L.A.'s Notorious Drug Dealer, 'Freeway' Rick Ross, is Moving On

Rick Ross.
| Photo: Courtesy Patrick Bastien Photography

Rick Ross, multitasker, is doing a million things: film projects, recording projects, speaking on college campuses, directing, acting, teaching, all of which he ticks off as we have breakfast in a low-profile Belizean restaurant on the west side of Inglewood. Ross doesn't look the part of a dealmaker. He's wiry and on the slight side, with a shaved head and thick beard. He's laid back, dressed this morning in shorts and tennis shoes; he smiles reflexively. He drives a beat-up car, one that makes my arthritic Chrysler (yes, I still have it -- long story) look newly minted. But his most valuable asset is a distinct intensity that never shuts off; he's restless even when he's sitting still, and there's a perpetual glow in his eyes that borders on a burn. He also has an utter lack of ambiguity about all of his work that is both impressive and a bit scary.

At one point, I ask him idly if he has any pets; he said in his recently published memoir that he grew up in small-town Texas with a beloved dog. It seemed like a strong bond, one that he hated to break when he moved west. "No dogs," he says. "Why? You can't put them to work." He's not kidding.

I should have known. For those of you don't know or don't remember, Rick Ross in a former life was the crack cocaine kingpin of Los Angeles whose work, if you will, extended well beyond Southern California. Known as the notorious "Freeway Rick," Ross almost singlehandedly introduced the crack epidemic in the '80s, a phenomena that devastated black communities and made him and his cohorts very rich. Ross was so notorious, law enforcement formed a task force devoted to bringing him down, but it proved difficult.

The Lost Towns of Los Angeles County

Though paper towns like Sunset and Morocco failed, later developments like Westwood and Beverly Hills, respectively, succeeded in their place. 1888 map courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Entire towns have vanished from the Southland.

The street grid of Morocco once stretched across the same gilded real estate occupied today by Beverly Hills. The ruins of a town named Minneapolis lie beneath Atwater Village. The independent city of Tropico melded with Glendale.

In an earlier age, geographic names were more ephemeral -- especially during boom years like those of the 1880s. Maps from that period, like this 1888 official county map, read as a catalog of failed real estate developments. Kenilworth. Studebaker. Nadeau. Gallatin. Clearwater.

Many of these settlements were never more than paper towns, existing only in the drawers of the county recorder's office. Between 1884 and 1888, developers platted more than 100 towns in Los Angeles County -- some on the fringes of established cities like Los Angeles and Pasadena, others on the open plains of former ranchos. Lots changed hands and fortunes were made, but few of the towns actually made an imprint on the landscape by the time boom turned to bust. (A few that succeeded: Burbank, Inglewood, Glendale.)

Kenilworth, Minneapolis, Tropico: these names are largely unfamiliar to Angelenos today. 1888 map courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In some cases, it's only the names that have perished; the towns survive to this day under new identities. That's true of Marian, which we know today as Reseda. The town of Ivanhoe became Silver Lake. Toluca was first renamed Lankershim, then North Hollywood.

There are ghost cities, too -- once-independent communities swallowed up by larger municipalities, often losing their identities in the process. Most have heard of Eagle Rock, Hollywood, San Pedro, Sawtelle, Venice, Watts, and Wilmington -- all independent cities that eventually consolidated with Los Angeles. But there was also Hyde Park, which the metropolis absorbed in 1923, followed by Barnes City in 1927. Long Beach merged with Belmont Heights in 1909. And the city of Tropico, which incorporated in 1911, became part of Glendale in 1918.

A series of posts here will examine the history of some of these lost towns. Have a favorite? Nominate it in the comments below.

In Minnesota, 'California Dreaming' on the Prairie

I spent most of the other week on the prairie south of Minneapolis in Northfield, a college town on the Cannon River. It had been a hard winter there. Spring had only been a suggestion until the Tuesday I arrived when temperatures began to climb toward 80. I was continually thanked, in an excess of Minnesotan friendliness, for having brought the good weather with me from Los Angeles (where it was grayer and colder).

