Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Tree Lane ~ An 80 Year Altadena, California Tradition

The road sign post reads 'Santa Rosa Avenue' but everyone in Altadena and nearby Pasadena knows it as 'Christmas Tree Lane.'

Every year, since 1930, automobiles and walkers have journeyed up this street after dark to experience one of Southern California's most emotionally satisfying array of holiday light shows, with colorful globes hanging on the elongated branch arms of spectacular deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) trees.

How to describe this magical experience? Think Christmas tree illustrations from Dr. Seuss' How theGrinch Stole Christmas' or Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas' with a stand of towering snow-laden cedars in the background.

Though Christmas Tree Lane's deodars are rarely snow-laden due to the mild Southern California climate, they do come alive every year with extensive strands of 10,000 colored lights that draw visitors to the mile-long 'lane' from around the world.

What makes Christmas Tree Lane, an official California Landmark listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, special is that since 1956, Altadena's Christmas Tree Lane Community Association (CTLA) has continued this tradition on a purely volunteer basis, seeking donations to cover the electricity utility costs, and stringing and maintaining the light show through hundreds of hours of service from the efforts of local homeowners and renters, senior citizens and schoolchildren, Altadena veterans and newcomers to the community.

If you've visited Christmas Tree Lane before, why not drive by this year and recapture the magic of this "Mile of Christmas Trees?" If you've never visited, come on by and start a new family holiday tradition. The show runs nightly from dusk to midnight, now through January 6, 2010. Come see what happens when nature, technology and love converge along a foothills lane.

For directions and more details:

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Mom & Pop Shop Lives on at Galco's Soda Pop Stop

When I first stepped through the doors of the building that houses Galco's Old World Grocery on York Boulevard at Avenue 57 in the Highland Park neighborhood of Northeast Los Angeles, I felt that I was walking back in history. The interior is reminiscent of 1950s grocery stores, complete with checkout stations with the old-style conveyor belts and the meat counter deli case along the back wall where sandwiches are made to order.

But instead of groceries lining the food aisles, patrons find the most amazing collection of soda pop bottles and beers imaginable!

The only Los Angeles business to be profiled in the recently released book, The Mom & Pop Store,, Galco's Soda Pop Stop is more than just a David v. Goliath story of small grocer v. big food chain. Rather, owner John Nese, son of the grocery's founder, has transformed this market with a 53 year history in the neighborhood into a bastion for small, independent bottling plants around the country whose product has been pushed off the shelves of the 'chains' by the Coca-Cola and Pepsi empires.

According to Nese, there were once over 3,500 bottlers in the country. Now, just a handful remain, and thanks to Galco's, there is shelf life for their product ~ everything from Dad's to Grape NEHI ~ from Nesbitt's Orange to Route 66 Root Beer (the famous route passes by less than a mile away).

I also found it interesting that virtually all these sodas (as we West Coasters call them) or pops (as the East Coast-Midwesterners say) are made with cane sugar, not corn syrup, and I must admit, you immediately notice the difference in the smooth, clean taste.
In addition to almost 350 varieties of soda pop, Galco's also carries almost 500 varieties of artisan beers from around the world, which I'll return to sample another day.

Best of all, Galco's offers the warm feeling of a family business where John immediately comes over to help and introduce himself while his grandsons help stock product on the 'low' shelves. John and I even shared a couple tall tales about the nearby Arroyo Seco River, where he caught crawfish when he was a child, before the City channelized the stream in concrete.

Heading to a music jam at York Studios? Joining the hipsters at Johnny's? Looking for a great beverage to go with that taco truck meal? Galco's Soda Pop Shop has the perfect drink for you, available either in a six-pack or individual bottle.
Don't live in LA? No worries, because Galco's will ship their soda pop to you anywhere (sorry, no beer online orders).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fun Finds Along the Arroyo Seco

One of the great pleasures of living along the Arroyo Seco Corridor are the fun finds ~ usually inexpensive ~ that make urban adventures worth having. Here are a few of my recent favorite things, each of which I enjoyed for less than 5!

1. The 'Mayan Mocha' at Antigua Coffee House, 3400 No Figueroa St., Cypress Park: A sweet, smooth concoction that will make you forget the stresses of the day. Great little coffee spot with wi-fi and sandwiches, too! (

2. New Puppy LA Gallery at 2808 Elm Street #1, Cypress Park: This is my new favorite art gallery find...and best of all, I discovered that my pal Alex owns it. Beautiful space (you must see the bathrooms....really) with interesting shows and interesting people. (

3. Huarache Azteca Restaurante: I love this place for....what else...the huaraches! You will get an amazing authentic meal here.  A small family restaurant at 5225 York Blvd in Highland Park, this local eatery attracts everyone from hipsters to bohemes to construction workers to latinos/as who know the real thing when they taste it. No website but you can call them at 323-478-9572.

4. Travel Town in Griffith Park: OK, I know this is along the LA River, not the Arroyo Seco, but have you been to this long-time attraction lately? It's now a wonderful family museum with FREE admission and FREE parking that will touch the hearts of anyone who loves trains (and early autos, too). For a mere $2.50, you can ride the miniature train with your child (or grandchild or significant other!) and during the holidays, they have special evening 'Santa' rides, too!  (

5. Bulgarini Gelato Artigiande: What can you say about the most amazing little gelato shop tucked away in the most ugly shopping center in Altadena? Only that you'll NEVER taste better, more authentic gelato than you will here, at a price that will lure you back several times a week. (

Happy Exploring!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Heroes of the Hahamongna - One in a Series

Growing up in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York gave Mary Barrie a natural affinity for the mountains and nature. Perhaps that's one reason why when she and her family moved to Southern Califoronia, they settled in the San Gabriel Mountains foothills of La Canada-Flintridge.

An avid hiker, dog walker and equestrian, Mary began exploring this natural wonderland on its many varied trails and byways. These walks brought her to a meeting of the La Canada-Flintridge Trails Council, where she quickly became involved with numerous trail clearance and restoration projects.

Shortly thereafter, Mary's family became involved with Rose Bowl Riders, which for years has been a tenant of the City of Pasadena with stables, riding ring and clubhouse in the Hahamongna Watershed Park.

Many people may not know this, but the Hahamongna is almost a grand hub for hiking and horse trails that wind northward into the Angeles National Forest and southward along the scenic Arroyo Seco River into South Pasadena.

Throughout the past 21 years, Mary has watched the changes happening in the Hahamongna Basin: the closing of the gravel pit operation and the creation of the Hahamongna Watershed Park, along with the adoption of the Hahamongna Master Plan, an element of Pasadena's Arroyo Seco Specific Plan.

As meetings and discussions grew about the future uses of the Hahamongna and the Hahamongna Annex, Mary quickly moved into activist mode, using her skills as a law librarian to research both the history of this natural basin and the myriad of planning and legal documents its potential future has engendered.

Why such vigilance? Because Mary believes that the Hahamongna Watershed Park is a special rustic expanse that should not be developed and that every little 'modification,' whether a new road here or the cutting of major trees there, can easily lead to the 'slippery slope' of massive real estate development. She also wants the City to implement the Master Plan that's been officially approved and is concerned about how plan elements are being nibbled around the edges by proposed staff modifications not formally adopted within the Master Plan approved by the Pasadena City Council in 2003. When discussing her passion for Hahamongna, Mary notes the many efforts over the past century to construct everything from amphitheatres to museums on this unique parcel, which also plays a key role in the City of Pasadena's water future due to its storage capacity behind Devil's Gate Dam and its spreading fields.

Even if you haven't met Mary, you probably already know her if you attend any community or city commission/council open space, environmental, or recreation meetings in Pasadena and La Canada-Flintridge. Yes, she is relentless. Yes, she sometimes irritates people because she can be seen as an obstructionist to 'progress.'

But Mary is passionate about the Hahamongna and this passion keeps her vigilant even after 10 long years of activism. For Mary is not looking at just the Hahamongna of today ~ she sees herself as a just another person in a long continuum of community leaders who have helped Hahamongna beat the odds for over a century and remain a beautiful expanse of natural, biodiverse open space where people can enjoy passive recreation through hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, disc golf, and just sitting and meditating among the beautiful, mature grove of oak trees.

Mary's forward vision and activism to keep the Hahamongna rustic for future generations is why she is a Hero of the Hahamongna.

