On the west side of Columbus Avenue, between Hamlin and Kittridge, are some six contiguous properties that were subdivided in the 1930s and, until this year, remained largely undeveloped beyond their original single-family homes.

Their combined total square land footage is 156,035 SF with the properties ranging in size from 19,931 SF to 27,783 SF.

The backs of all these properties face the rapidly redeveloping Sepulveda Boulevard corridor with its new white apartment towers looming overhead into the old ranches.

In all the years I’ve lived here (since 2000) Columbus Avenue was a blight, a ragged and torn sleeve on the arm of neatly pressed neighborhood. No sewers, no sidewalks, and helicopters that flew overhead weekly.

There was the drug house, the abandoned house, the house that stored 100 inoperable vehicles in back. There was the foreclosed house, and the house that put up a paved parking lot in its backyard.

There was the vagrant who moved into an empty house and put a moat of 50 trash filled shopping baskets around the property to keep out intruders. There was a completely empty property whose owner was happy to hang on because his taxes were $400 a year and his house with broken windows was worth $500,000+.  

There was another property with a mad dog that sometimes went out and menaced other dogs and people and was kept by undocumented immigrants who ran a nursery and installed artificial grass . That is still going on.

All of these semi-criminal and wholly-criminal activities were reported to law enforcement, and eventually some of them found their way into the court system, but correction, penalty and punishment are often wrist slaps or take many years to enforce.


Now there is development in earnest. 

It’s 2019 and even Van Nuys deserves to have what Studio City got in 2013, and West Hollywood in 2009.

Mr. Boaz Miodovsky of Ketter Construction is putting up four modern garages with attached houses along 6537. They will have their own private road, Solomon Lane.  

And Mr. Nick Shoshan of Innovation Design and Construction bought 6505 and is demolishing the single-family home there, dating to 1936, and erecting four houses.   They once kept horses here, another neighbor grew walnuts, there were backyard pools, lemon, orange and lime trees. Now this parcel will have four houses and two streets and look west into the back of a seven-story apartment building.

6505 is next to the dead-end street where Hamlin once cut through to Sepulveda before it was walled off, in 1994, and the public way sold to the Kar Fung Company which owns the 99 Ranch Market “Signature Plaza” shopping mall.

Preposterously, 6505 will have to build its own private street because Hamlin Street is no longer available as a public way. It is owned and supposedly maintained by Kar Fung, though they have allowed it to denigrate into a tagged, trashed and overgrown weed lot out of utter neglect and indifference.

The new houses at 6505 will be bookended by two streets, one in their front yards, and one in the backyards.  The owner, Kar Fung Company, for reasons only known to God herself, has never wanted to sell their section of Hamlin Street to anyone.

Incidentally, Kar Fung Company is run by Angela Chen Sabella, who is the daughter of “Chen Din-hwa (simplified Chinese: 陈廷骅; traditional Chinese: 陳廷驊; pinyin: Chén Tínghuá; 1923 – 17 June 2012). He was a Hong Kong industrial tycoon, billionaire and philanthropist. He was known as the “King of Cotton Yarn” in Hong Kong.[2]”. When he died he had a fortune of over $2.6 billion dollars.  Which may explain why money to paint the shopping center or repair the 1994 cyclone fence on Columbus is quite impossible to come by. 

In Van Nuys, the vast majority lives close to ruination, but absentee slumlords who live in Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Hong Kong squeeze out money from a community starving for investment and civic decency.  What could $50 million from Kar Fung could do to alleviate the homeless blight in Van Nuys? 

To imagine what could be done with proper architectural designs over the totality of Columbus Avenue with its 156,035 SF is to entertain dreams of parks, of gardens, of towering oak trees, fountains and benches surrounded by nice homes. The way they might have built in South Pasadena in 1910.

But instead, it will go the low-brow, ugly way, the only path that ever gets paved in Van Nuys, with cheapish houses along asphalt driveways, stuck along Columbus Avenue like a pocket comb. These boxes will be so compressed, and so tightly sited, that there will be no room for shade trees. And overlooking every private property will be hundreds of prying eyes from new apartment dwellers.

Parking for cars will be provided in the two car garages in each home, but if you have lived in Los Angeles long enough you know that 90% of all cars are never parked in garages. On my street, me and my partner are the only residents who use their garage for auto storage.  It will transpire that each new home will have four drivers, and a garage full of belongings, and guess where the vehicles will sleep every night?

If this were a well-run city of neatness, law, order, and regulations (which it is not) then new housing would be a great blessing. But as it drops around here I know the future.

The new residents will probably include renters, perhaps four or five unrelated adults sharing a home, paying $1500 each so that the owner can pay off their $5,000 a month mortgage on their $900,000 house.   And these private lanes will have gated entrances, understandably, because it takes two hours for LAPD to respond to anything other than murder.

I don’t have all the answers, I’m merely describing reality as I see it in front of me.

We desperately need new housing in Los Angeles, but does it all have to come forth like this?  Aesthetically dismal, organizationally atrocious, environmentally destructive.

3 thoughts on “Best Boxes

  1. “Four modern garages with attached houses.” Ha!

    Oy. What you’re describing here is what I call Density Without Urbanism. It’s natural for a successful desirable place to become more intense over time. Wild lands become farms. Farms become towns. Towns thicken to become cities. And none of this is ever exactly orderly or perfect. What’s happening in LA is the congealing of property along a suburban model (packing more quasi single family homes and cars) on to smaller and smaller spoonfuls of dirt. I’d prefer it if LA made a graceful transition to a collection of genuinely vibrant urban places. But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. The populace pushes back at every turn. Shrug.

    By the way, there’s no easy way to tease out the economics of billionaires sitting on vacant land rather than investing in the community. The same policies that protect the Kar Fung Company with ridiculously low taxes and a blind eye to code enforcement also protect all sorts of other people including low income pensioners. All the likely remedies would have different, but equally distorting and uneven consequences.


  2. “cheapish houses along asphalt driveways, stuck along Columbus Avenue like a pocket comb” Nice metaphor, and an apt one.


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