Option A: That First Email.


 

Some six weeks ago, I went to MacLeod Ale and learned about an impending “slum clearance” in Van Nuys.

I was shown a sheet of paper in the owners’ office, laying out the destruction of the industrial neighborhood, just to the south of the brewery.

“Option A”, by Metro, planned to demolish 33 acres, stretching from the north side of Oxnard to the south side of Calvert, a hunk of real estate containing 186 businesses, 58 buildings, and 1,000 jobs.

A light rail maintenance yard would cover the area.

I had no idea what that meant, in terms of people and their livelihoods. I didn’t know anyone who worked there.

In my narrowly focused mind, MacLeod was, happily, not on the death list.

So I went back to my Better Days beer and forgot about Option A.

 

That First Email

A few weeks later, I opened a jabbing email from a stranger named Ivan Gomez.

He said he owned a business called Pashupatina on Aetna near Kester. “You seem to walk around our industrial community constantly looking for the worst possible things,” he wrote, possibly referring to a recent satire I wrote denigrating a certain low self-esteem street.

He said he was not wealthy, but “maybe you are.” He had plans to construct artist lofts. And he had just bought and renovated a blighted building. He described his plight of betterment:

“Sure there are a lot of missed opportunities with certain slumlords that own properties in the area. Don’t judge a book [by its cover]. Perhaps you can tell the stories that our buildings cannot. You can look inside and see we are all Van Nuys. We want to see change and if you are patient the change will come soon. If you are wealthy and can afford the price of admission than you will jump aboard the light rail gravy train. I proposed an alternate site that would save our manufacturing communities but that dream hit a bump in the road today. I urge you to reach out and help us tell our story. Hell, you might be able to make a difference,” he wrote.

He said he was slated for demolition and was fighting to keep his property and his district intact, to save jobs, and businesses, and dreams.

“I invite you into my facility to meet with a few of the people on Aetna, Bessemer and Calvert Streets who are trying to make a difference with the little resources we have to keep our area clean and safe.”

He said he had avoided the darkest aspects of life from gang violence to police brutality.

“I am Barrio Van Nuys, Pacoima Flats, San Fernando, Echo Park, Silver Lake, Angelino Heights, Lake Balboa,” he said.

His combative but challenging email intrigued me. I made an appointment to meet him, tour his place and the surrounding area.

Ivan Gomez of Pashupatina

 

Crossing Oxnard, North of Kester

Driving on Kester, near Oxnard, some of what one passes include day laborers on the sidewalk; the open sand and gravel yard of Valley Builders Supply; an al fresco used tire shop, Hamati Enterprises; Pat’s Liquors (check cashing, cold beer) asphalt parking lot and tall, ungainly, steel-posted plastic sign. And a big, looming billboard above it all; there is the shabby, tan painted, stucco entombed Uncle Studios, and Euro Motors’ turquoise doors and Virgin Mary mural.

In this blighted area, settled by the old Southern Pacific tracks, now the Orange Line, pickup trucks carry lumber, pipes, and sheets of glass. Sombrero hatted adults ride children’s bikes, others push shopping carts with belongings, addicts sleep and stare into space, buy cans of beer, and others reside in groups beside the bike trail. There are parked taco trucks serving lunch and many signs for auto repair, collision, bodywork, and smog certification. You are either working hard or hard up.

Hidden from view are many artisans, craftsmen, and skilled persons, working in fields from cabinet making to stained glass, from vintage auto and bike restorations to custom metal work. There are welders, boat mechanics, sauna installers, and music recording studios. Most rent fairly priced industrial spaces.

A sinister idea, it seems, would be trying to revitalize Van Nuys with light rail by wiping out this cloistered, unique, walkable, diverse, and industrious area.

 

Van Nuys, CA

 


Pashupatina

 Switzerland on Aetna St.

Pashupatina, at 14829 Aetna St. is an unmarked, pitched roof, building painted in cool shades of green and gray. A steel door is in front. But the preferred entrance is around the side.

You walk up a narrow driveway, paved in white gravel and concrete, squeezing between two cars, and enter a facility whose orderly, airy, bright, industrious and technically equipped rooms evoke some expert machine shop in a Swiss mountain village.

They are a manufacturer of custom decorative hardware, whose brass and bronze knobs, hinges, handles and levers hang inside some of the most expensive homes in Los Angeles. Boxes of surplus custom work, from recent projects, sit in the storage room on shelves labeled with Bel Air streets: Stradella, Casiano, Chalon.

Established 1997, the shop name comes from a most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal, Pashupatinath, dedicated to the god Shiva. Believers go there to die and be reborn in a holy place.

To a young Mexican-American, raised in Van Nuys during its most violent and convulsive years, escaping its lethal menace by sheer persistence, this name, this creation, must have multi-layered meaning.

Laid out on the floor, in orderly procession, on glazed concrete, are an array of metal lathe machines, electronically programmed, finely calibrated devices that drill to exacting standards for clients who are able to pay $1,000 for a single, museum worthy door knob.

There is a $50,000 Alaris 3D printer capable of processing CAD images and carving them into polymer models. This is where you will often find Ivan, at his computer, turning out those highly detailed or modern sculptural pieces that will be used as templates for custom metal hardware.

Pinned by magnets to the steel walls are enlarged architectural blueprints with the location of each piece of hardware designed, manufactured and installed by Pashupatina. The size, the detail, the scope seems on the scale of a museum or medical facility. But these pieces will go inside 40,000 square foot homes and 15,000 square foot guest houses.

 

Pashupatina: Ivan and Daniel Gomez in their shop which they completely renovated with their own hands and money in 2015.
At work at Pashupatina. Programming and designing intricate metals for decorative hardware.

 Remember what you thought the Option A area was and then step inside here to be disabused of your ignorance. Think of all the princes, all the captains of industry, all the movie moguls, rappers, tech billionaires and their third wives who could not open a drawer or close any one of their 30 bathroom doors without Pashupatina.


