• How a Little Long Beach Theatre Company Got to World Premiere a Tom Stoppard Play

    Tom Stoppard has won more Tony Awards (four) than any playwright in history, and he got jobbed out of a fifth in 1995 when his Arcadia, the best play ever written, lost out to Terrence McNally’s comparatively mediocre Love! Valour! Compassion!

    No doubt a certain subjectivity plagues the previous paragraph, but there’s no spin in saying that Stoppard, who has also managed to pick up an Academy Award for co-writing Shakespeare in Love, is as big a deal as there is in the literary wing of the theatre world.

    So no-one would have guessed that the black box that is the Garage Theatre will host the world premiere staging of Darkside, Stoppard’s 2013 radio play incorporating music from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

    That goes double for Eric Hamme, who obtained the rights and will direct the show. “‘Why the hell did you give these guys the play?'” he proposes as my first question for Stoppard. “That would be something I’d like to know.”

    Considering that Stoppard lives 100 miles from London and says he is in even NYC “only when absolutely necessary,” the man himself certainly had not heard of Hamme’s little Long Beach theatre, which has to get creative to cram in an audience of 50. Presumably, then, it’s got to be partly because no-one thought to ask. Darkside is a radio play, after all, which means it wasn’t conceived to unfold in physical space.

    Nonetheless, this isn’t uncharted territory for the Garage. The second-ever show the company staged was Artist Descending a Staircase—as it happens, also a radio play by Stoppard, the only other such show they’ve mounted in their 15-year existence. “Apparently we only do Tom Stoppard radio plays,” Hamme jokes.

    But the challenges of attempting such work—both radio plays and works by Stoppard—are formidable. While Darkside is intellectually straightforward for Stoppard, with its evocation of utilitarianism, Kantian and Nietzschean ethics, and thought experiments such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, let your attention wander and you might find yourself lost before you know it. And that’s without even considering the metafictional question of what is really going on as philosophy student Emily McCoy wanders through a mysterious, mountainous milieu looking to answer that age-old question “What is the Good?” while The Dark Side of the Moon washes across the action, more a character in its own right than simply a score.

    “You could present it like a musical, in sense: when the songs play, treat them like you would in a musical and have people dancing and moving, [etc.],” Hamme says. “But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to pull away from the songs. I want the music to be sort of the center of those scenes. But then what do you do, just turn on the lights and have, like, a listening party? That also isn’t very interesting. […] Stoppard in general is challenging. Fascinating and fun, but challenging. He works on so many different levels, and everything means something. It’s like every word he writes has this wealth of knowledge behind it. So diving into that and familiarizing myself with stuff that I don’t have any experience with, [such as] Nietzschean philosophy, that’s a challenge, because you could spend a lifetime studying that stuff, and I got two months.”

    Stoppard himself regards the Garage’s attempt as an uphill climb. “I guess every scene is difficult when not impossible,” he says, offering as an example a moment when the play, which has unfolded in Emily’s mind, “change[s] to ‘real world’ (sort of real).”

    Hamme learned of Darkside in spring 2014 while browsing the aisles at Fingerprints Music in downtown Long Beach. A lifelong Pink Floyd fan who regards Stoppard as “obviously one of the most fascinating and intelligent playwrights out there,” Hamme brought the play home and read/listened to it (it comes with a CD of the BBC’s production, which originally aired in August 2013). Instantly enamored of the work, Hamme began to imagine the possibilities of staging it.

    “I was like, ‘God, this would be great for our theater,'” he recalls. “It fits our aesthetic. But then there was that other part of me was like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to give us permission to do it.’ But I knew I wanted to try, at least. It never hurts to ask.”

    Thus began a series of e-mails to Stoppard’s literary agency. Although they were responsive, Hamme wasn’t holding his breath and set about applying for the rights to other shows that could possibly fill the space in the Garage’s season where he wanted to insert Darkside.

    “And then I got an e-mail one day from his agent,” Hamme chuckles, “that just said: ‘Tom is interested. What are your ideas?’ And I was like, ‘Holy shit.'”

    By this point Hamme had not looked at the script in six months, “and now I had to write Tom Stoppard and tell him my ideas about his show. So I re-read it twice, listened again to the radio broadcast, and started jotting down, and then I kept myself up ’til 5 in the morning writing this e-mail in my head over and over again. Then I got up the next day and wrote it. Of course it never came out the way I wanted it to. It was, like, this long description of how I wanted to present the show, and how I saw Pink Floyd in ’94 and my experience with that and that I wanted to take elements of that experience and put it into this, and blah blah blah blah blah. [Laughs] And then they got back to me right away and said, ‘That’s great, but we’re thinking, like, what dates are you looking at.'”

    Hamme became optimistic as e-mail exchanges over the next few weeks seemed to indicate that approval was pending, although he remembers feeling crestfallen when asked about the size of the Garage Theatre and ensuing discussion of whether the Garage is technically considered a “professional” or “amateur” theatre company. But then came the magic word: yes.

    There was a catch, however: Hamme had to obtain from Pink Floyd permission to use the music.

    Unlike with Stoppard’s team, Pink Floyd’s people were completely non-responsive to Hamme’s inquiry. After a half-dozen fruitless follow-ups, Hamme went back to Stoppard’s agent, hoping the latter might intercede. And that’s exactly what happened: “He wrote back and said: I talked to them, and it’s all good.”

    Hamme was still proverbially pinching himself when we sat down a month ago, but there was an unresolved downside to doing Darkside. Aside from the fact that the rights to perform the play cost about double the industry average, considering that the Garage needed to find an additional $1,500 worth of tech to bring Hamme’s vision to life, the logistics of living the dream were murky.

    But the community—of which the Garage Theatre is an active part—stepped up. A social-media campaign offering “executive producer” and “associate producer” credits for large donations was a success, and institutions like Cal Stage and Lighting and the Orange County School of the Arts provided equipment on loan.

    “It’s pretty ridiculous,” Hamme says of the results. “I’ve never seen so many lights in our theatre before.”

    The generosity that has enabled the Garage Theatre to mount Darkside is apropos the play itself. “So, what is the Good?” I asked Stoppard, meaning it as a bit of a joke, considering the broadness of the question. But he played along: “I think a competition of generosity would tend towards Good.”

    Certainly all has transpired for the good of the Garage, which may forever be distinguished as the unlikeliest place to world premiere a work by one of theatre history’s true giants. (The Garage Theatre is calling their Darkside staging only the U.S. premiere, consider that it was first broadcast on BBC Radio; but the playwright says that to his knowledge the Garage is the first theatre company in the world to stage it.)

    Stoppard has a laconic answer to Hamme’s question about why he gave a little place like the Garage Theatre such a chance: “Why not?” In fact, in a comment he passes along through me to the Garage he shows himself a bit grateful: “Thanks for giving Darkside a walk around your black box, an unexpected reprise which I appreciate.”

    It seems that sometimes there is enough good to go around.

    Tom Stoppard’s Darkside, featuring Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and a hell of a lot of lights, opens Friday at the Garage Theatre (251 E. 7th St., Long Beach 90813) and runs July 31 through September 6. Seating is VERY limited, so you best buy your tix in advance. For tickets, showtimes, and more information: thegaragetheatre.org.

