Morel (Nathan Granner). Why his compadres regard him as a genius is unclear, even if in the end we find out that they’re right.

    To the fugitive it’s not Morel who captivates, but Faustine (Jamie Chamberlin), seducing him with a siren song one day at the beach even as she looks right through him. He doesn’t care that that he’s a non-entity to Faustine, and he is sure he’s the only one who truly sees her. Chamberlin does everything the role demands of her, but there’s nothing in the character justifying the fugitive’s obsession. And obsession it is. “She feels me even if she doesn’t see me,” he sings. “[…] Any morsel is enough to fill the loneliness of my heart.”

    If not poetic, Copeland and Moore’s libretto (based on a novel by Adolfo Dioy Casares) is serviceable; then again, I have yet to come across a libretto with writing that doesn’t sound at least somewhat contrived. Copeland’s music, on the other hand, is inspirational at times. Faustine’s siren song is one of them, full of swells of strings that rise and fall like the waves just off the shoreline. Another comes when fugitive and narrator duet about being carried away by that sea, storming to a frenzy before climaxing to a dead stop. Powerful stuff.

    Not the least of the reasons why Copeland’s score works as well as it does is his facility composing for (what else?) percussion. The Invention of Morel is a dream opera for its two percussionists, who create a host of throbbing rhythms and textures by combining bells, blocks, shaker, tambourine, triangle, and marimba, along with a plain old trap set. It’s not that Copeland doesn’t do yeoman’s work with the other orchestral instruments, but it’s on the percussion front that he clearly outstrips most other opera composers.

    There is a problem with Long Beach Opera’s presentation, however: the orchestra overpowers the vocalists. You have to appreciate that LBO does not resort to miking the cast—especially in a small theatre like the Beverly O’Neill—but with the orchestra positioned in one of the wings (so close to the stage as to be visible to the audience), there are many moments where the sung notes get completely swallowed up.

    Conceptually, too, there is something to be desired in the show’s production design. Sometimes less is more, but here it just seems like less. LBO would have done better to give the show a unified visual aesthetic (maybe all b&w?), rather than going for a piecemeal sort of reality with too many gaps.

    On balance, though, The Invention of Morel succeeds as an operatic take on obsession and eternal life. The plot is a bit shallow in places, but the music digs deeply enough for such grand considerations.

    Long Beach Opera’s The Invention of Morel

    Time: Sat 7:30 p.m.; Sun 2:30 p.m.;

    Cost: $49–$150 general admission; $12.50 for students, Runs through March 25

    Details: (562) 432-5934, Longbeachopera.org

    Venue: Beverly O’Neill Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

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  • Town Hall It Was Not

    • 03/22/2018
    • James Preston Allen
    • At Length
    • Comments are off

    Demolition of Ports O’ Call Village comes at the same time POLA reveals plans

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    Six months ago, the Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka, agreed with my suggestion to hold a public meeting updating the harbor community on the various waterfront plans and projects. I even offered to help him plan it.  The date was postponed at least six times and was finally held March 20 at the Warner Grand Theater, the site of the last presentation on the Ports O’Call development.

    People have been waiting a long time for this “update” with considerable misgivings and misinformation abounding. A curious crowd of 800 people showed up. This time there were some 50 demonstrators marching outside, calling into question the eviction and intended demolition of the popular Ports O’Call restaurant. The port’s public relations team was noticeably on edge, having expected an overwhelming positive response. That is not what this very well-crafted PR presentation received.

    Just one week before, at the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development committee, chairman Tim McOsker called the meeting to order with the admonishment that this was neither the forum nor the venue to debate the issue of Ports O’Call evictions or development even though two presenters on the agenda were the port’s  Director of Waterfront and Commercial Real Estate, Mike Galvin and Alan Johnson of Jerico Development. Both gave only limited oral reports on what was presented in previous meetings and one week later in full widescreen formats.

    There was no discussion of the salient points of this development, silence on the growing criticism and only one remark from Mr. Johnson, who has stayed mute on this for months, on why the entire waterfront is being demolished.

    “It’s in the [2009] EIR,”  he said, which according to some is a patently wrong reading of the document.

    Only later when Elise Swanson, the director of the Chamber of Commerce addressed the issue of the 150 displaced workers (and by my estimation it’s probably double that number when you add up Acapulco, the Asian Village, the 20 village shops and Ports O’Call Restaurant) I questioned why the businesses were not offered relocation fees to move into the downtown business district. Her response resembled someone expressing aghast that they should be given something “for free.”  A curious remark, in as much as the San Pedro Market Place team is receiving five years of free rent on an unheard of 65-year lease. No one raises an eyebrow about such largess.

    While McOsker, who is also now CEO of AltaSea, may be right that chamber’s Economic/Development committee doesn’t have purview to decide much, it does retain its standing as an unofficial arbiter and influencer on all things related to development in San Pedro. As such, it has often been the place where projects and proposals go before the general public even gets a hint of what’s in store and where developers and government officials go even before coming before the neighborhood councils — governing bodies that actually have standing in the City of Los Angeles. These meetings are only open to chamber members or invited guests. These meetings have become a platform from which a few in the business arena are able to manufacture a kind of consent based upon very limited perspectives.

