I got Metro on my streetview!

LAist was touting Google's street view today.
So I looked up my building.

And, look who took up the whole picture:

View Larger Map

DLANC Election Day: June 12

Just got back home from DONE's Regional Election Day election. It was the most peaceful meeting I've been to in quite some time. I got a chance to see the draft materials of the two mailings the Clerk's office will complete, and the voter and candidate registration. This is going to be fun!

As a reminder, when I say Neighborhood Council stuff, I mean the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. I am an elected boardmember, representing the Historic Core residents. I do other stuff too, but I like to represent my neighborhood first.

The Neighborhood Council represents residents (with and without roofs on a regular basis), business owners, artists, government worker bees, and private worker bees. And, this year there's a new seat (Like we needed any more): An At-Large seat. So if you just come down to party on Saturday night, prefer to sell your hits at 5th/Spring, like our Ralph's more than your Glendale Blvd Ralph's...you can declare yourself a stakeholder - you could run for that seat. But, I'll tell you right now - if your claim to the neighborhood is that you are a the hit dealer - I'm really not going to vote for you. And, I'm going to tell my friends not to vote for you either. Half joking, but mostly serious - I'll make my first campaign promise: I will not vote to support drug peddlers. Pretty easy promise to keep.

All the seats are up for grabs. It is entirely possible that our current council could and not a single incumbent win. The odds of that happening are slim, but possible. If you've been following DLANC activities, or you are looking for a way to get more involved, now is a great time.

I've lived downtown since 2004, some say it's a long time, but I agree with all the people who say that I'm a newbie in town. Don't let that determine your potential candidacy. Most of the people who are in downtown are new. The other half have lived here long enough to know who's new and who's not. And, I would say that for the most part, the long-time downtowners have been more accepting of me than anyone was on the westside for the 4 years I lived there.

If you've been thinking about a run for the Neighborhood Council, I'd say go for it. Contested elections are good for the neighborhood. Have a reason for running. Maybe you live in South Park, and you are all over getting a park... City West - protecting threatened tenants... Bunker Hill...I don't know what they worry about, but I'm sure it's something.

Historic Core...we worry about what filming will bring next, and how the street car will work on Broadway.

And, I know we all worry about bringing more transit options to downtown, when our Trader Joes is coming to town, and when Ichiro is coming to the Dodgers. (which apparently isn't any time soon)

Here's the quick and dirty:

1) The Clerk's office will conduct an initial mailing to all of the postal addresses in our Neighborhood Council (NC). This will include post office boxes, business and residential postal addresses. (This leaves DLANC the responsibility for outreach specifically to the homeless community, but I'm sure the Clerk's office and DONE can assist in providing direction)

The topic of the mailer will be to announce the election, define voter and candidacy requirements, and provide detail on how to get more information. You'll be able to also register to vote by mail.

2) The second mailer will include more specific information about who is a registered candidate.

The next round of mailers would be to those who registered to vote by mail.

Finally, June 12 will be election day. It's a Thursday, and it is the night of ArtWalk. So, all you imbibing ArtWalkers should either register to vote by mail or vote early before you hit up too many galleries for their wine. (But, of course the people who read my blog are art BUYERS and not MOOCHERS)

So, that's it for tonight. I have a headache, and I need to make dinner.

WAIT! One more thing!!

My youngest brother Markie (Or Mark as he started going by as soon as he hit his teenage years...pure coincidence I'm sure...) got news he has been awarded his Eagle Scout award. Congratulations Markie! Good job on lots of hard work.

Interesting day

A couple of months ago I spoke with an AP writer who lives in the area about the Filming Condition we've been working on through DLANC. The article showed up in the paper, which while the interview was months ago - the approval process for the special conditions stalled. There are four people who are kind of "holding the papers" and holding up moving the conditions forward.

I'm sure you are thinking - oh - they just don't want the special conditions. And, nope...not the case. 98% of the hold up is one building owner who's tenants suffer through constant filming, and filming requests. The building owner has to put up with the building owner across the street - who puts his building our like it's the cheapest prostitute in town. It's sad and disgraceful.

