The fake-greening of Pasadena

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I remember, back before everyone and every entity either was or pretended to be environmentally conscious, when Pasadena was an early leader in going green. For its own sake. For trees and streams and open spaces. Potential council members including Rick Cole and Bill Crowfoot ran for office on such platforms — real ones. Not fake.

For a couple of years now, and maybe I’ll trace it personally to the day when the city was caught throwing out hundreds of perfectly good desks and chairs that had been stored behind the Armory Northwest on Fair Oaks — I grabbed a drafting chair for free — it’s mostly been a sham. City management and many on the City Council are interested in the appearance of being environmentally (and fiscally) correct rather than the reality.

The rubber (tree) has really hit the road in this whole chopped-down ficus business in the Playhouse District. Many of us told the council that destroying the magnificent canopy of shade trees was a bad idea even though it had been approved a decade and a half ago by a mistaken bureaucratic fiat — which, yes, included citizen input; average Janes and Joes can be wrong, too — that no one had got around to implementing.

Yet the council let its Public Works Department deforest Colorado Boulevard in the middle of the night with no warning precisely because it knew that otherwise there would be protests from tree-huggers.

And now, so far as I can tell, every single one of the council members says that it was a mistake to let the trees go. And yet a numbly bureaucratic staff and its patsies on the council Monday night put the final ax in the trunk of good sense by deciding to go ahead with the misguided plan to put non-shading palm trees and non-shading gingkos in as the replacement for the ficuses. They repeat the mantra about the latter getting some good score on some UN chart — even though the trees don’t work in Southern California, and even though anyone can see that the gingkos provide no shade. But pay no attention to reality — we have a report here!

And the council even let a speaker get away with claiming Monday night that the old and mildly lush gingkgos on Lombardy are the same variety as the ones they’re going to plant on Colorado — when, as I’ve pointed out in my column, they’re not. But they don’t care. Staff has them bamboozled.

Bravo to Councilman Sid Tyler for leading the lonely fight for real trees instead of sticks. Bravo to Councilman Chris Holden for taking the time to see the light — or the shade — and voting the right way Monday night. Half a cheer to Councilman Steve Haderlein, who voted the right way, if, so far as I could tell, only because he was ticked off that some trees wouldn’t be planted in his district during any breath-catching moratorium while the city figured out a sane tree policy.

Big boos for everyone else who are following this misguided new staff desire to take up trowels and smooth over the concrete jungle, with a few twigs allowed to rise up from the holes in the pavement.

Gavin Newsom in Pasadena

When Gavin Newsom snuck into Pasadena a couple of Friday nights ago for a big party at Nancy and Jim Goodel’s Arroyo-side home, it was before his announcement today — on his Facebook page, no less, or on Twitter, depending on which report you believe — that he’s officially running for governor.

But he was in the race nonetheless, and was all he’s been billed as he worked the room — a tall, smart, charming scion of a deeply political family, a successful businessman with a restaurant and winemaking empire, a brilliant, equally successful and gorgeous bride at his side.

And then I’m thinking, a mayor of San Francisco — any mayor of San Francisco — getting elected governor of California?

Oh, it’s happened before. In the 1880s and in 1930. Both Montgomery Bartlett and “Sunny Jim” Rolph died in office in their first terms. Mmm.

And they didn’t have the iffy electoral karma of being best know outside The City for saying fully five years ago he’s willing to sacrifice his political career over his belief that denying gays the right to marry “is wrong and inconsistent with the values this country holds dear.”

I agree with him, 100 percent. The Pasadenans at the party agree with him. Where he’s got the problem is with Lupe and Joe California from Turlock, and I can’t help him there.

