Monday, August 20, 2007

Iron Butterflies

As I was reading earlier this week about Jamie Foxx's upcoming role as Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Skid Row homeless musician turned Disney concert hall performer -- it reminded that I wanted to go back to the multi-part Skid Row feature I read in the LA Times right after we moved downtown.

(photo is of Joe Michaels - Francine Orr/LAT 2005)

Over the course of a month - October of 2005 - LA Times reporter Steve Lopez authored a series of articles looking at the desparation and insanity of life on Skid Row. Someone in San Francisco actually told me about it, when we moved to 4th & Main I finally read it. It's a hard series to read and I can only imagine how hard it was to write. Lopez toured the missions, the alleys and the support services that house the homeless pandemic in downtown Los Angeles. His story even got the attention of the Mayor who turns up in the wheelchair piece meeting the homeless in the courtyard at the Midnight Mission.

I don't know much about Steve Lopez beyond what's in his biography on the Times website. But I know that if you read his series - and you may not get through the whole thing - but if you do read it, you will take away a humanizing picture of a crisis that all of us living downtown are trying to get our heads around.

Click here for a link to the stories Steve wrote back in 2005. I'm not sure much has changed since then.

One thing that frustrates me about living downtown is feeling that one way or another, we are all looking the other way; because we have to maybe - or because we don't know what else to do. I try to be informed and understand the issues but after that I am at a loss. I'm not opposed to volunteering or trying to getting involved, but I'm pretty sure we can't volunteer our way out of this one. It will take a citywide, series of initiatives that tackle what are clearly long term problems to deal with the spectrum of issues that this community is facing.

One night Orlando Ward, who heads the Midnight Mission, explained to me that you see a kind of bell curve in the homeless population. There are the recently evicted/recently homeless who maybe had a job but lost their apartment or vice versa and who have landed on the streets simply because they are poor and lacking a safety net (this is often the case for homeless families/kids). Then there is another shade of folks who started out in that boat, but who have since sucumbed to the hardening of the tented life and will struggle more to get back on their feet, after that there's a pretty sizeable population that is facing drug/alcohol addiction along with living on the street and whether it was a cause or effect some level of depression or mental illness. Then the curve drops off to the other end of folks who have no chance. They have either been homeless for so long or have such severe mental illness that the damage might be irretrievable. I imagine some of these folks who are older could be victims of Reagan-era VA closures or cuts in funding for housing for the mentally ill. Where schizophrenia or severe untreated depression combined with the hopelessness of their situation have had devastating effects.

Ward says for the people on extreme ends of the "bell curve" there are more obvious solutions for those at the beginning of their stay on the streets - housing might be all that's needed. For the folks at the other end of the curve it might be long term inpatient treatment. It's the folks in the middle in the most complicated spot. I went to a meeting at the James Woods' center where one formerly homeless activist said "if you haven't been homeless you can't imagine how low your self esteem gets, you just get used to people looking at you like you have a tail." I couldn't shake that thought. The feeling of invisibility, of shame and the way that might shatter your psyche.

In the end I think it is the labryinth of addiction, of mental illness, the sheer anxiety of having no place to live, no place that is safe and no guarantee of the basic requisites for life, food, water, shelter that leaves I think many politicians bewildered. Where even to begin? And for many it seems like a long-term problem in what for many elected officials is a short term career. Most politicians want a fight they can win, something they can point to as they term out of one office and head for another. It's hard to imagine Skid Row fitting that bill.

Still, I have been waiting for some kind of platform of issues to emerge maybe from City Hall - or the City Council - waiting for one of our leaders to step to the plate and say if we did x, y & z we'd be on track to making improvements in this nightmare. But I gotta say it seems like a slow train coming.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just the messenger for the good folks at the Cornerstorne Theater Co.
LOS ANGELES, August 16, 2007—For three nights only on September 6-8, Cornerstone Theater Company will block off Traction Avenue in the Los Angeles Downtown Arts District to present a whimsical street edition of Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 Days/365 Plays. Intricate shadow puppetry, mod dance, and film projected onto industrial buildings will be just some of the elements included in the company’s contribution to the largest theater festival in U.S. history. 365 Days / 365 Plays

Written by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Lynn Jeffries, Shishir Kurup, Page Leong, Jennifer Li & Laurie Woolery
September 6, 7 & 8 (Thursday-Saturday) at 8:30pm
At Joel Bloom Square
Located outside the Cornerstone Theater Company office at 708 Traction Avenue, between East Third and Hewitt Streets in the downtown Arts District, Los Angeles, CA 90013
For more information, call 213-613-1700 x33
or visit

Dirty heroin & the bloody baseball bat...

Well at least life downtown isn't boring... This week one downtownhound blogger witnessed the endgame of a beating at 4th & Winston that rolled out like so - two angry guys, a fight over a woman and one victim left bloody after a fight involving a baseball bat. Yikes. At 11AM no less. At Winston & Main St. Our morning coffee was improved after we met two beat street cops assigned to the block. Apparently drugs are on the rise, as are beatings and fights and apparently a more recent incursion of some MS-13 activity. More on that later. The fuzz advised us that they have been recently sent to spend their days on foot keeping Main St. safe and pushing out an incursion of drugs. We told them about the baseball bat incident, they said there have been fights on the rise and some seems to stem from an influx of dirty heroin. As if being a heroin addict isn't bad enough, you find out you've been shooting up melted down BeeGees records.

MS-13, Reagan & that damn cold war...

Any-hoo, officer #1 bummed a smoke and continued sharing with us this delightful factoid, there's been a surfacing by MS-13 in downtown. If you don't know who they are, stop reading now because you're blissfully ignorant and I recommend carrying on that way. If you do know who they are then you know that MS-13 is nothing you want any part of. MS-13 stands for Mara (army ant, also La Mara a street in San Salvador) Salvatrucha (Salvadoran + alert) - 13 from a merger with the Mexican Mafia. The Salvatrucha are one of the deadliest gangs at least on the continent. Likely in the world. They are a local born gang traced to the Pico-Union/ Rampart neighborhood two decades ago - but really born out of a bloody civil war that the US was on the wrong side of.

