Thursday, May 21, 2009

Celeb sighting in front of my building

Tina Fey is really petite, maybe 5'4". Looks very young, very pretty. Steve Carrell is short--same height as Tina. Huge schnozz. Cuter on film than in person.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Donate Your Old DVDs and VHS Tapes

The PITA Factor: How much inconvenience are you willing to put up with in order to live Downtown?

My recent column on our one year anniversary Downtown and our realization that we will have to leave the neighborhood eventually for a more kid-friendly area got a big reaction. I got emails from an LAUSD rep and the publisher of Downtown News, as well as being featured in an editorial in Blogdowntown. Unfortunately, a lot of feedback seemed to be along the lines of "you must not really want to live downtown, because if you did, you'd be willing to send-your-kid-to-a-subpar-school/ship-your-kid-to-a-far-away-school/wrestle-with-the-LAUSD-to-reform-the-local-school." You get the idea.

My question for these people and really the entire Downtown community is this: how much hassle should people have to put up with in order to live down here? I know there isn't one answer to this question and that people have a range of tolerance, from the Bert Greens who moved down here when Main Street was crack alley to the people who wouldn't be caught dead even drinking at a Downtown bar, much less living down here.

But in the middle of these extremes are a lot of people like me, who enjoy being Downtown (Walkable neighborhood! Arts and culture! Getting to know your neighbors!) but find that the inconveniences eventually outweigh the advantages. Not having decent parks, not having good schools, being forced to drive outside of downtown because there aren't enough places locally to shop for basics--all of these things can start to add up.

The problem is that whenever these issues are brought up, Downtown boosters tend to kill the messenger. Living down here becomes equated to belonging to some sort of sooper-speshul and exclusive club reserved for the worthy. But the reality is that Downtown is competing with other communities for potential residents, and now that rents are dropping across the city, this competition has only gotten tougher. The average person isn't looking for a cause or crusade--they just want a place to live. And if living downtown becomes too much of a pain in the ass, they won't stay here.

This really came home for me during a discussion on Blogdowntown about whether local retail is lagging. The owner of Pussy and Pooch commented that people aren't supporting his business and instead are going to Petco. As one of those Petco shoppers, I pointed out that he doesn't carry the brand of cat food I need. His response? He lectured me on how terrible the food is and how I should be buying one of his brands instead. Which is completely missing the point. You don't carry what I want, so I'm not going to shop at your store. If you don't want to carry the brand, fine, but then don't lecture me about how I'm not supporting local businesses.

Downtown really needs to let go of the "true believer" mentality. If the neighborhood is going to continue to grow and become a stable and sustainable community, these issues need to be addressed. Rather than tossing tomatoes at people who point out these problems, start thinking about ways to solve them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New recruits

Downtown Los Angeles
May 16, 2009

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I was feeling annoyed with Downtown...and then I remembered why we left Silverlake

So we're still in the process of trying to find a daycare center for Nathan (something that has turned out to be a far bigger PITA than I expected). I've been striking out at places in and near downtown, so we decided to see what was available in Silverlake. MB contacted a place called Camelot Kids and was told a) they don't like getting phone calls--all contacts have to be made through their website, b) they had no openings for 2009 c) they had very few openings for 2010 and they had a selective admissions policy. Wo.

MB decided to check out their website and discovered the following gems:

* There's a "Conflict Resolution Word of the Month," described as follows:
Conflict resolution is something that we all work on, on a daily basis here at Camelot. We have brainstormed and come up with various ways on better educating our children about conflict-resolution. We have decided to showcase a different word each month that every class will discuss during one of their school days. We hope that by doing this they may have a better understanding of that word and can formulate different tools to apply to their everyday lives.

MB and I were guessing which words they used. He came up with FAIL and I came up with CRETIN and POSEUR.

* The website includes a lovingly detailed description of their toilet cleaning routine:
* Every urinal, commode, sink and even the floor is treated with Sanis Ultra clean, followed by a fresh water rinse.
* Water is vacuumed away along with all bacteria and soil, allowing floors to dry quickly.
* All fixtures are blown dry so your restroom is ready for immediate use.

Along with this, we have Suzanna our cleaning lady who comes twice a week and cleans each and every bathroom as well as all the other rooms in the facility. The toilets have also been fitted with an anti-bacterial solution that sanitizes after every flush.

We also have an air purifier in each class-room to remove airborne particles and hopefully reduce the spread of gems between the children.

*They offer classes in organic gardening, Bollywood and "Pixies, Fairies & Imps!"

My boss has a theory that modern liberals, in the absence of a meaningful spirituality, have taken to turning their children into fetish objects. I laughed when she told me, but now I think she's on to something.

