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.


The Business District of “Option A”

Van Nuys, CA





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: Silencing the Sound of Mustangs.

Just east of Kester, on the north side of Bessemer,  Mustangs, Etc. has been servicing, restoring and selling that model of Ford since 1976.

They occupy three buildings. Two are rented, and one is owned.

There are 20,000 square feet, in total, of vintage parts stacked high and piled thick, inside cavernous, narrow, metal-shelved rooms with wood-framed ceilings, some punched out with skylights. Dusty light pours down through decades of spider webs to illuminate every small, medium and heavy part that might go into any Ford Mustang built since 1964 1/2.

Garrett Marks, 37; musician son of the founder, Arnold, 76; lead me on a tour of their facility. Thoughtful, quiet, bearded, limping somewhat from a two-year old accident, he wears his red hair long and speaks softly and knowledgeably about his family business.

“I feel like a historian, an archaeologist, and an investigator,” he said, as we walked past rows of steel tire rims, drive shafts, 14″ Spun Aluminum Air Cleaners, spark plug cables, brake pads, fuel pumps, stainless hood hinges, ’67 Mustang air conditioning vents,auto lamps, hydraulic hose lines, Bendix Radios, and stacks of vintage dashboards with fuel, oil and speedometer instrument panels.

We passed those extra-large, circular Mustang gas covers from the early 1970s.

Mary Tyler Moore, are you still on that highway to Minneapolis?

Inside the parts office there was a straight-haired young woman who sat in front of a computer screen. Her digital device seemed out-of-place in a fluorescent lit, wall-paneled room overflowing with volumes of instruction manuals: 1969,70, 71, 72, 73 Wiring and Vacuum Diagrams, 1959 Edsel Maintenance, and a glass case with headlights, key chains and other ephemera seemingly mixed up and tossed about by mischievous ghosts.

A few buildings down the block I toured the service garage.


It is expansive, bright and light filled. Jocular young men in dark blue uniforms with retro names (Scooter, Steve, Mike, and Gil) worked on vintage Mustangs and mocked one another in friendly terms.

It was like a scene out of old Kansas somewhere in a small town. I thought the boys might get a lickin’ if Auntie Em or Uncle Arnold came onto the floor. It could play out like “The Wizard of Oz.”


               AUNT EM

Here, here, what’s all this jabber-wapping when there’s work to be done? I know three shiftless farm hands that’ll be out of a job before they know it!


     Well, Garrett was walking along the —

               AUNT EM

     I saw you tinkering with that contraption, Scooter. Now, you and Steve get back to that wagon!


     All right, Mrs. Gale. But some day they’re going to erect a statue to me in this town, and —

               AUNT EM

     Well, don’t start posing for it now. Here, here — can’t work on an empty stomach. Have some crullers.

A few jaunty, groovy autos were positioned high, held up on hydraulic vehicle hoists. Each mouth-watering, metallic Mustang body was a different color: deep red, orange, blue, and misty green. Each evoked a sensory flood of memories, for me, that fast time, 50 years ago, when people drove fast and unbelted, and every car you passed in Malibu had women in short skirts with long hair and big sunglasses smoking. Everyone you saw was 18, smooth-faced and sat in the sun and went to the beach every chance they got.

Those Mustang Dreams were getting renewed in present day Van Nuys. Their exteriors polished, their engines tuned up, their interiors sewn and repaired and given a yearly dose of immortality denied to their owners. A freshly restored Mustang gallops like an unbridled pony. It embodies youth, fury, energy, and a temporary escape from any debt, duty or obligation.

Just outside the garage, out on the black top, Ray was demonstrating a 1967 Lincoln Convertible Sedan whose top unfurled electronically and was stored in a giant steel trunk that opened to receive it and seemed ominously capable of holding five dead gangsters comfortably.

I met Arnold, the founder, and we sat in his office as he spoke.

He was born in Detroit in 1941. His father was a skilled auto mechanic. They came to South LA after the war, and Arnold came of age during Kennedy’s New Frontier when the Presidency was still profound and its occupant quotably inspiring.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

The young idealist Arnold wanted to teach. He got his certification, and he went down to South Central where he encountered disheartening road blocks: a disdain for education, broken families, poverty, and children who passed around bullets in class for amusement. In those schools, at that time, before busing, there was no order, no discipline, no respect, so he soon went to find another way to work.

He got smart and retrained as an auto mechanic. By luck, he found another spot near Kester, and began his operation in 1976. His rent was $900 a month so he had to hustle. He found that his specialty in Ford Mustangs was dear to many, including celebrities such as Jay Leno, and Miley Cyrus among others.