The El Salvadoran civil war raging in the early 1980's and which killed a reported 70,000 Salvadorans and sent thousands of Salvadoran immigrants north over the border, was only exacerbated by the election of President Reagan in 1980. Prior to 1979, El Salvador was ruled by Carlos Humberto Romero and his military government. Romero had succeeded Colonel Arturo Armando Molina two years earlier; both Molina and Romero ran "de facto" military dictatorships, deeply repressive and violent to the citizens of El Salvador. Romero was overthrown in 1979 in a reformist coup. For 2 years resistance groups struggled against the military. By 1981, five Salvadoran revolutionary resistance groups had organized with several guerrilla groups in El Salvador and established the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion or FMLN) and began to maintain control of key strongholds. In August of 1981, France and Mexico officially recognized the FMLN and their political legitimacy.

The inauguration of Reagan changed everything. The administration's Cold War outlook oriented their empathy not with the leftist rebels. but with a military government that looked more likely to crack down on an communist insurgencies. As a result. the Reagan administration sent aid to the El Salvadoran military, the civil war raged on for another decade, backed by US resources in "a conflict reportedly fueled by billions of dollars in aid from the United States government". It wasn't until 1989 and the brutal murder of six Jesuit priests a housekeeper and a young girl that the international community intervened. Massachusetts Congressman Joe Moakely was tasked, by then Speaker Tom Foley, with heading a congressional task force into US foreign policy in El Salvador. Moakley was horrified by what he discovered and felt the Reagan administration was deeply dishonest about the status of the war in El Salvador. Congresional aid James McGovern wrote: "The United States did not cause the war in El Salvador. But our policy did help prolong a war that cost tens of thousands of innocent lives. Had we used our influence earlier to promote a negotiated settlement, many might have survived. We in the United States need to acknowledge that fact. In particular, our leaders need to acknowledge that fact. There was an arrogance about U.S. policy that rationalized, explained away and even condoned a level of violence against he Salvadoran people that would have been intolerable if perpetrated against our own citizens."

Finally the United Nations sponsored talks in 1992 to broker a landmark peace accord that has largely been honored to this day. A quote from Reinaldo Figueredo of the UN Truth Commission lays the foundation for a country reeling from violence: "In examining the staggering breadth of the violence that occurred in El Salvador, the Commission was moved by the senselessness of the killings, the brutality with which they were committed, the terror that they created in the people, and in other words the madness, or locura, of the war."

Ultimately, it was the influx of immigrants from the civil war that sent thousands of Salvadorans into Los Angeles and specifically Mexican-American gang territory. As a result, the Salvadorans created their own gangs to defend against the already established Mexican gangs. Over time they aligned with the largest hispanic gang in the US the Los Surenos or Sur-13 upon doing so MS became MS-13. According to a 2005 Justice Department "threat assessment" report the MS-13 were reported "... in the jurisdictions of 145 law enforcement agencies across the country, although only 12.1 percent of respondents indicated that this gang had moderate to high activity. MS-13 was present in 31 states." The report continued... With growing numbers of undocumented persons in the region, investigators are seeing increases in Mexican and Central-American gangs in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. One of the more prominent gangs,MS-13 is recognized by investigators as the most fearless...MS-13 has also been found to be a serious threat in Massachusetts.This gang, with between 75 and 100 members in the state, has an affinity for excessive violence and little respect for law enforcement."

For their crimes many have been deported back to Central America resulting in recruitment from the major cities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Multinational by nature the gang is managed both by gang leaders in the US and in El Salvador -where they are considered highly organized and highly disciplined -, Honduras and Guatemala. They are not a trifling group. They are alleged to be the largest gang in Central America and credited with the kidnapping and assassination in 1997, of the Honduran President Ricardo Maduro. Newsweek called them, The Most Dangerous Gang in America and in
In December 2004, the FBI launched a multi-agency MS-13 National Gang Task Force - noted as the first of its kind. **Also check this story from the NY Times.

Not trying to be a fearmonger I swear. I have read about MS-13 a lot over the years and I thought it was time to understand them better...

A little more just about downtown...

All this talk of gangs got me on the website for a little research. I think for the most part downtown still looks pretty safe. I searched the LAPD crime maps for all reported crime within two miles of the Old Bank District over the last seven days and I found:
  • 7 counts of personal theft
  • 7 counts of theft from a vehicle
  • 8 aggravated assaults
  • 6 instances of grand theft auto (not the game btw there's probably more than 6 of those downtown)
  • 3 violent robberies
  • 3 burglaries
  • 0 rape
  • 0 homicide
I search the gang injunction maps and the funny thing is that downtown while is smack in the "central zone" which is home to among others - Big Hazard, Krazy Ass Mexicans, Varrio Nuevo Estrada, 38th St., 42nd Street Gangster Crips, Harpys, MS-13, 18th Street, Crazy Riders, Down In Action (DIA), Krazy Town (KTO), La Raza Loca, Orphans, Rockwood St. Locos, Varrio Vista Rifa, Wanderers, Witmer St. Locos - is basically gang-free. The closest gang presence is the MS-13 outline that runs from Olympic to the south to the 101 to the north and looks to be between Western to the West and Lucas to the East. I attribute this to the lack of housing downtown, mostly it's lofts, SRO's and high-rises. I am guessing the demographic of gangs requires more houses and apartment buildings, probably not a lot of gangbangers checking into the run down SRO's of Skid Row or the upturned lofts of the Toy District; only an educated guess, I'm no criminologist.

All that to say, I hope our new friends on the street beat are wrong about MS-13.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Goodbye Joe's Parking...

