Sunday, October 19, 2014

I'm Still Doing This.

I’ve had a lot of support from the community for the plaza proposal. And not just from the peasants — whose opinions allegedly don’t matter — but from from property owners, from business owners, from the landed gentry.

But at the Granada Hills Street Faire, someone said to me, “I’m surprised you’re still doing this.”

Yeah, I’m still doing this. And here’s why:

  • I still believe attorney Margaret Wilson, whose windows look out over the intersection, when she tells me that she sees three to four accidents per month at that merge lane, every month.
  • I still believe that if Jake Parunyan (owner of Kenn Cleaners and the Menchie's Property, who is blocking this proposal) would agree to at least one proper sit down meeting, we could find some way to work together.
  • I still believe that when one thousand community members sign a petition, that the City Councilman should do more to facilitate discussion. (read comments at http://bit.ly/plazapetition .)
  • I still believe that the people of Granada Hills are clamoring for a centrally located farmer's market.
  • I still believe that our kids from Granada Charter need a safe community space to be in after school. I still believe there’s a better place for them to hang out than the parking lot of Ralphs.
  • I still believe that if 14 business owners sign letters of support for a project, then the Business Improvement District should listen.
  • I still believe the café owner at Sunset Triangle Plaza who told me her business went up 20% when their plaza was installed. (See her athttp://bit.ly/plazavideos .)
  • I still believe that this project can be a win-win for business and community.
  •  I still believe the naysayers who denigrate this project by saying “What if someone built this in front of your house?” are completely missing the point. The intersection of Chatsworth and Zelzah is more than just someone’s private front yard. It’s the center and the heart of the community we all share.
  • I still believe that a traffic signal light is a faster way to move traffic than a stop sign.
  • I still believe we should make Veteran’s Memorial Park a focal point and a gathering place that feels accessible — not like a remote island surrounded on all sides by fast moving traffic. (And when a place has more people gathering in it and is more visible, that means less graffiti, not more.)
  • I still believe that — like we’ve seen at food truck nights, like we’ve seen at the Granada Hills Street Faire — this community is a better place when we have occasions and places to come out and gather and connect with our friends and neighbors.

So yeah. I’m still doing this. Still. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The New Kids In Town: Lola's Baja Tacos and Main Kitchen Cafe

Ceviche.
After food truck night, the corner of Balboa and Chatsworth is on its way to becoming Granada Hills’ new favorite dining destination, with two recently opened spots — breakfast and lunch joint Main Kitchen Café, and ceviche specialists Lola’s Baja Tacos. Both are delightful in their own ways, and both should serve as notice that the perpetually disappointing Pampas, right next door, better step up its game.

Pampered Granada Hillsians typically whine if there’s more than 20 feet between their parking place and their destination’s door, yet ironically, it's the ample parking that may be Lola’s Baja Taco’s undoing. Set back from Chatsworth Street behind a small parking lot, the place is easy to miss, especially since buildings on either side come right up to the sidewalk, and since the same location has been home to at least a half dozen unnoticed failures over the course of its history. Yet Lola’s, one desperately hopes, will finally be different, because they do nearly everything right.

The near blinding acid yellow of the paint on the wall is a hint of what’s to come. Order the watermelon mint or cucumber lime aguas frescas, but don’t finish your beverage before the entrees arrive — save some to accompany the meal. Lola’s food is aggressive with spice and tang, to great effect. It’s just the lively flavors one hopes for but so often doesn’t get, especially this far north of downtown. We had to order a second basket of chips to offset the acid of the ceviche and the heat of the salsa, but it was a good kind of hurt.

Dessert was a fried glazed mango and ice cream dish, which I was afraid might be cloying, but was actually a delightful balance of hot and cold, rich and sweet. Some complain about the prices at Lola’s, which are way above the typical taco stand’s, but Lola’s isn’t the typical taco stand — it’s way above.


 
Tin plate breakfast at Main Kitchen Cafe. 
Not as aggressively cute as that other breakfast and lunch joint, Joe’s Cafe, Main Kitchen occupies a space that’s a wee bit more spacious and a lot more sunny. The décor is plain, yet fresh and clean, the best feature being a counter nestled right up against the kitchen, making diners feel like part of the action as you watch your food being lovingly yet efficiently prepared by the chatty chef/co-owner, who sings along to 80s and 90s tunes on the radio as he works.

There’s the breakfast basics, plus a few nice additions like frittata, eggs Benedict, a breakfast burrito, and a lemon ricotta granola parfait. Lunch is similarly based in fundamentals — burgers, BBQ pulled pork and turkey Panini sandwiches, as well as a pesto chicken salad and a flawlessly executed fried chicken sandwich.

How you feel about lunch here will in large part depend on how you feel about tater tots. They're served with everything. It’s a campy alternative to ubiquitous French fries that brings back warm, oily, salty memories of grade school cafeterias and college hangover breakfasts. But if you’re the sort of person that thinks s/he’s outgrown that sort of thing, stick to the salad.


