2017 Year in Review
Los Angeles County will once again hold a count of the region’s homelessness in January.
In 2017, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority data released in May revealed some local areas had greater gains in homeless population than the city as a whole.
Homelessness grew 20% citywide from 2016 to 2017 according to the data, which was collected in January.
But in Council District 4, which includes the communities of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, East Hollywood, the growth in 2017 outpaced the city at 25%.
The district also saw a 200% increase in homeless persons with HIV or AIDS, compared to a citywide increase of 86%; a 316% increase for those with developmental disabilities, compared to the city’s increase of 90%; and a 38% increase in homeless persons with physical disabilities, compared to the citywide increase of 11%.
Meanwhile, Council District 13, which includes portions of Hollywood, Atwater Village, Echo Park and Silver Lake, also outpaced city homeless numbers about 33% of the time, according to the data, including in the areas of those identified as chronically homeless, those with veteran status, transgender individuals, those who are white, those who are elderly and those with health issues including substance disorders, brain injuries and HIV/AIDS.
When asked for comment at the time, both Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, who represents CD4, and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents CD13, indicated relief was on the way thanks to voter approved ballot measures, which passed in 2016 and 2017.
Additionally, In January 2017, a city of Los Angeles ordinance went into effect allowing people to sleep in their cars during the day along most local residential streets and overnight on some streets in business districts.
Previously, living in one’s vehicle was against the law, with complaints against vehicle dwellers from residents usually revolving around trash, improper dumping of sanitation waste and the stealing of water from residents’ property, an LAPD spokesperson said at the time.
The January law, intended to alleviate the city’s worsening homeless crisis allows people to live in their vehicles during the day in most areas of the city. However, they must move to non-residential areas between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and cannot be within 500 feet of licensed schools, preschools, day-care facilities or public parks.
According to city maps, sleeping in cars is allowed locally on Sunset Boulevard between Hillhurst and Fountain avenues, Hyperion Avenue between Monon Street and La Paz Drive, and on Santa Monica Boulevard at Manzanita Street through Sunset Boulevard to just short of Edgecliff Drive.
According to 2016 data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 7,100 people live in their vehicles in the city of Los Angeles.
No changes were made to the so-called Vermont Triangle—which sits at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Sunset and Hollywood boulevards—in 2017, though the issue was much discussed and a plan to place large planters at the location in an effort to discourage homeless encampments was approved in February.
The Triangle, has hosted a steady rotation of homeless encampments since its costly conversion to a park in 2008 by then Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, with regular city cleanups doing little to mitigate the problem.
The February plan, championed by the East Hollywood Business Improvement District, was promised as an “immediate solution” to the Triangle’s problems.
But according to Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, that plan was a “reactionary” solution to the problem.
“The situation was so egregious,” said Ryu, leading people to support the first viable solution that was presented. “Now that it’s clean, people are reevaluating and coming up with new ideas.”
One such idea is to turn the median into an urban park, similar to Silver Lake’s polka-dot-painted plaza on Sunset Boulevard, though Ryu said that is just one of several community suggestions.
According to Ryu, “There are a lot of different stakeholders who have different visions” for the Triangle, including the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and the East Hollywood Business Improvement District, which makes it difficult to select a plan once and for all.
For now, “The good news is the Triangle is clean,” said Ryu. “We will be continuing to monitor the situation … including [cleanups and] getting services to the homeless people living there.”
As for when community members can expect a more permanent solution, that remains to be seen.
“We’re hoping sooner rather than later,” said Ryu.
KATY PERRY MOVING TO LOS FELIZ
The years-long battle between singer Katy Perry and local restaurateur Dana Hollister over a former convent on Waverly Drive seems to have finally come to an end, and it looks like Perry will soon be moving to Los Feliz.
A jury in December ordered Hollister, who owns Cliff’s Edge restaurant in Silver Lake and had hoped to turn the Waverly Drive property into a boutique hotel, to pay nearly $10 million in punitive damages on top of more than $5 million in legal fees they ruled she must pay in November for interfering in the sale to Perry.
The convent, which is owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and once housed the Sisters of the Most Holy and the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IHM), an order of retired nuns, became vacant in 2011, when the sprawling property became too expensive for the sisters to maintain.
The sisters agreed to sell the property to Hollister for $10 million, $100,000 of which would be paid up front, with a promise to pay the remainder at a future date.