Monday, November 9, 2009

California Water Week in Review

The first week of November 2009 was quite a week for water in California.

First, the Chino Basin Water District decided to postpone its massive surplus water auction, which had gained international attention and a projected auction bidding of up to $1000 per acre foot!

More importantly, the California State Assembly and Senate passed a series of bills to create an $11 billion bond package for voters to consider in November 2010 to revamp the state's aging and overstrained water delivery system.

The new water bill's approval came just as UCLA Law's Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment was holding its symposium, "Adapting to a Parched Future: Cities, Development, and the War for Water."

While the initial focus of this seminar was on water/development issues, the newly approved water legislation quickly took center stage among the esteemed panel, which included Ellen Hanak, Director of Research and Senior Fellow, Public Policy Institute of California;  Peter Hsiao, Head of the Los Angeles Land Use and Environmental Law Group, Morrison & Foerster LLP; Brandon Goshi from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California - ably pitch-hitting for CEO Jeff Kightlinger; and Mark Gold, President, Heal the Bay.  Cara Horowitz, Sabin Family Fdn Executive Director, Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment, served as moderator.

Ellen Hanak presented the opening overview of California's current water situation, which is well-known to those of us who follow this issue. She was followed by comments from Brandon Goshi on the importance of water conveyance during normal seasons to replenish the massive storage instructures that MWD has built in Southern California, notably Diamond Valley Lake. He added that MWD supported the water bill package  because it serves the dual goal of ecosystem restoration and reliable water supply delivery.

Peter Hsiao veered the topic back towards water solutions through a thoughtful presentation on how new solar energy panel transmission in the Owens Valley can generate both important non-hydroelectric energy to Southern California as well as mitigate the tremendous windstorms and environmental damage created by the overdrafting of the Owens River for so many years.

Mark Gold explained why Heal the Bay opposed the legislative water package, noting that it tended to nibble around the edges of the problem, rather than promise true water reform. He also stated his misgivings about whether the $11 billion package would pass voter muster next November, adding that even if it did pass, the current inability of the State of California to sell bonds for already enacted Proposition 84, (a water bond act passed two years ago), did not bode well for future bond sales of any type. Asked if HTB would oppose the bond ballot measure itself, Mark stated that it was too early to tell, since that would be a decision of his board of directors. He opined that HTB might stay neutral on the issue.

On a positive note, Mark did state that he felt that several local efforts in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties were bearing fruit in developing with groundwater cleanup and low impact development.

A spirited question and answer period followed, with panelists answering questions from whether the bond will pass (Ellen Hanak predicted yes, since it won't raise taxes and there's something for everyone in it, like a Christmas tree) to the absence of an agriculture representative on the panel.

It's important to note that the approved bond legislation does not include the construction of a new statewide water conveyance (a la the Peripheral Canal), along insiders tell me that the major water users are seeking ways they can fund it in partnership with federal stimulus money.

So what does the juxtaposition of a massive multi-billion dollar water bond with the potential sale to private parties of over 240,000 acre feet of privately managed water mean?

My crystal ball indicates that we will continue to see the powerful disconnect between water politics and reality for at least the next 24 months. Even in a best case scenario for the water bond, its passage next November means that those bonds won't even be floated until spring of 2011 and funding won't flow until fall of that year at the earliest.

How, then, will this affect the small, average water user in the meantime? I don't think it's a stretch to predict continued water rationing with greater fines, more water pipe bursts, and continued ecosystem damage in the delta, coupled with sporadic environmental damage throughout the state in such areas as the Station Fire burn area, where massive water run-off in the Arroyo Seco watershed and possible mudslides, regardless of the amount of rainfall, is inevitable.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Arroyo Seco USACE Study & Station Fire Update

I can't believe that it's been over a month since I've blogged on the Arroyo Seco, so I hope you have been following my regular tweets (@ArroyoLover) and Facebook (Meredith McKenzie) updates.

A lot has been going on along the Arroyo Seco Watershed ~ some good news, some not so good news ~ which is why I chose to post a bucolic picture of the Arroyo Seco in happier days, courtesy of the Arroyo Seco Foundation (

Let's start with the good news (and it IS good news)! The United States Army Corps of Engineers has announced that it will be a receiving approximately $224,000 in federal funding to move forward with the assessment phase of the Arroyo Seco Restoration Feasbility Study, which has been languishing since 2002 due to lack of funding. In addition to this direct funding, the Corps is obtaining another $125,000 in stimulus and carry-over funds that will give it a total of $350,000 to use for the study this fiscal year. This means that by September 2010, the F3/Assessment of Existing Conditions portion of the Study should be complete. This will lead the way for the F4 study phase delineating Potential Opportunity Sites/Proposed Design Components for habitat restoration. The 2002 Arroyo Seco Feasability Study, a joint project of the Arroyo Seco Foundation and Northeast Trees, offers a great foundation for the current Corps Study:

The not so good news is that now that the dust is settling (and sadly, blowing around) from the Station Fire, the largest in Los Angeles County history, the damage to the Arroyo Seco watershed is daunting: over 90% of the watershed burned and the healing of natural habitat and water quality may take up to 10 years to return to some semblence of pre-fire conditions. In the short term, the danger is the prospect of extensive mudslides, high ph factor in the water, and fast-moving debris flows rushing down the canyon into heavily populated neighborhoods along the river's perimeter. Fire emergency officials have identified and met with residents of over 40 homes whose properties are in extreme danger of impact from possible canyon mudflows.

In a worst case scenario, it's been projected that 1.9 cubic yards of sediment could reach the Hahamongna Basin just south of NASA's JPL facility. If this occurred, sediment capture in the basin would completely fill the spillway area of Devil's Gate Dam. While no one is predicting that this dire situation will occur, these numbers are instructive of the total potential sediment load coming off the mountain because of the fire aftermath 'scorched earth' condition.

The Angeles National Forest is closed indefinitely and USFS continue to ask hikers and others to refrain from curiosity walks along the perimeter. The extremely 'soft' footing due to erosion and ash build-up has already led to one rescue of one experienced hiker who slide deeply down a canyon when the trail unfoot literally gave way due to the post-fire conditions.

With the rainy season approaching, a special communications effort has been created by the Coordinated Agency Recovery Effort (CARE) which includes Los Angeles County Public Works, the US Forest Service, the US Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, Caltrans, LA County Fire, and LA County Sheriffs Departments. CARE operates out of the Public Works headquarters in Alhambra.

The role of CARE is two-fold: to keep communities informed about the County and Caltrans road system through the burn area and to continue to educate residents about what they can and should do to protect themselves and their property against mudflows.

The CARE website: features dozens of links with information and resources on fire recovery and debris flow preparation. CARE is also hosting 24 council/community meetings throughout the fire-affected and at-risk neighborhoods.

In addition, CARE will be establishing Facebook and Twitter accounts to provide real time updates to communities and residents during critical storm conditions. CARE also is distributing the Homeowner's Guide for Flood, Debris and Erosion Control to those living in designed at-risk areas.

For all of us Arroyo lovers, this winter will be one of helping the Arroyo by staying out of the Arroyo, assisting our neighbors and friends with emergency evacuations, and cooperating with police and fire personnel as directed.

Together, we can help the Arroyo Seco heal by respecting nature's process and leaving it alone, including limiting our outdoor recreational activities to safe, unburned sections along this beautiful canyon stream.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Arroyo Property of the Week

Once in awhile a true value home comes on the market in the Arroyo Seco watershed and this is one of them!

If you are a nature lover, you will adore this home within walking distance of Farnsworth and Mt Lowe Parks, and close to hiking trails at the Cobb Estate and Rubio Canyon.

Boasting a great view of city lights, immaculately updated, and located on one of the best streets in Altadena, this 1937 beauty has come on the market for less than $750,000.

This gorgeous home features 3 bedrooms, 2 baths  (including a spacious master suite) in almost 1900 square feet, with hardwood floors and period details throughout. The 7100 square foot lot features a lush private yard designed for entertaining. The kitchen is a chef's delight and the property includes a currently rented one bedroom studio apartment with separate entrance.

