The Metro Planning Board will not recommend the demolition of 33 acres of light industry near Kester and Oxnard that would have obliterated 58 buildings, 186 businesses and endangered 1,000 jobs within walking distance of downtown Van Nuys.
“Option A” was a proposed light rail service yard that would have serviced a 9.2 mile public transit train line that will be built from Sylmar/San Fernando to Van Nuys.
Instead, the board said “Option B”, a site around Keswick and Van Nuys Bl., near the existing Metrolink trains, is a better choice for the new site of the service yard.
Construction is anticipated to begin in 2021, with the line opening in 2027.
There are businesses in the “Option B” area that must relocate and they are, predictably and understandably, upset by the decision.
But the “Option B” district is not adjacent to a residential area, and has far fewer parcels, making it a cheaper and faster choice for Metro to demolish and compensate property owners.
“Option A” runs along the Orange Line with its bike path and bus line slated for conversion to light rail.
It is a bustling and well-located area of affordably priced light industry which one day could also be used for inserting cafes, small retail stores, low profile apartments and multi-family dwellings, providing a new residential/work/recreation district in Van Nuys.
To lose it to the bulldozer would have been a tragedy, and let us hope that community activists, architects, investors and city planners will recognize the potential in the “Option A” area and design a new prototype for progressive living in Van Nuys.
This blog has written 13 other times on “Option A”, a Metro LA proposal by the public transportation agency to wipe out 33 acres of industry in Van Nuys, near the junction of Oxnard and Kester, and replace it with a light rail service yard. It would destroy 1,000 jobs, displace 186 businesses and flatten 58 buildings.
Though the scheme has been public knowledge since September 2017, property owners, workers, renters and the neighbors near here still stand on thin ice, awaiting official June 2018 word whether this whole district is sentenced to death, or if another site (B, C, or D), near the Metrolink tracks up on Raymer Street will be chosen instead.
A photo walk around here yesterday, along Oxnard, Aetna, Bessemer and Calvert, to document some buildings that may be gone in a few years, was also an opportunity to show that this area has great potential beyond its current light industrial use.
In gravel yards, on cracked and broken asphalt, under decaying wood, on treeless, depopulated and narrow roads, there are ingredients for a nice urban area of some new housing, some new cafes, some places where trees, lighting, discreet signage and pavement of cobblestones could bring an infusion of 24/7, urban, walkable, bikeable activity to the neighborhood.
It is already an incubator of creativity with makers of exquisite decorative hardware, superb custom cabinetry, music recording studios, Vespa and Mustang restorers, stained glass makers, welders, boat builders, and kitchen designers. These businesses, incidentally, are staffed by mostly local owners and workers, many of whom are but minutes away, or take the bus or even walk to work. Rents are currently affordable, often 50 cents, $1 or $2 a square foot.
MacLeod Ale, maker of fine British style beers, since 2014, is on the north side of Calvert and is not threatened with demolition but its existence and success is a testament to the potential for innovation in this area.
Ironically, the very wonderful addition of a landscaped bike path and the Metro Orange Line bus in 2005 is now threatening the area because of future conversion to a light rail system. Yet the “Option A” district is thriving, even if it is shabby in places, because it is a work zone of skilled, employed, productive people.
Politicians who often talk ad nauseum about “diversity” should come here with mouths closed and observe men and women: Mexican, Armenian, Norwegian, German, Persian, Guatemalan, Salvadoran, Irish, Scottish, Israeli-Americans, all the hyphenations of ethnicity and gender, who don’t care about where anyone came from, but only about where they are going in life.
This is Los Angeles. This is diversity. This is economic prosperity. This is within walking distance of “downtown Van Nuys.”
Yet short-sighted officials, bureaucratic ignoramuses with grandiose titles, flush with public money, would consider wiping out the very type of neighborhood whose qualities are needed, wanted and venerated.
Option A must not happen. This is what it looks like now.
Imagine what it could look like with the right, guiding hands of investment, preservation, planning and protection.
Metro is planning a light rail train down the center of Van Nuys Bl. extending from Pacoima to Van Nuys, stopping at Oxnard St. Less probable is a dedicated bus line.
Their final decision, as to what type of transport to build (bus or train) and where to service these will come in June 2018.
Four areas in Van Nuys are under consideration for eminent domain demolition and the building of a light rail maintenance yard.
