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the skunks of los feliz
When Coldwell Banker moved to their swanky new digs on Hillhurst, they left their old building just across the street a sad, empty shell.

It collected dust for almost a year, a vacant storefront blighting the view from the Alcove's patio. And then, miracle of miracles, someone bought the thing and started sprucing it up: new landscaping, a river rock facade, tastefully bland wall art, but, somewhat mysteriously, no sign proclaiming the new occupant, no banner shouting "COMING SOON: THE NAIL HUT", or whatever.

Wild speculation ensued. Was it a tanning salon? A cosmetic dentistry concern? Perhaps a law office (shudder)?

Well, last week a brightly lit sign finally appeared, and now we know who has come to dwell amongst us. Now it can be revealed just who has taken up residence in the House on Hillhurst:

The Church of Scientology.

They've come to clear Los Feliz.

Independent Spirit Awards swag:
- Plantronics cellphone headset
- Titanium Turbo razor
- 3 months of free Netflix rentals
- 1 Movielink free movie download
- 1 Turning Leaf vineyards promo CD
- 1 bottle Turning Leaf Cab Sauv
- the Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader
- Target change purse
- Altoids sour apple gum
- Vera Bradley makeup bag
- Mario Russo spa soap
- 1 bag of Kiehl's skin care products
- $75 L.A. Eyeworks coupon
- 1 Ty Winged Bear Beanie Baby
- Spiffer manicure pen
- Rene Perry promo notepad
- 1 pair Jamie Kreitman flip-flops
- 4 Bravo promo wine glass charms
- Grey Goose Vodka gimme cap
- 1 copy of Entertainment Weekly
- 1 box of Pop-Secret Homestyle Popcorn
- 1 DirecTV promotional iPod case
- 1 IFC logo sports bag

The proposed Red Line extension has cleared the first major hurdle it it's path, with the approval by the MTA board of Councilmember Tom Labonge's motion to lift the ban on subway tunneling through methane fields.

As reported via email by Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition, the board voted 11-2 to move forward on efforts to lobby Washington to reverse the ban, with Michael Antonovich and Frank Roberts the two holdouts.

This thing is by no means in the bag, but it is heartening to know that there exists a strong, countywide consensus that a westward expansion of subway service should be a focus of future transit planning.
Alarmist headline of the day: "Blood-Sucking Parasites Threaten Southland Food Supply!"

Dear god, no! Blood-sucking parasites? Like giant vampire bats? Or genetically modified leeches that are immune to salt? Or even subsidy-dependent farmers?

Give it to us straight, NBC4!

Are we in danger of starving? Is Ralph's going to run out of Ding-Dongs? Should I begin hoarding food, stashing it my pantry next to the duct tape and bottled water?

Well, no.

Actually, the "blood-sucking parasites" are tiny mites that feed on honey bees.

Whew! Just mites, huh? From Java? Well, that's not so bad. Unless....

Those mites aren't Muslims, are they?
Why did County Supervisor Michael Antonovich vote to kill a proposed extension of the Red Line down Wilshire to Santa Monica?

Let's study the clues and try to discern the ends to his Machiavellian means:

1) First, he votes against the extremely preliminary step of studying the Red Line extension, denouncing subways as benefitting "a handful of vested interests".

2) Next, under the guise of getting tough with the MTA, he demands an up or down vote on the Gold Line's San Gabriel Valley extension. He does this with the knowledge that the MTA will never place the SGV project at the top of it's priorities list.

3) His unreasonable demands kill the Gold Line extension for another generation, as other MTA projects are approved and pipelined in it's stead.

One can only assume that Mr. Antonovich, a seasoned politician, knows what he's about. Granted, he may just be another crazy right-winger, but I don't think so. He's simply a big-guvmint hatin' Republican who wants to kill two big-ticket transit projects with one stone.

Which raises the question: What's a transit obstructionist doing on the MTA board in the first place?
Actually, the big cat in Simi Valley wasn't a lion after all. It was, even more surreally, a bengal tiger.
The Doctor is out.

Hunter S. Thompson, the great American journalist and hedonist, has checked himself out of this plane of existence, and gone on to the ultimate ether trip.

This is one of those deaths that is shocking, not in its occurrence, but in its method. I never thought HST would directly kill himself. I mean, sure, he had been killing himself for the last forty years or so, indulging at every turn the self-destructive streak that was the well-spring of his inimitable, laceratingly funny style.

But to actually put one of his beloved guns to his head and pull the trigger? Never would have guessed it.

