Monday, June 01, 2009

The TV that wouldn't leave

Me: "It's still here."
Marc: "It's heavy."
Me: "Should we set an over/under?"
Marc: "Four."


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Marc's TV

Marc's television spent a night on the porch.
Me: "Is your tv sleeping outside?"
Marc: "Someone's coming to get it"
Me: "When."
Him: "I don't know.  Eventually."

To Be Continued


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Is it Safe? 2008 Final

"Is it safe?"

Despite a souring economy, fewer homicides were committed in Los Angeles in 2008, continuing the city's persistent and encouraging trend. The Daily News reported 380 homicides as of December 30th, fewer even than last year's nether numbers (396). The fewest, in fact, since 1969, when some guy named Manson inspired mayhem. Worth noting, the population of Los Angeles in 1969 was 2,292,400. The population today is an estimated 3,844,829.

Murder is but a single marker, admittedly--though it is the crime most feared. Many of the older neighborhoods North and West of downtown have changed dramatically since the violent apogee of the early 1990's. Those neighborhoods have become more diverse, both ethnically and socio-economically; historic districts have been christened; passenger rail criss-crosses the Arroyo, accompanies Wilshire and Vermont boulevards and will soon do so along Exposition; the residential population downtown has quadrupled linked with a dramatic service transformation; and, new school construction has re-purposed over a thousand acres.

Things change always, and some of those districts once over-looked and dismissed, sullied by throw away lines, accusations of lawlessness and iniquity, deserve re-appraisal.

Is it safe? Increasingly, the answer in 2008 was, 'yes'.


Sunday, November 16, 2008


The spectator will often associate a preponderance of window bars and metal security fencing with unsafe conditions and high rates of crime. The pattern, as previously discussed in 30th ST Fortifications (12/3/06), is more complex. Metal security bars appear in upscale neighborhoods too, and remain in areas where crime has long ago decreased. In addition, ornamental wrought-iron grillwork was employed in many high style examples of the Spanish Revival (and some homeowners wish to emulate that feature).

A few homeowners mark the transition to private space imperiously, with hacienda-like walls and nearly windowless facades. It allows an occupant to survey a visitor unseen, like the screened oriels of Islamic houses, or the semi-silvered glass of an interrogation room. Others not only bar but block windows with large pieces of furniture. Portals to the outside world are closed, covered with paneling, paper, or drywall. The house is made impregnable, and contact with the outside world is thoroughly moderated. Frequently, this is a sign of severe depression, agoraphobia, or other mental illness.

Here an additional skein of privacy is rendered by peg board.

Frequently the poor, those least able to replace that which could be burgled, engage the most formidable security measures. While the most valued and valuable possession in many low income households is the tv, or other electronic accoutrements, cash is often kept at home as well, due to suspicion or unfamiliarity with banking services.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

The 'Hood (Part 1)

The neighborhood, that real estate morsel gets smaller and smaller, and often more rarefied, North of this, South of that, highlands, lowlands, canyon. Most every American metropolis brands itself a "city of neighborhoods, " often capitalizing on a nostalgia for smaller, so-called simpler places (and times). Sometimes a place name is nothing more than an organizational overlay, or the latest marketing come on; but in other places, the distinctions remain relevant and valuable.

Faced with an urbanized realm of multiple, overlapping and often competing identities, boosters seek to assert uniqueness, emphasizing local amenities, topography, architecture, or ethnic concentration. Often though, identities and associations are imposed rather than elected, nasty proclamations, part imputation and allegation, race regard and raunch.

For years, West Adams has gotten a bad rap. Boyle Heights has too. So have many other neighborhoods in parts of South and East Los Angeles. There's a few reasons why. One is the nature and extent of contact outsiders have with the community, residents, and amenities. For many, West Adams means USC or the Coliseum, and a brawl-riddled Raider game in 1987. A few have been to Exposition Park, or a car dealership on Figueroa. Seldom have outsiders probed the idyll of the West Adams Avenues or stately Wellington Square. Seldom had they reason to.
Simultaneously, in communities wherein residents have less economic and social mobility (even potentially as a result of age), or feature a degree of ethnic insularity, the opportunities to ameliorate negative perceptions are stunted, contact is limited.


