Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Downtown Family Resources (first of a series)

When I first moved Downtown (you know, all of three months ago), MB and I struggled to find the best places to shop, eat and recreate with Kidlo. It's still a bit of a struggle but we're getting great tips from other parents and blogs such as Angelenic and Blogdowntown.

Over the next few months I'll be writing posts listing resources for Downtown parents. Links to the posts will go in the sidebar where the link to City Kids LA lives. I'd like it to be kind of a one-stop resource where Downtown parents can get quick answers to their questions.

Today's post deals with a basic issue: where do you buy groceries? Here's a list of local options, along with pros and cons.

Ralph's: This is the only major supermarket in Downtown LA. Opening day drew a crowd of more than 1,000 people.

The Good: A big produce department, wine department with regularly scheduled wine tastings, huge magazine selection, in-store Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, fresh flowers and plants. Carries all national brands and has a decent selection of store brands. Decent selection of baby food and formula. The only supermarket in Downtown LA.

The Bad: Located in South Park, which means it's not all that convenient if you live in the Historic Core, especially if you have to haul home groceries for the entire family.

The Ugly: Holy crap, it's expensive. Not a big deal if you're shopping for one, but family grocery shopping can bankrupt you.

Bottom Line: Okay option if you live in South Park, but if you're going to have to drive anyway, you'll get better bargains elsewhere.

Liborio: Located on 3rd Street & Bonnie Brae, just east of Alvarado, this store is part of a small, family-owned chain specializing in Mexican and Latin American products.

The Good: Astoundingly good produce section, with a huge selection of fruits and vegetables at great prices. Bakery and butcher counter are also excellent and well-priced. Mexican and Latin American products a plenty. Store is an easy bus ride from the Historic Core and they offer a free shuttle van so you can get your groceries home without a car.

The Bad: Not much of a selection of national brands. Dairy products and eggs are a little pricey.

The Ugly: The pre-packaged meats don't look so hot. Poor selection of baby food and pet products. American basics like cold cuts get short shrift.

Bottom Line: You'll want to shop here for produce, bread and meat, but skip it for anything else.

Von's: With locations at Alvarado just south of Glendale and at 3rd and Vermont, Von's is a good alternative to Ralph's.

The Good: Same as Ralph's, but a little less upscale. In-store Starbucks at the 3rd & Vermont location.

The Bad: Farther than Ralph's or Liborio. The Alvarado store doesn't have as good a selection of produce and meat as the 3rd and Vermont location.

The Ugly: Pricey for basics, though not as expensive as Ralph's.

Bottom Line: If you need baby food or national brands and don't want to pay Ralph's prices, shop here.

99 Cent Store: Located on Wilshire and Alvarado, this chain offers overstocks and closeouts, including grocery items.

The Good: The price, obviously. Also good for canned goods (this week's flyer includes organic diced tomatoes), tortillas, bachelor size bag salads, milk and eggs. Occasionally you'll get lucky and find decent wine. If you spot something you like, stock up because stuff sells out quickly.

The Bad: Limited selection. Some of the items are weird, like Fear Factor Candy and Baby Cuttlefish.

The Ugly: John Morrell meat products. Absolutely everything has minced beef hearts in it. 'nuff said.

Bottom Line: If you have time to browse, it's worth checking out, but not a place for regular grocery shopping.

Food4Less: Located at 6th and Union in the same mall as Home Depot and Rite Aid, this is a cross between a warehouse store and a supermarket. Food4Less caters to the working poor. Sort of the anti-Pavilions.

The Good: Good for bulk items. Large packages of reasonably priced staples. If you're looking to buy a ginormous tub of mayo for not too much money, this is your place.

The Bad: Overall quality isn't great. Limited selection of meat and produce.

The Ugly: Koreatown residents trying to decipher the Spanish signs.

Bottom Line: Okay for bulk basics, but don't expect to find arugula or soy milk.

Smart and Final: Located at Beverly and La Fayette, just west of Rampart Blvd.*, this is a warehouse store that caters to small restaurant owners and is open to the public.

* A reader tells me that there is a closer Smart & Final at 1216 Compton Ave., just south of Olympic and a few blocks west of Alameda. I haven't shopped at this one, but presumably it's not that different from the one on Beverly.

The Good: Closer than Costco and no membership fee needed to shop. Incredible prices for dairy, eggs and soda. Great for canned goods (really big cans, though) and cleaning supplies. Also good for paper goods. Stop by the Original Tommy's for a burger on the way home.