These are called the “Option” areas and they are A, B, C, and D.
B, C, and D all straddle the existing Metrolink heavy passenger rail tracks along Raymer St. near the former GM plant on the Van Nuys/Panorama City border.
Only “Option A” is located in another area: this is a 33-acre spread of light industry comprising 186 businesses, 58 structures and as many as 1,000 workers who are located NE of Oxnard and Kester along Oxnard, Aetna, Bessemer and Calvert Streets.
This blog has reported extensively, since September 2017, on the “Option A” community: a unique, productive, and innovative group of entrepreneurs who make fine decorative hardware, custom shelving; record music, weld metals, clean carpets, fashion artistic stained glass, and restore vintage Mustangs, Vespas and large yachts.
They employ local workers, many of whom walk to work. There are immigrants here, but there are also people who started companies 30, 40 and even 50 years ago who would be forced to move from their little supportive community and fight to rent new space competing against cash rich marijuana growers who are swallowing up space for their noxious, lethargy inducing, industrial scale weed.
I was curious what residents in the area think of “Option A” so I went online and visited Next Door.
My Next Door app page has 2,000 community members from Burbank Bl. north to Roscoe, from the 405 to Hazeline.
I posted a question asking if people opposed or supported “Option A.” Overwhelmingly, by a vote of 87% to 13 (94 total votes), they said they were against it.
Here are some of the comments:
“It seems like a giant repair yard would be an eye sore and would attract litter, homeless encampments and shady activities since it will have very little activity especially at night. I don’t see how that is worth uprooting all these businesses who contribute to our community and have been here for all of these years.”
“I prefer local businesses any day. Plus, with numerous new apartment buildings popping up all around the area, we have potential for more retail/cafes to move in to the buildings up for lease. However, if all of that space gets used up by ugly rail yards, then the Van Nuys economy will never thrive to its full potential. I’m sick of this city being treated as a dumping ground.”
“The downside of Option A is not only a large rail yard in main area of Van Nuys (which MTA promises would be modern and attractive) but as well, that it would take out approximately 200 small and thriving Van Nuys businesses that each employ, one, two, three, five or more employees, whereas the other two main options hold a minuscule number of businesses. Eminent domain [against] all these businesses in the heart of VN would hurt us in several ways, besides uprooting the businesses and the citizens who work there, there are limited number of commercial properties currently available close by, so many of the businesses could not relocate close by, would not be able to keep locale clientele. For many who live nearby, if new properties could be found, commutes would be added. And for all those businesses relocating outside our community, or for those that would simply be forced to fold, Van Nuys would lose a healthy business tax base. Again, the other two options provided by the city for the yard (if needed based on what the final decisions are) do not suffer from anywhere near the same extent of overall downside.”
“I own a house on Hatteras near the Option A area. And I also rent a building on Aetna which would be demolished. If this happens I will sell my house, which I just purchased two years ago and I will move out of Los Angeles. There is not a reason in the world to pick our district for demolition when so many jobs and lives are at stake. If Nury Martinez allows this she should be recalled.”
Clearly, people who live near the Option A zone are insightful and understand how important it is to preserve small business in Van Nuys. They know that an enormous, gaping hole would not revitalize Van Nuys, but further degrade it.
The community residents, as well as the businesses near Kester and Oxnard, are united in opposing the destruction of viable businesses and local jobs.
In September 2017, 180 small businesses, 58 properties and 1,000 workers in Van Nuys learned they might be in the way of a 33-acre demolition project, Option A, proposed by Metro Los Angeles for a light rail service yard. Oxnard, Aetna, Bessemer and part of Calvert St., from Kester east to Cedros might be condemned.
A total of four options: A, B, C, and D are under consideration.
B, C and D are centered on the areas adjacent to Metrolink North (which are existing train tracks) and all involve far less demolition and displacement than Option A.
The bright, lemon yellow banners one sees all over the Kester/Oxnard area come from opponents of Option A who include community leaders, business owners and also the Office of Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who is firmly against something that would wipe out thriving, small companies who repair cars, build cabinets, record music, clean up flooded properties, plumb, weld, design and innovate right near downtown Van Nuys.
Ms. Martinez knows that the loss of these small businesses: walkable, diverse, local and entrepreneurial; would be disastrous for Van Nuys which has already been gutted out by the departure of GM a generation ago.