This is not my personal listing but one of many I can show you as a member in good standing of the Pasadena Foothills Association of Realtors. It qualifies for the first time homebuyer federal tax credit, too! Contact me if you'd like to see this special property: Phone: 323-230-9749 or

Monday, September 7, 2009

The High Speed Rail is Coming....Right at the Los Angeles River

Can California's High Speed Rail and the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan live in peaceful co-existence?

That was the burning question in many minds at last week's High Speed Rail (HSR) presentations to the Board of Friends of the LA River and to the Land Use Committee of the Cypress Park Neighborhood Council.

There's good news: the consulting team insists they want to be involved with the Cypress Park - LA River crowd to ensure an effective rail alignment through this Elysian Valley neighborhood.

The bad news: HSR sees this location connecting Union Station with Burbank's Rail Station as the most feasible due to land flatness and existing right of ways. That means the rail will impact the Los Angeles River right at the point where the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting its initial feasibility study for river restoration. Moreover, the HSR's route will directly impact the Rio de los Angeles State Park and soon-to-open new neighborhood high school.

Worst of all, current renderings show the HSR crossing the Los Angeles River-Arroyo Seco Confluence at grade, closing in an important water connection that many have worked years to open up to allow for both better water flow and a greenway/bikeway for members of the community.

The HSR plan is more than a pipedream. With more than $8 billion from last year's voter approved bond and an additional $9 billion coming from the federal stimulus package, this project is moving forward very quickly.

For Los Angeles River and Arroyo Seco lovers, the time for input is NOW. HSR will be holding a number of community outreach meetings, beginning later this fall. They have lots of interactive information on their website, where you can register for their mailing list:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Memo to Arroyo Seco Canyon Area Fire Watchers: The McNally Fire Offers Lessons Learned

How quickly a beautiful August turned into a September nightmare along Southern California's historic Arroyo Seco Canyon.

The true extent of the devastating effects of the Station Fire (seen here entering the Arroyo Seco Canyon on August 29th) will not be known for several days, but it is almost certain, based upon eye-witness accounts of the flames, that the Arroyo Seco ecosystem will suffer devegetation that won't bode well for water quality or animal/plant life, and will be vulnerable to potential further damage from rainfall run-off in the upcoming winter season.

As someone who lived in Kernville in the Southern Sierra Nevada during the 2002 150,000+ acre McNally Fire (, I share what I learned from that experience in the hopes that it will help my Southern California neighbors deal with our current firestorm.

1. The smoke after-effect of the McNally Fire lasted for several weeks once the fire was under control (it blazed for more than 30 days) and there was a sharp increase in cases of Valley Fever and respiratory infections for those who stayed in smoky areas for an extended period of time. Please stay inside and breathe filtered/air-conditioned air whenever possible to avoid breathing difficulties and lung infections. Avoid physical overexertion and especially protect children and the aged from bad air quality.

2. Once the burn is over and the smoke lifts, many of us will discover for the first time what scorched land really looks like. There will be an immediate desire to run into the forest and re-seed. There will be a lot of concern about mudslides. Many will cry when they first drive up Angeles Crest Highway after the road is re-opened, the same way I cried when I drove up Mountain Highway 99 and saw my beloved Sequoia Forest resembling a war zone. This will be the time for all of us to use restraint, allow trained personnel take protective landslide prevention measures, and wait for nature to heal. Supervised field trips to survey damage and make notes is fine, but let's not be overzealous in trying to help Mother Nature recover too quickly. Our good intentions could actually make the restoration process more difficult. The happy lesson from the McNally Fire: within two seasons, the Sequoia bounced back to life, with new groundcover growth and beautiful wildflowers, though it will be years before old growth trees will be seen again in some areas of the forest. Please ~ don't be zealous about sowing seeds or planting trees. You might be inadvertently sowing 'invasive' and non-native plants.

3. Those animals who could flee the flames, including deer, bear, coyote, and cougars will not only migrate into human neighborhoods but will be more aggressive in searching for food and shelter. Many will be injured or diseased. Residents ~ please balance your desire to help with your need to be safe by contacting Fish & Game personnel for assistance when wildlife is sighted on your property. Please especially protect your children and pets from potentially unfortunate encounters.

As we wait hopefully for the end of this devastating firestorm, let's begin to prepare for the restorative work that awaits us, especially in helping those who have lost their homes or loved ones.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Wonderful August in the Arroyo Seco Watershed

It's been nothing but happy news this month in Southern California's Arroyo Seco Watershed for those of us who care about the ecosystem of this important Los Angeles area bioregion.

First, the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy (formerly Altadena Foothills Conservancy) is finalizing the acquisition of 20 pristine and historically significant acres in Rubio Canyon. A portion of the historic Pacific Electric Railway bed, part of the Mt. Lowe Railway, lies on the property. This key parcel will secure trail access and ensure that the creek and surrounding chaparral and oak woodland right up to the Angeles National Forest boundary is preserved for all time. (Unabashed financial plug ~ they urgently still need donations for their land acquisition & stewardship fund:

Secondly, a follow-up study of the Central Arroyo Steam Restoration Project (CASRP)( confirms that the native Arroyo Chub, reintroduced last summer into the stream adjacent to Brookside Park, are still alive and reproducing! This success is due, in part, both to the City of Pasadena's installation of stormwater drain capture basins and the good work of the City's Environmental Service Manager, Gabriel Silva and his team, who collect tons of trash to recycle after UCLA Football Games and other special events at the Rose Bowl:

Thirdly, the historic Mt. Wilson Toll Road is re-opening! This 100 year old 'trail' is 3.75 miles long on a steep incline that rewards walkers and hikers with a spectacular view of the San Gabriel Valley. Originally built as a road to haul the 100 inch Mt. Wilson telescope to the Observatory, the Toll Road's restoration required $1.48 million and 5 years to complete:

Finally, how about the great weather we've had this month? It's the most pleasant August I recall enjoying during my almost 30 years in Southern California, making it a wonderful month for outdoor fun.

Now, with Labor Day Weekend fast approaching, there is no better time to get out in nature with your family and celebrate both the great restoration efforts in the Arroyo Seco Watershed and Smokey Bear's 65th Birthday!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gold Line Adventures Along The Arroyo Seco

One of my favorite ways of seeing the Arroyo Seco is through the window of the Gold Line light rail, which connects Pasadena with Downtown Los Angeles and runs parallel to the Arroyo for most of its distance.

Even though it's a short 20 minute ride from the Del Mar Station to Union Station, I find myself always seeing something new as I gaze out the window. One day, it's the purple lupin wildflowers at Los Angeles Historic Park. Another day, it's a falcon, dive bombing at its prey. Sometimes I even daydream that the beautiful hillsides with their 'stacked' homes are part of Tuscany, not Northeast Los Angeles.

The people watching on the train is fun, too. In the early mornings, commuters can be found reading the paper, covertly sipping coffee (open containers are not permitted on the train), napping, listening to an iPod or talking on their cellphone.

The Gold Line attracts a lot of 'tourists,' too. On my excursions, I've met British Airway employees on a quick getaway to Pasadena before their next international flight schedule ~ German students making films about Los Angeles architecture ~ Big Ten fans seeing the 'big city' after absorbing their alma mater's loss in the Rose Bowl Game.

Some of my favorite fellow travellers are the bicyclists. It's always fascinating engaging these urban street bipeds. Sometimes, they are just using their bicycle as a commuting connection between the train and work, but more often, they are off to an adventure: beach bicycling in Long Beach; street exploring in search of the new taco truck find; hooking up with friends in Hollywood. More often than not, they are students on their way to a charter or local university campus.
It's always interesting to note the people 'energy' on the train too ~ commuters going to and fro work catching 20 minutes of peace in contrast to bicyclists and tourists animated about their rail adventure.

And then, there is the special moment that strikes you unaware.

Such a moment happened last Friday when I was returning home from downtown. It was late afternoon and the train was filling up fast. An older couple boarded the train with seats still available, but not side-by-side. The gentleman took the aisle seat in front of me and the woman sat down next to me. All was quiet for a few minutes as we left the station until the gentleman turned to the young woman next to him and excitedly proclaimed in an accent that sounded Eastern European: 'My wife just became an American citizen!'

The woman in front of me turned around and the very happy, yet shy new American showed us her 'certificate.' It was a joyous but quiet moment ~ the train car did not break out in applause, because only the woman in front of me and myself could hear the old man's comments above the afternoon rider din.