Meanwhile, the archdiocese—who a judge later ruled had the legal right to sell the property, not the sisters—had accepted a deal from Perry to purchase the property for $14.5 million, $10 million of which would be paid in cash, with the remaining $4.5 million to purchase a new house of prayer at a different location.
Although a judge initially ruled to invalidate the sale to Hollister—clearing the way for Perry to purchase the convent—in 2016 and then once again this March, lawyers for Hollister and the nuns pushed for a jury trial, extending the litigation into December.
FRANKLIN AND WESTERN DEVELOPMENT
The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) voted in June to support a controversial development at the corner of Franklin and Western avenues, called the “1860,” provided developers increase the project’s number of affordable units from 16 to 22.
The LFNC had previously voted to oppose the development in April, citing traffic and safety concerns, the project’s five-story height, the amount of zoning exemptions required and the precedent an approval might set for other potential developers in the area.
The Los Angeles City Planning Dept. has yet to vote on the project, after a hearing originally scheduled for April was indefinitely postponed at the developer’s request. No hearing is currently scheduled.
A preliminary hearing for Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education Boardmember Ref Rodriguez, 46, who faces charges of perjury and campaign money laundering among others, has been postponed until at least February in light of new conflict of interest allegations, according to various media reports.
Rodriguez plead not guilty in October to more than two-dozen criminal counts, including felony counts of conspiracy to commit assumed name contribution, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged document, for allegedly funneling $25,000 of his own money into his 2015 campaign by listing phony donors on a campaign disclosure form.
A December hearing on the matter was continued to February 7, 2018, where the court will set a preliminary hearing date on the matter.
Rodriguez stepped down from his role as president of the school board in September, but has refused to resign from the board even as three of his fellow board members, including current President Monica Garcia, have asked him to step down.
At the December hearing, about 40 parents held a press conference outside the criminal courts building in downtown Los Angeles asking Rodriguez to resign.
“There is a clear matter of right and wrong here,” said Josh Rutkoff who said he has two sons that attend Aldama Elementary School in Highland Park. “His behavior was unethical.”
“As a parent, I need to have trust everyday that all working within the school system are operating with the utmost integrity,” Rutkoff said. “We have a court system that can decide what is legal, but I can tell you, as a parent, what he did was wrong.”
According to city Ethics Commission documents, shortly after Rodriguez began his campaign for the school board seat in November 2014, he “provided $26,000 of his own money to [Elizabeth] Melendrez, his cousin and a key campaign volunteer, with instructions to funnel that money into his campaign account by asking family members to make contributions.”
“Melendrez enticed 25 family members and friends to make campaign contributions by telling them that their contributions would be reimbursed,” according to the Ethics Commission accusation. “The 25 contributions were made from [December] 23 through [December] 31, 2014, ranged from $775 to $1,100 each, and totaled $24,250. Melendrez fully reimbursed all 25 contributions using Rodriguez’s funds.”
According to the Ethics Commission, Rodriguez filed a campaign disclosure statement on January 12, 2015, and that statement included the 25 donations that had been reimbursed.
“In that statement, Rodriguez certified under penalty of perjury that he had raised a total of $51,001 in contributions from other people. However, nearly half of the reported funds were actually Rodriguez’s own money,” according to the Ethics Commission.
Rodriguez has never publically refuted the allegations.
BEACHWOOD TRAILHEAD CLOSURE
As part of a settlement of a lawsuit with the Sunset Ranch Stables, the city closed the controversial Beachwood Trailhead to Griffith Park in April, providing relief for some area residents, but outraging some local activists, who in turn filed their own lawsuit to have it reopened.
Meanwhile, restricted parking in Beachwood’s small commercial center, first initiated by former Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge before he was termed out of office in 2015, had an impact on at least a few businesses.
According to Patti Peck, owner of the Beachwood Café, an antique shop that had been there for 20 years and a dry cleaner both closed in 2017, Peck said, due to “reduced business due to the [parking restrictions.]”
“I’m tired of the politics of all this,” said Peck in an email, “… so I am no longer engaged in trying to fight City Hall. But they are making it extra hard for small businesses to be viable up here. I feel like the businesses are being punished in favor of a few residents who supported [now Los Angeles City councilmember] David Ryu during his campaign.”