So, it's a bittersweet feeling to know that one person is out there really hoping to make the filming special conditions something that will make a difference. On the other hand - there's a whole group of people who have been anxiously waiting to get this off their to do list...including the film industry.

The AP article:

LOS ANGELES — Ginny-Marie Case can't forget the night she was jarred from her sleep by massive explosions set off by crews filming last summer's blockbuster movie "Transformers."

It was the latest cinematic nightmare that led Case and other residents streaming downtown as part of a population boom to push for tougher limits on filming in the nation's most popular location for movies, TV shows and car commercials.

"It was the loudest explosion I ever heard," Case said. "We had no clue: Was this part of filming? Was this some terrorist thing?"

For decades, filmmakers have depended on downtown's rail yards, brownstones and beaux arts facades to depict urban anywhere. In the process, they have grown used to operating with few restrictions in the long-neglected urban core.

"I do love movies, but sometimes it gets annoying. This is not a Hollywood lot," Oscar Linares, 32, said as he walked his Maltese past a set for "CSI: NY" where Gary Sinise stood before whirring cameras in a bulletproof vest.

The conflict pits the downtown resurgence against the push to stop the "runaway production" that occurs when filmmakers leave Los Angeles to take advantage of hefty tax breaks and other advantages offered by cities from Vancouver to New Orleans.

Story continues below
Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said tighter downtown restrictions could send production companies packing.

"Hopefully they can come up with something the makes everybody happy, but that could be very difficult," Kyser said. "We really run a risk."

The entertainment industry generates $58 billion a year for the Los Angeles-area economy — a figure that has steadily increased in recent years as losses from runaway production leveled off and cable TV production increased, Kyser said.

Hollywood, however, is currently reeling from the estimated $2.5 billion toll taken by the recent writers strike.

City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes most of downtown, is watching closely as neighborhood activists and studio representatives work to draft the guidelines limiting overnight filming and curtailing street closures.

"People live here now, so at some point you've got to shut off the lights and let people go to sleep," Perry said. The City Council will have the final say on the rules.

Downtown has seen a lot of action over the years.

In "Transformers," giant robots wrestle on the streets, leaving a path of destruction created with a mix of actual footage and computer effects.

Action flicks such as "Die Hard 2" used City Hall as a backdrop, while the Art Deco Union Station was featured in the classic science fiction thriller "Blade Runner."

These days, downtown plays itself on the Fox action series "24" and stands in for New York and Las Vegas in two of the three hit "CSI" shows on CBS.

It's also a hot spot for car commercials featuring the glass-and-steel office towers of Figueroa Boulevard.

In all, there are an average of 23 downtown location shoots each day, according to FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit agency that handles filming permits for the city.

"We couldn't do our show without downtown Los Angeles," said Peter Lenkov, executive producer of "CSI: NY." "There's a grittiness to downtown you can't find anywhere else in Los Angeles ... Nowhere else do you get the feeling of 47th Street or Times Square."

Until the late 1990s, film crews could operate with nearly complete freedom downtown, which became a virtual ghost town overnight after government and office workers fled for the suburbs.

But the number of residents in the area has been increasing drastically, growing from about 18,700 before 1999 to more than 34,000 today, according to the Central City Association.

Shopkeepers and residents tolerated the street closures, floodlights and other inconveniences until late 2006, when a cluster of disturbances — including the "Transformers" explosions — pushed many over the edge.

Bert Green decided he'd had enough when film crews monopolized parking spots for months near the galleries where he organizes a downtown art walk.

After his complaints were ignored by city officials and FilmL.A. staff, he met with other merchants and residents who were fed up with filming.

"Crews were coming into the neighborhood and shutting streets down, or taking over whole blocks," he said. "There has to be some accountability."

Some limits exist already, but residents complain they are routinely ignored because they are not formal city ordinances.

One proposal under consideration by residents and studios would bar filming near homes from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. without written permission from residents. It also cuts the amount of curb space crews can occupy and put limits on their use of lights, among other regulations.

Meanwhile, to ease conflicts, FilmL.A. has hired a community liaison to field complaints and asked police to make sure officers who guard filming locations enforce permit requirements.