We congratulated her, smiled and then each returned to watching the scenery fly by as the train headed northeast to our destination.

It was all I could do to hold back tears of happiness for her.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Arroyo Seco Real Estate Trends

While my passion is river restoration, my professional expertise includes almost 20 years of property acquisition, management and real estate sales & marketing for individuals, corporate clients and non-profit organizations.

Since this was not a pretty week for those who understand the real estate business (9.9% residential mortgage default rate in LA County, commercial real estate now feeling deflation pain, HVCC rules & new loan origination requirements that will lengthen the escrow process, to name a few), I thought it was a good time to pause and share with readers the real estate reasons behind why I live and work in the Arroyo Seco watershed, which includes the communities of Northeast Los Angeles (Highland Park, Garvanza, Hermon, Monterey Hills, Mt Washington, Cypress Park, Montecito Heights, Lincoln Heights), South Pasadena, Pasadena, Altadena and La Canada-Flintridge. (Although Eagle Rock is not technically in the watershed, its adjacent proximity and neighborhood personality reflect Arroyo Culture, so I consider it part of the Arroyo Seco Corridor).

Here are the reasons why I think the Arroyo Lifestyle is terrific:

1. A River Runs Through It. Nationally, almost half our population lives within 125 miles of a coastline. There is something about water that we humans crave. The Arroyo Seco, with its expansive parkland along the upper portion of the watershed and dedicated civic and community support for restoration on the lower watershed, remains one of the oldest and most accessible fresh waterways in urban Southern California.

2. Trees. This riparian corridor has been able to avoid the massive de-foliation that has plagued other revitalized and redeveloped neighborhoods, especially on Los Angeles' Westside. The heat island that encompasses most of LA only touches the southernmost portion of the Arroyo Seco, which is currently being revitalized into a 'green' neighborhood with the innovative Cornfields-Arroyo Seco Specific Plan. Tree canopy also supports ecosystem vitality and wildlife corridor movement.

3. The Gold Line & Multi-Modal Transit. From Pasadena southward within the watershed, it is very easy to commute into downtown and all points on the way via the Gold Line light rail and bicycle. This offers residents transportation options not totally dependent on automobile travel, although the very efficient Arroyo Seco Parkway/Pasadena Freeway will get you downtown pretty quickly, too. Not only are light rail and bicycle commuting a great way to see the neighborhood, but it saves a lot of money and helps us get physical exercise in the process. The region's planning is focused on continuing healthy neighborhood sustainability through an Arroyo Seco Greenway and transit oriented housing.

4. Great Schools. La Canada Flintridge, South Pasadena and Eagle Rock public schools are excellent and offer affordable education for families. The Arroyo Seco also boasts several new charter schools, a Pasadena Unified School District that it reinventing itself, and top higher education academies including the California Institute of Technology, Occidental College, and Pasadena City College.

5. Arts & Culture. The Arroyo Seco watershed is home to Los Angeles' oldest museum, The Southwest Museum, as well as such cultural institutions as the Lummis House, Heritage Square Museum, the Huntington Museum & Gardens, Norton Simon Museum, Descanso Gardens and the Eagle Rock Community Arts Center. Among other organizations, the Arroyo Arts Cooperative sponsors numerous gallery events and Vromans Bookstore in Pasadena hosts book signings, classes, and poetry readings.

6. Jobs. Even in this recessionary environment, the Arroyo Seco is surrounded by important employment centers in downtown Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank, and Pasadena. In fact, US News & World Report just included Pasadena in its national list of the 15 Government Heavy aand Recession Resistent Cities in the US because of the high employment base of both CalTech and NASA/JPL. Unlike much of Southern California, the Arroyo Seco offers a high quality of life that allows employees to live close to their work center, rather than spending hours on local freeways commuting.

I daily see the positive impact of these factors when I'm listing and showing property for clients in Arroyo Seco neighborhoods. Today, for example, I experienced a frenzy of buyer activity at the Dalton Lofts in Pasadena, new construction adjacent to the Gold Line Del Mar stations whose units will be auctioned off next week. Multiple offers on well-priced properties in all price categories are not uncommon. While the real estate market is definitely still in transition, well-qualified buyers are clearly acting on the current low interest rates, value pricing and long-term upside of the Arroyo Seco corridor.

To paraphrase that old adage, great real estate is all about location, location, location. In my opinion, the communities within the Arroyo Seco watershed provide the best location in the Greater Los Angeles area for high quality California living.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Central Arroyo Stream Restoration Project Featured at NCER

The National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration is holding its third conference in Los Angeles this week at the downtown Westin Bonaventure. With a theme of 'The Spirit of Cooperation,' NCER expects more than 200 attendees from around the world who seek collaboration opportunities and want to learn the latest techniques on how to best restore our country's natural habitats and ecosystems.

One of the highlights of the conference will be a presentation by Arroyo Seco Foundation Managing Director Tim Brick on how the design-build concept worked in the Central Arroyo Seco Restoration Project, which returned native fish to Southern California's primary urban waterway tributary of the Los Angeles River. In addition, attendees will have the opportunity to personally tour the restoration site.

Attendees include a wide range of experts who design and build large scale ecosystem restoration projects, including representatives from federal agencies, private contractors, non-profit organizations, and academics.

This conference provides a forum to discuss pressing challenges to restoration planning and implementation such as:

Effective partnering to integrate planning, policy, science and engineering to provide effective, relevant and timely solutions

Combining state-of-the-art approaches, technology, tools and information to solve problems and achieve environmental sustainability

Ensuring the continuity and completion of large-scale, multiple year projects that involve multiple government agencies, non-government organizations, tribal governments and other partners

Setting goals and objectives

The full schedule of conference events may be accessed here:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Arroyo Property of the Week

If you don't know where to look, it is easy to miss this 'original treasure' of Altadena, newly on the market for the first time in many, many years.

This one-acre secluded property at 2044 Mendocino Lane really doesn't have a driveway ~ it's more of a tree-canopied lane that leads you into an enchanted forest where a stately Spanish-style estate built in 1917 awaits with extensive original period detailing.

Often referred to as "La Quinta," this almost 4000 square foot home features a library with floor to ceiling bookcases and gold leaf ceiling, exposed etched beams, original sconces, corbels, and fireplace with a massive hand-hewn mantle. The main home boasts a formal living room, formal dining room, office, family room, master suite, 2 additional bedrooms and baths plus a maid's bedroom and bath. The separate guest house has a bath, and the lush, bucolic grounds include a natural rock fish pond. There is also a garage and large walk-in basement.

The gardens includes many rare trees, winding paths and was reputed to have once held one of the largest wisteria vines in the world. It was at this elegant estate that the late Dr. Lecomte du Nouy, noted French scientist, completed his book, "Human Destiny," in 1946.

This grand and historic property has now reached the real estate market as a 'trust sale' with a very attractive price of $1,250,000 due to the extensive restoration and renovation necessary to return this impressive property to it original splendor.

What a rare opportunity for an architectural preservationist to re-create a true legacy estate!

Thanks to Listing Agent Nancy Valentine of Dickson Podley Realtors for making my preview of this wonderful property possible. Property details here:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Arroyo Seco's Secret Riverwalk

The signs call it a 'bike path' but all of us Angeleno locals know that the Arroyo Seco in-channel bicycle path is as much a walkway, dog walking path, and jogging trail as it is a bike path.

Here, Southern California residents and visitors alike can enjoy a great urban nature riverwalk experience with or without a bicycle.

A two-mile in-channel paved 2-lane path, this non-motorized vehicle connectway provides a bucolic glimpse of what the Arroyo Seco river experience might have been like 70 years ago before concrete channelization occurred.

Starting at Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena on the north (take York Blvd east from Figueroa, right on Arroyo Verde Blvd, right into the park), the Arroyo Seco 'bike' path follows the southeast side of the river to Montecito Heights Recreation Area, where it exits from the channel. At its exit point, walkers/joggers/bicyclists can either cross the river bridge to Sycamore Grove Park for a picnic (LA's oldest public park) or cross Griffin Blvd. and go up the hill to visit the Audubon Center at Debs Park (

You can also continue walking/biking southward along LA City streets, since both the historic Heritage Square Museum ( and 'Father of Arroyo Culture' Charles F. Lummis House ( are close by. Or, you can just turn around and walk/bike/jog back upriver.

