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March 31, 2010

R.I.P. Undercover Black Man

I am sad to learn that David Mills, who was the undercover writer of Undercover Black Man, died last night in New Orleans. He was known as a writer for The Wire and ER. I am a big fan of The Wire. (I might have been a fan of ER, but I have never seen it.) But I also love the blog he wrote, which was playful and passionate -- and very personal, for an uncredited writer. His last post is dated Monday, March 29. He was only 48 when he collapsed suddenly of an aneurism, on the set of a new series named Treme, for which he was a writer.

Echo Park Chamber of *&Viagra!#$ Commerce

The EP Chamber of Commerce's hacker was back for a second round this morning. He (it has to be a "he" and even more likely a "they") seems to think the chamber is a fertile venue for hawking his product. In this most recent attack he sends out a solicitation for Viagra through the email of the Chamber's secretary, Rosie Betanzos.

Rosie sent out a warning this morning. If you received an email with the subject line "More Health ID67688" from the Secretary@EchoParkChamber, don't open it. She didn't send it. She says her webmaster is on the case.


From the much-better-ideas department, we have an email from a Texas reader who used to live in L.A. He proposes solar-electric paddle boats for MacArthur Park and Echo Park lakes.

Al Hafner wrote that he was sorry to learn about the demise of the paddle boats:

But back in the 60s there were really cool little electric runabouts at both of those parks. I remember. Maybe that will come back, when the economy turns? Cool little electric boats, 2, 4 and 6 seaters with canopies. [In the future maybe we'll see] Possibly solar panel canopies. Possibly driven by all-solar charging stations. Sponsored by a solar power company! Green energy.
I ... loved those little boats. Paddle boats are OK, but this would be better.
Hafner describes himself as "currently living in Tyler Texas, but trying to get back to Santa Monica beach."

Edited post

March 23, 2010

Stadium shuttle back in game*

Echo Park, Elysian Valley and other neighborhoods near Dodger Stadium have cautious reason to celebrate. According to a Dodgers press release sent out yesterday, the MTA has received a $300,000 grant from an organization called the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee to ferry fans from Union Station (and the Metro!) to the stadium and back. If you have a Dodgers ticket, the grant money pays the fare for your ride. The clean-fuel shuttles will start with the preseason game on April 1 (Chicken Corner respectfully declines to make an April Fool's joke in the blank here). According to the press release, service will run through the regular season. (LAObserved previously reported the news on its Main Page March 12.)

This could be good news in Echo Park and surrounding, especially if Dodgers fans actually use the service -- leaving their cars at home. Less traffic, less trash, and less noise would be more benefit around here on game days.

A similar service was canceled in previous seasons because, the Dodgers said, no one used it.

Full text of the press release is after the jump.


The happy clams in the picture are: Council member Eric Garcetti, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Dodgers Owner and Chairman Frank McCourt, Supervisor Michael Antonovich, MTA Board Chairman Ara Najarian and Council member Ed Reyes -- at the press conference announcing a grant for the Dodger Stadium Express.

Photo: LA Dodgers/Juan Ocampo

Edited post.

LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles Dodgers and Metro will offer Dodger Stadium Express bus service from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium beginning April 1 when the Dodgers play a preseason game versus the Cleveland Indians and throughout the 2010 regular 2010 season under a grant from the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC).
A grant of $300,000 awarded to Metro by the MSRC was made in support of clean fuel transit service to link Union Station to Dodger Stadium. The MSRC awards funding within the South Coast Air Basin from a portion of the vehicle registration fee set aside for mobile source projects that result in emission reductions.
"This is great news for the region and terrific news for Dodger fans," said Ara Najarian, Chair of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors. "With the vast network of rail and buses serving Union Station, this just makes perfect sense to provide this link to encourage the use of public transit as an alternative to driving."
The grant funding will be used to offset the cost of fares for passengers possessing a Dodger ticket. Service will be provided starting 90 minutes prior to the beginning of the games and will end 45 minutes after the end of the game.
"Dodger fans across the county can now avoid the traffic, save gas and help improve air quality by using public transit and our new Dodger Stadium Express bus to get to the game," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a South Coast Air Quality Management District representative on the MSRC and a transit agency Board member.
The Dodger Stadium Express will begin at Union Station picking up Dodgers fans at the Patsaouras Bus Plaza adjacent to the east portal of Union Station and continue to Dodger Stadium via Sunset Blvd. and Cesar Chavez Avenue. Passengers will be dropped off and picked up in the Dodgers parking lot behind left/center field.
"The Dodger Stadium Express is good for the environment, for fans, and for the surrounding neighborhoods," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "Thanks to the MSRC for making it possible for passengers to ride from Union Station to Dodger Stadium for free with the purchase of a Dodger ticket."
Service will be provided every 10 minutes prior to the start of the game and run approximately every 30 minutes throughout the game. Metro will deploy state-of-the-art 40-foot clean burning compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. Dodger tickets will be honored as fare payment to ride the service. Those without a ticket will pay regular one way fare of $1.25.
"The MSRC was pleased to step up to the plate and provide $300,000 in Clean Transportation Funding for the Dodger Stadium Express," said Ron Roberts, Mayor Pro-Tem of the City of Temecula and Chair of the MSRC. "These clean-fuel buses exemplify the types of projects that the MSRC funds. By getting Dodger fans out of their cars, we can reduce the number of cars going to the stadium, which will cut back on the air pollution from vehicles sitting in traffic. The buses give Dodger Blue fans the chance to go green this season!"
The Dodgers are working closely with Metro to ensure a high level of awareness for this service to Dodger Stadium and plan to continue to promote the service to fans during each game.
"This new program is a tremendous first step in creating meaningful public transit between Dodger Stadium and the surrounding communities," said Dodgers Owner and Chairman Frank McCourt. "I commend the leadership of MSRC and Metro, who made this program possible, and look forward to further dialogue exploring additional public transit options linking Dodger Stadium, Elysian Park and the greater Los Angeles community."
Funding for this service is for a one-year demonstration. Metro will evaluate the success of the service and will make recommendations as to how to possibly fund this service in future years. The service will be provided by Southland Transit Inc. under contract to Metro.
Patrons are encouraged to use the many transportation alternatives that serve Union Station that will connect them to the new Dodger Stadium Express. Metro operates the Metro Gold Line from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, the Metro Red/Purple subway lines from Wilshire/Western and North Hollywood to downtown and the Metro Green Line between Norwalk and El Segundo intersects with the Metro Blue Line operating between Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles.
In addition Metrolink and Amtrak trains are available and Metro operates many bus lines that serve Union Station where patrons can easily transfer to the Dodger Stadium Express. For specific route and schedule information visit or call 1-800-C-O-M-M-U-T-E.

March 20, 2010

Barnsdall cuts came as a surprise

According to Julie Wong, press director for City Council President Eric Garcetti, the cancellation of art classes at Barnsdall came as a surprise.

In an email to Chicken Corner, Wong wrote:

I wanted to clarify some information related to the canceled classes at Barnsdall Art Park. We were surprised to learn about these cancellations as well -- particularly because funding for them was not cut by the City Council or Mayor.
After doing some research, we have discovered that this decision was made by the General Manager of the Cultural Affairs Department. According to Ms. Garay, three employees at the art center are planning to retire in June through the early retirement program. Rather than have an abbreviated session, Ms. Garay decided to cancel the classes altogether, even though those employees will continue to be on the city payroll until they actually retire in two months.
Council President Garcetti, who attended art classes at Barnsdall when he has a kid, is urging the department to move forward with Spring classes, even if the session is shorter. In the longer term, he is working to continue classes at Barnsdall, perhaps through a public-private (or nonprofit) partnership.

Well, the facilities are gorgeous, as you know if you have been to the hilltop park where Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House is located, along with galleries and the Art Center studios. It's hard to imagine arts organizations not jumping at the chance to use them. If they do, let's hope they don't replace affordable classes with expensive ones.

March 18, 2010

Barnsdall arts classes get ax*

It had been rumored for some weeks that the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs might kill the venerable arts program at Barnsdall Art Center in Hollywood. The Junior Arts program -- which my daughter has attended for the past year -- already had been cut back from eight classes per session to six. It seemed extreme that the successful program, founded in 1967, could become a budget fatality, but that was what people were whispering up at the park.

Still, as of last week, brochures were available, and it was marked on my calendar: registration March 27 for the spring session. Registration is a big deal, with parents arriving at the beautiful sculpture garden early, early in the morning -- I mean many before 5 a.m. -- to get in line to sign their kids up for classes. Some of the parents I've chatted with in line took Junior Arts Center classes themselves when they were kids. It's not just a tradition: the kids and adult classes were affordable, and the classes were small: $18 for a six-week, 85-minute "portraits" class for my daughter, for example. And that came with a highly qualified, experienced teacher and the beautiful facilities. In the past they were free.

It turns out we can all sleep in because the Department of Cultural Affairs has canceled spring classes for the Barnsdall and Junior Arts Centers. Due to budget constraints. The Arts Center posted the news on its Facebook page Thursday. At 5:40, I called the JAC and the adult program, but the offices were closed. The recorded message said nothing about the cancelations.