Natalie and Ivan, Cambodia, 2004.

 

Ivan Gomez, 45, his architect wife Natalie Magarian, 45, and his brothers Daniel, 42 and Manuel, Jr., 48 are all here, working.

Natalie and Ivan live in Lake Balboa, and Daniel and Manuel commute from Van Nuys and Canoga Park.

“Daniel and I are inseparable,” Ivan said. There is an affinity and closeness between them.

Daniel is thin, bearded, cheerfully fidgety with a rock-solid work ethic. He and Ivan rebuilt Daniel’s 1971 Corvette Stingray. It sits under canvas cover on a steel, 4-post lift just below Ivan’s 1971 Buick LeSabre, two cars, like two brothers in a bunk bed. A 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, also owned and restored by Ivan, sleeps somewhere else.

“Daniel doesn’t put up with shit,” Ivan told me. The no-bullshit brother also owns a 40-acre home up in the desert near Palmdale where he can blow off steam and have fun. In 1994-95, to get away from LA for a while, Daniel and Ivan rented a home in Llano, CA. If they are ever at each other’s throats I imagine it’s one gently holding a razor and the other getting a hot lather shave.

The brothers (and Natalie) were renting another space nearby when Ivan saw a $500,000 building with 4,000 SF for sale. It was in poor condition, but they put in an offer. It was accepted and they got to work.

The entire structure, from the floor to the rafters, from the plumbing to the industrial grade electrical system, from the roof to the walls, to the driveway outside, the design, execution and construction, every last bit of it, was undertaken and completed by Ivan, Daniel, Natalie and other capable family and friends.

As construction progressed, Natalie and Ivan were raising their daughter Corina (b.2007), and then Natalie became pregnant, eventually giving birth to their second daughter Lucine (b.2015).

5/27/14-before

 

 

 

Ivan and his daughter Corina.

    

2/21/15-Ivan Dreaming and Doing

 

All their business comes from referrals. They don’t really have an online presence because they are too busy working.

They plan to one day have a retail line of their own, just like PE Guerin, a Manhattan company maker of exclusive, by appointment only, custom hardware.


Ivan and Daniel Gomez late 1970s

Registering with the INS. 

Ivan was born, by chance, in Mexico, when his parents were back there visiting. His siblings, Manuel, Jr., Cynthia, Daniel and Angel are all American born.

As a child legal alien, and then as an adult, Ivan had to register with the INS every few years. He became a US citizen in 2002.

In 1980, the family moved from Pacoima, where gang warfare had made life intolerable. They settled on Friar St. near downtown Van Nuys, at a time when the last white, Irish, working-class families still lived there.

 

Drive By Shooting in Van Nuys; North Hollywood Boy, 14, Shot to Death in Front of School.

 

Ivan was intelligent, curious, and industrious. He would buy popsicles from La Paletería, and resell them to his schoolmates.

He found employment with his neighbors: Tim Monaghan and his janitorial company, and with Richard Taylor who made miniature wooden piers for collectors that he constructed in his garage. Later on, Richard Taylor would hire Ivan to work in his custom hardware shop in West Adams. Ivan would become a professional locksmith, but unofficially, he was earning his masters in metal work in the four years he spent there. “Richard was a Shaman,” Ivan said in praise.

Ivan also worked as a boy janitor in an Oxnard St building a few hundred feet from Pashupatina. Always finding a way…..

Manuel Gomez, Sr. Ivan’s reserved, hard-working father, drove a Cadillac and worked as a punch presser at Zero Corporation in Burbank where they made metal stamped suitcases for the military. After Zero closed, Manuel worked at Just Dashes, a custom shop in Van Nuys.

Teenage Ivan also had a job at Bargain Books in Van Nuys where he was paid $2 an hour along with some used books. An autodidact, he often read up on mechanics or design.

The children were baptized Catholics, but their freethinking parents never pushed their children into any dogma or practice. By chance, the family joined the Salvation Army which treated the kids to summer camp and provided a social and support network.

 

 


 Wilbur Avenue Elementary School, Tarzana.

Ivan was enrolled for two years at Wilbur Avenue Elementary School in Tarzana.

He met south of Ventura Boulevard kids, many of whom came from affluent, white families. They listened to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

It was the mid 1980s and by that time Van Nuys was hit with a large increase in immigration, followed by plant closings (GM-1991), gang wars, drive-by-shootings, drugs, and the fleeing of white families from the disorder they saw all around them.

“I knew we were poor,” Ivan told me. He remembered having a rock thrown at him when he was three years old. He was shot at six or seven times before he was 25. One time he played dead in Panorama City and fooled his gun-wielding assailants.

He was Mexican-American, a target of cops who presumed guilt by ethnicity. He talked back to law enforcement when he thought they were wrong. He was handcuffed and targeted. He saw people in his neighborhood die from gangs, suicide, and shootings. He walked away from drugs and said he was a straight-arrow punk. As random acts of violence exploded all around him, he inoculated himself by diving into work, education, and music.

One day, at Van Nuys High School, a petite girl with a punky-pink haircut walked by Ivan and his friend. “Do you know her?” Ivan asked. “Yes, I do,” his friend said. He decided to write the girl a letter.

She was Natalie Magarian, born and raised in Lebanon. She came from a well-educated, well-to-do, Armenian family who left a war-torn land to live with relatives in Van Nuys. She spoke Armenian, Arabic, French, and English. She was interested in architecture and music. But she was odd-looking too.

“People said I dressed like I just got off the boat,” Natalie recalls.

Though Ivan claims to have seen her first, Natalie said, “Ivan liked me less than I liked him.” They came from wildly different backgrounds. Their respective families were kept in the dark about their relationship. “I think my parents wanted me to meet a nice Armenian boy,” Natalie said.

After graduating high school in 1990, Natalie went to study architecture at Woodbury University.

Also in 1990, Ivan went to work in a custom metal hardware factory owned by his Van Nuys neighbor Richard Taylor. The Jefferson Park Collection in West Adams is where Ivan would learn the craft that he would eventually master, emulate and reinvent into his own business.

