• San Pedro Bluesman Dave Widow Headlines Fundraiser

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Popular San Pedro musician Dave Widow will be headlining a fundraiser for radio station KKJZ April 19 at St. Rocke in Hermosa Beach. A regular at such venues as B.B. King’s Blues Club, the House of Blues, the Mint and the Lighthouse, Widow and his Line up delivers a hot night of rhythm and blues.

    The concert is the first in a series of three organized by DJ Gary “the Wagman” Wagner, in support of the nonprofit radio station. Wagner, a recent recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive Award” from the Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tenn., is host of Nothin’ But the Blues. The show broadcasts from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and from 2 to 7 p.m. Sundays on 88.1 KKJZ.

    Widow, raised in Cincinnati, has spent practically his entire life immersed in music. He came to California and plugged into the local blues rock scene. His musical style is influenced by musicians with whom he had longstanding relationships, such as Buddy Miles, Bill Champlin of the band Chicago, and his mentor and collaborator, the late Roger “Jelly Roll” Troy from the Mike Bloomfield Band. Widow credits legendary guitar player Lonnie Mack with inspiring him to turn professional.

    In February Dave had a packed house in a sold-out show at the Grand Annex in San Pedro. The intimate theater provided the crowd with a wild night of R&B music.

    Widow’s music was eventually noticed by Wagner, and he has been a regular on the radio ever since. Old Dogs Records, a blues label out of Georgia, also took note of Widow’s distinctive style and signed him to their label.

    “I really appreciate Gary Wagner for inviting me to perform” Widow said. “[He] and K-JAZZ have been very supportive of my music for several years, and I am in their debt.”

    The plush environment at St. Rocke provides a high-energy venue for music fans to enjoy a full evening of rock and blues.

    “I personally selected each of the indie bands being featured during this series of three shows,” Wagner said. “If you listen to my radio show and you like what I play, come to these shows. You will not be disappointed.”

    Also in the lineup is South Side Slim, originally from Oakland and a recent recipient of L.A. Weekly’s award for best contemporary blues and R&B artist.

    Rounding out the bill will be Jumpin’ Jack Benny, one of the most entertaining acts in music. Upcoming fundraising concerts are scheduled for May 3 with Barry Levenson and June 7 with the Other Mules. More information is available at jazzandblues.org.

    Tickets for two are available for a pledge of $60 at the website and include annual membership to KKJZ. A $165 donation gets you a pair of tickets to all three shows.

    Tickets are also available by phone during regular business hours. Call (310) 478-5540, press 0 for the operator and ask for the membership department.
    Details: (310) 478-5540
    Venue: St. Rocke
    Location: 142 Pacific Coast Highway, Hermosa Beach
    photo credit: Steve Jost

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  • Hyung Mo Lee – A Witness to Change

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    On a windy bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Hyung Mo Lee works diligently, experimenting with materials found on the hills outside his studio.

    The artist’s work is on display at the Los Angeles Harbor College Fine Arts Gallery in an exhibition titled Lessons Learned. Curated by gallery director Ron Linden, it is on view through April 24.

    “Much of my work is about the act of making, with improvisations and the surprises that arise during the making of the work,” said Lee in his artist statement. “I like to view it as an open-ended process where one action influences the next, step by step leading into new directions. In my work there is a continual change and a willingness to let go so that change can occur. Eventually, the work evolves and transforms into something unpredicted, and I’m sort of like a witness to these multiple changes during the making of the work.”

    Lee’s drawings, sculptures and installations are notable for their radical choice of materials and emphasis on laborious, time-consuming process. His sumi ink drawings, both delicate and dynamic, are meditations on geologic time–strata rendered brush-stroke by brush-stroke–while his sculptural works expand on lessons learned from drawing.

    “These things are not unlike Jay McCafferty’s obsessive solar burning of little pinholes,” Linden said during a recent walk-through of his gallery.

    Linden was referring to Jay McCafferty, an artist of international renown for his pioneering of the “process art” movement that emerged in the late 1960s. He’s primarily known for his solar burn compositions created with a magnifying lens on a variety of surfaces along plotted grid intersections.

    The quality of Lee’s work emphasizes clarity, simplification, reduced means and reduction of things like form and composition. A juxtaposition of elements is created from mud, spackle and glue. When exhibited alongside laboriously-created works of fine ink on paper, it provides an insight into a deeply creative process.

    The central piece of the exhibition is a 6-foot long sculpture called “Substitute.” It consists of long flowing thread, hanging from a metal frame, held together with mud and glue, and left out in the Hollywood Hills to be weathered by the elements. The piece is both muscular and tender. It seems determined to face what may come, but is showing the effects of time.

    Our first glimpse of Lee’s work was in 2013 at Angel’s Ink Gallery in downtown San Pedro. The artist is known to create a thousand strokes with a brush trimmed down to a single goat’s hair. Curator Robin Hinchliffe remembers the response from viewers as “Whoa, look at this!”

    “That response came as well from many sophisticated artists and gallerists looking in the windows before the show opened and from groups of otherwise casual visitors exploring downtown on First Thursday openings,” she said. “It is at once compelling and serene, awe-inspiring and immediately accessible.”

    Lee spends his days surrounded by art at the Orange County Museum of Art. As an art installer and occasional security guard, he finds inspiration within the walls of the museum.

    “It’s nice to be around the art and to be able to look at art all day,” Lee said. “I think [when you are] spending time with it, day by day, it filters in. Returning to a certain work of art and coming back again each day, it is inspiring–but it just doesn’t pay well.”

    Lee grew up in Southern California with parents who inspired him to read, write and express his creativity. His father is a writer and Lee has fond memories of spending weekends with him digging through crates of books at swap meets in search of paperback novels that sold for 25 cents each. Today, Lee also devotes time to writing poetry and participating in local poetry readings.

    As a relief from the ink drawings, which sometimes take as much as six months to complete, Lee “makes gunk” from mud in the hills near his studio at Angels Gate Cultural Center.
    He mixes glue, paint, plaster and spackle to produce work that is almost diametrically opposed to the ink drawings. Sometimes he molds the muddy gunk on cardboard or newspaper. A heat gun helps to hold the gunk together.

    For those interested in learning about Lee’s process, the fine art gallery at Harbor College is hosting a Q & A with the artist April 15 at 1 p.m.

    Lee’s work is also on view at LA Artcore Brewery Annex in downtown Los Angeles. The three-person exhibit, Black and White, runs through April 8.

    You will also have a chance to visit Lee’s small, muddy studio on the windy bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, during the Angels Gate Open Studios Day on April 26. The Angels Gate Cultural Center is at 3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro.

    Details: (310) 600-4873
    Venue: LAHC Fine Arts Gallery
    Location: 1111 Figueroa Place, Wilmington

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  • Cambodian Community Shifts Focus

    Cambodian Community Shifts Focus
    By Eric Fujimori, Editorial Intern

    Jenny Tae was only a teenager when she and her family left Cambodia in the 1980s. Without much money or steady plans for the future, they settled in California and started a new life.