After multiple meetings downtown, speaking in front of the Metro Board, as well as Mayor Eric Garcetti and Board Member Sheila Kuehl, the Option A community was assured that an official announcement was forthcoming in January 2018. Walt Davis, Metro Transportation Planning Manager, was almost sanguine and breezily casual about how quickly the decision would be made to NOT APPROVE OPTION A.
But, as of March 1, 2018, there have been no Metro announcements.
Option A still sits on the table. And people are increasingly nervous about the delay.
Anxious and alarmed includes Ms. Marilyn Balduff, 75ish, a widow who owns 14807 Aetna St., a 10,000 square foot building housing half a dozen businesses providing her rental income and retirement assurance.
For fifty years, her late husband Bill ran Little Willy’s garage here. Marilyn worked as a CPA upstairs and kept an eye on the factory floor below from her elevated perch.
She is a smart, numbers ordered woman who knows how to invest, balance books, and manage real estate. She is not a super wealthy person, but rather a working woman who used 14807 to leverage the purchase of other properties. She is still paying off the mortgage, and the prospect of losing her family’s building saddens and frightens her.
For 14807 cannot be sold or rented to new tenants while the uncertainty of Option A hangs in the air.
I spoke with her when she came to visit her property today, and was handed a rent check by one of her tenants, Tom Bolan, a plumber.
She was also greeted by her largest tenants, Jeff Montag and Jim Tabolsky, owners of Regent 24/7 Carpet Cleaning, a company that has ten employees who clean out flooded properties, and work with property owners and insurance companies to remediate water damage.
Jeff and Jim, best friends and business partners, grew up in Sharon, MA and came to Los Angeles in the late 1980s. Jeff has four kids and three grandchildren and Jim has five children. They are solid, hard-working, experienced, and well-respected.
14807 is perfect for Regent because trucks can drive right into the building and unload water logged cabinets, furniture, and rugs. And equipment to clean the carpets can be put right on the truck. The 405 is nearby, and the workers also come local. It is an ideal place to have a small business.
Marilyn Balduff may have a business head, but she also has a sentimental heart. She spoke of her life, born and raised in Los Angeles, marrying Bill at age 18, the days they spent at Little Willy’s garage, and their mutual interest in specialty cars, including a 1908 Thomas-Detroit Runabout that Marilyn bought from Harrah’s (the former Harrah’s Automobile Collection at Reno) in 1983 when she saw its picture in the auction brochure and fell in love with the car.
Marijuana growers, who are gobbling up space all over Los Angeles, and out-bidding legitimate enterprises, by offering all cash and higher rents to owners, have approached her.
“I don’t want them. The mold and the humidity will ruin the building. And it’s not only the moral issue, it’s a degradation of the place,” she said.
Over on Calvert Street, Israeli born car repair mechanic Doron Danisky, 53, runs a scrupulously clean, orderly shop, D Best Automotive. His topless red Jeep with Hebrew lettering is parked along the curb near MacLeod Ale. (The Luck of the Scottish brewery, on the north side of Calvert, is outside of the area threatened by demolition.)
Doron bought his 3200 square foot building in 2011, and he uses his mechanical know-how from the Kibbutz (Yagur) to fix large trucks, jeeps and any old school vehicle. He has three rotary lifts and two employees. The atmosphere is airy, friendly, and low key.
“I’m not worried,” he said, offering cold water, soda and chocolates to me as we sat in his office. “Eat chocolate, it’s good for you.” He seemed fatalistic about Option A.
Perhaps coming from tense, on-alert, survival conscious Israel makes other concerns seem smaller.
“It’s a dream location, and when I heard about Option A, I was quite upset. But now I am OK with whatever happens,” he said.
But most, who depend on this district to earn a living, are not OK, until they hear the decision from Metro.
Apprehension and dread hang in the air along with the acrid fumes of car paint and the sour smoke trails of cannabis.
If eminent domain comes to Van Nuys, as it did with the tragically failing ghost-slum Civic Center (1960), another viable, historic, community-oriented, and socially supportive area will be ripped out and replaced by a post-apocalyptic emptiness.
Will the bureaucrats and elected officials make the right decision?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 Guardeventually controlled the situation.
