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March 27, 2009

The phantom film crew

There seems to be a phantom film crew roaming Echo Park this week. Not just an unpermitted band of filmers, but a mysterious presence. Let me begin on Tuesday early a.m. I was driving home after midnight. I am "on call" to write subtitles, and I had worked late into the evening. I drove across the city and then into Echo Park, which was deep asleep. I saw almost no cars. Lights were out in the houses. The streetlamps looked like wasted light. No swells leaving the bars on Sunset. I continued up Echo Park Avenue through the dark and quiet.

At home, I was just winding down when I heard gunshots. Seven of them, quite close. Unfortunately, I have enough experience listening to gun shots to know a) what they sound like and b) when they're close. I waited a moment, then I called 911. I got through right away, and I told the dispatcher about the gunfire. I told him where I was, and where I believed the shots had been. He told me there was a film being shot nearby. (Only in L.A., as one of my neighbors pointed out.) Ordinarily, this would have been exactly what I wanted to hear, but I hadn't seen any sign of a film crew, and I didn't hear any other kind of noise. I asked him if he was sure, because it seemed unlikely. I can't remember what he said exactly. We decided to end our conversation. About fifteen or twenty minutes later, a helicopter came by, did a couple of turns at a high altitude and then went away. This much I know.

Then it was quiet again, and I went to bed. The next day, there was one query about the shots on a neighborhood list serv. It was not going to be a big deal. I posted on the list that I had called 911 and the dispatcher said and etc, etc. To which different people began to say different things about whether or not a film had been shooting. Everyone agreed there had been gun shots, though. Malcolm, our resident citizen in charge of keeping track of film permits in Echo Park said no film had been permitted.

Jenny, I didn't get anything [i.e., any information about a film shoot], Mitch O'Farrell [of Eric Garcetti's office] checked and didn't get anything, Rosie posted an email from [senior lead police officer] SLO Bobby Hill saying it was a photo shoot, I don't know which one it could have been... MItch said at the Positive Energy meeting on Wed that he talked to Jody [of FilmLA] and she didn't know of any film shoot authorized to shoot guns. Bobby Hill said he checked it out personally and it was a film shoot.

To wit, the inestimable Rosie B. posted a note from Bobby Hill, our senior lead officer:

I was working that night and there was a movie shoot going on.. they sent several police cars to the location and the results were the same .. no shooting.

To which another friend of mine responded:

[Dear Rosie, etc.]1) There was a round of shots fired successively (4-6), and it was late into the evening - around 1am. I know this sound. It is the sound of a hand gun emptying its chamber or clip. There are two reasons that we know this happens: a) Someone is practicing or showing what a gun can do; b) Someone is trying to take out a target.
2) Films must have special permission to shoot guns that make the sound of gunfire. We know about every film that needs to get a permit thanks to Malcolm. This neighborhood rarely if ever allows this type of filming activity because the effect of noise can easily be produced in post-production, and we are VERY sensitive to the negative impact of gunfire. Late in the evening would NEVER be permitted - it is way too distressing for people. I cannot remember when a film was last permitted to allowed to use guns that make noise at all. None of the reports of a film crew say that they were responsible.
3) By the time there was a helicopter responding - about 10-15 minutes later, anyone involved who was not dead or severely injured would be long gone.
Conclusion by logic: 1) There were shots fired, and not by a film crew. 2) No one was killed or seriously injured. The police report of this incident should follow this logic

So, if Chicken Corner's deduction is correct: although no one is allowed to fire off a gun in the neighborhood (actors and perpetrators alike)...someone(s) did it anyway. ... They were wrong to do it, and they may not have done it. (Except that they did.)

If you happen to see a film crew wandering in the vicinity, approach with caution and concern. They may be lost. (Just ask the 911 dispatcher.) I've heard those crews get active when the moon is shining bright. For them, that's magic hour.