Regarding the fresh lawsuit filed in 2017 by Friends of Griffith Park, the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust and the Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Assoc. over the city’s closure of access to Griffith Park via the Beachwood Trailhead, attorneys and the city are currently in “limited negotiations,” over the issue, according to Mike Gatto, one of the attorneys representing the three groups in the matter.
“We feel confident,” Gatto said in an interview, “that there will be increased and safe access [at the location], which every neighborhood can get behind.”
Barring a settlement, the issue will go to trial in March 2018. Opening briefs on the matter are to be filed by January 11, 2018.
In the Sunset Ranch lawsuit, a judge ruled the ranch did not have exclusive use of an easement at the Beachwood Trailhead, but that the city had interfered with the ranch’s business by encouraging tourists and hikers to access the trail, which leads to the famed Hollywood Sign. The judge ruled the city should instead provide public access to the Hollyridge Trail “at a location closest to the start of the subject easement … as is practicable.”
The latest lawsuit claims the city hastily closed all access through the Beachwood Canyon gate, and by doing so channeled traffic through another neighborhood.
SCHOOL VACCINATION RATES
In September, we reported over two-dozen local public and private schools were below the state’s recommended 95% vaccination rate, despite a relatively new state inoculation law.
Some of those rates have improved in the months since.
According to Ellen Morgan, a spokesperson with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Feliz STEMM Magnet is now at 100% (up from 65%) and Ivanhoe Elementary is currently at 96% (up from 94%).
According to a representative from Silver Lake’s Ivanhoe Elementary, their vaccination has stayed the same at 94%, while a representative from Pilgrim School indicated theirs has improved to 100% (up from 89%).
Vaccination rates at the Lycee International de Los Angeles Los Feliz campus are now at 80% (compared to 72% in September).
According to Emily Ansinelli, the school’s marketing and communications director, the school has five students out of 55 kindergarteners that are medically exempt from vaccinations and another 11 that are playing catch up.
“Our school welcomes students from overseas, and more specifically from France,” said Ansinelli in an email. “As you may well know, the vaccination requirements and schedules differ from country to country. The 11 students that are missing doses are under U.S. physician care with a predefined schedule to get them to catch up to the California required vaccination schedule. As such, we are constantly improving our vaccination rate.”
Some schools, however, did not return our requests for updated information, including Citizen’s of the World Hollywood, which we reported as having a 32% vaccination rate in September, the Pasadena Waldorf School (45%) Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts (88%) and St. Teresa of Avila (83%).
1ST AMENDMENT COALITION LAWSUIT
The city of Los Angeles settled a lawsuit September 20th filed by the First Amendment Coalition regarding the non-profit’s civil complaint that the city had illegally destroyed public records. As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to preserve city records for at least two years.
The San Rafael, CA based organization’s lawsuit was filed in 2016, after it was revealed former Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge ordered at least 113 boxes of documents from his office be destroyed in the final weeks of his term in 2015.
As part of the settlement, the city will pay the coalition’s $20,000 in attorney fees and promised the organization it would consult with the non-profit if it wants to change any of its rules for records retention and destruction over the next five years.
ELECTED OFFICIALS, NEW AND OLD
In March, Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents California’s 28th Congressional District, which includes Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, Echo Park and other local areas, was live on CNN, delivering the opening statement during a hearing on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
But Schiff, the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also made a big mark this year in a much smaller medium—one that up until recently was restricted to 140 characters or less.
The congressman gained a following on Twitter, which he has used as a platform to speak out against the Trump administration and respond to some of the president’s more inflammatory tweets.
One of Schiff’s most popular tweets was sent on February 4, 2017 in response to Trump derisively calling U.S. District Judge James Robart a “so-called judge” after Robart temporarily blocked Trump’s travel ban.
Schiff tweeted, “The ‘so-called’ judge was nominated by a ‘so-called’ President & was confirmed by the ‘so-called’ Senate. Read the ‘so-called’ Constitution.”
In a March interview, Schiff said he sees Twitter as a vital tool for informing his followers of issues happening in real-time, for opening up a dialogue with his constituents and for speaking out about “a number of issues the world cares deeply about that we don‘t hear from our president.”
Find Schiff on Twitter as @RepAdamSchiff.
Local California State Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who took over former assemblymember Mike Gatto’s 43rd District seat last December, has just completed her first year in office.