So I live at 4th & Main and I'm trying to get my head around the new Medallion Project going in next door (where they broke ground this week). From the start the word "medallion" puts me off. It conjures up the kind of generic mixed-use development I've seen from Seattle to LA. It makes me think of yellow siding and sage green trim, a Starbucks on the ground floor, maybe even a Gap. I hope that's not what the blueprinters have in mind at 4th & Main. We moved here, as I imagine a lot of people did, because of the historic feel of the neighborhood. It's precisely because Pete's is not the Daily Grille and the Banquette is not Starbucks that we feel like we can lounge around day and night, with our friends and neighbors, 42 dogs tied to the rail. It is the distinct lack of sterility that makes 4th and Main such a pleasant place to live. (note that in the rendering Mr Farkhondepour has rerouted traffic to make Main St. 2-way - phew that would make it easier to get into the parking garage.) Now on the subject of sterile development... I hate it as a rule. So I'm trying to figure out how to reconcile that with the fact that the NE corner of 4th & Main (both the parking lot and the sidewalk) are NASTY. The parking lot is full of rats and cockroaches and aside from the regular traffic of studio trucks and craft service tents - it's pretty deserted. Furthermore, it does seem like having a parking lot inhabit an entire city block is wasteful and really the opposite of a plan seeking urban density.

I know Gilmore is a controversial man in our neighborhood and some folks like him more than others, I haven't formed a real personal opinion of him, but I feel like the consensus is that he has created a charming life for the few hundred people that populate his holdings. I fear that the Medallion potentially sits in contrast to the cozy, bohemian vibe cultivated by Gilmore & Co.

The developers says his goal is to connect the project to the surrounding neighborhood. From the LA Daily News:
"Blueprints show an intricate layout of buildings crisscrossed by public alleys
and separated by plazas that will increase the flow in and out of the complex... "It's nine separate buildings and because of the way it is broken up, it is not going to have the big long block that's typical in L.A." ... said Farkhondepour. A wide pedestrian road will stretch from where Boyd Street dead-ends into Los Angeles Street across Medallion's lot and exit to Main Street with a wide staircase. Another thoroughfare will run north-south... A roughly one-acre plaza will mark where these paths intersect near the southwest corner of the block. There, plans call for a lawn-covered platform that will sit on top of a single story of stores and hold food kiosks. Farkhondepour said that he wants a variety of eateries to fill the bottom floors and have their seating flow out into the plaza... An amphitheater-style staircase will look out toward a smaller residential building with ground-floor retail. That could hold a large screen for projecting movies. To the west of the plaza, running along Main Street, will be a two-level row of restaurants and shops. The building's style will be a modern version of the historic structures to the south, with cornices and tidy rectangular windows. "The ideal situation for us is to copy properties in the Santee Alley area, and have all that weekend traffic. That's why we have the small spaces with big front-facing windows, to have the feel of an outdoor shopping mall but with all the security and the landscaping of private ownership," said Farkhondepour. A pocket park will fill the corner of Third and Main streets. Farkhondepour said he is looking for a small grocery store to fill a 12,000-square-foot storefront."

It all sounds good I guess but the secret is the execution, if it's executed badly it could at worst an eyesore at best a really corporate feeling development. Let's hope "Medallion" isn't code for “Medici". Also I don't want to take any shots at Santee because it actually seems like a decent place, but I've been over there a couple of times and really nothing about Santee is integrated into the street - there is a small entrance leading into the convenience store and leasing office and from the food court to the sidewalk, but Santee should not be the model for how to integrate new development - at street level- into an existing neighborhood.
I am always full of mixed feelings when I think about where downtown is headed. On the one hand it's obvious that it won't stay like this forever and it's far from perfect. My hope is that downtown develops without too much corporatization. It's hard to explain what it is but you know it when you see it. It's anywhere USA - Cheesecake Factory, Banana Republic, Borders... all the things that make cities feel like malls. There are cities that hold their urban core without sucumbing but I think it's hard when development comes late. But San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have managed to let development in without surrendering to chain domination of the urban landscape.
It requires vigilence though, in San Francisco there are citywide ordinances that specifically address chain retailers and provide much greater restrictions for their location and development. This is true in Seattle as well. The development that occurred in Seattle in the early '90's placed tremendous emphasis on cultivating charm and neighborhoods over the invasion of Outback Steakhouse and Borders... That's not to say Seattle, Portland and SF aren't populated by large retailers - it's just that they are kept in balance with urban development. But we can't rely on the Farkhondepour's of the world to look after urban planning - that responsibilities rests with the City Council, the Mayor's office and the CRA. It's on their shoulders to manage this redevelopment smartly.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Green pizza?

We can all agree that downtown is changing sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Which brings me to a new culinary enterprise that looks a little scary, the Main St. Grille on the corner of 5th & Main is highlighted by a very large sign with a mustachioed man spinning a pizza - the best part is that the pizza changes colors, from green, to blue to purple and even pink. Egads... I hope I'm wrong but it's off to a bad start.

REPRINT: Downtown News offers ways to help the homeless...

This week the Los Angeles Downtown News has listed ways to help the homeless - I'm not sure if this is a complete list or even the best list, but I thought it looks like a good start and living downtown we all wrestle with these questions every day.

Volunteer: Start by checking out the local service providers’ websites. Most of them welcome any help they can get from the Downtown community. The Downtown Women’s Center (, at 325 S. Los Angeles St., makes volunteering simple and fun by offering opportunities for volunteers to prepare or serve meals, throw birthday parties for their clients and fundraise. It even caters to nine-to-fivers.

Chrysalis, an organization that helps formerly homeless people find employment, has volunteers assist clients in job training tasks, such as resume help and mock interviews. Contact (213) 806-6335 or

Also check the Union Rescue Mission’s online volunteer job board for updated postings about available volunteer positions. Visit And remember, while many people flock to the Skid Row missions to serve food on Thanksgiving, the Downtown missions can use your help the other 364 days of the year.

Get to Know Skid Row: Every month, a group of local police officers, service providers, city officials, business leaders and Downtown residents take a Wednesday evening walk through Skid Row, getting to know each other and the homeless population there.

If you live or work nearby but don’t feel comfortable walking east of Los Angeles Street by yourself, it’s a good way to see firsthand the conditions people live in, the progress that is being made, and to meet active players who can help you make a difference. For more information, visit

To get an even more intimate feel for life in Skid Row, you can schedule an overnight visit at the Union Rescue Mission shelter, located at 545 S. San Pedro St. The mission sets aside several rooms for volunteers, who can stay one to three nights while serving meals and helping with other duties. Contact Alex Cornejo at (213) 347-6300 ext. 1149.

