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October 25, 2008

Countrywide to EP tenants: get moving*

Garcetti et al
Eric Garcetti, Bernard Parks, EP tenant Jonny Lee in Echo Park on Friday.

Countrywide went to work in Echo Park recently, foreclosing on a property on the west edge of the neighborhood. The action provided Eric Garcetti, council rep for CD 13, a chance to speak out against illegal foreclosure actions -- as they affect renters. Yesterday, Garcetti spoke in front of the building, a rent-stabilized tri-plex at 2129 Scott Ave., where renters were told, illegally, to pack up and leave by Countrywide, which opened its hideous maw wide enough to offer them $2,000 for their trouble. The alternative offer was furniture out on the street. Naturally, the company failed to mention that their "offer" was illegal.

Julie Wong, Garcetti's press agent emailed me that:

We imagine this is happening to other renters, too, and we want to get the word out that what Countrywide is doing is illegal and that people can get help.
The building address is 2129 Scott Ave (at Allessandro). It's a triplex with four tenants. All four tenants were notified of the change in ownership and told they had 48 hours to decide whether they would leave on their own in 30 days (and get $2,000) or be evicted in 30 days.

Full text of press release after the jump.

Following is the press release:

Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti today called on Countrywide Home Loans and its agents to cease and desist illegal foreclosure-related eviction practices.
Garcetti made the announcement in front of an Echo Park triplex foreclosed by Countrywide. Following the foreclosure, the building’s tenants were pressured to vacate their apartments and offered a $2,000 relocation fee – far lower than the $7,000 minimum required by city law.
According to Los Angeles city laws, a change in building ownership due to foreclosure alone is not an adequate reason to evict a tenant and tenants must be notified of their rights in these situations. In the event that eviction is justified following a foreclosure, tenants are also entitled to a relocation fee in the minimum amount of $7,000.
“This morning I sent Countrywide a letter regarding their involvement with this Echo Park triplex and demanding that they cease and desist illegal foreclosure-related eviction practices. We are watching. And we’re going to make sure that they follow the laws we have in place to protect renters from fraudulent or predatory practices,” said Garcetti. “We want tenants to know that they have rights – even if they live in properties that are being foreclosed.”
Although most attention on the nation’s foreclosure crisis has focused on homeowners, it is also significantly impacting renters. Some tenants of foreclosed properties are pressured by banks or their agents to vacate without a full understanding of their rights as renters.
“I can’t believe that I’ve become one of those guys that I keep reading about in the newspaper. It’s really frustrating and I feel like I was duped. I had no idea that this was illegal and that I had right to stay or to a minimum amount of money. In fact, I was told I would have to be out within 30 days and didn’t have the right to any money, even my security deposit. I encourage others in this situation to learn more about their rights as tenants,” said Jonny Lee, who lives in the Echo Park triplex and was offered the $2,000 relocation fee by Countrywide. “I’d like to stay in my apartment, and I’m hoping that Countrywide will reconsider this move out agreement.”
This is not the first time Garcetti has been notified of illegal foreclosure-related eviction practices by Countrywide. In July, Garcetti called on Countrywide to investigate these practices after one of its agents offered tenants in a South Los Angeles duplex $1,000 in relocation fees. Countrywide then notified the tenants and Garcetti that it was not proceeding with eviction action against the tenants and implied that further communication would comply with the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance.
Tenants who believe they are being pressured to vacate a foreclosed property or are being offered relocation fees below the minimum $7,000 for good faith evictions may seek advice from the Los Angeles Housing Department by calling 1-866-557-RENT.

October 23, 2008



Photo by Martin Cox (c), 2008

Martin Cox took this picture several days ago -- a double crested cormorant in flight near Echo Park Lake. The odd birds visit the lake this time of year. They fish a bit, they perch on tree branches, winter witnesses; they stand in large groups lakeside, drying their wings. That's a funny thing about these waterfowl -- they aren't as waterproof as geese and ducks. They have to dry off. They also have a funny way of swimming with their bodies down low.