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  • CBP Seize Fake Hermès Belts in LA: RL NEWS Briefs of the Week July 27, 2015

    CBP Seize Fake Hermès Belts in LA
    LOS ANGELES On June 18, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and import specialists, assigned to the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex, seized 3,960 high-fashion belts bearing counterfeit Hermès listed trademark.

    If genuine, the seized belts had an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $3.23 million. This seizure is part of a new generation of counterfeit fashion goods offering much more convincing copies of actual products. The belts, had the Hermès trademark stamped on each the boxes, and on the back of each belt. The trademark was also engraved on the back of the belt buckle.

    The merchandise arrived from China. In an attempt to evade detection, the shipment was manifested as “Plastic Besoms”.

    About $1.22 billion worth of counterfeit goods originating overseas were seized by Customs and Border Protection in 2014. China, Hong Kong, Canada, India and United Arab Emirates were the top five countries of origination for counterfeit goods seized by Customs and Border Protection this past fiscal year.

    Morad Family Sues LBPD
    LONG BeACH Supporters joined Morad family members at a press conference in front of the Long Beach Police Department.

    The family announced that they are taking legal action against the LBPD for the death of 20-year-old Feras Morad. On May 27, Offficer Matthew Hernandez killed Morad. Morad, who was displaying erratic behavior after apparently consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms, was unarmed.

    Morad’s family filed $28 million civil rights lawsuit against the LBPD. Mother Amal Morad, father Amr Morad, sister Ghada Morad and cousin Kareem Morad spoke at the press conference.

    “My son needed care,” said Amr Morad, Feras’s father. “Instead, he got killed…. I only hope that there is a change so that the next young man gets the help he needs.”

    A native of Woodland Hills, Feras Morad attended El Camino Real Charter High School, then Moorpark College, choosing a longer commute in order to join that school’s accomplished debate team. A high school and college debate champion, he ranked nationally in both the Phi Rho Pi National Forensic Organization and the National Speech and Debate Championship Tournament, and competed in many other leagues. He was a ranking member of ROTC while at El Camino Real.

    Feras chose to enroll at Cal State-Long Beach in order to save money in hopes of attending law school.

    LB City Council Approves First Responder Fee
    LONG BEACH — On July 21, the Long Beach City Council approved, 8-1, Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez opposed, a first responder fee measure.

    The measure allows residents to be charged $250 for using services from the Long Beach Fire Department. Fee is effective immediately.

    City representatives believe the measure would help offset a projected budget shortfall for the following fiscal year. The shortfall would amount to about $11 million. The department heads stated that almost 85 percent of its calls include medical service. Eleven million dollars out of $22 million are part of LBFD’s budget.

    Within the 30 days from the meeting, the city manager must advise the council in a fee waiver plan.

    About $1.8 million could be generated in its first year, officials said. The money could ultimately help revive programs cut from the budget in past years.

    LA is On Track to 100,000 Unit Housing Goal
    LOS ANGELES — On July 22, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a key milestone in his goal of producing 100,000 new housing units by 2021.

    Based on fiscal-year-end data from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, building permits have been issued for 25,929 new housing units since July 1, 2013, putting production at 26% of Garcetti’s goal two years into his eight-year timeline.
    Building permits are issued by building and safety departmetn after necessary approvals from the Department of City Planning and other agencies are obtained and construction is ready to begin.
    Housing production has been climbing steadily since a low of 3,573 units were permitted in fiscal year 2009-2010, in the midst of the recession. The pre-recession peak was 15,168 units in fiscal year 2005-2006.

    Programs Garcetti has put in place to facilitate housing production include LADBS’s Parallel Design Permitting Process, which saves up to six months by allowing design and plan check to be conducted simultaneously for projects with at least 40 units, and the Inspection Case Management program, which provides coordinated inspection services during construction for projects with a valuation of $10 million or more and can reduce construction time by an additional three to six months.
    Forthcoming initiatives include Build LA, a software system that will integrate and streamline the City’s development review processes across departments. Initial funding for this project has been secured and kickoff is expected in early 2016. The Department of City Planning is also moving forward with re:code LA, a comprehensive rewrite of the 1946 zoning code that will address the city’s contemporary housing needs.
    The mayor’s Sustainable City pLAn identifies additional strategies for the production and preservation of housing including expanding zoning capacity in key transit nodes and corridors; streamlining the building of transit-oriented and affordable housing; and preserving existing affordable housing. The Mayor is continuing to work with city departments, the Los Angeleles City Council, and stakeholders to develop these strategies.

    Hahn, Leiu Help Lead House Effort to Ensure Full LGBT Equality
    Washington, D.C. — Rep. Janice Hahn and Rep. Ted Leiu signed on as original co-sponsors of the Equality Act, legislation to ban discrimination against LGBT individuals in public accommodations, housing, employment, and other core areas of daily life.

    The legislation was introduced July 23. The Equality Act, which is sponsored by Rep. David N. Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, will amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation would apply to public accommodations, federal funding, education, employment, housing, credit, and jury service.

    Despite the Supreme Court ruling in June that affirmed marriage equality, discrimination against LGBT individuals remains legal in most states. Today, only 19 states and the District of Columbia offer employment and housing protections for the LGBT community. And three other states have prohibitions on discrimination based solely on sexual orientation.

    Only 17 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination for public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Another four prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Just 14 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in education. And only one state, Wisconsin, prohibits it based on sexual orientation.

    House Passes Hahn Legislation to Aid Homeless Veterans
    Washington, D.C. — On July 23, the House of Representatives passed a measure that Rep. Janice Hahn introduced. The measure would extend federal aid to homeless veterans fleeing domestic violence.

    Homeless veterans seeking assistance have long relied on an outdated definition of “homeless veteran,” which excluded victims of domestic abuse fleeing their homes. Because of this, many of these victims have been unable to access the aid they need and could be forced to stay with their abuser, leaving themselves in harm’s way. The legislation will correct and expand the definition of homeless veterans to include those fleeing domestic violence and other life threatening situations, finally allowing them to qualify for assistance.

    Hahn first introduced the bill in 2012.  In the past two years, Hahn has been able to help veterans in these circumstances through one year fixes. The legislation, passed as part of a larger bill, HR 2256 the Veterans Information Modernization Act, which provides a permanent solution.

     

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  • Activists: State Fracking Regulations Fall Short

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Fracking is the process of injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals into fuel-bearing rock formations to fracture them in order to extract the fuel.

    Although fracking dates back to the 1940s, its use has skyrocketed since 2004. This has generated widespread alarm, and even bans based on its health and environmental impacts. But activists say that a new set of state regulations here in California falls far short of the mark.

    Fracking is primarily focused on extracting gas from shale formations in the Northeast, along with tight oil (also known as “shale oil”) in a handful of Western states, such as Texas, Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota. In California, fracking has been used more for oil extraction from already-existing wells—though with a now-faded promise of massive new tight oil reserves.

    The term is sometimes used more loosely to refer to a broader range of well treatments used to bring hard-to-get fuel to the surface, including the use of acids and other secret substances when not employed to specifically fracture the underlying rock formations.

    On June 29, the State of New York instituted a ban on fracking following a promise made by Gov. Mario Cuomo this past December. It was reinforced by the mid-May release of a final report encompassing seven years of research. New York’s action stood in stark contrast to the federal government, which continues to either ignore or downplay the dangers of fracking, and California, whose actions have been decidedly mixed.

