Another night of bridge demolition

July 29, 2010

It ain’t over yet.

Demolition work on the Sunset Bridge over the 405 Freeway, set to wrap up this morning, will now extend into a seventh night.

That bit of bad news is actually good news, project managers say.

The extra night is needed because the contractor accomplished more than was initially expected during the past six nights of demolition. Workers have already started dismantling the bridge’s two center support columns—work that originally had been expected to take place a month from now. Tonight’s work is intended to finish demolition of the bridge’s second support column. The extra night now will mean one less night later.

Unlike the previous six nights, tonight’s work will require a series of intermittent freeway closures and some lane reductions, but no full shutdowns. Sunset Boulevard, however, will be completely closed beginning at 9 p.m., with an expected reopening by 6 a.m.

Demolition work on the bridge’s south side began last week.

The demolition process has played out like a surreal nocturnal ballet. Hoe rams—moving like huge, animatronic dinosaurs crossed with Woody Woodpecker on steroids—could be seen battering the 54-year-old bridge. Concrete chunks fell onto the freeway below, padded each night with 15 truckloads of dirt to help muffle the noise. The fallen debris was instantly whisked away by supporting players in the form of a couple of front end loaders. A trio of construction workers wielding acetylene torches sent showers of sparks cascading as they cut tangled ribbons of rebar exposed by the demolition work. The entire work area has been cocooned with thousands of square feet of sound blankets.

Techniques and procedures to keep the noise down have evolved with each passing night.

“You know, we’ve not been stagnant,” said Mark Van Gessel, Metro’s manager for the Sunset segment of the project. “We’ve tried to improve every night.”

Adding a degree of difficulty to the demolition mission is the need to tear down the bridge while simultaneously protecting a vital, 34-inch water line that provides water to much of the Westside of Los Angeles.

When demolition of the south side of the bridge is complete, 10 months of reconstruction lie ahead, and then it all begins again on the north side.

The completed bridge will be wider and will have up-to-date seismic reinforcement.

Two more bridges over the 405—at Skirball Center and Mulholland drives—also will be demolished and rebuilt in coming months as part of the project to add a 10-mile northbound carpool lane to the freeway, along with other improvements.

All photos by Metro.

For a look back at the Sunset Bridge in its earliest days, click here.

Posted 7/29/10

Board set to fund emergency communications plan

July 29, 2010

An ambitious plan to create a unified regional emergency communications network comes before the Board of Supervisors next week.

The system has a long name—the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communication System, or LA-RICS—and a crucial public safety mission.

Supervisors are set to approve a spending item authorizing an initial $17.7 million budget for the system’s first year of operation. Participants in the system include the county, the city of L.A., and 81 of the county’s other 87 cities.

The budget will be managed by the county and a Joint Powers Authority established last year to develop a stable, shared communications infrastructure supporting more than 34,000 first responders and associated personnel in the Los Angeles region. The proposed budget provides $7.761 million to cover staff positions, contracts, a lease agreement and administrative overhead, and $10 million for a cash advance for the hardware and software components.

In 2001, the nation witnessed the tragic and catastrophic result of interoperability failure when hundreds of first-responders to the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center found themselves unable to communicate internally among themselves and externally with other agencies. The 9-11 Commission Report specifically cited the New York Port Authority Police Department’s inability to communicate effectively as a key reason there was no overall coordination of a timely and effective response when the first plane struck the North Tower. The report also noted how the NYPD’s communications frequencies were simply overwhelmed after the collapse of the South Tower less than two hours after the initial attack.

Posted 7/29/10

Stitches in time for grand old gowns

July 29, 2010

There’s nothing like the prospect of a glamorous Los Angeles debut to make even the most luxurious wardrobe cry out for a little freshening up.

Especially when the clothes are hundreds of years old.

When Catherine McLean, the head of textile conservation at LACMA, got the assignment to prepare about 250 ornate European dresses, gowns, suits and accessories for exhibition, the pressure was on.

