Friday, December 31, 2010

The Cal Poly Float: A Rose Parade Tradition

For the past 63 years, the California State Polytechnic Universities (San Luis Obispo and Pomona) have joined engineering and design forces to create an annual animated Rose Parade float.

This year is no different. Based upon this year's year's parade theme: Building Dreams, Friendships and Memories, the Cal Poly Rose Float takes us out of this world with 'Galactic Expedition.'

As a Cal Poly professor, I was able to access the float's workshop at the Rose Bowl and am happy to share this behind the scenes look at how the finishing touches are placed on a Rose Parade float.

Controlled chaos would be the best description. Here's what the float looked like at 1:00pm on December 30th, with judging due at 2:30pm on December 31st.

It's true that most of the flowers are put on the float at the last minute, so judging is done with the 'final' touches of arrays of flowers in place, but clearly the float had a long way to go to completion. (But it will get done!)

The Cal Poly float effort is really symbolic of most of the float making in the parade.  Despite recent
'corporate' floats that can cost up to a $1 million to create and build, many of the most popular and long standing floats come from schools like Cal Poly and local cities like La Canada-Flintridge and South Pasadena. These community floats are all created by volunteer work with donation support.

The Cal Poly float is an interesting example of cooperation between two Cal Poly campuses (the San Luis Obispo engineering students design the technology - the Pomona students construct the float) involving an integrated array of volunteers that include students, staff, faculty, parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, and friends.  The Cal Poly float team even has an alumni group for those who have worked on the float over the years!

The volunteers come and work in shifts, while taking periodic 'lunch breaks' with a food tent and porta potties handy so that valuable work time is not lost.

What was just as amazing as watching this float constructed was observing the tremendous sense of community among all the workers and visitors, a community that all float volunteers share, regardless of sponsor. This is what helps make the Rose Parade so magical - it's long tradition of floral floats and multi-generational, multi-cultural bringing together of families and friends during the holiday season with only one goal in mind: build a prize-winning float. One of the most touching moments of my visit was watching an elderly couple showing their grandchildren toddlers the float and proudly exclaiming: We used to work on this float and someday you will too.
Last year, the Cal Poly float won the Bob Hope Humor Award, but the campuses are most proud of earning the  'Viewers Choice Award' for the past 2 years. This award is given annually to the most popular float based on viewer votes from those watching the Parade with Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards on KTLA, Los Angeles oldest independent television station.

So here's my unabashed promotion to ask you to vote for Cal Poly's Rose Float as this year's Viewer's Choice Award' to give the Cal Poly Broncos a 'three-peat.' Here are the rules: you can vote a maximum of five times and voting takes place on Saturday, January 1, 2010 between 8:00am and 2:10pm.

Whether you are watching the parade live on TV or in person, text FLOAT14 to 50649 from your mobile phone to cast your vote for Float #14, Galactic Expedition. You can also vote online at Don't forget to note you are voting for Float #14! Vote early, vote often (up to 5 times!)

Happy wishes to all participants for a smooth travel down Colorado Boulevard in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade, the 'granddaddy of them all!'

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Archers & Casters & Horses....Oh My!

It was the day after Christmas and I was expecting a crowd and parking challenges...but not at the Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park in Pasadena!

Maybe it was the week of rain; maybe it was the desire to walk off Christmas dinner; maybe it was the Rose Bowl/Parade visitors; regardless, the Lower Arroyo was so busy with walkers, dogs, fly fishermen and equestrians that it was almost impossible to find parking in the park's lot!

Though this bucolic spot is a favorite with joggers and dog walkers, the Lower Arroyo, as we fondly call it, is also the home to some of Pasadena's oldest outdoor recreation groups.

First, there are the Pasadena Roving Archers (PRA), "dedicated to the art of the bow and arrow in the Lower Arroyo Seco since 1935." Men, women, young adults and children are all members of this long-standing non-profit group. All are bound together by the sport of archery, or the bow and arrow, my dad would call it. PRA is home to beginners, weekend enthusiasts, regional, state and international archers.

Did you know archery in the Arroyo Seco has a long history with organized competition starting in the early nineteen thirties? The Pasadena Roving Archers has been a part of that history and is charged with operating and maintaining the Lower Arroyo's archery range.