Be Civically Active: If you live or work Downtown, you are already closer to City Hall than many Angelenos ever get. That means you can swing by council meetings, planning sessions and community redevelopment events. Visit and let your elected representatives know that you want homelessness to be a priority.

Hold up a second, you are probably saying. How do I know when these meetings are, and if there will be any items relating to homelessness?

Keep up by reading city agendas at and articles about Downtown in local newspapers. Check out the Planning Department and the City Council for hearings on residential projects. For instance, if you’d like to see an affordable housing component in a market-rate development, let the officials know by either speaking at meetings or writing letters.

David Robinson, a director at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, an organization that advocates tenants’ rights, said that making change takes persistence.

"Call council members and the mayor every day and ask them what they have done to increase affordable housing,” Robinson said. “Ask them what they have done that day to help solve homelessness.”

Learn: Knowledge is power, and it’s important to stay on top of the news - not only for yourself, but also so you can inform others with accurate and helpful information. Since solving homelessness is an overwhelming and complex issue, keeping up with current politics and theories can help you decide how you want to help.

Several recent studies on Los Angeles’ homeless debacle also suggest solutions to alleviating the situation. The website lists many of these reports and articles, which discuss current strategies to deal with homelessness.

Also check out for information on affordable housing policies in Los Angeles, as well as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority for official city news on homelessness (

Several local blogs also keep up with homeless issues. Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, posts regularly at The Los Angeles Mission blog, penned by the mission’s president, Herb Smith, is also a good resource, at

New to the Hood - RALPHS!

Holy Crap! If you visited Ralph's anytime this week (and weren't a downtown resident) you might have been perplexed by your fellow shoppers. People staring at fresh fish, meat, cheese, wine, and of course produce as if they had NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE. If on the other hand you are a resident of downtown and traveled to the NEW RALPH'S you were among the teary-eyed shoppers. I was and I overheard at least a dozen conversations among shoppers and employees about the wondrousness of our latest edition. Those of us with a conscience were also relieved that our new store wasn't enduring a labor strike as we wouldn't have crossed a picket line - even for fancy cheese. It's been a half century according to the 43!!!! articles I found online about the event since downtown Los Angeles had a grocery store and about time.

Let me be the first to say, I am no fan of chain stores or box stores and if the grocery business was any different I'd be shopping at my local independent store. Unfortunately those days seem to be numbered and in light of that, when we decided on Friday night at 9PM to hit Ralph's it was a bit of an adrenaline rush. We were stunned to find not just a new grocery store but a pretty top-of-the-line shop with a cheese section that borrows substantially from the Whole Foods cornucopia of fancy cheese, an enormous wine selection and a massive produce section with more exotic vegetables than the standard Ralph's. Up until now we've pieced it together with Mitsuwa, convenience stores and for the rest shopping on the way home from work, or at the farmer's market. But sometimes it's 8 o'clock, Mitsuwa's closed and the idea of driving 15-20 minutes to 3rd & Vermont feels like a haul and it feels all a bit isolating.

So I say, Amen. For those of us who have lived downtown without such convenience, I think we can feel a little validated. We've been telling everyone we can for months or years that yes downtown is a great place to live, and it's not your dad's Downtown, it's on the move, there's lots to do, amazing community, lots of dogs and finally when my friends say - "yeah but where do you shop?" I can say, "at my neighborhood grocery store thank you very much."

Friday, June 29, 2007

Black Helicopters....

Wondering about all the helicopter activity lighting up the night sky? I have it from a friend who's former military that they are military training exercises. They are either SEALs, Airforce or Marines practicing urban assault maneuvers. Simulating landing on rooftops and dropping off or picking up crews. I first noticed them a week or so ago and saw what looked like landings on City Hall East. Then I saw a fleet of them over the old cornfield. Sounds like the pilots are practicing flying in/around urban skylines.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I would like to thank all of the little people . . .

We at Downtown Hound were shocked and amazed to learn that our blog was nominated for best blog in the "Best of Downtown LA" contests.

I am not sure how we were nominated, but we are grateful -- although I think all of us at Downtown Hound would agree that we are not worthy.

We will try to keep our blog more up to date in the future, but in the meantime, I think everyone should vote for Blogdowntown. Eric has maintained the most interesting and informative blog in Downtown and he clearly deserves everyone's vote. Eric also has a great piece in the current issue of Downtown News. Eric has helped lead the online conversation about Downtown and all its happenings.

To vote, click here. Please do.

Bad Samaritan Hospital

Two weeks ago I read in the Downtown News that the Good Samaritan Hospital on the West Side of Downtown was having a blessing of the bikes. While we should all support bike safety, and the Hospital should be commended for the publicity such events bring to bike accidents, I thought the readers of this blog should know that the Good Samaritan Hospital is a bad place.

I understand from friends that Good Samaritan has been engaged in an all out war with its employees for the past 4 years. I went over to the hospital when the Union that represents the workers brought Reverend Jesse Jackson into the Hospital to witness some of the anti worker and anti union activities of the Hospital. I heard workers talk about the CEO, Andrew Leeka, as an ego maniac. Supposedly he has his picture placed on the screen savers of the computers throughout the hospital. He must be insecure.

In my experiences, workers at Good Samaritan hate their jobs. Management is ruthless and the workers feel beaten down. The workers can also tell you some pretty outrageous stories about patient care problems inside the joint.

While going to a hospital is never a pleasant experience, I would recommend that readers go elsewhere. I know California Hospital in Downtown might not be the nicest place to go, especially given its proximity to Skid Row, but in my experience (I had to utilize the Urgent Care Center one time) I found the place to be fine and useful.

Great job Good Samaritan in your publicity around bike safety.

Shame on you for being such a bad employer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

MTA Fares Go Up, Mayor Stung? A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing...

I have included excerpts of the LA Times coverage below, but I recommend you read the whole article if you are following the case of the rising bus fare in LA. Last week the MTA approved significant increases to the existing fare structure, but backed off it's initial proposal. On May 18th the Mayor proposed a compromise that last week was shot down by the MTA. As a result, the cost of an MTA day pass will double by 2009.