March 24, 2009

Craig's Threats

This lovely offering was posted on Craig's list:

Wanted: Any Youngster Stealing bike parts. (Echo Park, Downtown.)
Reply to: Date: 2009-03-24, 7:13PM PDT
Thats right. Any mothafucka caught stealing bikes or bike parts is going to lose all his teeth...ON SITE. You think this is a fucken game? Dont Trip, We are going to start playing, All your kick it spots are burned. I know all of them. I know all your faces, and soon all you will get jacked for your bikes same way. Keep it up fucken pieces of shit NDO's. Youll see me soon.
Location: Echo Park, Downtown. it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests PostingID: 1090709494

For the last year Chicken Corner has been hearing about bike thefts rising, rising. I wondered of course if it had anything to do with the rising price of gas. Or the rising cost of everything, in relative terms.

He's not there

The seven-foot stuffed monkey. Manny the Monkey to be precise. For probably a year he spent his days and nights clowning or frowning, depending on his posture, on some lawn furniture in front of a small Baxter Street bungalow court. He was a charmer who brought a sense of fun and mystery, and my daughter loved Manny, who was one of the landmark events of all our walks in that direction. But Manny is gone. Word on the street: Manny was stolen. Now the teak-looking lawn furniture sits empty -- it's just furniture now, no longer a stage set. It's a testament to the meanness of thieves.

That said, while thieves have taken Manny, it has occurred to Chicken Corner just what a living art gallery Echo Park and surrounding neighborhoods have become. I love my first hometown of Washington, DC, a gorgeous city, but nowhere in Washington* will you find the murals, the yard-installations, the sense of fun and freedom -- e.g., in EP alone we have at least two houses with significant glass-bottle art; there's a shark on Sargent Place; there are sculptures all over, including the on-ramp to the 2 Freeway; some of my neighbors had an installation made of vinyl records; there is so much public art on private property we take it all for granted, not least of all the mainly Latino-owned shops with their traditional painted signage (though there has been less and less of that in the days of gentrification). Manny was public art, too.

*In Washington, much of the public "art" is statues of military men on horses -- that and the gardens at people's homes. On Capitol Hill, a lot of Greco-Classical grace notes, lions and ivy, in front of Victorian attached brick houses (my own house was a bit of an exception to the orderly rule). It's beautiful, but no Manny.

March 18, 2009

Letters file -- of bikes and beasts and deadly weeds

Among the emails Chicken Corner has received this week are messages concerning a dwarf rabbit's death and the right to ride.

J Michael Walker, artist and writer of All the Saints of the City of the Angels, lost a good rabbit to the dread tobacco tree:

Walker wrote:

Dear Jenny, Amy is absolutely right. We had a pet dwarf rabbit several years ago. It lived in our house and, when it weasn't gnawing on the odd bit of furniture, was totally endearing and adorable (A word I rarely use). It was tame enough, and sure enough of its home, that I could let it loose in our front and back yards.
But there were two things I was then unaware of: First, tobacco plants are totally poisonous; second, rabbits will eat anything they do not retain, apparently, from generations past, the knowledge that other animals do, of what to, and what not to, eat. So Bunny delightedly ate of this and that in our backyard, and the small tobacco plant, that had self-seeded between cracks in our brick patio, proved her undoing.
I found a very very unpleasant path in the grass, that stretched from the plant to her stiff corpse, legs outstretched fore and aft. Not only had she died, but it was clearly not a painless one. Please underscore the danger to household pets.

In all seriousness, Walker's note has led to my decision not to get a rabbit because my yard is a hopelessly abundant garden of poisonous delights. I do not have tobacco trees, but I do have panamanian nightshade, lillies all over the place, belladonna, and who knows what deadly else. A horror show. And rabbits need to go outside.