Sunday's Open
2892 W. 15th ST 90006
2 - 5 pm
Original light fixtures
Unpainted woodwork
Detached garage
Copper plumbing
Fab masonry details
Oak floors
Clawfoot tubs
Trees and more trees


Monday, June 09, 2008

Is it Safe? For the Umpteenth Time....

This series, a journal of my nightly non-adventures plying the reputedly, possibly, erroneously, tough streets of South Los Angeles, has become my most requested, contested, misunderstood, corroborated entry.

For starters, we live in a world where bad shit happens to good people. In the city of Los Angeles bad shit happens to good people too. Some of it happens within the neighborhoods in which I amble, mostly between Wilshire and Vernon, La Brea and Figueroa (and increasingly a bit further East).

But my contention is, has been, continues to be, more bad shit is presumed to occur within these boundaries than actually occurs. West Adams and environs were never the city's toughest neighborhoods, others can/could claim that distinction, and to the extent they were ever tough--they've gotten less so.

Still, I've hesitated to post additional entries. In part because one wrote about being attacked at USC, an anecdote different from those vagrant and destitute of valuable details. I began to reconsider my position. Perhaps, accompanied by canine condottiere, and other stern enthusiasts, I'd become stupidly ferocious, an impious adventurer, uncharacteristically calmed by intervals of unaccountable streetside stillness, oblivious to the possible ladrones and matreros, the knots of men at bus stops and near bars.

Then again, I looked at the numbers, those having to do with crime and USC. Since 1992 all colleges under the Jeanine Cleary Act have been required by federal law to compile and distribute annual statistics about crime on their campuses and remote facilities (including frat houses, residence halls, etc).

Universities: sanctuaries far removed from the threat of crime? Hardly. But we know this, and VA Tech was just the latest, grimmest reminder. So while USC tabulated a greater number of offenses than some other California colleges, it also exhibited below average rates of on-campus auto theft and robbery. Rapes occurred nearly everywhere, even at sacred cow institutions like Cal Berkeley and UCLA. When I compared USC to other "inner city" schools like Marquette or Columbia, Penn or George Washington, the numbers seemed in step, better in some cases, with schools recording great variations year to year. (UCLA, for example, reported fifteen rapes one year, seven the next.)

Perhaps I'm not stupidly ferocious, but of mean appearance, a leonine faced, early mid-lifer, passably athletic, bound for bald. Maybe the streets require some seasoning and a little spider sense. Maybe my vocation motivates my borough boosterism. Maybe it just ain't that bad out there, or at least only as bad--or as good--as everywhere else.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Is it Safe? As if I Have to Ask

On the eve of the biggest storm to hit the Southland since 2005....rather, the only storm to hit the Southland since 2005, I opted for a lil' late night West Adams constitutional.

Am I recycling columns? Feels it, another year another considerable drop in the murder tally, fewer than 400 murders in the City of Angels 2007. A 17.6% drop from last year's already revolutionary reduction.

What's left for me to go on about? The big decrease in the South bureau, the uneventful details of my latest late night foray, peregrinating about Sugar Hill, Jefferson Park, Halldale and Adams-Normandie.

Is it safe? Is it safe in northernmost South Los Angeles? It appeared to be Friday night. The streets were bare (see images), save a handful of folks at major intersections thumb-twiddling till transit.

Still I stump, to fracture that association so prevalent, between the center and danger, the suburb and safety. Despite the revival of so many American cities, the re-popularization of New York City as lifestyle icon, and the European experience wherein affluence characterizes the old centers, Americans--Angelenos continue to bespatter their neighborhoods East and South. Bedroom communities most. The city's first suburbs in fact, simple subdivisions on relatively roomy lots, largely unencroached by industry or high use business districts, positively low density in places.