Friedman, a former Glendale city councilmember who ran on a platform that included curbing unemployment, rising housing prices and rising childcare costs, beat out fellow democrat Ardy Kassakhian for the seat.
In June, Friedman was appointed chair of the Assembly Rules Subcommittee on Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Prevention and Response, a committee which has taken on an even greater role in recent months as sexual assault allegations against several high profile figures, including Harvey Weinstein and several politicians, have come to light.
Over the past year, Friedman authored several bills, four of which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Those bills were AB766, which provides funding to aid foster youth with living expenses while attending college; AB1286, allowing more time for airports to collect rental car fees, which go towards updating facilities and reducing air pollution; AB 1400, which sets higher environmental standards for backup electricity generators and AB1414, which reduces fees and red tape for consumers wishing to install solar panels.
Friedman additionally secured $20 million in funding for the completion of a pedestrian and bicycle-bridge as part of the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk, which would connect Glendale with Griffith Park, and provide a safe connection from Glendale to the Los Angeles River bike path.
By providing Glendale residents bicycle and pedestrian access to Griffith Park, “the amount of traffic reduction on Los Feliz Boulevard could be significant,” said Friedman.
Such efforts have gained Friedman a reputation as an environmentalist, a characterization she says is accurate.
“We all see what’s happening with the effects of climate change,” said Friedman. “It’s real, and we have to take it seriously.”
As for next year, Friedman said she hopes to focus on getting a package of three water conservation bills passed, which would “radically change the way water is thought of in California.”
Additionally, she said, she will continue to serve on the state’s Universal Health Care Committee and will continue her work to combat her district’s affordable housing crisis.
Two new boardmembers were elected to the Los Feliz Village Business Improvement District (LFVBID) December 4th, and two existing boardmembers were reelected to their seats.
Hillhurst Avenue dentist Dr. George Hanna, DDS and Ruth Salonga of Sotheby’s International Realty were newly elected with 32 votes and 20 votes respectively, while Berkshire Hathaway Los Feliz Realtor Rafik Ghazarian and Los Feliz Ledger Publisher Allison Cohen were reelected with 30 and 28 votes respectively.
Cohen joined the board in May, replacing Butter Cake Shoppe’s Ariadna Ordowskji, and taking on the role of Communications and Public Relations Committee Chair.
Last January, Ghazarian, who was originally elected as a boardmember in 2013, was elected board president.
Ghazarian replaced longtime president Chris Serrano, also with Berkshire Hathaway, who remained on the LFVBID governing board as treasurer.
Since his election, Ghazarian ramped up the LFVBID’s marketing efforts, increasing the board’s social media presence and expanding their advertising reach within the Greater Los Angeles area in an effort to bring new visitors to the Los Feliz Village area.
According to Ghazarian, in 2017 the LFVBID also added several new trashcans, improved the regularity of street sweeping and increased voter turnout for this year’s board election twofold.
“This last year was a really good year for us,” said Ghazarian. “We were able to work on our administrative process and really streamline the BID’s operations.”
Additionally, said Ghazarian, the board came in “way below budget” for marketing and public relations, due to new committee chair Cohen’s habit of insourcing design and other services.
According to Ghazarian, that funding surplus helped the LFVBID to secure some of the board’s future marketing at a lower cost.
For 2018, Ghazarian said the board’s primary focus will be to bring more visitors, shoppers and diners to local businesses.
“The only reason we’re here is to bring in more business for them,” he said.
LA KRETZ BRIDGE
The North Atwater Bridge, a pedestrian, equestrian and bicycle bridge, which will connect Atwater Village to Griffith Park, was officially approved by the city of Los Angeles in May.
Known colloquially as the La Kretz Bridge due to a $3.67 million gift in 2011 from philanthropist Morton La Kretz to fund its construction, the bridge is now estimated to cost $16.2 million—more than four times the original estimate.
When originally proposed, the bridge was to be fully funded by La Kretz’s gift and an additional $300,000 secured by then Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge to offset the cost of fees and city permits.
But six years later, rising construction costs and project delays, including a re-design to offset flood risk, had quadrupled the cost.
Although city councilmembers David Ryu and Mitch O’Farrell, whose council districts the bridge connects, were each critical of the bridge’s growing cost, both councilmembers ultimately voted in support of the project.
DASH BUS EXPANSION
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti allocated $14 million in his 2017-2018 city budget, which went into effect in July, for additional DASH bus operating costs, paving the way for several Los Angeles Dept. of Transportation (LADOT) recommended route changes to go into effect, including some locally.