"CSI: NY" location manager Timothy Hillman said he hits the street long before the cameras arrive to warn residents about the coming commotion and to reimburse shopkeepers who lose business.

"The locations are like my field," Hillman said. "If I burn out a location — if a location says 'I don't want you back' — it's like I'm a farmer throwing salt on his fields."

Seen on LAist

What a nice guy...and I mean that sincerely.

Is Suburbia Turning Into Slumburbia?

Is Suburbia Turning Into Slumburbia?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Every coin has its flip side. Last week, I explored how San Francisco and other centers of innovation around the globe are resisting the downward vortex of the housing market. These fabled super cities, Richard Florida contends in his new book, "Who's Your City," are attracting an increasingly disproportionate number of educated, creative knowledge workers who fuel the economy. In turn, these folks are keeping housing prices relatively high despite recurring appearances of the R-word on our front pages.

The dark side of this surreality is that the places far from these hallowed urban cores are experiencing unprecedented decline and, according to some experts, threaten to become tomorrow's slums.

We're not talking about mean inner city streets getting meaner, we're talking about the pristine, newly built developments of four-bedroom, three-bath dream homes produced in the last housing boom becoming ghettos for the poor and the disenfranchised.

Slumburbia? After decades of middle class flight from the cities in search of safe neighborhoods and good schools — a flight that continues today even from gentrified cities like San Francisco — it's hard to conjure the image of a truly derelict suburbia. Will all those manicured lawns sprout weeds and broken bottles like a Baltimore back alley? Will drug dealers take over the local cul-de-sac? Will squatters set up camp in the neighbor's McMansion?

All this seems unfathomable, but it's the prediction du jour for some urban planners who make it their business to track the larger sociological implications of our land use.

Of course, we've all heard about the tsunami of foreclosures that has descended on much of the country. But not all real estate disaster areas are created equal: This week RealtyTrac released new foreclosure numbers about cities that were hit the hardest in February. Stockton, with nearly 5 percent of all households at some stage of foreclosure, got the honor of ringing up the second highest foreclosure rate nationwide, after Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. Other sprawling California regions dominated the list: Modesto at No. 3, Merced at No. 4, Riverside-San Bernardino at No. 5, Bakersfield at No. 7, Vallejo-Fairfield at No. 8, and Sacramento at No. 9.

What do all these places have in common? Suburbs upon sprawling new suburbs. Does this suggest that the American dream of the large-lot single family home is doomed? Some experts think so.

"Over the last few decades we've structurally overinvested in fringe real estate," explains Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute and a former developer. "Builders are experts in overbuilding, in terms of cyclical overbuilding, like lemmings to the sea. But this time it's different. It's not just a cycle. It's going to take more than two or three years to recover from this."

Last fall, Leinberger published "The Option of Urbanism," a book about the changing sociology of the built environment. Like Florida, he sees the growing attraction to urban living as a matter of critical importance. This month, his essay in the Atlantic magazine provocatively asserts that McMansion developments would deteriorate into crime ridden, impoverished slums. In the piece he mentions several instances of suburban neighborhoods getting hit so hard by the recent downturn that they already exhibit the tell-tale signs of deep decline: Looters stealing copper pipe and siding from new homes, gunshots puncturing picture-perfect facades, squatters taking up residence in abandoned houses.

When asked if the edge suburbs are turning into slums, Florida concurs with Leinberger's ominous vision, "Yes, they are already well on their way," he says. "The knowledge workers can't afford the time cost, they can't afford the commuting time."

But mostly Leinberger is predicting the future rather than describing the present, arguing that the pendulum has swung too far toward isolated, car-dependent single-family-home neighborhoods to be sustainable. (In his description of the city, he's not including older inner suburbs like Berkeley or Palo Alto that have walkable urban neighborhoods and public transit; he's talking about the hillsides of homes detached from urbanized towns.) Now with high gas prices, long commutes, a bad job market and a new attraction to walkable urban living, it's just a matter of time before suburban fringes begin to absorb the people that can't make it in the city.