A few days ago, I got a call from Christine Peters, who left a message saying that Echo Park activist and bird expert Judy Raskin was trying to rescue a sick cormorant from the water in Echo Park Lake. Later, I learned that the bird had been saved -- at least temporarily -- and handed over for veterinary care. It appeared to be suffering from avian botulism, so survival: uncertain.

Martin also captured this perfect sliver view of the western side of Echo Park across from the lake -- and the sky with palm tree smack dab off-center. Gorgeous.


Photo by Martin Cox (c), 2008

October 22, 2008

City Hall perspective

Much as I genuinely would have liked to go, I didn't get to attend the hearing on T-Mobile's ignoble tower plan at City Hall this Monday. I heard it described Monday night. But Ron Kaye went. The former Daily News of Los Angeles editor is famously a Valley dweller. But, as he says on his eponymous blog, he was curious to see how the city would handle the proceedings, which was to feature T-Mobile execs, landlords and a flock of Echo Park folk who wanted T-Mobile to go away. (T-Mobile and landlords didn't show.)

Kaye was turned off by the official in charge of making the hearing run smoothly, Albert Landini, a man some EP activists familiar with the City Hall public hearings scene consider superior. Click here to read.

October 20, 2008

It was showtime

Correction: it was showtime. Hearing took place Monday on the T-Mobile towers the communications company wants to install on top of the Del Mor apartments on Echo Park Avenue. Cluck, cluck. About 40 neighborhood residents showed up at City Hall to express their opposition to an unsightly mess in the canyon. They were told beforehand that during public comment the only arguments city officials were allowed to listen to involved aesthetics and historic value, but many insisted on talking about radio waves and their bodies. True to Echo Park, the cats refused to be herded. ... On the plus side, neither T-Mobile nor the building's owners showed up for the hearing. They're way ahead on everything it seems. First, they lay tracks for the towers before they receive any permits, then they throw in the towel before the hearing. But no one's complaining about the latter.

October 14, 2008

Collective consciousness, the Red Car, revival


Photo: Futterer, Holyland Exhibition, Probably late 1920s. Courtesy Corralitas Red Car Property

One of my favorite local blogs is a group project, Corralitas Red Car Property, which is partly devoted to the effort to restore and preserve the former Red Car terminus above Glendale Boulevard in Silver Lake, and which also has turned into a defacto naturalists site as well as historical project. Hummingbirds. Foxes. Stairways. And this month, according to Diane Edwardson, the group is "reviewing the photographic history of our neighborhood
surrounding the 2 Freeway in anticipation of the EIR for State Route 2 Glendale Freeway Terminus Improvement Project." (More on that to come.)

Some surprising and stirring photos have been collected and posted; the online exhibition includes a foray into the Holy Lands, one of the religious projects that flourished in the area in the first decades of the 20th century.

According to Red Car:

Antonio F. Futterer founded the Holyand Bible Knowledge Society in 1924. It is a non-profit, interdenominational organization. Futterer's descendants still offer tours of the Holyland Exhibition today. Futterer's photographs of the neighborhood in addition to the Holyland building (at the corner of Lake View Ave. and Allesandro Way) chronicle change since 1923.
Futterer is the author of "Eye-Ographic" bible study. After years of research in the "Bible Lands," he realized the Bible and its lands are inseparable. The Exhibition incorporates the history of the Holy Lands in their visual method of bible study with photographs, art and artifacts.
The Exhibition also kept current with the changing times in the Middle East: offering "Palestine Tours" prior to World War II and "Israel Tours" after World War II. (See photos above.)
To this day, the Holyland Exhibition has a meticulously tended garden featuring native plant species of the Holy Lands.

