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."