    Tae needed to work right away to help support her family. Since she didn’t speak English or have a formal education, her options were limited to low-paying jobs that required arduous labor. She first found work in a sewing factory before her father opened a small donut shop in Los Angeles. At Sammy Goodie’s Donuts, Tae worked tirelessly, often up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week. Since profits were low, her family couldn’t afford to hire any outside employees. Despite the difficult circumstances, she persevered.

    Tae now lives in Long Beach, home to the largest Cambodian population in the United States.

    Like Tae, many Cambodian immigrants in Long Beach rely on their proven work ethic and business-savvy tactics to make a life for themselves. As more businesses continue to open, competition is getting stiffer. Inevitably, this means less money for the owners. This dilemma has inspired the younger Cambodian-American generations to pursue success with an approach more focused on education than entrepreneurship.

     

    Reasons for Immigration

    Large numbers of Cambodians started immigrating to Long Beach in the 1970s. Most of them were uneducated. This trend can be directly traced back to Cambodia’s dark era of persecution under the Khmer Rouge, a radical communist regime that aimed to establish an agrarian utopia.

    During its reign, the Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia into a prison state, holding people in work camps and orchestrating large-scale massacres in the so-called “killing fields.”

    “In the killing fields, they took everyone who was educated and murdered them,” said Kiry Kravanh, prevention coordinator at the Cambodian Association of America in Long Beach, the largest and oldest nonprofit Cambodian organization in the United States.

    Kravanh, a second generation Cambodian-American, said his parents were well educated before the Khmer Rouge came into power. However, they had to pretend not to be in order to survive.

     

    Progress in America

    To compensate for their lack of education, Cambodian immigrants relied on their perseverance to obtain jobs that required strenuous labor and extremely long hours. In time, they began to open their own businesses.

    Since her days of working at the family donut shop, Tae has owned several of her own. By the time she was 22, she opened the first of three donut shops in the Los Angeles area. She’s also owned a Vietnamese restaurant, a meat market and a discount store. During this run of business endeavors, Tae also found time to raise her children and earn a college degree from the University of Phoenix.

    Tae said that her children, as well as future generations of Cambodian-Americans, are the reason she’s always worked so hard.

    “I don’t want my children to have the same life I did,” Tae said.

    To make sure that doesn’t happen, Tae pushes her children to focus on getting a good education. She wants them to be able to choose what they want to pursue in their lives, instead of being confined to working at the family business for long hours and little pay.

    This shift from a business-minded to education-based mentality is becoming increasingly apparent among second and third generation Cambodian-Americans.

    “Now that Cambodians are more educated, more outgoing, more ambitious, we’re starting to put ourselves out there,” said Keo Uy, youth coordinator at the United Cambodian Community in Long Beach.

    Uy, a second generation Cambodian-American, is inspired by the progress being made.

    “We’ve come a long way from being just immigrant refugees with no education, to being doctors, lawyers, leaders and people who aren’t afraid to have pride in their culture,” Uy said.

     

    Maintaining Cultural Ties

    Why is this shift in mindset happening now? Victory Heng, a first generation Cambodian-American, has pinpointed one of the major reasons.

    “The second generation grew up going to school where the primary language is English,” Heng said.

    As the mental health coordinator at the United Cambodian Community, Heng has seen how language barriers make it difficult for Cambodian immigrants to ease into American society. He often serves as a translator for Cambodian members of the community, helping them go through their mail and fill out forms.

    While he’s glad that the younger generations are able to speak English and communicate well, Heng thinks it’s important for Cambodian-Americans to stay in touch with their culture.

    “You try to assimilate because that’s what made this country great,”  Heng said. “But at the same time you don’t want to completely erase your background or where you came from.”

    This doesn’t seem to be a problem.

    In Long Beach, Cambodian culture is present all around. It’s found in authentic restaurants like PhnomPenh Noodle and grocery stores like KH Supermarket. But perhaps more than anything, it’s found in the people.

    Every year, organizations and individuals from the Cambodian community come together to present several events, such as parades and culture festivals during the time of the Cambodian New Year.

    Sandy Nou, who is one of the main organizers for this year’s Cambodia Town Culture Festival on April 12, said these events help develop strong connections between young Cambodian-Americans and their heritage.

    “It’s really uplifting for our culture because younger generations are getting involved,” Nou said. “We even have high school students who will be displaying projects from their Cambodian class for everyone to see.”

    Whether it’s the old family businesses or the young educated activists, there’s a humble sense of pride among the Cambodian community.

    The Ninth Annual Cambodian New Year Parade will take place from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. April 12. The parade will take place along Anaheim Street in Long Beach, starting at Junipero Avenue and ending at Warren Avenue. The Cambodia Town Culture Festival will immediately follow the parade at MacArthur Park.

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  • THE HARBOR’S HIDDEN GEMS:

    Restaurants Off The Beaten Path
    By Gina Ruccione, Food Writer & Blogger

    If you like culinary adventures, consider looking for restaurants that are off the beaten path. The Harbor Area is home to a few, and you’ll be rewarded well if you make the effort.

    The Chowder Barge, tucked away in the somewhat obscure Leeward Marina, happens to be the only floating restaurant in Los Angeles. At first glance, it begs judgment, but the second you step through the door, that quickly subsides.

    Originally built in 1934 to accommodate the movie crew filming Mutiny on the Bounty, the Chowder Barge has exchanged hands many times and has earned its reputation as an eclectic piece of the Harbor’s history. It has been a floating brothel, a machine repair shop and an art studio. It’s now a restaurant and dive bar known among locals for some of the best hearty, home-style breakfasts and clam chowder.

    The ambience and décor are totally funky– think swashbuckler meets old biker. This place should not be missed, especially by those who shy away from weekend breakfast crowds, or who just want to grab a beer and watch the sunset. It’s the kind of hole-in-the-wall where I’ll actually go back to buy a T-shirt and wear it proudly. I’ll also go back for the friendly staff, the excellent service, and of course, the New England clam chowder.

    The Chowder Barge | Location: 611 N. Henry Ford Ave., Wilmington

     

    If you haven’t heard of Isaac Cafe in Wilmington, I don’t blame you. There’s no website, not even a fax number. The only way you would know about this miraculous find is if you know someone who appreciates great Mexican food and is willing to bequeath their knowledge upon you.

    To the untrained eye, the cafe seems somewhat underwhelming. It’s in a gritty, industrial area in Wilmington. It’s not fancy. There are no flashy frills–just a clean, plain dining area. But they don’t mess around when it comes to food.

    Known for their burritos, Isaac Cafe has been around since the 1980s. It has been family owned and operated since its inception. All they care about is their food, and it shows. Don’t expect to find industrial-sized, pre-made cans of salsa or anything else for that matter, just quality ingredients and authentic, homemade recipes.

