Looks Like Yet Another Redevelopment Plan for Van Nuys.


In Urbanize LA “Revamp in the works for Van Nuys Civic Center.

“In a motion entitled “Building a Livable City,” Martinez instructs the Planning Department and LADOT to take stock of the number of parking spaces needed to serve Van Nuys City Hall and other government functions in the Van Nuys Civic Center, and lay out a plan for consolidating parking onto a smaller footprint. This would clear the path for redevelopment of the complex’s remaining parking lots with a mixture of affordable housing, open space, retail, and other community serving uses. Likewise, Martinez proposes that any scheme also incorporate amenities for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Must we endure these promises again? Here is what they were writing 31 years ago this month:

Downtown Van Nuys, due to 70 years of misguided “redevelopment”, has obliterated itself and now crawls along at the lowest condition in its history.  Homelessness, abandoned storefronts, and an eight lane wide highway are what it looks like.  

Ms. Martinez has occupied her office, figuratively and literally, for over 7 years and during that time she has spoken up about all the ills of Van Nuys and the NE SFV: human trafficking, crime, housing, drugs, homelessness.  

Yet, still the tent cities remain. The shopfronts are no more. The entire area looks like hell.

And at the center is the 1958 planned Van Nuys Civic Center, a ghost land of courthouses, library and police station all populated by vagrants, trash, emptiness and hopelessness. Surrounding the area are many tens of thousands of parking lots, enormous concrete fiascos erected 50 years ago to provide dignified places for vehicles to live. They are mostly empty now, and should be destroyed and replaced with housing, housing, housing!

But this requires a plan, an architectural plan, and there is never, ever any architectural thought put into any structures that go up in Van Nuys. Instead, a crooked and semi-literate group of grifters with dough show up at planning board meetings and offer up the shit boxes that are shoved into the poor streets nearby. And VNB remains the center of dysfunctional governance in the SFV. 

In past “great plans”, the Orange Line bus and and bike path was supposed to revive Van Nuys. But next to the path, are parking lots, rented out by nearby car dealers to store their unsold vehicles. This land, paid for with public tax dollars, is instead being exploited by for profit auto dealerships.

So I’m cynical.

Our present condition as a city, due to the horrendous tenure of Mayor Garcetti, normalized everything wrong, illegal, dirty and dangerous.

But let’s try again. Keep trying. We have nothing to lose. But our minds.

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?

 

All the Great Plans…


Yesterday afternoon, we were gathered at MacLeod Ale to celebrate Quirino’s birthday. We sat along a wooden table in the back, near the bags of hops. People were playing darts. The front door was closed, the air conditioning was on, we ate BBQ tri-tip beef (marinated in MacLeod). And we were discussing Van Nuys over warm and cold beer.

A young guy named Daniel sat across from me. He had worked under Former Councilman (Congressman!) Tony Cardenas and is now in the city planning department. Andreas asked him if he thought Van Nuys might be the new Highland Park.

“Not now, maybe not ever,” Daniel said.

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“Highland Park Market” Photo by Lance Leong / Flickr

Daniel was versed, in the somnambulistic and arcane zoning laws of Los Angeles, the kind that mandate how much parking is needed and what height a building can be, if additional units of housing can go up if some rents come down. And how many feet away from a school is permissible for a liquor store? And who can put up a 1200 sf granny flat in their backyard (the answer is you).

His generalized, and probably correct assertion is that Highland Park has an active and engaged group of residents and Van Nuys does not. The same is true of more affluent and contentious areas like Studio City or Woodland Hills. In those places, where planters and trees now line the boulevards, bike lanes are carved out, and revitalized shops, apartments, housing are going in. Much of the credit goes to the people who live there.

Van Nuys complains. But it never unites to fight for its betterment. Much easier to bicker on the Next Door app.

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Construction of the Santa Monica Freeway 1961. (USC)

Also at our table was white-haired, impassioned, articulate Howard who is on the VNNC. He is smart, accomplished, a lifelong resident of Los Angeles who grew up near Venice and Fairfax and watched the demolition of housing during the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway in the early 1960s. At that time, thousands of old houses, many architecturally notable, were bulldozed.

Howard recalled the dirt berm that extended for fifteen miles after the houses came down. “At night you could hear the rats, there were millions of them, and they ran and scurried and made noise.”

The Santa Monica Freeway was part of the big plan for Los Angeles. As was the Van Nuys Civic Center, Dodger Stadium, Bunker Hill, and the Federal Building in Westwood. In all these cases the results were less than stellar. Walkable, vibrant, historic, human scaled places were obliterated. And what remains today are acres of baked asphalt and mute modernism.