    On July 1, the Los Angeles Times ran a story headlined, “State issues toughest-in-the-nation fracking rules,” but that characterization is misleading, at best. Environmentalists working on the issue were highly critical of the action’s shortcoming, which came about because of a 2012 law, referred to historically as “SB 4.” Beyond that, neither California nor the federal government appear to be enforcing existing environmental protection laws, as both have just recently been sued by environmentalists for allowing fracking without proper environmental impact studies.

    “These regulations went into effect on the first [of July]; the environmental impact report also came out on the first; and the health study—which looks at the health impacts—doesn’t even come out until the ninth,” Jackie Pomeroy, spokesperson for CA Frack Facts, told Random Lengths News the first week in July. “So the regulations that went into effect did not consider any of the environmental or health impacts that were studied under the law.”

    When the report did come out, however, it left more questions than answers. Among other things, it concluded that “Direct impacts of hydraulic fracturing appear small but have not been investigated.”

    Relatedly, it also stated that, “Operators have unrestricted use of many hazardous and uncharacterized chemicals in hydraulic fracturing.”

    And, it went on to say, “The California oil and gas industry uses a large number of hazardous chemicals during hydraulic fracturing and acid treatments. The use of these chemicals underlies all significant potential direct impacts of well stimulation in California.”

    The day after the report’s release, more than a dozen groups launched an online petition called “Stop Fracking in California,” and several days later the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board came out for a moratorium, saying: “Pushing forward in the dark isn’t smart. It has long been apparent that a moratorium on major new fracking is in order until more is known about its risks and benefits.”

    Typifying the inadequacies of California’s regulatory framework, environmentalists had also objected to the state’s June 24 approval of fracking by nine offshore wells in the Long Beach harbor.

    “The fact that the state just approved nine new offshore fracking jobs in the midst of California still suffering from the worst oil spill in the last 25 years, is just a new low,” said lawyer Kristen Monsell, from the Center for Biological Diversity. “Every offshore frack increases the risk of chemical pollution, and another devastating oil spill…Gov. Brown should recognize that halting offshore fracking is critical to protecting marine animals and coastal communities from this toxic practice.”

    Monsell was similarly disappointed with the new state fracking provisions.

    “Those regulations are weak and will do almost nothing to protect Californians from fracking pollution,” Monsell said. “The rule still allows oil companies to pollute the air, endanger drinking water and produce huge quantities of waste, tainted with chemicals that cause cancer.”

    In contrast, “New York just banned fracking and for good reason,” Monsell pointed out. “In announcing the ban, Commissioner Joe Martens said banning fracking is the ‘only reasonable alternative,’ given fracking’s ‘significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.’ Fracking also adds more dirty fuel to the fire cooking our climate.”

    Pomeroy also weighed in on this last point: not only is fracking more carbon intensive, burning more carbon to get as much energy as other forms of fossil fuel produce, it also releases unaccounted for quantities of methane, which is “20 times more potent than just regular carbon” in contributing to global warming.

    “As New York pulls ahead in the race to save our planet, New York recognized that fracking is incompatible with public health, a technique so dangerous that it can’t be made safe,” Monsell added. “And, it certainly doesn’t belong in our oceans. It’s time for California to catch up, reach the same conclusion and ban fracking.”

    Regulators in both states were faced with significant uncertainty, in large part because so much about the chemicals involved is hidden behind claims of “trade secrets.” But the response in the two states could not have been more different, Pomeroy pointed out.

    “In New York they said, we don’t have enough research yet, to say whether this is safe or not,’” Pomeroy summarized. “In California, we’ve reversed this regulatory process, and said we’re just going to go ahead, until we find it’s not safe.”

    New York’s approach prioritizes public health. California’s prioritizes corporate profits.

    Probably the most salient underlying difference between the two states is the role of energy interests in state politics. Although oil company ownership was once heavily concentrated in New York, production activities were never a dominant part of its economy, and the recent explosion of natural gas fracking has given rise to scores of local anti-fracking ordinances throughout the state. An online list of New York municipal actions as of Dec. 30, 2014 included 85 bans, 95 moratoria and 87 movements for prohibitions (bans or moratoria). California, in contrast, has long been a major fossil fuel producer. Oil companies wield considerable power. It’s the only state without a significant tax on oil extraction.

    Technological advances and relatively high oil prices have helped fuel the fracking boom nationwide for almost a decade—at least until oil prices plunged this past year. But in California, there was an added incentive, in the form of a projected massive tight oil reserve, according to a 2011 report by INTEK Inc., published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This report projected that the Monterey [shale] Formation, which underlies much of California’s oil producing areas, contains an estimated 15.4 billion barrels of tight oil, 64 percent of the entire tight oil reserves in the lower 48 states. The economic impact of such a reserve would have been enormous. A subsequent economic analysis from USC projected as much as a $24.6 billion per year increase in tax revenue and 2.8 million additional jobs by 2020, based on assumptions that Monterey shale could increase total California oil production as much as seven-fold.

    This is precisely the sort of giant piggy-bank the oil industry so often presents itself as. Without doubt it had an impact on eroding public criticism of still poorly-understood technology. Then, in December 2013, the Post Carbon Institute and Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy issued a report, “Drilling California: A Reality Check On The Monterey Shale,” authored by J. David Hughes, a Canadian geoscientist, which brought everyone down to earth again, based on a detailed analysis of existing production and comparisons of geological properties in other formations, such as South Dakota’s Bakken formation.

    “This was the first empirical analysis that used real geological and oil production data to question the assumptions,” said Seth Shonkoff of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, who edited and reviewed the report.

    “The Drilling California report was the first to cast doubt on the U.S. Department of Energy statements that California’s Monterey Formation constituted two-thirds of U.S. tight oil resources,” Hughes said in an interview with Random Lengths News. “The report debunked the pervasive hype, such as the USC economic report on the Monterey, that tight oil production would produce a windfall of California tax receipts and employment. The report and its subsequent confirmation by the U.S. Department of Energy dashed dreams of a hope for tight oil windfall, and allowed California to get on with more realistic planning for its economic and energy future.”

    That confirmation came about six months later, in May 2014. It lowered the earlier estimate by 96 percent.

    “Our report severely altered the public and policy conversations about the economics and geological basis of such a claim and helped to focus the conversations more on issues associated with existing oil and gas development in California,” Shonkoff added.

    And yet, the environmental protection side of things still seems to have been disabled. Even the dubious new protections often don’t apply, particularly to many wells in the Los Angeles basin, Pomeroy said.

    “They didn’t include things like well maintenance,” she explained. “What’s happening in LA, these companies are categorizing their stuff as well maintenance, just because they can.”

    It’s a meaningless distinction, she pointed out.

    “They’re classifying this stuff as well maintenance, even though it uses dozens of tanker trucks full of acid—more acid, in fact, then is used in actual instances of acidization that have been reported.” As a result, “All of that activity is totally exempt from having to comply with SB 4 regulations. There’s no neighbor notification, there’s no basic water testing required. So in LA that loophole in state regulation is having a really big impact.”

    These wells are sometimes as close as 20 feet from somebody’s front door.

    “There are places in LA, [where] you could throw an empty Starbucks cup and hit an oil well from someone’s window,” Pomeroy said. “It’s that close.”

    And that’s not just an isolated home.

