Sunset Bridge demo, the sequel

October 27, 2011

The 405 project hits a new stage next week as workers demolish the north side of the Sunset Bridge. That bridge was the first of three to be demolished and rebuilt as part of the project, which will add a 10-mile northbound carpool lane and other improvements to one of the nation’s busiest freeways. (Demolition of another of the bridges, at Mulholland Drive, caused the closure heard ‘round the world with last summer’s “Carmaggedon.”)

Metro officials said there will be 12 nights of demolition, which will require freeway closures (in only one direction at a time) as well as ramp closures and impact on nearby streets. Reconstruction of the Sunset Bridge is expected to take about a year.

The work starts Monday, October 31. For more details, read Metro’s announcement.

Posted 10/27/11

Hitting the high notes

October 27, 2011

Like a lot of people, I caught the opera bug relatively late.

And I have my son’s Academic Decathlon team at Monroe High School to thank for that.

One year, their Super Quiz subject was opera, and I was treated to strains of great works like “Carmen,” “Aida” and  “La Traviata”  coming from David’s room each night as he listened to audiotapes in preparation.

And, to my surprise, I liked what I heard—a lot.

Fast forward a few years. I was in Salzburg on a mission to try to secure a major donation for our county’s Music Center. Though jet-lagged, Barbara and I went to hear Plácido Domingo perform in “Parsifal,” a Wagner opera that goes on at Wagnerian length—easily 5½ to 6 hours.

Afterwards, we had a chance to go backstage and meet Domingo. Wagnerian operas are not among my favorites but I was thrilled at the prospect of meeting the most renowned tenor on the planet, and we had a memorable exchange.

“Oh, you don’t know what it’s like to stand up there and sing for 5½ hours,” he told us.

“You don’t know what it’s like to sit there and listen for 5½ hours!” Barbara retorted.

And that, to paraphrase the old line from “Casablanca,” marked the beginning of a beautiful collaboration. I’ve been fortunate to work with Domingo and James Conlon and other leaders as they’ve put opera on the map in Los Angeles. I even had a chance to interview Domingo at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of years back.

As L.A. Opera celebrates its 25th birthday this month, its artistic successes coincide with what I like to think of as the golden age of arts in Los Angeles.

With remarkable new facilities ranging from Disney Hall to the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica—to name just a few—we’re truly in the midst of a cultural explosion.

Local audiences and arts lovers are big winners in this boom, of course. But the benefits don’t stop there. The arts now employ more people than the defense industry in Southern California. Aside from those directly involved, arts institutions create new customers for surrounding businesses.

And cultural tourists from around the world flock here for performances at the county’s Music Center and other venues—enhancing our global arts reputation and serving as an important engine of our economy.

I’m grateful that our Board of Supervisors has long realized that investment in the arts, far from being a frivolous expenditure, is smart public policy—both from an economic and quality of life point of view.

That’s why, in an effort to make sure our top musicians reach the broadest possible audience, regardless of means or mobility, my office has underwritten L.A. Opera and L.A. Philharmonic broadcasts on KUSC 91.5 FM.

If you can make it to the opera’s 25th birthday open house at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday, November 5, I hope you will. You certainly can’t beat the price—free. And if you can’t make it, I hope you will tune in to KUSC’s live broadcast of “The Opera Show” from the lobby from 9 a.m. to noon.

Because, as my own experience shows, you never know where listening in on a little opera will take you.

Posted 10/27/11

Some things wicked this way come

October 27, 2011

Did you hear something?! Halloween creeps closer—soon it will be upon us. Take a break from coating your shrubbery with cobwebs, and dare to peek at what’s happening near you this Halloween/Day of the Dead.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!!! At LACMA, it’s not just Halloween—it’s also the last chance to check out the Tim Burton exhibit. It will be open for 38 straight hours, from 10 a.m. Sunday, October 30, until midnight on Halloween. All weekend long, the museum will host Burton-esque creative festivities. Kids can create props and use them in a free interactive storytelling session at noon on Saturday. Later that night, adults can attend a costume ball with live music and visual effects (tickets are $100). On Sunday, artist-led workshops and a horror film fest round out the entertainment.