If newly built suburbs in decline sound like a less formidable problem than the neglect and misery of our inner cities beginning in the 1960s, with their generation after generation of children raised amid violence, drug addiction and hopelessness, maybe our imaginations are failing us. In Europe, where the cities never died, the suburbs have long been the homes of last resort for the poor and the marginalized. Just last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced yet another plan to revive the suburban slums that erupted in riots in 2005 — the 16th such proposal in 31 years.

Florida and Leinberger say that retooling the suburbs is going to make urban renewal look like a walk in the park.

"Suburb development is really fragile," Leinberger explains. "It's going to be very complex to rebuild."

As Leinberger notes, new suburbs tend to be situated far from public transport, social services and commerce, so they are particularly bad places for people who can't afford cars. The housing stock isn't terribly flexible. Compared to the sturdy older buildings in the city that got chopped up into apartments, it's not easy to take a production-built house with three bedrooms and turn it into good multifamily housing. What's more, the neighborhood infrastructure isn't designed for higher density or commercial uses: The streets are often thinner, the pipes and drainage not built for heavier use.

Newer suburbs are also financially vulnerable: They depend on developers' fees and property taxes to pay for the communities. "When the growth stops and the property values fall," says Leinberger, "suddenly you're going to have this wicked situation where social costs are rising as funding dries up, but without any other tax sources from commercial or industrial activity."

This inherent fragility springs from some of the same regulations that make suburbs easier to build and therefore better bets for developers. By definition, suburbs are zoned for residential single family or maybe residential low density multifamily. They don't require the complex planning or infrastructure building essential for commercial, industrial and high density housing. In many parts of the country — whether through state law or local ordinances — single family housing is the only new development that can be legally built. And because Fannie Mae will not finance rental developments that predict that more than 25 percent of the rent will come from nonresidential income, mixed use developments — like old fashioned main streets where apartments are built above the bakery and the butcher shop — are often perceived as more risky.

"It's not the developers' fault," explains John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee, Wis., and president of the Congress for the New Urbanism. "They didn't create this system, they just inherited it."

Despite all this doom and gloom, the experts say we may be witnessing the evolution of the American dream toward a far healthier, more ecological vision.

"It's an enormous opportunity," says Norquist, "Thirty percent of the housing stock that will exist in 2030 hasn't been built yet. Developers who are creating walkable neighborhoods are doing very well." Indeed, the fact that Americans are embracing walkable neighborhoods is a good thing for their waistlines, their pocketbooks and the planet. "(Al) Gore talks about the inconvenient truth," says Norquist, "I call this the convenient solution: living in a more urban way."

To accelerate this trend, Leinberger is trying to work with cities that don't have revived downtowns to help pave the way for the kind of walkable redevelopment that will attract jobs and residents. Building walkable urban developments won't guarantee a city's success, says Leinberger, but it is an essential first step.

"If you build, will they come?" asks Leinberger. "You just don't know. But if you don't build it, there's not a prayer they will come."


Worst. Cold. Ever.

Yes. I've been down all week. Today is the first day since Saturday that I've felt half human. Saturday I woke up with a funky cough and scratchy throat. Sunday...I'll pass on describing Sunday. Monday and Tuesday are a blur - I slept through most of it. I spent Wednesday at Metro, probably exposing 100's of people to what I have. Thursday, congested congested congested. And, today I have a runny nose, a "chunky" cough, and I just feel gross.

I feel bad because 1) I practically missed a whole week of work; 2) I missed ArtWalk; 3) and most importantly I'm going to miss Lindsey's Bachelorette party that Alex has worked very hard to put together.

It sucks.

I'm going back to SimCity now.

Sick again, but with a pick me up this time

I don't know how I did it, but I have come down with ANOTHER cold. It started with a tickle in my throat, and it's a full on "leave me alone, go away, don't touch me" cold.

But, how can you not smile when you get an email from someone you don't know, recalling days you once only heard about during soap opera commercials:

March 8, 2008

Hello Ginny,

We were so very, very sorry to hear of your Mother's death. It hit us all hard. I have talked with several of your Mom's friends, Karin Christiansen, Anne Van Drimmelen, Sharon Young and Vicki Leimback. Vicki is the one you first connected up with about a year ago. I wrote you these thoughts back then but wasn't sure how to get them to you, hence, the delay in sending them.