    I watched as they pumped out burritos to a hungry lunch crowd. Longshoremen flock to Isaac, as the ILWU Hall is right around the corner.

    The most popular burritos include the Jones and the carne asada, but as one patron commented while waiting in line, “I would eat the chili Colorado every day for the rest of my life.” That’s a pretty bold statement for any foodie, but then I’ve said some pretty bold things in my day.

    Isaac Cafe | Location: 632 N. Fries Ave., Wilmington

     

    If you’re looking for a great seafood experience with a very laid-back attitude, look no further than Berth 55 Fish Market and Seafood Deli.

    In the Port of Long Beach on Pico Avenue, Berth 55 has been serving some of the best seafood in the Harbor for decades. Completely unassuming and unpretentious from the outside, the restaurant looks like a warehouse, but it’s the fresh food at fair prices that make this place such a great find.

    Dockworkers and businessmen alike can be found waiting in line during lunch hour and consider it a great place to grub on fish tacos and quickly escape from the work week grind.

    Family owned and operated since 1988, Berth 55 provides an alternative for those looking for that fresh fish market feel, but with a more personal touch. It’s a unique experience to pick fresh crab out of the tank and, only minutes later, have it served on a plate in front of you.

    This place has a tendency to get really crowded, especially around lunch and on the weekends. The picnic-style seating outside has a casual feel and a nice view of the berth. Expect to pick out amazing, quality seafood right from the case and have it prepared to order.

    The halibut plate is phenomenal; it’s seasoned and grilled, so it’s light and flaky. The New England clam chowder is excellent – creamy and comforting. The barbecue salmon and barbecue shrimp are also popular menu items.

    Berth 55 Fish Market and Seafood Deli | Location: 555 Pico Ave., Long Beach.

    So, the next time you’re up for a unique dining experience, consider trying one of these hidden gems. I promise they won’t disappoint.

    *

    Gina Ruccione is a fearless blogger and self-proclaimed food critic. She has traveled all over Europe and Asia, lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County and worked in finance and fashion. When she’s not rummaging through recipes, she spends her days working for a nonprofit in Orange County. You can visit her blog at http://foodfashionfoolishfornication.blogspot.com.

     

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  • Workers, Business Owners Discuss Mayor’s Proposal to Raise Minimum Wage

    Workers Want Enforcement, While Businesses Want to Include Tips as Wages
    By Crystal Niebla, Editorial Intern

    With six children to care for, car wash employee Fausto Hernández García hopes Los Angeles officials will raise the minimum wage and enforce it, so that he and his family can live better.

    On March 26, minimum wage workers and businesses owners came together in the Watts district of Los Angeles for the second, out of four, special meetings. The Economic Development Committee hosted meetings to discuss Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to raise the minimum wage citywide.

    Led by Los Angeles City Councilman Curren D. Price Jr., members of the council gathered at Phoenix Hall that evening with more than 250 attendees to hear public comments. Those in favor of the pay increase also urged city officials to enforce it due to the ongoing issue of “wage theft.”

    García, 55, said he has been paid for as little as three hours when he actually worked 10.

    “With the increase, one can pay rent completely,” he said. “And, this would be great for our children because we are limited with [the little] that is paid [now].”

    Los Angeles’ current minimum wage is $9 per hour, which follows state law, and is slated to rise to $10 in 2016.

    This past year on Labor Day, Garcetti announced he would like to raise the wage to $13.25 by 2017. The increase would take place in three steps, first to $10.25, then to $11.75 and finally to $13.25. His proposal also ensures future increases will match inflation rates.

    Labor groups such as the CLEAN Carwash Campaign and Community Coalition attended the March 26 meeting, advocating for an increase to $15. The labor groups are following the campaign of #LARaisetheWage, which asks for $15.25 an hour, with paid sick leave and enforcement.

    The advocacy came weeks after the Los Angeles City Council voted to set wages at $15.37 for workers at larger hotels, and for Los Angeles school workers.

    “This is a fight for equity in our city—to make sure that those who have often been ignored [and] get paid the least get the dignity and respect that they deserve,” said Alberto Retana, executive vice president at Community Coalition. “For far too long, the wage gap between LA’s richest folks and LA’s poorest is far too wide.”

    Few of the business owners who were against the minimum wage increase said the increase would be unfair for their businesses. Many of them urged the city council to increase minimum wage with conditions, such as including the tip money restaurant workers receive.

    Consequences of the increase to business owners are projected by some to include cuts to workers’ hours and benefits, layoffs and relocation of businesses outside of the city.

    In a University of California, Berkeley study requested by the mayor’s office, researchers found that the proposed minimum wage law “would have a modest impact on business operating costs and consumer prices.”

    According to the report, about half of all affected workers “are employed in four industries: restaurants (17.4 percent); retail trade (13.9 percent); health services (11.7 percent); and administrative and waste management services (9.5 percent). Operating costs would increase by 0.6 percent for retailers, by 4.7 percent for restaurants, and by 0.4 percent in the manufacturing sector by the time the proposed law is fully implemented in 2017.”

    The report adds that restaurant prices would increase by 4.1 percent by the time the minimum wage increase is in full effect.

    “A $10 meal would increase by 41 cents, to a total of $10.41,” the report states as an example. As for retail and the local economy as a whole, the report states that the price increases would be “negligible.”

    The report predicts that the restaurant industry might experience 560 fewer jobs a year over the three-year phase-in of the minimum wage increase and that some apparel manufacturing jobs might relocate outside the city.

    Some business owners said they like the minimum wage increase proposal but that there can be better solutions.

    A representative of the Los Angeles County Business Federation said at the meeting that even if workers earned $15 an hour, they would still be below the poverty line. Instead, he suggested that the city enable conditions that would create middle class jobs, which “would actually lift people out of poverty.”

    Sherry Lear, a San Pedro lawyer who operates a small firm, said that the country and its economy is struggling because it’s losing its middle class. Lear, who pays employees more than $15 an hour with paid sick days and vacation, argued that raising the working poor will stimulate the economy and help businesses.

    “I understand that some businesses may need to phase in to paying higher wages… but what I’m seeing among people who work for businesses… is that their bosses are building big houses and yet their wages are getting cut and their vacation pay is getting cut,” Lear said.

    “So, while I’m not going to dispute the veracity of the people who came here today to talk, I do know that [there are] a lot of businesses out there [that] are making more profits than ever and paying their workers less, and that’s not how you build up an economy.”

    García, who has washed cars for a living for 8 years, said the forum is helpful because it will create solidarity of workers like him to illuminate how business owners often mistreat their workers.

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  • 99-Seat Theater May Go

    Proposal Changes May Affect San Pedro, Long Beach Theaters
    By John Farrell, Curtain Call writer

    Actors don’t agree on much, but recently hundreds of them agreed on one thing: the new plans that the Actor’s Equity Association is considering threaten the theatrical diversity in town.