According to the Facebook page, "There is an Art, Parks, Health and Aging Committee Meeting Monday March 22, 2010 at 10am at City Hall, Room 1060. The current DCA budget dilemma will be discussed."

If you're wondering whom to call or write -- other than the mayor -- Tom LaBonge and Eric Garcetti are the important councilmembers regarding the park. And the Department of Cultural Affairs might want to hear your views.

According to the Junior Arts web site, they also export classes, serving a reported 8,000 city kids each year. I haven't heard the status of these classes.

*Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has more information at KPCC.

Yay for Clifford!

The school, that is, not the big red dog. Chicken Corner just received news from Cecilia Padilla Brill, a parent-volunteer at the Echo Park school, that it has been named a 2009 "National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence." The award was bestowed by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Padilla Brill wrote:

Our school, Clifford Street Elementary, located in northeast Los Angeles in Echo Park, was recently named a 2009 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Only six schools in LAUSD and 264 public schools nationally were selected for the award. Despite the challenges of the student population being 86 percent economically disadvantage and threats to shut its doors through the years, Clifford continues to thrive. ... This is a remarkable milestone considering the difficulties LAUSD has faced in the past few years.

A press release announces a celebration at the Duane St. campus on April 9 at 12:30 p.m.

Dignitaries and community members slated to speak include California State Assemblymember Kevin de Leon, 45th Assembly District; Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti; Yolie Flores Aguilar, LAUSD's Board Vice President; Bobby Hill, Senior Lead Officer and Dave Lindsey, Captain I, of Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division; and Frank Mitchell, President, Echo Park Chamber of Commerce.

The school's API is 841. Now all they need is a famous cat, like Elysian Heights Elementary's Room 8. On second thought, make that a dog.

Grievance denied* (updated)

A grievance filing was resolved, in a manner of speaking, last night -- between Kim Cooper + Richard Schave, former directors of the Downtown Art Walk, and Russell Brown, who served both as president of the Downtown Neighborhood Council (DLANC) and as executive director of the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District -- with DLANC voting unanimously not to censure Brown for maneuvering to remove Richard Schave from a speakers' lineup at an NC meeting. The committee dismissed without vote the matter of whether Brown should be allowed to serve simultaneously on the boards of potentially competing organizations, including its own board.

The proceedings sounded comically haphazard, at the very least, in an account given by Kim Cooper after the vote. (She also had shared some of them before the vote -- for example, that the library room where the hearing would be held was not divulged to her until the last minute, as was the committee's requirement that she provide six copies of all of her documents, which she did.) According to Cooper the meeting started at 6:30 p.m.

Cooper wrote:

In order to hear a complex case concerning allegations of gross misconduct over nearly a year, with dozens of pieces of supporting material supplied by both sides, the Grievance Committee had booked a room in the Central Library which closed at 7:50pm--just one hour and twenty minutes after the hearing began. With maintenance staff sweeping under their feet and a security guard asking when they would be leaving, the Grievance Committee elected to hold a rush vote without reading any of the supporting evidence.

This, of course, is not an argument one way or the other for or against the validity of the claim. But the way the venue was handled does suggest, to Chicken Corner, hostility toward the proceedings themselves by a committee that is supposed to be operating without bias. Meanwhile, Chicken Corner is not sure if -- or why -- this settles the matter of conflict of interest.

In this regard: Gallerist Bert Green wrote to me the day before the vote, arguing against the notion of conflict of interest because, he said, Downtown is not like other neighborhoods in that the majority of stakeholders are business people (owners and employees), who outnumber residents by a large margin. He has a point. Which points me in the direction of another question: What is a neighborhood, if it's not the people who live there?

Revision to an earlier correction: In my last "Grievance" post, I quoted Green who did not believe that Kim Cooper and Richard Schave had founded the Downtown Art Walk. Kim Cooper later emailed me a document showing that in July 2009 Richard Schave filed papers incorporating "Downtown Los Angeles Artwalk" with the state. E-795305 is the number on the doc.

*And now: a response to the revision to my earlier correction, from Bert Green:

Let me clarify. You misquoted me by saying in your earlier post that "He says that Cooper and Schave were not the founders of the nonprofit Downtown Art Walk" I did not say that. Kim and Richard did file for nonprofit status in 2009. What I said was that I founded the Downtown Art Walk. All they did was file a piece of paper to register a nonprofit corporation. The event preceded their involvement by 5 years ... all [Kim] did was create a nonprofit structure for an already existing event.
This is not a question of belief. I founded and ran the Downtown Art Walk for 5 years before handing it off to Kim and Richard.