Not only would it be a race against the clock to ready the garments for the upcoming “Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915.” McLean and her team also would have hands-on responsibility for spiffing up one of the museum’s hottest acquisitions in recent years—the multimillion dollar Kamer-Ruf collection, made up of more than 1,000 garments and accessories and named for the two European art dealers who assembled it.

Just landing the collection was a major coup.

“This really is a transformative acquisition,” says LACMA costume and textiles department curator Kaye Spilker, who curated the show with Sharon Takeda, the department head and senior curator. “I would think it puts us into the first tier of museum collections as regards the quality of the objects.”

The deadline wasn’t negotiable, either. The exhibition, which will explore the changing styles and techniques of fashions of the gentry and aristocracy, had to be ready for the October 2 grand opening of the new Renzo Piano-designed Resnick Pavilion.

That meant just two years for McLean and company to accomplish hundreds of tasks: refurbishing, stitching, cleaning and otherwise preparing for their close-ups hundreds of outfits that once were among the most glamorous in the Western world.

Work on the new collection was both inspiring and, occasionally, a source of “sheer terror” for McLean.

“We were pretty worried we wouldn’t be able to get it all done in time,” says McLean. “[But] the fact that this collection was so amazing was a real motivator. The pieces just light up the whole room.”

Facing the large job was McLean’s small crew. She and associate textiles curator Susan Schmalz are the only permanent staffers. They work with Maria Fusco, funded by a year-long Mellon Fellowship, and summer intern Lynn Bathke. Their base is a studio in LACMA’s Conservation Center, near specialists in paintings, three-dimensional objects, paper and scientific research.

A 30-year LACMA veteran, McLean found her vocation early. She got a volunteer job at a Detroit museum in high school where she enjoyed even the lowly task of removing linings from tapestries. “I was hooked,” she recalls, and after grad school came west to LACMA. She’s worked on modern clothing, pre-Columbian cloth and the museum’s famous Ardabil Carpet, once owned by J. Paul Getty.

Textile conservation straddles a line between science and art. The conservators must know the chemistry of dyes and cleaning solvents as well as art history and the properties of dozens of fabrics. Deftness and patience are required for all the sewing, weaving and knitting involved.

“The conservators do very exacting work under a lot of pressure,” says Spilker. “They are very good, and in their work they can’t make a mistake.”

The collection was in excellent condition. But time can damage a 200-year-old dress, no matter how well cared for.

First, they had to kill any potential pests by placing the items in freezers or oxygen-free nitrogen containers. Then they conducted a careful inventory, writing a detailed conditions report for every item in the show. They made the most complicated repairs first, saving the easiest for last.

Some highlights of their labors:

  • A pink silk gown, from England, dating to 1830, had rips and tears thanks to its weighty decorations—architectural shoulders stuffed with horse hair and hundreds of faux pearls. Fusco re-stitched old repairs and mended new spots. She replaced the horse hair to repair the shoulders and added new glass pearls, though without using the original method of obtaining iridescent dye from fish scales. “We’re not trying to fool anybody” by exactly matching the originals, says Fusco.
  • Silk stockings were a sexy item in 1700, but they tended to run back then, too.  Schmalz is still working on repairing runs in a pair of silk knit women’s hose, embroidered with silvery birds and plants. (Curators found a similar stocking depicted in a scene in one of William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress” paintings.) She’s making the repairs using tiny “insect pins,” a crocheting needle and a magnifying lens. “This is my most challenging piece,” says Schmalz, who once, on a free-lance assignment, helped restore an Elvis Presley jumpsuit.
  • The team applied new techniques to old problems. A man’s tailed jacket from Scotland, dating from 1845, was pocked with a half dozen moth holes. Normal repairs leave a slight indentation, so Fusco borrowed a technique from home crafters called “needle felting.” Dying loose woolen fleece to the precise shade of brown, she took a square of spare cloth and jabbed the needle quickly up and down until there was a soft brown circle the size of the hole. The result: a near perfect match in color, texture and depth.
  • “Fashioning Fashion’s” final piece, a black and gold silk ball gown purportedly worn by Queen Maria II of Portugal in about 1850, started life with a regal 12-foot train. But the train was trimmed in the 1890s, leaving the team struggling to understand how it was originally attached to the dress. So they sewed a piece of new cloth to restore the full length, and then experimented with several methods of pleating to attach the train to the bodice until they got the ideal fit. “Sometimes you have to improvise until it looks right,” says McLean.