In S.F., he’s by no means best known for nuptials. There, he’s considered deeply moderate and commerce-oriented, getting his political start bemoaning the absurd code requirements — a $27,000 sink mandated for his first wine shop because the beverage is, after all, a food. With his famous “Care Not Cash” approach to the homeless, Newsom is seen in the Dianne Feinstein wing of mayors, rather than the … wait a minute. There’s a former San Francisco mayor who could get elected guv in a heartbeat. And yet the senator just toys with her potential rivals by refusing to even comment on a run, though theoretical polls have her outpacing Newsom or 71-year-old Jerry Brown or any billionaire Silicon Valleyite Whitmans or Poizners the GOP could throw at her.

Not to mention wild cards like independent Georges Marciano, the former Guess jeans maker who’d fit right in with a certain celebrity breed of California politician.

But remember what job we’re talking about here — the one that whipped the Terminator — why take it when you could be a powerful senator in D.C., or boss of Herb Caen’s Baghdad by the Bay, instead?

My favorite Newsom accomplishment, after universal healthcare, in his city: The fire engines, ambulances and buses there run on used cooking oil — from Michelin-starred boites, no doubt.

Opening veins at the American summit

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Whack-job wannabe dictator Hugo Chavez of Venezuela played to the cameras at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad over the weekend by walking around the conference table to present President Obama with a book.

It was the hugely influential Marxist-tinged history of everywhere south of here called “Open Veins of Latin America” by Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, first released in 1971.

Obama was criticized, natch, by the knee-jerk crowd for even accepting the volume from the hideous tin-pot megalomaniac.

Natch as well, the president had the right comeback: “It was a nice gesture … I’m a reader.”

Overnight, the (in this country) obscure tome catapulted from 54,295th on the Amazon hit parade to No. 2, with a bullet.

I’ve had a copy on my shelves for … let’s see, I got my master’s degree in 1982, so 27 years. Somewhat crazily for a business school, the Latin American historian on the faculty at the international-themed Thunderbird was John Conklin, a left-leaning liberal and a wonderful, sentimental, scholarly man who had all of us who took the summer semester in Guadalajara down to his lakeside home at Chapala south of town for beer parties on the weekends. In my Mexican history class with John at the Glendale, Ariz. campus, he’d assigned “Open Veins,” and it was a hell of a read for a class full of folks who were planning on going into the import-export biz south of the border, not getting all soppy about the poor and oppressed down there. But they had to read it — along with what turned into one of my favorite books of any type I’ve ever read, Octavio Paz’s indispensable study of the Mexican psyche, “Labyrinth of Solitude” — anyway.

In it we learned how the combination of an Iberian tradition of oligarchies and militarism, the lay of the land — the jungles, the mountains, the rivers — of the region, the lack of a middle class and centuries of norteamericano indifference and complicity led to nations run by plutocracies rather than anything resembling democracy.

Just because it was written by a leftie historian didn’t mean that it doesn’t hold truths. It’s propaganda, absolutely — and yet the tragic story it tells is partly our fault. I’ll bet Obama gives it a critical read. And we’d all do better by broadening what comes to rest on our bedside tables.

A single mom in Congress* updated …

When Rep. Linda Sanchez, who represents a good chunk of our Whittier circulation area, gives birth in a few months, she’ll be just the eighth woman to have a baby while actually serving in the House.

I’m thinking no senators have had a baby while serving, but the stats I’ve seen just refer to the generic “Congress.”

And I’m thinking that this is absolutely the first time that an unmarried woman will have had a baby while representing a congressional district. Sanchez and her boyfriend of two years, a divorced man who already has older kids, have delayed the marriage thing for a bit. A fact that seems to be causing remarkably little controversy. What a sign of how different such things are than just a decade or two ago. The lack of kerfuffle about it is in great part a tribute to Sanchez herself — a solid, responsible, fascinating person with, well, a good job who’s hardly likely to end up on the welfare rolls.

But she is going to be juggling a newborn soon along with her career, and all of us who’ve been there know that there’s just no substitute for the experience.