    The association has a proposal that would do away with 99-seat waiver houses as are configured. Ninety-nine seat houses are theaters with 99 or fewer seats, which are currently not required to pay Actors Equity members a minimum wage or benefits. The new proposal would also limit rehearsal time and make those theaters Actor Equity members minimum wage for rehearsal time.

    More than 400 actors gathered on Lankershim Boulevard in March in the heart of North Hollywood, a place with several equity-waiver houses. They were protesting new rules for 99-seat equity-waiver houses throughout Los Angeles.

    North Hollywood is home to the Los Angeles headquarters of Actor’s Equity Association, which is considering revising or eliminating rules that have been in place since 1972. Many say that the rules have created a thriving and creative local arts scene.

    More than 600 actors also got their wallets out to buy the entire back page of March 25’s Los Angeles Times’ Calendar section for an ad expressing their opposition to the proposals.

    Kristin Towers-Rowles, who was seen a few years back in Kiss Me, Kate, in San Pedro, and has a professional career as well as an active role in smaller theaters opposes the Actor’s Equity move. “This is an attempt to make Los Angeles like New York,” she said during a recent phone interview. “But in New York, people are flown in by the planeload to see several shows on Broadway.

    “There isn’t that kind of attraction here, but some people hope to kill small theaters so that ticket prices can go up in bigger theaters.”

    Actor’s Equity is considering a series of proposals that would make even small theaters pay a minimum wage to Actor’s Equity members. Though only $9 an hour at present, it is still a substantial part of a theater’s production budget for small theaters that offer innovative theatrical experiences around San Pedro and Long Beach.

    Another voice in opposition is Eric Hamme, managing director of the Garage Theatre in Long Beach.

    “The current 99-seat equity waiver plan allows us to cast without limitation in order to bring the highest quality theater to our community,” Hamme said in a recent email. “For a small, grassroots theater like The Garage Theatre, the current equity contract also works within our extremely limited budget.

    “If the proposed changes are made to Equity The Garage Theatre would not be able to utilize union actors in future productions. The budget for a single Garage Theatre production is roughly $2,000 to $2,500,” Hamme’s email continued. “We estimate that to hire one union actor in a production would cost roughly $1,500, which would make up nearly 75 percent of our budget. The Garage Theatre always strives to produce the highest quality productions given our limited resources and to lose access to such a large pool of talented artists would be a great loss.”

    Suzanne Dean, associate artistic and development director and co-founder of Little Fish Theatre put it succinctly: “Little Fish Theatre will not be able to operate under the newly proposed 99-seat contract.”

    In her email, she continued: “This new arrangement is completely cost-prohibitive for our group. The only way we will use (Actor’s Equity Association) actors is under something they are calling the ‘Membership Company Rule,’ utilizing the talents of our current company members. But, if that rule goes into place as currently proposed, we’ll be restricted from bringing in any NEW [her emphasis] union members. No more discoveries of great union talent for us.”

    The email continued: “This past year we introduced our audiences to 16 new AEA and SAG/AFTRA actors who participated for the first time in our productions. That may no longer be possible. Luckily, many of those actors have joined LFT as company members now, so we can collaborate with them again, but no one new. If AEA forces this change and we need to cast a role outside of the membership in future, we will only seek out non-union members.” (Dean’s complete remarks can be found in Random Lengths’ Curtain Call online.)

    “Without the 99-seat contract [our] growth may be a bit slower,” said Chris Lang, managing director of TE San Pedro Rep, in an email. “[That’s] simply because our ability to work with union talent will be made far more difficult (among other issues), but since we as a company bet on an artist’s potential over almost everything else, working with non-union talent almost exclusively is a real possibility for us and wouldn’t be too damaging to our prospects.

    “San Pedro Rep is a company built on our community and that is where we draw our sustenance from for our growth and for our existence at large. As the AEA rules currently stand, we are able to use the 99-seat contract as a stepping stone for that growth. This is especially important to us as we have designs for our future that reach toward becoming a AEA LORT-A Regional Theatre (The highest Equity Contract level regional theaters offer).

    “Above all, TE San Pedro Rep will continue to push its artistic boundaries and produce ambitious work no matter what AEA decides to do,” Lang’s email continued. “Our training wing, the Acting Matrix Conservatory, will still serve as the foundation for the company’s continued betting on potential while the Company’s artistic drive though its shows on the main stage fosters our artistic draw for students and artists alike.”

    At the Long Beach Playhouse, the situation is different. There, the Mainstage Theatre is not an equity waiver house. But upstairs, the Studio Theatre is a small space and used to have equity waiver rules. “With the upcoming decision still in the works we have decided to retract our 99-Seat Plan applications until we know if this update to the plan will go into effect,” said Andrew Vonderschmitt, artistic director of the Playhouse. “If (the rule change goes through), we won’t be able to use it at all. It is financially impossible for us.”

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  • The Law of Unintended Consequences Part II

    James Preston Allen, Publisher

    The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
    —Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936)

    There’s a certain amount of fear and embarrassment in the debate over how to address homelessness. Especially given how invested we are in the idea that anyone can join the middle class through pluck and a strong work ethic.

    Living outside of the societal norms, the homeless become “the other.” In this instance, the real core of our fear is the possibility that “but for fortune” we might become them.

    It’s embarrassing that amongst all the bounty that we’ve produced and the relatively high standard of living we’ve experienced, there are so many who are so desperately poor that they’re pushed to survive in underutilized parks and the thick underbrush along the side of freeways and riverbanks.

    It is profoundly humbling to see these outcasts live amidst all this wealth and wealth production.

    Without delving into the well-documented ills and causes of homelessness, I will say that they, too, are a part of the “law of unintended consequences.” We can blame them for their own misfortune and we can condemn the inabilities of our government to address this seemingly ever-growing social problem. Or we can point the finger of culpability at an economic system that is more dedicated to profits over people. But we still won’t have a cure for the problem.

    Just the other day, someone posted a picture of a new homeless encampment near the corner of Anaheim and Gaffey streets. Shocked that here at the entrance to both Palos Verdes and the “Welcome to San Pedro” sign, a small colony lined with tarp-covered shopping carts and tents sprung up, seemingly out of nowhere.

    What most of you don’t realize is that prior to the City of Los Angeles deciding to renovate Machado Lake at Ken Malloy Park (a $130 million Harbor City project), there were some 160 homeless people camped out in the far reaches of this wetland.

    Hidden in the shrubbery under the trees, this group of homeless people went unnoticed by the employees of either Los Angeles Harbor College or the Phillips 76 oil refinery or the commuters racing to work.

    What the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks department didn’t consider in the park renovation master plan was what to do with the park’s 160 human residents. It’s not as if the department didn’t know they were there. But now, of course, people are shocked that there’s this sudden bloom of homeless people encroaching on the visible public domain. How dare they?