The biggest change would be a major extension of the DASH Los Feliz route into Silver Lake via Rowena Avenue, eliminating service north of Franklin Avenue between Vermont and Hillhurst avenues to do so.
According to LADOT’s Oliver Hou, that change will not be implemented until 2018 or 2019, pending Los Angeles City Council approval.
Another notable change, implemented in March, was the inclusion of weekday and extended operating hours for the DASH Observatory route as part of a larger traffic reduction plan for Griffith Park.
As of September, the line’s daily ridership had increased more than 50% as a result of the change.
OBSERVATORY TRAFFIC PLAN
With the first phases of a plan to mitigate traffic and parking issues near the Griffith Park Observatory implemented, the city is now ready to begin phase two, according to Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu.
Phase one of the plan, which was approved in September 2016, included the controversial implementation of $4-per-hour paid parking in the Griffith Observatory lot—though parking in other park lots remains free of charge—and a more popular plan to expand DASH bus service to the park.
The next step, according to Ryu, is to incorporate quiet and eco-friendly electric shuttle busses—to be paid for with the new parking fees—and augment DASH service to offset the line’s newfound popularity.
The DASH bus expansion was almost “too much of a success,” said Ryu, who said he often sees the Observatory DASH filled to capacity with long queues waiting for the next bus.
According to Ryu, the city is currently seeking proposals from shuttle bus companies to operate within the park.
Eventually, according to Ryu, the city’s goal is to interconnect the entire park, from the Zoo and the Autry, to the Carousel and Fern Dell, and to secure an Observatory bus “park and ride” lot below Los Feliz Village.
“The ultimate goal is to not have anyone driving into the park,” said Ryu.
RYU DISCRETIONARY FUNDS
Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu (Council District 4) is currently seeking five new members to serve two-year terms on his Discretionary Funds Task force, a nine-member, hand-selected committee created by Ryu after his election in 2015 to help ensure oversight and transparency of his discretionary spending.
Each of the city’s 15 councilmembers receives approximately $1.5 million annually from a variety of funding sources, including from ads placed on bus benches and kiosks, for example.
Councilmembers can spend these funds on district improvements at their discretion.
Ryu spent approximately $860,000 of his discretionary funds in fiscal year 2016-2017, according to an analysis of public records by the Ledger.
Of that, $730,000 was spent without task force input, while another $130,000 was recommended for funding by the task force.
When the discretionary task force was formed, it was believed it would review and make recommendations for all of Ryu’s discretionary spending
However, the committee only meets six times a year, so Ryu must often make his own decisions on spending the funds before the task force has a chance to review them.
Some of Ryu’s larger expenditures from last year included funding for additional police enforcement for high-tourism residential areas near the Hollywood Sign, street and sidewalk repairs, traffic control measures and tree trimming, among others.
The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) last January requested to use a portion of the Parks First Trust Fund, a city account of over $1.3 million in fees paid by developers for the creation of “pocket parks,” small parks in otherwise urban areas.
Per a 2001 city ordinance, residential developers wishing to build in the Vermont/Western Station Neighborhood Area Plan (SNAP) district—an approximately 2.2 square mile area defined by its density and proximity to public transit, which includes parts of Los Feliz along with East and West Hollywood—must contribute $4,300 per housing unit to the fund before they can receive a building permit.
But aside from one community garden in East Hollywood, the city has yet to build any new parks in the SNAP district.
According to LFNC Recreation Chair Mark Mauceri, a huge part of the issue is securing land.
“The market is hot and people are buying up everything,” said Mauceri. “By the time the city identifies a piece of land [to turn into a park], it’s already been sold.”
One such parcel is 4544 Franklin Ave., the former home of goth/punk/heavy metal legend Glenn Danzig.
According to Mauceri, he alerted the city to the property—an ideal location for a park, near a school and a library, he said—as soon as it hit the market, but by the time city officials looked into it, it had already been purchased.
“All the good intentions in the world will not get us a piece of land,” said Mauceri, who suggested one solution could be for the city to enter into a “first right of negotiation” agreement with owners of properties that are not yet for sale, but would make good locations for future parks.
Such an agreement, he said, would give the city a chance to make an offer on an appropriate parcel before it went on the market.