October 13, 2008

Our floaty friends

CootNot everyone sees sickness unto death when they visit the birds at Echo Park lake. Sometimes it's the sound and the fury. A few days ago, I received a note from Darrell Kunitomi, an Echo Park native (born and raised, and current resident) who knows the lake well. Darrell wrote:

Dropped by the lake on my way into downtown [a few days ago], had a bag of old bread to feed to our floaty friends - gulls, coots, ducks, geese. As expected it caused a watery stampede. I had old graham crackers, old wheat bread and some really old Schat's olive bread I never got around to eating. The fowl were a little slow on the take when they bit into the olive stuff. I did happen to notice some interesting behavior I'd never seen. It was, for me, an oldtime Echo Park Lake lurker, a bonafide first: I think I witnessed coot rage.
Now, coots are odd ducks, with an odd call. I believe they're as memorable as pigeons, that is, they're a lot of them and who really cares for coots? But this strange behavior caught my eye this morning -- two coots were dukin' it out like champs, riding the water on their tushes, wings akimbo, flailing, weird little feets kicking out doing kung fu things at each other, screaming funny cooty sounds. I'd never seen such a thing. It must have been two males, had to be. It totally looked like a male thing. "Dude, I'm the baddest coot!" "No foo!, not this time!", whatever coot males say when they get angry and fight.

We've seen male animals go at it - rams ramming each other, grizz standing, pawing, biting, roaring, eagles tossing about in mid-air, talons flying. But tell ya, seeing enraged coots Bruce Leeing each other was fascinating.

No question, coots are odd ducks, so to speak, with those huge green-yellow feet and little round black bodies, and, of course, the strange sounds they make. I dislike the sight of fighting in any species, but I wish I'd seen the karate spectacle of coots with feet flying.

Click here to hear a coot.

Which neighborhood was that?

Correction. Last week, Chicken Corner fluttered east and lost its bearings at the keyboard. I referred to Boyle Heights as Lincoln Heights in my post on the Church of Fashion, which was holding a support event for Obama. "Maps matter" is one of our founding principles at Chicken Corner headquarters (the question is "whose"), so the correction is taken to heart.

Meanwhile, the reader who alerted LAObserved to the problem had more than neighborhood boundaries on his mind.

Julio wrote:

Dear Editor of, Just wanted to let you know that the Church of Fashion is in Lincoln Heights not in Boyle Heights, which is actually 3 miles from Boyle Heights by a quick estimate. Also North Broadway is in no way in Boyle Heights.
Also, I feel that the Church of Fashion is going to [try to] make Lincoln Heights, "over." All we need are pseudo Echo Park transplants to jack up our rents and turn our great neighborhood into Silver Lake. [One of the founders of the Church of Fashion] once stopped me on the street (N.Broadway) and she mentioned "saving" Lincoln Heights, and how it is an "undiscovered gem," all comments brimming with white colonialist attitude. That white people need to save us non-white folks, and that we don't exist until they come around. I hope this Church of Fashion moves on.

The Church of Fashion sounds like a vibrant endeavor, but Julio has a point.

Incidentally, his thoughts nail something pertinent to Echo Park: the palpable ambivalence many activists showed toward the "Great Neighborhoods" award EP received last week. It's nice to be recognized by the American Planning Association, but what was being recognized? The increasingly gentrified Echo Park of 2008 (economic depression notwithstanding)? Or the place that spawned it, the place today's community activists knew 10, 15, 20 years ago? A tradition or a moment? That's to say if the two "places" can be separated -- and some people say they can. Perhaps they should have different names.

October 12, 2008

Giving back to the community

An unusual message landed in my email today. But not surprising, given that the source is Jay Babcock, editor and publisher of Arthur Magazine, based in Brooklyn.