    There’s an old adage that goes like this: “If you solve one problem, you create two.” Hopefully, the two you create are easier to fix than the original problem.

    The Rec and Parks Department’s position is that they have no ability to address homelessness. They said as much at the recent Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council joint committee meeting on the future of Anderson Senior Center.

    Yet, clearly the Rec and Parks Department is going to be forced to deal with this problem one way or another. So far, their only response has been to enforce the city ordinances such as park curfews and ban on overnight camping through homeless evictions and concentrated enforcement by the Los Angeles Police Department.

    Read into that what you will, but the fact of the matter is that Rec and Parks, CalTrans and the Port of Los Angeles are probably the landlords for most of our homeless population. This is, of course by default, as it is not in either of their missions, their intent or even their budgets. Yet, here they are, landlords to the homeless.

    To their credit, the Los Angeles Police Department has created a “quality of life” car that is dispatched from Harbor Division to offer assistance to the homeless population. But that’s just one car with two officers. That one car has to cover four communities that this division covers. This is hardly enough.

    The homeless count this past January found the visible homeless in San Pedro was around 300 people. This is not an overwhelming number, but it is now much more visible than in years past. And it is of growing concern and alarm to local residents for the reasons stated above.

    Clearly there is only one cure for the homeless. That is, to put a roof over their heads. This is the only logical conclusion many cities across the nation have reached. It is actually more cost effective to give them an apartment with a caseworker than it is to have them live on the streets to die, get arrested and rearrested.

    Either out of fear or embarrassment, people excuse themselves from directly addressing homelessness by saying, “it’s not my problem.” Avoiding this conflict is a tacit admission that we’ve failed to address the dysfunction of the status quo. This is an embarrassment for all of those who can do something about it, but don’t.

    My greatest fear is that as we aspire to redevelop our waterfront and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build ever more profitable terminals at our ports, we will lose our own sense of humanity and our history to the law of unintended consequences. And we will be told that this is indeed “progress!”

     

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  • The Red Car’s Second Demise

    Cherished Icon Threatened Once Again
    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
     
    One of the first elements of San Pedro’s waterfront development to go live—its Red Car rail service—may also be one of its first to die.

    That’s apparently if port staff has its way, according to a deliberately vague and low-key presentation made to the Board of Harbor Commissioners on March 19.

    It was July 19, 2003 when Councilwoman Janice Hahn spoke at the inauguration of the Red Car line. Both she and her brother, Mayor James Hahn, had ridden with their father, legendary Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, on its last day of service to Long Beach April 9, 1961. And so the spirit of rebirth had a special poignancy, which was fused with a more general spirit of waterfront renewal.

    Now, however, a second death seems imminent, unless strong action is taken. Service will stop later this year, with no clear plans for resumption.

    “The Red Car is your icon. It represents the port in much of your literature,” former port lawyer Pat Nave said, in the comment period of the March 19 meeting.

    Commissioner Pat Castellanos echoed him. “I do think the Red Car is an icon,” she said. I’ve been on it with my nieces and nephews and it’s fun, even if it’s just for a short distance.” But she was concerned about the staff’s cost projections.

    Katherine Gray, with the San Pedro Convention and Visitors Bureau, called the Red Car “exactly what we need.”

    “We have people call us every week about the Red Car: ‘Is it running? How much does it cost? Where does it go?’” Gray said.

    “There’s over a million people that have ridden the Red Car since it started,” added Red Car driver Bob Bryant, who is active with the Northwest Neighborhood Council.

    POLA’s chief engineer, Tony Gioiello, didn’t come right out and say that the Red Car was being killed. He only said it was being suspended, as a result of the Sampson Way realignment, which is expected to take 18 months, starting in early 2016. But the existing tracks will be torn up in the process, and the Red Car service itself will be shut down months in advance. “Our plan is to suspend Red Car service after this year’s Lobster Fest, somewhere near the end of September, and it should be noted the Red Car will not return on its existing alignment,” Gioiello said.

    “You have no intention to continue with our Red Car program,” said Bryant. “None. There’s nothing in our future budget.”

    Gioiello presented cost projections indicating it would take $40 million to accomplish the realignment, roughly 50 percent more than the $26.35 million projected in a September 2009 feasibility study conducted for the port by Wilson & Co. of San Diego, completed the same month that POLA’s board approved the final environmental impact report for waterfront development.

    “The 2009 EIR actually expanded the Red Car line, to Kaiser Point and Cabrillo Beach for example,” Nave pointed out to Random Lengths afterward. “Eliminating it also means that service will never be extended up 6th Street, which is one of the best ways to tie the downtown to the waterfront. This has been talked about many times, and explored by the port, too.”

    Indeed, that EIR, which POLA’s current commissioners seem only vaguely aware of highlighted the Red Car as a vital component of the waterfront development plan. It explicitly included “extension of the Waterfront Red Car Line to City Dock No.1 on the main channel, the Outer Harbor Park and out to Cabrillo Beach,” in addition to the Sampson realignment. Further extensions to Wilmington, downtown San Pedro and North Gaffey were also contemplated and were included in the Wilson study, with specific cost projections, totaling $141.76 million for all of them.

    The new projections total $192 million for the track, plus another $35 million for new cars and a maintenance facility.

    But the real money problem appears to go much deeper: the port’s de facto turning its back on the whole notion of the original $1.2 billion development plan. That’s obviously a lot of money, but a good deal less than the $2 billion spent in Sydney, Australia for a much more extensive development plan, Nave pointed out. According to Australian port officials, Nave said Sydney is a much smaller population center, part of a much smaller national economy, but they have a super-streamlined development process, and only proceed with development projects when they’ve secured support from the governor of New South Wales. Los Angeles, in contrast, has no dependable development process at all.

    “It’s frustrating,” Nave said. “How do we ever rely on what the city says? Seems like that changes from one day to the next.”

    Harbor Commission Vice President Dave Arian was visibly torn. He wanted port staff to provide more detailed analysis involving more options. On the one hand, he said, “The money that’s being proposed here is way beyond anything that we can afford to do, in my opinion.” Then he added, “But I do think we have other options.”

    First, Arian referenced expanding on the trolley recently secured by the business district.

    “I think we need to experiment the next two years with these trolleys. Bring them from different parts of San Pedro and Wilmington into the port. Get them into Ports O’ Call.”

    But, like Castellanos, Arian also had shared family experiences—in his case a granddaughter—informing his appreciation of the Red Car’s iconic power, and its importance in preserving Pedro’s heritage. “When I bring people into town, the first thing they want to ride is the Red Car, and I think it’s a great thing,” Arian added, “We need, in some capacity, to be running this, at least on critical days when there’s a lot of people down here, as an attraction. Maybe not every day, but during the summer and at certain times.”

    Castellanos wanted to know more about options, too. “What is the cost of running a trolley compared to the cost of running the Red Car? Not that we would eliminate the Red Car, but at least so we have it as a compliment once we have more visitors, which I know is our goal,” she said. “I think it should remind all of us in Los Angeles of what we had.”