I think the Mayor played this one to his advantage. After all it’s his MTA Board that proposed the initial fare hikes. Their proposal was obviously too extreme, the Mayor then came in and offered to broker a compromise position and in the end the MTA got what they wanted – fare hikes – that look more reasonable than the outrageous initial proposal, the Mayor got to get in the middle and stand in the sunshine and now the BRU can’t blame the Mayor because he really tried to help. The LA Times thinks this was a stinging defeat, I disagree completely. I think it was successful for the mayor, he got some of the fare hikes he needs to expand his other public transit priority (rail service) and he got some street cred from the BRU by fighting the MTA. It might look like a stinging defeat, but there was more than one wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems again that the only people who lose out are the MTA's riders. Is the new compromise fare hike racist? It certainly disproportionately will affect the very young, the very old, and many people of color. Not the influence-peddlers of LA politics.

Los Angeles County transit leaders Thursday approved the first across-the-board fare increase in more than a decade, despite emotional testimony from hundreds of bus riders who said they could not afford steep price hikes.
The new fares — which apply to both bus and rail service — are less than the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's staff had sought but will still increase the amount riders pay significantly over the next two years. The cost of the monthly pass will gradually rise from $52 to $75 by July 1, 2009. The popular day pass will rise from $3 to $6 over the same period.
The decision by the MTA's Board of Directors marks a stinging defeat for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had tried to broker a compromise that would have raised most fares only 5% a year. But the board roundly rejected the mayor's proposal, saying it would leave the agency with a deep operating deficit and would delay future rail projects.
"When you look at so many of them who make the minimum wage, who make less than the poverty level, clearly they are not going to be able to afford it," Villaraigosa said afterward.
The 9-4 vote marks a pivotal moment for mass transit in Los Angeles. The MTA had been unable to significantly raise fares for the last decade because of a federal consent decree established after bus riders and civil rights groups sued the agency in a bid to improve bus service.

The MTA's original proposal called for the daily cash fare to rise to $2 per ride from $1.25 and the monthly pass to $120 from $52 over the next two years.
But the 13-member board — which includes the mayor, all five county supervisors and other officials — quickly agreed that the proposal was draconian. The majority also agreed, however, that the mayor's plan was unworkable because it would not raise enough revenue and called for more borrowing to buy buses. The mayor's proposal was rejected on an 8-5 vote.
Instead, Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed the alternative that won approval. The new fare schedule is more modest, but it still packs a punch. The single-ride cash fare will rise the least, from $1.25 to $1.50 over the next two years. But most riders use some form of a pass, which will see bigger increases. The costs of a monthly pass will rise 44%, and the cost of the daily pass will double. The monthly pass for senior citizens will rise from $12 to $17 — a 42% increase but a far cry from the 400% jump (to $60) the MTA originally proposed. The first fare increase takes effect July 1.

Villaraigosa was hoping to bring the board together on a compromise that would soften the blow for riders. Instead, he drew strong criticism from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who called the mayor's stance disingenuous. During a heated exchange, Yaroslavsky said Villaraigosa had indicated that he would support a fare increase in a closed session last summer after the MTA board agreed to a new contract with bus drivers and mechanics.
A visibly angry Villaraigosa shot back, accusing Yaroslavsky of mischaracterizing private conversations and then lashing out at the supervisor for sitting in his office while the mayor was in Sacramento on Wednesday trying to get more transportation funding. Villaraigosa then said Yaroslavsky didn't have the courage to propose his own fare increases, calling him a "sheep who walks in wolf's clothing."
The vote came at the end of five hours of comments from hundreds of bus riders who packed the MTA boardroom, overflowing into four other rooms at the towering downtown headquarters. The turnout, estimated by police at 1,500, was so large that at one point the building's lobby was closed down by fire officials citing potential danger.

The protests were tinged with charges of racism on the part of the MTA board because the vast majority of riders are Latino and black. Some critics argue that the MTA favors more rail systems aimed at getting commuters out of their cars at the expense of those solely dependent on buses for transportation. An MTA survey showed that the median household income of rail riders is $22,000 a year, compared with $12,000 for bus riders.
There were a few voices in support of the fare hikes.

Dozens of members of the Bus Riders Union began chanting, "Fight transit racism — and see you in court!" and "Thanks Villaraigosa, you gave a good fight."


I know this is supposed to be a blog about downtown LA and as a result I've steered clear of national politics. But now national politics has come to me so a moment to rant.Today the Clinton campaign is expected to announce Villaraigosa's endorsment.

First I think it's still unnecessarily early for national endorsements.

Second, what is AV doing endorsing HC? If we want a President who supports unions (as this mayor does, remember where he comes from) and a leader who is concerned with changing the status quo in this country (ending war in Iraq?) I cannot for the life of me understand how HC gets his vote - she has not been a champion of labor, particularly during her tenure as a Wal-Mart board member nor of ending the war.

And finally, both Obama and Edwards both seem like such BETTER options.

Clinton to get Villaraigosa's Endorsement
Mayor's backing today, no surprise, may help her reach Latino and union voters.
By Duke Helfand &Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writers, May 30, 2007

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton will announce the endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today, a development that could help the New York senator expand her reach among Latino and union voters in many parts of the country.

The expected announcement follows months of political courtship on both coasts. Clinton has met with Villaraigosa several times in Los Angeles and Washington and has wooed him more aggressively than any other top Democratic candidate. Villaraigosa is California's most recognizable Latino political figure and a rising Democratic star.

He said he chose Clinton because she stood out among a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls, including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How can you be opposed . . .

I was saddened to learn that yesterday a bill to create stricter penalties for hospitals that 'dump' homeless patients failed in the state Senate. Two moderate Democrats, Lou Correa of Orange County and Ron Calderon of East LA, are being blamed for the bills demise.

You can read the full story here: Capitol Weekly.

Downtown's own Senator Cedillo sponsored the legislation as a response to some horrific stories of Kaiser and some other hospitals that have 'dropped off' homeless patients onto the curb in various parts of Skid Row. The LA Times has done a decent job of covering the issue. I have been following this subject for a while and I was glad to see another blogger, A View from a Loft, have a short post about it yesterday.