According to Rebecca Kalauskas, a member of the Los Feliz MOMS Club, which has been working with the LFNC to identify possible park locations, one idea that has been floated is to close off a portion of the street and transform the “Vermont Triangle” median, located at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Sunset and Hollywood boulevards, into an urban park similar to Sunset Boulevard’s green polka-dot Silver Lake Plaza.
GRIFFITH PARK BASEBALL FIELDS
According to Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu the issue of whether a baseball field will ever be built in Griffith Park is “at the purview of [the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks.”
“There is going to be a baseball diamond,” for youth in Griffith Park, Ryu said in an interview, citing a 2016 legal settlement with Friends of Griffith Park and the Griffith Charitable Trust, where an agreement was made that one youth baseball field be built—instead of two—and be located in an area south of the park’s Crystal Springs Picnic area.
After the settlement, however, the city indicated it no longer had money to fund the construction of the ballfield.
But according to Ryu, funding could be available through the recently voter passed Measure A, a county tax on improved property that is estimated to bring in $94.5 million a year.
“We are going after Measure A dollars aggressively for all we can,” Ryu said in an interview.
Additionally, Ryu said, there are current discussions underway with Los Angeles Unified School District to possibly open more school-owned fields on weekends for public use.
“That is something we are always looking to do, to leverage and have more open and green space,” he said.
OLYMPIC BID GETS YOUTH SPORTS FEE
As part of an agreement for the city to step aside and host the Olympics in 2028 instead of 2024, city officials negotiated with the International Olympic Committee to receive $160 million from the organization to be used to offset registration fees for families for city sports programs, in what Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he hoped would “bring youth sports for free in every zip code.”
Jeff Millman, chief communications officer with LA2028, initially indicated the city would start receiving the funds in 2018 and hopes to start implementing the cost savings program for families “as soon as possible” until the games begin in 2028.
According to Millman, LA 2028 and the city will develop the youth sports program in 2018 and 2019.
Additionally, Millman said, in an email, the city has already begun a pilot program at six recreation centers.
“The program will include adapted sports, so young Angelenos with disabilities can develop their athletic abilities and share in the benefits of sports,” Millman said.
PEDESTRIAN TUNNEL TO CLOSE
Los Angeles City councilmembers David Ryu (Council District 4) and Mitch O’Farrell (Council District 13) are awaiting a new cost estimate from the city’s Bureau of Engineering for the closure of a pedestrian tunnel under Hollywood Boulevard at New Hampshire Avenue, which the councilmembers called for in an August motion.
According to several community members, the tunnel, one of many in the city originally constructed during the early part of the 20th century to provide safe passage for schoolchildren, has since become a source of blight, attracting homeless encampments, graffiti and piles of debris.
Even the school the tunnel was originally constructed to serve sees little value in it.
Los Feliz STEMM Magnet Elementary School Principal Katherine Pilkinton said in August the school has requested the tunnel be closed for years, calling it an “eyesore” and a safety hazard.
Additionally, said Pilkinton, there is now a crosswalk at the intersection, rendering the tunnel obsolete.
According to Pilkinton, the city previously agreed to close the tunnel about eight years ago, but never did so due to lack of funding.
Now, it seems, funding may become an issue once again, as “the initial cost estimate [from the Bureau of Engineering] was very high,” according to Ryu, who said he has requested the bureau come back with a new analysis.
“We’re trying to see if we can get something lower,” he said.
Cost estimates for closing such a tunnel—generally done by demolishing the entrance and filling it with concrete or similar materials—can vary wildly, a Dept. of Public Works spokesperson said in August, depending on the method and materials used to fill it, and whether Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curb ramps are required.
However, according to the spokesperson, maintenance costs for unclosed tunnels can also be quite high—especially when hazardous materials such as human waste or hypodermic needles are present.
BUSINESSES PUSH BACK AGAINST NEW CITY RECYCLING PROGRAM
RecycLA, a new Los Angeles City trash program, designed to dramatically increase recycling in the city, launched in July to the chagrin of many local business owners, who said their trash hauling service had diminished while their costs had increased—in some cases doubling, tripling or even quadrupling—under the program.
At issue is the program’s requirement that each business use a designated service provider for their area, eliminating their ability to shop around for lower costs and better service, along with a lack of clarity surrounding new fees and surcharges associated with the program.