If you can get a hold of an old Bainbridge High yearbook you can look us all up and see what we looked like. (It'll be worth a few chuckles, if nothing else.) And, actually, if you don't have any annuals, let me know. My husband would be very happy if I found another home for my annuals and I would be happy to send them to you and your sister and brother.

I'm pretty sure these are with my grandfather, but I remember looking through these a thousand times when I was younger.

I have pieced together some of our thoughts of your Mom in this letter. It's written in a bit of a rambling fashion but hopefully you'll get some idea of your Mom in high school and how much we enjoyed her.

I remember your Mom calling me every night and me standing in the kitchen next to the wall phone (remember no cell phones then) and laughing with your Mom for half an hour at a time. I don't remember what we talked about but your Mom always made me laugh! We all remarked about how your Mom always had a great sense of humor.

Sharon remembers being in the same drivers ed class as your Mom. It was set up that four students and Mr. Okada went out on the practice drives. Mr. Okada's rules were that the three students sitting in the back seat had to be quiet, no talking, no laughing. But when your Mom was driving, that was impossible. Mr. Okada would comment on something your Mom was doing (probably wrong) and she would come up with some funny comment back at him leaving the three in the back seat of the car just howling!

Kind of funny - the three of us were never phone chatters until the invention of the cell phone.

Your Mom had a little pickup truck. I remember being in a car with Anne and the two of us watching your Mother in her little pickup truck just bombing through a yellow light. Evidently, she wasn't paying attention when Mr. Okada talked about not running yellow lights! :)

Um - my sister and my mom have more in common than first thought. But, I'm sure everyone would agree that her driving style never changed (Shorting out the electrical system driving through "puddles", putting the car in the ditch...when nothing was around)

Sharon said she never knew what was going to come out of your Mom's mouth but she always knew it was going to be good. Her sense of humor was more developed than one would expect out of a typical high school kid.

Your Mom always had several close friends. She wasn't in the "popular" crowd (none of us were either and I think that is for the better) but she was well liked and had lots of friends.

Anne remembered your Mother being able to "roll her eyes" when somebody said something dumb. I don't remember that but I can totally picture your Mom doing that and I can picture myself cracking up over your Mom doing it!

Ahh...so that's where we got it...the three of us are eyerollers. Some might say chronic eyerollers.

Your Mom had thick curly hair that didn't do what she wanted it to do. We were in high school during the smooth page boy hairstyle era. And she wore wool plaid Bermuda shorts and knee socks and saddle shoes. If you can imagine, most of us wore knee high socks and saddle shoes. I got a new pair of saddle shoes at the beginning of every school year.

I got the thick curly hair, Trudi has thinner curly hair, and Tyler got Grandpa's gene's. Mom used to tell me about her attempts to use the iron on her hair, of course I rolled my eyes. The 1980's curly bob was good for her. :-)

Karin remembers your Mom and Karin being on the debate team one year. The topic was "Should the United States unilaterally intervene/interfere in another county's affairs without that country's consent?" Of course they were talking about the Vietnam War then but isn't that a timely topic even 30 years later?

Evidently, Karin thought that she and Connie had an airtight case and Karin was sure they would win. Karin, with her iron clad arguments, gave your Mom "talking points." I am sorry to report that Karin and your Mom lost the debate. I don't even know what side of the debate they were on. And, I don't know whether it was Karin's talking points that brought them down. Karin would only say that neither she nor Connie were born debaters; that debaters had to be able to think spontaneously on their feet. It was quite a blow to Karin. My guess is that your Mother was able to move on from the loss a bit better than Karin did.

Karin said that "Connie was not afraid to be who she was - even at age 15." And we loved her for it.

That's true - she was not afraid to be who she was. She passed that fearlessness down to the three of us, and probably onto so many of the people she knew.

Sharon commented on your Mothers' bubbly personality, her love of life and that she loved to laugh. And we all laughed with her. What a wonderful gift she gave all of us!

You and your sister and your brother each have a part of your Mother in you. How wonderful that your sister has your Mother's poetry "gene" and you have her wonderful personality! I know your Mom would be so proud of all three of you!

What a great letter!