Hunter S. Thompson was always giving the finger to those he aptly called the "swine", the smug white bastards in suits who had the game fixed, the books cooked, and the shysters on standby at all times. He railed against a country (and a universe) that was intrinsically corrupt, a closed system that was rigged against you from the start. His was not a hopeful philosophy.

Which is why I enjoyed his work so much, especially during that period in college that I was a journalism major. His irrationality seemed to me to be a rational reaction to an insane world. His writing was a big "fuck you" to the man, his stand-in for the universe, God, death, the uncaring, unfeeling void.

He gave me the idea that in the end you might lose (and all mortals do, eventually), but at least you can go with your dignity intact, middle fingers raised and a heartfelt "kiss my ass" falling from your lips.

Whether HST felt that he was going out on his terms by killing himself, whether there was a unyielding depression, or a terminal illness, this was, apparently, his final response to an insane world.

Hopefully, he has achieved some kind of peace, and a respite from a world where "all pigs are upwardly mobile."

That was a pretty good thunderstorm we had last night. It takes a lot to wake me up (I've even slept through earthquakes), but Los Feliz took a direct lightning hit last night, so close that it generated a peal of thunder strong enough to shake the building and set off car alarms.

As we lay there in bed, listening to the storm, I felt a twinge of sympathy for the poor bastards who had to schlep out into the rain to kill their alarms. The moment quickly passed when I thought of all the times that an unattended, endlessly ringing car alarm kept me awake throughout the night.

Serves them right, I thought, as I fell back into a sweet, rain-soothed sleep.
The lion sleeps tonight - in Simi Valley.

You've got to hand it to Councilmember Tom LaBonge: he probably knew his Red Line expansion plan was unlikely to be approved by the MTA's Planning Committee, but he took the issue up before them anyway.

Unsurprisingly, the committee sent him packing, hat in hand. However, the good Councilmember can claim a moral victory by picking up support from some unexpected quarters - namely, the Beverly Hills establishment, and (most surprising to me) Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Heck, even Mayor Hahn, who rarely deigns to attend to MTA matters that do not involve a ribbon-cutting, attended the meeting to lend his support.

And so, undaunted and unbowed, LaBonge, et al. will schlep their Powerpoint slides and population density reports to the full MTA board next week, hoping to scrape together enough votes to keep the dream of a subway line to the beach alive.

Speaking of the Red Line: For those of you who have never taken a ride on LA's billion dollar subway system, the MTA has posted a virtual tour of the line here. It's a great way for Angelenos to experience mass transit, without the hassle of having to come into contact with actual mass transit users.

Chief William Bratton has announced much-needed changes to LAPD's use of deadly force policy, forbidding police officers from firing into moving vehicles unless threatened by a weapon other than the vehicle itself.

Sounds good. Problem solved. Right?

Well, no. Unfortunately, the new policy does nothing to address the fact that a 13 year-old in a stolen car was out leading police on a high speed chase at 4 in the morning, and then decided it might be a good idea to ram a police car.

Did he deserve to die for that? Hell, no. He needed a good ass-whipping from his dad. The fact that he never got one is evidence of the failure of another, unofficial city policy: unconscionable parental neglect.

We can slap the cops on the wrist everytime someone dies in a police shooting, but as long as children are left to raise themselves on the streets of LA, as long as this city fails at-risk kids, there will be more death, and more than enough blame to go around.

Update: I've just been informed that the teenage victim of this police shooting had actually lost his father to cancer, thereby precluding him from receiving the above-mentioned "ass-whipping". Duly noted, but my premise still stands: somebody was responsible for this child, and that somebody was asleep at the switch.

That doesn't mean that the LAPD doesn't sometimes act like vicious thugs. They do. But their job is not to raise children. It's to enforce the law.
You might think of Atwater Village (if you think of Atwater Village at all) as a peacefully gentrifying neighborhood of modest homes, as the home of the most heinous Best Buy parking lot in L.A., or even as the site of the Beastie Boys' studio, circa Check Your Head.

Yes, you might think all of these things, but then, you would be missing the story of the real Atwater Village, the story of a neighborhood terrorized by a drunken tamale vendor.

For all the gory details, please follow this link to the Martini Republic. But be warned: this is disturbing stuff, an uncensored glimpse into the tortured soul of a neighborhood under siege.
Coyote sighting of the day:

10:21 p.m. on 2/15/04

One animal at the corner of Franklin and Kenmore. This is the earliest I've ever seen one of these varmints on a city street.
L.A. haiku:

A police chopper:
endless circling overhead
rattles my windows.

Someone lined the sidewalks along Vermont and Greenwood Place with a chalk-work ode to bicoastal love. NYC 2 LA indeed.