I generally enjoy walking what I affection-ately call the 'Arroyo Seco Riverwalk' with my loyal dog, Mr. Witkin. It's a beautiful 2-mile stroll each way where I am surrounded by old age trees, the beauty of road and train bridges with beautiful design element features, and quiet moments (yes, truly quiet, despite its proximity to the Arroyo Seco Parkway and Gold Line train tracks) where I can listen to the gurgling of the mostly clean stream (thanks to City park staff and great volunteers) while watching hawks soar overhead and songbirds sing.

Looking upward, I can turn a 360 circle and see the beautiful hills of Debs Park, Mt. Washington and the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. Pausing by the channel stream, I'm amazed at nature's efforts to break through the concrete prism with signs of plant life. My fellow travelers ~ whether bicyclists, joggers, or walkers like me ~ are mellow and congenial, happy to enjoy nature without having to jump in a car and drive miles away. The path has recently been refinished, so that senior citizens and wheelchair users can enjoy this river experience as well.

One element I love about the Riverwalk is that Mr. Witkin and I can exit the channel for a spell at Hermon Dog Park, where he can run around and play with other four-legged creatures. Since we believe in good nature stewardship, Mr. Witkin is always on his leash, does not drink the Arroyo water (since the bacteria level is still very high), and I'm always careful to pick up after him (so the bacteria level doesn't get any higher). I always bring extra biodegradable doggie bags in case other dog walkers have forgotten, as well as my stainless steel water bottle and travelling water bowl for Mr. Witkin so we can stay hydrated.

Another factor I love is that the 'bike' path starts just adjacent to the Arroyo Seco Stables. I love watching the chickens strut around and hearing the roosters crow. As a horse lover, I even enjoy inhaling that equestrian aroma, a great change of pace from inhaling automobile fumes. But note: no horsies on the Riverwalk. They do have a separate equestrian trail that runs through the area. I even enjoy waving at the passengers on the Gold Line rail, as it whizzes by Arroyo Seco Park before crossing the river.

When we've finished our 'Riverwalk,' we might stop for a beverage at the Cycleway Cafe in Hermon (5526 Monterey Road) which features periodic jazz jams or Antigua Bread (5703 No Figueroa) in Highland Park near the Avenue 57 Gold Line Station, convenient for those times when I want to bike on the Riverwalk and take the Gold Line 'sag wagon' back to Pasadena afterwards. I'm glad the Gold Line lets me take my bicycle on the train. I just wish they would let Mr. Witkin ride, too!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Arroyo Seco Federal Appropriation Request Needs Your Support!

Today's exciting post is courtesy of Arroyo Seco News:

The long-awaited Corps of Engineers study of Arroyo Seco restoration projects might finally be on track as the result of the good work of Congressman Adam Schiff and other local congressional representatives. The House Appropriations Committee approved the 2010 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act including a $500,000 appropriation for the US Army Corps of Engineers study of the Arroyo Seco, Southern California's most treasured river canyon and largest tributary of the Los Angeles River.

The US Army Corps of Engineers Arroyo Seco study will conduct a technical assessment of ecosystem, hydrology and watershed management programs to identify five projects for implementation to improve the Arroyo Seco Watershed. A $500,000 appropriation will enable to Corps to pursue key tasks needed to complete the study. Local sponsors, including the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and the cities of Pasadena, Los Angeles, La Canada Flintridge and South Pasadena, will pay half of the $2.68 million budget for the study. The Corps study is critical for Arroyo Seco watershed restoration efforts because it will provide key technical analysis for restoration efforts as well as open the door to substantial federal funding.

A previous Corps reconnaissance study (2002) has already established that there is a federal interest in restoring and upgrading the Arroyo Seco. Upon completion of this feasibility study, the Corps can supply up to 75% of the funding for approved restoration projects. Appropriations for projects like this can come from the President's budget or from congressional direction. The Arroyo Seco appropriation was based on the request of four Congress members, Adam Schiff, Xavier Becerra, David Dreier and Lucille Roybal-Allard. Most congressionally directed authorizations have the support of one or two Congress members, so the Arroyo Seco project stood out for broad, bipartisan support.

The 2010 Energy and water Development Appropriations Act will now go to the Senate for further review, so funding is not yet assured. Differences between the House and Senate version of the bill will be ironed out in a joint conference committee.The Arroyo Seco Foundation urges all Arroyo lovers to contact Senators Feinstein and Boxer to express their support for at least $500,000 in funding for the Arroyo Seco project in the Senate appropriations bill.

You can contact Senator Dianne Feinstein here:
and Senator Barbara Boxer here:

Thank you for supporting the restoration of the Arroyo Seco, Southern California's most treasured canyon stream.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Responsibility of Freedom: A July 4th Essay

As we celebrate our nation's birthday, I'm reminded of the debate I often used to have with my grandfather over rights v. responsibility. Perhaps it was because he was an immigrant ~ or maybe it was his Victorian England upbringing ~ regardless, my grandfather, my grandmother, and my baby mother came to America in search of freedom and opportunity ~ mostly, the freedom to break free from a British social caste where birth status determined one's social status for life.

When I was young, I was passionate about protecting everyone's 'rights,' and expressed great tolerance towards letting others 'do their own thing.'

Now that I am a grandparent myself, I find that we often overlook what my grandfather rightly called our responsibility of freedom ~ the duty we have to both protect our American way of life (whether through military service or civilian community activism) by acting responsibility as individuals and through collective responsibility towards others.

This year's Independence Day brings, I think, a time for renewed reflection about not only how and why we became a nation of freedom but also how the challenges of responsibility we now face will determine whether our grandchildren know this special place where we can be whomever we want to be, regardless of race, creed, national origin, or sex.

As we collectively work our way through a major economic readjustment, it seems to me that these stressful lean times give us the opportunity to return to our roots ~ to a land of freedom that comes from hard work and individual responsibility, rather than through a sense of entitlement. This transformation will be very difficult, though, since most Americans have lived in an entitlement society for so long that our collective memory is faint in recalling the days of sacrifice and sharing that helped build not only a strong nation but also the Golden State of California.

I see this challenge often through my river restoration work, where 'good' people thoughtlessly toss trash on the ground (which ends up in our waterways) thinking that 'someone' else will pick it up ~ usually an employee paid for by tax dollars. This 'they' mentality has done much, in my opinion, to erode the values of America.

When I look at the environmental damage WE have done, the fraudulent financial system WE have propped up, and the delegation of community services that WE think government should take care of, I wonder if we still possess the collective will to return to a nation whose strength was American made ~ built on the pledging of our 'lives, fortunes and sacred honor.'

No time in my life have I witnessed such a pivotal era, where we stand at either the beginning of a new union or start of a final decline that has befallen other great civilizations.

In my humble opinion, this new American era cannot begin until we stop talking and fighting over 'my rights' and start digging in and contributing to 'my responsibilities.'

As Doris 'Granny D' Haddock so eloquently stated in her 93rd birthday speech:

"Aren't we privileged to live in a time when everything is at stake, and when our efforts make a difference in the eternal contest between the forces of light and shadow, between togetherness and division, between justice and exploitation? Oh, be joyful that you are a warrior in this great time! "Will we rise to this battle? If so, we cannot lose, for rising up to it is our victory . . . If we represent love in the world, you see, we have already won."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Search of the Engelmann Oak

Over the past few days, I've had the joy of finding a few Engelmann Oak trees, which only exist in a narrow band that stretches along the foothills of Southern California from Pasadena down through Orange and San Diego County into Baja California. They need to be twenty miles or more away from the ocean at an elevation of 500-4000 feet.

On Friday evening, one of my friends and I enjoyed the monthly 'Night Walk' at Descanso Gardens in La Canada, where I not only saw an Engelmann Oak but learned that Descanso is one of only two garden 'museums' (botanical gardens where every plant has been catalogued) in Southern California ~ the other being the Los Angeles Zoo. When I asked if there were any Engelmanns at Descanso, our wonderful volunteer guide turned to me and said, "How do you know about the Engelmann Oak?"