    “It just multiplies the impact that has on people’s health, because the population is so dense,” she said. “I’m not making is up…There’s an oil site in LA, that’s surrounded on four sides by a Catholic convent, a low-income housing project, an elementary school and a school for mentally disabled adults. Talk about vulnerable populations having to put up with this stuff!”

    The state and federal failures to protect the public and the environment have lead the Center for Biological Diversity into legal actions on two fronts, that Monsell directed attention to.

    First, in November 2014, the CBD was a plaintiff in a state court suit filed by Earthjustice against the California state agency responsible for regulating oil and gas drilling, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. The suit concerned 214 Kern County drilling permits granted to Area Energy, of which at least 144 were projected to involve fracking. The complaint began by asserting that division “has consistently failed to live up to its obligations pursuant to California Environmental Quality Act, by permitting oil drilling projects in the South Belridge Oil Field without any kind of environmental review. This permitting is occurring as if CEQA never became law in 1970.”

    CEQA provides for different levels of scrutiny, following a preliminary investigation. Environmental impact reports (EIRs) are the best-known kind of process, called for when significant environmental impacts are foreseen, requiring a comprehensive consideration of possible mitigation measures. Federal law has analogous provisions under the National Environmental Policy Act, with a similar level of scrutiny via environmental impact statements (EISs).

    In February 2015, the Center for Biological Diversity got involved on a second front in federal court, filing a similar suit involving offshore fracking against the U.S. Department of the Interior and two of its bureaus. It alleged the same sort of failure to abide by National Environmental Policy Act, as well as related violations to three other federal laws, including the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act.

    “The bureaus have a pattern and practice of rubber-stamping permits to frack with no analysis of the environmental impacts, no determination of whether such activities are consistent with the plans governing oil development and production in the Pacific Region or California’s Coastal Management Program, and no public involvement,” the complaint alleged. “The bureaus’ actions—or lack thereof—violate a myriad of laws,” including those just cited.

    Specifically, the complaint went on to note, “the Bureau’s approval of such permits without conducting a comprehensive analysis of the environmental impacts of offshore fracking violates NEPA.” As a result, “These violations of law damage California’s unique and economically significant coastal environment, threaten the health and welfare of coastal communities, and deprive the public of information and participation to which it is legally entitled.”

    If taken seriously, California law ought to put an end to fracking entirely Monsell argued.

    “As I mentioned, we think that this whole process has been a sham, because they’re ignoring scientific information,” she said, “But as you may also know, CEQA requires the state actors to mitigate any significant environmental impacts, and as we’ve seen from the recent oil spill, there’s really no such thing as safe offshore oil and gas drilling, and transportation. The best way to mitigate these damages is to prevent them from occurring in the first place, by banning fracking, not allowing it in our oceans.”

    Pomeroy articulated a related perspective—that of considering the total costs involved in fossil fuel energy production.

    “We can’t survive on oil forever,” she observes, but the price of oil is “artificially cheap,” slowing down the transition to renewables, which represent the future. “If they had pay for the externalities of polluting the air, and causing asthma, and polluting the water, and making it so we can’t use aquifers, and impacting food, and all of those things… If you added up all those, the price of oil would be much higher than it is now, and renewables would be a much more viable alternative, much faster.”

    This leads her to suggest a market-based solution of sorts:

    “If I had to take an approach, it would be accurately force the cost of the stuff on society, and then let the market decide,” Pomeroy said. “I’m pretty sure once all these costs are taken into account it would be a totally different picture.”

     

     

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  • Here Comes Rolling Thunder

    Local Advocacy Group Gives the Homeless a Leg Up, Not a Handout—One Relationship at a Time

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Every weekend and occasion- ally a day or two during the week, Nora Vela and her boyfriend Fernando Escobedo load up an old 1973 Volkswagen van with survival supplies, including hot, homemade meals, socks and hygiene kits. “Rolling Thunder,” as Vela metaphorically calls her van, is a welcome sight for sore eyes to people who are struggling with homelessness and living in makeshift encampments.

    Vela found Rolling Thunder on Craigslist four years ago. Barely operable, the 40-year-old vehicle was missing a windshield, the sliding side door was rusted shut, and when driven, it—in Vela’s words “farted” black smoke every few miles.

    But it had a few things going for it.

    “The interior was mostly immaculate considering it was used as a storage space for junk,” Vela said. “But it was a piece of shit on wheels.”

    She bought the bus for $1,500, but Vela estimates she poured about $7,000 into it for repairs and renovations, and a whole lot of hours of love and sweat. Now, it’s a reliable source of transportation. It has a DVD player with a surround sound system, a table and space for a queen-size bed.

    On weekdays, Vela is an artist, crafter and entrepreneur. She creates original items, from handmade dolls to mounted assemblage works, which she sells at her booth at Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles. Weekends and any other spare moments she has are devoted to procuring food, clothing and other supplies through donations or otherwise, to be distributed to people in need.

    Vela and her crew, her boyfriend Escobedo and Vela’s 15-year-old son, Augustin, generally visit three to four homeless encampment sites each night, spending enough time at each location to catch up with the people living there with whom they’ve formed friendships.

    Vela said they began with 12 tacos from Del Taco, which they bought after a homeless person asked them for food. Seeing a need, the crew of three began handing out more tacos. Their deliveries quickly went from 12 tacos to a couple of deep trays of food.

    In an age where social media users routinely try to capture video of people living on the streets doing something socially unacceptable, so they can complain about it with virtual friends, Vela chooses to engage people struggling with homelessness, offering them meals and friendship.

    I joined Vela and Escobedo on one of their weekend excursions around the Harbor Area.

    At the time, Mayor Eric Garcetti was being raked over the coals by both sides of the debate about what to do about the growing number of homeless people in San Pedro. This, after the mayor allowed two anti-homeless ordinances to pass by the Los Angeles City Council without signing them.

    The new ordinances include reducing the time authorities have to remove bulk items that pile up on sidewalks from 72 hours to 24 hours, and a ban on sleeping in vehicles on city streets between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. without a permit. The permit would only be granted if the applicant also received services from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and other regional providers through the Coordinated Entry System.

    The Coordinated Entry System and the Homeless Family Solutions, respectively, serve individuals and families who are homeless. Both entities engage, keep track of and coordinate Section 8 housing and other services in Los Angeles County. Each of eight service planning areas have a lead agency that coordinates with various aid agencies to connect homeless people to services and get them into permanent housing. Harbor Interfaith Services is the lead agency for Service Planning Area 8, which encompasses the southernmost regions of Los Angeles County including Inglewood, Carson and the San Pedro Peninsula.

    Vela, Escobedo and Augustin are the core of the local outfit of volunteers that regularly visit the homeless in San Pedro. Though there are others who hand out food in the community, Vela and her crew of volunteers have formed tight-knit bonds with the folks who sleep in encampments at the post office on Beacon Street, Anderson Park, Jack In The Box on Gaffey at 6th streets and the area near the railroad tracks by the 110 Freeway underpass.

    Vela makes it a point to prepare healthy homemade meals. She says she spends about $40 to feed 40 to 50 people. Each of these meals include a main entrée, water and dessert. On at least a couple of occasions, she has hosted dessert and root beer float parties to celebrate the birthdays of her homeless friends.

