On the west side of Columbus Avenue, north of Hamlin, there are several large (25,000-30,000 sq. ft) properties that recently went up for sale. These comprise an estate owned by one family, who now, I understand, mostly lives in Oregon. They purchased these homes and their large lots many years ago when Van Nuys was a semi-rural area with orange groves, horses… and smiling blonde children whose idea of gang activity was playing cops and robbers.

The homes were rented out. One of the rentals is kept in deplorable condition, but ironically it does not belong to the Oregon landlord’s family, but is owned by someone else. A tenant family and their abandoned cars, shopping carts, trash and litter make this a neighborhood eyesore.

The four or five large pieces add up to about 60-70,000 square feet. That is enough to build 12-14 new homes. The problem is that one developer will not buy all of it. It will be bought & built piecemeal and contribute to the degeneration– not improvement– of this area.

Columbus Avenue, north of Hamlin, is a strange area in transition. These large lots will no doubt be converted into cheap and dense Casa Garageas, with cul-de-sacs lined by treeless, ugly, two story high stucco slum houses. The front lawns will be smaller than the SUV’s on the driveways.

The neighborhood zoning laws allow this, and at some future, flourescent lit community meeting, a paunchy, tired attorney will step in front of the local board, and propose a sub-division where one property will be sliced into six. The English spoken meeting will be attended by almost no locals, as the community involvement in this area is zilch.

The liberal in me cries out, “Why doesn’t our city create a little environmentally sensitive little community of walking areas surrounded by smaller homes connected by paths? Like they would in Seattle, Pasadena, or Venice?”

Then the conservative in me observes, with cold empricism, the police helicopters overhead, the garbage filled shopping carts, the vicious barking dogs behind steel gates, the illegal aliens on the corner. I can smell the Vietnamese and Chinese food in the air–industrial food production stink that wiped out the aroma of flowering orange blossoms and jasmine. A cop car cruises down here twice a year, but taggers visit weekly.

And then I think I know why people moved to the Simi Valley or Santa Claritia. Exhaustion sets in.

4 thoughts on “Columbus Avenue, north of Hamlin.

  1. Interesting thread here. On the message board at BackStage.com, there’s an “LA neighborhoods” thread where folks are debating the pros and cons of areas such as Van Nuys. Opinions on VN seem to range from “it’s okay” to “it’s a dump.” What I’ve gleaned is that the okay/dump factor depends largely on where you are in VN.

    I’ll be moving to LA this summer (from Oregon, as it were) and am still not sure where I’ll live. I visited LA last month but spent almost all my time on the Westside — the only place I went to in the Valley was North Hollywood. Are there a lot of showbiz types in VN? Would a single, hetero, 30-something guy feel at home there, or is it mostly couples and families? (That’s one of my beefs about Portland, actually.) Some have suggested Sherman Oaks and Studio City, which are in the same general area.

    I’m guessing I’ll visit LA one more time before I move, so feel free to throw some recommendations my way if you’re so inclined. I’m not sure yet what my budget will be, but I’m guessing it’ll be fairly tight at first.

    Oh, yes — and how’s the commute to Hollywood and the various studios from VN? And aren’t there some studios there as well?

    I’ve learned a lot from this blog. Thanks for keeping it going.


  2. L.A. needs to revamp its zoning ordinance too. Did you know you can build a 45-foot house anywhere in a single-family residence zone ?

    Not entirely true. True in general but very much of LA has neighborhood overlays that address this and other issues like setbacks and curbcuts.

    Your comments about world class city syndrome are spot on. LA is so lucky the Valley didn’t break away. They’d be in such deep doo-doo by now. The SFValley is more a cash cow than ever.

    I’m of the “broken window” school. Big zoning violations come from failure to enforce small issues like you mention. With modern aerial photography there must be billions in noninvasive violations that could be written up. Top of my list; garage conversions. This is a public health, school funding, parking, congestion, crime, exploitation issue. On a similar note, simple auto registration and proof of insurance enforcement could save insured drivers billions and many hours in traffic.


  3. One of the first city departments to suffer when a city gets bigger is its planning department. Large cities lose sight of the changes in the neighborhoods it governs. Small cities in contrast tend to have Code Enforcement officers out and about hunting down zoning ordinance violations. This is the primary way Planning departments in small to mid-size can keep tabs of ugly and keep it away. Another reason is exclusive to planning as the larger city’s discussion of the future turn radically away from the minutiae of zoning ordinance with its setback requirements and such, and into more macro flying-cars-sexy-future- renderings form of planning. In planning parlance; it’s current v. advanced planning.

    L.A.’s planning department has been bad for sometime and the new Planning director and the Mayor are enamored by the sexiness of long-range macro-planning.

    My neighborhood in the Valley is chockful of code violations since the housing bubble created a boom in refinanced-driven “improvements”. Being primarily an immigrant enclave, no one is aware that such a process exist. Application fees are also deterrent with simple applications (repaints, reroofs, etc.) running into the hundreds to thousands of dollars. Most of all I guess is that NO ONE would want to voluntarily subject themselves to the mercy of an L.A. agency.

    L.A. can gain more money per Code Enforcement officer than having a fleet of Parking Enforcement officers slapping $40 tickets. A cited code violation can ring up thousands of dollars per day that the violation remains untreated. L.A. needs to revamp its zoning ordinance too. Did you know you can build a 45-foot house anywhere in a single-family residence zone ? That’s stupid. Last but not least, the city needs to adopt a separate zoning ordinance and general plan for the Valley which recognizes the god-damn obvious fact that the city’s cash cow is fast becoming like, well, Van Nuys.


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