After months of tense work juggling color coded charts of “to-do” items, the team is nearly done. By mid-August, mannequins with the clothing will begin to move into the Resnick Pavilion.

McLean is looking forward to viewing the show as a spectator, and says “there’s something magic about an exhibition.”

Even when you know the location of every secret stitch and fix.

Posted 7/29/10

Flash mob dance and food trucks, too

July 29, 2010

They’re billing it as the Biggest Dance Ever, and if you’ve ever wanted to show off your moves in the Music Center Plaza, consider this your big chance.

In honor of National Dance Day, The Music Center and the Dizzy Feet Foundation are hosting this first-ever celebration in Los Angeles—which will include a flash mob dance assembled by the husband-and-wife choreographers and hip-hop innovators Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo.

The project is the brainchild of choreographer, producer and director Nigel Lythgoe (Pop Idol, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance) to support dance education and physical fitness. It offers a variety of dance-themed activities, encouraging and inspiring people of all ages to give it a whirl in a variety of styles from hip-hop to ballroom.

The dance festivities are free as part of the Music Center’s  Active Arts program. It all takes place on Saturday, July 31, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the Music Center Plaza downtown.

After a morning warm-up, the pace will pick up with director and SYTYCD judge Adam Shankman and the D’umos leading a big dance party and DJ jams. Meanwhile, participants can feast on a selection of goodies from some of the city’s favorite food trucks.

Posted 7/29/10

“The Summer of Love” at the Aero Theatre

July 28, 2010

Better than a dip in the “Hot Tub Time Machine,” revisit your days of future passed this week when the American Cinematheque kicks out the jams with “Wild Things,” celebrating a slew of classic rock docs chronicling some legendary music festivals.

Tonight, Thursday July 29, the Rolling Stones are showcased in a double-bill including “Gimme Shelter,” the Maysles’ brothers account of the infamous Altamont Speedway concert, where the Stones hired the Hell’s Angels for concert security with predictably tragic and shocking results.

Things lighten up on Friday, July 30, with “Monterey Pop” (1968) documenting the first-ever rock festival, staged the previous June on the cusp of what became known as “the summer of love.” The staggering array of stars included Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who and many more. It’s paired with “Wattstax,” the rarely screened 1973 film memorializing the 1972 concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tagged as the “black Woodstock,” which featured many great Stax Records artists like Rufus & Carla Thomas, the Staple Singers, Albert King, and of course Isaac Hayes. The film also offers poignant scenes of the Watts community barely seven years after it was ravaged by the 1965 riots.

Saturday, July 31, “Woodstock” returns in the full-length director’s cut, featuring dozens of acts in a three day festival of peace, love and music that drew an estimated 500,000 fans despite mud, rain and miles of hiking.

Some say that if you can remember the ‘60s, you couldn’t have been there. Whether you can remember or not, the best of these films will take you right back there. The Aero Theatre is located at 1328 Montana Avenue (at 14th Street) in Santa Monica. Film calendar here, and buy your on-line tickets here.

Posted 7/28/10

The art of Metro posters

July 28, 2010

You’ve seen them on the trains. Now check out Metro’s posters at the museum.

Some of the transit agency’s Neighborhood Posters are a part of the “California Design Biennial 2010: Action/Reaction,” on tap now through October at the Pasadena Museum of California Art.

The Biennial, supported by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, features the best examples of design over the past two years in five areas: industrial, fashion, architecture, transportation and graphic.

