Wednesday, June 13, 2007

EAGLE ROCK ON: That Fat Dog Won't Hunt in This Town

by Joanne Turner
There was a big-deal issue in town that went away, but not without a fight and a whole lot of yelling and misunderstanding. The Fat Dog Lounge proposal seemed to divide our community in two, but the factions were of unequal proportion. Most were against it, and for good reason.

Many of the newer folks in town saw the proposal as a welcome change in Eagle Rock. They saw it as a means of building on our community’s burgeoning “hipness.” They seemed to think the proposal was a totally good thing if it were to become a part of our commercial district as opposed to a totally bad thing if we didn’t let it happen. In other words, to these folks the issue was either/or, black or white.

Those of us who have lived in Eagle Rock long enough to have witnessed the business district’s worst phases in the early 1980s through the middle 1990s know that there are always gray areas to every planning issue and that they can’t be ignored. Examining and working through those gray areas takes a lot of work, and a lot of time, two things many people can’t or don’t want to do, and we know from hard-fought experience that we certainly can’t expect the city to do its job the way it should without intense prodding from the citizenry.

Doing planning right by working through all those gray areas is called recognizing and investing in long-term benefits as opposed to giving in to short-term solutions, the former of which is a viewpoint politicians rarely embrace. Quick, thoughtless solutions very often have a dire effect and make the ultimate goal of community improvement much harder to reach.

The Fat Dog proposal was sold to the community as a high-end wine bar serving small plates that would be created by a known Westside chef. I was just as excited as anyone was, but we soon found out the proposal submitted to the city was anything but. What the proprietors of Fat Dog and their hired facilitator really wanted was a full-line alcohol license, to be open 24/7 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. with live entertainment, and to serve food that in no way resembled trendy small plates. They also wanted to buy up a disproportionate amount of parking spaces under the newly created Pilot Parking Program.

Understandably, those living close to the site and who had experienced patrons of the nearby full-alcohol Chalet urinating and vomiting on or near their properties were horrified. They also knew that parking, regardless of the good intentions of the pilot program, would become a huge problem, especially for the residents on Townsend Avenue. And, they knew loud entertainment until late hours would surely disrupt the lives of those who have to get up every morning, take their kids to school, and go to work.

Oh, and there’s another thing. It’s called the law. The Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan was written by citizen volunteers over a five-year period during our business district’s worst phases and became law in August of 1992. Yes, it puts restrictions on certain types of business, but it does so because its overall intent is to raise the standard of businesses in the area. It encourages a diversity of businesses with an emphasis on good design while discouraging those businesses that without a doubt have been shown to erode a community’s ability to improve itself. Blockbuster Video, in fact, told us it never would have moved here WITHOUT the Specific Plan.

Full-line alcohol licenses are not allowed within the Plan area without obtaining an exception to the Plan from the city, not an easy task. Think about it. If a full-line alcohol license were granted in this case, imagine the Pandora’s box that would be opened. How could the city say no to the next guy in line without facing a lawsuit? Before you know it, you’ve got Melrose Avenue.

Many people moved to Eagle Rock for a quieter, family-oriented life, but with some adult fun attached that doesn’t get out of hand. It’s called balance, and you can thank the citizens who saw and wrestled with those gray areas.

THE GANG CHRONICLES: Are We Doomed To Repeat Failed Policies?

By Tony Rafael
Since Mayor Villraigosa has refocused priorities on L.A.’s long neglected gang situation, he’s received no end of advice from activists, gang-experts, wannabe experts, fellow politicians and various stake holders. While all this input is well-intentioned, the quality of the advice ranges from the sound and reasonable to absurd and downright dangerous.

Some of the advice comes from busybodies who sport rose-colored glasses as part of their professional equipment and other forms of advice are stubbornly filtered through the lens of wholly discredited ideologies.

The notion of appointing a gang Czar is one idea that falls into the realm of sound and reasonable. A gang overlord coordinating activities is something that has never been tried before and if properly formulated, adequately staffed and decently funded, a gang Czar’s office is an idea that just might work. Whoever is appointed and however that office is organized, this new bureaucracy (and let’s face it, it will be a bureaucracy) should be given clear mandates, milestones for achieving goals and a clear method of pulling the plug if no measurable results are achieved. Call it an “exit strategy.” The reason we need bureaucratic self-cancellation is that bureaucracies have a nasty tendency to live on regardless of their effectiveness. Dinosaurs are kept alive long after the freeze. Unlike the private sector that can torpedo useless organizations, the government is dedicated to full employment schemes that continue pouring money down various rat holes and maintaining the status quo.

One piece of advice that continues to be offered up for consideration is the creation of “detached worker” programs. The idea here is for the city to hire reformed or non-active gangsters to act as prevention and intervention counselors. The detached aspect of this idea is just what it sounds like. The worker is essentially a field rep operating on the streets with very little supervision or accountability. In fact, the proponents of this idea see a benefit in the lack of supervision and working outside the limits of an org chart.

Despite the fact that detached worker programs have a terrible track record, the concept still has the power to seduce. Otherwise clear thinking individuals fall for it regardless of the lessons of history. In the 1980s, Chicago handed a notorious local gang $1 million to run intervention programs and keep peace in the neighborhoods. The gang used the money to buy drugs and guns to obliterate rival gang drug dealers and take control of the dope trade. In Los Angeles in the 1970s, Project Get Going and similar programs run by alleged reformed gangsters became nothing more than safe havens for drug dealers, extortionists and murderers. They literally used government cars to deliver dope bought with government grant money. And murdered anybody that got in their way.

And more recently, the collapse of No Guns last year underscored the fact that once the government writes a check to one of these detached worker programs, there’s absolutely no supervision, follow-up or accountability.

If our policy makers insist on using detached worker programs, as some appear to do so, they should at least fund it with non-government money. If a private party wants to fund one of these programs, let them take the responsibility for implementation and the liability if the program goes sideways. If a Ted Turner, Bill Gates or other billionaire currently pouring money into overseas projects wants to fund this kind of program let them. Not one detached worker program should get a single dollar of public funding. It’s just asking for trouble.