I came to Northfield to meet with students and faculty members of Carleton College and to do a reading from my memoir about growing up in a place and time vastly different from the rolling, soybean-and-corn countryside of Rice and Dakota counties. The unplowed land around Carleton College was uniformly green. Here in Lakewood, Calif., lawn after lawn has gone September brown from drought and a certain amount of disregard.

How Did Los Angeles Lose its Not-So-Central Park?

This avenue of pepper trees was one of Central Park's charms. Circa 1890 photograph courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

This Central Park was anything but. When a syndicate of real estate investors led by architect Ezra F. Kysor subdivided 80 acres of orchards in 1887 -- reserving a ten-acre block as parkland -- their new Central Park Tract lay beyond the Los Angeles city limits in what was then the rural farming district of Vernon. Still, "Central Park" had a certain ring to it. The park did abut Central Avenue (its namesake) and that thoroughfare's electric trolley line. Its name also traded on the cachet of Manhattan's better-known Central Park, an Olmsted-designed masterpiece of landscape architecture.

L.A.'s Central Park -- located on the west side of Central Avenue between 49th and 50th streets -- was decidedly more modest. Its design wisely incorporated the mature fruit trees already growing on the site, adding beds of flowers, ornamental palms, and a picturesque allée of pepper trees through the center of the park. As Kysor's tract and neighboring developments merged to form the suburban boomtown of Vernondale, Central Park quickly became a favorite outdoor retreat among the area's new residents. Picnickers lunched beneath the park's orange and lemon trees. Children played on swings suspended from the pepper trees' branches, while older parkgoers rested on benches placed in their shade. The Times hailed it as the "pride of the whole Vernon countryside."

Always Hope in Dark Times: Shedding Light on the Isla Vista Tragedy

The news from Santa Barbara is lunatic and terrible. A killer and six young lives lost. Ruin and insanity. Sorrow that will never leave. You know the details. As I write this they pour forth in a black tide. I won't add more here. Ours is an information age. Every nuance will be examined and probed. In instances like this, the heart grows heavier and heavier.

In these dark moments we need to see the light.

It is easy to be pessimistic. This killing of six University of California, Santa Barbara students is not the first mass killing of college students. As we all know, killers have taken the lives of students of all ages. We wake to days that cannot be scrubbed clean. The world seems to be sliding with exponential speed into a quagmire of darkness and inhumanity: terrorism, kidnapping, murder, corporate fraud and self-interest, near-children rampaging with guns. This is the short list.

Here is what we need to know. We need to know that the darkness, while it garners instantaneous global headlines, is the exception. That, though the clamor and flash of mayhem often drowns out the good side of this world, most of the world isn't mayhem. Yes, it's simplistic -- and the pessimists and the naysayers will certainly take me to task -- but I believe it's true. In this world, vast harbors of conscience and compassion exist, within communities, between friends, within families, among strangers: so many instances where we are as good and right as mankind can be given our imperfections.

LAUSD School Board Race: The George McKenna Story Continues

George McKenna is the most reluctant candidate for public office that I've ever met. I think he's also the most qualified.

Those things seem to correlate -- the more principled a person, the less likely he or she get into electoral politics. This has been especially true in black communities, where a dwindling number of seats in increasingly Latino districts has meant that black candidates are handpicked and predetermined by sitting black electeds who are anxious about maintaining continuity or their own power, often both. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the fight currently being waged for the seat in District 1, the one significantly black district left in Los Angeles Unified that stretches from deep South Central to the Westside.

Normally school board races are relatively sleepy affairs, but not this time. And it has a twist: The intense competition is revealing not just the increased stakes of any race involving black candidates these days, but a rare movement within the black community itself to challenge its own conventional political wisdom of the current kingmaker running a candidate who is less than ideal, but who's been anointed to be next in line. Some folks have always grumbled about this dynamic, but it tends to be way things are done. But this time people aren't keeping quiet.