Like all business owners in Los Angeles, he found that he had to fight, not only for customers, but against appalling social conditions in the neighborhood. There was illegal dumping, homeless encampments, drug dealers, drug addicts, thefts, and murders.

Arnold with Miley Cyrus.

The expansion and landscaping of the Orange Line (2005), with its lush trees, bike trail and dedicated bus route also ironically hampered the operations of Mustangs, Etc. For now Bessemer Street was narrower, there was no room for tow trucks to drive. The leaves from the many shade trees blew into the property, creating a fire hazard, necessitating removal.

Arnold does not believe “Option A”, the plan to destroy his business and hundreds of others for a Metro Light Rail Service Yard, will happen. “If we are evicted where will we go? There are no other affordable, convenient places for a small business. Many of our customers come from Hollywood or over the hill, so they aren’t going to drive to Pacoima.”


General Manager Mike thinks the plan to demolish 33 acres of industrial Van Nuys will create some huge environmental problems as decades of discarded oil, poisons, liquid metals and other bio-hazards, once willfully dumped, buried into the soil, are released back into the air. Adjacent homes will see clouds of dust blow over them as bulldozers, jack hammers and shovels unbury deadly toxins entombed in dirt since the 1940s.

If Mustangs, Etc. and other businesses survive this threat, a piece of historic but still functioning, producing, contributing, industrial Van Nuys will have had a small triumph. These family owned companies, mostly employing locals , walking to work, or living nearby, these places of quiet accomplishment and enduring fortitude shall not perish from this Earth.



One Story Town

One Story Town is Sepulveda Bl., from Oxnard St. north to Victory Bl.

It is 2,569 feet long, almost a half a mile. It encompasses the Orange Line Metro Busway, LA Fitness, Costco, Wendy’s, Chef’s Table, The Barn, CVS, Dunn Edwards, Bellagio Car Wash, Wells Fargo Bank, Enterprise, Jiffy Lube and other small businesses selling used cars, folding doors, RV rentals, Chinese food, hair cutting, and ceramic tile.

The Southern Pacific freight trains once ran through the present day Orange Line, and they fashioned the district into a lumber- oriented, light industrial area. Such behemoths as Builder’s Emporium were located here, and the stretch of Oxnard that borders the old rail line has retained an industrial use.

The zoning designations for almost all the parcels along Sepulveda are commercial. They prohibit residential within walking distance of the Orange Line, and they prohibit it even though buses run up and down Sepulveda!

A beautifully maintained bus stop perfectly sited for long waits in 110 degree heat.

Available online for public research, is the Los Angeles’ ZIMAS, a website run by the Department of City Planning. Here one can select a parcel, for example, 6206 Sepulveda Blvd., where The Barn furniture store is located, and see that it occupies two parcels totaling 44,250 SF. It is not, according to ZIMAS, in a transit-oriented area, nor is it designated as a pedestrian oriented one, nor is it part of a community redevelopment one.

Someday the owners of The Barn, which has sold, since 1945, brown stained furniture in heavy wood to seemingly nobody, may choose to sell their business. And here there is enormous potential to develop a first-class residential and commercial building just steps from the Orange Line.

Residents of Halbrent St. just east of The Barn and other businesses, are on the ass-end of parking lots, illegally parked homeless RVs, and are subject to the use of their street as a speedway for cars entering and exiting Costco. Maybe, just for once, Halbrent St. might see a better development on its west side.

Every single one of the businesses, up and down Sepulveda, between Oxnard and Victory, is located, by observation, in a transit- oriented area. Yet ZIMAS states they are not.

Perhaps that will change as Los Angeles reviews its zoning, and permits taller, denser, more walkable development within a 5-minute walk from public transit.

At dusk, with the early October sun hitting the one-story buildings, there is a homely, lowbrow, neat banality to the structures along this stretch.

This is not the worst of Van Nuys. It is generally tidy. But nobody living nearby, some residing in million-dollar homes, would come here to mingle, to socialize, to sit and drink coffee, eat cake, shop or walk with their kids after dark.

Studio City has Tujunga Village.

Tujunga Village, Studio City, CA. Photo by John Sequiera.

And we, in Van Nuys, have, this:

The One Story Town: what is it and what could it be? Might this district, one day, contain vibrant restaurants, outdoor cafes, beer gardens, garden apartments, parks, trees, flowers, fountains? Why not?

In planning for 2027, 2037, 2047 and beyond why would we keep the preferences of car-oriented, suburban dreaming, 1975 Van Nuys, in place? Why are thousands of parking spaces at the Orange Line Busway used to store cars for Keyes Van Nuys? Is this the best we can do?