Natalie and Ivan got married at the Transamerica Building in downtown Los Angeles in 1998. Architectural and secular and completely Angeleno, just like the couple.

They later found time to travel and explore Mexico, Cambodia, Singapore, Czech Republic, Portugal, Thailand. They lived in Silver Lake and Echo Park.

Years later they would come back to here in Van Nuys. And Lake Balboa.

 


 1991/1992

Rodney King was a black motorist beaten by four LAPD cops after a high-speed chase on March 3, 1991. A video, shot by a witness, George Holliday, captured the whole bloody event.

In that era, before smart phones, video recording of crimes was rare. The effect of seeing this brutality in action infuriated many who saw it as racism in action. Others thought the police were justified, and that toughness was the only way to stop crime.

The acquittal of the four white officers by a Simi Valley jury on April 29, 1992 lead to the worst rioting in Los Angeles ever seen.

“The riots, beginning the day the verdicts were announced, peaked in intensity over the next two days. A dusk-to-dawn curfew and deployment of the California Army National Guard eventually controlled the situation.[32]

A total of 64 people died during the riots, including eight who were killed by police officers and two who were killed by guardsmen.[33] As many as 2,383 people were reported injured.[34] Estimates of the material losses vary between about $800 million and $1 billion.[35] Approximately 3,600 fires were set, destroying 1,100 buildings, with fire calls coming once every minute at some points. Widespread looting also occurred. Stores owned by Koreansand other Asian ethnicities were widely targeted.[36]

Many of the disturbances were concentrated in South Central Los Angeles, which was primarily composed of African-American and Hispanic residents. Less than half of all the riot arrests and a third of those killed during the violence were Hispanic.[37][38]

 Images from that time include Korean shop owners on Western and Vermont Avenues wielding guns atop their roofs, and helicopter vantage footage of a white driver, Reginald Denny, being dragged from his truck and hit on the head with a brick, his skull cracking 91 times, beaten by a mob of youths.

The early 90s were an explosively violent time in Los Angeles. This was the era of the drive-by-shooting. A terrified city saw random killings spread into formerly safe areas, such as Chatsworth, Sherman Oaks and Westwood.

Korean-Americans Defend Their Shops During LA Riots, 1992.
LA Riots/Peter Turnley, Corbis.
2 28 91 Trying Times

 

Once a refuge from urban crime, the SFV, had, by 1991, become plagued with it. Robberies increased to 6,638 up 40% from the year before. There were 142 homicides, a record.[1] Bad place names like Sepulveda, Canoga Park, North Hollywood and Van Nuys gave birth to North Hills, West Hills, Valley Village and Lake Balboa. Change the label and you will escape the consequences, or so the thinking went.

Flare-ups of sudden violence became normal.

On April 20, 1993, a disgruntled MCA employee, standing in a parking lot, used a Remington 700 hunting and target shooting rifle aimed at the Black Tower in Universal City. Seven employees were wounded by a 35-40 bullet barrage that shattered glass, caused mayhem and injuries, none life threatening, yet completely terrifying.

In June 1994, OJ Simpson was accused of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. His Ford Bronco chase on the 405 has entered the pantheon of legend. He was later found not guilty, despite so much incriminating evidence, on October 3, 1995. The verdict was thought by many to be payback to the LAPD for its mistreatment of minorities in Los Angeles.

Former tenants Joan DeWolf and Gary Benoit carry suitcases to salvage possessions from the Northridge Meadows Apartments. July 15, 1994. (Los Angeles Daily News file photo)

Uncaused by humans, but just as devastating to them, was the January 17, 1994 6.7 magnitude Northridge Quake which caused $49 billion in damage and killed dozens of Angelenos.

 “Among the wreckage were some 90,000 destroyed or damaged homes, offices and public buildings, according to the state Office of Emergency Services, with 48,500 homes cut off from water and roughly 20,000 without gas. Some 125,000 residents were rendered temporarily homeless.

When the dust settled, 57 people had died — including 33 from fallen buildings. Of those, 16 were killed when the 164-unit Northridge Meadows apartments collapsed atop its downstairs parking garage.

The fatalities included Los Angeles Police Officer Clarence Wayne Dean, whose police motorcycle plunged 40 feet off a collapsed section of the Antelope Valley Freeway. The Highway 14/Interstate 5 interchange was later renamed in his honor.

More than 9,000 people were injured, including hundreds treated outside a topsy-turvy Northridge Hospital Medical Center. Twenty-one preemies from its neonatal ICU were airlifted to other hospitals.”[2]


 Ivan In the Time of Turmoil

 The best thing that happened to us was the underground dance music scene from 1989-93. It allowed us to get away from the Valley into safer places. We met a lot of cool people and spent time up in the Hollywood Hills,” Ivan told me.

While the city and his neighborhood, were racked by violence, Ivan took refuge in the music world, and in his work.

He was up in Sylmar one Sunday, skateboarding in the wash, when he met a guy Rey Oropeza who had a hardcore, rap political band called Social Justice (later Downset) who in turn introduced Ivan to hundreds of different writers and artists from all different walks of life.

Ivan was working at Aahs and so was Darren Austin and Cameron. They had an idea to start a band so Stikman was born, an idea that Ivan came up with. He was the vocalist, Cameron, a white dude, drummer and Michael Glover, a black kid, played bass. And Darren, another black guy, was a guitarist.

Ray, Darren and Michael were all graffiti artists part of a crew known as Under the Influence (UTI).

In the parlance of that time these were a “mixed race” group of musicians. Music, and people, at that time had more fixed boundaries of race, and culture, and human beings in Los Angeles also often self-categorized themselves into racial classifications, immutable and ridiculously rigid. But Ivan and his friends were in the vanguard of the new mashup city we live in today.

A photo of five of them, circa 1990, shows young Ivan, smooth-faced, hair band around his forehead, dressed in a black, boat necked shirt, holding what looks like sheet music, a large necklace around his neck.