PRA members provide hundreds of hours of volunteer service to maintain these facilities and provide archery instruction to archers from 8 to 80. All of the PRA archery instructors have been certified by the National Archery Association. Archery classes with the PRA are a good way to learn the sport and this club is always looking for new enthusiastic members. Check them out at

Another terrific group that has been calling the Lower Arroyo home since 1947 is the Pasadena Casting Club, where current and future fly fishermen can practice the scientific art of angling and casting. This Club, a charter member of the Federation of Fly Fishers, also supports fish, habitat and natural resource conservation. The park's large casting pond is the ideal spot for fishermen young and old to take casting lessons or just hang around and tell fish tales at the PCC Clubhouse. You can find out how to join this club at

Curious how the Arroyo Seco would look and act if it was not covered in concrete? Look no further than the Lower Arroyo because, thanks to the City of Pasadena and BFI, a naturalized diversion of the stream wends its way through the area, reminding visitors of both the river's past and its hopeful future to once again flow free.

It appears that the Lower Arroyo is no longer a Pasadena Best-Kept Secret but that shouldn't stop you and your family from coming down for a little river fun in the city.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A River Lover's 12 Days of Christmas

As the traditional 12 days of Christmas arrive, here's my wish for the 12 things we could all do to love our rivers:

1. We will start each day by asking, 'where' is the water' and 'how do I protect it?'

2. We will re-connect with nature and enjoy the powerful joy of being present in the outdoors.

3. We will learn about and employ a watershed approach to resource management, including changing our approach to land use and real estate development to integrate healthy rivers into our urban designs.

4. We will stop tossing our trash out our car windows, onto our sidewalks, and among our nature trails because we know that everything that touches the ground ends up in our rivers and oceans.

5. We will honor our natural water systems by supporting a healthy habitat first, followed by reliable safety and flood control systems.

6. We will help injured animals and people in distress, coming from love, not ego, whenever we see them in pain or danger.

7. We will wonder at the birds that fly, the fish that swim, the animals that forage, and the peace that is known along a bucolic riverway, whether an urban, suburban, or rural stream.

8. We will be grateful for the safe. clean drinking water we have while we work to conserve water and improve secure potable water delivery in harmony with natural cycles.

9. We will revitalize our neighborhoods using 'green' principles that will protect our earth, water and sky.

10. We will practice individual and collective stewardship, to always leave our rivers, seashores, and wildlands in better condition than how we found them.

11. We will teach our children and grandchildren how to play in nature and be self-reliant, so they will know how to protect our rivers when we are gone.

12.  We will remember that our bodies are comprised mostly of water and as such, we are the river.  We will come to understand that restoring our rivers is also healing our own personal health.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lake Hahamongna Appears in Pasadena

 If you were a casual observer, you might think that the above photo features a bucolic lake in the Midwest or South.
When the camera pulls back, though, it's evident that Lake Hahamongna is right here in Pasadena just above Devil's Gate Dam, where the Arroyo Seco flows through the Hahaongna Watershed Park, one of the last intact allevial fans in urbanized Southern California. (That's NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the far distance.)

The recent Los Angeles area rainstorms have dropped about 9 inches of rain in this foothills area, as of noon on December 21st, with another major storm entering the region tonight. Even though the flow of the Arroyo Seco is clearer than after last year's rains, this shot just above the Dam shows significant sediment build-up, possibly a result of last year's Station Fire.

By my estimation, Lake Hahamongna appears to be about two to four feet deep. The red buoys in the photos are to hold back debris flows from the Upper Arroyo Seco Canyon.  If you look closely, you'll see branch and log debris in addition to the sediment above the buoys.

This beautiful lake is reminiscent of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River in days of yore when both riverways ran free - a place where earth, water, vegetation, and animals lived in harmony among our Native Americans fishing for trout while floating along their waters in canoes. And as we all know, the Arroyo Seco is one of the main tributaries of the Los Angeles River, where fish movement once reached over 50 miles from the mountains to the sea.

Does this look like the place where soccer fields should be?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Even the Ducks Won't Get in the LA River

It was time to get out and survey the Arroyo Seco and LA Rivers today and check on water flows caused by our current heavy rainstorms.

To no surprise, both riverways were flowing heavily without obstruction and I did not note any obvious debris flows coming down the Arroyo Seco from the Station Fire burn areas.

As usual, it was interesting to note how the flow of the Arroyo Seco increases as it moves into the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods, mostly due to small stream and tributary flow from the North Branch in Highland Park at Sycamore Grove Park.

While I'm thrilled to see our local rivers actually filled with water, I'm sad that only 11% of this water will be captured by groundwater percolation, meaning that the rest will rush through the concrete channels to the ocean. 