Certainly the population here (my beat) is multi-ethnic, with a pocket or two of physical squalor, and an absence of "hip joints". Those things matter to many, detract for some. But confuse the issues not, the statistics overwhelmingly suggest a relatively safe U.S. city, safer than most of us have ever known--and getting safer. Probably never safe enough for some. For those there's always Carstairs, Alberta, Culdesac, Idaho, or Catalina island.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Is it Safe Part 4

Maybe it would be less safe in West Adams and environs, if our neighborhoods weren't packed with film crews. One night recently, I encountered three different productions: a MOW on 29th Place, a law-and-order drama on Dalton, and a sorority send up in Western Heights. Most of the set cops didn't seem too concerned with their purportedly perilous surroundings, lazing about on their motorcycles, half-heartedly assisting with traffic "lock downs", or chatting up the hair girl.

I'm asked constantly about the proliferation of security bars, doors, and fences in South Los Angeles. Ugly to be sure, and unneeded in most cases, though not confined to the 'hood. A block from Larchmont Village, at Windsor and first, windows bars can be noted in every direction (see photos). It's a Los Angeles pandemic, status for some, the fear peddler's calling card for others.

Of course nobody questions the safety of Larchmont Village, save the nescient LALife (which rated Hancock Park 1.5 on its safety scale of 1 to 10, ten being most safe). As determined by J-Park judico Michah Wright, the LALife site (previously lambasted here) does little more than overlay an entire district's reporting.

Hancock Park, or Victoria Park, or Leimert Park, is therefore bunched together with neighborhoods ten blocks away, even ten miles away, merely because they share the same patrols.

A little like posting the average pool depth, and then encouraging kids to jump in the deep end.


Friday, August 31, 2007

Is It Safe Part 3

My Megan's Law story

In every transaction wherein I represent a buyer, I include a disclosure detailing the Megan's Law database, which offers location specific information about registered sex offenders. Once a buyer fumed, apparently after consulting the site, "you were going to let me buy a house near registered sex offenders. What sort of neighborhood do you think I'll live in?!"
I didn't have any specific knowledge of nearby sex offenders--I'm not required to--and I didn't argue the point. I asked only, "did you check your current neighborhood?"
A day passed before the client called, full of even greater dismay, "my block [in West Hollywood]", they convulsed, " is teeming with sex offenders!"

People often presume their current neighborhood to be safe, or more safe, than the place less known, and less white*. But try telling people that the neighborhood they live in is unsafe, it's like going after their gods, particulary if they're illusional Westsiders, living in the "burglary box" (Santa Monica to Federal, Santa Monica Blvd. to Wilshire), or some other supposed safe haven. When a home invasion happens in Beverly Hills, residents cup their ears, eyes, and mouth. "Unusual", they drone, "the exception." But when a kid gets cut near Vermont Knolls, the whip hand sounds and the righteous nod dismissively.

*Ah the ugly ethic thang. But sometimes clients surprise, I once had a Mexican-born buyer voice particularly strong interest in neighborhoods populated with older African American residents. "Very respectful", he opined. "I don't want a neighborhood that's all Mexican", he elaborated, "things can get loco."


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Is It Safe Part 2

Pupusas or dancing girls? Options abound at and around the corner of Vermont and Washington. "Con queso," came my reply as Rocky and I veered southeast towards University Park and North University Park. That's right, North University Park is South of University Park, don't ask me why.

The City Living Realty offices sit at the crosshairs of Union, 24th, and Hoover. A current Volkswagen tv spot, showcases these marvelous Victorian Village facades. A sympathetic tow truck driver, opts not to abscond with an errantly parked Passat, and instead tows the objet du desir five feet forward, out a red zone.

Continuing East along 23rd, we increasingly share the sidewalk with USC students or at least student aged youth, skateboarding, biking, wearing backpacks, engaged with their i-things. This brick apartment building has been recently and encouragingly restored. Once, when it was filthy and boarded up, I saw film schoolers shooting a WWII love story against its facade.

I seldom travel further East than Figueroa, not because of what lies beyond--the 110 freeway, warehouse districts, underappreciated East Adams--solely on account of distance. Time to arc West, beginning North on Toberman.