He is, in that photo, modern but timeless.

His flat nose, his jewelry, his stance, his gentle, warrior aura beating tribal, evokes pueblos indígenas de México. He stares insightfully at the camera, as if he directed fate and not the reverse.

Stikman, Ivan recalled, sounded like Nirvana, which someone once told him, “stole your sound.”

The band was young, exotic, and got a following. They were adventurous, driving after dark to dangerous places along the orange, mercury lit streets. They would break into empty warehouses, guerilla style, near downtown, setting up impromptu concerts and raves.

After high school (1990), Ivan Gomez also had jobs in retail. He worked at Tower Records and Aahs a novelty store, both on Ventura Bl. in Sherman Oaks, west of Van Nuys Bl.

Some of his musical influences were AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Sugarhill Gang, a late 1970s hip-hop group.

Stikman’s great moment of glory: they played Raleigh Studios in 1993 in front of 3,000. They had arrived in Hollywood and got inside the gates.

They were together and making music. And then they were not. The band broke up in 1993.

Later Michael committed suicide.


Ivan and his friends were getting off work at Aahs around 10pm one evening in 1993. They ran into some homies from BVN in the alley behind the store. The gangsters were delighted to see Ivan and happily showed him a trunk full of weapons. Ivan thought it was time to say good night. As the gang car with guns drove off, another car, full of a white gang, started shooting at Ivan and his friends and yelled “Gumbies 13!” Ivan and friends ran for cover and could see BVN speed after Gumbies 13. The white gang, from Ivan’s recollection, crashed and BVN “took care of them.”

Then LAPD arrived in the alley to interrogate Ivan and his friends. They were lined up and interrogated. They were pretty ruthless and one pointed a gun at Ivan’s head, he recalls.

To those too young to remember, violence was unrecorded by smart phones before 2007. Cops and criminals, and criminal cops could do pretty much anything they wanted to without being filmed.

Like religion today, you either believed the tales told from the pulpit of police record or you didn’t.


Atelier Pashupatina

 

Pashupatina employs eight highly skilled men and women who work together to execute designs in a shop where there are deadlines, machines, stress, and sometimes arguments and conflict. But the environment is soothing, cerebral, edifying, more like an atelier, an artist’s studio, than a factory.

The layout is architectural, drawn up by Natalie. She had worked in Frank Gehry’s firm. She still has other international and domestic gigs. Her influence in creating an architectural stage set is not accidental, and comparisons to lofty, elitist creative spaces in Culver City and Venice are warranted.

Pashupatina does not have furnaces. The caustic, burning, smokey parts of the metal making process are sent out. The dirtier and harsher and more primal parts of casting, blasting, and plating are outsourced. But machining, and drilling are done here, and buckets of bronze and brass scrap metal, grindings, collect in big quantities and are sold to recycling.


Should I Be Doing More?

“Technology is not an image of the world but a way of operating on reality. The nihilism of technology lies not only in the fact that it is the most perfect expression of the will to power … but also in the fact that it lacks meaning.”

Octavio Paz (1914-98), Mexican poet. “The Channel and the Signs,” Alternating Current (1967)

President Obama once described America as the one indispensable nation in the world. Ivan, in his family and work, seems to share that characteristic, as a man, that Obama subscribed to the USA.

“Everyone puts the burden on me,” he said.

Ivan spoke as a married man, with two small children and a thriving, technically advanced company, with many responsibilities, worries and duties.

And yet he ponders if he should be doing more.

He was thinking, perhaps, of our ruthless, opportune, robotic time.

He was acknowledging that the wealthiest people, his clients, hoard money and power, leaving a gap, enormous and hollow, in this nation, this state and this city.

Here was this “job creator”, this self-made person, embodying all the hoary clichés of America: the idea that if you have the will, the guts, the ambition you can do anything.

But he is also the Mexican, the immigrant, the other, who was once despised, feared, and whose people still battle, daily, to convince this nation that they are just as American as other Americans.

Ivan, like all of us who live here now, sees the suffering.

 

Van Nuys, CA 90401 Built: 1929 Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam Source: losangeles.blockshopper.com/property/2241014012/6224_cedros/ Biography: lakestechnologies.com/m_agam.html
Raymer St. Van Nuys, CA.
Homeless on Aetna St. Feb. 2016

 

For the community of Van Nuys

For the people who are still struggling

For the ones who are roaming the streets

For the people who are poor, neglected, or lost

For the addicted, the suicidal, the abused, the unemployed

For the undocumented, the deported, the incarcerated, and the damned

You are overlooked but you will not be forgotten

There will come a day again of brightness, hope and redemption

 

Here is a man who has used technology to advance his life and create paid work for which he is proud. But he is still asking: what does it all mean?

It is a valid question that a particular type of moral thinker will ask.

Is there anything greater to give back?


Kesterville: Seen and Heard

Last week I learned a new word:

Enjambment

The running on of the thought from one line, couplet, or stanza to the next without a syntactical break.

It came, courtesy of Dictionary.com, in their daily email and the arrival was fortuitous because I grabbed that word and pinned it on Ivan Gomez.

He is ebullient, gushing, buoyant, effusive, often pouring out with a million ideas and directions at once. His first email to me was a screed of run-on-sentences, accusations, pleas, suggestions, offerings, come-ons and inventions of both reality and fantasy.

He will dream it and do it and make it and sell it and seek it and reinvent it.

Meeting Ivan and the people who work in Van Nuys, the metal workers, the wood workers, the stained glass maker, the Vespa restorer, the musicians, the boat yard mechanics, all the hard workers who wear grease stained aprons, breathing dust, inhaling paint fumes, crawling under machines to screw in parts, all of them made me both proud and ashamed.

I was ashamed, indulging in self-pity and living inside my imagination, while others were working and sweating in shops making real things, utilizing skills and tools and machines I had never operated, or learned or knew anything about.

What did I have but words and photos and opinions and artistic license?