Theatricum BOO-Tanicum

For a classic Halloween in a gorgeous setting, join Topanga’s Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum this Friday for an event all ages can enjoy. A not-too-scary haunted house will provide thrills without tears, and actors will read classic ghost stories while Shakespearean zombies, headless horsemen and witches haunt the grounds. You can bob for apples, carve a pumpkin and dine on organic chicken and waffles. Popular children’s musician Peter Alsop and others will provide live music, and a costume contest will be held in the lush canyon venue.

East Los Angeles Civic Center

Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and Los Angeles County Public Library have teamed to present a free Día de los Muertos cultural festival. The celebration features a community altars contest from local families, Day of the Dead-themed art, and a performance and lecture by Gregorio Luke, former director of the Museum of Latin American Art. It all takes place Wednesday, November 2, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the East L.A. Civic Center, 4837 East 3rd Street.

Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

At Griffith Park, the brave among us can find their thrills on the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, a 25-minute terror trip with ghosts, monsters and—gasp—clowns. There also will be a ghoul-filled maze and a sideshow with food, magic shows, rides and games. The event runs every day through October 31; $25 gets you the hayride and side show, and $10 more will get you into the maze . . . if you dare.

The Autry

If you’re looking for Day of the Dead entertainment, The Autry presents “¡Vivan Los Muertos!” Artists will display their altars and calaca (skeleton) art, traditional food will be served, and visitors will be able to try their hand at mask-making and other crafts. Music, ceremonial dancing and Aztec blessings will add to the atmosphere as ancestors are honored in line with cultural tradition.

“Trick-or-Treat” safely

Wherever you trick-or-treat this year, do it safely with these basic safety tips from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Among other things, their experts remind that some candies, especially those made outside the United States, are known to contain lead. So as we wind up National Lead Poisoning Awareness Week, check out Public Health’s anti-lead campaign, and use this handy flyer to know which candies to avoid. Together, we can make sure the only “damage” Halloween candy does this year is to your diet. Happy haunting!

Posted 10/27/11

Audit reveals flaws in children’s agency

October 26, 2011

More than a dozen years ago, California voters, by the slimmest of margins, passed a measure championed by actor/director Rob Reiner imposing a 50-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes to infuse huge sums into programs aimed at lifting the lives of children 5 and under.

“This is a sweet victory,” Reiner elatedly proclaimed after a final tally of absentee ballots had given his Proposition 10 the edge. “It means so much for the young children of this state…”

But this week in Los Angeles, the mood was far more somber as the Board of Supervisors received a highly critical audit of how hundreds of millions of dollars of that money has been administered locally by an independent public agency called First 5 LA.

Although no malfeasance was uncovered, the board was so concerned about the findings that, by a 4-1 vote, it set in motion a plan to strip First 5 LA of its independence and turn it into a county agency, like the majority of its companion organizations across the state.

The audit, requested by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who’s currently serving as chairman of the First 5 LA commission, was performed by Harvey M. Rose Associates and bluntly details a series of risks that the firm says may be undermining the performance and integrity of First 5 LA.  Among the findings:

  • First 5 LA has been significantly under-spending its revenues, placing the organization “at risk of not fulfilling its mission and goals to the extent possible and consistent with the Board of Commissioners policy and program objectives.” With a fund balance of more than $800 million, the organization has spent comparatively less on its programs than California’s other First 5 groups.
  • The First 5 commission receives such insufficient information from the organization’s staff that its ability to oversee spending, program activity and outcomes is compromised. “Most grant and contract awards, representing hundreds of millions of dollars of annual agency expenditures, are not submitted for approval or review.”
  • In the last fiscal year, the agency awarded more than $200 million in contracts, but failed to report them all to the First 5 commissioners, which “raises the risk of agreements being in place for inappropriate purposes or with unqualified vendors or grantees.” In fact, the commission approved only 28% of First 5 LA contract awards. In many cases, contracts were awarded without competitive bidding—and without notifying the commission. Auditors could not determine how some contracts were awarded because documentation was not properly retained.
  • The staffing of First 5 LA is high compared to other First 5 agencies and is “not configured to best enable development and administration of new programs and initiatives,” thus contributing to the under-spending problem and delays in launching health, safety and educational programs for the county’s children.
  • During the past four fiscal years, First 5 LA has had an annual staff turnover rate ranging from 8 to 19 percent a year, generally higher than other First 5 organizations surveyed by the auditors. This, along with the absence of a commission-approved compensation policy, “raises the risk of First 5 LA not being able to attract and retrain qualified, high-performing employees.”

