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December 31, 2010

Good morning 2011


It's Chicken Corner's fifth new year's eve today, and time to consider the year that's winking out and make a resolution or two in an effort to shape the one that's coming in just a few hours, ready or not.

First, 2010: This year brought four chickens to Chicken Corner's household. Goldie died, so we start 2011 with three, whom we now call the Usual Suspects: Rainbow, Sparkle, and Cutie Patootie.

Budgets were lean, and new projects around the house deferred at an unprecedented rate. We spent a lot of 2010 still getting used to it.

Accordingly, I cut back on watering and found that it didn't make a huge amount of difference -- especially after the rains came.

Photo by Meeno Peluce. Jaipur 2010.

Last night half of an old olive tree next door came down quietly. No one heard it. I suppose it just tipped slowly in the mud till it met the ground. But now the rest is getting the electric saw, changing the light -- as the tree hangs over my yard -- as well as the way we walk, avoiding thousands of olives that drop. Nonetheless, I will miss that tree.

Down at Chicken Corner proper, the Durbin development continued to rot. No development in that story. An ill-advised condo project farther north on Echo Park Ave. at avalon bit the dust before any ground was broken -- to the cheers of neighbors. But a new set of condos planned for Sunset and Elsinore, weirdly called Sunset Flats, appears to be moving forward, with dubious low-income benefits enabling it to flaunt height requirements.

During the past year, I have noticed more bicycles in the neighborhood, as well as more luxury vehicles.

A great little luxury food store opened on Echo Park Ave.: Cookbook.

And Fix coffee house put up an awning that puts an end to chasing the shade at the popular work and social spot.

Gabriella Charter School achieved among-the- highest scores on state tests in the area.

Elysian Heights Elementary tore out asphalt and replaced it with grass.

At Echo Park Lake, the lotus remained dead, but a cooler and cloudier than usual summer meant less algae and other growth that clouds the water, so for the first time shopping carts at the bottom of the lake were easily visible.

Increased use of mapquest and other guidance systems misled many through the hills of Elysian Heights. In one instance, a Sheriff's bus tried to navigate upper Echo Park Avenue and got stuck (possibly with a busload of inmates). Uncounted numbers of motorists were victimized when they were directed to follow steep-steep-steep Baxter Street through the neighborhood.

So many of the developments of 2010 were incremental. Naturally.

And now the RESOLUTIONS.

This will be short. Not because Chicken Corner thinks 2011 shouldn't be better than 2010, but because the list would be too long, boring, and impossible -- it would be the new year's list equivalent of catastrophic thinking. So we'll break it down, and start with:

DIY -- 2011 will be the year Chicken Corner builds a new outdoor run for the chickens. I will begin this project next week.

I also plan to finish reading the excellent DIY self-help manual Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder. I will even return the book to its owner, who loaned it to me many months ago.

I will reread and take some of the advice in Homegrown: A Growing Guide for Creating a Cook's Garden in Rained Beds, Containers, and Small Spaces. This one was written by Marta Teegen, owner of EP's aforementioned shop Cookbook.

Not coincidentally, I will plant potatoes in special potato-growing bags. Cluck. Namaste.

December 29, 2010

Angels Flight


With a break in the rain and family visiting from Seattle today we decided to take a ride on the world's shortest railroad: Angels Flight, otherwise known as the funicular that connects Grand St. and Hill St. below it downtown. If you've been following the Flight's up and downs, you'll remember it reopened in March of this year after closing in 2001, when one of the two rail cars crashed into another and a rider was killed. Today, we started at the bottom and rode to the top, then came back the same way again, the cars creaking and lurching, the angle so very steep. In August, I took the same ride, in reverse, starting up at California Plaza, paying the 25 cents at the top, and ... etc. I noticed an alteration in the view today: A rooftop "garden" halfway up the hill -- belonging to a neighboring apartment building -- in August was scrubby with weeds, trash, and bare dirt, but today had been mulched and planted with shrubs. The Flight may be a relic, but the view can't be pinned down.

The view from the top of Angels Flight, late August 2010.

End of December 2010.

December 23, 2010

Dancing in the rain

On Monday, the show did indeed go on for a group of Gabriella Charter School dance students, whose outdoor L.A. Live performance coincided with a downpour.