I could quibble (though it was still a good sandwich, the pesto chicken seemed essentially pesto-free, and I wanted a higher-rent cheese in the beet salad), but that seems like a waste of time given the scarcity of charming, independent, bricks-and-mortar dining options in this franchise-dominated town. I'd rather just spend my time sitting at that counter, sipping coffee, and watching the cook sing.  



Lola's Baja Tacos, 17027 1/2 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills

Main Kitchen Cafe, 17013 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interviews With Plaza-Adjacent Business Owners, Sunset Triangle Plaza



I wanted to do some research on the impact of plaza projects on fronting business owners, so I went to Silverlake's Sunset Triangle Plaza and interviewed Julie Choe, owner of Mornings Nights Cafe, Vivian Ku of the restaurant Pine and Crane, and Genelle LeVin of Silverlake Improvement Association.

Choe, who has owned her cafe for about ten years, said that once the plaza was installed, the street was safer and her business' profits went up by 20%. Ku and LeVin also described positive experiences with the plaza.

"At this point, this place has become a destination spot, so we're just getting busier and busier," Choe said.

Choe said many local business owners were hesitant at first, but decided to participate in the People St program, converting their street to pedestrians only on a temporary basis, to see how things would work out. A year later, they were convinced.

"Regardless of financial reasons, this was good for the neighborhood, for the community," Choe said. "And without the community, we have no business."

See the full playlist of all interviews here.





Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The speech I gave at the last Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council meeting.

I’m here to ask the Neighborhood Council for a letter of support for the plaza proposal. I’m not asking for money, I’m not asking you to become a community partner, because that’s not an option anyway. I’m just asking for a letter of support. Because the Neighborhood Council is the only organization that exists to act as a voice for the community.

Every other community organization that Granada Hills has exists primarily to advance the interests of businesses. I don’t want to present this as community versus business, because that’s really the opposite of what this is. It’s not hard to see how foot traffic and appealing spaces invite people to linger in our central business district, how a feeling of pedestrian safety enhances a business district’s appeal.

Last time I spoke at a General Meeting of the Neighborhood Council, it was quite rightly pointed out that I hadn’t yet done enough outreach to the business community. So I walked door to door on Chatsworth, between Zelzah and Yarmouth. And I got 14 signed letters of support from local business owners. And those 14 letters matter, but also, so do the opinions of the stakeholders who live and shop in this community, and whose needs those businesses exist to serve. Not the other way around.

But the Rotary Club Foundation Board voted against the plaza proposal, and their reason for doing so was QUOTE: “We don't know of one business that is in favor of the project.” They also mistakenly believed that the plaza would block the alley.

Then I learned that Granada Hills BID voted against the plaza, after their executive director answered zero phone calls and zero emails from me. Afterwards, when I spoke at their public comment, and mentioned the fact that we’re closing in on 1000 petition signatures, the BID President told me, QUOTE, “I couldn’t care less if there’s 30,000 names on a petition.” END QUOTE. Because their sole mission is to serve commercial property owners.

Then the Chamber president said in a comment to a plaza supporter on Facebook, QUOTE “you have no skin in the game. The businesses there and the landowners are the only opinions that matter to the Chamber.” END QUOTE. Okay, fair enough — that’s the Chamber’s purview. But where can the public go to have their opinion matter? To have their skin in the game? Neighborhood Councils are the public’s only voice.

Going out on food truck nights, we’ve got all these petition signatures in favor of the plaza, but opponents say, “That doesn’t matter; people come from all over the place to the food truck nights.”

So I say, “Would you like me to show you how many of the signatures are from people with a 91344 zip code?” And they say, “That doesn’t matter; those people aren’t business owners.”

So I say, “We’ve got fourteen signed letters from business owners.” And they say, “That doesn’t matter; they’re not property owners.”

My question for you is this: when do we start to matter? There’s this constant shifting of the bar. And we’re constantly hearing this message: you don’t matter.

We’ve raised money on Kickstarter, and while it’s not a staggering sum, if you believe that every dollar is a vote, that matters.

We’ve got high school kids walking through there every day, and they could use a safe place to be in after school. They matter.

We’ve got tons of pedestrians walking through there every Friday night. They matter.

BID’s sole mission is to represent business interests. Rotary represents business interests. The Chamber’s sole mission is to represent business interests. So this Council is really the only option the public has for a voice. Where the public gets to matter.

It would be really great if there could be at least one organization in this town that says to the Kickstarter donors, the petition signers, the 14 business owners, to the public, to the community: you matter.

Thank you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Let's create a pedestrian and bike-friendly plaza at Chatsworth and Zelzah Streets in Granada Hills!