Metro’s art is featured in the graphic design category, as explained in this post about the posters at Metro’s blog, The Source.

The Neighborhood Posters series features work by 27 artists, each depicting a neighborhood or town served by Metro transit Created in recent years to boost Metro ridership in the many diverse communities, posters range from Alhambra and East L.A. to Venice, Van Nuys and Watts.

For an online sneak peek at all 27 posters, with biographies of the artists who created them, click here.

Posted 7/28/10

Local flavor blossoms at farmers’ markets

July 28, 2010

What’s fresh and green and fun all over? Farmers’ markets, of course—and the 3rd District is bursting with them. No longer just a place to find the makings for a locally-grown dinner, a thriving market is now a scene unto itself, complete with music, chatting, sampling, strolling and world-class people-watching.

Los Angeles is home to the largest concentration of certified farmers’ markets in the state, according to the county Agricultural Commissioner, which inspects the markets to ensure that all the produce is California-grown and being sold directly by the grower or grower’s representative. (That’s what makes it a “certified” market.) From the half-dozen certified markets that began in 1979, the county now boasts 124. Here’s a rundown on all of them, complete with times and locations. And if you’re inclined to explore the 31 markets located in our district, this list will get you started.

One of the biggest and best-known on anybody’s market list is the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, which comes to life every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ivar and Selma avenues, just off Hollywood Boulevard. Serving a diverse clientele, the market is as much a celebration of community as a destination for gourmet locavores seeking out the finest in heirloom tomatoes or French green beans.

Photographer Tali Stolzenberg-Myers spent a recent Sunday at the market. This gallery offers a taste of what she found.

Photos by Tali Stolzenberg-Myers

Posted 7/28/10

Crisis looms for L.A. health care

July 27, 2010

The Los Angeles County health care system needs some intensive care—STAT.

That was the message Thursday as officials sounded their most dire warning yet about the state of the deficit-plagued Department of Health Services. The county will have to drop hundreds of thousands of patients and significantly downsize its health care system unless some pending state and federal funding decisions break in its favor—a prospect that is looking less and less likely as Sacramento and Washington hunker down in contentious budget struggles of their own.

“This is a situation that’s increasingly looking like it’s in freefall without a parachute,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, as the Department of Health Services looks to bridge a deficit of up to $429 million this fiscal year.

Of the 730,000 patients now treated each year, some 420,000—more than half—could be turned away, according to a motion by Supervisors Gloria Molina and Yaroslavsky. The cuts would seriously harm some of the sickest people in the county, and also would hamstring the county’s ability to transform itself to meet the demands of federal health care reform, the motion said.

Supervisors approved the motion, directing officials to provide a detailed worst-case analysis in 15 days, after budget updates from the health department and Chief Executive Office provided only a general overview of what will happen if federal and state funding relief does not come through.

The reports did not mention closing hospitals or other health facilities. But the discussion during the meeting made it clear that those actions and others may be on the horizon soon.

“What facilities are going to close? What kinds of facilities are going to close?” Yaroslavsky asked CEO William T Fujioka and Health Services interim director John F. Schunhoff.

The county is looking at three possible ways out of its predicament. There will still be a big deficit to confront, however, even if all three come through.

One hope is to obtain from Congress an extension of the “enhanced FMAP Medicaid matching rate” that would provide some $33.8 million. (FMAP stands for Federal Medical Assistance Percentages.) The measure was not included in the recent vote to extend jobless benefits, however, and it is unclear whether it will be reintroduced in another form.

Another option involves obtaining a favorable decision on the hospital provider fee the county would receive from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS.)That could mean $115 million in fiscal 2010-11.

Finally, county officials have been hoping for an additional $150 million from the so-called “1115 Waiver,” which would provide support to public hospitals that treat needy patients. (1115 refers to a section of the Social Security Act that deals with how Medicaid services are provided in states.)

But those funds could end up being siphoned off by the state of California, which previously had been seen as an ally in negotiating with CMS for the waiver.