    On Jan. 11, two months before either of these meetings took place, the public spoke out against the demolition of Ports O’Call, the eviction of the small shop owners, the lack of transparency and the dislocation of workers (a kind euphemism for losing their jobs due to development). At that time, Mr. Galvin said that the retention of any tenant was at the sole discretion of the developers — a statement that he later retracted at the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council meeting in February.  What was not revealed at this meeting was that Ports O’Call Restaurant had been in negotiations since at least December 2017 (and possibly as far back as October 2017) over their continued operation and inclusion in the development. But nothing was said publicly, nor would it be revealed until an eviction notice was served on Jayme Wilson at Ports O’ Call Restaurant at the very same time that he received a Letter Of Intent from the Ratkovich group, the senior partners of the San Pedro Market Place.

    Now, I’m not a big believer in magic, but this appeared to be a poor imitation of a sleight-of-hand trick by the port to not include this tenant or any tenant that they deem unacceptable to remain on the waterfront — regardless of community support. This became even more obvious when it was later revealed that some seven current tenants have been just as magically chosen to remain while others have not. This does not resemble the original promise made by both the port and developers at the first public meeting a few years ago when the Ports O’Call development was proposed “in stages” and promises were made that businesses would remain open and then moved when work was to begin.  Oddly something changed last summer. But at this point, neither the port nor the developers will admit to exactly what changed.

    What is even more concerning to me is how those who owe a certain fealty to POLA either by patronage, lease holdings or charitable donations are quietly manipulating the discourse on this very significant development and silencing any form of dissent or public debate.  POLA, with its new “waterfront partners” can exert the same kind of influence with commercial real estate development that it has had for the past century with international trade and cargo infrastructure development. Everywhere except at neighborhood councils or unaffiliated groups.

    What is called for here is a new Citizen Advisory Panel on Port Development, made up of neighborhood councils and not the chambers of commerce nor others loyal to the port in any form. It needs to be independent of Council District 15 and the Los Angeles City Council. This has been needed ever since the port canceled the previous Port/Community Advisory Committee (PCAC) unilaterally.

    Regardless of what some Chicken Littles in the area are exclaiming about the consequences of stalling the San Pedro Waterfront development at this point — in particular the Ports O’Call Restaurant bungled deal — the real success of economic development lies in the hands of both AltaSea and the newly announced SpaceX deal proposed for the Southwest Marine Shipyard site across the main channel.

    Where the San Pedro Market Place may only create some 700 mostly service jobs when fully built out — this according to Eric Johnson of Jerico development — the other two projects are bound to bring in three times that number of much higher paid positions. And that’s the real promise of the future of waterfront development — the creation of high-tech, green jobs that create a second industry based in the San Pedro Bay.

    Now that’s a public discussion that’s worth having.

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  • Curtain Call: Cambodian Rock Band Adds a New Verse to the Old Khmer Song

    By Gregory Moore, Curtain Call Columnist

    Music is the soul of Cambodia,” says Duch after briefly reviewing the country’s vibrant early ‘70s rock scene. “[…] But that’s not what you think of when you think of Cambodia, is it? […] You think of everything that came after, once the shit hit the fan.”

    He’s talking about the Khmer Rouge, of course, and the genocide that enveloped the entire nation from 1975 to 1979. It’s a tragedy with reverberations still so loud that every narrative work related to Cambodia seems somehow about the Khmer Rouge.

    Cambodia Rock Band squarely fits that bill. But what makes the journey worth taking are the musical side roads that connect the well trodden Cambodia-coming-to-terms-with-its-past plot tropes with the country’s all-but-forgotten rock ‘n’ roll soul.

    Phnom Penh, 2008. Despite Cambodian ancestry, Neary (Brooke Ishibashi) is for all intents and purposes an American. But two years ago she arrived in-country for the first time as part of an effort to bring the first successful indictment of a Khmer Rouge leader and overseer of S-21, a notorious prison camp from which there were just seven survivors. But she may have discovered an eighth, and that development could prove crucial to landing a conviction. Just as this news is about to break, Neary’s father, Chum (Joe Ngo), pays her a visit and for the first time opens up about his youth in Cambodia, both as a musician and a prisoner of the evil regime.

    The less closely you examine the plot of Cambodian Rock Band, the better. Too much of the action is motivated by playwright Lauren Yee taking shortcuts to where she wants to go (rather than dictated by the play’s internal logic), and you see too many of the bends in the road from miles away. (Chum’s arrival runs into both problems.) There’s also one character that exists almost solely for the sake of exposition—something there’s generally too much of in the script.