Jay wrote:

Thanks to all who donated cash to Arthur when we really needed it back in June. Arthur is doing better now, but times are getting scarier for many of us with each passing day. In the spirit of generosity that you showed to us, we would like to make this offer: if you gave to Arthur back in June and are now in real financial jeopardy, please let us know by sending a money request to us via the same PayPal account you used to send us money in June. We will get your money back to you as soon as possible. As Lewis Hyde says in his book The Gift, we've got to keep the money moving. Even if all we've got are credit cards...
Stay strong, generous and peaceful,
Jay Babcock, Arthur Magazine

Strange times breed unusual behavior, and not always for the worst.

October 9, 2008

The birds

A real horror show. The birds in Echo Park are getting sick and dying. Chicken Corner has received numerous reports of stricken ducks and coots at Echo Park Lake, and one cursory report that bird counts are down at the L.A. River, too.

Martin Cox wrote me the following:

Hi Jenny: OK now I am concerned. Today I saw a dead coot floating in the water, a gravely ill Mallard male on it's last legs, unable to move and probably starving and dead female mallard and a dead turtle all in a fairly small area of the lake near that big county drain overflow [basin].
First 3 years of dying lotus, now many more bird deaths in short space of time, I have never seen this many dead birds at the lake.
Who can one call? I mean someone who cares?

I am working on that question of whom to call. When the park workers were leaving the island gate open, I called city parks workers about four times, leaving phone messages (with my phone number at the top of the message) and I never received so much as a courtesy return call. ... In the meantime, one parks worker who DOES take his job seriously, Dave Foster, believes the birds are dying of avian botulism.

An outbreak also was reported at the reflecting pool in front of the U.S. Capitol this past summer.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Cole, a reader, wrote to Chicken Corner:

The bird count is down on the LA River too, and some plants are dying…West Nile virus? But why the plants too?

Flamenco and filmmobile

In case you're wondering what people do for fun in a prize-winning neighborhood, here's a sample.

Filmmobile: The official traveling vehicle of the Echo Park Film Center will be guest of honor at a party this very evening (Wednesday, 7 p.m.).

According to a communication from the EPFC:

When you move to a new house you have a "house-warming" party and when you get a big blue bus that teaches film and screens movies you have a "FILMMOBILE-WARMING" party!
Please join us Thursday, October 9th as we "officially" welcome the filmmobile to the Echo Park community. Even though the bus has already traveled the country teaching film and video, screening films and celebrating art and creation - we have not had a proper "Meet & Greet".
So please join us for a night of Vegan Hotdogs, movies, the launch of the City of Angels DVD, tours of the bus, laughter, fun and joy for all!

The next one, well, um, it took place yesterday. But it's worth mentioning because not everyone knows that our favorite patrolman, Ed -- whom many of us know as the gentleman who cruises the neighborhood for Select Patrol, keeping an eye on things, an agent of order -- is a maker of music. In his other guise, Ed is a flamenco guitarist who serenaded the syrah grape harvesters-partyers at Joe and Heather D'Augustine's home and vineyard in Elysian Heights a couple of weeks ago. Ed also was scheduled to perform last night at City Sip, the new wine bar on Sunset Boulevard. No doubt he sent hearts beating to wild and unlawful heights.

City Sip advertised:

Ed, our local flamenco guitarist will be gracing us with his organic music this Wednesday evening from 6pm - 8pm. ... Pairs well with a glass of Tempranillo (several to choose from!) and the Spanish Chorizo Plate.

How many of us can claim that distinction? So many people I know pair well with chardonnay.