A total of 64 people died during the riots, including eight who were killed by police officers and two who were killed by guardsmen.As many as 2,383 people were reported injured.Estimates of the material losses vary between about $800 million and $1 billion.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 Asianethnicities were widely targeted.
Many of the disturbances were concentrated in South Central Los Angeles, which was primarily composed of African-American and Hispanicresidents. Less than half of all the riot arrests and a third of those killed during the violence were Hispanic.”
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.
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. 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
# # #
 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;
Perhaps the quintessential Option A story grows out of the life of Ivan Gomez (b. 1972) the owner of Pashupatina, a fine custom decorative metal shop on Aetna.
He was born in Mexico, by chance. His other four siblings (one sister and three brothers) were all born in the USA.
They were raised in Pacoima and later Friar St. in Van Nuys. Ivan experienced the turmoil and insecurity of being a little boy who had to register with the INS every few years.
He later went to school in Tarzana, and saw the other world of privileged children. Never bitter, always ambitious, he worked in Van Nuys at Bargain Books, devouring books on design and mechanical art. He graduated from Van Nuys High School where he met his current wife, a Lebanese immigrant, Natalie Magarian. He did not go to college, but worked at Tower Records, and Aah’s on Ventura Bl.; Taco Bell, and most importantly, at a cabinet shop in South Central where he learned about the manufacturing, design and installation of custom woodwork.
Ivan formed a band called Stikman (1989-92) and they often played in the dug out ruins of old factories near downtown Los Angeles. He went to raves, but remarkably, he remained clean of drugs. His strong character resisted violence, self-destruction and falling into the traps of depravity all around him.
He does not smoke or drink. He has a wife, two children, a thriving business, a home in Lake Balboa. And both sets of in-laws live nearby.
I thought it instructive and interesting to explore the city of Los Angeles in the first 20 years of Ivan’s life, to give some context for what it felt like to be a young immigrant absorbing all the culture, music, crime, drugs, police brutality that fell atop the intelligent, observant, fervent, creative mind of Ivan Gomez.
All statistical facts in this article are from original sources and are footnoted.
In 1970, there were some 966,240 persons in 26 San Fernando Valley communities in Los Angeles. The population was young. And the average age was 29.
There were small percentages of racial minorities in every community in the Valley, except Pacoima where 33% were black. 4% of Sun Valley was minority, mostly Mexicans.
In Woodland Hills, the average rent was $172, the highest in the Valley. And the minority population was 1%, the same as in Tarzana.
Encino had the most expensive homes, averaging $50,000 in value.
Many worked in the defense-aerospace industry, 348,000 jobs in Los Angeles County. Some of the San Fernando Valley employers: Lockheed in Burbank, Boeing Co.’s Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power in Woodland Hills, Hughes Missile Systems in Canoga Park. Bendix Aviation, Ramo-Woolridge Laboratories, Litton Industries, RCA, Atomics International and Bunker-Ramo. 
There had also been cutbacks in the defense industries, ironically due to the Vietnam War. Research and development, which was a large part of defense contracting work, took a back seat to output and manufacture of weapons. When the war was on, rockets and planes were needed, fast. Employment fell from 616,000 in the state in 1967 to 400,000 in 1972. 70% in Los Angeles still depended on aerospace to earn their living. 
Military attack aircraft, surface to air missiles, rockets, bombs, satellites, electronic controls for weapons systems, defense-related communications systems, The Stealth and the P-3 antisubmarine craft, were only some of the advanced weaponry produced here.
All these weapons of war, sent around the world, would ignite and fuel conflicts that one day would come back to the San Fernando Valley and upend the placidity, the normality, the blessed banality of pools, homes, burgers, convertibles and blond-haired boys and girls riding bikes around safe and clean neighborhoods.
A Confluence of Events
In the late 1970s, a confluence of international events; wars, revolutions, and genocides swirled around the globe. Under the umbrella of American anti-communism, military interventions produced results that eventually washed back up onto the shores of Southern California.
In Vietnam, in 1975, the fall of the Saigon government, the helicopter evacuation of the US Embassy, and the triumph of Ho Chi Minh brought a new influx of refugees to the US. At the same time, in neighboring Cambodia, Pol Pot captured Phnom Penh and instigated a deadly forced labor and collective farms movement causing the deaths of millions. Cambodians who could, got out.