Here’s a YouTube clip from an ABC News segment on Sanchez and other Capitol Hill moms:

This note just in from Marsha Catron of Sanchez’s office. That’s quite a gap between Yvonne Burke and the ’90s!:

For your research, here’s a list of women who have given birth while serving in Congress (Note Gillibrand gave birth while a Rep, before becoming Senator):

1. Yvonne Braithwaite Burke (73)
2. Enid Greene (95)
3. Susan Molinari (96)
4. Blanche Lincoln (96)
5. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (07)
6. Kirsten Gillibrand (08)
7. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (08)
8. Linda Snchez (expected May 09)

Pasadena Parks and Recreation

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It’s never surprising as such to see Pasadena City Hall in the movies or on TV — although when we caught the new Amy Poehler comed “Parks and Recreation” for the first time Thursday night, it was noted that it’s unusual enough to see the big dome stand in for an actual city hall — in this case, that of the fictional Pawnee, Indiana.

Mediterranean architecture in southern Indiana? Whatever. It looks great. Unusually, the show goes on to use a lot of City Hall interiors, including the mayor’s office, as well.

And then, as we’re watching, there comes brilliant movie and stage actress Pamela Reed, whose son went to pre-school with our daughter at Pacific Oaks, onto the screen, playing Poehler’s mother.

OK. Good to see you, Pamela. It’s been a couple of years. How’re Sandy and the kids?

And then I’m saying — “Wait a minute — that shot’s on our street!” And it was. And then there was Poehler walking down Linda Vista at Yocum past the big blue mailbox on the corner.

The old neighborhood looked even better well-lighted by the TV guys than it does in real life.

Steven Leigh Morris following Fleck

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After performance artist John Fleck’s “Side Effects May Include …” at the Boston Court Tuesday afternoon, LA Weekly theater critic at large — his title since being de-staffed in an economizing move — Steven Leigh Morris held an onstage conversation with him in front of Sasha Anawalt’s latest class of NEA-funded arts writers from around the country.

Morris is a playwright as well as journalist, and had once cast Fleck in the lead in one of his plays — a fact Fleck didn’t recall. “You had to take a TV gig at the last minute,” Morris recalled with a laugh. The prospect of real money — always a threat to the not-much-pay production. (That’s Fleck in a “Star Trek” TV role above.)

“It would be comforting to think we were in this mess because technology has made what we were before obsolete, a natural and healthy evolution,” Morris said in an address on the state of the print media. “But I’m not convinced print media is obsolete,” mostly because Buffalo, NY is very different from Beaumont, TX, and the universalism of the Web doesn’t feel as local as the best sorts of local papers — let’s say The Stranger in Seattle — do. … “Our job as arts journalists is to stand shoulder to shoulder with artists. … The inability to tell the truth is the greatest threat to journalism and a democratic and open society. Let’s work together to reinvigorate this wonderful profession of ours.”

No more Maseratis

It’s the surest sign of economic downturn: Your local Italian sports car franchise blows a gasket.

And that’s what’s happened at Maserati of Pasadena at the southeast corner of Del Mar and Fair Oaks: no mas Maseratis in the picture windows.

I went to the Web site to confirm, and since it now redirects the discriminating potential purchaser of a ride fit for the Mille Miglia to the Beverly Hills home base of the former Pasadena store, I called out there. Yep — for new Ferraris (for a long time now, both have been owned by Fiat) and Maseratis you have to hie thee to the Westside. What a pain in the chiappe for the carriage trade, right?

Some may recall that the one-story brick building that until recently purveyed one of the toniest vehicles on Earth used to be owned by Casablanca Fan founder Burton Burton, who used it to house his mammoth collection of the people’s limousine — Volkswagen Beetles. Twenty-three years ago I did a cover story for the Pasadena Weekly on the hugely successful entrepreneur, and he proudly walked me through the dozens of VWs hidden away there, which included some very early twin-rear-window models and some gorgeous convertibles.

They were so nice that I think I’d take a ’51 Vee Dub over an ’09 Quattroporte. Better mileage, too.