Recently, a client sent me a link to a site titled The site offers a safety score, the API scores for local schools, and house per square foot data.
The "West Adams" safety score, my prospective buyer bemoaned, was 0.5 on a scale of 0 to 10 (with 10 being best). Furthermore a thing called the LAlife crime index, which purported to measure violent crime, assigned a rating of 54 to the West Adams area, 200% higher than the LA County average. I was a bit taken aback, crestfallen really, and I considered any number of responses and sorry, partial refutations, anecdotal, statistical, the testimonials of others; until, I studied the LAlife site again. The "West Adams" borders were completely misidentified, all wrong, utterly wrong, thoroughly wrong, and included much higher crime areas, adjacent to Baldwin Village for example.

Isn't that just the problem with the world? People who know nothing, read things written by people who know little, and then everyone thinks they know a lot. I'm guilty of that.
At any rate, I'm still out there walking, nearly every night, thus far with only happy incident, greetings from neighbors, short, friendly exchanges with other passers-by, and occasionally a good taco.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Is It Safe (Continues/Returns)?

Another night, another walk, through the supposed favelas of mid-city, courting almost certain danger, maybe a stiff hamstring or a mild case of turf toe.

Two of the many storefront churches I encounter. In this corner of town, these venues are commanded almost entirely by Hispanic congregations, and are not necessarily limited to Catholic denominations. Some of these modest retail-built spaces formerly hosted African-american congregations.

For the record, I'm accompanied by a dog the size of the Nandi bull, but only because my orange tabby won't accept a leash.

Looking for hot spots, we light out for Loren Miller Park. The only rowdies are playing soccer on a tennis court, basketball games are in full swing, and a man sells salted sugar cane. No one takes any notice of us.

Angling through Adams-Normandie we confront the Budlong Tunnel, West Adams' most infamous dump site. Legend has it, Roland Souza furnished an entire house with Budlong Tunnel discards, including window treatments. Tonight it's quiet and only a few items have been left behind.

Elsewhere Washington Boulevard is still at work. Near the school-site, no the other school site, no the other school site, Allied Uniforms is busy. But not too busy to offer a tour.
"You're just out for a walk?" the supervisor questions.
"Yeah", I answer, "there's a lot to see."
(Ipso facto, the supervisor thinks I'm without use of a car.) "A lot of our employees walk too," he adds courtly.



Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Night-Walking Part One

I like to walk about the city at night, generally with the shepherd, occasionally with friends.

I typically don't walk West of Crenshaw unless I'm cruising the Windsor Village, Victoria Circle areas en route to Country Club Park/Wilshire Park. Mostly I walk toward downtown, through Jefferson Park/Halldale/Adams-Normandie/North University Park or through the West Adams Terraces/Arlington Vista/Harvard Heights/Byzantine Latino-Quarter corridor, seldom traipsing further East than Union, even though some of my favoriteneighborhoods lie beyond.

There aren't many people on the street after dark in the residential quarters. Some are happy to see us, eager to ask about the dog, whether we're in training, or just out for fun.

Nicely, there are great places thereabouts to pause for snacks, like on this night when Hunter Ochs, Rocky, and I stopped at the peerless Chabelita's (Western & 20th St.) for tacos. (Recently I opined to a client, concerned about the service shortfalls of West Adams and vicinity, "there's Mexican food, the best Mexican food West of the river!")

I'm not much concerned about encountering the wrong elements, more the wrong canine elements, and occasionally I will cross a street to avoid a dispossesed dog.

In some houses the same light always burns, one imagines for decorative effect, like a jack-o-lantern. No one, it seems, can agree on porch light etiquette, left on or turned off. Sometimes a house is completely black, save the steely xenon-ish glow of solar landscape stick-ins.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Alarm Salesperson

As if on cue (please see Crime Part 2)

My conversation with the door-to-door security system salesperson

Him: "Have you lived here long?"
Subtext: You couldn't have lived here long--you're a whitey. Regardless, my fear producing innuendo requires an opener.
Me: "Yes."