In December, Los Angeles City councilmembers Mike Bonin (Council District 11) and Mitch O’Farrell (Council District 13) authored a motion calling for a comprehensive Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation review of the program and its rollout.
“Since the initial rollout of [the] RecycLA program, City Council offices have been inundated with calls and correspondence from small businesses, landlords, and homeowners associations,” read the December 5th motion.
“They’ve expressed a thread of complaints and confusion regarding sudden and sharply increased costs, confusing new fees and surcharges and inaccurate bills. Their concerns also include frequent and repeated lack of service, lack of notice and widespread poor customer service from the waste haulers.”
Such problems, according to the motion, have not improved since the program’s July rollout.
Although the motion does not include a timeline for the sanitation department’s report, the council is hoping to receive it by early 2018, according to Bonin spokesperson David Graham-Caso.
AVOCADO STREET SPEEDING
Two speed humps were installed on a portion of Avocado Street in late October, after six years of requests from residents, the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council and two Los Angeles City councilmembers, David Ryu and his predecessor Tom LaBonge.
Residents of the small side street said the humps, which were installed between Commonwealth and Rowena avenues, have made a big difference for both safety and quality of life on the street.
But some residents say the street needs additional humps one block west between Hillhurst and Commonwealth avenues, where they say motorists still drive at unsafe speeds.
“I think people want to rush through our block before they have to drive slow,” said one resident in November.
A judge issued a default ruling in August against local business owner Marci Siegel for failing to respond to two July summonses in an April lawsuit filed by artist Monte Thrasher over the destruction of his Kingswell Avenue mural “Six Heads.”
In his suit, Thrasher alleges Siegel, who owns retail store Co-Op 28 and yet-to-open beer and wine bar Bukowski’s, illegally replaced Thrasher’s mural with one of author Charles Bukowski without providing him proper notice.
According to the suit, Siegel’s action constituted a violation of the Visual Artist Rights Act (VARA), a 1990 federal law protecting muralists that mandates an artist receive 90 days’ notice in order to document and preserve their work before its destruction.
In his lawsuit, Thrasher requested an unspecified amount of damages as well as the opportunity to restore his mural.
According to court records, Thrasher’s attorney had been in conversation with a Siegel representative about potentially reaching a settlement in the matter prior to the ruling.
Damages in the Bukowski’s case have not yet been assessed, though fines in such VARA suits can be high. Thrasher’s attorney, Eric Bjorgum, previously represented artist Kent Twitchell, who received a $1.1 million dollar settlement in 2006 when his downtown Los Angeles mural “Ed Ruscha Monument” was painted over in violation of VARA.
According to Siegel, she never received either July summons and was not aware of the judgment against her. Court records indicate she was out of the country when the summonses were served.
A highly anticipated new Kingswell Avenue beer and wine bar called Bukowski’s is expected to open soon, pending a beer and wine license from the City of Los Angeles, according to owner Marci Siegel.
Touting itself as an “intellectual’s dive bar,” the proposed 900-square-foot 23-seat bar would serve as a tribute to late author Charles Bukowski and feature wine and craft beer, poetry readings and acoustic musical performances.
Siegel said she is hoping to open the bar in January, but does not yet know when she will receive the permit, which she applied for in October 2016.
The bar received all of its building permits in March, and according to Siegel, construction is almost completed.
SIKH TEMPLE VANDAL
The Los Angeles Police Dept. did not respond to multiple requests for an update on whether Artyom Manukyan, a suspect wanted for the August vandalization of a Sikh Temple in Los Feliz, had been apprehended.
Manukyan, 27, was allegedly caught on video writing a rambling anti-Sikh message on the wall of the temple.
The suspect, who has lived with family in the Glendale and Los Feliz areas, also allegedly threatened to slit the throat of the person who recorded the video, police said in September.
COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE!
In October, a new Starbucks Reserve—a more upscale version of the ubiquitous coffee chain, with higher-end food and beverage offerings and a midcentury modern aesthetic—opened in the former Tangier restaurant location, for a grand total of seven coffee shops along a half-mile stretch of Hillhurst Avenue.
Ledger Restaurant Critic Pat Saperstein evaluated the six other Hillhurst coffee shops in August, rating each in categories ranging from coffee quality and ambience to dog-friendliness.
Local music education nonprofit Silverlake Conservatory of Music, which moved to Los Feliz from the Sunset Junction in 2016, received two awards in one week in June.