How could I not know about the Engelmann (quercus engelmannii)? As Arroyo Seco advocate Tim Brick notes, the majesty of the Engelmann can take your breath away. Their large twisted spreading limbs generally form a sparse crown. Their gray/green leaves are more elliptical or oval than the Coast Live Oaks, and their acorns more stubby. They often reside near Coast Live Oaks and Sycamores. Engelmann Oaks are probably the most imperiled of all tree oaks and are one of the most endangered natural plant communities in California.

Then, yesterday, I had the thrill of joining Roger Klemm and the Tom Sawyer campers as they planted Englemann Oak and Live Coast Oak seedlings in the Hahamongna Watershed Park, one of the Arroyo Seco's most spectacular nature parks with a terrific old-growth grove of native oak trees.

The planting ceremony was especially sweet because the young campers not only learned how to properly plant, water, and protect these young seedlings with chicken wire casing, but they also 'named' each tree they planted. The first seedling planted, a Coastal Live Oak, was named 'Michael Mayes' ~ commemorating the sudden deaths of Michael Jackson and Billy Mayes.

I'll always smile when I remember the students holding hands in a circle around their new planting, while chanting: 'Trees need people. People need trees. Welcome, Michael Mayes!'

Hopefully, in a few years, they will be able to return and point to 'their tree.'

While standing next to a magnificent adult Englemann Oak, I gazed upon a newly planted Englemann seedling and for a moment glimpsed at a future mighty oak.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Arroyo Property of the Week

Once upon a time, North Los Robles Avenue was the grandest tree-lined boulevard in Pasadena.

There, in 1911, Greene and Greene Master Builder Peter Hall (who also built the Gamble House) constructed the Tilghman Swaim Home with architectural plans created by Parker O. Wright.

A Pasadena Cultural Heritage Landmark, the Tilghman Swaim home reflects the rare Classic Box substyle of Chicago Prairie Design.

From its grand porch and entryway through its spacious common living areas, the home embodies the highest level of attention to quality and detailing that marked a Greene and Greene creation.

The 2800 square foot home sits regally on its 9100 square lot footprint. It has 4 bedrooms and 4 baths with almost all of its original detailing, including double hung windows and clapboard siding, still intact. The property boasts extensive use of redwood built-ins and cabinets.

The property also includes a legal duplex, perfect for separate guest quarters or an income opportunity.

The Tilghman Swaim home has now come on the market for sale for the first time in 30 years. House hunters and preservation/historic home aficionados alike will have the rare opportunity to explore the property's interior this Sunday, June 28th from 2:00pm to 5:00pm.

Take a Sunday drive and come see this special piece of living history:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Villaraigosa's Decision is Good for a Green LA

If you believe the pundits, the political career of Antonio Villaraigosa is finished.

So let me remind them of what His Honor said to a packed room of Green LA Coalition activists last week (for those of you who don't follow my @ArroyoLover tweets): "I remain committed to building a progressive LA." Those don't sound like the words of a man running for Governor.

Here, then, are my top ten GREEN reasons why the Mayor knows his destiny rests in LA:

10. Sacramento. This is a man who knows his way around the State Capitol but he doesn't have to live there to have influence. How quickly everyone forgets that Antonio was Assembly Speaker just a few years ago. I haven't...and the smart money hasn't either.

9. CEO Hiring Decisions. The seeds have been planted. While everyone has been 'dissing' His Honor, Villaraigosa has made progressive key staff hirings to head the Departments of Planning, Housing, and Water & Power. He now has the chance to finish creating a team of department heads who understand that the 21st century challenges facing Los Angeles requires team playing, not territorial protection (see #7)

8. Security. While everyone else is playing musical chairs, Villaraigosa is not going anywhere. As the Los Angeles City Council sees leadership changes (already accomplished in CD5 ~ soon to be seen in CD2) coupled with a new Los Angeles MTA CEO and a new Caltrans head in Sacramento, Antonio is still Mayor. There's something to be said about stability in a time of crisis, especially when you have a Chief of Police who's doing a good job and has popular support.

7. Kobe Bryant. I remember not so long ago when lots of pundits thought Kobe was washed up, too. What a difference a few years and an NBA Championship Ring make! This win is just the type of spark to bring more attention to the Staples Center and LA Live, just the shot in the arm that downtown real estate needs right now (see #1). The Mayor also hangs out with that other comeback kid, Bill Clinton. His Honor and the William J. Clinton Foundation announced in February a plan to install 140,000 LED streetlight fixtures in LA over the next 5 years, the most ambitious program of its kind in the country.

6. The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP). Yes, a river runs through LA and the LARRMP in conjunction with the related US Army Corps of Engineers special study, ARBOR (Alternatives for Restoration and Opportunities for Revitalization), offers the Mayor a chance to work with environmentalists, neighborhood leaders, LADWP and the Dept of Sanitation to create a showpiece urban river greenway. Anchored by the California State Historic Park (The Cornfields) on the south (see #1) and following upriver to a broad open Arroyo Seco Confluence ending at the El Rio de Los Angeles State Park, this green footprint connects to the innovative LEED Neighborhood Development Cornfields-Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP), currently undergoing EIR review. CASP will create one of the most ambitious 'green street' neighborhoods of its kind, anchored by two Gold Line Stations, with mixed use green collar manufacturing, retail and housing.

5. The California High Speed Rail Project. With the blessing of California voters and extra federal stimulus funds, the High Speed Rail will run through downtown with a stop there as well as in Sylmar, a vital connection for Valley residents. My crystal ball tells me this means plenty of jobs. (Note to Mayor: Please coodinate the LARRMP, Downtown Community, Boyle Heights Community, and Northeast LA Community Plans with the Rail Authority's suggested 'alternative downtown depot' to ensure that all the good green work done so far is not undone).

4. The political will to support mass transit on LA's Westside. Finally, the traffic mess in West Los Angeles has become so unbearable that the Mayor, in his role on the MTA Board, can make some real progress on the 'subway to the sea' and the Expo lines. (Note to Mayor: Please throw the Gold Line extension communities support to get their shovel ready project done. These are vital votes for the time when you do decide to run for Governor.) More transit = less cars on the road = better air quality.

3. Hollywood. This is a show biz town, for goodness sake, and our guilty pleasure is having a movie star Mayor who is less than perfect. With all due respect for both Mayors Hahn and Riordan, weren't their Mayoral tenures a little boring? Angelenos like it spicy and Villaraigosa delivers! (OK, that's not really a green reason, except that I hope His Honor will use his Hollywood influence to get show biz to start acting sustainable. Enough with all those plastic water bottles and Esplanades!)

2. Water. California Water World is at a major crossroads. The City of LA and its Department of Water & Power have always been the powerful municipal water broker that could make or break regional and state water policy. Already, the City has shown leadership by biting the bullet on rate hikes for infrastructure support and the passing of a significant emergency water conservation program to wake up Angelenos to an increasingly dire water shortage and inadequate state infrastructure for California's 21st Century population. I'm confident that we'll see Mr. Mayor's influence in cobbling together a new state water bond plan next year which, in my opinion, leaves a much more exciting and long-term legacy than being Governor (see #10 above).

1. The Clean Tech Corridor. Just two months ago, Villaraigosa announced CleanTech LA, a world class partnership involving the City of Los Angeles, UCLA/USC/CalTech, and area business leaders which creates one of the world's largest clean technology research, development, and manufacturing corridors that will run from the Los Angeles State Historic (Cornfields) Park southward through downtown towards the already 'greening in process' Port of Los Angeles. (Please review items #2-10 above). Mix in federal stimulus funding and it's impossible to think that this won't ultimately bring the Mayor his own Championship Ring.

Why be Governor when you can re-invent Los Angeles? The Mayor has made the right call....but clearly not for the shallow reasons mainstream media would want you to believe.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What My Father Taught Me About Respecting Nature.

My father passed away in 2008 at the grand age of 90, and now more than ever I am grateful for the lessons learned from this Depression-era man.

I often smile when I read stories about urbanites planting gardens. My father tended a family garden for years and I still remember how we were always trying to give surplus zucchini away to neighbors and friends.

My dad grew up in a small manufacturing city, but when he married my mom, they bought a plot of land in the 'country' ~ long before the current back to nature movement became 'nouveau.' My dad built the house my five siblings and I grew up in ~ yes, built it himself, with only subcontractor help for plumbing and masonry. My mom still lives there and keeps track of neighborhood goings on from her perch on the front porch.

