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.

Bike to Work Week, Ventura County Style

This week, Ventura County celebrated Bike to Work Week. Astute readers will note that Bike to Work Week has passed, ably serving to illustrate two important points. The first is most important: Bike to Work Week is akin to approaching laughter or love. The chance to bike to work (or anywhere else) should be recognized, and if possible undertaken, every day of the year.

Nonetheless, the Ventura County Transportation Commission and Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, the organizations behind the week, should be applauded for bringing the bicycle to our attention. In the weeks leading up, both organizations provided interesting tips and tidbits of information about bike commuting. It may surprise you to know that an estimated 70 percent of vehicle trips are less than two miles. It may not surprise you that, "Bikes are an environmentally friendly means of transportation, cutting emissions from tail pipes, evaporation, gasoline pumping and oil refining, in addition to producing zero carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases. Plus, they don't contribute to noise pollution."

I'm guessing someone at the Air Pollution Control District is paid by the word, or perhaps also distributes their media releases on Mars.

San Pedro's Ports O'Call: The Theme Ends, Then What?

The Ports O'Call retail and restaurant complex is at the foot of the bluff that overlooks the harbor in San Pedro. When commercial fishing declined in the 1950s and the sardine and tuna canneries closed, the Port of Los Angeles in 1963 tried to re-imagine what 30-acres of disused wharves might become. This being Los Angeles, they became a theme park for shoppers.

The theme was a New England fishing village, since what could be less authentic to San Pedro (with its Slavs, Croats, Scandinavians, and Latinos) than a simulation of Cape Cod. The wood-shingled buildings of Ports O'Call were set among meandering cobblestone walks occasionally shaded by tropical bougainvilleas. The walks meandered to a Polynesian-theme restaurant, since Tikis and drinks with parasols are just as authentic as all the rest.

Ports O'Call today isn't much of a tourist attraction. The art galleries and nautical antique stores are gone. Some of the buildings have stood empty for years, their mullioned windows papered over. When the developer of a waterfront hotel in nearby city of Redondo Beach wanted to remind city officials of the ugly alternative to his project, he warned them that "otherwise you're gonna have a Ports O' Call here."

Echo Park's Lake Began as a Drinking Water Reservoir

Echo Park, circa 1895. Photo by W. H. Fletcher, courtesy of the W.H. Fletcher Collection, California State Library.

You shouldn't sip from it today, but in 1870, the recently completed Echo Park Lake was the centerpiece of a promising new drinking water system. Known then simply as Reservoir No. 4, the lake -- now part of the city's flood control system -- sat in what was then the city's undeveloped west side, and property owners hoped it would spur real estate development there by providing the hilly area's first ready supply of domestic water.

Reservoir No. 4 sat at the bottom of Arroyo de Los Reyes, a ravine carpeted in chaparral and usually dry except during rainstorms. To create the artificial lake, the Los Angeles Canal and Reservoir Company built a 20-foot earthen dam across the arroyo, dug a long, serpentine canal between the Los Angeles River and the reservoir site, and then flooded the ravine with the diverted water. Once filled, the reservoir became the largest body of water within the Los Angeles city limits.

Mansionization Returns: The Too Big House and the Image of L.A.

The inflated homes of the currently well to do are back -- a new wave of the hulking McMansions that led Beverly Hills in 2004 to regulate teardowns and their replacement by oversize confections named "Persian Palaces."

Other cities followed with similar anti-mansionization ordinances (including even my tract house suburb of Lakewood) to limit how many square feet of house can be built on the typical 5,000-square-foot lot. But generous "lot coverage" rules and other loopholes -- particularly within Los Angeles city limits -- have been waiting for the lifting of the recession. Big houses in neighborhoods of not so big have begun to hit the market in Hollywood, the Valley, and West L.A.

According to Curbed LA:

It's the same story - cash-rich developers buying up every available property and replacing them with the largest boxes they can possibly build under current codes. Most residents aren't complaining too loudly about the style of these houses, at least not with the same undertones of prejudice there were in Beverly Hills a few years ago. These larger houses often don't even stray from popular standards of contemporary design. It's the scale and mass that has everyone so upset. Some are unhappy because they feel the new houses are ruining the character of their neighborhoods, others because they're losing their privacy. But they all have one thing in common--they are very angry.

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