The Bad: Everything comes in big, huge and ginormous sizes only. Produce isn't very good. No baby food or formula for sale (but they do have pet food and cat litter).

The Ugly: Checkout lines are long and sloooooow. Be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait...

Bottom Line: Worth the wait for cheap dairy, eggs and paper goods.

Downtown LA Farmer's Market: Every Wednesday at the Central Library, this is one of the biggest and best farmer's markets in the city.

The Good: The produce (duh). Bread, cheese and eggs available as well. Big selection of food vendors make this a great place to have lunch.

The Bad: Limited hours so forget shopping here if you don't work downtown. If you buy your produce here, you still have to go elsewhere for the rest of your groceries.

The Ugly: Produce is reasonably priced, but other items tend to be expensive.

Bottom Line: Wonderful produce, but if you have kids it may not be convenient to shop here.

Costco: Located in Atwater Village on Los Feliz Boulevard just south of San Fernando Road, this is one of the biggest warehouse stores in LA.*

* A reader says that there is also one in Alhambra and I know there's one in Burbank too. They are farther but may be more convenient for some people, depending on where they shop for other stuff.

The Good: Formula and diapers are literally half the price of any other store. Meat prices are excellent. Produce selection is very good, especially the strawberries. While shopping you can also develop photos, change your tires, get your eyes checked, buy a TV...

The Bad: It's a five mile drive from Downtown and a membership costs $50 a year (but the savings on formula and diapers make it worth it).

The Ugly: The parking lot is a living hell. Atwater Village always manages to be five degrees hotter than downtown. You have to walk through the nasty food court to get into the store.

Bottom Line: Costco is worth the trip when your kid is in the formula-and-diapers stage, but less so once the kids are older.

That's it. Feel free to let me know if I've left out any good stores and I'll update this list.

ETA: Great minds think alike--the day after I drafted this article, Angelenic published a bargain hunter's guide to Downtown LA. There's some overlap with this article, but also has good tips on place to buy housewares, linens and toys. I'll be placing links to both articles in the sidebar.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No apparent worries about the Alexandria...

Rick Jackson of Building and Safety has done an emergency inspection of the Alexandria and rated it "No Apparent Structural Hazard", which is good to know. Mr. Jackson goes on to comment, "Plaster Damage where buildings join together." Good to know.

Ay Yi Yi

So I decided to leave Kidlo with MB and go shopping at the Glendale Galleria. I was in Macy's shoe department when the earthquake hit. We got rattled pretty good--some of the shoppers literally ran out of the mall--but apparently that's nothing compared with how it felt downtown. Per MB:

EARTHQUAKE yada yada... Yah, it shook a bit. I guessed, confidently to a friend immediately after, "5.5! Yah, 5.5, definitely." It turned out to be 5.4, so what do I win? BTW I'm always amused by the news media's response to an earthquake. Turn on the TV and you find an anchor calling his buddies and asking "Um, did you feel it?" "Sure, Kent, I was at the bar sinking Jaeger shots when I fell against the urinal and while I was throwing up, I felt an odd sensation... Anyway, yes, it was an earthquake. Yes it was.

Thanks honey? MB forgot to mention that boxes were knocked off his desk, plaster was knocked off the side of the building and poor Kidlo woke up from his nap and has been velcroed to us ever since.

This former New Yorker is freaked. I've felt two baby earthquakes before, but nothing like this. The earth Should. Not. Move.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Live Downtown, Save Money

Cool article in today's LA Times describing the economic benefits of living downtown.

But keeping Big Oil's grubby paws off my hard-earned cash isn't the only benefit. There are so many other financial upsides to moving closer to the office and downsizing one's living quarters that it's a challenge to tote them all up.

Downsizing may even be an overstatement. I've cut back from 1,800 square feet to about 1,400, which still seems bigger than Rhode Island.

Consider these savings:

* My water and power bill has dropped by more than two-thirds, as has the natural gas bill.

* Cable and Internet? My bill has fallen by more than 80%, thanks to the special rate my building negotiated.

* Adios monthly parking pass; you don't need one when you don't drive to work.

And my gardener? No longer necessary -- I can handle the half-dozen plants on my balcony myself.

Without a patch of grass to call my own, there has been one major new expense: a dog walker who gives my Labrador, Larry, a stroll every afternoon while I'm at work. That's setting me back $60 a week. Yet, even with that factored in, I'm still more than $300 ahead each month.

This has been the case for our family as well. Even when you consider that we're paying for parking, we still come out about $300 ahead every month.

Up in Smoke

The Militant Angeleno recently wrote a post on the LA Hair District.Well, we have one up on him. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you...the Bong District.