    Meanwhile, Commissioner Anthony Pirozzi pushed for getting something into the plans right away. “If we don’t put it into the plan now, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “You know the engineering philosophy: you’ve got to do it now, or you won’t do it… I don’t think later is going to be an option.”

    All this takes place against a broader background in which San Pedro’s transit needs continue to be neglected, despite a significant improvement in overall transit planning for the region, epitomized by the Los Angeles Planning Department’s “Mobility 2035” plan, currently receiving public comments. The plan recognizes the need for diverse transit options. “A robust transportation system that offers multiple options and quality infrastructure will be crucial to achieving and maintaining economic prosperity, especially in a city and region so large and expansive,” it states. But it doesn’t include rail for San Pedro or anywhere in the Harbor Area, even as its timeline reminds us just how early in Los Angeles’ history a rail line from the port to downtown appeared.

    In 1869, the timeline notes, “Twenty-one miles of Los Angeles and San Pedro railroad [were] completed, connecting downtown Los Angeles to the harbor for the first time and opening the door to global trade.” That was the same year, according to the timeline, that the Transcontinental Railroad was completed—though only to San Francisco. It would be another seven years after that before the Southern Pacific Railroad would connect Los Angeles to the rest of the nation, and 11 years until Main Street became the first paved roadway in the city. That’s how early, and how important, the San Pedro to downtown Los Angeles rail connection was.

    The timeline also notes the 1887 introduction of the city’s first electric-powered streetcars, which lasted only a year because of a power plant boiler explosion. That was followed by the 1895 inauguration of Los Angeles Railway (Yellow Cars), the city’s first interurban trolley line, which connected Los Angeles and Pasadena, and the 1902 inauguration of the Pacific Electric trolley line from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach. Pacific Electric reached peak ridership in 1945, when it was the world’s largest electric rail system, with 1,164 miles of track serving 125 cities throughout Southern California. But less than 20 years later, it discontinued service on the Los Angeles/Long Beach line, its last remaining line. The Blue Line established service on the same right-of-way in 1990.

    The timeline tells a story of remarkable changes and developments over time that are starkly at odds with the seemingly inflexible permanence that transportation infrastructure tends to project. There were even fascinating possibilities proposed, or even begun, but not completed, which could have produced a very different regional character. In 1897, Los Angeles’ first dedicated bikeway opened, an elevated wooden turnpike connecting downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena. However, only four- and-a-half of the 9 miles that were planned were built. A decade later, in 1907, a 100 mph monorail running from Pasadena to Santa Monica was proposed, but the idea never got beyond the planning stage.

    All this suggests there are more possibilities than most of us usually assume, that we can have a great deal more to say about the nature of regional transportation, and how it shapes our future. The question remains: Will we fight for a better transportation system, or lose the last vestige of what was once the largest mass transit system in the nation?

     

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  • RL NEWS: March 31, 2015

    District Court Enters Permanent Injunction Against Los Angeles Seafood Co.

    WASHINGTON — On March 30, The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against L.A. Star Seafood Company Inc. and its corporate officers Sima Goldring and Sam Goldring.

    The consent decree of permanent injunction was entered to prevent the distribution of adulterated seafood products.

    The Department of Justice filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Jan. 5, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, alleging that the company’s seafood products are produced under conditions that are inadequate to ensure the safety of its products. The complaint alleges that L.A. Star Seafood imports, receives, prepares, processes, packs, holds and distributes ready-to-eat smoked and salt-cured seafood, including cold-smoked mackerel and steelhead trout, and pickled herring and sprats. The complaint also alleges that Sima Goldring and Sam Goldring are L.A. Star Seafood’s corporate officers with the authority and responsibility for preventing and correcting violations of federal law at the company.

    In conjunction with the filing of the complaint, the defendants agreed to settle the litigation and be bound by a consent decree of permanent injunction that prohibits them from committing violations of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The consent decree requires L.A. Star Seafood to cease all manufacturing operations and requires that, in order for the defendants to resume distributing seafood products, the FDA first must determine that its manufacturing practices have come into compliance with the law.

    According to the complaint, FDA inspections in 2013 and 2014 documented a pattern of insanitary conditions resulting in the presence of Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono).  These insanitary conditions were the result of deviations from current good manufacturing practices, such as not adequately cleaning surfaces and utensils used for cutting fish.  Further, the FDA’s most recent inspection in February and March of 2014 documented the defendants’ failure to have and implement adequate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans that control Clostridium botulinum (C. bot) and L. mono hazards.  L. mono is the bacterium that causes listeriosis, a serious and sometimes fatal infection for vulnerable groups such as newborns, the elderly and those with an impaired immune system.  Ingestion of the neurotoxin C. bot can cause botulism.  Though the incidence of botulism is rare, its effect is severe.  The disease can cause paralysis or death if not promptly treated.

    According to the complaint, the FDA documented numerous seafood HACCP and current good manufacturing practice violations when it inspected L.A. Star Seafood’s facility.  The complaint alleges that the company’s products are therefore adulterated within the meaning of the FDCA.  As further alleged, the company was told to take certain precautions while brining fish to control potential C. bot hazards but failed to take appropriate corrective action.  According to the complaint, L.A. Star Seafood failed to adequately clean food-contact surfaces and food manufacturing equipment, utensils and containers to protect against contamination of food, and failed to protect in-process fish products from contamination.  The complaint alleges that the company’s insanitary practices resulted in widespread L. mono contamination and that FDA environmental samples from critical areas of L.A. Star Seafood’s facility, such as the processing-room floor and on food-contact surfaces, tested positive for L. mono.

     

    Daily Vessel Report Now on Port Website

    LONG BEACH — As part of efforts to alleviate congestion, increase transparency and improve supply chain efficiency, the Port of Long Beach has added a “Vessels at a Glance” page to the Port’s website at www.polb.com/vesselsataglance.

    The section features a daily update showing all vessels at berth and anchor within the port, as well as their arrival and departure dates and length of stay in Long Beach.

    Also on the new page are charts updated weekly showing the number of vessels at anchor at both Los Angeles and Long Beach, which illustrate trends within the past six months.

    As of March 30, the number of container ships at anchor for the two ports has dropped dramatically to 11, showing that the San Pedro Bay ports are catching up on the backlog of cargo. Just two weeks ago, on March 14, the ships at anchor peaked at 28.

    “Vessels at a Glance” may also be reached directly through a button on the left side of the polb.com homepage or under the Trade section of the site.