“The state’s key interest is helping to solve their budget problem for [fiscal year] 10-11,” Schunhoff told the board.

Molina, the board chair, said it is unrealistic to count on the three options coming through.

“I think we’re being overly optimistic because we haven’t solved last year’s deficit,” she said.

Yaroslavsky noted that the situation is growing worse as the health department continues to spend—with no deficit solution in sight—in the new fiscal year.

“We’re in a very serious situation,” Yaroslavsky said. “We now have 11/12ths of the fiscal year remaining, and we are still spending as if assumptions [of new revenue] are going to come to pass.”

“The longer we wait, the deeper the cuts are going to be,” said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

Supervisor Don Knabe asked the CEO and Health Services chief not to simply propose shutting specific facilities, but to spread the pain throughout the county health system.

And Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked that the report include information on county departments, such as the sheriff and probation, that receive unreimbursed health department services.

Underscoring the discussion was the reality that officials here will have to work through the looming crisis, with or without outside help.

“Should the federal and state governments fail to help Los Angeles County obtain essential revenue streams…then this board must be prepared to implement these cuts,” the Molina-Yaroslavsky motion said.

Posted 7/27/10

Death by ZIP code

July 27, 2010

Nestled against the mountains, at the foot of Angeles Crest Highway, is La Canada Flintridge, one of the region’s wealthiest enclaves, a place where the residents not only prosper but live long.

According to a provocative new report by L.A. County’s Department of Public Health, La Canada Flintridge residents have an estimated life expectancy of 87.8 years—longer than anywhere else in the county.

Then there’s Westmont, a community in the challenging flatlands of South Los Angeles, where incomes are low, crime is high and drop out rates are through the roof. There, public health officials estimate that life expectancy is the worst in the county—72.4 years. Put another way, Westmont residents might live an average of 15 fewer years than the residents of La Canada Flintridge.

This stunning disparity is the central point of the Public Health Department’s most recent community-by-community exploration of how socio-economic factors are influencing our health and mortality.

“It’s a tall mountain to climb,” Public Health Director Dr. Jonathan Fielding said of the problems eroding life expectancy in dozens of communities. “But you climb a mountain one step at a time.”

Last month, the department released a detailed report on smoking rates throughout the county.

Its latest report—“Life Expectancy in Los Angeles County: How long do we live and why?”—ranks life expectancy in more than 100 local cities and communities with populations larger than 15,000. To bring deeper meaning to those numbers, the report also ranks these same places through an “economic hardship index,” a measure that includes such factors as poverty, unemployment, education and housing.

In an introduction to the report, Fielding called the results “sobering,” saying that they show “reduced life expectancy is strongly related to community-level economic conditions.”

“Poorer neighborhoods,” the report explains, “may have fewer large grocery stores, resulting in less access to fresh, nutritious and affordable fruits and vegetables, and may have fewer outdoor recreation areas and safe places where children and families can play.”

Fielding and his staff caution that the correlations between life expectancy and economic hardships are based on statistical assumptions, the availability of records and the size of the population pools. For example, the community of Lennox ranks among the highest in life expectancy but, conversely, ranks among the worst in social problems.

Beyond neighborhood rankings, the study also examines the widely varying life expectancy rates between races and genders, including this extreme example: an Asian/Pacific Islander female is expected to live 18 years longer than a black male (86.9 vs. 69.4).

Despite the troubling disparities between communities and individuals, Fielding noted that, in the bigger picture, the news is good because life expectancy has risen nearly five years since 1991. “That’s amazing,” he said. “We’ve made enormous progress.” The countywide average is now 80.3 years, according to the report

At its heart, the life expectancy study is a call to action by the Public Health Department. It recommends a number of strategies to begin closing the longevity gap, ranging from providing more recreational opportunities, to fostering more social connections, to increasing public safety and limiting access to alcohol and drugs.

Here’s a list of the Top 10 communities with the longest and shortest life expectancy. To see how your community ranks, click here.

Posted 7/27/10

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