According Liza Bercovici, who heads the foundation supporting the school (which is in Echo Park):

On Monday evening, students, friends and families of our inner-city non-profit dance program performed a flash mob in the pouring rain at L.A. Live. There was such a torrential downpour that we've retitled it a "splash mob."

Notwithstanding the buckets of rain, our 150 dancers kept a smile on their faces while moving to the strains of Tchaikovsky, Mariah Carey and Wham!

Neither rain nor rain nor more rain could stay those feet from their appointed, joyful dancing.

December 20, 2010

Rainy day blues


Monday, in Elysian Heights.

December 17, 2010

The elephants' new home/pink slips for the reindeer*

When my daughter was a toddler (she's six now), I used to avoid the elephant's cage at the L.A. Zoo. I didn't want Madeleine to see Billy the elephant doing his sad, repetitive behaviors, and I didn't want to witness it either. Billy was going crazy in his tiny space. I had mixed feelings when the zoo announced plans to expand the elephant enclosure. Like so many people in the city, I didn't want the L.A. Zoo to have elephants at all. But yesterday we went out of our way to see the L.A. Zoo elephants on the day their new facility opened to the public. I still have mixed feelings about the ethics of caging animals who need to roam. But I have to admit the new enclosure is a vast improvement over the other, which was inhumane.

There are three Asian elephants at the zoo now, Billy, Jewel, and Tina. They have been in their new spaces for a month, though Billy only made the direct acquaintance -- through fence bars -- of Tina and Jewel about a week ago, according to docents at the site. The several-acre facility is fence-divided into different geographies, with names like Thailand, Cambodia, and India. Yesterday, Billy was in Thailand, where we saw him first taking a shower under a zoo waterfall, then engaging in some of his repetitive behavior -- throwing his head up and down and stepping backward, forward, back and forth, like the rocking motions you see sometimes in people with autism -- then he walked out of sight.

In a different field, Tina and Jewel stayed far from the viewing area. Jewel had a lot of hay on her back. When I asked the docent about Billy's rocking behavior, she was ready with an answer, saying it was a sign of anticipation. She said he should stop doing it soon. When I pressed she became uncomfortable and said she didn't know much about the elephant. To be fair, it really wasn't a question for a docent to handle. Nor did the docents know when all three elephants will be allowed to mingle in the same "country." Too soon to tell, no doubt.

Click here for the Zoo's elephant fact sheet.

Meanwhile, Cambodia was closed to the elephants, due to a problem with the electric fencing.

All around us were the amplified recorded sounds of Asian birds (I presume) and other Asian kinds of sounds. I hope the elephants enjoy them. They do add something for the human visitors, helping to tie the notion of geography to the animals on display.

But the reindeer were not in their temporary, special pen this year as they have been at recent Christmas seasons. A zoo employee on the grounds theorized that for 2010 the elephants would be enough. The reindeer have been laid off.

Perhaps it was the threat of rain but there weren't many people at the zoo. Not the crowd I had anticipated. There was a Channel 7 news van. But otherwise not a lot of hoopla -- beyond the garlands of fresh flowers that were strung around the iron elephant sculptures on a pavilion in front of "India." The enclosure spoke for itself.



Photo by Madeleine.


Jewel and Tina, in background.

*Edited headlines.

Golden gingko

Speaking of this year's unusual fall palette, my friend and Elysian Heights neighbor Rhett Beavers sent this photo yesterday of gingko leaves in front of his house. A carpet of gold.


December 16, 2010

Sunset Flats: rising to the occasion?

First of all, cluck. It's not a good name: Sunset Flats. The mixed-use development on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park is proposed for several sloped lots -- the hills are steepish around here.

Last night, Jay Vanos, the architect for the Flats, presented two sets of plans to the Echo Park Improvement Association.

He began by apologizing for previously having refused to meet with the EPIA, explaining that Eric Garcetti's office had told Vanos specifically that he only needed the approval of the Neighborhood Council, which he now has. Then he described two sets of plans: One was what he said he could do if he really wanted to squeeze every dollar out of the project, and the other was what he is actually proposing. I would have preferred simply to see the proposed plans. Vanos defended the need for an extra 12 feet in height, above the current limit, arguing that he would be building on a hillside and the extra feet merely make up for what he loses on the slope. "We measure height in a lot of ways," he said.

