The Wednesday column: PUSD board member responds

After reading the online comments to my Sunday column about the public schools, Pasadena Unified board member Renatta Cooper responded with concern.
A number of posters said that while they were happy enough with some aspects of the schools in Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre — the teachers, the curriculum, the campuses — they were appalled by the lack of discipline, which made it hard for other students to learn.
“The biggest stumbling block seems to be getting a grip on discipline and follow through. NO ONE wants to send their child to a school where they can’t feel safe. So why can’t the district seem to improve discipline?” writes “Looking for Change.”
“Even the Marshalls and Don Benitos of the district have students with serious behavior issues, who disrupt even the much touted classes at those schools. The district will not allow those principals to rescind a disruptive student’s enrollment permit at those schools, thus keeping the education level at even our ‘good’ schools pretty middlin’,” writes “Sheesh.”
Rather than getting defensive, Renatta, a lifelong educator and former Pacific Oaks dean, cuts to the chase: “I was reading the comments to your story and I found them quite disturbing. I have been a board member for three years. I would welcome any parent with an example of a discipline matter being ignored during this time to please send me an e-mail at on the specifics of the incident so that I may investigate.”
Parents, students, teachers, even — take her up on it. Otherwise, we’re letting the thugs win.

On another topic: The headline on a Monday front-page New York Times story: “In Colorado, It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop.” It turns out that “Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states,” but laws have been changed in Colorado at least to allow residents to collect rainwater legally.
The question has been: “Who owns the sky?” I asked Pasadena PIO Ann Erdman whether cistern-wielders in this city risked the hoosegow. Her reply: “It’s neither legal nor illegal here. There’s nothing currently in the Pasadena Municipal Code about it. A couple of departments are looking at creating some legal protocols for the sake of public health and safety.” Being on the, so to speak, glass-half-full side of the bureaucratic divide, I say that if something’s not illegal, then it’s legal. And Ann pointed me to a recent story she wrote in the city’s newsletter, Pasadena In Focus, about Northwest Commission Chair Dan Sharp and his wife Maya installing a barrel beneath their solar panels — talk about a green household! — to capture the runoff when they wash them. Cost just $45 in materials and a couple of hours of time. “A typical roof gutter can siphon off about 200 gallons from a mere quarter inch of rainfall. The Sharps now connect a hose to the rain barrel to irrigate their vegetable garden and deep water their fruit trees,” Ann writes.
One way to beat the drought.

A gutsy semiology

The wording of signs is a language like any other. To we cereal-box readers who find anything in print interesting, even the way a menu over a take-out window is put speaks volumes — about the culture, about our expectations, about the state of teaching (and of learning) in our schools. There’s a whole lot of ‘splaining to do about the use of apostrophes in America, if you’re a picky person, a la the author of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.”

It’s especially interesting when the menu is in translation.

Most Mexican restaurants, for instance, if they bother to at all, translate “tripas” directly as “tripe.” Not quite so delicate-sounding perhaps as the French “andouilette,” a word that would make no one avoid that sausage. But not bad.

At La Estrella on North Fair Oaks just above Throop Lumber, where I was picking up some takeout lunch Sunday afternoon, the proprietors get a bit more direct.

Their translation for tripas, over and over on the large menu over the ordering window, was “guts.” Get your guts tacos. Your guts burritos. Get ’em while they’re hot!

I got the tacos de pescado instead. Great place, by the way.

Building the arts at PCC

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The above swinging jazz combo, featuring Aleks Peck on guitar and Patrick O’Connor singing fine old standards — I’ll get the solid drummer and the bass player’s names sometime soon — set the stage for a Thursday-night get-together in Brenda and Bill Galloway’s back yard to raise friends for the new Pasadena City College Center for the Arts.

Excellent as the studio art and music programs are at PCC, they’ve never had a proper home on the campus.

Even so, the great cellist Nicky Rosen and the extraordinary visual artist Betye Saar, among other alums, have managed to get by. They’d get by better with a locus on campus. So ground is breaking late this summer for a new building with an art gallery, a recital hall and a black-box theater.

Construction funding will be through the Measure P bond. Still plenty o’ naming opportunities for you big donors out there, though — the bond won’t pay for musical instruments, building signage and new technology.

Interested? Contact division dean Alex Kritselis at for more info.

Rain surf

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The first day of summer, we go surfing, naturally, and what does it do but rain, and blow hard onshore? James, on the left, pulled out his brolly, to keep Rick’s wetsuit dry. Weather kept the crowds down was the good news. Waist-high surf at Bolsa was choppy but, as the optimists say, much better than it looked like when you’re standing on the shore, wondering whether to even go in. We stayed out for two hours and caught lots of waves before retiring to fish tacos and Bohemias.

The next day, Father’s Day, fulfilling my dad wish, Phoebe and Julia took me to CBS on Spring Street in Chinatown for dim sum. Sitting at the table next to ours was Molly Ringwald, extravagantly pregnant with twins, her 5-year-old daughter and her husband. No one paid them any more attention than anyone else — in other words, they had as hard a time flagging down a waiter as everyone does in a dim sum joint.

Thanks, Ann and Linn!

So the monument in the picture below in a previous posting has something to do with Route 66, which that part of Colorado Boulevard surely is a part of, according to city PIO Ann Erdman and my Blair High classmate Linn Wyatt.