The Bong District is on Third Street between San Pedro and Main. It seems to be wholesale only, though I suppose if you wandered through on a Saturday you could get someone to sell you a hookah.

The marijuana-leaf door hangers are a nice touch.

I was struck by how overtly phallic the bongs are. Check out how the girl in the poster on the lower left is holding the bong.

Yet smoking weed is about the least libido-building activity you can imagine. Which is why, I suppose, the stores all sell this:

Finally, I leave you with a blast from the past:

Whip-its? Good God, the 80s really are back.

Friday, July 25, 2008

One crystal ball prediction sort of coming true


After rolling out their latest store concept in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore neighborhood, Safeway/Vons’ newest concept, “The Market by Vons,” is heading to Downtown LA, according to sources familiar with the project. The official site and opening date have not yet been released.

The Market is a small-format grocery store — about 15,000 square feet — being tested in urban neighborhoods in Southern California.

This is in keeping with my prediction that small scale retail may be making a comeback. Cool! I just hope this opens up in the Historic Core. That would make my life much easier.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I whip out my crystal ball and try to predict the future of Downtown, Pt. 2

On Monday, I painted a pretty gloomy scenario for Downtown. But there are definitely reasons to be optimistic about the future.

The Good News
Fuel prices up: Oil prices have dropped over the past few days but they are still at historic highs. And with the economic shitstorm that's brewing, gas prices would have to plunge to make a real difference to struggling workers. That's bad news for most of the region, but good news for Downtown.

Effect on Downtown: We are the region's transportation hub. Every train line and nearly every bus line runs through Downtown. Even if your job isn't Downtown, you are likely to be able to reach it fairly easily on public transportation if you live Downtown. That should help bolster rental rates.

Condo sales surprisingly strong in other cities: Weirdly enough, condo sales have held up well in cities like Miami and Phoenix. There are a number of reasons why: condos are cheaper than houses, they tend to be located closer to employment centers, and empty nesters/Baby Boomers want a low maintenance home for their retirement.

Effect on Downtown: Okay, I know on Monday I said the condo market is dead. I'm still inclined to think that the condo market is non-existent in the short term, but in the long term, it could recover strongly because of the demographic trends described above.

Rental market will stay strong: Most units available Downtown are rentals and the demand for rentals will stay strong as long as the credit crisis continues. Also, Downtown rentals are priced well compared with neighborhoods such as Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silverlake, etc.

Effect on Downtown: Again, I know on Monday I said rental demand may go down. But I wouldn't be surprised if the Downtown residential population continued to see strong growth as more people opt to rent downtown.

Smaller scale retail may make a comeback: It's not available online, but the Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on how the big box stores--Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, etc.--are coping with the retail slump. One thing they are doing is moving towards smaller stores with a smaller number of products for sale.

Effect on Downtown: If smaller stores are becoming more attractive to retailers, it could be that they will be more willing to move into Downtown. I know, I know, I'm contradicting myself again. In this instance I'm inclined to believe the bad scenario will win out. But long-term, Downtown could become more attractive to mainstream retailers.

U.S. manufacturing may make a comeback: Surprisingly, the manufacturing sector is seeing a revival. This is because of several factors: a weak dollar means that Chinese goods are not as cheap as they used to be and it also means American made goods are more competitive. Also, expensive oil is increasing incentives to have goods manufactured closer to where they will actually be used. U.S. exports are up 39% since 2002, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Effect on Downtown: We are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this revival. From

Los Angeles is the largest major manufacturing center in the United States, with 500,000 workers in manufacturing activities in 2003. The largest components are apparel (68,300 jobs), computer and electronic products (60,000 jobs), transportation products (54,600 jobs), fabricated metal products (49,900 jobs), food products (44,800 jobs), and furniture (27,400 jobs). The last few years have witnessed major economic expansion. The three-tiered, traditional economy (aerospace, entertainment, and tourism) has evolved into a well balanced, multi-tiered economic engine driven by unparalleled access to world markets.


Los Angeles is the nation's largest port in terms of value of goods handled and tonnage. Proximity to the major Pacific manufacturing nations—Japan, Korea, and Taiwan—and easy access to transcontinental rail and truck shipping, plus the large commercial facilities available at Los Angeles International Airport make the Los Angeles Customs District the largest in the nation.

City planners are already proposing that we create a "green industrial belt" along the LA River that would include manufacturing and middle income housing. From the LA Times:

Ideally, most of us would probably prefer a belt of parks, bike paths, nature havens and athletic fields stretching from the river's headwaters in the west San Fernando Valley to its outlet in Long Beach. But L.A.'s population is growing, and the city needs to build more affordable housing and create new jobs.