On a happier note, the  LA City Council's approval of the Low Impact Development (LID) Ordinance this past week is a step in the right direction towards improving groundwater percolation and decreasing storm water run off into our riverways. As the photo above taken at Eads Avenue and the Los Angeles River attests, stormwater running along our streets ultimately finds its way, along with lots of trash and toxins, into our rivers.

While I'm still awaiting LA County Flood Control data, anecdotally, it's safe to say that when the ducks won't get into the LA River, the flow is pretty strong. This should be a guide for humans who are talking, tweeting and blogging about how they're going to kayak or coast down the LA River in this rain. I hope they'll take a clue from the ducks and stay safe.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Station Fire, One Year Later: Post-Fire Habitat Restoration & Recovery Symposium

It's hard to believe that more than a year has passed since the devastating Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest and adjacent lands destroyed more than 160,000 acres of watershed.

This past week, the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council and the US Forest Service hosted a one-day symposium at Descanso Gardens that looked in-depth at both the challenges of the fire's aftermath and the encouraging signs of rehabilitation and restoration.

More than 200 professionals crowded into Van de Camp Hall to hear from a number of experts and stakesholders, including Jody Noiron, US Forest Service Supervisor for Angeles National Forest at the time of the Station Fire, and Dr. Sabrina Drill of the University of California Cooperative Extension, who opened the program with an overview of the fire area and its impact.

The morning program, with presentations by Katie VinZant of the US Forest Service and CJ Fotheringham of the US Geological Survey, focused on post-fire invasive species control and the role of the built environment in wildland interface zones on impacted burn areas.

A number of presentations focused on the impact of the Station Fire upon vegetation, aquatic species and ecological succession after fire incidents.  Especially fascinating was US Geologist Survey ecologist Adam Backlin's presentation on how post-fire toxins in waterways affected fish and amphibians. The Arroyo Chub was a strong survivor but the Trout did not fare as well. The video of debris flows included in his presentation was breathtaking.

Long time California Native Plant Society board members, Cliff and Gabi McLean, shared an interesting photo presentation during lunch on how ecological succession occurs in post-fire recovery among native plants in a chaparral wildlands environment. Especially interesting was the role of annuals as the first indicators of vegetative life after a high intensity fire, which in this case reached temperatures about 7000 degrees (not a typo).

From a policy perspective, LA County Department of Public Works Dan Sharp outlined how the County plans to move forward with a new Flood Control District Sediment Management Strategic Plan to address all sediment issues, but particularly those created by the millions of cubic yards of sediment that have flowed down the Big Tujunga and Arroyo Seco into debris basins and other surface water capture areas.  Dan's comments were of particular interest to this writer since LA County is planning to move ahead to remove over 1.2 million cubic yards of sediment from Pasadena's Hahamongna Watershed Park alone. (See my related blogs on the Hahamongna.)

Andy Lipkis of TreePeople gave the audience hope for the future, speaking of the tremendous partnerships with the US Forest Service that will facilitate tree planting in Angeles National Forest as the long-term recovery continues.

All speakers participated in an audience Q&A panel discussion, with a focus on how recovery could lead to more sustainable practices and fire safe landscapes.

Dr. Nancy L. C. Steele, Executive Director of the Los Angeles & San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, reminded participants that the full scope of the symposium program will be the single-issue focus of LASGRWC's Spring 2011 edition of WatershedWise Magazine. 

The Arroyo Seco River Song

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

LA River Revitalization Corp Names First Executive Director

Omar Brownson, Chairman of the Board of the Liberty Hill Foundation and Associate Principal of Seslia and Company, was named today as the first Executive Director of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation (LARRC), a non-profit organization created to improve the quality of Los Angeles by revitalizing the LA River Corridor with sustainable land development projects.

Brownson, a graduate of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and UC Davis, is a Coro Fellow with a background in real estate development and financing in the public and non-profit sectors.

Details of his specific role and duties will be announced shortly.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What If We Cut The Fence? Highland Park Leader Honored as Arroyo Seco Icon

She once shouted 'what if we cut the fence' to passing motorists racing along her beloved Arroyo Seco Parkway (don't dare call it the Pasadena or 110 Freeway). Over the years, she's worked with such diverse organizations and projects as the Audubon Society, the Arroyo Seco Scenic Trust, the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, the Lummis Day Festival, ArroyoFest, and the Arroyo Seco Foundation, to just name a few.

Last Thursday night, Highland Park resident Nicole Possert was honored with the 2010 Arroyo Verde Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Council of Arroyo Seco Organizations (CASO) to honor an icon whose impact has promoted and protected 'Arroyo Culture' for a decade or longer.