Him: "Would you say you get a lot of traffic, that there's a lot of visibility?"
Subtext: Don't you feel open, exposed?
Me: "No, most of the traffic is on Jefferson."

Him: "It [the neighborhood] looks nice enough, but is there crime?"
Me: "Very little."
Subtext: You need to work harder than that junior salesrep.

Him: "Do you have an alarm system?"
Me: "Yes".

Him: "Do you use it?"
Me: "Occasionally".

Him: "Is there an alley here?"
Subtext: You're a sitting duck Mr. Paper Tiger.
Me: "Yes, it makes for a great dog run".
Subtext: In case, you're not really a salesperson and instead you're casing my pad, I've got a German Shepard in the back big enough to eat your grandmother.


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Crime Part 2

Here's the thing I've learned: You can't convince someone, when convincing is necessary, that a neighborhood is safe. You can cite the crime statistics backward-and-forward, screen closed-circuit surveillance footage, wield signed testimony from the local SLO, it doesn't matter. People either feel comfortable or they don't, and the only thing that can change that is time.

Everyone has different visual triggers: loitering, the volume of parked cars, fences, the condition of painted surfaces, window bars.

Some cultures assume that window bars mark a place as unsafe. While other cultures embrace decorative metal security features as a home improvement item. Similarly, some cultures want to make all exterior space private, thereby making it more usable; whilst others condemn fencing, as isloating and symptomatic of social disjuncture.

Many older neighborhoods in Los Angeles have a large number of parked cars on the street because they haven't driveways, two-car garages, and easy off-street parking. Oftentimes the alley ways are decommissioned, the ipso facto exclusive domain of telephone technicians and kitty cats. This exacerbates street parking.

Metal security features are often pedaled door-to-door, and to older, more fearful residents, sometimes in the wake of a publicized event. Salespeople ask whether the resident feels safe, in a tone that evokes self doubt.

I drove through Larchmont Village recently and I noted plenty of bars, on sidelights in particular, and security doors. Does that make Larchmont Village unsafe? How dare I propose such a thing?!

I like my buyers to visit the site of a potential purchase both day and night, and on weekends. Typically, we walk around the block, and chat with a neighbor or two. Sometimes a real issue is identified, othertimes, an initial issue is ameliorated.

Safety is a serious issue in urban living, but you shouldn't judge a book only by the stain on its dust jacket.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Crime Part 1

Is it safe?

Is there crime in that grand swath of basin neighborhoods ("South Mid City"), in, around, and south of Historic West Adams, from Figueroa to LaBrea, Olympic to Slauson?

My response, with less and less hesitancy is, "very little, particularly relative to the past two decades, and to other big cities".

For starters, Los Angeles on a whole has gotten safer: on a per capita basis, type 1 crimes (which includes all violent crimes, burglary, and auto theft) is at its lowest point since the early 1950's. The FBI in their last Uniform Crime Report (UCR), ranked Los Angeles second safest (to New York) amongst the 10 largest cities in the country. According to Morgan Quinto, who publish state and city crime rankings each year, the 10 most dangerous cities with over 500,000 people in 2006 were: Detroit, Baltimore, Memphis, Houston, D.C., Philadelphia, Dallas, Nashville, Charlotte, Columbus, and Houston. Not only was Los Angeles absent from that ignominious roll but it also placed better than even smaller cities like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Atlanta, Kansas City, Birmingham, Richmond (VA), and Orlando.

While the police force takes credit, research professionals muse, and other critics cite stochastic hocus-pocus, the rankings continue to impress.

The Central Division which includes downtown (and the near nihilism of skid row) reported the lowest incident numbers since 1944, despite (or perhaps because of) a vertible population boom in the South Park area near the Staples Center.

Property crime dropped 9% last year in Los Angeles, and is now less than that of Sydney, Australia.

Homicide numbers have declined precipitously.

In 1992, LA's most violent year, the city recorded 1,083 homicides. Ten years later (2002) 647 persons were murdered--436 fewer. Last year, 436 persons were murdered (a further decline of 211 in five years). An unvarying reduction that seems to undermine all those haggard notions of urban hopelessness and inescapability.