People need to get out, too, which brings us to: mountain biking. A reader -- and mountain bike activist -- named William Campbell sent me the following defense of biking a couple of days ago:

Though I'm a mountain cyclist, I remain a big fan of your blog even after reading last week's post "Bike-land redux" perpetuating [the image of] all of us as outlaws astride flora-killing two-wheeled beasts.
I'll accept it as a consolation that you're OK with bikes on the streets. Certainly as a dedicated commuter cyclist I've encountered people as vehemently opposed to that practice as it seems you and your fellow neighbors are to the opening up of Elysian and perhaps Griffith parks to mountain cycling. Thank goodness there aren't enough irate motorists to rally around and get laws rewritten to ban me from biking on certain streets to and from my job.
For the record, and hopefully a different perspective, when I bike offroad, I do so with the utmost care and respect for the hills I ride such as those in the Verdugo and San Gabriel mountains, and I strive to make as little an impact on the trails I traverse as well as on the enjoyment of the hikers and equestrians I encounter.
I like to think there's a lot more where I come from, but I'm not blind to the fact that there is certainly a contingent of riders who keep people proprietarily raging against our presence. Conversely I've encountered disreputable, disruptive and disrespectful hikers who do as much or more damage with carelessness and the treads of their shoes as you purport I do with those of my tires. I guess the difference is I don't extrapolate out from that subset to unfairly condemn a whole group.
Having pedaled the trails of Griffith and Elysian parks as a kid I am saddened by the discriminatory codes as they've long stood, but I respect them and ride my mountain bike only where I am able to legally. Amazingly I'm able to share those trails with hikers and horseback riders and in my 20 years as a practitioner of the recreational activity have never once had a negative encounter.
PS. If you're interested, here's the link to a short film I made of a trek down from Tongva Peak in the Verdugos back in 2004 that'll give you some idea of my quiet, leave-no-trace riding style: here.

Well, the first thing I noticed in this lovely short film is the fact that, besides, the cyclist no one else, unless you count the deer (?) skeleton, is present.

March 16, 2009

Tobacco-tree tremens

Tobacco treeSpeaking of the silvery yellow-flowered so-called tobacco tree: I have always had a funny feeling about that plant. Not the one that grows dark green leaves that are cured and smoked to disastrous effect. The one I'm thinking of grows around here wherever it gets a chance: all over Elysian Park, in my back yard, in my front yard (for a short while). I see them growing, and I think weed and other unflattering things; I pull it up.

My instinct got its affirmation recently in an email from a reader, Amy Wakeland.

Amy wrote:

I thought I would pop you a note to correct what I think might be some unintended misinformation in one of your recent posts. You write: "It's only a tobacco-tree plant (Nicotiana glauca), of course. Not to be confused with actual tobacco plant whose leaves can be harvested and turned into sickness and early death. No, this one (see photo) is harmless in every way except for, perhaps, as a pest."
Tree tobacco is actually highly toxic, and, if consumed, can lead to a slowing of the pulse, stumbling, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and even death (by respiratory failure). Children especially should be kept away from the plants; pets should be shooed away from them if they are nibbling on them; and people should use gloves when removing tree tobacco plants from their yards.

How unpleasant. Yes, that plant makes me uneasy. Thank you, Amy!

March 11, 2009

Edgar Cahn in EP

Edgar Cahn

Photo: Kim Pesenti, March 3, 2009

Large ideas filled a small space a few nights ago, as Edgar Cahn addressed Echo Park Time Bankers at the Echo Park Film Center. Cahn is the "inventor" of time banks, concept-wise (though if he wants to build one, all he has to do is step next door to Machine Project and they'll set him and any other volunteers up with as much discarded electronics gear as they can handle). Cahn is the other kind of DC lawyer; he's an activist who has worked on progressive causes and projects for years, with Sargent Shriver, among others. He's also founder of the law school at Antioch University. On Tuesday, he gave the time to come to Echo Park, speaking for about 45 minutes with members of the fairly new time bank in this community. In his remarks, he made clear that he sees the practical act of time-banking (a flat-rate barter system in which one hour's labor is repaid with one hour, regardless of the service -- which can be anything from dog walking, computer repair, language instruction, rides to the airport and hair cuts to political action and simple acts of companionship, civic engagement, caring, certain kinds of spiritual labor) as a social movement -- a program in community repair, in "rebuilding the social infrastructure of connectedness." In the economic world of Time Banking, he said, "there are no throwaway people."

It's a kind of core economy that does not record GDP. (And he's not alone in questioning the value of GDP as a measurement of our country's economy.) It's a way of redefining our values and our value.