I was probably in my forties before I truly came to understand the tremendous emotional impact the Depression had on both my parents, but especially my father, who was the youngest of seven children. I recall, among other stories, of his telling of only having boiled potatoes for dinner during those lean years.

This experience, though, made him the ultimate conservationist. We did not waste anything when he could help it. I must have been told a million times to close the front door 'because I'm not paying to heat the outside.' He was always admonishing us to turn off the water tap and put things 'back where they belong.'

Both through example and our regular road trips, he taught us the value of natural resources and the importance of taking care of things.

Oh, yes ~ the road trip ~ a now seemingly forgotten part of Americana in this age of getting everywhere fast. During the summers, just about every weekend we packed into the family station wagon and head out for a day 'adventure.' Dad rarely told us in advance where we were going ~ just that we were going for a 'ride.'

And what rides they were! We climbed natural glacier outcroppings at Nelson's Ledges, fed the fish at Pymatuning Reservoir, toured the cheese factory owned and operated by the Amish, and explored more museums than I can count, even obscure ones, like a place we stopped once where a man had collected thousands of Indian arrowheads.

Almost all of these trips cost nothing more than a tank of gas and a picnic lunch, yet by the time I was an adult, I felt that I had visited just about every corner of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, including my still very vivid memory as an 8-year standing next to Niagara Falls and hearing the roar of the water while feeling its fresh mist on my face.

We took another annual excursion, too, 15 miles up the road to see my dad's boyhood friend, Harry, who still ran a large dairy farm. There we kids would run around the farm, slop the pigs, pet the horses, look for eggs, and even milk the cows. My grandfather's family had been farmers for years before moving into the city to work in the steel mills and I always thought that visiting the farm was a simple way that my dad touched his roots. More importantly, I learned at a young age where meat, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables really come from...and it's not Trader Joe's.

My father was really into old things and history, so we explored 'historic' buildings and even old cemetaries, looking for the gravestones of recent family ancestors. He taught me how to capture butterflies, identify leaves from more than 100 varieties of trees, tell whether a piece of wood was 'crookeder than a dog's hind leg,' and build interesting 'toys' in his garage machine shop that he would call 'whim whoms for wozzers.' I really hated holding the boards steady across the wooden 'horses' while he worked, since I always thought he'd miss that nail with his hammer and hit my hand...but he never did.

On this Father's Day, I'm reminded that my passion for restoring our natural systems grew mainly from my dad's respect for and belief in the importance of human stewardship of the land, water, animal and plant life. That respect could only come from someone who lived close to the land. His actions remind us that from 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' we are all intricately linked to our environment and that our natural world needs to be nurtured, especially in our now heavily urbanized culture, where most Americans have totally lost connection to our 'roots.'

I'm grateful that my father's lessons keeps me connected to mine.

Thanks, Dad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Touch the Water Before It's Too Late!

Last weekend, my friend and I discovered the bowtie parcel of the Los Angeles River and found ourselves among the 'full house' of theatre goers for the LA River Play, Touch the Water.

This production by Cornerstone Theater was a surprisingly well-written and well-acted outdoor presentation, with quality audio and an amazing four piece band where I swear every musician was playing three or four different instruments each, including the accordian.

Touch the Water includes an interesting mixed cast of both professional singers/actors as well as community amateurs whose skills mesh together to tell the tale of living along the Los Angeles River in its current concrete prison. Through dialogue and song, the play recalls the River's natural history and verdant role in supporting indigeneous residents and later Angelenos

As I watched the sun set just prior to the play's opening, I couldn't help but wonder how Dan Turner's op-ed in the June 3rd LA Times might have turned out if he had actually gotten off the bike path and experienced the river through this play.

Sadly, what Turner and other naysayers miss is that there are compelling reasons why the Los Angeles River needs to be and will be restored. Unfortunately, many of these reasons deal with critical water transport shortages, sanitation TMDLs, and the heat island effect on a City where 34% of all surfaces are impervious materials ~ not the type of sexy issues that tend to garner the attention of the average Angeleno.

This is why poets like Lewis MacAdams of Friends of the Los Angeles River and other artists try to speak to our souls about the importance of urban nature and a restored ecosystem that can holistically support a thirsty region of 16 million residents while providing access to the outdoors in an era of extreme housing density.

Turner's piece ironically comes at the time of the death of cultural historian, Thomas Berry, one of the first thinkers who advocated that Earth's ecological crisis was in fact a crisis of the human spirit. I share Berry's philosophy and have observed throughout my life how individuals, families, and animals/birds of all kinds seem more at peace when they Touch the Water.

One of the sad legacies of early 21st Century California living is the almost total disconnect that most people, like Turner, have with the natural systems of our community. When I moved to Los Angeles almost 30 years ago, I was shocked to find both the River channelized and all schoolyards with asphalt, since this was so foreign to my Midwestern upbringing. In the ensuing years, I've sadly noticed that the friendly, laid-back personality of Angelenos has deteriorated, too, into a sort of 'Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto You' credo, underlined both by a massive population increase and a focus on secularist lifestyles in wealthier neighborhoods. (In fairness, some of this attitude is beginning to change because of the impact of our current financial difficulties.)

Happily, for 90 short minutes last weekend, I was able to sit among the stars (nature's ones), feel the cool breeze of the River on my face, and share the love that many of us have for connecting with the land and water that still underlys this great urban experiment.

I invite all of you to hurry over to see Touch the Water before it closes on June 21st. It's the best kind of play to go to: no need to dress up, there's free parking, and your admission is on a donation basis. I don't recommend the play for children under 14 due to some adult language and situations, but it's a real treat for those of us who love the river and those who want to learn how to love the river. Reservations here:

I want to hear from you, too, about how communing with water ~ both through the River Play and from direct experience along the LA River and the Arroyo Seco ~ has touched your spirit.

Please post your comments!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Get Your Motors Running.....

I confess. I love rivers. I love bicycles. I love art. I love music. I love my dog. But I REALLY love my 4-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee, which I've already driven almost 180,000 miles.

I confess. I grew up in car culture in a small GM town in the midwest. When I got my driver's license, it was the symbol of freedom ~ I could finally get on the open road and explore miles of backcountry and quaint little villages.

I still like getting out on the open road. I do my best creative thinking while I'm driving. My trusty Jeep and I have visited all terrains from jeep trails in the Sierra Nevada to the beaches of Mexico.

The great sadness of modern America is that, due to population density, there is no longer any open road or fun in driving through Los Angeles' alphabet freeways (5-405-110-60-710-605-210-10-134, etc).

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that the fabulous Angeles Crest Highway was finally re-opening after 3+ years of closure due to landslides.

Before romancing about ACH, I want to give kudos to Caltrans who constructed an unbelievably difficult connection bridge that should be immune to future landslides. You can read about this great engineering feat here:

The Angeles Crest Highway's western leg starts in La Canada-Flintridge and wanders into the Angeles National Forest along the magnificent Arroyo Seco River (the same one that becomes an urban channel from Pasadena south to Downtown). It continues 66 miles through the Forest to Wrightwood where it connects with Angeles Forest Highway that ultimately descends down into the Antelope Valley. It's a scenic drive extraordinaire and has long been popular with motorcyclists and road trip car buffs.

I first remember driving this terrific road (disclosure: for serious drivers only ~ it's a two-lane road with lots of twists and turns) over 25 years ago with my family, taking the desert route to its eastern leg in Wrightwood where we spent the day skiiing.

When I lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Kernville, one of my favorite outings was a road trip through the forest. Now, I'm excited that I can begin the same type of road trip with a starting point less than 8 miles from where I currently live.

Orignally envisioned as a fire safety road into the forest to provide access to Edison powerlines, the Angeles Crest Highway was championed by both Arroyo Seco and San Gabriel River leaders as a scenic highway that would follow the rivers into the forest. Ulimately, the Arroyo Secons won and construction became in 1941 with completion in 1956.

Along the way, road lovers can stop at Red Box (near the source of the Arroyo Seco), Mount Wilson's Observatory, numerous picnic areas and, of course, the ski resorts that surround Wrightwood. When traveling in the forest, it's always important to drive for safety. That means carrying chains (yes, even in summer!), plenty of water, blankets, flashlights, and canned/packed food, in case car trouble strands your vehicle overnight. This is an adventure road, so don't count on your cellphone working. That's why it's important to stay on or near the road during your first drive through it.