For the folks who live Downtown this should be a major issue. Patient dumping must be the worse manifestation of greed that one can imagine. From a neighborhood perspective, not only does it add to Downtown's homeless population, but it also adds severely ill folks to the streets.

The whole story is sad and depressing. It is also sad and depressing that the Democrats, the party who supposedly stands for the poor and the needy, would sell out the most vulnerable in our City.

Thank you Senator Cedillo for this necessary legislation!
Shame on the others that did not see the benefit of helping the most poor and vulernable.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Parks, Parks, Parks

Last week I blogged about the construction project that was unveiled for the 5th and Hill neighborhood. The project is going to be a large, large construction project -- the tallest residential building west of Chicago.

I hear from some folks that they would like to get a deal. A deal to get some more stuff for the community.
Some are talking about trying to get the developers to spruce up Pershing Square. Well, maybe not spruce it up.

Pershing Square could be a beautiful spot. It would be great to get some of those disgusting structures out and get a better green space for folks to hang out. Let's start by taking out the ridiculous geometric shapes, and the unnecessary concrete.

Chaplin's Haunt

A friend of mine with a vast knowledge of the structures of Downtown conducted one of his sought after tours this weekend. Me and 6 friends headed out on a Sunday morn to listen into his guided walk -- which is part labor history of downtown and part architectural history.

The highlight of the trip was the Alexandria Hotel. If you haven't read up on the Alexandria, you should. The history of the place is fascinating. In addition to once being the social center of high society on the West coast, the Alexandria is also where Chaplin and his friends would often congregate. Chaplin announced the creation of United Artists Agency in the lobby.

On Sunday, we were able to check out the interior of the Hotel. The security guard was fabulous and welcomed us into the hotel and was even willing to show us around the place. The guard was proud to offer up that Brad Pitt was there the day before in one of the ballrooms to film a movie.

The ballrooms at the Alexandria are amazing. Stained glass, original hardwood floors, ornate chandeliers. Wow.

I was at the Alexandria back in October for their Halloween Haunted House, which was fun, but in such a dark spot one could not make out the beauty of the rooms.

If you can, make a trek to Alexandria. Its cool.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rocket Pizza

We've been to Rocket Pizza twice now and both times I've been happy. The first time we ordered a meatball sub and a pasta dish. The meatball sub was excellent and we had it to go. Altogether it was $16 and we were both happy.

Last night we had a pepperoni pizza and the eggplant parmesan. The pizza was delicious and the eggplant was very good. The service is friendly and fast. Including drinks + tip our meal was $26.

The atmosphere is cozy, squishy booths and low lighting there are flat screen tv's above most of the booths. I could live without them, but I might be the minority, it seems like more and more restaurants and bars feel the need to have them.

Rocket Pizza is well cooked, reasonably priced food. My date said that he'd like to see more stuff on the menu, especially pasta but my view is some restaurants try to make everything and they make nothing well. I'll take a shorter menu and good food any day.

And they expanded their hours which is smart because the downtown crowd is a late night crowd:
11:30 am - 10:00 pm Monday-Thursday
11:30am - Midnight Friday
Noon - Midnight Saturday
Noon - 10:00 pm Sunday

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Warung Cafe...

I wanted to write this as a plea to the owners/management of the Warung Cafe on 4th & Main. We recently ate here and I really want to like it and I'd love to have another great restaurant in the neighborhood.

We ordered a bunch of dishes because Warung is a tapas style pan-asian restaurant. Not a bad idea as you get to try lots of different options and a good option for a group. But it only works if the food is great.

The mongolian beef was delicious, as were the crispy chicken potstickers.
The cold peanut noodle salad was bland, kind of like cold ramen noodles with a drizzling of peanut sauce. Not very exciting.

We also ordered tofu green curry. The green curry sauce was fine but it had big chunks of raw tofu that had no flavor and seemed to have been tossed in at the last minute.

Also the organic tofu seaweed salad was bad It had about a cup of dried black shredded seaweed on top of traditional salad greens. It just tasted terrible. It was as if there was no thought behind the recipe or the style, at best sort of thrown together.

I ordered green tea. I got a cup of hot water with a bigelow tea bag. C'mon, if you're trying to be a stylish asian restaurant, how about a nice little tea pot, with real green tea, a nice tea cup, make an effort I say.

We ended up spending about $55 for dinner. For what we got, I felt I paid too much. We are downtown locals, we go out to eat and we eat at the other local restaurants a couple of times a week. Warung has to do better in my opinion.

The ambience is nice, great light fixtures, a good vibe, the music was nice and the service was friendly and quick. It's just the food that needs a little help. I offer this as constructive criticism for what could be a great option. I am reluctant to go again though and that's a bad sign for a restaurant still struggling for its footing.

Celebrity Crime Sighting

Living in LA is always more interesting when you have a good old fashioned celebrity sighting. Today I was at the whole foods on 3rd when my co-worker pointed out Scott Speedman walking past us hurriedly with a grocery basket. She noted that he looked a little bedraggled/homeless. We were keeping an eye out for him as we stood in line, we watched him walk through the prepared food section, put on his sunglasses, grab a pomegranate juice, walk back out through the front door and put the basket back in the rack.

Wait, did he just walk out the door without paying for his juice?
We caught Speedman, speed-shoplifting.


Monday, May 7, 2007

Big, Big Building in the Works

Whoa! Today the City unveiled a plan to build the largest residential building west of Chicago.

The project, if completed, would add a remarkable image to our skyline. The towers are planned for 5th and Olive and will look out onto Pershing Square. That may not be much of a view now, but I am sure they will spruce up the park should the project get through.

I love high density housing in Downtown. Our very own Jan Perry has already expressed her support for the project. I can only hope that the folks in Silly Hall have gotten something out of the developer -- bike lanes and green space would be nice.

Save your time, and your money

About a year ago, I was surprised to arrive home and find a man hanging from a crane that was perched atop my building. You may remember this time. They were filming the movie Spiderman 3. The police blocked off all around 4th and Main, and 5th and Spring, and various other thoroughfares throughout downtown.

I went to see Spiderman 3 this weekend. It was awful. Watching the man as he was suspended from the roof of my building was much more thrilling than sitting through the 2 + hours at the Arclight.