In the age of lay-offs (and I have my own story to tell and that of others close to me) the idea of no throwaway people does more than resonate. It resounds. To the full room of listeners Cahn's ideas met a ready audience when it came to willingness to do and give. But, he cautioned near the end of his eloquent presentation, there was a significant stumbling point for many of the time banks that exist now (in 32 countries!): People are more than willing to give, but many, particularly in this country, are reluctant to receive. And the system is predicated on taking as well as giving. That particular point was met with a guilty silence by some, and a not-guilty silence by others.

March 10, 2009

Of goats and green

Not everyone loves the goats. Yesterday Chicken Corner received the following unsigned communication:

Goats ain't so green after all. Rumor has it they damaged if not killed a bunch of trees by stripping off their bark when used in downtown by the CRA.
There is also a lot of concern about goats being vectors for weeds as they move from site to site with weed seed in their gut and on their fur. Goats don't spew exhaust like mowers do, but weeds are pollution too.

Anonymous included a document for information on invasive plants:

Yes, sometimes goats hurt trees, though Chicken Corner has not heard talk on the street of goats hurting trees during a CRA mission. But weeds as pollution? Chicken Corner begs to differ. I am partial to Echo Park landscape professional Michael O'Brien's definition of a weed: A weed is a plant that is growing where you don't want it to. A weed is a value judgment. And, yes, many of them are hideous; they live to disrupt our sense of order and beauty and unbalance the environment by killing sensitive native flora. Still, Chicken Corner would like to stand up for the purity of the word pollution. Let's not ruin a perfectly good word by mixing up concepts like gone-wild euphorbia and cottonweed plants with PCBs, oil spills, and pig shit methane river dumps. Over-defining/over-stretching a (politically!) useful word can be a form of pollution, too.

March 9, 2009

Goats workshop



It's not true that no one has a job anymore. These goats do! At least until tomorrow. Farmlab posted images of working goats -- or goats guest-working -- at its Anabolic Monument* downtown on Monday. Tuesday will be their last day at the site.

And what a pretty group of guest workers they are. In a brief interview with the busy goats, Chicken Corner found them inquisitive as goats tend to be, friendly to the point of rudeness, willing to talk -- though their comments don't readily translate. The sound of chewing: pstchah, pstchah, pstchah etc. They wanted to know why people are always so charmed and delighted by livestock in urban areas. I shrugged. "Isn't it obvious? They long for nature. They think animals are funny." "Pstchah, pstchah." Their work ethic: impeccable.

One thing I know, we could use their services on undergrowth in 85 percent of Elysian Park.

*Anabolic Monument? Think crop circles, decaying corn stalks, no pesticide, trains nearby, macromolecular synthesis, and...goats. For a more precise explanation, contact anyone other than Chicken Corner -- and please forward!

Bike-land redux

Chicken Corner is all for bicycles replacing cars on the street -- and all against bikes replacing bipedals and their dogs on hiking/walking trails in Elysian Park, not to mention bike treads flattening fauna and doing all the kinds of damage that are associated with off-trail freewheeling receration in semi-wild areas. Like the west side of Elysian Park! The issue has arisen before, and efforts to rewrite the regulations of the park -- to allow mountain biking -- have been defeated by the community and other people who already use the western side of Elysian. As far as I know, the cruisers and drug dealers, who are some of the busiest users of the park's east end, have not organized to stall off bike use.

A few years ago, the neighborhood was in an uproar -- literally, I had friends roaring in the street! -- about poorly publicized, almost secret meetings Jackie Goldberg's office was holding to discuss reopening the park to mountain bikes. That de-regulation effort was battered out of the park, after community activists got wind.

Back then, in 2000, George Ramos wrote in the LA Times:

Soil erosion and the safety of park users are the opponents' main concerns.
"Legs and wheels don't mix," said Sallie Neubauer, president of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park. "Mountain bikers seek the thrill of the dangerous and the extreme. And we're talking about urban park space where people go walking with their dogs and baby carriages. If you allow mountain bikes in the city, you'll push out other park users."