Which raises the question of what kind of development should take place on the river's vital downtown banks between Chinatown to the north and Washington Boulevard to the south, where much of the land is industrially zoned. Many pro-river activists and environmentalists want the railroads, junkyards and factories that currently border the river to be replaced by a greenbelt, along with some housing and low-rise office and retail buildings.

The City Council and the Community Redevelopment Agency have a different idea for the L.A. River's downtown west bank. They want to create a green Silicon Valley along the river from Main Street to Washington Boulevard, where a new generation of environmentally friendly industries would develop and manufacture renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind power. The proposal has the support of the council members -- Jan Perry, Jose Huizar and Ed Reyes -- whose districts would most directly benefit from it, and that means the remainder of the council is unlikely to oppose it.

Unfortunately, the green industrial belt is controversial because there haven't been public hearings on the proposal and many people reflexively oppose any manufacturing. But this could be a godsend for the blue collar communities east of Downtown.

It won't be as easy as making socks or marmalade, but for Huizar, who represents most of the Eastside, making "green" socks or marmalade would be OK too. He notes that clothing and food production are already well-established in his 14th District. "It's a natural location for green-collar jobs," he told me, because of its access to freeway and rail. Huizar and Reyes, driving forces behind the successes of the river-centered Cornfields and Taylor Yards park and recreation facilities upstream, want to see development on both sides of the waterway that would produce jobs for residents on the Eastside. Huizar particularly wants the old Crown Coach property to directly benefit the surrounding community because the 1984 victory in killing the prison proposal was a milestone of Latino power in the city.

Tech sector is surprisingly strong: From the WSJ (which alas does not have the article online):

At a time when many other companies are struggling amid high energy prices and a worsening credit crunch, [tech] firms are benefiting from healthy technology demand outside the U.S., the growing economic importance of the Internet, and widening use of cellphone and portable computers in emerging economies.

Effect on Downtown: Most people don't know this, but the One Wilshire building is the Internet hub of North America and possibly the entire Pacific Rim. Every single time you use the Internet, whether it's reading this blog, checking your email or downloading porn from Japan, the signal likely goes through One Wilshire. And the closer you are physically to One Wilshire, the more quickly you (and your users, if you're a business) can connect to the Internet.

In addition, USC has one of the most prestigious computer engineering programs in the U.S. USC grads are sought after by all of the major Internet companies. And a significant number of USC students are renting apartments Downtown, particularly in City West.

These two factors haven't generated a lot of employment Downtown--yet. But Silicon Valley has gotten extremely expensive and companies are looking for other locations. Downtown LA has both the infrastructure and the labor pool to create a local Silicon Alley. And USC grads already familiar with Downtown are likely to be more willing to both work and live Downtown.

That's it. My bottom line on all this is that Downtown is in for a rough time short term (as is the entire country) but is in a great position to do well down the road.

Monday, July 21, 2008

I whip out my crystal ball and try to predict the future of Downtown, Pt. 1

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’ll notice that the economy is, well, going to hell.

Bank failures, middle-class people becoming homeless, food and gas prices skyrocketing--it's ugly and it's likely to stay ugly for a long time.

This is all going down at a pivotal point in Downtown's history. A lot of new condos and rentals are coming online, there's an influx of new residents, and more restaurants and other retail are opening up. So how will the economy affect the Downtown revival? I'm joining Clio's Psychic Network and making a few predictions. Note that I have no background in economics so all of this is essentially

Today's I'm focusing on all of the reasons why Downtown is doomed. Wednesday's installment will explain why Downtown's future is golden.

The Bad News
Credit/Mortgage Crisis: There has been a lot written on the credit crisis so I won't get into details here (though if you want to read in-depth analysis of what's going on, I strongly suggest you check out Calculated Risk). The most important thing you need to know is that banks have tightened lending standards across the board--mortgages, home equity loans, credit cards, car loans, etc. People who would've qualified for a mortgage just a year ago can't get one today, and those who do qualify have to pony up a lot more money for a down payment and fees.

Effect on Downtown: For the time being, the condo market is essentially gone. Home sales as a whole in Southern California are down 29.3% and 41% of the homes that did sell were foreclosures. Whew. First time homebuyers who can't meet stricter credit guidelines are shut out of the market. And people who already own a home can't buy a new one because they can't find a buyer for the house they're in or because dropping prices means they can't sell the house for enough money to pay back their mortgage.