What's in a Name? The Origins of Lincoln Heights' Ela Park

Ela Park is the oval-shaped lawn in the foreground of this 1911 photo, courtesy of the USC Libraries - California Historical Society Collection.

Its three-letter name is almost as tiny as 0.38-acre park itself, but "Ela" -- as in Ela Park of Lincoln Heights -- is actually an acronym with big historical meaning.

The park first took shape around 1877 on the outskirts of what was then East Los Angeles, a booming streetcar suburb connected to the rest of the city by a cable car line. Foreshadowing changes to come, the park's creator, developer H.M. Johnston, thought he could improve upon the town's name.

"The initials of East Los Angeles suggested the concise and poetic designation of 'Ela' for that beautiful suburb," he told the Los Angeles Herald.

So Johnston built an oval-shaped racetrack nestled against the Repetto Hills and named it Ela Park.

2 Words to Put Local Government Decisions in the Shadows

Anonymous Negotiation
| Photo coutesy of MS Images

California wants local governments to be accountable and has over 300 laws and administrative regulations that determine how city and county officials are to conduct the public's business. There's one bundle of law and regulation that directly touches the politics of everyday life in your city and mine: the Ralph M. Brown Act of 1953 (now called just the Brown Act).

The Brown Act is considerably more than California's "open meeting" law. The Brown Act is a hard test applied almost daily to the behavior of the men and women who represent us. The test's first failure, of course, is that the Brown Act doesn't apply to the Governor's office or to the state Legislature. And the related Bagley-Keene Act of 1967 (which does apply to the Legislature and its boards and commissions) has done nothing to reform the "behind closed doors" style of governance that characterizes Sacramento decision making.

The Brown Act isn't easy to accommodate to the very human dynamics of local government. Pure transparency and messy politics are incompatible. Reasonable compromise requires discussing what can be compromised without appearing in public to be compromising. City councils, special district boards, and agency commissions tug in the direction of self-protection and expediency leading toward Brown Act violations. Their legal counsel tugs them back, if only to the edge of the right side of the law.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) has a bill in the works, already approved by Assembly Local Government Committee on a five-to-one vote, that would make the Brown Act two words shorter and a lot easier to get around.

With No Pro Football, L.A. City Hall Needs a Winning Play Downtown

Not In Play
| Photo coutesy of MS Images

Downtown Los Angeles was used to being kicked around. But like the wimpy kid who grows up to be an All American, downtown has beefed up as place to live and work and become a destination for the kind of entertainment that downtowns are there to provide. City Hall -- for reasons both admirable and self-serving -- has sought to cash in.

What downtown Los Angeles doesn't have, say the consultants that City Hall pays to say the obvious, is enough hotel rooms to justify building a bigger and better convention center ... or was it build a bigger convention center to justify more hotel rooms?

This conundrum had an answer in the scheme of the Anschutz Entertainment Group to bring pro football to the neighborhood of L.A. Live, AEG's sports and nightlife complex. AEG offered to modernize and operate the underperforming convention center (via some peculiar fiscal magic) as well as build the Farmers Field stadium.

Remembrance and Ritual: The Manzanar Pilgrimage Experience

Buddhist and Christian ministers say prayers and chants during the interfaith service at the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.
| Photo: Elson Trinidad

They came from miles around. From San Diego, from the San Gabriel Valley, from Sacramento, even Seattle. They came here like they have every last weekend of April, to convene in this special, even sacred, spot in the desert.

They were for the 45th annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, to pay homage to the 10,000 Japanese Americans who were uprooted from their everyday lives in Southern California and elsewhere, to live here in the seemingly remote expanse of the Owens Valley, against their will, from 1942 to 1945.

The pilgrims were surviving former internees themselves, who were here as babies, children, teens and young adults, and are now senior citizens. They were family members of former internees, they were fellow Japanese Americans, they were college students, human rights activists, history buffs, Eastern Sierra locals, and even punk icon Henry Rollins.