California State Assemblymember Laura Friedman named the music school, co-founded by Michael “Flea” Balzary of the rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Nonprofit of the Year,” just days after it received an architecture award from the Los Angeles Business Council.
LOCAL TWITTER ACCOUNT OPTIONED BY HULU
In May, popular Twitter account @losfelizdaycare, a satire of hipster parents and fussy preschools, was optioned by streaming network Hulu for a potential animated series.
According to local comedy writer Jason Shapiro, the man behind the Twitter account, the project is still in development, with a finished first script that has not yet been sent to animators.
“I’m really excited to be working with [Executive Producer] Adam Pally, [Producer] Ben Stricof and [Showrunner] Erik Richter,” said Shapiro. “It’s a great team and we’re really hopeful. We like working with Hulu and we’re hoping to go to pilot.”
Other irons in Shapiro’s fire include an interactive book called The Memory Hoarder’s Journal, published in January 2017, and an upcoming appearance on Los Feliz: The Podcast’s live show at the Lyric Hyperion Theater this January.
A PODCAST OF OUR OWN
In June, Los Feliz got its very own podcast. Appropriately named Los Feliz: The Podcast, the show is hosted by local comedy writers Morgan Murphy and Robin Shorr, who interview local “celebrity” guests, from Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu to Baller Hardware owner Craig Cowie about issues relevant to the neighborhood.
Bookended by a theme song recorded by Los Feliz resident and famed songwriter Aimee Mann, the local news podcast is characterized by Murphy and Shorr’s witty banter, and a rallying cry of, “Hey neighbor!”
Los Feliz: The Podcast will host a live show at the Lyric Hyperion Theater January 10th.
LOS FELIZ GETTING BRIGHTER?
A February street lighting initiative by the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council’s Public Works and Neighborhood Beautification Committee known as “Brighten Up the Village!” stalled midyear when the committeemember who was spearheading it relocated to Chicago, according to Public Works Committee Chair Matthew Luery.
According to Luery, the move caused the committee to pivot away from the plan to bring decorative lights—similar to those in Burbank or downtown Los Angeles’s Old Bank District—to Los Feliz’s business districts on Vermont and Hillhurst avenues, instead refocusing their efforts on a July “Adopt-a-Tree” event.
The committee will establish their 2018 goals at their January 23rd meeting, said Luery, at which point they will know more about the Brighten initiative’s future.
The path is now clear for celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean to build his 16,346 square-foot dream home on Glendower Avenue in the hills near Griffith Park, after a group of neighbors opposed to the project decided not to pursue litigation in the matter, according to Ann Whitford Paul, who lives near the development on Catalina Street.
At issue is the city’s “Baseline Hillside Ordinance,” neighborhood construction guidelines that were updated in March.
Although the project, which would combine two properties into one six-bedroom, five-bathroom estate with an underground gym, sauna and bowling alley, would not be allowed if proposed today, it was submitted prior to the changes and therefore grandfathered in under the old rules.
Residents opposed to the project filed an appeal with the Los Angeles Dept. of Building and Safety in August, citing both scale and safety issues with the development, but were ultimately unsuccessful.
ATWATER TREE LIGHTING
After months of uncertainty over its future and a last-minute venue and date change, this year’s Atwater Village Tree Lighting Festival, which took place December 10th, was well-attended and an overall success, according to Courtney Morris, one of the event’s co-organizers.
When Wells Fargo, who had hosted the event in their Atwater Village Branch parking lot for the past 25-years, suddenly pulled out in August, citing a policy change, event organizers feared that would mean the end for their beloved holiday tradition.
After three months of trying and failing to find an alternative location, things looked even bleaker for organizers when police arrived to shut down a November 9th protest outside the bank.
But the owners of All’acqua, a local Italian restaurant whose parking lot is next door to Wells Fargo’s, took notice of the protest and decided to offer up their own lot for the tree lighting.
According to Morris, event organizers had initially chosen not to ask the restaurant to host for fear they would feel obligated to say yes to the request, so the offer was a welcome surprise.
Despite the initial hiccups caused by the venue change, Morris said community feedback post event was “overwhelmingly positive” and All’acqua’s lot turned out to be an improvement over the previous location.
“The location actually worked out better” than the Wells Fargo lot, said Morris. “You can’t get a better view of the tree.”’