I still don’t understand why the FB on it stands for Foothill Boulevard, a couple of blocks to the north, parts of which were also on Route 66, rather than Colorado.

And I can’t find any Star-News story within the last seven years at least that tells the monument’s story.

Who can tell us more? Next time you’re at the McDonald’s just west of PCC, do stop by and check it out.

What on Earth is this, at 1320 E. Colorado?

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For years a gentleman has been calling asking me if I’ve had a chance to look at the stone monument in front of the McDonald’s at 1320 E. Colorado Blvd., in the first block to the west of PCC. He wanted help in figuring out what it means.

I had not had the chance.

Until today. Here it is. As you walk up to it in the curb strip, it looks like nothing so much as a gravestone. It is in the ground extremely solidly. It must be from the … ’20s? That part of Colorado was, excepting the then PHS/PJC campus, a little bit country back then. Amazing that a car has never hit it — or maybe the monument has always won.

Is FB for some kind of fire brigade? Is the top a circled No. 11 or some other kind of symbolic marking?

Is this the work of aliens or of Pasadena pioneers? Did McDonald’s try to get rid of it and give up?

These are questions I seek your help in answering.


And the Gold Crown goes to Steve Nowlin

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Artists come and artists go. Philanthropists: same. College presidents: same. Galleries: same. But Art Center College of Design Vice President Stephen Nowlin, an Art Center grad in painting himself, has been the rock of the Pasadena and Southern California art scene for many decades. As the director of the Alyce Williamson Gallery at Art Center’s Lida Street campus, he’s hung dozens of brilliant shows, challenging and uplifting the culture.

That’s why the Pasadena Arts Council, for 45 years supporting arts and artists in the Southland, went the highly unusual route of giving not three or four or half a dozen people its annual Gold Crown Award for distinguished service to the arts this year — it just gave it to Steve. Who deserves it. It’s a good thing among the bad stuff that surrounds us — as was the party Alyce threw Wednesday to celebrate Steve and the winners of the Young Artist Awards: Chloe Cheney-Rice for dance; Lesly Glaeana for music; Allison Dufford for theatre; Arnulfo Reyes for visual art.

That’s Art Council Executive Director Terry LeMoncheck and Nowlin above with Art Alliance member Joan Aarestad.

Newtown: Strange days in Hahamongna

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The arts consortium NewTown Pasadena — maybe it’s just NewTown now — always comes up with the best outdoor performance/situational installation opportunities for artists, and last weekend’s “On the Trail Of …” in Hahamongna just above Devil’s Gate Dam was no exception.

We started down the trail from the soccer field after being handed a map by Newtown majordomo Richard Amromin and his co-conspirators, and what do we run into first but … these creatures. Doing God knows what. Kinda reminded me of the Mud People from earlier happenings in the south Arroyo Seco. We gave them a little space while walking by. It turns out they were Joseph Ravens and Taisha Paggett “in search of a hole never dug” and “seeking a perfect place for a hole.”

Then pictured below are one of Thadeus Frazier-Reed and Cassia Streb’s “Hornbill” installations, electronic papier-mache birds placed throughout the park; Stan Hunter’s “Floating Bowl Perspective” and Karen Bonfigli and Andreas Hessing’s Stomata/Stigmata, in which I pulled the plug on the earthenware bowl hanging in the tree and witnessed the shower of a gallon of water spilling down almost on me.

Andreas was in this blog last year with those same bowls planted in the ground out at the Arboretum.

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That’s so old media …

Oh, sure, before shooting from the hip Friday afternoon and announcing that LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold had been hired by The New York Times, which happens to need a restaurant writer just now, I could have done the traditional triple-checking I did as a reporter, required my staff to do when I was editor of the Pasadena Star-News for 13 years and do myself now when writing opinion pieces.

For God’s sake, I could have just called Jonathan, or the NYT.

But fact-checking — that’s so old media.

Whereas in blog-land, as anyone who reads them knows, considering all the nonsense that’s floating about, anything goes.

Anyway, that’s my excuse. But Jonathan himself posted that he has neither been offered nor has he accepted the plum job. And I have to go with him as a pretty good source on this story.

So my posting was pretty lame, considering that I do pride myself, as do all working journalists, on accuracy.

But I had it from not one but two prominent Southern California food professionals. One said she’d heard the news two weeks ago.

Guess we heard it wrong.

Still, if he has to go from hereabouts, we could still read him if he were writing about New York restaurants, and we could dream. Hey NYT — if you need a great critic, and who doesn’t, I know where to find one …

Jonathan Gold to the New York Times …

I’d feared it, soon as the brilliant editor-in-chief of LA Weekly, Laurie Ochoa, was fired for doing such a beautiful job for so many years.

The reason I’d feared it is that the NYT is looking for a restaurant critic now that Frank Bruni is moving on to another beat.

So what’s great for Manhattan and the other boroughs is gonna be lousy for Los Angeles and Pasadena food and foodies.

What I hear is the Laurie’s husband, J. Go, the greatest restaurant critic in the country, an elegant writer and formerly the New York restaurant dude for Gourmet, so no stranger to Gotham eateries, has been offered the job.

Notice I say that I hear he’s been offered the job — not that he’s taken it. But still. Given this perfect storm of timing, the Times would be crazy to offer the post to anyone else. If it goes through, the Pasadena residents are gonna be greatly missed.

Where on Earth are we gonna find out about the best place to get genuine Peruvian ceviche now?