After the audit findings were presented during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky offered a particularly blunt assessment.

“The lack of transparency, the lack of accountability, the lack of competition in proposals, the lack of information sharing between the staff and the commission itself, any one of these things would be a bell and whistle. And all of them together is a siren,” said Yaroslavsky, who praised Antonovich for initiating the audit process.

No representatives from First 5 LA testified during Tuesday’s session. But the organization’s chief executive officer, Evelyn V. Martinez, later released a statement noting that, since 1998, First 5 LA has undergone annual independent audits of its financial statements and controls “and at no time have these audits resulted in any material findings.”

First 5 LA, she said, “takes its fiduciary responsibilities seriously and has been a responsible caretaker of the public funds entrusted to it.” While acknowledging the Board of Supervisors’ authority to exert greater control over the organization, Martinez said that “I hope we can continue to maintain our focus on improving the lives of our youngest children in Los Angeles County.”

Among chief executives of First 5 commissions in California’s 58 counties, Martinez’ annual compensation of nearly $250,000 in 2009-2010 topped the list. That included a $10,000 performance bonus.

Supervisor Gloria Molina cast the sole vote against the motion authored by Antonovich and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, which directs the county counsel and chief executive officer to prepare a proposed ordinance establishing First 5 LA as a county agency and report back within 30 days.

“I don’t see where one dollar was stolen, one dollar was misappropriated, one dollar was mishandled,” said Molina, who was chair of the First 5 LA commission during some of the audited period. (That position is held by the sitting chairman of the Board of Supervisors, a position that rotates annually. Each supervisor also appoints a member to the commission.)

Molina added: “I think it’s a shame that we are moving so drastically to take over this agency.”

The audit process began earlier this year when the governor proposed diverting half of the current and future Proposition 10 tobacco-tax money from the county commissions established to administer it. For First 5 LA, according to the Antonovich/Ridley-Thomas motion, this would divert about $450 million from its current reserves and $50 million annually in the future.

The audit, conducted in two phases, initially was intended to identify First 5 LA’s reserves and ensure the most efficient use of future allocations. But, in the end, serious issues were uncovered that led to Tuesday’s vote.

The First 5 commissions have sued the state to block diversion of funds. The case is pending.

Posted 10/26/11

Dressed to thrill as LA Opera turns 25

October 26, 2011

A big birthday calls for some standout clothes. And let’s face it—when the honoree is an international superstar, the more over-the-top, the better.

As L.A. Opera celebrates its 25th year this month, its costume workshop in Little Tokyo is stitching away at full tilt. Creating exquisite outfits for the latest production, Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” is just part of what’s going on.

Beyond the fittings and the finery, the workshop is shining brightly in its own supporting role, serving in effect as a gigantic walk-in closet for all the star-crossed lovers, murderous villains and phantasmagorical creatures who’ve thrilled L.A. opera audiences for the past quarter century.

Looking for enough boots to outfit a regiment? You’ve come to the right place.

A dragon gown with 25-foot train? They’ve got one.

Or perhaps a dressmaker’s mannequin shaped exactly like Plácido Domingo’s torso? Of course, along with the doublet and robe he wore when he starred in Verdi’s “Otello” in 1986.

That performance marked the beginning of opera as we know it in L.A.—a 25-year run that’s being celebrated at the company’s first ever open house at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, November 5.

It’s all free—including performances and “Meet the Maestros” sessions featuring Domingo, the company’s general director, and its music director, James Conlon. (Advance reservations are recommended for those and some of the other parts of the day-long program, and a $1 handling fee applies; more information is here.)

In addition to performances of the children’s opera “The Prospector,” the open house also will feature a small but impressive sampling of the company’s vast costume collection, along with wigs, props and scenery.

Items selected to show off the costume workshop’s versatility and artistry include the Infanta’s costume from Zemlinsky’s “The Dwarf,” part of the company’s “Recovered Voices” series dedicated to rediscovering operas lost or neglected because of the Holocaust, and the costume worn by the title character in the Julie Taymor-directed “Grendel,” along with a spectacular dragon gown from the same work.