As it happens, the plans Vanos showed were decent, with nicely graduated setbacks and "landscaped terraces" (can a terrace be landscaped?). The graphics showed large trees on upper balconies. If I were to accept that development of this scale is inevitable in the neighborhood, I believe I would support the Vanos designs -- though I would scream for trees on the sidewalks in front of the building, both on its Sunset Boulevard face and its more controversial entrance on Elsinore Avenue. I liked what the architect said about taking color cues from a pretty Craftsman house around the corner, and that landscape design is integral to his conception of any building -- to the point that his firm, of which he is principal, does the planting design themselves. "The thing [the Flats] is one huge planter," he said. With this, he couldn't have made Chicken Corner happier. He has good taste, and he argued that he is devoted to high quality construction. He wants to build a big building, and he wants it not to be an affront to the neighborhood.

But there remains the issue of Elsinore Street. Kelly Smith of Echo Park Patch (of which I am newly a contributor) and Echo Park Now did an excellent job of breaking down some of the issues. (I made her acquiantance last night at the meeting -- Click here to read her account of the presentation.) Basically, you have a residential street, with one- and two-storey buildings, and with Sunset Flats you would throw into their midst parking spaces for 68 cars, and the traffic they bring, as well as a 93,440 square-foot development on five lots -- two buildings that front both Sunset and Elsinore. The plan exploits the city's density bonus program: Density incentives permit bigger projects where low-income housing is introduced. It's a better approach to development than urban sprawl when implemented to real benefit. Sunset Flats would include 10 low-income units (or "flats") amid the market-priced condos. But to create those units, 11 existing homes will be destroyed. The point was made by community members that even though the existing homes are not designated officially as low-income, they almost certainly are lower rent. The neighborhood could actually lose a low-income housing unit in the deal.

Andrew Garsten of the EPIA said that, as designed, Sunset Flats violates the Community Plan: the Flats design ignores that the community document calls for new developments to respect the historic massing and scaling of the neighborhood as it exists now -- not the way density hawks would have it exist in the future. Which raises the question: Do city planners care about Community Plans when they are inconvenient to developers? I do not know why the eight members of the Greater Echo-Elysian Neighborhood Council who voted in favor of the Flats felt the Community Plan should be overruled.

So now Chicken Corner asks: How does a neighborhood like Echo Park measure benefit when the inevitable plans for development come along? What should we ask for? Do we demand more (which in this case would be less: lower height, fewer units) when a design is too big? Or do we lower our sights and say, "Oh well, it could be worse"?

December 15, 2010

Green Model T


Speaking of adaptive reuse...

modelt.jpgSeveral days ago, Chicken Corner was out and about in Echo Park. I stopped to check out a yard sale and noticed this cart-like structure that had been converted to plant platform in the front yard of a house in Elysian Heights. It wasn't for sale. The owner of the house, Rosa Ponce, told me the "cart" was actually what remained of an old Model T chassis her father brought home to the same house in Echo Park several decades ago. She believed he had brought it in Beverly Hills. She told me the car once was used to ferry newlyweds to the house for a wedding reception. Hundreds of people attended the festivities at the house, which has a terraced backyard about 200 feet long (like most of the lots in the area). Her next door neighbor, Mary Pritchard, who, like Ponce, was raised in the house she now lives in, next door, remembered the automobile and the parties, for which the Ponce family is legendary.

Mary Pritchard, left, and Rosa Ponce.

December 13, 2010

Plumbean San Pedro

Chicken Corner's Plumbean Report for Sunday was a boat house in the hills above Cabrillo beach in San Pedro. I suspect there are views of the ocean and the harbor from those highly placed windows. A short while before taking this picture I had been at a brunch, halfway down the hill from this spot, and from that lower elevation the ocean threw itself at your eyes, huge, with a pure horizon. A view to sail away on, in a neighborhood that is still working class/middle class with room for such a resourceful example of adaptive reuse as this place and a pokey but seemingly thriving main strip (Pacific Ave.) of independently owned shops and businesses.



December 8, 2010

RIP Goldie the chicken

From left, Goldie, Cutie Patootie, Sparkle, and Rainbow.