    “We make sure they are following up with people,” said Vela, referring to service providers in Service Planning Area 8. “The 60- or 70-year-old veterans… no one can come out and do it? But yet [a diabetic] dog can get insulin and have his glucose checked twice a day and have expensive specialized food for diabetic dogs and have nice water, but [a veteran] has to live in squalor?”

    Vela was referring to a veteran who was living the near the railroad tracks with his friendly 2-year-old pitbull. She noted that the man had been dealing with significant health issues, and at the time, to her knowledge, had not been reached by a case manager of any sort.

    One of the first persons I interviewed was a 60-something homeless woman who asked to be called “Julie” for this story. She had been sleeping in the immediate vicinity of China Cook Express restaurant and Jack In The Box on Gaffey Street with her dog.

    “I used to live in my van for about three years,” Julie explained after finishing the dinner Vela brought her.

    She had a string of bad luck and circumstances: her boyfriend went to jail and her van broke down a few times, until it just wasn’t operable.

    “So I’ve been living out here with my dog; It’s a little hard,” she said. “People think you’re out here because you want to be out here. But you don’t really want to be out here. Some people give you problems and some don’t. Some are pretty lenient. There are a lot of people [who] are willing to help you out here.”

    Julie was fairly well-informed about a measure going through the state legislature that would have forbidden local municipalities from enforcing bans on sleeping in cars. The Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution opposing the legislation unless there was an amendment that would allow local municipalities to enforce the permitting for vehicles used for sleeping.

    Julie said if she still had her van and the council indeed passed the law, it’s unlikely she’d be able to afford the permit. Last month, she lost her wallet with her identification card and other important documents. That caused a lapse in paperwork needed for her to collect a Supplementary Security Income check. Now she has to renew all of that paperwork.

    “Harbor Interfaith can help me get a new I.D. for $8, but I may need that $8 for me and my dog to eat,” Julie said. “And, we need other things aside from food.”

    She doesn’t have a carrier for her dog, which makes it difficult to get on the bus to go to the social services office to apply for general relief, unless she gets a ride there.

    Julie said she rescued her dog from an abusive situation and would rather stay homeless than give up her companion.

    She acknowledges that there are all sorts of programs that could help get her into permanent housing, but none flexible enough to allow her to keep her dog.

    It’s important to maintain relationships when serving the homeless community, Vela said.

    “We all create bonds with different people and it reintegrates them back into society,” Vela said. “It’s what they need. It’s amazing how they blossom with time.”

    Another person I interviewed was 56-year-old Tony Esquivel, who can often be found at Anderson Park. Vela often has lunch with him and has, on occasion, invited him to her home for dinner and allowed him to bathe in her bathroom.

    He takes pride in the fact he doesn’t look disheveled or dirty, managing to stay relatively clean without carrying a lot a lot of his possessions around with him, so that people don’t notice that he is living in the streets. He credits this with his ability pick up short-term jobs.

    Even without Vela’s help, Esquivel knows where to get food and other resources, but keeping up appearances, not looking like he’s homeless, is difficult.

    “Being homeless doesn’t feel good. A lot of people like to get up and shower and do what they have to do. Here, wherever you wake up at, you have to think about… ‘I know I have to take a shower, but where?’ Cabrillo Beach is too far.”

    Esquivel was originally from Corona in Riverside County. He said a couple of years ago his family got together and decided to do an intervention and sent him to a Christian rehabilitation center.

    “I was heavy into drugs [when] my sister, my mom and dad had a meeting and they…shipped me to Wilmington to a men’s Christian home,” Esquivel said. “I stayed there three years and five months.”

    At some point, a director at the home befriended Esquivel and allowed him to stay in his garage for three months.

    When the three months were up, he was homeless again, until another man allowed him to stay in his garage for $100 per month. He then got romantically involved with a woman and followed her to Palmdale. Shortly after moving, his girlfriend gave him $35 to leave. He came back to the Harbor Area.

    “The people who have jobs and have homes, it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “Right now they look down at us. But we’re normal people like they are. They got the money right now, but watch, one of these days their time is going to end and they will be homeless and they will feel what we feel.”

    Esquivel lamented that Hope Chapel—a church known for feeding the homeless before the building was sold and turned into a charter school—did not become a transitional housing location.

    “If they wanted homeless people off the streets, they could have opened it there,” he said. “But…city councilman and the chamber…said no…yet, they’re still complaining about it. If they are complaining about the problem and they want to get rid of the problem then why don’t they do something about it?”

    Later, I asked Vela to comment on the attitude among some members of the general public that what she does “enables” the homeless to continue being homeless.

    “To folks who say that the homeless could get off the street if they wanted, [I say,] ‘No, they can’t,’” Vela said. “When you have people on the street that are dealing with mental and physical health issues…those are huge obstacles to getting off the streets. I’ve helped people who are diabetic, I’ve helped people who are bipolar or are schizophrenic or are on Paxil dealing with anxiety and depression. You name it. It’s out there.”

    The Source of Nora’s Fire

    Vela says her upbringing is the main reason why she does what she does. She knows firsthand the connection between foster care and homelessness.

    She grew up poor in an abusive household. For Vela, her aunt’s downstairs apartment was her safe haven.

    “We didn’t have money,” she recalled. “My mom couldn’t even keep food in the fridge. I mean, it would be iffy if she even got out of bed because of her depression. Then she would blame me and have me hit for it.

    “I noticed that all the neighborhood kids didn’t have money, and I didn’t have money to buy candy and hardly a toy between them.”

    Vela said she had to learn at an early age how to earn money. She recalled how at the age of 6, she began selling painted rocks and bags of peanuts for 50 cents.

    Vela was placed in 29 foster homes before landing in the care of foster parents that she was able to trust and love as her family.

    “I’ve been raped, molested; my shit has been stolen in foster care,” Vela said. “I’ve coordinated mass escapes from foster care…I was one of those kids.

    “Throughout my life I found that I was going to do what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t going to allow anybody to get in my way.”

    Vela recalled graduating at the top of her class at UEI College to become a medical assistant, with two jobs and 1-year-old Augustin in tow. She was also homeless.

    Vela paid babysitters to watch her toddler by let them sleep over, while she spent the majority of her time going to class and working two jobs.

    Life, on balance, got better although she had two more children with an abusive husband whom she ultimately left. She remarried a Marine, who served three tours in Iraq. When he was deployed she spent her time crafting items for sale, cooking large healthy meals for the kids at the military base and also for the homeless.

    Advocating for foster children and the homeless has been Vela’s lifelong passion. And that passion is spreading.

    Wilmington residents following Vela’s Facebook page, “Helping Homeless in Need—San Pedro”—have reached out to her to create a group in Wilmington. Membership on the page has been growing exponentially since it started July 20.

    It looks like Wilmington will soon have its own Rolling Thunder.

     

    For information on how to donate food, supplies or your time visit Helping the Homeless in San Pedro on Facebook.

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  • The Donald, the Confederate Flag and the GOP

    Free Speech, Even When Offensive, has Value

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
    Far be it from me to be the one to try and stop the fearless Donald, as in Trump, from speaking his mind as he runs for the Republican nomination for president. But his run has done more to expose some of the underlying racist attitudes still held by many in this nation who love to repeat, “with liberty and justice for all.”

    In his blustery campaign speech, he accused Mexico of “dumping its worst citizens” at our borders who are “rapists and drug dealers” and later that these immigrants are bringing “tremendous infectious diseases” into the United States.