October 8, 2008

Prize winners


Photo by Martin Cox (c), 2008

A bright Wednesday morning. I drove through my prize-winning community, down Echo Park Avenue on my way to Echo Park Lake, where the mayor was supposed to receive Echo Park's award for being a "Great Place." The award is a gift of the American Planning Association, which is based in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Got there just in time to see Villaraigosa gripping the picture frame, which held the prize itself. Around him were Eric Garcetti, American Planning Association Cali official Vince Bertoni, a couple of other dignitaries -- soon joined by community activists Christine Peters (in hat) and Darren Hubert (T-shirt). In the crowd were neighborhood activist Malcolm Schenot and his dog Praeme (sp?), along with some bloggers, one for the Eastsider blog, Curbed L.A. blogger Dakota Smith, Chicken Corner waterfowl correspondent Martin Cox, and there was attorney Thomas DeBoe and an assortment of other people whose names I don't have the privilege of knowing. Also, some camera people and staffers. On the grass behind the audience a homeless man lay on top of his sleeping bag in mottled sunlight; he looked like he was feeling badly. In the water behind the port-a-dais the lotus were dead and a duck was seen dying. Martin Cox spoke to Dave Foster who manages day-to-day maintenance at the park. Dave told him the birds are dying of avian botulism.

The Eastsider blog has a perspective worth noting in regards to the prize. Click here.

When it was Garcetti's turn to comment, the council president addressed the issue of the lotus (in response to a question politely called out from the "crowd," which really should be called the "group," Chicken Corner supposes). He said the city is committed to seeing lotus blooming once again in the waters of Echo Park Lake. That is not a direct quote. But that's the gist.

October 7, 2008

Model community

Mayor Villaraigosa will be stopping by Echo Park tomorrow (Weds) morning to accept an award – a national planning award that names Echo Park a “Great Neighborhood.”

According to Christopher Koontz a of L.A.’s city planning department, the American Planning Association’s award is part of:

…a national recognition program that celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard for a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.

Beautiful. Take a passel of one-of-a-kind oddballs and one-of-a-kind immigrants, assorted others, a lot of artists, a bike shop, fauna from around the globe, and you get a model community. Cluck, cluck. Love it.

Of course, the choice of Echo Park Lake as a site for celebrating the award is subtly unfortunate. The waterfowl are dying all of a sudden. (More on this to come) Dead coots and dead ducks. And, of course, dead lotus. Just don’t look too closely at the water.

Here’s more from the email that Christopher Koontz sent to Christine Peters, who forwarded it to the neighborhood list.

Dear Echo Park Community Stakeholders and Organizations,this e-mail is to let you know that the City of Los Angeles has been awarded a Great Neighborhood designation for Echo Park , as part of the American Planning Association’s Great Places Program. It is a national recognition program that celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard for a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.

Each year, APA designates 10 places in three categories: Street, Neighborhoods, and Public Spaces. As part of the commendation, APA presents certificates to local representatives, publishes an article in Planning Magazine featuring all the designees, and launches a press campaign raising the visibility of our nation’s Great Places.

This year Echo Park has been selected as one of our nation’s Great Neighborhoods, as a place where diverse communities come together, enjoy public amenities, walk, drive, and bike through our streets, stairs, and parks, and most of all, where residents continue to exemplify true civic engagement to create a better community.
One church for another for Obama*

A paradox or so it seems – The Church of Fashion in Lincoln Heights is holding a Baracktober fest tonight (Tues) at 6 p.m., and part of the motivational entertainment will be a screening of one or more of the many performances of the Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Perhaps the world has spun so wildly beyond recognition in recent days that Fashion and Shopping have spun apart? Perhaps. I thought they were the same thing. Even when we’re not talking expensive materials. But it’s a new world. And we’re hoping Barack can be president in it.

If you’re uninitiated, the Reverend Billy is a performance artist who preaches that consumer culture is poison to the soul. That’s my kind of church, as long as I can keep buying the things I absolutely must have to live the way I do.

Robin Shulman described Rev. Billy in the Washington Post:

[The Rev. Billy] and his flock have exorcised cash registers and staged other "interventions" in retail stores. He has been arrested dozens of times. In 2003 he was banned from all Starbucks outlets in the world, and in 2005 he was banned from Disney properties. Now Morgan Spurlock, who directed the film "Super Size Me," has produced "What Would Jesus Buy?" a "docu-comedy" about Talen's gospel now in limited theaters.
He is also part of a movement of people toying with avoiding consumer culture. … He has traveled across the country, along with his Stop Shopping choir, setting up makeshift confession booths where people can discuss their shopping sins, baptizing babies to keep them safe from consumer culture, performing weddings and even officiating at a few funerals.