March 16, 2010

Desperate times... for dangerous solutions -- ?

File this under Inmates Running the Asylum: Received from Antonio R. Villaraigosa's office today, a "NOTICE" that the fire department now will be charging $13 to conduct its usual inspection of residential properties in High Fire Hazard Severity Zones. If you don't pay the fee right away (within 30 days), the penalty will be 100%.

BUT, you can opt to do your own inspection -- that's right. And if you do your own inspection then you don't have to pay anything. Just mail in a copy of the parcel map (or draw one) and send in a photograph (or drawing) proving your compliance. Then walk around your yard and inspect it. (Actually, in all seriousness, you should do this anyway, but you knew that....)

That should make up for any reductions of work force the fire department has enacted or may be considering. The honor system: AKA fee ordinance No. 172,449. Effective in April.

Corrections and contradictions

This morning, Chicken Corner received an email from Bert Green, director of Bert Green Fine Art, a downtown gallery on 5th St. at Main, concerning my report that a grievance has been filed against Russell Brown by Kim Cooper and Richard Schave.

Green, whom I have met in the past, says I had my facts wrong in yesterday's "Grievance" post. He says that Cooper and Schave were not the founders of the nonprofit Downtown Art Walk -- that they took over leadership from Green himself in 2009. Green also claims Cooper and Schave were not forced out "as a result of meddling by Brown" -- as I reported -- but as a result of differences with members of Downtown Art Walk's board of directors that "had NOTHING to do with Russell Brown."

According to Green:

The Downtown Neighborhood Council (DLANC) was an incubator and major sponsor of the Downtown Art Walk, a relationship that I had built over 5 years. The Historic Downtown BID [Business Improvement District] was also a sponsor, and each of these organizations contributed up to 10,000 in cash and in kind donations to the event, including paying for the shuttle that Kim and Richard operated. The BID also took care of the safety and trash for the event, which was in indirect cost of close to 25,000 additional dollars, which is the BID's responsibility to the neighborhood they serve. Richard and Kim effectively destroyed those relationships and then demonized Russ Brown, who personally held together the nuts and bolts of the event; the unglamorous side of safety, trash, and political support.
Russ Brown is the Executive Director of the HD BID, and the current elected president of the DLANC. There are 2 other Downtown neighborhood council members who are also BID directors; Hal Bastian (Downtown Center BID), and Kent Smith (Fashion District BID). Where is the conflict of interest? There is absolutely NO financial gain for any of these members; in fact they are all volunteers who faithfully serve their neighbors in these DLANC roles. They are legally elected members in good standing. Conflict of Interest is defined as having conflicting financial interests.

And here we circle back to the issue that got Chicken Corner interested in the first place: the integrity of neighborhood councils. Because, regardless of Kim Cooper's (a friend of mine) or her husband, Richard Schave's behavior or relationship to their former colleagues, the question remains at Chicken Corner: Should board members of a business improvement district serve as board members of a neighborhood council? Here at Chicken Corner, a vote was taken, and the result was: No.

Call me a neighborhood council purist (or call me insane). What I want to believe is that the neighborhood councils have a community agenda, free from business biases -- even arts business biases. This doesn't mean a local business owner cannot serve his community on a neighborhood council board. But when you have representatives of business organizations serving on the neighborhood council in the same area, it starts to look...stacked.

I am sure Green is correct that none of the overlapping board members are receiving actual money in this arrangement. But I can't shake the idea that what they bring to the neighborhood council's table is a business agenda. Likewise, it's delightful when a business improvement district comes together with a local representative council to support a project as truly worthy as the Art Walk. But what about the resident who doesn't like the Art Walk (I mean, just suppose this were true), or wants neighborhood council efforts to be directed elsewhere? What if they want the council's money to support a parking lot picnic instead of an art walk -- one of the key issues here being city money? What if the agendas don't mesh? Do they stand a chance?

Here's a new question: if the system is going to work, should all L.A. neighborhood councils follow the same rules and get the same amount of money? Or can they follow the dictates of their own, unique values? What is a neighborhood council, anyway?

March 15, 2010

Fox in the hen house?

Neighborhood councils are such a good idea, and they are so fraught. Chicken Corner just can't help clucking in worry for their future -- as well as their present. The city agency dedicated to supervising them doesn't seem to be able to supervise them, for one thing. The people who get elected to the councils often don't behave well, to say the least. Here in Echo Park, we have had our troubles. Vicious fighting during the elections about a year ago, assault accusations, bitterness and conflict during meetings and shouting. Fyodor Dostoyevsky could have written the script the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council (GEPENC) has been reading from. (For some reason, I am excited about GEPENC's new storefront office on E.P. Ave., but that's a different issue.)