    This is a lot of hubris for a man who probably hires more Mexicans to clean his hotels, mow the greens on his golf courses and wash his cars than live in Wilmington. He is the leading Republican candidate in the early opinion polls which shows that there is considerable support for his inflammatory race-baiting and scapegoating candidacy. And, as shocking as this hate speech is to the rest of America, if not the world, he exemplifies the disconnect that exists in our discourse about racism in this country. He actually believes what he says and doesn’t consider himself a racist!

    So why pay attention to such an egotistical blowhard like Trump? It’s because he is the posterboy for elitist white capitalists who have historically used race to avoid discussing the inequalities of class in this country and to stir up historic antagonisms fueled by biases projected in the media.

    Trump is so stupid that he thinks America is still going to buy this old line and that his “celebrity” status is going to protect him or propel him to attaining the power that he just can’t purchase or steal otherwise.

    The Donald is not alone. On a recent Saturday in front of the capitol building in Columbia, SC, supporters of the Ku Klux Klan came out to protest the removal of the Confederate battle flag.

    Yes, the very same flag South Carolina’s state legislature voted to remove and signed into law by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley following the massacre of 9 church members by an avowed white supremacist. During debates on the floor of the legislature, a small but vocal minority defended the flag as a “historic” symbol of the South.

    So what’s the deal about these state flags anyway?

    Prior to the Civil War, the majority of states—with the exception of California and Texas—didn’t even have a state flag. If you remember, California and Texas were independent republics before they entered the union. Then came the war of separation, the costliest war in terms of lives lost that this nation has ever fought.

    You may recall that the South lost that war, the nation’s union was preserved and the institution of slavery was broken by the Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, and codified in this nation’s constitution with the 14th Amendment. The Confederate battle flags did not fly over Southern statehouses for the next 82 years.

    Only when President Harry Truman gave the executive order to integrate the U.S. military after World War II did the Southern Dixiecrats rebel. Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-SC) ran a campaign for the Democratic nomination in protest and lost. Only then did the former rebel states raise their “historic flags.”

    You see, these flags were less about the Civil War and the cause that they lost in 1865, than about the white political hegemony of Jim Crow laws and segregation that the “new South” had maintained even until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

    The odd footnote to all of this is that the final bulwark of the Old South, Thurmond, had an illegitimate black daughter who he had supported her financially through the years. This only adds another layer of complexity in discussing race or racism in America. Flags are symbols that hold different meanings for many people, but the hypocrisy of Thurmond should make us all wonder aloud about the color line in these here United States of America.

    As shocking as it may be for some of you to see the Klan rise up in South Carolina today, don’t be so smug as to think that there aren’t folks in these parts who still hold such sympathies too. It was not so long ago that the Klan marched from its local headquarters above Gaffey down to throw out the local IWW (Wobbly) Hall on 12th and Centre streets, in part because they had an integrated union in 1924.

    It was not that long ago that racial real estate covenants in California restricted people of color, including Jews, from owning property in cities like Torrance, Palos Verdes and parts of San Pedro or Long Beach and elsewhere—a practice that didn’t end until 1968.

    And it was not that long ago that a local workman found fascist Italian propaganda hidden in the wall of an old San Pedro home and that Harbor College was used as an internment camp for Italians of “questionable loyalty” during World War II. This, as well as the internment of Japanese Americans during that world war.

    What is astoundingly stupid in a country that has become the melting pot of the world’s peoples—ethnically, culturally and racially—is that we still have people of great wealth and power, like Trump, and those who follow him, that attempt to divide us by race or religion and don’t have a clue as to why people from south of the border or from China are drawn to immigrate here. Are their reasons so different from when his people or mine, of German and Scottish heritage, came here?

    Like I said before, far be it from me to stop The Donald from expressing his racist views as he leads the GOP down this disastrous path. Just don’t expect this newspaper to endorse anything that he propounds. Ever!

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  • The Long Beach Grand Cru: Judge For a Day

    Judge For a Day

    By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine Writer

    If you are a wine aficionado, you might be a little jealous after reading this article.

    On July 19, I had the pleasure of attending the Long Beach Grand Cru wine tasting competition, the country’s only nonprofit wine sip-off.

    GrandCruCompetition2015-9960

    Long Beach Grand Cru Wine Tasting Competition judges vote on their favorites July 19. The competition is the the country’s only nonprofit wine competition. Courtesy photo.

    The Long Beach Grand Cru celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. Each year the Grand Cru raises funds through its public tasting festival to benefit the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Greater Long Beach Community Medical Legal Partnership. Proceeds from the fundraiser help provide legal support to low-income people in the community.

    In preparation for that event, there is an international wine competition that precedes the public tasting and wine festival. The two-day competition boasts a prestigious panel of judges, including winemakers, winery owners, wine writers, industry professionals, educators — and of course, yours truly.

    Structured as a double-blind judging process, each judge samples about 120 wines per day — and believe me when I say, it’s a long and arduous process. Judges are set up at round tables and served flights of wine, both white and red so as not to exhaust the palate. Judges are then asked to award medals based on several characteristics: subtlety, varietal character, terroir (the combo of factors including soil, climate and sunlight that give grapes their character). Discussion is encouraged. At the end, a vote is taken to determine if the wine is worthy of a bronze, silver or gold medal.

    I had no idea what to expect that day—I assumed I would be stuck at a table with wine elitists who would be less than welcoming, but that was hardly the case. Everyone at my table, from enologists (people who study the science of wine), to vintners, were incredibly friendly, helpful, and engaging. They took time to explain how the judging process works. One person at my table broke it down in layman’s terms:

    “Would you serve this wine at a dinner party? If you would, then it should be awarded a medal.” Next question: “How much would you pay for the bottle? Ten dollars should be awarded a bronze medal, $20 should be awarded a silver medal, and $30 dollars should be awarded a gold Medal.”

     

    Gina Ruccione

    Gina Ruccione was a judge for a day, July 19, at the 2015 Long Beach Grand Cru Wine Tasting Competition. Courtesy photo

    I enjoy wine and consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about it, but wine jargon can be stuffy at times, and tasting 25 different white wines in one flight proved to be more challenging that I expected. By the end of the day, everything started to taste the same. It was hard to discern what was good, what was bad, and/or if my taste buds were still functioning properly. To my surprise, my palate is more sophisticated than I thought. Most of the judges at my table and I had similar taste in wine.

    To say I felt a little dehydrated after the competition would be a severe understatement. I found myself snacking on the palate cleansers in the middle of the table (cheese, roast beef, olives, crackers) to avoid an accidental buzz. Apparently, I’ve been doing this wrong for years. I’ve been eating a box of crackers and having a glass of wine, when it should be a bottle of wine and a couple of crackers. Or—wait. No, that can’t be right.

    The Long Beach Grand Cru Public Tasting will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 8, at the South Coast Botanic Gardens in Palos Verdes.

    Entertainment, delicious food from local restaurants, and of course, the opportunity to try plenty of wine is all on the agenda.

    Details: http://longbeachgrandcru.com

    Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.

     

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  • In Memoriam: William Crutchfield

    Master of Satire and Irony

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    When sculptor, artist and printmaker William “Bill” Crutchfield died April 20, the San Pedro art community lost a brilliant member.