We're already seeing condo buildings converted to rentals (Union Lofts, SB Manhattan) and this trend is going to continue. Another effect this will have is to temporarily drive down rental prices. This seems weird because usually falling home sales pushes rents up, but the rental market is being flooded by condos and homes that can't be sold. I'm already seeing lower rents Downtown and they are likely to go even lower.

Job Losses: The unemployment rate hit 5.5% in May. Especially hard hit is the financial services industry, which makes up a major portion of Downtown jobs (Downtown employers include Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Union Bank of California). Just last week, JP Morgan announced a 53% decline in earnings, Merrill Lynch reported a $4.65 billion second-quarter net loss and Capital One announced a 40% drop in income because of credit card charge-offs (in other words, people are defaulting on their credit cards). Look for all of these institutions to shed tens of thousands of jobs. Then there's the IndyMac debacle--3,800 jobs lost there alone.

Another Downtown mainstay that will lose jobs is the Jewelry District. A cratering economy means no demand for luxury goods (see below for more on the retail crash).

Effect on Downtown: One of the big attractions of living Downtown is a short commute. Big layoffs means there will be a shrinking pool of people working Downtown means there will be fewer people interested in living Downtown (or who can afford it). Layoffs will also likely help increase the condo foreclosure rate since people who aren't working can't make mortgage payments.

Retail Crash: From the NY Times:

The slide in the labor market has become both symptom and cause of a weak economy, pulling many families into a downward spiral. Back when housing prices were still rising, Americans borrowed exuberantly against the value of their homes to finance renovations, vacations and shopping sprees. But that artery of finance has constricted considerably along with access to credit cards, forcing a reversion to the traditional limits of household finance. Millions of American families must now confine their spending to what they can bring home from work.

With job losses growing and working hours shrinking, many paychecks are eroding, prompting millions of families to cut their spending. Soaring prices for food and gasoline are overwhelming modest wage gains for most workers, leaving households with even less money to spend. All of which deprives struggling businesses of sales, prompting them to shed more workers, sending the cycle down another turn. Starbucks announced on Tuesday that it would close stores and eliminate up to 12,000 jobs, about 7 percent of its work force.

Effect on Downtown: Downtown has struggled to attract higher end retailers even with all of the residential construction and influx of new residents. This economic climate will make attracting retailers even tougher. I'm particularly skeptical about the prospects of not-yet-built retail developments like Grand Avenue and the mall at 4th & Main. I wouldn't be surprised to see these projects fall through or be severely cut back.

So, yeah, things are bad and getting worse and we aren't even officially in a recession yet. But don't panic yet--Downtown does have some glimmers of hope on the horizon. More on that on Wednesday.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Downtown LA Parents Group

A group of parents and parents-to-be met at Ralphs on Saturday morning to discuss raising kids in Downtown LA. We had representation from all over Downtown--South Park, the Historic Core and Little Tokyo. Most people had truly tiny tots--less than a year old or still in utero, but one mom has two daughters ages seven and four as well as a new baby. It was so great to talk and share information about the pros and cons of raising kids Downtown (it turns out that grocery shopping is a pain in the ass for everyone). We have playdates planned and we will definitely get together as a group again in the near future.

If anyone is interested in meeting other parents, I've reconstituted the Downtown LA Parents Group on Yahoo. You can reach it by going to City Kids LA

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

America's Most Fuel-Efficient Neighborhoods

From Forbes magazine:

Owning a home in walkable neighborhoods saves residents $300 to $400 a month, up to 4,800 a year, on gas expenses alone, according to research by the Congress for the New Urbanism. Kicking the car habit yields larger consequences: Traffic congestion sucked $78 billion from the economy in 2005, added 4.2 billion hours in commuter time, and wasted almost 3 billion gallons of gasoline, according to a 2007 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute.

We asked the Center for Neighborhood Technology to help identify cheap rides in America's largest metropolitan areas. It classified a neighborhood's low transportation costs as the metro area mean transportation costs minus one standard deviation.

Guess who made this list? Koreatown! Can Downtown be far behind?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Walking in LA

I don't know, could've been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing's for sure, he isn't starring in the movies.
'Cause he's walkin' in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A.
Walkin' in L.A., only a nobody walks in L.A.

Now that we're living in Downtown I've become a walker again. This has had a profoundly positive impact on my quality of life, which I wasn't expecting even though I grew up in NYC and walked everywhere--didn't even get my driver's license until I was 30.