Best of all, what a great inexpensive summer nature vacation Angeles Crest Highway offers!
Don't forget your Forest passes, though. You will be ticketed by rangers, I promise. Details here:
So ~ get your motors running and head out on the highway with your family for spectacular scenery, interesting stopping points, and a day-trip that won't break your wallet.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Arroyo Seco Property of the Week

If there is one thing that I'm as passionate about as river restoration, it's real estate, especially historic and architecturally interesting homes.

One of the best restored Craftsmans I've seen in quite awhile is looking for a new owner (that means it's listed for sale) in the Historic Highlands Landmark District of Pasadena.

Built in 1912 and almost completely remodelled in 2005, this charming California Bungalow boasts 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, including a spacious master suite. With 1569 square feet of living space on a 6878 square footage tree-canopied lot, this home includes a cozy living room with built-ins and a Batchelder fireplace, dining room with picturesque window seat, and bright, functional kitchen with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.

Oozing with original character, this family home also features a spacious old style front porch, large outdoor wood deck, California basement, huge unfinished attic storage space, and large detached two-car garage.

Best of all, it's all turn-key, with newer central heat and air conditioning, high quality interior and exterior paint, automatic sprinkler system, fountain, and secluded backyard.

A great find in a great neighborhood. Another reason why life is good in the communities along the historic Arroyo Seco. Details and price here:

Arroyo Culture Lives On at the Lummis Day Festival

In just a few days, Angelenos and visitors from near and far will gather at Sycamore Grove Park (Los Angeles' oldest public park) along the Arroyo Seco to celebrate the history and culture of Northeast Los Angeles in memory of Charles F. Lummis, Father of Arroyo Culture.

Lummis walked from Ohio to Los Angeles in the late 1880s to become the first City Editor of the Los Angeles Times. He built his home, El Alisal, along the river's shore made entirely of Arroyo Seco river rock. He was a champion of Native American and early Californio culture and he hosted several on-going 'soirees' at his home, that he preferred to call 'noises.'

Among the numerous cultural institutions he founded were the Southwest Museum and the Arroyo Seco Foundation. He was a city librarian, photographer, editor, poet, but most of all a raconteur, who helped introduce the concept of multi-culturalism to Southern California.

Now in its 4th year, the Lummis Festival is a day-long celebration that includes tours of the Lummis House, poetry readings, and, most of all, the wonderful Festival at Sycamore Grove which last year attracted over 10,000 participants.

The Festival opens with my personal favorite: the Tongva Puppets along with their drummers, parading from the Lummis House to Sycamore Grove Park to 'officially' open the Festival ~ a celebration of Arroyo indigenous culture with lots of color, pageantry and joyful marchers.

Festival goers will have ample opportunity to nosh, visit community organization booths, and listen to outstanding music all afternoon from the likes of Culture Clash, Wil-Dog Y Su Banda, and I See Hawks in LA.

A great family event, get on the Gold Line train, ride to the Southwest Museum stop, and walk on over to the 4th Annual Lummis Day Festival.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Cruising Down the Arroyo Seco

Last Saturday, 100 bicyclists of all ages and abilities came together for the first Tour de Arroyo bicycle cruise along the 9.6 mile urban portion of the Arroyo Seco.


First, to honor the memory of Pasadena bicycle activist, Dennis Crowley, who died suddenly last fall at the age of 60. Dennis excited everyone he met with his vision of an Arroyo Seco Cycleway that would allow commuters to ride on a Class I Bicycle Path between Pasadena and Los Angeles (or Los Angeles and Pasadena, depending upon the starting point) without the hassle of street crossing or street riding.

Secondly, to enjoy the varied terrain that surrounds the Arroyo ~ starting from tree lined streets in Pasadena to the in-channel bicycle path from the South Pasadena border to Los Angeles' Montecito Heights Recreation Center through graffiti tagged industrial areas of LA over the Spring Street Bridge with a destination of the new Cornfields State Park, nestled next to Chinatown with an amazing view of the LA City skyline to the south and the San Gabriel Mountains to the North.

Thirdly, to build awareness of the importance of an Arroyo Seco Bikeway in advance of tonight's (Tues. 6/2) meeting with Los Angeles County planners on such a route, slated for 6pm at the Los Angeles River Center, 570 W. Avenue 26, Los Angeles, CA 90065.

Most of all, TO HAVE FUN!! And fun we had ~ a perfect overcast morning in the 70's, no flat tires, no accidents, and lots of laughter. Even the novice riders proclaimed: that was easy!

Upon reaching the Cornfields, the bicyclists held a short rally honoring Dennis' memory and talking about the importance of a commutable cycleway, especially needed in light of Los Angeles' very poor options for on-street bicycle riding with any degree of safety.

After the rally, some bicyclists cycled back to Pasadena, stopping at notable spots along the way, including the Southwest Museum (LA's oldest), the Audubon at Debs Park, and the Lummis House (built entirely from Arroyo Seco river rock).

Others took the Gold Line 'sag wagon', the terrific light rail service between Downtown LA and Pasadena where passengers can ride with their bikes.

A few of us though couldn't resist a feast of dim sum at Chinatown's Ocean Seafood Restaurant ~ yum~yum!

Best of all, we captured it all on videotape and our ride leader, Dan Sharp, even got his 15 seconds of fame aboard his monster bike on the early local television evening news.

In case you missed this ride, you'll have another chance to ride along the river ~ this time, the Los Angeles River, this Sunday, June 7th as part of the 9th Annual LA River Ride:

Summer is Here and the Water is Gone.

If you thought the gas crisis of Summer 2008 was painful, wait until you feel the impact of the water crisis of Summer 2009.

Although the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) has been warning its water agency members for 18 months that curtailments are coming, the public will now feel the first impact as the City of Los Angeles begins today enforcing its new water conservation rules, coupled with a 15% rate increase.

This water shortage is due to a number of factors coming together, creating the 'perfect drought:' cutbacks in water supply from the Colorado River, low reservoir water storage, below normal rainfall/snowpack for the past three years, and reduced water flow from the Bay-Delta due to a court order protecting the Delta smelt.

But this water train wreck has been brewing ever since the Peripheral Canal, designed to be the second phase of the State Water Project, was disapproved by voters in 1982. We continue to rely on water supplies that were negotiated in the Colorado Compact in the 1920s based upon faulty hydrologic supply information and were designed to support a California population that peaked in 1990 (the State Water Project).

Last Friday, I attended a business community meeting where Pasadena Water & Power executives outlined in an intelligent, detailed manner how the current water crisis occurred and what the impact will be upon Pasadena Chamber of Commerce members and business district property/business owners.

Needless to say, this business community, a major tax base economic engine for the City of Pasadena, was not happy to hear of an average 10% rate increase on July 1st of this year and another average 8.7% increase on July 1, 2010.

Note the 'average' word, because to hear some businesses tell it, they will be hit with anywhere from a 60% to 75% rate increase, at a time when retail is dying and many businesses are struggling for survival in a City that already has a high permit fee and business tax structure.

In my opinion, most water agencies throughout Southern California have not done a good job in communicating this dire water shortage situation because they've tried to soft-pedal it to their customers. Even Pasadena admitted that there was only a 3% decrease in water usage this past year (with a target of 10%), despite an expensive 'humorous' water waster media campaign and various water conservation outreach meetings. Sadly, Californians have had cheap, plentiful water for so long, they have no idea that living in a Mediterranean climate means a semi-arid landscape.

Beginning today in LA and July 1st elsewhere, residential and business water users will be shocked into a new reality: much higher water bills and heavy penalties for water waste.

If there is a blessing here, it is that our current economic recession and restructuring means that we will all be forced to re-evaluate our water usage, since we no longer live in the good old days where we could just throw more money at the problem. Moreover, with MWD's 10% curtailment already in place, there is still the possibility by late this year that actual water rationing may take place, if water usage does not drop.

Hopefully, people will begin to make the connection between urban river restoration, whose stream beds hold stormwater run-off and allow groundwater percolation, and local water supply, our best hope for water security and sustainability.

To paraphrase the Founding Fathers' motto: Adapt or Face Very Unhappy Consequences.