    Bill is survived by his wife Barbara, with whom he shared his life for more than 50 years. As a career partner, she assisted him with the construction of his sculptures and documented his profession. As his wife, she provided sustenance.

    “I made the spaghetti that kept him going,” Barbara said.

    Bill was born in rural Indiana. His childhood was spent immersed in nature. He grew up on a farm where a favorite pastime was lying on the ground observing the light passing through the negative space between the leaves of the trees. As a young boy Bill became interested in art through a life drawing course in Indiana. The process of discovering the skill and technique of drawing bone and muscle sparked an interest in anatomy.

    “The best book I ever read was an anatomy book” Bill once said.

    Through this practice he experienced a kind of enlightenment.

    “I can’t bring myself to kill a spider,” he once said during an interview with Random Lengths News. “I know they have legs and a body just like me.”

    The artist was in love with drawing, which he said he did every day.

    In 1956, he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Herron School of Art at Indiana University in Indianapolis. In 1960, he earned a master’s degree in fine arts from Tulane University in New Orleans. From 1960 to 1962, he studied at the Hochschule fuer bildende Kuenste in Hamburg, Germany. He taught foundation studies and advanced drawing at the Herron School of Art, in Indianapolis, from 1962 to 1965. From 1965 to 1967, he was chairman of Foundation Studies at the Minneapolis College of Art.

    His works are in collections nationally from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and internationally from the Tate Modern, London, to the National Gallery of Australia and the Singapore Art Museum.

    Bill’s interest in the relationship between man and machine was particularly suited to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s significant but controversial Art and Technology exhibition in 1971. Crutchfield produced its screen-printed poster and several illustrations for the catalog.

    In spite of the finely detailed precision of his drawings, it was his sculptures that displayed his talent for engineering. The artist spent many years of his career working for NASA. One piece, titled “Countdown,” is a homage to the space program that occupied his life during this period. Bronze numbers literally countdown to “blast off” in this piece, in a reflection of a rocket’s preparation to send man towards the exploration of space.

    Numbers and letters were also a theme. In an irrational, illogical formation the letter M is transformed into W in Man, Woman. In his sculpture “Fly,” the bronze sculpture presents the observer with a puzzle. “Fly” is read front and back as the letters morph in opposition.

    He and his wife, Barbara, settled in their studio in San Pedro in 1974, producing drawings, paintings, hand lithography prints, screenprints, digital prints and sculpture.

    A satirical commentary on humanity often resided beneath Bill’s whimsical subject matter and exquisite draftsmanship. The artist used a variety of media, sculpture, painting and prints to harness his imagination.

    “In a painting you are looking at layers and layers of paint and varnish, drawing is the hand moving,” artist Ron Linden described. “I believe Bill thought with a pencil.”

    During his interview with Random Lengths Bill also said he frequently places pen on paper and allows it to move, as he watches images emerge.

    The action was fascinating to him. After laying down the detailed lines, he highlighted with fine touches of color to pull out the images he found on the page. The result is a cross between M.C. Escher and Google Doodles.

    “Every line is meant to be there,” Bill told Random Lengths News. “Each component in the drawing is important.”

    But there was much more to his imagination. Bill never lost his boyhood fascinations with things mechanical. Trains, planes and ships serve as vessels of transport for his imagination. Trains also took on a fantasy aspect for him. Locomotives chug across the page; wheels churn at a fantastic pace; steam engines spew massive chunky smoke as it goes.

    One of Crutchfield’s last exhibitions was at Ray Carofano’s Gallery 478 in his hometown of San Pedro.

    “He is one of the most literate artists that I have come across,” Carofano said. “He was a student of all of his subjects.”

    Crutchfield was a master of lithography. As a professor, one of Bill’s star students was Los Angeles lithographer Kenneth Tyler, who went on to found the influential print house Gemini G.E.L.

    “The emphasis on drawing was a natural fit for printmaking,” Ron said.

    William worked both at Gemini and Tamarind, beginning in 1960 where he completed his series Air Land and Sea, a suite of 13 lithographs.

    “Crutchfield’s real merit is his being a social artist who is genuinely visually inventive, and a visual artist whose comments have quite a bit to say­—sneakily, quietly, (humorously), profoundly –about the errors of our ways,” art critic Peter Plagens wrote.

    His wife said the loss of his presence in the art community is profoundly felt. His reaction to his own loss might be reflective of his art and impact.

    “Bill would laugh,” Barbara said. “He would say, ‘It doesn’t matter because it’s all a myth anyway.’”

     

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  • Kamasi Washington’s Release is EPIC

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    Epic, the title of tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington’s latest album, is just that.

    The three-volume album, which Washington composed and arranged, is a journey through his musical life. Each disc with its own title describes a place in time on his journey.

    A musician on the rise, Washington has contributed to two acclaimed albums over the past year, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead!

    Washington was asked by Flying Lotus to record on his label, Brainfeeder. So he called members of his band, The West Coast Get Down, to make the album. The band features two drummers: Ronald Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin. It also has two bass players: Thundercat and Miles Mosley, and it has pianist Cameron Graves, keyboardist Brandon Coleman and three horn players, including trombonist Ryan Porter. There are two lead vocalists: Dwight Trible and Patrice Quinn. The album also includes a 20-piece choir and a 32-piece string section.

    Washington recently spoke about Epic in an interview with Random Lengths News.

     

    Kamasi Washington and friends. Courtesy photo of Janice Wang of Atom Factory.

    Melina Paris: What was the inspiration for this album?

    Kamasi Washington: Half of the band (on Epic) and I grew up and played together since we were very little, but we never actually recorded that whole band together. So I wanted that band for the record. They each had stuff to record too. So we decided to record all of each other’s music during the month we were in the studio. For me, I was trying to capture a good quality studio recording of our sound and style when we play together at gigs around LA.

    I also like writing for large ensembles and choirs and always wanted to add those two elements to what I was doing. It was hard. I wanted to record how the band moves very organically. Then, bringing the choir in around it brought those two worlds together.

     

    MP: Why did you name each disc, “The Plan,” “The Glorious Tale” and “The Historic Repetition”?

    KW: I had a dream I came up with when I was working on the album but there is also a more literal meaning.

    I wrote a lot of these songs when I was younger. The songs on The Plan came from a time in my life when I was cultivating myself as a musician and pushing towards a place. It also links to a part of my life when I was in high school and my studies were all in jazz. But, when I came out of high school my first gig wasn’t a jazz gig, it was with Snoop (Dogg). It was kind of a curveball for me. I love Snoop and was happy to get the gig but it just wasn’t what I expected.

    I went on the road with Snoop and it was interesting. It was mostly a jazz band but it was led by these producers who all came with this West Coast hip-hop producer perspective. They never asked us to play anything that was technically difficult. It was all pretty simple chords and like three or four notes, but the way they wanted us to play, it was so particular. They heard every nuance of exactly what they wanted us to play. We had to really listen to the music, and the more I listened to it, the more I had a detailed ear. Like listening to music through a microscope. So then I had that mentality and brought it to my band (who got it) and when we started playing jazz together that didn’t turn off. All of a sudden, we’re playing music where there’s hundreds of notes but I was still listening with these super detailed ears. I’m hearing every nuance of how someone is playing as well as focusing on my playing so it added a third dimension. It was a blessing in disguise.