When I moved out to LA seven years ago, I did my best to stay a walker. My apartment was just 2 1/2 miles from my job at UCLA and I'd often walk home from work, especially in the winter (cooler weather = no sweating). I was also lucky enough to be just two blocks away from a bodega, so I didn't have to jump in my car if I needed milk or chicken for dinner. I even walked to my gym a mile away (imagine that).

The reactions I got from Angelenos were pretty funny. People who knew me from work would pull over when they saw me walking and offer to give me a lift, always with the assumption that my car must be in the shop. I mean, why else would I be walking, right?

When I got a job downtown and moved to Silverlake, my walking and public transit days came to an end. It took me 15-20 minutes to drive the 4 1/2 miles to work. Taking the bus and train took me 45 minutes. I wouldn't have minded doubling my commute, but almost tripling it was a bit too much, so driving won out. And then I got pregnant and then came the zombie months of baby bootcamp, when you're just trying to survive eight feedings a day.

So walking stopped being utilitarian and instead became something prescriptive, like eating fiber. Something I should be doing because it's good for me. Something to add onto my day. Something to be scheduled. Walking wasn't an organic part of my life anymore. With some predictable and not-so-predictable results.

Of course, I wasn't getting any exercise and even with my short commute, I was spending way too much on gas. But what was worse was the sense of isolation. I was constantly alone in my car with no one to talk to and nothing to look at except for other cars. Driving was lonely as hell. Plus I never got a chance to shed tension from work so I'd get home in a terrible mood and feeling exhausted. And all this was with a total commute of less than an hour a day. I can't imagine what it's like for people with truly hellish commutes, the ones who drive in from the Inland Empire or Orange County.

Then we moved Downtown and wow. Becoming a walker again has profoundly changed my life for the better. Yes, I'm saving a buttload of money on gas, and I've dropped five pounds. But beyond that, I feel like I'm back in the middle of life again. I walk down the street and I'm surrounded by people. I can hear their conversations, I can look at their faces instead of looking at dim, featureless ovals through a windshield.

When you walk, you expose yourself to the unexpected. You're not cocooned in a climate-controlled pod, walled off from the rest of humanity. You get to see a man pushing a bunny down Broadway in a baby stroller. You get to see an older Asian woman with bleached blond hair in Pippi Longstocking braids, wearing a pink dress and using a bright orange emergency rations kit as a purse. You get to see a woman who owns a newstand and feeds the pigeons behind the Los Angeles theater.

I'm sure a lot of people are thinking, "But you also get to smell pee and be pan-handled by homeless people and sweat when it's hot." Or even, "That's all great until someone mugs you or snatches your purse." Well, yeah. But I don't think that your goal in life should be to avoid all unpleasant experiences at any cost. Sure, you'll probably feel safer if you limit yourself to car/office/home/mall. But what are you losing in return? Would you rather be the kind of person who needs this list? (from

There are many ways to increase your daily steps. Use your imagination and come up with your own list:

    • Take a walk with your spouse, child, or friend
    • Walk the dog
    • Use the stairs instead of the elevator
    • Park farther from the store
    • Better yet, walk to the store
    • Get up to change the channel
    • Window shop
    • Plan a walking meeting
    • Walk over to visit a neighbor
    • Get outside to walk around the garden or do a little weeding

            I'll take smelly streets and the opportunity for unexpected joy and delight.

            Sunday, July 13, 2008

            Bar None

            I like the building I live in, more or less. I like the loft itself. The once-planned screening room in the sub-basement was never finished, but who cares. Also planned, once upon a time, was a bar. This was never finished either, which is absolutely tragic.

            The P.E. lofties, those lucky bastards, are getting a bar. Hell, they already have a bar in Coles, if it ever re-opens. But besides that, they are getting "The Association", some sort of dark, sexy, sophisticated bar with a private back door for the residents only, so they see how smashed they can get and still work an elevator. It should be open "This Summer". Hopefully they are using a different calendar than Coles, which opens in "May".

            Across the street from Coles/Assoc, Cedd Moses and the Santa Fe have won the rights for four boozy restaurants and a "Spaceland style" music club. This has been somewhat delayed, as their Conditional Use application was originally denied. Associate Zoning Administrator Dan Green found that all that clubbing and noshing would make the neighborhood nicer, raise property values, and make this area of Skid Row a little less funky, and we can't have that, can we? Actually, what he said was:

            "With a similarly large entitlement at the south at 610 South Main Street, the effect of the two projects may well put this corner "on the map" as the "in" place to be, but at the expense of the City's stated commitment to Skid Row.
            "Permitting the sale of alcoholic beverages on the scale requested by the applicant will contribute to the incremental upgrading of the subject building and the image and character of Main Street while also contributing to the incremental dislocation of the Skid Row Community."

