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."