    The Plan was what I did in preparation for my life, then The Glorious Tale was my actual life. I was playing the music that I was taught in high school, then you have your life go on and it becomes something different. It’s actually beautiful if you look at it that way. The culmination of my sound comes from all these gigs that I got to do and that’s what my sound is about.

    The other part is half the guys in my band’s parents are musicians. So there’s a certain cycle, a loop that I didn’t want to have happen. I felt like if I knew what happened I could keep myself from getting caught in this loop or The Historic Repetition.

     

    Kamasi Washington. Courtesy photo of  Janice Wang of Atom Factory.

    Kamasi Washington and friends. Courtesy photo of Janice Wang of Atom Factory.

    MP: What you see in that cycle?

    KW: My dad was really deep into jazz in high school and when he came out, the opportunities weren’t there in jazz. That’s probably an LA thing. I think LA jazz just got overlooked. They were in the cycle of playing for different artists. They didn’t really push their own music outside of that, at least not when they were young. That’s where we changed the cycle a little bit.

    It’s a form of self expression. While it’s great to play with other people and help them and realize their musical vision, if you’re going to be a musician, you need to also work on your own vision and make it a priority. That was part of the repetition we are trying to change. The record has a lot of references to that past and for me it was like inhabiting that. History is going to repeat itself but in what way is it going to repeat itself? It depends on how knowledgeable we are.

     

    MP: LA jazz, where do you see it right now?

    KW: LA jazz has always been only in LA. The boom hasn’t really stepped far out of LA. If you talk to people from South Central, they’re very connected to the LA jazz scene. Even Kendrick (Lamar) has been connected to the LA jazz scene for years. So it’s all been musically very rich, very full but it’s a big city, so it can feel a little diluted. LA is bigger than New York but if you take it all and condense it you realize there’s a lot of musicians and a lot going on here. The cool thing now is because of artists like Kendrick and Flying Lotus, everyone is looking at LA and giving it a fair amount of attention. The world is open for young players now. The scene is going to grow actually.

     

    MP: Anything you would like to add?

    KW: If people keep their minds open, they can discover some cool things. I hope that continues. It’s pretty cool to meet lot of people that don’t normally listen to jazz who gave my album a chance and just listened to it. That’s a cool place for the world to be in, where we’re not so stuck on what we’re told. Music is already blended, it exists on its own. We just add words to it. If you call it James Brown jazz it wouldn’t change how funky it is, or if you call it John Coltrane funk it wouldn’t diminish how intense or how harmonically dense it is. Music lives outside of those terms, I think people are coming to that realization.

    You can see Washington on July 25, for his show “65-92: The Rhythm Changes but the Struggle Remains” at Grand Performances, before he embarks on a world tour. He plans to come back to Los Angeles with another show around the holidays.

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  • IT’S BACK!

    THE NEW TASTE OF SAN PEDRO

    By Gina Ruccione, Cuisine and Restaurant Writer

    After a several-year hiatus, the highly anticipated Taste of San Pedro will be returning Aug. 1 for a special one-day event.

    The culinary festival, which will take place at the courtyard of Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles, will host purveyors of the very best cuisine from 20 of the best restaurants in the Harbor Area. Live music, performers and an extensive list of craft beers, wine and craft spirits will also be featured.

    The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, which has been sponsoring the event since its inception in 1989, has been working hard to rebuild the festival for quite some time. Many are eager to see the Taste of San Pedro return to its roots and bring in the crowds that once used to flock to the harbor each year. This year, the festival has been redesigned with more of an emphasis on the great food and beverages and less about making it a spectacle with carnival rides and outside vendors.

    While there have been some general mixed feelings about the event, much of that stems from the nostalgia and history surrounding the Taste of San Pedro. Naturally, everyone has expectations.

    Andrew Silber, owner of The Whale & Ale, has been participating since the beginning. He is thrilled to see the Taste of San Pedro return. He has been pushing for years to see the event upgraded to a level that really showcases San Pedro’s restaurants at their best. The Whale & Ale will be serving it’s famous fresh, blue lump crab cakes with a light mayonnaise drizzle and two different ales: Guinness draft and Boddingtons’s Pub Cream Ale, which was originally sold in North America exclusively at his restaurant.

    Frank Buono of Buono’s Authentic Pizzeria has also been involved in the Taste of San Pedro since the beginning and shared some of his favorite memories about the festival from previous years. Buono’s will be serving many items, but the crowd pleaser will definitely be the battered eggplant rolls stuffed with goat cheese and spicy marinara.

    Dustin Trani from J. Trani’s Ristorante reminisced about attending the event when he was a child. “It’s about the bigger picture,” he said. “ It’s about supporting the community.”

    Eager to showcase some fan favorites alongside some of their more creative, dishes, J. Trani’s Ristorante will be serving two plates: a Hamachi Tartar with green apple and soy consommé, and an oak-grilled chicken sausage with charred lemon.

    “We wanted to serve something with global flavors that incorporates intricate plating techniques, but we also want to serve a classic dish that everyone enjoys,” he said. The chicken sausages are a huge hit at J. Trani’s and are all made in-house.

    Several other restaurants that are participating this year want to shy away from serving items that people expect. It seems the focus has shifted to choosing dishes that remind us why we love these restaurants and will entice us to return, rather than opting for obvious choices.

    John Bagakis from Big Nick’s Pizza will be serving chicken marsala and caprese salad skewers.

    “I wanted to pick something off of our catering menu,” he said. “Something that is popular but not everyone thinks to order… People expect us to serve pizza. I thought we’d try something a little different.”

    New this year to the Taste of San Pedro is Primal Alchemy, a well-known catering company in Long Beach that will no doubt be serving some show-stopping cuisine. Known for catering many events at Crafted, as well as the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium gala, Chef Paul Buchanan wanted to make sure he provided something sensitive to vegetarians. He plans on serving a kale and quinoa salad with citrus segments and feta. Of course, there will be something for meat lovers too. A sweet corn pudding with barbecue chicken chili topped with corn salsa and crema fresca.

    At the end of the day it’s about being a part of a strong, supportive community to the local businesses that we already know and love. Let’s welcome the Taste of San Pedro back with open arms.

    For a full list of participating restaurants, bands, and to buy tickets, visit the www.sanpedrochamber.com.

    Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.

     

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  • Board of Harbor Commissioners: RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS July 17, 2015

    July 27
    Board of Harbor Commissioners
    The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners will discuss transferring an estimated at $17.74 million to the Tidelands Operating Fund in Fiscal Year 2016.
    The board of harbor commissioners also will consider approving an amended fee schedule for the Port of Long Beach Foreign Trade Zone 50.
    Time: 6 p.m. July 27
    Details: (562) 283-7070; www.polb.com/webcast
    Venue: Harbor Department Interim Administrative Offices, 4801 Airport Plaza Drive, Long Beach

    Aug. 1
    Native Garden Workday
    Cabrillo Marine Aquarium invites the public to participate in its monthly Beach Clean-Up and Native Garden Workday.
    Volunteers learn about shoreline habitats and the coastal sage scrub native plant community, while discovering the benefits of protecting these environments.
    Time: 8 to 10 a.m. Aug. 1
    Details: (310) 548-7562; www.cabrillomarineaquarium.org
    Venue: Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, 3720 Stephen M. White Drive, San Pedro.

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