News

Friday desk-clearing

  • Sharon Waxman's Hollywood news site The Wrap will make its official debut on Monday, and Eric Estrin of LAO (and the LAO Script Project) will be on board as a contributing editor with a column called Hollywood Hard Knocks, talking to Hollywod types about lessons learned on their rise to industry prominence.
  • A male Chihuahua was suffocated in a plastic bag before being lit afire in Long Beach's Houghton Park, prompting outrage and offers of rewards. LBReport
  • Big quakes have been more frequent on the Carrizo Plain section of the San Andreas Fault than previously believed, says a new study that suggests we're more likely to get a big one. L.A. Now
  • LAPD chief Bill Bratton left for Amman, Jordan, where he will meet with His Majesty King Abdullah II "to discuss various topics, including law enforcement, security, counter-terrorism, criminal intelligence and community policing tactics and philosophies." LAPD blog Also: England's The Sun likes Bratton again.
  • Mayor Villaraigosa clamped down modestly on the use of city cars after Controller Laura Chick's critical audit. Sausage Factory
  • Environmentalist Jonathan Parfrey was confirmed by the City Council for a seat on the DWP commission. L.A. Now
  • Los Angeles Times reporter Louis Sahagun was elected president of the California Chicano News Media chapter in L.A.
  • Patrick Goldstein looks at "Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times," the new documentary about the Chandler family that screens Saturday in Santa Barbara. The Big Picture
  • Former Lakers great Jerry West will write his autobiography for publication in 2010, publisher Little, Brown and Co. announced.

This week on LA Observed | LA Biz Observed | Native Intelligence

LA Observed on KCRW: Today's segment takes off from this post about the difficulty in defining L.A's neighborhoods. Warning, I throw out the term "Maui in the Valley." Here's the link to listen or you can download on iTunes. Script follows after the jump:

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

For these commentaries, and for my blog at LA Observed.com, I end up monitoring a lot of writing and reporting on Los Angeles.

And one of the things I notice is that the very concept of LA, for all of its presence in the movies and in the mass media, remains a confounding creation.

Thereís always somebody getting wrong the essential character and relationships that define this giant metropolitan mash-up. I donít just mean the tendency of visiting journalists and other observers to approach L.A. as primarily a celebrity and show business town. Thatís still reliably a sign that someone is going to get it wrong. But it seems that, increasingly, the bigger cultural and political geography is just too complex for easy digestion.

The 88 separate cities in Los Angeles County are simple enough to distinguish Ė they have formal boundaries that can be found in the Thomas Guide.

Harder to define are the hundreds of neighborhoods and informal communities in the rest of the county and in Los Angeles itself. If you know exactly where the Wilshire District begins and ends, or Larchmont or Faircrest Heights, youíre ahead of me Ė and of the officials in City Hall.

Media are getting it wrong in part because of the move away from live, human editors with minds and judgment -- in favor of digital tools. Google maps, for all of their glories, bungle a bunch of LA names and locations Ė and also like to represent big, amorphous places with a single push pins.

Thatís one of the reasons why media coverage of last yearís Metrolink train tragedy repeatedly erred in placing Chatsworth 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

No Ė Chatsworth is in LA. And probably 40 miles by car from the far end of Los Angeles city in San Pedro.

You might think the LA Times would have figured this all out through the years, but the paper has always struggled with how to accurately define the communities it covers.

When I was a reporter and editor at the Times, I remember committees came up with maps that outlined the unofficial communities. They were mostly ignored, and are disregarded even more now that the paperís staff is thinner and less seasoned in the complexities of L.A. Some parts of the paper have begun referring to Silver Lake and Echo Park as The Eastside, picking up on usage favored by bloggers and newer residents.

But the reference would be a complete gaffe to many other residents who think of the Eastside as east of the Los Angeles River Ė as the paperís own style guides say, as a copy editor recently told me.

Just this week, the Times came in for some new blogosphere criticism for misplacing the Pico-Union and Westlake districts. Brady Westwater, the downtown activist and self-styled L.A. historian who called the Times on its error, complained that the paper too often mislabels the cityís neighborhoods.

To their credit, the editors plan to do something about it. Theyíve set in motion a project to computerize a database of neighborhoods and try to agree on the boundaries of every one.

That will be tricky. Boundaries of all the various heights and estates and villages sprinkled around Los Angeles are often a matter of local opinion and dispute.

Some community names are wholly figments of real estate agents or homeowner groups and have no historical basis at all. Yes, Iím looking at you Lake Balboa.

But the effort will be worthwhile. Trouble is, the target keeps moving. Just this week, residents in a small suburban corner of Van Nuys requested a trade into Sherman Oaks, thinking that sounds more appealing.

I say let them go. Itís all pretty arbitrary anyway, and at least they didnít ask to be called Lake Vanowen. Or Maui in the Valley.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.


More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
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