Special demonstrations at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. will reveal some of the inside secrets of the craft.

For those who work there, the Alameda Street costume workshop has offered a front-row seat at L.A. Opera’s evolution.

“It has changed dramatically,” said Greg White, the costume department manager who’s worked there 22 years.  “It’s been fascinating watching the company grow over the years.”

(This history on the company’s website charts some of the memorable moments, including the role of founding general director Peter Hemmings, the triumphs of the Domingo era and Conlon’s arrival in 2006.)

On a recent afternoon, White and senior draper John Bishop were able to point out some of the wearable souvenirs of L.A.’s operatic history as they walked through the two-story workshop/warehouse.

A stroll to what’s known in-house as the “diva rack” turns up Domingo’s duds from “Otello,” “Carmen” and “Samson & Delilah,” as well as costumes worn by Kiri Te Kanawa in “Vanessa.”

Not too far away is Frederica von Stade’s gown from “Grand Duchess.”

Costumes from last year’s ambitious staging of the operas in Wagner’s Ring Cycle are zipped into rows of oversized and carefully labeled fabric cases on the second floor. (But three costumes for Loge—the trickster fire god from “Das Rheingold” and “Siegfried”—remain in full view at the end of the hall.)

Sometimes the job requires finding a delicate balance between the costume designer’s vision and the performers’ preferences and physiques.

“On projects like The Ring, everybody has their opinion. Thankfully, with The Ring, most of the singers realized that vanity had no place in it,” Bishop said. “Most of the singers learned to roll with it.”

Some of the costumes have become workshop favorites, like the centaur-like creature nicknamed “Ralphie,” who appeared in “Hansel and Gretel.”

Others are remembered more as technical challenges that had to be wrestled into submission—like those colorful but architecturally demanding velvet coats from “Der Rosenkavalier.”

No matter how demanding the workday—including a recent marathon fitting session involving hundreds of costumes that had to be “planned like a military exercise”—there’s a pride in playing a pivotal role in every production.

“We’re certainly part of the storytelling,” Bishop said. “You will find everybody here is in love with what they do.”

Earlier this month, one of the workshop’s periodic public costume sales helped clear out some of the excess inventory.  “All of it helps because it fills up so quickly back here,” White said. “We tend to be rather packrat-ish.”

While customers at the sale may have picked up some spectacular trick-or-treating ensembles—including someone who paid $2,500 for a get-up from “The Fly”—Halloween remains a little ho-hum for those who have turned costuming into high art.

“It’s a busman’s holiday in my book,” Bishop said.

Posted 10/26/11

Photos by Scott Harms/Los Angeles County

Posted 10/26/11

Cracking down on jail beatings

October 26, 2011

A united Board of Supervisors sent a strong message to the Sheriff’s Department this week that it will not tolerate brutality in the county’s jails, insisting that such conduct by deputies not only undermines the constitutional rights of inmates but also shatters public confidence in the wider law enforcement community.

During its Tuesday meeting, the board approved a series of get-tough recommendations that call for, among other things, the installation of surveillance cameras throughout the sprawling jail system, a ban on using heavy flashlights as weapons, a mandate for medical personnel to report “suspicious” inmate injuries and a requirement for more intensive supervision.

But perhaps most ambitiously, the board created a seven-member commission to examine excessive force in the nation’s largest jail operation and provide a road map for reform.

“There are jails around the country that have had problems like ours in the past and they’ve turned themselves around,” said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who, with board colleague Mark Ridley-Thomas, called for the commission’s creation. “We’ve got to do that here.”

Yaroslavsky said the job involves more than promulgating new policies or rules. The commission’s most crucial and daunting role, he said, will be to determine the “fundamental issue” of how a small minority of abusive jail deputies have succeeded in “contaminating the entire culture of the institution.”

Yaroslavsky said Sheriff Lee Baca, who did not attend Tuesday’s session, supports the new Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, whose work is certain to be closely scrutinized by inmate advocates and civil liberties groups that have long complained about—and litigated over—conditions in the county’s overcrowded lockup.

“I think he needs help,” Yaroslavsky said of the sheriff. “And he recognizes he needs help. And I think we [the supervisors] need help. There is no monopoly of wisdom or information on the board, at the Sheriff’s Department or any other place.”