But Echo Park is not alone -- sadly -- in hosting Neighborhood Council shenanigans. Chicken Corner sat down this morning to read reports of strife at Downtown's neighborhood council, where the elected president, Russell Brown, is said to serve both the neighborhood council and as Executive Director of the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District (a consortium of major property owners). Which sounds a bit fox in the hen house to Chicken Corner.

The conflict has spread to downtown's successful Art Walk, with Kim Cooper (a friend of mine) and Richard Schave stepping down from the art walk nonprofit they founded as a result, they claim, of meddling by Brown. They have filed a grievance against Brown. The filing of the grievance was followed by threat of legal action by Brown.

Cluck, cluck. Since when is it illegal to file a grievance and tell people about it?

In any case, the grievance process is going forward this Wednesday in an open forum at the public library:

WHAT: Grievance Committee hearing on ethics complaint against Russell Brown, President of Downtown LA Neighborhood Council (DLANC)
WHERE: Los Angeles Central Public Library
WHEN: Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 6:30pm
MORE INFO: This Grievance Committee hearing is a public meeting, and all interested members of the community or press are welcome to attend.

The staff at Chicken Corner (that would be me, myself and I) are united in this cry: "May justice be served!"

March 4, 2010

Mousetrap writ large

OK, Go - This Too Shall Pass: The best-timed and most unlikely -- yet true -- (viral) music video Chicken Corner can remember was not just committed to camera here in Echo Park, it was staged in a warehouse in the neighborhood -- according to the artist Michael Hayden. Video shows a live audience at the end. Which is to say they lived through it.

According to Wired Magazine the contraption really works.

March 3, 2010

Library staff on cut list

As Kevin Roderick posted on the main page of LAObserved this afternoon, it looks like the mayor's office made its move today, sending out pink slips, which apparently include library messengers and librarians. None of the cuts are welcome, but reductions in force at the public libraries are particularly hard to swallow.

In the midst of this ugly news, it's welcome to know that the very refined folks at Esotouric have donned their Save LAPL capes again: They were instrumental a couple of years ago in preventing the city from charging you a dollar to reserve a library book. At this moment they have made it easier for library advocates to be heard. Their not-so-secret weapon -- an effective web site -- can fill you in further.

In the meantime, from their press release:

As the city faces the biggest financial crisis in decades, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council have some tough decisions to make. The city's libraries are on the chopping block along with other services, which is why a previously successful grassroots community website,, has come back online to again allow concerned citizens, with a single click, to email the Mayor and every member of City Council voicing their support for keeping libraries open and staffed with qualified professionals.
SaveLAPL founder Kim Cooper says, "The last time we mobilized SaveLAPL to protect the library, the outpouring of community support made a big impact on City Council. Bernard Parks got up to say he couldn't check his email without bring overwhelmed with messages from passionate library fans, and he definitely was getting the message. So we're calling on the community to once again visit and with one easy click send their email supporting LA's public libraries to Mayor Villaraigosa and all members of City Council. Show them that you care!"

I was in the Silver Lake branch library a couple of days ago. The place was packed with all kinds of people. It felt like a very quiet, indoor town square. It's a gorgeous facility, and people clearly feel good using it -- a perfect example of "build it, and they will come." Keep it staffed, and it will be used -- and loved.

That said, I can't think of any L.A. Library I have ever visited that wasn't brimming with visitors. Them libraries is important places to have around.

March 1, 2010

R.I.P. Barry Hannah*

The short story writer/novelist from Mississippi died today at 67. He was a friend. He loved dogs -- in 1997 he had five because he had adopted a pregnant dog from the pound: "She looked at me and said, 'I am in trouble.'" He had an open mind. He wrote incredible stories. In 1997, at the beginning of a semester at the Iowa Writers Workshop, where I was a student, he addressed a workshop: "I am Barry Hannah, and I don't know what to tell you. You read a lot of books, and then you write your own. I have read a hell of a lot." So, you could say, the workshop could have ended there. But it went on to be exceptional. He was one of those people who lacked a filter: They talk too much, they don't censor least not in time. He didn't want a filter either. Though as an original thinker he could have thought twice about that, and I am sure he did.

The Austin Chronicle published a very Barry profile about seven years ago. Caveat: Chicken Corner recommends the reader skip past the profiler's introductory prose to the quotes.

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