            Mr Green also mentions a CRA brochure that defines the official borders of Skid Row, gives facts and figures, and references Skid Row's colorful history going back to the 1870's. (Dan Green has a lot more to say, including a suggestion that the restaurants be replaced with a pet food store. Read it for yourself here: Dan Green letter (pdf) )

            Unfortunately for those who would preserve our historic 130+ year old Skid Row, the Central Area Planning Commission voted 5-0 to lift the prohibition back in November of last year. (The spanking is here: CAPC spanking pdf. Notice condition #105 for the bar at 110 E. 6th: The sale of distilled spirits by the bottle for same day or future consumption is prohibited. That means No bottle service. Who says the city isn't looking out for the common man? )

            I don't think that ground has been broken on any of these boozers yet. We'll probably have to wait for Cedd to finish Coles before he gets into the rock club, so it could be a year or more before it opens.

            Charlie O's was shut down for three weeks some two months ago. It's some kind of weird bar owners theory of time. Like one of those dreams where you are trying to run but you are up to your knees in molasses, and then you are at a company staff meeting, but naked.

            "You got kicked out of King Eddy's? For what, being too clean?"
            -- A Coles bartender, some years ago.

            Kind Eddy's is a bit too far to stumble back from, so that leaves just the 626 wine bar, and that's not really a stumbling kind of place. So here I am, surrounded by what would be very handsome bars if they would just open up. And to make my misery complete, I have learned of a bar that was planned, permitted, but never constructed, here in my very own building! But not just any bar, no, this was special...

            You see, like most other buildings here in the Bank District, my building was once a Bank. Built to be a bank. And like banks everywhere, it had a vault. The gimmick (I guess every business needs one) was that your safety deposit boxes were protected by really cool 6000lb round vault doors with gears and levers and clockwork that just looked so cool that no one would even try to steal your pre-crash stock certificates (at least not steal with drills and lock picking. The doors did nothing to protect you from theft by fountain pen.) And once upon a time, Andrew Meieran (of The Edison fame) / Marc Smith / 213 ventures planned a "speakeasy style bar" in the basement, with the vault doors as a prominent part of the decor.

            The floorplans don't do it justice, but the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back explaining what each one is are here: Bills floorplan pdf

            Sweet! The place was originally slated to take up the entire basement, 12,000 square feet. Seven individual lounges, DJ booth, yada yada. Plans were approved, permits issued, everything looked good... But it never happened. Why not? Who knows. Google finds a reference to Andrew Meieran saying it was waiting on the residential construction, or somesuch. Could it still happen sometime in the future? the permits have all expired. Much of the basement has been converted to lofts, but the old part of the building with the vaults is still there, and presumably the vault doors are still there. Perhaps a smaller scale version, encompassing just the vaults themselves and the bar opposite, could still be done. It could be a sweet little watering hole, for those of us who think they can still find their floor after six martinis.

            Le Sigh. When all the under-construction-maybe-someday stuff actually opens, I probably won't care very much, but for now I am really frustrated that someone else I've never met didn't risk a ton of money to build a theme bar for my extreme drinking convenience. Word.

            Tuesday, July 8, 2008

            Teaching yuppies how to ride mass transit

            Remember my post on class and mass transit? I ended it by wondering what it would take to get middle class people out of their cars.

            The answer: $4+ a gallon gasoline. Alrighty then.

            Now that those middle class folks are riding the bus and trains, it seems they need schooling on proper transit behavior. There's actually a new blog, Muni Manners, that bills itself as an "etiquette guide for the transit savvy." Some highlights:

            Etiquette Rule #1: Boarding the Train
            ...the code of conduct when embarking a bus or train is quite simple: stand to the side of the doors to allow passengers clear berth to exit the train. And by ‘side’ we don’t mean positioning yourself on the platform where the door typically opens. Remember, if people can’t exit, there’s less room for you to board. So if you’re running late for a meeting, need to post bail for a friend, get your child to daycare, or that bakery on Clement is about to close, basic laws of inertia indicate you are not making your commute (or ours) any shorter by plowing through an opposing melee of passengers.

            Etiquette Rule #3: Exercise Reasonable Groin Proximity
            While you’re busy tuning in to that bown chicka bown bown soundtrack on your iPod, you may not realize that your lump of coal is providing a gentle rub to the shoulder of the passenger seated directly below you.