The movie was unbelievably bad. I am serious when I say the highlight of the film was seeing my building, and other areas of Downtown on the screen. But there are many more movies that have footage of Downtown that are superior to this movie. It was really bad.

Save your time and money -- wait for the DVD.

I believe that if Downtown residents are going to be inconvenienced in the future for filming, we should do some quality control on the movies they are shooting down here.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Watch Your Dog!

For those that may belong to the newdowntown group, you probably have gotten some messages about a man named Joe who was 'cuffed and stuffed' by the LAPD because two men claimed that he had stolen their dog.

I wanted to post about this for a few reasons.

First, to make sure that others are aware of the problem. As a new dog owner I want to make sure that others don't have the same problem that Joe has had.

Second, I think this is an important issue because of the police behavior. LAPD has had countless problems over the past years. Just the other day you may have read about the questionable police conduct during the immigration marches. Based on Joe's testimony, I think we have yet another tale of inappropriate, demeaning and unnecessarily aggressive police behavior.

Lastly, for those of you that know Joe, he is the nicest sweetest man and he does not deserve this kind of behavior. His dog Ruby is also sweet. I hope the community will support him if he needs our help.

Here is Joe's story:

Unfortunately, I was a victim of the two Hispanic guys yesterday (4-25). I was returning home from a dog walk around 4:30 pm with my bull terrier Ruby when they confronted me on the street at 6th and Main and tried to take Ruby away from me.

A police car stopped and the men told the police I took Ruby from their car. The police believed the men! One cop asked me how old Ruby is. I told him 9 years old. He told me that Ruby is two years old. "That is not your dog," one cop told me. "You have to return their dog."

I was pushed against the parking lot fence and handcuffed. Then I was placed in a police car while Ruby remained with the two men.The officers were abusive. They asked me if I was under the influence of medication and if I wanted a white dog just like one I had when I was little. I finally convinced them (after much begging) to take me to the San Fernando Building to establish the fact that Ruby is mine. Another cop car arrived and stayed with the men and my dog. One cop said "coo coo" the whole two block trip home. They also referred to the cardboard box they thought I lived in.
Things changed when I reached home. The building security guard, neighbors, the management crew, business owners (including Nancy-Jean) and Tom Gilmore and Trish Keefer all vouched for me and Ruby. The other cops brought the two men and Ruby to the building and everyone identified her. A third cop car later arrived. The handcuffs were finally removed and Ruby was returned to me
Despite all of that, though, I still had to take the two cops to my unit to show them proof that I live with a dog. Then later they returned to take pictures of Ruby and me together. I have filed a complaint against the two cops and I am going to meet with them and the head of Central Division on Monday afternoon. I was abused by those two cops and I will do my best to make them accountable for their bad behavior....and the two men? They were turned loose and could still possibly be around the area. Other dog walkers should wisely take Nancy-Jean's warning to heart.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Update to "Batten Down the Hatches"

The LA Times had a piece today on the marches that we should expect to see on Tuesday -- May 1st.

While the City is expecting for less than the 650,000 people that marched from Downtown to the La Brea Tar Pits last year, they are planning for somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people.

I like this official quote the best:

"It's a mess," said Don Baumgartner, special events coordinator for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates bus and rail service.

Lets face it folks -- you aint making it to work, so head out and join them.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Batten Down the Hatches

Be prepared. Be very very prepared.

On Tuesday May 1st, we can expect tens of thousands of good people rallying in Downtown. You may have seen the street closure announcements. May 1st has become a day of rallying and protest for the immigrant rights movement and we can expect thousands to descend upon Downtown to express their views.

There is a lot of emotion around the issue of immigrant rights. La Placita Church, a safe haven and organizing center for the immigrants rights movement, is sponsoring a hunger strike in front of their church.

You may remember last year was an unprecedented march with tens of thousands of people in the streets. They gathered Downtown before marching to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Since last May 1st there have been many other attempts to put together marches but most of them have fizzled out and produced only a few people. I remember a few weeks ago the LA Times covered a small protest that actually had equal number of marchers and anti-immigrant marchers.

I am not sure what the route is this year, but it looks like the City has cordoned off parts of downtown for the march.

I think this is important for Downtowners to know this. I came home from a meeting in City Hall on a Friday at 11:30am and was surprised when I was unable to access my car because the parking garage was closed -- to make way for the St Patricks Day parade. I loved it.

The parade was actually very small and had very few attendees. But I loved the fact that I could not go to work and I loved the fact that Gilmore was passing out free green beer. The scene was very festive.
But others were very upset by the street closures. Some people in cars were furious. I witnessed two rather ugly altercations with police officers and drivers who were upset that they were unable to get through Downtown.

I know that some may get annoyed by the minor inconveniences of the marches and the parades, but I personally love it. I think it is a great perk.
So, if you can, go out and join the good people on May 1st.
Downtowners Unite, you have nothing to lose but your ________!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Just the Beginning . . .

If you haven't read this week's version of the Downtown News, you should!

There is a great story about Downtown's first case of NIMBYism.

Bernand Chang, who lives at the Flower Street Lofts, is mad at hell at a developer who wants to drop a parking garage a mere 20 feet from his window. Not just any window. He has some beautiful floor-to-ceiling french doors that open onto a parking lot.

I think the Downtown News was right when it wrote:

"In an increasingly densifying Downtown, situations like the Flower Street Lofts clash will become more common, observers predict. Along with heightened desire for Downtown living is the fact that the adaptive reuse era is coming to an end (many of the available old buildings have already been developed) and ground-up construction is filling the area's many vacant lots."

Bernand and his neighbors have protested and are hoping to win some basic concessions from the developer that would make the project more friendly to the residents who currently live in the adejacent lofts.

We can expect a lot more of this kind of struggle with developers as property downtown becomes even more lucrative, and as development continues to speed ahead at a rapid pace.

Monday, April 23, 2007

LA is Better With Affordable Public Transit


The MTA announced that the public hearing on the proposed fare increase for LA buses will be held:

Thursday May 24, 2007 @ 9 AM

The hearing is in the MTA offices located at 1 Gateway Plaza (Vignes & Cesar Chavez)

If you live in Los Angeles this issue will affect you. Bus fares go up = more cars on the road!