     

    2015 Early Bird 1 Desert Dream House Winners
    The Early Bird 2 purchase deadline for the Palos Verdes Art Center’s 2015 Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle is April 10.
    Early Bird 1 drawings for Palos Verdes Art Center’s 2015 Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle took place March 27. The winners are:

    First Prize: 2015 Mini Cooper or $25,000

    Sylvia McKechnie, Brenda Chalmers, Gilbert Diaz and Kathy Rudon of Torrance

    Multi-Ticket Winner: $25,000
    Peter Jack of Diamond Bar

    Second Prize: $5,000
    Wendy Emeny, Connie Spencer of Rancho Palos Verdes

    Third Prize: $2,500
    Ted and Rosemarie Taylor of Rancho Palos Verdes

    Fourth Prize: $1,500
    Daniela Saxo-Kaneko of Rancho Palos Verdes

    iPad Air 2 or $500
    Jacquie Starodub, Chris Todosiev, Alisa Olate, Janice Nacca, Hali Hertzman, Sharon Palmer, Sue Song, Ku Yu Song and Bob Kohler of Rancho Palos Verdes, Robert Joseph O’Connor of Las Vegas, Mike Persichina of Redondo Beach, Kathryn Ettinger of Palos Verdes Estates, Cindy Holdorff of Los Angeles, Eddy Nelson of San Pedro, Alex Torres of Hawthorne, Dianne Bohnsack of Rancho Palos Verdes, Devin Griffin of Redondo Beach, Robert Johnson of Los Angeles, Robert N. and Sanaye Kumagai of Torrance, Dale Swortz of Houston, Jean Pinto of Encino, Jeremy Freiund of Irvine, Florence Madiani of Rolling Hills Estates, Lynne Griffin of Lomita, Minda Baluyut of Lawndale, Sandra Clarke of San Pedro, Daniel Vaughn of Torrance, and Bruce Bond of Seattle.

    Now in its 13th year, the Dream House Raffle at Palos Verdes Art Center is the first and oldest house raffle in California. It has awarded more than $13 million in cash and prizes in the past twelve years.
    An elegant mid-century vacation home by the master of Hollywood Regency style is just a $150 raffle ticket away for the lucky winner of Palos Verdes Art Center’s 2015 Mid-Century Desert Dream House Raffle. This year, only 25,000 tickets will be sold.
    Nestled in the Marrakesh Country Club (Palm Desert), this completely furnished home was designed by the legendary architect, John Elgin Woolf. Dubbed “The Architect to the Stars,” Woolf’s 1960’s luxury style blends classic French and Greek Revival design with Modernist touches, celebrated in this two bedroom, two bath desert retreat.
    Also included in the grand prize house package are a 2015 Jaguar F-Type V8 S Convertible, a 2015 Jaguar XK Coupe, a fantasy trip for two to Morocco, two Garia golf cars, two Louis Vuitton golf bags, a five-year golf membership in the Marrakesh Country Club-and $675,000 in cash.

    For Raffle Rules and Regulations as well as purchasing options, please visit:  www.CADreamRaffle.com

    The Palos Verdes Art Center, a non-profit community visual arts gallery and school, inspires individuals to create, appreciate and celebrate art. Since 1931, when it was founded as a cultural arm of the planned community of Palos Verdes Estates, the Art Center’s exhibition, education and outreach programs have made the visual arts available, accessible and affordable.

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  • The Persistent Dreams of the Tunnel Builders

    By Lionel Rolfe

    Some of the people seated around the long table in the elegant dark wooded South Pasadena home have been fighting the idea of a five-mile long tunnel nearly 200 feet beneath their feet for decades. To them, that tunnel is the hydra-headed monster that they beat down, but only for a while, and then it pops up again. It’s like a cancerous tumor that can never be removed.

    About the time Caltrans and Metro recently released a new Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement which once again advanced the notion of building the tunnel, this group of veteran tunnel fighters were meeting to take stock. The report also suggested alternatives to the tunnel, ranging from realignment of existing streets, or putting in a lot of light rail or doing nothing.

     

    As far back as the ‘70s and some say even back to 1939, Caltrans’ intention to complete the Long Beach (710) Freeway’s from Long Beach to Pasadena was always part of the plan. But for years, the plan has been foiled in court by the No 710 Action Committee, acting in alliance with cities like South Pasadena and the Sierra Club, in other words, the people here in the room.

    It has proven terribly galling to the freeway builders that they have not been able to complete that last leg to Pasadena in all these years. The freeways were pretty much built in the ‘50s, during America’s flirtations with fascism in the form of McCarthyism. Freeways came out of that era, when Ronald Reagan declared that those who opposed building the Dodger Stadium in old Chavez Ravine were communists—because they were against baseball. It was a period that allowed little dissent.

    Yet activists fought Caltrans to a standstill.  The freeway system that came in the aftermath of World War II was not without its doubters.

    The Arroyo parkway built to link downtown Los Angeles and the Pasadena area opened in 1940 and was L.A.’s prototype freeway, inspired by Hitler’s famed Autobahn. It was also about the same time that General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone tires acquired the rights of way to the old Red Car lines, tore the tracks out, and opened up the way for the freeway builders. The effort to remold the Los Angeles basin with freeways after World War II held sway for years.

    W hen efforts to extend the 710 on a surface route through South Pasadena were abandoned, Caltrans’ engineers seized on the idea of a tunnel—it would be the longest traffic tunnel ever built in the United States.

    To the opponents, the idea of such a long tunnel was a worse nightmare—a financial nightmare and a dangerous misadventure of the grandest proportions. The fact that there would be no egress once you entered the tunnel from either its southern or northern entrances, provokes images of many potential tunnel catastrophes for these activists.  One even suggested the tunnel would prove to be an irresistible target for terrorists.

    The men and women gathered around that South Pasadena table also seriously dispute the estimate of $5 billion for the tunnel as well—pointing out that similar projects in Seattle and Boston for tunnels not as long had similar estimates, but by the time cost overruns were figured in, $5 billion tunnels had morphed into $20 billion tunnels.

    No doubt the people at the table all shared a belief that freeways have been a disaster from the beginning—slicing and dicing communities and creating miles and miles of wide swaths of concrete ghettoes.

    In all the years that the freeway builders have determined the shape of the Los Angeles basin since World War II, there have been only two successful efforts to stop them. One was the opposition that arose to the 710 extension, and the other was the effort to stop the Beverly Hills Freeway, which would have wreaked terrible havoc on Los Angeles if it had been built from downtown Los Angeles through Hollywood and into Beverly Hills.

    The only other place where the freeway builders were also decisively defeated was when San Francisco residents successfully fought to stop the any further construction on the Embarcadero Freeway, which would have destroyed the city’s fabled waterfront.

    The world views of the proponents of freeways and the opponents are like parallel universes. It makes perfect sense that opposition to more freeway building would have come from those cities like Pasadena and South Pasadena created in the craftsman era, which with their emphasis on light and air and wood, proudly standing on the human side of the equation. To this group at the table it’s a constant theme that the purveyors of the notion that the Los Angeles basin should be a concrete megapolis are propelled by hubris, money and power.