So his work may be performance art. But isn’t all religion?

Meantime, the Church of Fashion is run partly by Charon Nogues, formerly of Echo Park. I have met her on email only, when she was the first person to rally support for Evalia of El Batey grocery store -- the landlord wanted to triple the rent, which would have put her out of business. As a result of community pressure El Batey ended up staying in place.

Later, Nogues fell afoul of some members of the community when she opined on a neighborhood list that “Echo Park is over.” She had moved on to Boyle Heights. Lots of indignation and a little venom was spewed her way. But she still posts on the neighborhood list, and her Church of Fashion sounds inspired.

This is what she wrote about Baracktober:

It's Baracktober people... Lets get together to discuss what we can do.
After all the comments and commitments are made, we will be screening some very motivational material: The Reverend Billy and the church of stop shopping.
@ The Church of fashion 3110 N. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90031 Tel # 323 227-5725

It’s a thrill this week to see how many local two-days ahead fundraisers have been set in motion for Obama. Everything from bake sales to dinner parties. Everyone wants to send money. Spending on the campaign -- as spiritual exercise, or political exorcise.

October 2, 2008

Historic values

Couldn't help noticing the L.A. Weekly's Best of L.A. listing for Hope Gallery that referred to Chicken Corner as "Echo Park's historic Chicken Corner." I guess it depends on your definition of history, considering that the name "Chicken Corner" in ref to the intersection of Delta and Echo Park Ave. is less than ten years old. But I'm intrigued by the idea of declaring history in real time (more or less).

And now, your moment of zen. Gelson's 6:30-ish p.m., Wednesday -- it's late, off-hour in grocery shopping. A young pop soul woman sings brightly over the P.A. Baby bok choy, white onion, red chard. I am trying to recreate a vegetable dish a friend served recently (the result comes close but not close enough.) Bananas. P.A. stops abruptly. Half-aware, I wait to hear about a clean-up needed in aisle 91, or somewhere. A man's voice, mumbling a bit: "House passes bailout for 800 [sic] billion dollars." Different kind of clean up. Over and out. The singer comes back. Yogurt. Milk. Special fancy lightbulb.

October 1, 2008

Towering Echo Park

Whole lot of static in Echo Park this week. One neighborhood list is crackling with distress at the news that T-Mobile wants to build a tower on top of the Del Mor apartments, apparently with the consent of the building's owners.

The company is requesting a permit to install and operate "an unmanned wireless telecommunications facility consisting of 12 panel antennas and one GPS antenna" above Chango. They're talking 55 five feet 9 inches* high. Perhaps they just want to channel all of that surplus hipster vibe down at street level? Unused cool streaming to the people.

Either way, objections to such a structure fill a big pool. There's the aesthetic argument that a tower in the V of a residential canyon is ugly. There's the health worry of radiation­ but those concerns, say the powers that be, are not concerns because no one knows about the real dangers of cell tower emissions. So your car radio crackles when you drive by one? So what? Headaches? Whatever. That's essentially the argument for allowing towers close to residences. It hasn't been studied much.

According to neighborhood activists who know the codes, the only way to fight such a tower is on aesthetic grounds or by citing precedent.

Says one EP resident:

Please note: If you attend any public hearing (LA City) regarding cell towers you cannot address the issue of cellular radiation, you can address the tower as it relates to the community plan, zoning and aesthetics.

EP has always had wacky phone troubles. There's the radio interference at the tops of the hills, with some people getting radio reception in their iron bathtubs. There's the spotty cell phone reception all up and down the hills. But a tower on top of the Del Mor Apts? That's no solution. That's a brand new problem.

*Fifty-five feet exceeds the 45-foot max of the current zoning.

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