When I joined up to fight for the folks on Option A’s Death Row I had no idea how much life existed in Van Nuys inside the metal walled shops, behind the garage doors, down the streets where the sound of the bus roared nearby, under the unmarked, steel roofed packing houses.

I thought I was educated but I was so dumb.

I was lassoed out of my solipsism.

I like to think I did something good in Van Nuys to preserve something meaningful. It all started with that first email from Ivan.


In January 2018, Metro will make an official announcement about where the new light rail service yard will go. Councilwoman Nury Martinez now opposes Option A and others were told, unofficially, that other powerful people now agree that Option A is a bad idea whose time has come and gone.

Options B, C and D are all located near the Metrolink train tracks not far from Van Nuys Boulevard. They would not be nearly as destructive as Option A.

 

 

#   #   #

 

[1] 1991: A Look Back: Review: The Rodney G. King beating, development … HENRY CHU TIMES STAFF WRITER
Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Dec 30, 1991;

 

[2] http://www.dailynews.com/2014/01/11/northridge-earthquake-1994-quake-still-fresh-in-los-angeles-minds-after-20-years/

 

Option A: Good News From Nury.


Options B, C and D
Option A: Destruction of 186 companies and 58 buildings and 1500 jobs.

Over the past few weeks, this blog has been engaged in enlightening the community about a potentially lethal plan, proposed by Metro, to construct a light rail service yard over the graveyard of 33 acres of businesses radiating NE from Oxnard and Kester.

“Option A” would bulldoze four blocks of small, family run companies, employing over a thousand people, demolishing 58 buildings and as many as 186 companies. This walkable, affordable, diverse area would become a vast zone of silence, blocks from Van Nuys Boulevard, and diminish hopes for a revival of Van Nuys which light rail could bring.

I met a group of fascinating entrepreneurs who build fine cabinetry, record music, restore vintage Vespas, repair racing boats; and service, sell and refurbish antique Ford Mustangs. I toured impressive shops and interviewed artisans who make exquisite glass and fine decorative metals forged with advanced machinery and human hands.

These people are overwhelmingly locals, they own or rent homes nearby, many chose to live here to be close to work. And they are first or second generation immigrants from Mexico, Armenia, Lebanon, Germany, and Norway as well as Reseda, North Hollywood and Lake Balboa. They are all struggling to make a living, but many are doing very well, and some own their buildings. Others rent space, but pay reasonable prices and would be finished if they were forced out.

All along I wondered why their elected representative, Councilwoman Nury Martinez, was not acknowledging their plight.

Now it seems she has heard the cries from people who are in fear of seeing their livelihoods decimated.

Jim Dantona, Chief of Staff for Ms. Martinez, sent me an email today. Attached was an official letter from the Councilwoman’s office to Metro in which she lays out why she opposes “Option A” and thinks “Option B” is a better choice.

Written in political diplomatic politesse, it acknowledges that the most negative impacts will fall on the “Option A” neighborhood. The word “impact” is used often, to describe the ruins of businesses…..just as our federal government concocted the phrase “collateral damage” to describe non-combatants killed in war.

“Option B”, near the existing Metrolink train tracks and Van Nuys Boulevard, is a far more sensible place to construct an additional train yard. New train yards fit best next to old train tracks.Metro will not make an official decision until January 2018. But for now, Councilwoman Nury is no longer silent. She has voiced, in print, her opinion that Option A should not happen.

Option A: Silence of the Nury.


Rail Service Yard at Night. What Kester and Oxnard may look like for the next 100 years.
Option A is a Metro Los Angeles plan to construct a rail maintenance yard on 33 acres of industrial land currently occupied by 186 businesses employing as many as 1,500 people. The location radiates from the NE corner of Kester and Oxnard and will demolish every single building from Kester to Cedros along Oxnard, Aetna, Bessemer and the south side of Calvert.

Family run businesses, enterprises utilizing high tech computers to fashion exquisite cabinetry, decorative metals, and music recording studios, will be gone. Destroyed as well: low cost rentals for vintage Vespa restoration, boat yards, exotic mushroom growers, glassmakers, sauna builders, and Ford Mustang restoration.

The Option A area is walkable, diverse, affordable, and near downtown Van Nuys. If it is obliterated it will become a vast zone of emptiness, high security cameras, fences, walls, and rob Van Nuys of its last industrial area which serves as a creative incubator for artists, builders and skilled craftsmen.

Metro: In attempting to increase density, variety, diversity and walkability why would you destroy the very thing you wish to create?

Metro has three other option sites which are B, C, and D. The September 28, 2017 Daily News article explains.

Options B and C are on either side of Van Nuys Boulevard at the Metrolink Train Crossing.

Option D is at 7600 Tyrone Ave, 55 acres of land owned by the Department of Water and Power. It said it will NOT relinquish the land.

B, C, and D do not involve the displacement, destruction and eviction of 186 companies.

Options B, C and D

Option A: Destruction of 186 companies and 58 buildings and 1500 jobs.
 

Silence of the Nury

Despite the suffering and anxiety of so many men and women in Van Nuys, Councilwoman Nury Martinez has been completely silent on this issue since the official announcement of the Option A scheme was announced in mid-September.

Some in her office have conducted meetings with the worried owners in the Option A area. But she has not publically stood with the afflicted businesses. She has not voiced her support for them and she has not taken a stand opposing the vast hole of a train yard just steps from her office in Van Nuys.

Her Facebook page shows many photos of her attending events in the past few weeks.

  • She recognized a project to fund breast cancer research.
  • She welcomed a Panorama City project to mentor young people in work.
  • She supported National Food Day to promote nutrition.
  • She joined cops and politicians to oppose domestic violence.
  • She celebrated the retirement of a 30-year LAPD veteran.
  • Latino Heritage Month got a photo with her.
  • Dodger Manager Tommy LaSorda got a 90th Birthday photo with her.
  • The International Day of the Girl got a photo with her.
  • LA Family Housing got a photo with her.
  • Girls Empowerment got a photo with her.