The Times could rerun virtually every word of Ramos's article today, and none of it would be stale.

Because the two wheel beast appears to be back.

Recently I heard from a friend who sent me documents showing that the city is "working with" a biking industry consultant, The Osprey Group, to look into opening Elysian and other parks to mountain bikers.

Oliver mentioned "the fact that the city is broke and is spending tax dollars on non-objective consultants for "Trail Biking"... There is no doubt that the Osprey Group is on the side of the industry (they are being paid REI and Patagonia to push this agenda) and not a true policy consultant. This is a critical point and is proven ... on their website."

As before, it comes down to people who use the park now with their feet vs. people who say they can't use it without wheels.

Here's the text of a letter from the city planning office to the Sierra Club:

February 11, 2009
Mr. Paul Cutter Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter, West Los Angeles Group 3435 Wilshire Boulevard, #320 Los Angeles, CA 90010
Dear Mr. Cutter: The City of Los Angeles has begun working with The Osprey Group from Boulder, Colorado, as part of our current planning activities for the Bicycle Plan, to develop opportunities for mountain bicycling within some city parks. The intent of this effort is to provide Los Angeles residents with more local options for exercising and enjoying open spaces. The overall goal of this effort is to improve health and recreation opportunities for City of Los Angeles residents by exploring equitable solutions that increase mountain bicycling access. Potential solutions that meet the goal and objectives of the planning will be sought utilizing interviews and meetings with key trail user groups (hikers, equestrians and mountain bicyclists).
Osprey is seeking an opportunity to speak with individual representatives, meet with members of individual user groups, and hold two joint meetings with representatives from each user group. Representatives will be selected internally by each user group, with each group providing one representative and one alternate.
Trail user groups will be asked to provide representatives who are City of Los Angeles residents based upon their ability to address challenging issues with an open mind, respect for other stakeholders and willingness to consider other viewpoints, standing within their community, and availability to attend meetings. Please expect a call from The Osprey Group shortly to explain more about this planning effort, which is scheduled to take about four months.
Sincerely, Helene T. Bibas, City Planner
Jordann Turner, Bike Plan Project Manager

March 3, 2009

EP Diary

Wednesday: I might have started this post with something along the lines of Things were quiet yesterday in a neighborhood quite shaken up by Sunday's shootings -- It's rainy with intermittent bits of sunshine... Except that's not the way it was. At least not at one in the afternoon when there were huge banging sounds on the street as if a dumpster were tumbling -- it was a car out of control, with trash bins flying and then screams. I ran outside in my socks and saw first my neighbors' iron gate crashed in and blue and black bins toppled in the street. A little bit further down, a car was crashed into a chain link fence and another of my neighbors lifted a small child out of the car. I had a sick feeling of dread when I saw that and stopped in my tracks almost involuntarily. But it turned out the driver -- an elderly woman -- and her grandson were unhurt, and the car had missed my neighbor, whose screams I had heard a few moments earlier.

An older Honda Civic now rested against a pushed-in link fence with a black garbage bin tilted against the hood. The driver was disoriented and asked frantically, "Did I hit anyone?" It seems that she had hit the gas instead of the brake. The next hour was confusion. I watched as various police officers, paramedics and firemen asked the driver, who is 71 and lives in Silver Lake, the same questions over and over. A helicopter came and went. Over a dozen neighbors came and went. A couple who live close by told me that on Monday night a drunk driver crashed into their house, which abuts an alley-like driveway. They said things were going awry in Echo Park. They certainly were awry on our street, and we now had the loop-de-loop black treadmarks to illustrate the point.

A little later, the woman, a Filipina grandmother whose name is Lydia, was still agitated. A fireman tried to calm her, saying "no one was hurt. This [the car] this doesn't feel anything. It's just a car. It can be fixed." But she didn't seem consoled. She is diabetic, and her blood sugar was 170. She has no health insurance. The car had to be moved somewhere. The fences had to be fixed. Her grandson was badly shaken.