For the past twenty years, Nicole has been a fixture at just about any Arroyo Seco corridor activity and event of significance. She cut her teeth on Arroyo Culture as a volunteer and Board President of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, which received the California Governor's Award for Historic Preservation and the Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award in 2002. From that civic starting point, there has been no stopping her. Nicole's community contribution and outreach efforts are so tremendous that even local politicos know to 'take her temperature' before announcing new initiatives and programs that may affect 'the Arroyo,' as she fondly calls it.

Congratulations, Nicole Possert, on your achievement as the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Arroyo Verde Award Winner. We look forward to another 20 years of service to the Arroyo Seco community.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's Time to Cruise Along Christmas Tree Lane

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 7, 2011. Come see what happens when nature, technology and love converge along a foothills lane.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's the Second Saturday of the Month...and You Know What That Means

There are many fun and FREE things to do in Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) along the Arroyo Seco but few are more imaginative and interesting than the monthly NELA Second Saturday Gallery Night Art Crawl.

What I love about Second Saturday is that it's easy to 'pick and choose' from over 30 galleries which open their doors monthly from 7-10pm.  During the summer months with late daylight, bicycling from gallery to gallery is fabulous. During the holiday season, it's a great night of art and shopping rolled into one excursion.

And then there are the nearby eateries. Here are some of my favorite nosheries while travelling between galleries:

Chico's (mariscos. ole') at Figueroa & Avenue 50 walking distance to the Avenue 50 Studio.

The York (also the local hangout for many NELA artists) & Cafe de Leche on York Blvd at Ave 50 near a cluster of galleries in walking distance

Taco Spot & The Coffee Table on Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock walking distance to Jose Vera Fine Art & Toros Pottery

Of course, you'll find numerous food truck sightings, too. If you are one of THOSE foodies, go to for truck locations.

Here are my 'stealth' recommendations for great gallery stops:

1. The MorYork Gallery at York & Avenue 50. The only public time you can get into this gallery is during Gallery Night and it's worth the visit. An amazing space created by the inimitable Clare Graham.

2. New Puppy Gallery in Cypress Park. A little out of the way but worth the trip for this adventuresome art spot with friendly hosts and a happy vibe.

Since today is the Second Saturday, here's your chance to come out tonight and visit some of the most fascinating galleries in all of Los Angeles. 

Here's the map:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Greene & Greene Adventure at Pasadena's Bolton House

While much of my life revolves around the natural environment of the Arroyo Seco River corridor, the region's built environment, especially the Arts & Crafts Movement architecture so prevalent here, drives much of what we often refer to as 'Arroyo Culture.'

The Cultural Heritage Committee of the Pasadena-Foothills Association of Realtors just hosted its Winter Home Tour, and I was able to join other Greene & Greene architectural enthusiasts for an intimate tour of Pasadena's Bolton House.

Built in 1906 by Henry Greene and Charles Greene for Dr. William T. Bolton, this grand example of both early Craftsman architecture and furniture was restored by Architect Tim Andersen and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Current owner Tom Reitze led a lively discussion of Greene & Greene character details found in the home, followed by a personal tour of the public rooms and master suite.  He pointed out a number of unique features, including the sliding doors on the china cabinets to keep glassware and china from falling out during an earthquake.

Thank you, Katie Adams Barnett, who spent many youthful years at the Bolton House, for arranging this informative and delightful tour.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hahamongna Bloggers to be Honored with Arroyo Verde Award

Who knew that the small effort of 23 Pasadena area bloggers who collectively spoke out on our blogs last July about the City of Pasadena's plan to put soccer fields in the Hahamongna Watershed Park would have such an impact?

In recognition of the outreach, debate, and conversations generated from all our posts, the Arroyo Seco Foundation is honoring the "Hahamongna Bloggers" with the 2010 Best Advocacy Arroyo Verde Award.

This and all 2010 Arroyo Verde Awards will be presented on Thursday, December 8th, in a celebration from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at Kidspace Museum, Brookside Park, Pasadena.

The event is free and open to the public.

Special thanks to Petrea Burchard for organizing this blogging effort!

To read my Hahamongna Blog on the soccer field controversy, scroll down to the July 2010 archive and click, An Open Letter to the Pasadena City Council on the Hahamongna Athletic Fields.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Beginnings and Endings Along the Arroyo Seco

This past weekend was a poignant mix of beginnings and endings along the Arroyo Seco and adjacent Los Angeles River Elysian Valley region.