 


“My Nury, my Nury, why have you forsaken me?”

Ivan Gomez, Pashupatina
Ivan Gomez, son of Mexican immigrants, grew up poor with his four siblings on Friar Street, dodged gangs, bullets, drugs and went on to self-mentor in the art of making fine metals, eventually opening a highly respected and technologically advanced company, Pashupatina, inside a restored building on Aetna St. He merits no photo op with Nury Martinez.

Peter Scholz, Showcase Cabinets
Peter Scholz, cabinet maker, lifelong resident of Van Nuys, owner of Showcase Cabinets, in business since 1987, employing skilled craftsmen who also live in Van Nuys, he has no photo op.

Scott Walton, Uncle Studios
Scott Walton of Uncle Studios, established 1976, legendary recording studio on Kester and Aetna, he may be obliterated, and he has no public support from Ms. Martinez.

Kristian Storli, Bar Italia Vespa.
Kristian Storli, who restores vintage Vespas and has been evicted from two places on Calvert and Bessemer, and only finally found a home last year on Aetna, only to learn his shop may be wiped off the map. He has no photo op with Ms. Martinez.

 

Steve Muradyan of BPM Custom Marine

Steve Muradyan of BPM Custom Marine, who supports a wife, two children and two aged parents, rents a facility on Calvert St. (down the street from  MacLeod Ale) and he may lose his 6,000 SF space. Where will he go? There are no affordable, local industrial sites for 50-100 foot long racing boats. Does his plight matter to Ms. Martinez?

Skilled worker at Pashupatina
There are 1500 others who are obscure but working hard, trying to earn a living, doing the right thing here in Van Nuys.

Why is Nury silent on the plight of her most productive and contributing constituents? Why is she sticking her finger up in the wind to see which direction Metro Los Angeles blows rather than fighting for the community she purportedly represents?

Silence is not what people in jeopardy, at risk in losing everything they have worked for, expect from their elected leader.

Pashupatina: Ivan and Daniel Gomez in their shop which they completely renovated with their own hands and money in 2015.

At work at Pashupatina. Programming and designing intricate metals for decorative hardware.

Mustangs, Etc. Est. 1976

Pashupatina.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Option A: An Open Letter to Ms. Sheila Kuehl


“Sheila James Kuehl (born February 9, 1941) is an American politician and former child actor, currently the member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the 3rd District. In 1994, she became the first openly gay California legislator and in 1997, she was the first woman to be named Speaker pro Tempore in California.[2] Kuehl most recently served as a Democratic member of the California State Senate, representing the 23rd district in Los Angeles County and parts of southern Ventura County. A former member of the California State Assembly, she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and served until December 2008. She was elected to her supervisorial post in 2014. In her capacity as Supervisor, she also sits on the Metro Board, First 5 LA, and is the County appointee to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.” – Wikipedia


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Metro Los Angeles Board

Re. Metro “Option A” Plan for Light Rail Yard in Van Nuys

 

Dear Board Members:

As you are aware, Metro Los Angeles is planning to erect a light rail service yard in Van Nuys. “Option A” is one of four sites proposed by the agency.

“Option A” would seize land NE of Kester and Oxnard, along four blocks, covering 33 acres, and demolish 186 buildings straddling the Orange Line Busway. For the purpose of this letter the area will be called “Kesterville.”

We are vehemently opposed to this plan. Here is why:

 

  • 186 small, family run businesses, employing an estimated 1,500 workers, occupying affordable, mostly rented space would be destroyed.
  • It would leave a gaping hole of emptiness blocks from downtown Van Nuys, obliterating plans for a denser, walkable area.
  • Option A will take out yet another engine of well-paying, highly skilled jobs and products, made in America, employing many immigrants and local residents.
  • It needlessly destroys a successful, close-knit pocket of creativity and commerce, manufacturing, and makers of unique goods and services found nowhere else in Los Angeles.
  • It will reduce fair priced, rentable industrial space in a city starved for it, in an area that is already served by public transport and contains more affordable housing.
  • Option A will subtract from the city what it is seeking to promote region wide: affordability, mobility, economic innovation, small business, local industry, ethnic diversity, and community cohesiveness.
  • The Van Nuys Neighborhood Council opposes Option A.

 

Within this dense, vital district are found a historic music recording studio, a maker of top quality metal hardware utilizing 3-D printers and advanced machinery, several fine custom cabinet builders and their craftsmen, an expert stained glass artisan whose work embellishes homes, churches and historic buildings, a restorer of Vespa motorbikes whose facility is the only one of its kind east of Pennsylvania, and a 20,000 SF shop where vintage Mustangs are serviced and restored. There are painters, carpenters, builders, and experts repairing racing boats, and several professional recording studios for musicians.

MacLeod Ale, a craft brewer of UK style ales, opened in 2014 and has become a highly successful and respected beer maker. They are located on Calvert St. adjacent to the Option A area.

Kesterville is a place of creativity, productivity, sustainability and viability. Organically, without government coercion or corporate ownership, it is an incubator of ideas and products. It has been alive for decades, growing more prosperous and doing well in the heart of the oldest part of the San Fernando Valley.

If Kesterville is destroyed, it will recall the most heartless obliterations in Los Angeles history: the razing of Chavez Ravine for Dodger Stadium, the flattening of historic Bunker Hill for corporate behemoths, and the bulldozing of West Adams for the Santa Monica Freeway.

Dodger Stadium, 1961. On land formerly housing poor Mexican families at Chavez Ravine.
1959:Evictions from Chavez Ravine.
1959: Families are Forcibly Evicted from Chavez Ravine to Make Way for Dodger Stadium.
1935: Boys in Chavez Ravine

Van Nuys has already suffered social, economic and environmental neglect. Why compound the injury by robbing it of yet another burgeoning and blossoming area that could become a new district of small businesses, restaurants, cafes, and even urban, in-fill small housing?

