Last night, I attended a small neighborhood safety meeting with a group of perhaps seven neighbors and our LAPD Senior Lead Officer.
It was held at a home of the new liason between the cops and the community, a woman who speaks up and speaks often on issues affecting her street such as lighting, crime and people who don’t retrieve their trash cans after pickup.
I usually avoid these meetings out of trepidation. The ones I’ve gone to at the local school or hospital are full of anger and irrationality.
Not last night, but on other nights, I heard:
“Someone put a stoplight on my street at Vanowen and Columbus and now we have more traffic!”
“They planted these oak trees along the curb to provide shade and now they have cars parked there with people smoking and drinking. I say cut down the trees!”
“I’m completely against providing transitional housing for homeless veterans in our neighborhood. They get enough free stuff!” says the 65-year-old woman who inherited a 4-bedroom house from her WWII veteran father and pays $1,300 a year in 1967 rated property taxes.
“These developers are putting up apartments everywhere. I didn’t move to Los Angeles to be surrounded by crowds!”
Yet, last night, the mood was polite. A well-fed group of rouged and perfumed women from the Eisenhower Era gathered in an early American style den where dainty finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off were served.
Period references, for example, to Mrs. Kravitz from “Bewitched” (1964-72) were understood and appreciated.
Our petite and pomaded Sr. Lead Officer, wore a dark navy uniform and a very big silver badge, holster, gun and unobtrusive body camera. She spoke intelligently and sometimes ironically about the insoluble issues plaguing our community.
She broke the news that we seven folks in the den were probably not going to solve 100,000 homeless on the streets of Los Angeles or 10 million illegal aliens inhabiting our state of 40 million. Our system is so broken, so wrecked, our state so adrift in chaos and bad governance, that India, Nigeria and Pakistan seem models of order and stability.
She admitted that even her own husband often speeds down side streets, even as she enforces the laws against speeding while on duty.
She told us that 80% of major crimes such as assaults, murders, rapes and burglaries now come from the homeless community. She said that because Van Nuys has the only jail in the San Fernando Valley, when convicts are released they stay local.
She talked about Proposition 47, a voter passed initiative from 2014, to reduce penalties for certain non-violent crimes that now makes it nearly impossible to lock up the heroin user who shoots up in front of the grammar school. It’s now a misdemeanor to inject narcotics.
She said the homeless issue, which has now supplanted the prostitution issue, is a bigger problem than just our community. She advised electing officials above Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who would be devoted to law and order.
Whether her inference spells Democrat or Republican she did not say, but she seems to have a distaste for taggers, gang bangers, felons, and mentally ill murderers roaming the streets.
Mayor Garbageciti are you listening?
The host who invited us then passed out sheets of paper on which were shown our individual streets and the addresses that every block captain is assigned.
“Mona Castor Doyle, you have Columbus. Serena Pimpel you have Kittridge. Becky Shlockhaus you have Noble from Lemay to Kittridge. Miranda Beagle-Pinscher you have Lemona. Maria Vacanegra you have Norwich. Sarah Choakhold you have Lemay!”
The methods advised were to go door to door and introduce oneself and say to each resident: “I am Zoe Bluddhound, your block captain and here is my LAPD letter and my contact information.”
Other methods of crime prevention were to send out group texts, say if you were home and heard an alarm, thus alerting your neighbors to a nearby illegality.
Living in Van Nuys requires a full time commitment to staying home and guarding your property 24/7.
Looking around the room I realized that everyone is trapped in their lives. These are women, now middle-aged or older, many of whom came here 30, 40 or 50 years ago and chose, for whatever reason, to stay here in Van Nuys. Some bought cheap, some inherited, nobody could afford to buy here now.
For some living here is an economical proposition when you bought your home for $35,000 or $126,000 and your yearly taxes are less than someone pays for the average ($2800 a month) two-bedroom rental in Los Angeles.
Yes, the environment beyond the little pockets of ranch houses is demoralizing, dirty, unsafe, ugly, violent, hideous, un-walkable and un-breathable. There are dumped couches, mattresses, fast food wrappers, cars and trucks speeding by, running red lights; there are grotesque billboards, car washes, parking lots, dog dumpings, discarded condoms and donut shops.
Nobody dines al fresco on Sepulveda Boulevard or drinks wine at an outdoor café on Van Nuys Boulevard. The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, alive like a corpse, ensures that no progress is ever made on any community improvement and that all members are backstabbing one another.
So the community meeting, between neighbors, low-key and humble, without ego, is seemingly a better way to self-govern.
Last night, under the spiritual leadership of the Senior Lead Officer, an attempt at normality, order, safety, reassurance and camaraderie was attempted.
This is not Paris or Zurich or even Cleveland Heights. But we are not yet Aleppo.