In pushing for “a fresh set of eyes” to examine inmate mistreatment, Ridley-Thomas said the Sheriff’s Department cannot be asked alone to tackle unwarranted deputy violence, which has persisted despite earlier and ongoing probes.

“There is a level of insularity that will only lead to our being back here over and over again,” he predicted. “To leave it exclusively under the domain of the Sheriff’s Department is problematic.”

Each of the five supervisors will appoint one member to the new commission, which will then name two more. The Board of Supervisors has asked staff for a budget plan for the commission, with funding coming from a Sheriff’s Department account used to pay lawsuits and settlements. It’s hoped that at least some of the commission’s staff will perform the work on a “pro bono” basis.

Before the board unanimously voted to create the commission and adopt nearly a dozen recommendations in a motion by Supervisor Gloria Molina, the deputies’ union chief urged supervisors to remain open-minded.

“I’m not here to claim that we have never had, nor will ever have, any bad personnel,” said Deputy Floyd Hayhurst, a 29-year-veteran of the department and president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, or ALADS. “We do, just like all of the professions. However, I’m here to ask you not to paint all of us with a broad brush and think we are not performing our jobs to the best of our ability with honor, dignity and respect.”

Despite years of controversy, the issue of excessive force in the jails has gained momentum in recent weeks with reports by the ACLU and in the Los Angeles Times of cases in which deputies allegedly brutalized inmates in front of civilian monitors and others who were shocked and scared by the behavior. There were also revelations of an FBI investigation into alleged jailhouse beatings.

Meanwhile, the Office of Independent Review, which monitors the Sheriff’s Department and reports to the Board of Supervisors, released a study earlier this month that turned up the public heat.

Describing the jail as a “cauldron of inmates, many with violent criminal histories,” the report said “it cannot be denied that deputies sometimes use unnecessary force against inmates in the jails, either to exact punishment or to retaliate for something the inmate is perceived to have done.” The OIR study further stated say that some deputies “get away” with these beatings because they “can craft a story of justification for the force which may be impossible to disprove.”

Among the questions the board has asked the Sheriff’s Department to explore in the weeks ahead is one that has been debated for at least two decades. That is: should the department continue its policy of requiring all new hires to start their careers in the custody division, where they can serve for years before assuming patrol duties?

Critics contend that impressionable rookies become quickly hardened by spending years in a grim environment among violent and hostile criminals. Not only do some deputies become brutal jailers, according to the critics, they end up carrying these aggressive behaviors and poisoned perceptions with them when they eventually hit the streets.

On the other side, top sheriff’s officials have long argued that custody experience prepares deputies—many of them young and naïve—in learning how to deal with gang members and other criminals as well as how to assert control without the use of a gun.

Currently, according to the department, the 3,500 deputies assigned to the jail spend an average of 3 to 5 years there. The board wants to know whether that time can be reduced and whether it’s advisable to create two separate career paths for deputies—one for custody duties, the other for patrol—an idea to which Baca has said he might be open.

Ultimately, it’s the sheriff who’ll decide what changes will be made in a department that L.A. County voters have elected him to lead. But as Supervisor Molina noted: “We do have a little bit of leverage because he has to get his budget approved by us.”

Posted 10/20/11

At probation, the new powers that be

October 26, 2011

Jerry Powers could have predicted as much. The first paragraph of the Los Angeles Daily News story announcing his hiring Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors began with the phrase, “Los Angeles County’s troubled Probation Department has a new chief.”

“Every news report, it’s the same thing, ‘troubled, troubled, troubled,” Powers was saying just the other day. “I was joking with the board that my cards will have my name, title and ‘Troubled L.A. County Probation Department.’ ”

Powers, of course, knows that reporters are unlikely to abandon the descriptive shorthand until he gives them a new story line, a daunting challenge for an agency that has, among many other things, come under intense Justice Department scrutiny for failures in its juvenile camps, severe budgeting lapses and considerable churn at the top. Powers’ predecessor is leaving after only 18 months on the job.  

“We’ve got some flaws, and some work to do,” Powers acknowledges. “That’s been well documented. But I’m convinced we can fix that. This department can be a leader in the field again.”

Powers, who’ll begin work on December 5 and earn an annual salary of $255,000, is likely to experience some culture shock, not only because of the enormity of the issues confronting the department but because of its sheer bulk.