Call me a sap, but I had to take some pics before the coming rain washes this very ephemeral monument to love into the gutter.

More pics at right.

Last night, Cami and I took her SAG card for a walk down to the Los Feliz 3 for a free movie. It was an excellent opportunity to slay two birds with one stone: we've been wanting to see The Aviator for some time, and I've been looking forward to beholding the sure-to-be miraculous results of the 3's recent renovation.

First, the movie.

It was good, but the film's lavish re-creation of Los Angeles past was what kept me riveted. Hollywood Boulevard and Grauman's Chinese thronged with crowds. The Cocoanut Grove (seen here, on this excellent LA architecture site, in it's final incarnation). Archival footage of the Spruce Goose being towed from Culver City to the harbor. Red Cars. The Sowden House.

I do have one beef, however. During the night flight sequence, which is set in the 30's, Hughes and Katherine Hepburn fly over a LA cityscape which is clearly criss-crossed by freeways that did not exist until 1940. Oh, well.

Next, the renovation.

Hmm. Aside from a possibly fresh coat of paint, the only signs of a renovation that we could discern were the seats. I believe they are recycled seats from another theater, but at least they are all now functional.

Still no cooler for the water bottles.

As we walked home after the movie, we got a taste of a thoroughly modern LA phenomenon, as a circling swarm of news helicopters followed a police pursuit down Los Feliz Boulevard. Don't know why I keep count, but that's the third one I've seen firsthand. For some reason, they're more exciting on TV.

What a weird, great city. Goddamnit, I'm glad to be here.
Attention hardcore transit geeks:

The MTA will be considering Councilmember LaBonge's proposal to reverse the subway-tunneling ban in Los Angeles County at their next Planning and Programming committee meeting. For those interested in voicing their support (or for you flat-earthers who want to keep the ban), the meeting will be held February 16 at 1 p.m., at the MTA's palace, I mean to say, the MTA's highly functional, and not at all lavish, headquarters. The address is One Gateway Plaza at Union Station.

This will be Zev Yaroslavsky's chance to try to kill the proposal outright (which runs counter to the MTA "reform" legislation that he himself authored), so the potential for drama does exist, however slight.

Anyone who has ever enjoyed the unique atmosphere of the Dresden Room will be saddened (as I was) to hear of the passing of Carl Ferraro, the Los Feliz institution's long-time owner.

What can I say about the Dresden, and by extension, Carl (since I believe that bars and restaurants are true reflections of their owner's spirit), that hasn't been said before?

I guess I can just relay the fact that Cami and I had one of our earliest dates there, and that we continue to go back again and again, to see Marty and Elayne, to show off the place to out-of-towners, and sometimes just to soak up the old Hollywood ambience that still lives within those cork-covered walls.

For a far more eloquent appreciation, click here for the Martini Republic's (who broke the news to me) take on our neighborhood's loss.

I guess I have to stop with the "soak the rich" rhetoric I've been slinging at Beverly Hills for blocking expansion of the Red Line. Don't get me wrong, it's been fun to thumb my nose at the ten car garage set, but perhaps it's time to reach out to those who dwell west of La Cienega.

Why, you ask?

It seems that Beverly Hills officials have taken a meeting (at their request!) with Councilmember Tom LaBonge, in order to discuss his plan to lift Rep. Waxman's and Supervisor Yaroslavsky's respective bans on extending the Red Line.

Does Tom LaBonge have the juice to take on two of the Southland's heaviest political hitters and push his plan through? It's questionable, since he's term-limited and they are not. All they've got to do is fend him off for another four years or so.

Of course, having Bev Hills money on board helps.
Police station fired on by gunmen: ho-hum, another day in Iraq.

Except that this attack occurred in LA, at the 77th Street station. Parts of the city are becoming free-fire zones, burglars loot the Westside at their leisure (though the LAPD sez "don't worry, things are worse in Encino"), and we're probably not too far removed from the kind of kidnappings for ransom that plague Mexico City.

City officials shrug their shoulders and say, "Hey, it's not our fault", and to an extent they're right. Bush's war on government (starve it by cutting taxes, running up huge deficits, then slashing government programs in the name of "deficit reduction") have left cities with empty pockets and overwhelmed bureaucracies.

That said, public safety should never be sacrificed to cost-cutting measures. Lawlessness kills cities (Detroit, anyone?). People who can, will leave. Those who can't leave will be stuck behind, forced to endure ever-worsening social conditions, as LA spirals into ungovernable chaos.

I know, I know, it all sounds terribly Mike Davis. But when police stations are attacked with impunity, you can be sure that the rotten underpinnings of our city are starting to give way.


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