In US allied South Korea, still developing its economy, an uneasy and tense truce lingered. Fearful of a new war, the government encouraged some citizens to emigrate to the US and send money back home. Millions left and settled predominately in Los Angeles.
Filipinos who had served in the US military during WWII were allowed to become US citizens, and many war brides came to America. Relatives of people already in this country were permitted to come here and gain citizenship.
Los Angeles also became home to the largest group of Thai people outside of Thailand.
The engine for all the changes in allowing new countries to migrate to the US came after 1965.
The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Cellar Act) eliminated national origins quotas and gave priority to immigrants with skills. In addition, the law allowed the spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents of U.S. citizens to enter as non-quota immigrants.
Previously the law had favored northern and western Europeans. The involvement of the US in Asian affairs prompted Congress to change laws. The US needed to look magnanimous in Far Eastern eyes so that our role in Vietnam might be justified.
In Taiwan and Hong Kong, the prospect of American retrenchment and Red China’s rise fueled new immigration to the US. The San Gabriel Valley, once a bastion of whites, became a sprawling Chinese community. Asian-Americans would become the largest immigrant group by 2014.
In 1979, the Shah of Iran, an ally of the US, was overthrown and replaced by an Islamic fundamentalist government. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days (November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981) after a group of Iranian students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
The Shah had been a large weapons purchaser and his regime was seen as a bulwark against Russian expansionism.
By miraculous coincidence, all the US hostages were freed on the very day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. An overjoyed nation overlooked what some might call collusion.
Persian immigration to Los Angeles spiked. Beverly Hills and Westwood became the heart of a new community of refugees from Tehran and vicinity. Christian Armenians, many of them living in Iran, also came to Los Angeles and settled in East Hollywood and later Glendale. The Soviet Union also eased up on restrictions and allowed many Armenians to leave the communist ruled nation.
Notable too was the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. It lasted over nine years, from December 1979 to February 1989. Insurgent groups known as the mujahideen fought against the Soviet Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government. These groups, which later morphed into Al Queda, were backed by the United States and Pakistan, making it a Cold War proxy battle. Between 562,000 and 2,000,000 civilians were killed. 
In Lebanon, a power struggle between ruling Maronite Christians, Shia Muslims, as well as the influx of Palestinians, resulted in Civil War, lasting from 1975-90, killing 120,000. Wealthier Lebanese, many fluent in Arabic, French and English, fled the country.
The War Against Central America
In Central America, civil war broke out in El Salvador (1980-92). The government, with the support of the US, fought against guerillas who sought to bring social justice reforms. 75,000 people died. And the US spent $6 billion to aid a repressive regime. President Reagan made a stand against the expansion of communism in the Western Hemisphere by brutally ramping up the wars to contain it.
In neighboring Honduras, Contra Guerillas fought against socialist Nicaragua’s Sandinista Government. Reagan also supported the Contras. A secret plan, hatched up in the White House, used illegal weapons sales to Iran to finance anti-communist Nicaraguan guerillas.
In El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, millions were killed, and the murder rate, even today, remains the highest in the world. By 2011, 564,000 Central Americans would live in Los Angeles.
Mexico: Our On Again, Off Again, Family.
Mexico and the US have had a long love/hate relationship . The northern colossus relied on migrants to harvest crops, and allowed free, casually monitored movement of Mexicans who supplied low-cost labor to US industries.
A mercurial, schizophrenic, self-centered immigration policy alternated between friendly and hostile. The pawns were poor Mexicans on foot, seeking work, escaping poverty, exiles from two nations, never fully at home in either one.
In 1930, after the Depression hit the US, half a million Mexicans, including children born in the US, were deported.
Then in 1942, the Bracero Program was established to bring in Mexican agricultural workers to fill in for war workers sent overseas or into weapons manufacturing.
But in 1954, “Operation Wetback” launched by the INS, arrested 1 million Mexican immigrants at their workplaces and many were again sent back.
In 1986, President Reagan, now a lame duck, signed an amnesty bill into law for 3 million illegal immigrants. Half of these stayed in California. In Los Angeles, 33% were foreign born in 1990, compared to 11% in 1970. By 1989, Los Angeles had the largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico City.