    Each of the activists at the table had their own reasons for opposing the freeway. Take Jane Soo Hoo, who left an academic career in biology to raise a family. She credits a lot of her perspective to the work of Bent Flyvbjerg, whose Harvard lecture,”Follies of Infrastructure: Why the Worst Projects Get Built, and How to Avoid It” says it all.  The founding chair of Major Programme Management at Oxford University, Flyvbjerg also wrote an article in The New Scientist, “Mega delusional: The Curse of the Megaproject.” He was one of the experts hired to untangle Caltrans’ mishandling of the recent upgrading of the Bay Bridge.

    Hoo believes that the engineers and road builders obsessed with paving over the Los Angele basin is more than just an obsession, it’s a pathological psychosis.

    To my left sits Jan Ervin, the one who brought me here. Ervin retired from many years as a top administrator at Los Angeles City Hall (she is the one who presided over President Clinton’s bailout to the city after the 1994 earthquake). She happened to read a piece I wrote some years ago in the Pasadena Weekly about the insanity of freeways as a means of transportation and also remembered me as a classmate from the first grade at Westwood Elementary School.

    She took me to dinner with an earlier set of anti-710ers. I was impressed by the folks who attended—I particularly remember a couple who were professors of engineering at CalTech and had lots of trenchant observations.

    But I didn’t write anything at that point. The 710 extension was dead, seemingly abandoned even by Caltrans. But as Ervin pointed out, that was only a false lull. Here we are, back again, fighting the freeway builders with their obscene dreams of a concrete future, she seemed to be saying.

    I was moved to ask the group, “Do any of you think we are dealing with a conspiracy here?”

    “Follow the money, yes it’s a conspiracy,” adamantly pipes in Mary Ann Prada.

    “Nah,” said Rick Helgeson, a former Los Angeles Department of Water and Power counsel, who has done lots of free legal work for the anti-710 effort over the years. “Bureaucrats just do what they’re trained to do. They’re not doing anything illegal” But he said he was also mindful of the words of the great Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, who rhetorically asked, “Why do we always build freeways through poor people’s areas.”

    Prada likes to say she’s “only a housewife” (nine children), nonetheless she has served has served as the anti-710s archivist for years. She began collecting material in the ‘60s, although some of it dates from way before then.

    Playing the rube works well for Prada. With considerable relish she tells of the time she sat in a meeting with the “project manager” of the 405 Armageddon project.

    She engaged in a surrealistic conversation with the gentleman who didn’t know who she was—since she was merely a housewife in the crowd.  “You know this isn’t going to solve any traffic problems,” she said. “This won’t end traffic on the 405.”

    She said he said, “I know.”

    “You know,” she replied incredulously.

    It was this same meeting at which some of the freeway types were talking, with great excitement, about a plan that would dwarf the 710 extension—they were talking about putting more traffic in tunnels underneath the existing Carmageddon lanes.

    “Build it and they will come,” Prada quoted him as saying.

    Clara Bagaard, the wife of the current mayor of Pasadena, contemplates her own opposition to the 710 extension. She thinks the question comes down to health—is it better to live in a Los Angeles basin that is mostly concrete because that’s what big money dictates? Especially if you realize that living in a concrete jungle is both dangerous and unhealthy. “We’re doing everything for the automobile by making the basin uninhabitable for humans. That’s what bothers me—it’s as if human lives don’t matter, just the dollar—and the egos of the engineers.”

    So what will happen? Diana Mahmud, Helgeson’s attorney companion and mayor pro team of South Pasadena, who worked with him for the Department of Water and Power, says she thinks there’s a shift coming in public thinking.

    Mahmud believes that the upcoming generation is more inclined to get on a swift train rather than own a car and drive on the freeways. The newest generations are less enthralled by cars than older ones, she says. They don’t want to commute—they value highly the notion of living close to where they work.

    “They don’t want to just keep adding lanes to the freeways, which never solves the problem anyway,” she added.

    She also predicts that the tunnel will fail because of the financing. The tunnel builders need private money because they know there is no public money for the project. So the idea is to make the freeway a toll road. The tolls would service the investor’s stake.

    Mahmud describes how she was recently at a meeting where the tunnel builders met with the high-rollers. Authorities tried to keep her from coming in, but as an attorney with knowledge of the Brown Act, they had to let her in. From what she heard, the big boys weren’t that turned on. “It was clear to me they had no appetite for the project. They are concerned about litigation,” she said, noting that well they should be—because the anti-710 forces have fought them successfully at every step in the courts.

    She said the big boys also don’t want to deal with controversy, and “we’re good at creating controversy.” She said they want to be handed projects where all the arguing and litigation is over and that’s never going to be the case here.

    I ask who best represents the freeway builders. They all quickly agree this would be Barbara Messina, the five-time mayor and council member of Alhambra. She has led the fight for the 710 extension as vigorously as they have opposed it. Over the years, they have learned to regard Messina as a formidable opponent. But Diana Mahmud shocks the group by dismissing Messina as “small potatoes.”

    The others in the room are less sanguine about Messina. They note that she has a husband and son who worked for Caltrans. Messina is one of the cabal of tunnel builders. So was Roger Snoble, once chief of Los Angeles’ Metro, which got a lot of money for transit because of Measure R. His was the last great voice for the tunnel. Messina suggests Measure R provided some money for the tunnel, but the anti-710 activists say the tunnel was never mentioned on the ballot box. They say the measure was sold with the promise of more rails.

    Everyone at the table proclaimed that more and more people are swinging to their side. The data base has grown from a 100 or so to thousands.  But still, they worry about Messina.

    I chat with Messina. Yes, she admits, she favors the tunnel because it is the only plan that provides “air quality, mobility and ending congestion.” She said it still had not been decided if trucks would be allowed in the toll tunnels.

    And she is convinced that after a 120 or days of comments, hearings and the like, of the three scenarios proposed in the report, only the tunnel will make sense. The alternatives are more light-rail and another to streamline traffic flow. Messina dismisses light rail as “ridiculous” and says traffic mitigation techniques have all been implemented. In the end, she’s convinced, the tunnel will be “the only logical choice.”

    Years ago, Messina served on the Alhambra school board, and says twice she buried students she knew who were killed by traffic, caused by the fact that the 710 extension was never built.

    Messina says she can understand why people hate freeways, but says they are an “indispensable part” of existence in the Los Angeles basin. “It’s not the same as back east or in Northern California. We are built totally different. It’s a necessity of our way of life. They have to drive the same freeways they are opposing.”

    To Messina, the only reason people would oppose freeways is that they don’t care about people who live in place like Alhambra, where there are many poor people who the opponents of freeways regard as so much garbage.

    She’s as absolutely convinced the freeway will be built as the opponents are who say it never should be and never will be built.

    *

    LIONEL ROLFE is the author of a number of books, including “Literary L.A.,” “Fat Man on the Left,” “The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey” and “The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather,” all available in Amazon’s Kindlestore.

     

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