He’ll arrive here after a well respected career in Stanislaus Countyin the northern Central Valley, where he’s been chief probation officer since 2002. There, the department’s 250 employees oversee 7,000 adults and 900 juveniles. Its budget is $25 million.

Those numbers, however, represent a fraction of what Powers will confront inLos AngelesCounty, where 6,200 staffers supervise more than 50,000 adults and 20,000 juveniles. Its budget is $716 million.

What’s more, no probation department in Californiawill feel a greater impact from the state’s new criminal justice “realignment” law, which transfers to the counties the responsibility of supervising newly-released prison inmates who’d been serving sentences for non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual crimes.

In Los Angeles County, these paroled inmates—many with prior histories of serious and violent crimes—are predicted to number 9,000 by June.

Asked how he’ll make the adjustment from a relatively small operation to such a huge one, Powers says “that’s the No. 1 question.” But he’s convinced “it’s strictly a leadership issue,” whether you’re responsible for 250 employees or 2,500. And that means “being visible, holding people accountable and putting people in the right places to succeed.”

Powers, who is president of California’s association of probation chiefs—and was a reported finalist to become Stanislaus County’s chief executive officer until taking the L.A. job—describes himself as a “collaborative” and “flexible” leader, “who’s pretty sure about what I want and what I don’t want.”

“But at the end of the day,” he says, “I’m ultimately responsible, and we’re [the staff] going to move in the same direction. And if you’re not interested in pulling in the same direction, then we’ll get people who are. The vast majority of people here do not want to work for a ‘troubled’ department. They want to be proud of who they work for and know that what they do is of value to the community.”

Posted 10/26/11

Some help taking out the trash

October 25, 2011

No matter how much we reduce, reuse and recycle, sometimes the dumpster is our only choice.

Most garbage can be tossed out normally, but hazardous materials require special treatment, and bulky items like furniture usually are collected by appointment. Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) offers assistance, but hazardous materials still end up in landfills.

“The number one reason people dispose of hazardous waste improperly is because they don’t know they are hazardous.” said Natalie Jimenez, Household Hazardous Waste program manager. “The main thing we want people to do is look at the label.”

According to the department website, “any product labeled toxic, poison, corrosive, flammable, combustible or irritant” is hazardous. There’s also electronic waste, or “e-waste,” which includes everything from computers to hair dryers, and “Universal wastes,” like batteries and fluorescent tubes, which contain corrosive chemicals and mercury. Home medical wastes including “sharps” and unused or expired medication are also considered hazardous.

These wastes cause serious problems when tossed in the trash or poured down drains. They injure sanitation workers, contaminate groundwater and disrupt biological processes used to treat wastewater before it goes to the ocean.

Of course, the hazardous materials themselves also end up in oceans and waterways, contributing to unsafe beaches and polluted ecosystems. Fines for improper disposal can be as high as $10,000.

If you need to dispose of hazardous wastes, use permanent disposal facilities in Los Angeles City or take advantage of the mobile collection events organized by the county. Public Works recommends listing unwanted but working electronic items on the Los Angeles County Materials Exchange, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff offers convenient drop-off locations for sharps and expired medication.

Of course, the best way to ease impacts of hazardous waste is to reduce how much of it you discard. Click here to learn how.

Large household items—furniture, fridges and other appliances—are not accepted by hazardous waste collections and must be disposed as “bulky items” by contacting your local trash collection agency. To find out who that is, use this online tool.

On Saturday, November 5, unincorporated parts of the San Fernando Valley can get rid of bulky items for free—no appointment needed. Sunshine Valley Landfill is hosting a Free Disposal Day from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Residents can drop off up to a ton of household refuse free of charge. Accepted items include furniture, appliances and mud debris. The landfill will not accept business waste or hazardous waste.

To take advantage of the opportunity, residents must bring proof of residency (a driver’s license, for instance) or a copy of the flyer that was mailed recently throughout the area. To determine whether your home is in the eligible service area, see page 2 of the flyer. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Michael Antonovich are sponsoring the event.

As always, before trashing items, see if someone else can use them. Charitable organizations and thrift stores take large items on a donation basis. Your trash could be someone else’s treasure, and you’ll lessen the load on landfills in the process.