How did this tidal wave of immigration happen in such a brief period of time in the 1980s? One explanation:
“Mexico, burdened by international debt, imposed economic austerity measures further hurting the poorest members of its society, which caused thousands to make the dangerous trek north for economic survival. Guides who could lead families across the border to a better life in “El Norte” were nicknamed “coyotes.” Signs along the northbound interstate freeway in San Diego County graphically warned motorists to avoid hitting families fleeing across the highway.
More than 2.3 million foreign-born Latino residents in the U.S. took advantage of this [amnesty] program, leading to naturalization and green-card status. However, most foreign-born laborers did not want to give up their Mexican citizenship, preferring to work in California on a temporary basis and then return home. The IRCA required people to make a choice. Most choose to stay in the U.S. and sent for their family to join them. Under Reagan’s leadership, Congress had tried to limit Latino immigration, but instead, they created incentives that would lead to its increase.”
Last year, some in the Mexican-American community shrugged their shoulders at Trump’s invectives. It had always been that way.
Imagine this man, a make believe character, a true, fine, successful, once famous Angeleno:
Up on Mulholland Drive, east of Beverly Glen, sometime in 1980, there is an old, white songwriter, Len Shnauzerman, attended by his housekeeper Esmerelda, sipping wine on the deck of his estate, overlooking the Valley, purchased for $39,000 in 1949. He’s still collecting large monthly residuals for a few songs he wrote 35 years earlier (“Mippity-Dippity”,”The Cow Girl’s Serenade”, “Hoopy Doopy Waltz”, “Pretty Girls and Peanuts!”). He used to love LA, but it was now a cesspool. He is angry at those illegals, riding the bus to work, mopping floors, digging trenches, pouring concrete, those illegals collecting benefits in his country.
He may be fiction but there were plenty like him and perhaps there still are. Just because you worked hard, doesn’t mean you didn’t get lucky.
Plagues of the 1980s
The 1980s also became the high water mark of the Cocaine Era, much of it originating in Colombia and sent up through Central America. Crack-cocaine addiction destroyed poorer communities, and ended up with the arrest and incarceration of millions of black Americans.
The Angel of Death, AIDS, arrived just about 1980 mowing down the young, the brilliant, the innocent, the uninhibited.
The party was over.
Los Angeles would undergo challenges to its identity and survival never anticipated.
Suddenly the faces one passed on the freeway were strange, exotic, and menacing.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, meant the end of the Soviet Union, and the death of the Communist Revolution. Soon, client states like Cuba could no longer count on Russian help.
The end of the Cold War affected the military-industrial complex in the US. There was a decline in spending at the Pentagon, and this was felt, most deeply, in California, where defense industries were a backbone of the state economy.
Beyond the Beach
To the average Angeleno, politics in the late 1970s was something that only mattered when it came to local issues: freeway traffic, water rates, school boards, fire protection, crime and safety.
The chosen ignorance of the larger world, the anti-intellectualism of the American Mind, would come back to haunt pleasure loving California, which did not make the connections between the military-industrial-political-money machine, and its role in eventually undermining the peace and security of domestic life in the Southland.
Many loved the Republicans who were tough on crime, tough on communism, tough on deviants, tough on high taxes. They carried the flag high, and promised a restoration of law and order and the banishment of all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Insulated from international traumas, residing in a bubble of postwar prosperity, enjoying a beer and a cigarette on the beach, the people frolicked in the surf on the edge of instability, oblivious to the coming tsunami of social upheaval in Los Angeles.
The low point of it all came in the early 1990s when riots, an earthquake, the Rodney King beating, and the OJ Simpson murder case, seemed to encapsulate a region unhinged. Random people were murdered. There were drive by shootings every day, gang warfare, and a feeling that Los Angeles was just a giant cesspool of dystopian failure.
The 21st Century: A New City of Many Nations.
Through all the tribulations of violence, economic hardship, racial injustice, environmental degradation, social dislocations, skyrocketing housing, education and health care costs, the Californian pushed ahead to forge new horizons in virtual reality, public transportation, immigration policies, social justice, police reform, housing codes, environmental, gender and age protections.
And the remaking of Los Angeles, painful yet exhilarating, a city that would once again embrace so many different people, living in so many unique ways, that future also came to pass, a hopeful passage into the future; creative, imaginative, innovative, multi-dimensional, internationally engaged.
All this brings me back to Van Nuys and Ivan Gomez.
More on his life, and the meaning of Los Angeles and here in Van Nuys, to come……