She reviewed with me what had happened. She said it all had gone by so fast. She lost control of the car, but the garbage bins had slowed her down. "I was saved by the garbage," she told me.

As I went back inside to get a sweater for the driver, a cop was following the treadmarks where they went up on the sidewalk and into the street.

"I wish someone had seen it," he said to me. "I can't figure out what happened."

A little while later, the driver's daughter arrived (from Lancaster) to pick her up. (Her grandson had been taken to school in the meantime.)

That was Wednesday. Today is Thursday. It's cool and sunny -- gloriously so -- and, except for the crashed-in iron fence and shattered fence posts across the street, it's quiet and things look normal.

Buffleheads want a piece of EP Lake


Photo: Bufflehead at Echo Park Lake, November 9, 2008; by Martin Cox (c)

In Bufflehead and Ruddy duck news: we have an update. You may recall that a Bufflehead appeared at Echo Park Lake shortly before Thanksgiving. It was a rare occurrence for EP, which hosts all kinds of wild ducks -- American widgeons, Lesser scaups, Ruddy ducks, Northern shovelers, Redhead ducks. But nary a Bufflehead until November, when the male (above) showed up unaccompanied. He came and went, and it was not clear what he was up to. But guess what?

Martin Cox has observed a new arrival. The Ruddy ducks are not too happy about it:

After intermittent Bufflehead visits to the south end of the lake, a second has joined the first, we now have a pair of Buffleheads! And they are getting very territorial and fighting off the innocent Ruddy ducks relentlessly.
I wonder how they [the Buffleheads] found each other? But then Echo Park worked for me to find my life partner too. It works that way!

Tell that to the Ruddys!
Ruddy Duck

Ruddy duck: photo via Cornell University/All About Birds

March 2, 2009

EP shootings*

What we have been seeing in Elysian Heights and what our ears tell us has been at odds the last couple of days. Yesterday afternoon, the sun was shining. The neighbors were visiting with friends on front laws. I cooked a lasagna while my daughter played in her bathing suit with her friends across the street in their front yard. Next door, musicians took a break from recording a CD they've been working on for weeks. They chatted on the front steps. Up and down these streets, well tended gardens are in bud. With the exception of an uptick in tagging in recent weeks it doesn't look troubled. It all looks great until about 5 when we hear the big noise -- about six or seven gunshots in rapid succession. Then quiet. Then two more shots. Right away a helicopter chops the air. After that, it's all military-style police noise for quite some time. The sirens as Echo Park Avenue is blocked and the ambulance carries away a 38-year-old victim, possibly one of my neighbors. The chopper. Some friends took the back route to our house for dinner. They said a cop gave them the throat-slash sign when they asked what had happened.

As many of us have heard by now: the shooting near Baxter/Fargo left one man dead. It followed a shooting further down Echo Park Avenue that left one man wounded. And, if my chronology is correct, the Baxter drive-by was followed by another fatal shooting, this one in Glassell Park (possibly by the same now-apprehended suspect).

According to the LA Times:

The first victim, identified as Eric Zamarripa, 38, of Los Angeles, was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The victim in the second shooting was taken to hospital in stable condition. The third shooting was in the 4300 block of Toland Way in Glassell Park about 28 minutes later. That victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

*Some say that Zamarripa was the head of Echo Park's EXP gang.

The Eastsider also has been reporting.

Then, today, the sun went behind the clouds. (Now it's raining.) It was pre-rain, moody, but peaceful. Everything still and quiet. No one hanging out. It all looked orderly. Until about 11:15 when a chopper was back, turning tight circles over the location of yesterday's shooting. I didn't see the aircraft, but I heard it of course. Then, a little after 11:20 there's a crisp announcement over the P.A. at Elysian Heights Elementary School, announcing that the school is in lockdown. A short while later the helicopter has flown away. At 11:44 there's more loudspeaker news from the school -- carrying up the canyon. This time, it's "all clear," lockdown is over.

Then it's quiet again.

**A meeting is scheduled to discuss these shootings and other violence in the neighborhood: Thursday, 7 pm at Williams Hall, Barlow Hospital, 2000 Stadium Way.

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