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Howard said that the planned redevelopment of Van Nuys Boulevard, to make it a transit hub, to put a light rail down the center, to install bike lanes, to increase the allowable height of apartments, all of these progressive ideas, pushed by everyone from New Urbanists to developers and transit advocates, would be a “disaster for Van Nuys.” Many small businesses would close and the area would turn into something worse than even the hellish condition it currently is in.

So simultaneously, he decried the automobile oriented era of the Santa Monica Freeway and mimicked the impending one of density and pedestrian oriented development.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”- F. Scott Fitzgerald

And yet his views do make sense if you consider that every time big ideas come to Los Angeles, they are somehow, like a good-looking wannabe actor/model from the hinterlands, deflated and defeated by this city.

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Renderings by Gensler Courtesy of Psomas
Renderings by Gensler Courtesy of Psomas

The daily assassination of youthful idealism is the oldest tradition in our city.

In the built environment there is also something here that abhors a unifying concept of planning and harmony. If a building can be built to stick out and look freaky and out-of-place it is deserving of praise.

In architecture, as in politics and entertainment, the bigger the carnival and the louder the wreck, the more applause, the more profits. That’s what we are aiming to create.

When we do get together under some banner like Mayor Villaraigosa’s “Million Trees” or Mayor Garcetti’s “Great Streets” the gods start to laugh at us. We are best at half-hearted, half-completed projects.

And perhaps that negative is a good thing. One must give Los Angeles credit, not only for attempting to build massive public works, but for making sure that once the great works go up, small indignities, like homeless encampments along the Orange Line Bike Path, will sober up dreamers and urban fantasists.

All the Great Plans are like those coffee-house conferences with laptops, planning to produce and cast and finance something, someday….


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The Agence Ter plan. (Pershing Square Renew)

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On the drawing board now is a new park in Pershing Square.

Two years ago, I went with a group of photographers to shoot the city on a Sunday afternoon and was told I could not put my camera on a tripod. This was in the same park where mattresses were laid out and people sprawled down stairs drunk and asleep.

A public park where public photography is regulated by private security.

What you should be able to do in public you cannot, and what you should NOT do, is allowable.


And then there is MacLeod Ale, a private venture, started by two people over 50, using family money and retirement funds to make great beer.

That one small incubator of beer seems to produce more ideas for the betterment of Van Nuys than any political slogan coming out of City Hall.

Throw out all the great plans for Van Nuys.

Start small, dream big, pursue your own venture. Maybe that is the key to change.

 

 

A Van Nuys Experimental District.


What if there were a Van Nuys Experimental District for architecture?

I mentioned this to Andreas Samson last night, the idea of building, near the Busway and the Civic Center, a walkable but unique area of designed urbanism.

Integrating old buildings against striking new ones might help bring revitalization to the dead zone.

Looking online at photos at Archello reveals that the rest of the world, from Vietnam to Australia, already does that.

Here are some examples of new urban design–some of which may be applicable to Van Nuys:

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine
Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine
Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine
Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc
9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc
9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc
9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc
9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office - Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh
RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office – Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office - Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh
RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office – Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

Boulevard of Blankness.


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According to City Data, the area of Van Nuys bounded by Roscoe Boulevard on the North, Woodman Avenue on the East,Burbank Boulevard to the South, and the 405 on the West, an area of 7.2 square miles, contains some 100,000 people at a population density of 13,271 per square mile. The LA Times claims 110,000 lived here as of 2008.

Heart of this district is a blank-walled canyon of bleakness, Van Nuys Boulevard. It was once a thriving commercial street, full of fine looking Mid-Century Modern banks, small stores, and family run businesses where the windows were washed and the sidewalks swept daily.

In the 1950s through the 1980s it was a cruising area, taken over by young people and cool cars.

And now it is a dump.


 

It seems that this blog, for over 8 years, has reported ad nauseum on this wasteland of shuttered shops, littered parking lots, and vast expanses of asphalt surrounded by decay.

And yet, two blocks from Van Nuys Boulevard, there are some lovely and historic streets, well maintained houses, people and their properties who are trying to keep neatness and bourgeois respectability evident in their front yards.

The bottom line is the bottom line. There is not a plan, nor a large scale investment, nor a vision for Van Nuys Boulevard. There are piecemeal and weak proposals put forth by well-meaning people to make it “bicycle friendly” or “pedestrian friendly”. But who the hell wants to spend time in the 100-degree heat, soaking up the smell of urine in doorways, stepping over dog shit, as the smoke of illegal food vendors blows over the parked cars and idle trucks who have flunked their smog inspections?

The current environment is a hellish place, one whose continuing demoralizing existence blights the whole community of Van Nuys.

One hundred thousand people who live here deserve better.

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North Hollywood Redevelopment Plan Collapses




Blue Corner, originally uploaded by Here in Van Nuys.

The aged and decrepit mall property on the corner of Victory and Laurel Canyon will not be redeveloped anytime soon, according to the Daily News.