We celebrated a terrific new beginning with the Official Opening and Dedication of the Los Angeles River Bicycle Path which now offers walkers and bicylists a riverfront alternate transportation corridor with vistas of the LA River, White Heron, ducks, and local mountains. Many years in the making, this Bicycle Path (or as I'd prefer to call it, the River Path), now starts just northwest of the Arroyo Seco-Los Angeles River Confluence, winds its way through Elysian Valley/Frogtown and connects with the existing River Bike Path section to allow total connectivity to Griffith Park. At a more subtle level, this path facilitates wildlife migration between Griffith Park and the LA River.  The Dedication Ceremony, attended by approximately 300 people, included words of praise from Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti and other public officials.

Another beginning at the other end of the watershed is the new Ale House on North Fair Oaks Avenue in Altadena, at the site of the old Pub. More living room than pub, the Ale House features a relaxed, non-hip, neighborhood hangout serving excellent British Ales, a variety of wines, and a yummy cheese plate to nosh on. Gail behind the bar keeps the atmosphere warm and friendly. It's a little stealth adventure to find it, since the old neon Pub sign is the only clue to its location, which probably is part of its charm. Think 'Cheers,' Altadena style.

On the endings side of the equation, this weekend saw final 'ArtBenders' for two landmark art studio/galleries at either end of the Arroyo Seco watershed. On the northmost end, Ben McGinty held his final 'show' and public gathering at his eclectic Gallery at the End of the World on Upper Lake in Altadena.  While Ben will continue to be a fixture at flea markets and art shows with his wares, the Gallery's closing marks his 15+ year journey to try to re-create the type of Altadena business neighborhood community that first brought artists to Altadena 100 years ago. The bittersweet farewell party brought together artists, locals and Arroyo art lovers for one final toast to Ben.

Down at the south end of the watershed just north of the confluence, Los Angeles Artist Icon Frank Romero and his wife Sharon geared up for their 29th Annual Xmas Art Sale, the last time the sale will be held at the Romero Frogtown Art Studio where Frank has held court for the past 30 years.  The Romeros have recently sold the studio to a promising young artist and will be relocating their studio to a new location soon. While the new location is not yet finalized, reliable sources indicate the Arroyo Seco region is the studio's likely new home.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

LA County Dumps on Oaks and Sycamores in Arcadia

In the latest version of 'your tax dollars at work,' the Los Angeles County Flood Control District intends to start to clear 11.3 acres of old-growth oak and sycamore trees in Arcadia to create a dumping area for tons of debris dredged from the Santa Anita Dam.

This planned action should alarm Southern California nature lovers for two reasons:

First, this effort destroys a historic plantation of trees whose growth has taken decades to achieve in an area quickly losing tree canopies.

Secondly, this plan sets a precedent that could lead to similar old growth tree destruction in the Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena next year when the County uses 'emergency funds' from FEMA to remove 1.2 million cubic feet of sediment from behind Devils Gate Dam.

Fortunately, open space activist Christle Balvin and the Sierra Club 'got wind' of the County's plan and have requested a meeting with the County to discuss alternatives to this tree removal.

And they need your help, to prove to the County that these trees matter. They've arranged an 'inspection tour' of the sediment disposal site for Saturday, December 4th at 9:30am at the end of Elkins Avenue in Arcadia. This is a case where body count may be the difference in protecting tree count. For more information, call 626-476-7324.

Los Angeles River December Celebrations

Saturday, December 4th is a day of celebation
along the Los Angeles River in Elysian Valley/Frogtown, just north of Downtown Los Angeles.

First, the long-awaited Los Angeles River Bicycle Path officially opens with a family festival from 10am to 2pm at Crystal Park by Fletcher Drive, with dedication ceremony at noon. This new Class I bikeway connects the Griffith Park bike path along The River through historic Elysian Valley at a comfortable grade for cyclists of all ages and skills. This new path is one of the few riverfront public spaces where the residents can enjoy the softbed section of the Los Angeles River, including sightings of Blue Heron, ducks, and bucolic vistas.

The second event is the 29th Annual Frank Romero Art Gallery Xmas Art Sale from 7pm to midnight, at Frank's iconic studio at 1625 Blake Avenue. This year's event is bittersweet, as it will be the last time it will be held in Frogtown, since Frank has recently sold this landmark to a promising young artist.

Both events are FREE and family friendly, so come down to the Los Angeles River and discover the heart of Los Angeles.