We urge you to respond to this civic emergency by opposing “Option A” and the demolition and eviction of sound businesses that support many thousands of families struggling to survive in a brutal time of economic insecurity.

We are in favor of light rail, and public transportation in general, but ask that it be constructed with greater sensitivity to the community so that it is compatible within the urban landscape and causes the least amount of damage to communities within our city.

Sincerely,

The Business District of “Option A”

Van Nuys, CA

91411

 

 

 

Option A: The Vespa Whisperer.


 

After WWII, Italy was poor, the roads were torn up by war, and the new democratically elected government was prohibited to build military hardware. Industrial revitalization was a must. So innovative militarists turned to consumer products to employ workers and restart the economy.

The Vespa (“Wasp” in Italian) grew out of this era.

It was designed and built by aerospace engineers to satisfy postwar transportation needs economically. They created a scooter, with all the mechanical parts enclosed, and a tall frontal splashguard, features which appealed to Italian men in suits and women in dresses. There was no grease to splatter on well-tailored woolens, and the versatile, small, well-engineered bike travelled well on narrow, pockmarked streets.

Piaggio & Co. introduced it and still owns and manufactures Vespa.

After its debut in 1946, it sold slowly, if solidly.

Then “Roman Holiday” (1952) starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, filmed on location in Rome, skyrocketed the Vespa’s popularity. Suddenly 100,000 a year were selling. The popularity of films such as “La Dolce Vita” (1960) and the neo-realist Italian cinema of the 50s and 60s made all things Italian seem fast, young and glamorous. The mid 1960s Mod Subculture in Britain, dudes in Ben Sherman shirts and skinny ties and tapered trousers, furthered pushed the Vespa into pop culture.

The Mods, Britain, mid-1960s
In the US, even Sears imported Vespas and renamed them Cruiseaires. By 1981, the bike had lost popularity due to environmental laws. Yet again, in the early 2000s, Vespa restarted its American sales effort, opening its first boutique on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, CA hoping to capitalize on our four CA freedoms: sunshine, mobility, novelty, and fun.

According to Wikipedia, there have been 34 different versions of the Vespa. Today, five series are in production: the classic manual transmission PX and the modern CVT transmission S, LX, GT, and GTS.


About 4 miles north of the Vespa retail store, at an unmarked building at 14819 Aetna St. in Van Nuys, Kristian Storli, 39 is quietly, diligently and artfully restoring Vespas, at his company, Bar Italia Classics, established 2006. According to Mr. Storli, it is the only shop of its type from here to Pennsylvania.

You pass through a gate into a courtyard packed with tools and bikes, all under some sort of repair, but then you enter a stylish, air-cooled, gray-painted, 3600 SF shop, unlike any you’ve ever been to, with vintage illustrations, glass shelves filled with awards and medals, antique framed advertising for Vespas, and a very large movie poster of Angie Dickinson atop a Vespa in “Jessica” (1962) directed by Jean Negulesco. 

Sicilian women plan to rid their village of a sexy American midwife (Angie Dickinson) by making her job obsolete.”

Angie Dickinson, 1962.

Obsolete is what haunts Mr. Storli, a stocky, blue-eyed, mechanical minded man of Norwegian descent who went to school to study musical composition, and ended up investing his life savings into his Vespa passion. He has had three shops in the last ten years: first on Calvert, then Bessemer, and now Aetna.

C, B, A….. Ominously for him there is no letter preceding A.

Each time, rents and leases ended. And this time, he fears, he may become redundant by Option A, if his shop, and 185 others are demolished by Metro Los Angeles for a 33-acre rail service yard.

Nevertheless, there is a rhythmic beat and output of bikes at the shop. Many restorations take 12-18 months and require each machine:

 

  • To be disassembled and inspected,
  • Stripped of old paint on engine and body parts,
  • Hardware sent out for plating,
  • Reassembling the machine to peak condition in both function and appearance.
  • Full payments are dependent upon delivery of the finished product to its owner.

It is a painstaking job, only undertaken by devotees and acolytes in the cult of Vespa, but the result, as one can see in a finished product, is the absolutely breathtaking beauty of the timeless and completely Italian product. The smooth and shiny gracefulness of a finished bike exudes sensuality and speed.

One day a few weeks back, working inside his dream factory, Mr. Storli was jolted with a bomb of an announcement: He might have to move to make way for a 33-acre demolition project bulldozing 186 businesses for a future light rail maintenance yard operated by Metro Los Angeles.

He had only moved into his third, and presumably final shop, this year, 2017. He lost over a year of income when he had to move the second time. Now he was threatened with new economic ruin, not by a downturn in business, but by an aggressive action of a government agency using Eminent Domain powers to evict lawful enterprises.

He told me that he is deflated, worried, and panicked. He has started, grudgingly, to look for other affordable space in Los Angeles. But the rental vacancy rate for industrial property is only one percent. And the competition is marijuana growers paying three times the asking rate to landlords.

To lose so many businesses is sad.

But it is doubly tragic to see a completely original and unique craftsman, Mr. Storli, thrown out of his space. It is one more step in the homogenization of Los Angeles, where shortsighted bureaucrats fail to protect unique and skillfully constructed products and services when they are operated by small businesses. But every corner store is CVS or Starbucks.

We need excellent public transport.

But grotesquely destructive and obliterating plans to build a light rail yard through viable and productive industrial tracts only harms Los Angeles -by destroying the real and the good -by promising the imaginary and the perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

Option A: “Where Will We Go?”


A new mural, painted by Guy Ellis, on the side of Showcase Cabinets at 14823 Aetna St. Owner Peter Scholz (L) and Artist Guy Ellis.

The proposed Metro Los Angeles scheme (“Option A”) desires, through eminent domain, to flatten 186 small businesses employing some 1,500 workers just steps from downtown Van Nuys.

The 33-acre area extends from Oxnard St on the south to Calvert St on the north, Kester St. on the west and Cedros on the east. In this area, rows of shops straddling the Orange Line will be extinguished by 2020.