Get educated on this issue and go to the hearing May 24th. Whether you ride the bus or not, as a city we all rely on functioning, accessible public transportation and we all need a city that views investing in buses and trains as a PRIORITY. I have lived in a lot of cities and there is no question that the traffic here is the worst I've experienced, I can't imagine LA getting worse.

It is ridiculous that they have set the hearing for a time of day that few working people can attend. This hearing should be an evening or a weekend hearing. At the risk of sounding like a mouthpiece for the Bus Riders Union (and I reiterate, I do not work nor am I affiliated in any way with the BRU I just think they're dead on on this issue) I support their call for the following:

Call MTA Chair Gloria Molina, 213.974.4111,
Call Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 213.978.0600,
and ask them to reschedule the hearing for a Saturday

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Downtowners for Hillary Clinton

The Presidential race is off to a fast start -- a very fast start.

I have been looking for a way to write about the Presidential race on this blog -- and I finally found it.

Hillary and Obama are in the lead for the Dems, while Mitt Romney is in way out in front of the Reeps.

Now records are becoming available for the March 31st reporting period for financial contributions to candidates, and you can search by zip code. I dialed in 90013 and surmised that Downtown, in large part, is voting for Hillary Clinton. I couldn't believe it either.
Well, that may be an overstatement.

Thus far residents of the 90013 zip code have only given $7,400 to Presidential candidates. So the fact that 62% of that money went to Hillary, 31% to Obama and 7% to Rudy really doesn't tell us much. $7400 could be the contributions of just a few individuals.

I want to know the crazies who live downtown and would give money to Rudy. I want to meet those people.

Friday, April 20, 2007

MTA Bus Fare Hike Sucks!

I should preface this by saying that I am not a member of the BRU. I am also not an expert on the policies of Los Angeles public transit agencies or the inner-workings of the MTA, but I will say that I spent several years working on public transportation projects in the Northwest and transit is an issue I continue to care about. Working on light rail/monorail projects in the NW I learned a valuable lesson: public transportation never pays for itself. It's always subsidized one way or another. However, when you calculate the cost to taxpayers of roads and highways (and all the accompanying costs from maintenance, to pollution, to highway patrol etc...) the costs start to bear out quickly in favor of public transit. That's not even taking into account the tremendous value to the economy that buses and trains provide by getting people to work and to school efficiently. Kind of like PUBLIC schools, PUBLIC parks, PUBLIC transit provides a service. Metro CEO Richard Snoble says: “We can’t sustain these massive subsidies,” Snoble said. “Either we raise fares or cut service. We simply can not operate the existing service let alone offer the public new transit improvements.” Wow so there are only two options? Raise fares or cut service? There's NO other way to fund public transit? Can't we be more creative? Especially in a city where air pollution and traffic are two of the top quality of life concerns.

I also think it's backwards for CEO Snoble to argue that higher demand means costs should go up. Rising demand means that people need buses and by raising fares, many people will struggle to afford them. “It is indeed unfortunate that at a time of such high transit demand due to continued population and job growth and the rising cost of all modes of transportation that Metro will not be in a position to serve the demand without additional revenue,” said Snoble.

Furthermore, Metro argues that the cost of transit in other major cities is higher "New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and other cities currently charge $2 or more". Well we can all be selective about what we mean by other major cities. You could argue that Boston, San Francisco and Seattle are major cities too and compare: a month pass for the City of Seattle is $54/month, in San Francisco you can get a Fast Pass for $45/month and you can travel unlimited on subway and local buses in Boston for $59/month. So let's be honest, just because some cities charge more for public transit, than we do, some don't and I don't think we need to emulate cities that have expensive public transit. One final note on this subject, I've spent time riding the subway in NYC and one thing I am sure of, the MTA buses have a lot of work to do to catch up to that level of service so lets compare apples to apples.

It also concerns me that many bus riders are part of a low-wage workforce that relies on public transportation because the cost of owning and maintaining a car is so high. What happens to our economy if workers, students and the elderly can no longer get to work, school or medical appointments? How do you calculate the cost of that to taxpayers?

Consider this scenario, a young person without a lot of money takes the bus to work every day because he can't really afford a car. Then his bus pass goes from $52/month to $120/ month and he decides that driving a car might not that much more expensive after all. So he buys a cheap car and starts driving to work. It's cheaper! He only pays $60/month to fill it up and it's running fine. But he doesn't carry car insurance because that's still a little steep. Then he gets in an accident. With no car insurance. Now what's the cost to the public, to the taxpayers?

Or how about this: more cars on the road in LA period. I don't even have to elaborate about why that's a disaster for this city. Buses are a critical part of keeping fewer cars on the road and transporting people to their jobs, doctors and schools. And it's not just any people, part of what BRU is doing is proving that bus riders are disproportionately minorities, youth and the elderly. This fare hike will hit LA's most vulnerable the hardest.

Here's how the fare hike breaks out for "regular" riders:


Last Change




Proposed 1/1/09











Day Pass




















EZ transit pass





The month pass is increased by 130%!

Here's how it breaks out for "senior/disabled/medicare":



Last Change




Proposed 1/1/09






Zone 1





Zone 2





Day Pass










EZ transit pass





Monthly premium each zone





Metro to Muni Transfer





For the elderly and the folks on medicare it's a 400% increase!

I cannot for the life of me understand how MTA thinks LA's poorest communities can accommodate these incredible increases.

The BRU in their letter to MTA Chair Gloria Molina note that 18% of families in LA City and 14% of families in LA County live below the Federal Poverty Level which in January of 2007 was set at $20,650 for a family of 4. That works out to $1,720.83 a month (pre-tax) and for just two adults to purchase a monthly pass the cost goes from $104 a month to $240 a month. When you are raising a family and trying to pay rent and make ends meet the $136 difference could go a long way toward food, bills and medical costs.

I live in LA. I drive a car to work. I don't need the buses personally. But Il think the MTA fare hike is outrageous and an embarrassment to our Mayor if he doesn't block it.