Friday, May 15, 2009

May Art Walk photos

Old Banks

Old Bank District
May 10, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grand Central Market

Downtown Los Angeles
March 22, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

One Year Downtown

This week marks our one year anniversary living in Downtown Los Angeles. It's been a momentous year, both for our little family, and for the city, state and country at large. Back in July I wrote a two-part post on future of downtown (Part 1 and Part 2). Just ten months ago, I was complaining about California's 5.5% unemployment rate, little knowing that today we'd be looking at more than 11% unemployment and climbing and the prospect of the state completely running out of money.

Some of the predictions I made back then have come true: the condo market has indeed collapsed and people in the know are saying it may not return for another decade. Retail is floundering and the prospect of downtown attracting a big box retailer like Target is dimming as chains shut down stores and in some cases (Circuit City) are completely going out of business. A flood of rental units has come onto the market as a result of the condo collapse, with mixed results for downtown: fewer buyers with substantial ties to the community but more people living downtown overall. Also, rents are coming down, which is attracting a more diverse pool of people to the neighborhood. Downtown is also seeing the loss of local jobs as banks and government both take big hits.

Despite the ugly economic realities, Downtown has been undergoing an amazing transformation right before our eyes, one that is embodied by what has happened on 6th Street between Los Angeles and Broadway (and where we happen to live). The past year has seen the reopening of Cole's, the launch of the Association, and the launch of new restaurants/cafes, including Blu LA Cafe and the D-Town Burger Bar. The Cecil Hotel (on Main but close to 6th) and the Hayward have refurbished their retail spaces and are getting new tenants (or in the case of the Hayward, launching their own clothing store, Crack Gallery). There have been some casualties--626 Reserve has shut down, along with a handbag store located in the Hayward--but other retailers are moving in to replace them. Even Barry Shy's buildings are seeing a flurry of retail occupancy with a make-up school, clothing store and a coffee shop all opening in the SB Lofts.

With the new retail has been an influx of foot traffic on 6th Street, which has dramatically changed the block for the better. It feels safer, especially after dark. And it feels like a destination, a place people want to visit and move to. Considering the economic climate, the transformation of 6th Street has been truly remarkable. Add to this the fact that people in LA are still driving less even though gas prices have dropped to reasonable levels, and I think you are seeing a community that will thrive in the long term.

Unfortunately, that long term isn't likely to include our family. My husband and I absolutely love living downtown. We love being able to walk to work, to walk to our favorite restaurants and bars. The cultural environment is incredibly rich, and it's a tremendous pleasure to do things like walk to MOCA and attend plays at the theater on Spring Street. But we have Kidlo to think of, and Downtown isn't a viable place for our family in the long-term. The two big sticking points: parks and schools, especially the latter.

When you are raising a kid without a backyard, having access to a good park is absolutely essential, and Downtown just doesn't cut it. Pershing Square is a travesty and Grand Hope Park, while lovely and clean, is a fairly long walk for us and doesn't have a very good playground. I believe that Pershing Square will eventually get a playground, but it won't come soon enough for us. My son is old enough that some outdoor play every day is important and I can see that very soon the lack of a park is going to become a big problem.

The school situation is an even bigger problem. 9th Street Elementary is the only public school zoned for Downtown and they primarily serve homeless kids. According to Susana Benavidez, they are doing a great job for those students, but in terms of test scores they are ranked among the lowest in the city--not a surprise, given the unsettled lives these kids lead, but not a great fit for a kid who is achieving at grade level or better. The only other alternative is private school. As it turns out, there is a good private school in City West, the Pilgrim School. But we can't afford to shell out $15K-$20 a year for tuition, so that's not an option for us (I'd much rather save money to pay for Kidlo's college tuition).

The upshot of all this is that we are likely to be moving out of the neighborhood two or three years from now, when Kidlo is ready for kindergarten. It's really a damned shame because we love living a pedestrian lifestyle, we love having relationships with all the local merchants, and we love seeing the neighborhood grow and change before our eyes. It's something so rare in Los Angeles. But when you have a family you ultimately have to do what's best for the kid, and in this case, moving to a decent school district is what we need to do.

In the long term, will Downtown become a family-friendly (or at least friendlier) place? I think so. I just got back from a trip to New York City and was on the Upper East Side when the schools were letting out. The streets were clogged with families, kids in school uniforms and their younger siblings in carriages. Central Park's playgrounds were full of kids playing after school for a bit before walking home for dinner. I can see that happening in Downtown LA as well--eventually. But the eventually won't come soon enough for us.

At any rate, we plan to completely enjoy the neighborhood while we're still here. And I know when we leave we will definitely shed a tear.