Light rail is coming, the trains need a place to freshen up, and here is their proposed outdoor spa.

The engine of public relations is roaring. Mayor Garcetti needs to remake LA for the 2028 Olympics. He has gotten the city into full throttle prepping for it.

It is comforting to think that property owners will be reimbursed for their buildings, that businesses “can relocate”, that the city will take care of those who pay taxes, make local products, and employ hundreds.

But most of these lawful, industrious, innovative companies only rent space. Yes, they are only renters, and they face the dim, depressing, scary prospect of becoming economic refugees, chased out by their own local government. Some of these men and women have fled Iran, Armenia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico, places where war, violence, corruption, drugs and religious persecution destroyed lives and families.

Others were born in Van Nuys, those blue-eyed, blonde kids who went to Notre Dame High School and grew up proud Angelenos, driving around the San Fernando Valley, eating burgers, going to the beach, dreaming of making a good living doing something independently with their hands.

They all expressed shame, disappointment, anger, and betrayal against Councilwoman Nury Martinez and the Metro Los Angeles board for an action of insurmountable cruelty: pulling the rug out from profitable enterprises and turning bright prospects into dark.

Scott Walton, 55, whose family purchased the business Uncle Studios in 1979, said, “I think I’d sell my house and leave L.A. if this happens. I would give up on this city in a blind second.” His mother is ill and his sister has cancer. His studio now faces a possible death sentence.

What follows below are profiles of three men, who come from very different industries, but are all under the same threat.


Bullied at the Boatyard: Steve Muradyan

At BPM Custom Marine on Calvert St., Steve Muradyan, 46, services and stores high performance boats at a rented facility. Here are dozens of racing craft costing from $500,000-$1 million, owned by wealthy people in Marina Del Rey and Malibu. The boats winter in Van Nuys, where they are expertly detailed, inside and out.

Mr. Muradyan, a short, broad-shouldered, sunburned man with burning rage, threw up his hands at the illogic of his situation. He takes care of his wife, two children, and aging parents. He pays 98 cents a square foot in 5,000 SF and he cannot fathom where he might go next. A wide driveway accommodates the 50 and 70-foot long boats. And he can work late into the night drilling and towing, without disturbing others.

He once ran an auto repair shop on Oxnard. Later he had a towing service. Then he started his boat business in 2003. He had raced boats as a young man, and this was part of his experience and his passion. Why not?

He deals with all the daily stress of insurance, taxes, payroll, equipment breakdowns, deadlines, customer demands, finding parts, servicing the big craft. He worries about his business, his family, his income. And now this impending doom, dropped from the skies by Metro. He prays it will not happen to him. He cannot fathom losing it all, again.

 


Art and Soul in Stained Glass: Simon Simonian 

Over at Progressive Art Stained Glass Studio, 70-year-old architect and craftsman Simon Simonian rents a small unit on Aetna where he designs and molds exquisite stained glass for expensive homes, churches, synagogues and historic buildings.

He knows all the local businesses, and often he sends customers to the cabinetmakers and metal honers steps away. There is true collaboration between the artisans here.

A kind, creative man with a penetrating gaze, Mr. Simonian, with his wife and young son, came from Tehran in 1978 to study in Southern California and escape the impending revolution in Iran. He speaks Farsi, English and Armenian.

He is an Armenian Christian and his family was prosperous and made wine. His father had escaped the turmoil in Armenia when the Communists took over after WWII, which was also preceded by the massacre by Turkey of 1.5 million. His people have suffered killing, expulsion, persecution, and the loss of dignity in every decade of the 20th Century.

The Simonian Winery was doing well in Iran in 1979. And then the Islamists came to power and burned it down. By that time Simon and his wife and son were in Southern California. He begged his father to come but the old man stayed in Tehran and died five years later.

Tenacity, survival, and intelligence are in his genes.

“I love what I do. I have loyal customers. The location is excellent. I know all my neighbors here. I want to stay rooted. I don’t want to have to start all over again. Where can I find space like this? Where will I go?” he asks with the weary experience of a man who has had to find another way to proceed.


The Man from Uncle: Scott Walton

55-year-old Scott Walton looks every bit the rocker who runs the recording studio. He is longhaired and lanky. With a touch of agitation and glee, he slips in and out of the dark, windowless rehearsal spaces of Uncle Studios, where he has worked since 1979.

His father, with foresight, loaned $50,000 to his two sons, Mark, 20, and Scott, 17 to buy a recording studio. Here the boys hosted thousands of aspiring musicians including Devo, The Eurythmics, Weird Al Yankovic, Weather Report, Yes, Black Light Syndrome, No Effects, The Dickies, Stray Cats, and Nancy Sinatra.

When Scott first started he didn’t play any music. He learned keyboard, classical piano and he also sings. He went on the road, for a time, in the 1980s, playing keyboard for Weird Al Yankovic. He also plays in Billy Sherwood’s (“Yes”) current band.

Despite the proximity to fame, talent, money and legend, Uncle Studios is still a rental space where young and old, rich and poor, pay by the hour to record and play music. Something in the old wood and stucco buildings possesses a warm, acoustic richness. Music sounds soulful, real and alive here, unencumbered by the digital plasticity of modern recordings.

But Scott Walton is also a renter. He does not own the building bearing his business name. If his structure is obliterated, he will lose the very foundation of his life, his income, and his daily purpose. He will become an American Refugee in the city of his birth.


This is only a sampling of the suffering that will commence if Metro-Martinez allows it. The Marijuana onslaught is also looming.

On the horizon, Los Angeles is becoming dangerously inhospitable to any small business that is not cannabis. Growers are paying three times the asking rental price to set up indoor pot farms for their noxious and numbing substance. There may come a time when the only industry left in this city is marijuana.

The new refugees are small craftsmen running legitimate enterprises. Some may not believe it. But I heard it and saw it on Aetna, Bessemer, and Calvert Streets.

The pain is real, the fear is omnipresent and the situation is dire.

 

 

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