Illustration courtesy Solo Goodspeed

Petition: http://bit.ly/plazapetition            Donation: http://bit.ly/plazadonation

Wouldn't it be great if Granada Hills had a town square? A place to sit down and eat on food truck nights? A place for public music performances? Free dance classes? Or a place for people to just come together and enjoy?
We want to create one. 
We love the lively street life that the food trucks have brought to the sidewalks of Chatsworth Street. But food trucks come and go. To maintain that lively atmosphere, we need to create something that is ours
In cooperation with the City of Los Angeles' People St. program, we want to expand Veteran's Triangle Park, at the corner of Chatsworth and Zelzah Streets, all the way to Menchie's for a temporary, 12-month pilot program. But doing that requires community support. And that's where you come in. 
 Any inviting gathering space needs tables and chairs. It needs umbrellas for shade. It needs trash pickup. And most importantly, it requires an enthusiastic base of supporters. Donating to this project shows that you think it should happen! 
Right now, this project is just in the idea stages. We have to complete an application to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation by October 1. If LADOT approves the application, work will begin to temporarily block the turn lane to vehicles for one year. 
FAQ: 
 Q: How are you going to expand Veteran's Park? 
 A: By working with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to convert the redundant diagonal right turn lane from Zelzah to Chatsworth into a pedestrian plaza. 
 Q: Won't this ruin traffic? How am I supposed to turn right? 
Actually, instead of every car stopping every time, as you do now at the stop sign, you'll turn right at the light, which will be green about 50% of the time. 
This change would mean that if you hit the green light, you won't have to stop at all. And if you hit the red light, you can still legally turn right once it's safe. 
In other words, right turns from Zelzah onto Chatsworth will work just like they do at the vast majority of normal intersections all over Los Angeles. 
 Q: If the street is blocked off, where am I supposed to park? 
A: It's true that closing the redundant right turn lane will result in the loss of four parking spaces directly in front of Menchie's. But we expect that the loss will be offset by the addition of more parallel parking spaces on Zelzah, and offset by the increase in people who visit on foot, by bike, or by public transit. 
There is the possibility that you may have to walk an additional 50 feet or so if you're headed to Menchie's for a frozen yogurt treat. But think of the calories you'll burn. 
 Q: But will it be safe? Won't people crash into the plaza, because they're still used to turning right there? 
A: This project will be engineered by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, who will create lane striping, signage, and safety barriers. So yes, it will be safe. 
Artistic rendering courtesy of Daniel Guimera
Q: Will this project ruin business?
A: It's our belief that more foot traffic, more gathering places, and greater pedestrian safety are good for business. A similar project was undertaken in Silverlake, and a clear majority of local business owners felt that the plaza was positive to neutral for their business. 
Just because people leave their cars doesn't mean they leave their wallets. 
Q: Why are you doing this? 
 A: We love Granada Hills, and we want more of it. Specifically: 
 • More free community cultural events. People St mandates that all programming in the plaza must be free of charge, and we agree. 
• More safety for students who walk through the area to get to and from Granada Hills Charter High School. 
• More safe and easy access to Veteran's Triangle Park. 
• More vibrant street life on our main street. 
• More pedestrian-friendly space to enjoy. 
• Something that belongs to us. The food trucks brought life to Chatsworth Street, but food trucks come and go. What happens if they decide to leave? Then we'd still have this plaza. 
Q: What organization are you with? 
A: Um, none. We just live here. We don't stand to gain financially from this project. David is a lawyer. Linda is a freelance writer who also writes a blog about Granada Hills for free. We just want to see the community we call home thrive. That's about it. 
However, we are undertaking this project in cooperation with a number of organizations: primarily the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. We're also reaching out to the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council, the Granada Hills Business Improvement District, and Councilmember Mitchell Englander's office. The project won't happen without the cooperation of all of those organizations. But most importantly, we want the people of this community to participate too. 
 This Kickstarter is undertaken not only to help fund the creation of the plaza, but also to show all of those organizations that this project is wanted and supported by the community at large.   

Saturday, April 5, 2014

New Granada Hills Neighborhood Council Members "Jumped" Into Board In Violent, Gang-Style Ritual

    Granada Hills Charter High School's normally peaceful Rawley Hall erupted in terrifying violence last night as members of the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council performed the annual ritual of beating new board members as a test of loyalty.

    In the melee, pictured at left, board members were given their gang names and forced to swear  allegiance to the organization for life.

   "The only way outta this sh_t is in a muthaf__in' box," said departing President Dave "Boo Boo Bear" Beauvais. "But they also give you a nice plaque."


The new Neighborhood Council Officers are:


Secretary: Anthony "Shrimp Boy" Matthews

Treasurer:  Brandon "Flash Dolla" Schindelheim

Parliamentarian:  MC Funkadelic

 Vice President: Jerry "Askew"

 President: Brad "Miget Killa" Smith



Read the complete, and somewhat more factual, list of election results here.

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