John Fleck in Pasadena

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The great performance artist and actor John Fleck — as opposed to the great former Star-News City Hall reporter John Fleck — just performed his “Side Effects May Include …” at the Boston Court across the alley from the paper’s world headquarters here in the Playhouse District.

It was part of Sasha Anawalt’s 2009 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater, the USC Annenberg Program that brings arts journalists from around the country to Southern California each spring.

If you know Fleck’s name, it’s likely from his fame 19 years ago as one of the NEA 4, the group of performance artists who took their case all the way to the Supreme Court — and won — when the National Endowment for the Arts funded them and then turned against them for being too dirty and in receipt of public funds. It was fantastic political theater in itself.

And Fleck is still fantastic. I had never seen him live. But the show is a kick. He’s a natural actor as well as an artist. The conceit in the one-person show is his memories of going on a 10-day fast and having to thus wean himself from the wonderful products of what he calls “the church of Los Angeles” — Trader Joe’s. No more $5.99 Bordeaux. He passes around the audience a container of TJ’s dark-chocolate covered edamame. He gave me, sitting in the front row, a shot of Wild Turkey in a paper cup — nice work, if you can get it. Hadn’t had a 4 o’clock whiskey in years, or maybe ever. And he gloriously describes the fear of doing without (much) food and drink for a week and a half while still trying to go on TV auditions while his fellow actors are popping cans of Coke — “Unfair! Like performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympics!”

Sasha, the Pasadenan who directs the arts journalism master’s program at USC, asked Fleck after the performance if he had been funded since 1990 by the NEA. “Nope.” “Well, you are being funded by them today!”

More on the show tomorrow. I have to get me to Trader Joe’s.

One City, One Story: The best


Surely I’ve said it before, and perhaps I’ll say it again — but Sunday’s One City, One Story shebang in which Pasadena’s head librarian Jan Sanders interviewed novelist Luis Alberto Urrea was the best ever in our seven-year history of the community event.

It wasn’t hurt by the cool new setting of the just-opened Convention Center on East Green Street. Sarah Reingewirtz’s staff photo above shows what an interesting big room it is.

It was swell to see the big Sunday afternoon crowd — something on the order of 300 people showed up, I would say just from a quick look.

And surely Urrea’s “The Hummingbird’s Daughter,” based on an ancestor of his in northern Mexico, a magical woman called Teresita who performed miracles of a sort, resonated with area readers.

But what made this the best ever was the level of conversation between Sanders and Urrea. The author is at least as good a conversationalist as he is a writer — the power of his personality is so strong that he would shine on a “Letterman” or a “Charlie Rose,”
and we were all his Sunday afternoon.

“I wish you guys would take over, because we screwed up” — Urrea on growing up in a family of strong women.

Son of a Mexican father and an American mother, Urrea was born and raised in Tijuana — but he acknowledges that his looks are more Irish than anything else. He was of mixed parentage on both sides — one of his Baja grandmothers was named Guadalupe Murray.

He first read about his ancestor in Carey McWilliams’ “North from Mexico.” But she was legend in the region. “You’re the son of a saint,” said a drifter who had come to Sonora to sample the peyote. “How do you know?” asked Urrea. “Because I can feel your aura, Flaco.”

When he was teaching at Harvard, he found another book in the stacks on Teresita, and began his two-decade research that led to “Daughter.”

He introduced a cousin who was sitting in the front row: Teresita’s “great-granddaughter is here,” he said. “She’ll be healing in the back later.”

All her milagros had been chalked up to “menstrual enthusiasm” at one point in an old newspaper Urrea found.

Antonio Banderas will star as Tomas in a coming film version — Tomas the greatest horseman for miles around: “He had eaten on horses, stood on horses, vomited on horses, and, in 1871, made love while trotting on a horse. Ajua! Viva el amor! Someday he would try it at a dead run.”