            Etiquette Rule #7: Keep Your Eyes Open
            Hey sleep slut, innocent riders next to you are mortified when you fall asleep and start leaning on them. Repeat after us: body spam, bam, no thank you ma'am. Remember, no one wants to hear your nostril opera or see your drooling mouth agape as you slumber across the city.

            The LA Times also has a blog post on transiqette. The best part is the photo.

            Sunday, July 6, 2008


            Check out the kid in the pink shirt (he makes his first kick ass appearance at 39 sec.)

            Stevie Wonder performs Monday July 7 at the Hollywood Bowl

            Wednesday, July 2, 2008

            The G-word

            From Time magazine:

            Gentrification: Not Ousting the Poor?

            People tend to think gentrification goes like this: rich, educated white people move into a low-income minority neighborhood and drive out its original residents, who can no longer afford to live there. As it turns out, that's not typically true.

            A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Pittsburgh and Duke University, examined Census data from more than 15,000 neighborhoods across the U.S. in 1990 and 2000, and found that low-income non-white households did not disproportionately leave gentrifying areas. In fact, researchers found that at least one group of residents, high school–educated blacks, were actually more likely to remain in gentrifying neighborhoods than in similar neighborhoods that didn't gentrify — even increasing as a fraction of the neighborhood population, and seeing larger-than-expected gains in income.


            The new study found that while gentrification did not necessarily push out original residents, it did create neighborhoods that middle-class minorities moved to. The addition of white college graduates, especially those under 40 without children, was a hallmark of gentrifying neighborhoods — that much fit the conventional wisdom — but so was the influx of college-educated blacks and Hispanics, who moved to gentrifying neighborhoods more often than they to did similar, more static areas. Two other groups tended to move more often into upwardly mobile neighborhoods as well: 40-to-60-year-old Hispanics without a high-school degree, and similarly uneducated Hispanics aged 20 to 40 with children — a counterpoint to the common conception of gentrification, if there ever was one. The only group that was less likely to move to a gentrifying area was high school–educated whites aged 20 to 40 with kids.

            Really fascinating. I guess I fit the profile since I'm a college-educated Nuyorican who's lived in gentrified neighborhoods most of her adult life (with a brief detour in Brentwood when I first moved to LA--aiee!). I've always enjoyed living in neighborhoods that are economically and culturally diverse, and that's what you find in gentrified neighborhoods.

            It's also interesting in the context of the Historic Core since this is not your typical gentrifying neighborhood. Most of the loft buildings were abandoned before developers came in and renovated them. Very few people have been displaced and the residency hotels show no signs of going away. Even the retail businesses catering to poor/working class Latinos shows no signs of going away anytime soon. Bert Green insists that it's not gentrification but revitalization, and I think he has a point.

            Update: A developer's POV on gentrification. Via the LA Times.

            Newsflash: Silverlake still sucks

            From Curbed LA:

            Highlighting (once again) the deep divisions among the Silver Lake community, two fliers have been going around in response to tonight's vote on whether to extend Silver Lake Neighborhood Council term limits and push back voting from this year till 2010. Michael Ray Menjivar, co-chair of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council tells Curbed the council voted (it wasn't an unanimous vote) to try and extend limits because some council members were voted in as early as last December. (There are about 21 members total, he says.) Groups like the Committee To Save Silver Lake Reservoirs, (CSSLR) want the 2008 elections to go forward; they are circulating one flier. On the other side: Silver Lake residents like Laurie Pepper who want term limits extended; she is circulating a flier accusing the CSSLR of "attempting to overtake" the Neighborhood Council.

            Call this reason number 6.

            Tuesday, July 1, 2008

            Speaking of Starbucks, they're in trouble

            From the blog Calculated Risk:

            Press Release: Starbucks Increases Number of U.S. Company-Operated Store Closures as Part of Transformation Strategy

            Starbucks has announced ... a decision to close approximately 600 underperforming company-operated stores in the U.S. market.
            Starbucks now expects to open fewer than 200 new U.S. company-operated stores in fiscal 2009.
            In April Starbucks had announced plans to expand by about 400 net stores per year through 2011. This is a substantial cut from that plan.

            This is more bad news for strip mall owners ...

            Bad news for Downtown too?

            I've been meaning to write Part 2 pf my post on mass transit and Downtown, but with all of the truly terrible economic news coming out lately, I think I'm going to take a look at the current economic climate and how it may impact Downtown development. It's a good bet that in the short term we're going to take a hard hit, but in the long term expensive oil and the weak dollar may end up helping Downtown. More on this whenever I can find the time to sit down and write a long post...

            Update: 600 closed stores = 12,000 lost jobs. Yikes.