Even former Fort Apache outposts like the Southwest precinct, 77th Street, and Harbor are posting statistics that mark a huge decline in violent crime. The Southwest precinct, which encompasses everything from University Park to Baldwin Hills, over 13 square miles and 165,00 residents including Baldwin Village and the notorious "Jungle", reported a mere 3 homicides in January (even with unusually dry, warm weather).

Some number of homicides too are not street crimes, but the tragic outcome of a destructive domestic dynamic. Still lamentable, but at least typically without the potential for collateral circumstance and broader violence. (The Bureau of Justice Statistics claim that 1,700 murders a year nationwide are the result of domestic violence.) This raises a further question, what number of murder victims are "unintended victims"?

To Be Continued...


Sunday, December 03, 2006

30th Street Fortification

I know wealthy neighborhoods fortify too, sometimes more discreetly, with electronic paraphanelia or fences of wood rather than concrete block and spiky metal. (Sometimes less discreetly with guard gates and abundant security patrols.)

Even in areas where a decrease in crime is strongly "trending", fortifications can occur or persist, and as they do so, neighborhoods begin to lose their coherence, punctuated by an assortment of isolated bunkers, buildings that resemble power stations, duplicating-machine replacement-parts wholesale distribution warehouses, or the pokey. Frequently, windows are sealed or downsized, as the building's interior is effectively separated from its' exterior.

Perhaps intimidated by law and order demagoguery, the King riots, or a burglary, the process of fortification (not to be confused with the means of adding nutrients to food), and its dehumanizing face, claimed an outpost on 30th Street. Softened a tad by twin, un-tended, Birds of Paradise, and limp, patchy grass

Incidentally, violent crime, both in the city and in the local reporting district, is expected to show a statistical decline for the fourth straight year. Excitingly, Los Angeles may claim its lowest homicide rate since 1971, at which time the city had a million fewer residents!


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is it Safe?

Is it safe there?

I'm asked that about some of the neighborhoods in which I practice. (Yeah, I know it reads like a William Goldman line, but...) It's what happens when you're off the cognitive map, on an unsoiled page in an otherwise unspooled Thomas Guide.

West Adams, formerly South Los Angeles, formerly South Central Los Angeles, formerly "the Ghetto", once a haven for the super-wealthy, now a destination for those with good credit, tolerance, and an urban disposition. Viewed by many non-residents as a gang addled district, site of civil unrest, smoking ruins, and lots of good Bar B-que joints.

I decided to take my camera to the streets, to points of shadowy congregation, and houses of ill repute, the hot spots, problem corners, and rough patches--in search of.....the unvarnished truth!

(Top image)
In Victoria Park: blinding hot lights. Some sort of gang inquisition or parking lot beat-down, perhaps?! Nope, just a low-budget film and a couple of par lights. Wonder if I can cadge some craft service?

(See picture second from the top)
Here's a frequent gathering place for youth, a possible spot for gang incubation--er, it's a public library?! A rather handsome one at that. Well no wonder there's always people loitering here. Ok, so it's on the up-and-up, let's take our eagle eye elsewhere.

(Bottom image)
A particularly desolete spot near Washington Blvd. Tall weeds, corrugated fences, barking dogs. It's close to dusk and hoodlums should begin amassing like storm clouds about now. Only, there's just a guy working on his transmission. He's listening to either Billy Paul or the Intruders. Gee, I kind of like those TSOP bands....

Hey nobody's pretending there isn't crime here--it's Los Angeles: the nation's second-largest city. Do you leave your car door unlocked? Do you leave your front door open when you go out? Some of my neighbors do but they're Canadian.

Is there more crime in South Los Angeles than in the Palisades for example? The statistics suggest there is. Still, if you're afraid to drive down Crenshaw Boulevard, or stop for gas on Arlington without a Kevlar vest, pepper spray and numchucks--you probably aren't cut out for city living, or Bar B-que.