Posted 10/25/11

Fault findings break new ground

October 21, 2011

Years before the first trains roll, the Westside Subway is already getting somewhere—at least when it comes to seismic discoveries.

Earthquake geologist James Dolan, a USC earth sciences professor and consultant to the transit project, this week presented findings that pinpoint the location—and active seismic status—of a formation known as the West Beverly Hills Lineament.

Remember that name.

It turns out the WBHL, as it’s known, is a branch of the mighty Newport-Inglewood Fault, an active and powerful system stretching from Culver City to Newport Beach and continuing south through San Diego and into Mexico’s Baja peninsula.

Dolan led the research team that first came across the formation and named it in the early 1990s. But it was only in recent months that intensive research to determine the safest site for the subway’s Century City station helped the geologist “confirm our earlier inferences that the West Beverly Hills Lineament is the northernmost part of the Newport-Inglewood Fault System.”

In the world of seismology, that’s a big deal. The Newport-Inglewood system is a giant and has been active during the Holocene era (i.e., the last 11,000 years), most notably in 1933, when it caused an earthquake in Long Beach that killed some 120 people, making it the second deadliest in California history, after the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

The presence of the WBHL and the nearby Santa Monica fault, which is also active, make it too dangerous to build a Santa Monica Boulevardstation for the new subway in Century City, Dolan and other scientists told a Metro committee Wednesday. They said that another proposed location for the station—at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars—was a better option because it showed no evidence of earthquake faults.

The state has recognized the WBHL and the Santa Monica Fault as active fault zones on its maps, Dolan said, but does not yet classify them as such under the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, which imposes building restrictions in such areas. Data like those acquired during the recent research are the kind of information needed to eventually place such active fault zones under Alquist-Priolo regulations, Dolan said.

“As a scientist, it’s very exciting,” said Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geologic Survey and Caltech, who reviewed the research as part of an independent review panel. “Knowing that the Newport-Inglewood Fault is active this far north is new,” she said, later adding that the finding is “of significant import for the city of Los Angeles.”

The WBHL extends north-northwest from Culver City through West L.A., bisecting west Beverly Hills and east Century City, traversing Constellation andSanta Monica boulevards between Moreno Drive and Century Park East before ending roughly at Sunset Boulevard.

A “major event” on the WBHL could mean an earthquake ranging in magnitude from 6.4 to 7.2, along with ground movement of three to six feet, according to an executive summary of the experts’ findings.

While it’s not possible to predict when a given fault might slip, it’s prudent to take the potential impact seriously, Dolan told the committee:

“Earthquakes don’t typically recur on our kind of human lifetime scales,” Dolan said. “That doesn’t mean that we can disregard the risk associated with these things. It very well may be it will be 3,000 years until we have an earthquake on the Santa Monica Fault. Then again, it could happen tomorrow. It depends on whether you’re a betting person, I guess.”

While acknowledging that such discoveries can spark concerns, Dolan said in an interview that he prefers to take an all-news-is-good-news approach.

“I think anything we learn about active faults in always good news,” he said, “because it’s absolutely critical that we fully understand the seismic threat facing us as residents of earthquake country.”

Members of the Metro committee listened attentively during Dolan’s presentation (and one, Richard Katz, asked him to slow down at one point so he could take in the rush of information.)

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, another committee member, said he was so engrossed with Dolan’s style of scientific explanation that it might once have set him on a different career path.

“If I’d first met him 40 years ago, I would have been a geology major,” Yaroslavsky said.

Dolan, an expert on urban faults and the seismic hazards underlying the metropolitan Los Angelesarea, said the latest round of extensive research gave him a chance to catch up with his unfinished business with the WBHL. “These data have been a wonderful validation of our earlier research,” he said. “They’ve greatly fleshed out the details of these faults. Those details are the critical information we need.”

At the committee meeting, he spoke enthusiastically about the exhaustive testing that helped unearth those details, including “cone pentetrometer” tests and “seismic reflection profiles” (“It’s like a CAT scan of the earth,” Dolan explained to the committee.)

After it was all over, the committee chair, Diane DuBois, paid Dolan and the other scientific experts the ultimate layperson’s compliment on their presentation:

“I even understood it,” she said.

Posted 10/20/11

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