Could not a group of architects, developers, urban planners, government leaders and vocal citizens devise a Sepulveda Plan to transform this wasted opportunity into something better, or even ennobling?

Where is our vision? And why are we so starved for it when we live inside Los Angeles, the greatest factory of imagination, illusion and improvisation the world has ever seen?


Van Nuys Arts Festival

Last Friday Night Van Nuys was young, joyous and celebratory.

It gathered, under the spire of the Valley Municipal Building, to drink beer, watch live music, eat, and walk amidst motor vehicle works of art.

Police and fire personnel mingled with guests, in a display of civic pride.

The homeless were there too, seemingly taken care of, fed on their benches beside their belongings.

For one night, the pedestrian mall where nobody walks at night, a lost dystopia, was dressed up for a party. And Van Nuys, at its very heart, seemed to regain its footing as a good, decent, well-regarded town.


Builders Emporium, Van Nuys, CA, 1950s

1948: Builder’s Emporium

Item: Valley News, October 30, 1955

With $1,013,430,131 LA building permit valuations recorded for the first nine months of this year, all indications point to 1955 topping any previous year in the history of Los Angeles County construction, according to Ouentin W. Best, chairman of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Construction Industries Committee.

The January through September figure marks only the fourth time that construction activity in the county has gone over the billion dollar figure in any one year. The Chamber report pointed out that since three months still remain giving the 12-month total for 1955. There can be little doubt that the year will record an all-time high, Houses Gain 14%! Unprecedented construction during the same nine months of last year. A total of 51,067 residential permits have been issued to date in 1955, compared to 47,699 at the three- quarter mark in 1954, A total of 15,522 building permits were issued during the month of September with a valuation of $885,428.934.

[Permits were issued for the construction of 32,008 units in 2016, down 6 percent from 34,034 the year prior] (Source: KPCC)

Population of Los Angeles County in 1955: 5.1 million

Population of Los Angeles County in 2017: 10.2 million (State of CA)

And in Van Nuys, CA, at the corner of Oxnard and Sepulveda, Builders Emporium, established 1948, was doing a booming business.

Not only did it sell building supplies, tools, and machinery; it also seems to have had quite a golf and fishing, sporting goods department.

What follows are mid 1950s publicity photos connected to the store. They were published in the Valley Times Newspaper (LAPL). Their original, great captions cannot be improved upon by satire.

Here they are:

Photograph caption dated April 29, 1955 reads “Motion picture and TV Eyeful Norma Brooks gets close supervision on proper stance to be used when teeing off from attentive golf pro Jim Curtis, preparatory to free four-day clinic of Builders Emporium.” The store is located at 5960 Sepulveda Boulevard in Van Nuys.


Builders Emporium, 5960 Sepulveda, Van Nuys, is launching a new sports department and this outdoor group is helping to announce the fact to the public. Left to right, back row, are Sherry Hall, Rea Regal (sic) (Miss Van Nuys) and Kathy Sellers. Merchandising Manager Pete Campbell is on the left while Doye O’Dell, popular TV cowboy star, is examining the rifle on the right.


Circa 1957.

October 13, 1955 : “First slice of spectacular 40-foot birthday cake is being served by Victor M. Carter, store president, at ninth anniversary celebration of Builders Emporium, Sepulveda Boulevard and Oxnard street, Van Nuys. Cake was served with ice cream to thousands of visitors who joined in festivities.”

May 29, 1956:  “Pete Campbell escorts Ree Regul, Miss Van Nuys, on tour of enlarged fishing section of sports goods department of Builders Emporium, Van Nuys. Recently expanded fishing section will carry complete line of equipment to satisfy needs of all fishing enthusiasts, according to Campbell.”

April 9, 1955: “‘This bunny is a honey’ say the ‘small-fry’ making their pre-holiday visit with the Builders Emporium Easter Bunny at Sepulveda and Oxnard in Van Nuys. The ‘B. E. Bunny’ passed out thousands of free chocolate rabbits to the youngsters at the giant hardware store.”

August 30, 1955 reads “Claire Weeks, Miss Van Nuys of 1955, learns workings of $239 De Walt Power Shop, which will be awarded Sept. 22 as grand prize in Builders Emporium toy building contest. One hundred additional prizes will be awarded. All toys will be donated to Childrens (sic) Hospital, City of Hope and St. John’s Children’s Hospital. Polk Riley, power tool department manager, demonstrates outfit. Entry blanks are available at Builders Emporium.”