    “[H]ow come you don’t start with brother number 2, 3, or 4 instead of brother number 562?” Chum asks Neary in questioning the prosecution of the S-21 overseer.  “[…] He helped brother number one — Pol Pot — kill two million of his own people,” she rejoins, as if Chum might not know who brother number one was.

    No character has much of an arc. Chum is the exception because we get to see him both as the middle-aged man with a past he’d like to forget and (in the 1970s flashbacks) the youth who made the fateful decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Ngo is effective playing the two eras against the other, giving each version of Chum the deportment apt to his life experience at that moment in time.

    Duch (Daisuke Tsuji), though, doesn’t need an arc to be compelling. In what may be the play’s only surprise twist, our highly charming narrator/master of ceremonies is revealed to be a dark figure. This is Yee’s strongest conceit, and Tsuji is perfect for the role, making us like Duch even though we kinda shouldn’t.

    The only character rivaling Duch is the music. Cambodian Rock Band wouldn’t be much without a Cambodian rock band. In the context of 1975, that is Chum’s band, The Cyclos (whose repertoire consists of material by real-life 21st-century band Dengue Fever, ably rendered by the actors, all of whom do double duty as musicians). But most of the music comes at us not straight out of the action but off an emotional carom, communicating the spirit of the story and the people living it. This is another strong conceit, and Yee applies it so smoothly that you don’t realize how easily this could have been a big mess. Plus, when the music’s over once the Khmer Rouge takes control, the silence is that much more crushing for all the sound that’s come before.

    For the most part, director Chay Yew serves the script well enough, but a few sections feel like they need more work. Chief among these are the scenes with young Chum at S-21. If two characters conversing in a prison camp are explicit about how imperative it is that no-one hear them, they shouldn’t spend those entire scenes yelling their lines. Why not talk excitedly in hushed tones? Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but when what should be the quietest dialog in the entire play is the loudest, something is amiss.

    As with every single South Coast Repertory production, the technical elements here are first-rate. We get just enough neon to give a sense of modern Phnom Penh, and video projections of Khmer Rouge victims are employed with perfect restraint. On the aural front, while a rock band could easily be loud enough to neuter the unamplified dialog that comes between songs, Mikhail Fiksel’s sound design makes it all balance out.

    Cambodian Rock Band imbues the much-visited tragedy at its center with a novel spirit of humanity. Despite its shortcomings, as a result of its music, humor, and heart, you’re likely to come away satisfied.

     

    Time: Runs thru March 25, Tues.-Sun., 7:45 p.m; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. (no evening show March 25).

    Cost: $23 to $83

    Details: (714) 708-5555

    Venue: South Coast Rep., Julianne Argyos Stage, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa

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  • Long Beach’s Road to Sanctuary Status

    • 03/22/2018
    • Terelle Jerricks
    • News
    • Comments are off

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Long Beach took another step toward on March 13 the Long Beach City Council created a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation and passed a resolution that builds upon state laws banning local law enforcement from coordinating with federal immigration officers by expanding that to all city departments. It’s a sanctuary city.

    Officially titled the Long Beach Values Act of 2018, the non-binding resolution puts the city’s support behind state legislation like Senate Bill 54, which legalized and standardized statewide policies of non-cooperation between California law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities.

    Long Beach council members passed the measure, which had been in the works for a year, exactly one week after United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed suit against California, claiming it’s sanctuary stance is interfering with the federal government’s immigration policies.

    At its essence, the Long Beach Values Act prohibits all city agencies from sharing personal information with United States Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE).

    But a majority of the large crowd residents who filed council chambers exhorted their representatives to imbue the resolution with even stronger protections through amendments that would eliminate a variety of so-called carve-outs — exceptions under which undocumented immigrants could still be deported.

    The carve-outs in SB 54 are mostly violent felonies, including rape, hate crimes, torture and gang-related offenses. But many in attendance argued that other crimes in the bill, — such as vandalism, money laundering and felony driving under the influence — don’t belong there.

    “Some of the carve outs and some of the crimes, I don’t see them reaching that level of having to be deported,’ said Councilmember Roberto Uranga. “For example…a DUI, embezzlement, forgery. I see those as perhaps white-collar type crimes and there are some people in jails now who I wish I could deport, who are white. You know, go back to Europe. Switzerland. Wherever.”

    The council voted to provide $250,000 as potential seed money for a legal defense fund, mandating that a police department policy be distributed to the public and the department require all city department heads to sign a letter pledging to adhere to the resolution.

    The fund would seek non-profits and philanthropic donations to reach the amount needed to fully represent the number of undocumented persons likely in Long Beach. To qualify for assistance a person would have to live in the city, have an income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and be facing a number of immigration-related legal issues.

    A separate motion for the funding mechanism of the legal aid fund was requested by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who supported the protections of the act, but cited the city’s charter in stating that it was likely illegal for the city to use taxpayer dollars to defend non-city employees in individual suits. A separate report on the feasibility and funding opportunities for the legal defense fund is expected to come back before the council in the coming months.

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