We lost one yesterday. Goldie was with her flock. She found a small open area in the fence of which I was unaware, and chickened her way through it. On the other side, waiting, was our neighbors' two-year-old German shepherd, who made quick work of my poor little chicken. (Not the dog's or the neighbors' fault, of course.) The other chickens were clucking in a way that I knew immediately something awful had happened. When I got outside, there were only three. At first I thought a crow might have gotten Goldie, as there is too much cover where they were for a hawk to swoop down. But then a look over the fence ... The remaining three girls made awful sounds of distress for quite a while -- a kind of keening-caw sound I had never heard from them before. Back in their coop they called for about an hour. Then they quieted down. They are so vulnerable, these little chickens. They don't run fast, they're not great fliers. Like the best of us sometimes their curiosity gets the best of them. They rely on one another -- and on their people -- to look out for danger.

December 6, 2010

Rainbows redux


Speaking of rainbows, Chicken Corner tucked into one on Sunday, at the rainbow-themed 6th-birthday party of a little girl who is a friend of my daughter, Madeleine. Que deliciosa! Call me a glutton for the pie in the sky or the just-out-of-reach.

December 4, 2010

Pale sky at 9:30, but...

...there was a surprise rainbow. Friday morning I was walking with my friend Gabriella near the Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- the Angeles Forest trail still is officially closed because of the Station Fire, and we were walking on the access road that leads into the forest. There are days when the sights here take my breath away -- the hillsides, with native flowers basking in the sun, old oaks, and the creek rushing down toward the watershed -- but Friday was not one of those days. The light was pale, and the shadows vague. And the landscape was no longer surprising to me -- until Gabriella pointed upward at the most unexpected and perfectly shaped rainbow arched tightly above a bluff. A big surprise because it wasn't even threatening rain. One never knows do one? I almost walked past it without so much as turning my head.

December 1, 2010

The money that won't go away

According to a reliable pair of guys named Michael, the "new hybrid alternative" for Glendale Boulevard was cooked up in an iron pot by witches chanting "double double toil and trouble."

Yes, there is money available "to do something" about the mess that is Glendale Boulevard where it cuts through the west side of Echo Park. The sum is $12 million, and exactly how best to spend it has left the MTA, Caltrans and neighborhood residents at odds for over a year. A meeting announcing the start of a decision was held on Tuesday night at Mayberry School (and no, Chicken Corner is not making up the name).

First, a very brief background:

The original site of the Mack Sennett silent movie studios, Glendale Boulevard dissects the west side of Echo Park; it's Highway 2. For local residents, it's an eyesore, a traffic swamp, the unpleasant point where thousands of cars each day traverse the neighborhood, wishing they could get through faster, on their way to the Glendale Freeway, the entrance for which branches off of Glendale Blvd. just north of Allesandro, and the terminus of which dumps southbound cars into the neighborhood just a couple of hundred yards south.

It's a situation, this Start Point and End Point for a freeway that was designed to provide access to Downtown but ends a couple of miles shy of its mark. Everyone in the neighborhood (who I know at least) detests the intrusion of so many cars so close to our historic community. But efforts to move the traffic through the area more quickly are sure to be protested because they virtually guarantee degradation of the neighborhood on either side of what still is called Glendale Boulevard and not "the freeway." The only thing worse than so much traffic coming through on a surface street is a freeway coming through. We all know what The Freeway does to neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the entrance-exit of the 2 freeway is awkwardly placed and conceived, and even the idea of modifications lead to misery.

End flashback. Present day: They want to fiddle with it. Unfortunately, Chicken Corner has been in Wash. DC until today and was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting, which was not an information-gathering ocassion but an information-giving one, top-down, bureaucracy-to-citizens on a plan already in motion. Which came as a surprise to concerned residents.

Since she couldn't be there herself, CC asked a couple of guys named Michael to send her some notes on the meeting, and they did.

Michael Webster writes:

The flyover stays as is.
The current off ramp exiting SR2 on the right is moved south a few yards and will force cars exiting to turn right. This means that it will no longer be possible to turn left onto Allessandro after exiting the freeway (as I do to get home!) Instead we will have to turn right up Glendale, then right again on Cove to Oak Glen, then over the bridge to Allessandro.
The main reason for this change was to accommodate the folks on Duane between Waterloo and Silver Lake Boulevard who have lobbied fiercely to reduce short-cutting through their street. That the entire Northeast end of Echo Park should become inaccessible from the 2 to this end seems pretty grossly disproportionate.
Parking on the East side of Glendale after the fly-over will be eliminated, so that Glendale south can have 4 lanes between Aaron and Duane. As it is now they merge into 3 lanes to accommodate parking. This should increase traffic flow south from the terminus to Berkeley (where it will be backed up anyway).
The crosswalk in front of the 2 onramp is eliminated.
A sliver of open space between the west flank of the freeway and Allessandro way is created by the realignment of the exit, and a sound wall is contemplated between it and the freeway. There was a lot of discussion about soundwalls at the meeting, many residents opposing them and feeling that they are grim. In particular the woman managing St Theresa's school described the sound wall enclosing the school yard as a "coffin".
The authorities assured us that traffic coming off the 2 will be slowed by "metering". Laura Owens asked what "metering" was - whether than meant that cars would be stopped and released onto Glendale in batches as happens at some on-ramps. Sadly no, it was explained that "metering" meant flashing warning lights and perhaps texture in the road way meant to encourage people to slow down. Thin gruel.
The organizers had planned to break the group into smaller groups for questions and answers, but the anger of the assembled derailed the plans -- the meeting stayed together and the presenters were forced to answer questions.
Andrew Garsten asked a very pointed and important question: how was it that this entirely new proposal was generated -- and approved -- at this point in the process? The community had been presented with proposals, there had been discussion, an alternative was selected by the community and approved by the MTA board... only to have this sorry alternative cooked up and "approved" some time between the last meeting and this one. That the proposal should be labeled the "locally preferred alternative" (apparently some kind of legal designation but anyhow) was felt to be particularly insulting.
Most of the answers were provided by a guy from Metro named Robin (sorry I missed his last name!) - he wasn't the project manager (the project manager had a deer-in-the-headlights aspect and seemed mortified.... and it was not clear to me what Robin's role was, (unless it was wrangling angry citizens... ) His answers hinged on a supposed legal obligation never to decrease the levels of traffic flow anywhere and a dubious sounding claim that stopping traffic at the end of a freeway invites head on collisions (don't all stop signals separate traffic moving in opposite directions?). Beyond that he offered the usual blather about the proposal not solving problems 100% but there being opportunities for improvements in the engineering phase etc etc etc.
The room applauded comments calling for the end to the project, asserting that the status quo is better than the proposal before us (that's my view for sure). Its really sad that a 30 year old dream of repairing the damage to the urban fabric caused by the abortive freeway should culminate in a proposal to... increase traffic flow a little coming on and off the freeway and ring the whole with curtain walls.

Michael O also has strong opinions. He writes:

It turns out that the meeting was an "informational" meeting. That is, the bureaucracy presented the NEW "Hybrid Alternative". They revealed that Metro had already "adopted" the Freeway Terminus project (of whatever stripe), and delegated the actual decision as to what to actually build to CalTrans and LADOT. There were no speaker cards, and no one from the bureaucracy was taking notes, so nothing that was said had any actual influence on the bureaucrats.
The loudest applause from the audience came when Andrew Garsten said that all this wasn't really solving the problem, and maybe the best alternative was the No Build Alternative--i.e., do nothing.
The transportation bureaucrats noted that the entire thing--SR2, Glendale Blvd--was part of the Regional traffic plan, and (by implication) that regional mobility (i.e., moving traffic) was paramount.
There is room for a bike path down the (proposed) abandoned north side of the 2 from Glendale to Oak Glen. But the Metro people said that since the current "Project Limits" didn't extend beyond Oak Glen, nothing could be said about continuing any bike path to Riverside. By implication this, legally, is a different "Project" that no one is "studying" right now.
It all comes down to the fact that no one is looking at the real problem--you have to get people from point north to downtown. Fine, but we don't want them all coming down Glendale Boulevard through our community. That's the real problem. And any solution that tries to solve that by jiggering things on the surface has negative consequences for the people on Waterloo/Fargo, and the people on Cove (both Silver Lake), and the people on Baxter, Cove, Fargo and Ewing (Echo Park).
There will be more input opportunities when it comes to sound walls--though they didn't really say how this would happen, except that people who live next to the sound walls would be consulted. In short, lots of unhappy local people.
But the bureaucrats did talk about how the money was available to DO SOMETHING. Beware when a bureaucrat says that there is money to DO SOMETHING! (Hey--how about spending it on the national debt?)

Chicken Corner says, "Double double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble!" Why not spend the $12 million on a grants program for downtown firms that encourage their workers to work from home instead of hauling themselves and a five-ton automobile through the streets of Los Angeles each day?

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