The fire up close — and from very far away


This photo from the Earth Snapshot Web site —; hat tip to Kevin Roderick at LA Observed — was taken yesterday from a satellite.

It was taken Sunday afternoon, our time, clearly — as anyone who was around in the morning knows that we were socked in by the worst smoke I’ve ever seen in the San Gabriel Valley before the winds finally turned onshore instead of down-canyon.

What a harrowing weekend of fear for friends who live along and in the evacuation zones; mourning for the two firefighters killed up near Acton; memories of the first home I owned, across the ravine from the Angeles National Forest at the foot of Echo Mountain; concerns for the front range, for the damage to the watershed and wildlife, for the mudslides to come. I am extremely worried about the historic telescopes at Mt. Wilson, where the universe as we know it was literally discovered.

The Super Scooper’s here — finally. Why doesn’t the state own its own instead of having to import from Canada at the (artificial, clearly) Sept. 1 start of the “fire season”? It’s always the fire season, now.

Now that it’s blown through, I’m eager to get up into the Arroyo Seco toward Gould Mesa and in Millard Canyon to assess the damage. The upper Arroyo is within the city limits of Pasadena way up above JPL because the stream is a source of city of Pasadena water. It’s a trout stream to boot and supports the lives of tons of other wildlife. Millard has many cabins owned by locals as getaways just a few minutes from town.

The firefighters are clearly doing tremendous work — saving lives, saving stuff — against terrible odds.

But I will never understand the lack of specificity in saying what’s been destroyed and what hasn’t on the part of public information officials. Are the dozen or so historic cabins in Millard Canyon just above Chaney Trail still with us, or are they not? The TV coverage — what there was of it — was so vague all weekend that we might as well have been talking about the moon, for all the familiarity reporters showed with the terrain. These are real neighborhoods, real streets, real canyons going up. Couldn’t we get a bit more specific than “from Altadena to Acton”?

I found the information bureaucracy incredibly frustrating. Nothing compared with the terror of the fire, the deaths of the heroic firefighters and the long-term consequences, of course. But still an absurd lack of candor about what’s gone up and where.

Breaking ground at PCC

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The PCC Lancer Band Friday morning at the arts building groundbreaking.

Pasadena City College may be absent a permanent president here two days before classes start with the school’s biggest semester ever.

But it’s got a great interim president in longtime administrator Lisa Sugimoto. And from the enthusiasm on campus early Friday morning at the 7 a.m. groundbreaking for the new Center for the Arts to be erected under the Measure P bond, and at the opening of the new Campus Center and bookstore, everything is under control at the community college that touches so many of us in so many ways — and that students come from around the world to attend.

It was a good way to keep the mind off the wildfires raging in our mountains for a little while today.

A landscape architect, late of Pasadena

Ken Wormhoudt was a Pasadena landscape architect for many years — the family lived in the Duncan-Irwin House near the Arroyo, back before anyone much cared about Greene & Greene — and the house is one of the brothers’ greatest. Ken did the pine trees that surround the Neighborhood Church just down the block from his house, on Orange Grove. They moved north decades ago.

I was friends with their oldest son Jonathan at Blair High — now a psychologist in New York City — and knew that son Zach had become one of the greatest big-wave surfers in the world, a Mavericks specialist. And I knew that Mardi Wormhoudt had been the mayor of Santa Cruz and then on the county board of supervisors up there. But I had lost touch.

Walking along the cliffs toward Steamer Lane this summer, I came across this bench.

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Ken, it turns out, died 13 years ago — and his firm, now run by Zach, is the premier designer of skateboard parks in the world.

It’s a lovely place for a memorial bench. Steamer Lane is just beyond it and below it, one of the great surf spots on the West Coast. A real nice place to stand right above the surfers as they whip by.

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Mardi is quite ill herself just now. I so loved her energy and passion when I was a kid in their fantastically bohemian household. They are wonderful people; a great family to have grown up with; blessings be upon them.

Saving the Julia Morgan YW

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A Julia Morgan-designed staircase at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, just south of Monterey, where we stayed last week on NorCal vacation ….

There’s a lot of interest in our own Julia Morgan, the exquisite, long-shuttered YWCA on North Marengo Avenue, after a posting on Curbed LA and a story in the Pasadena Weekly and a posting on our new and fun Rose Magazine blog about another plan to restore the gorgeous, Julia Morgan-designed YWCA in Pasadena’s Civic Center.

An architecture student at Cal Poly did a proposal for an adaptive reuse. Good stuff.

Comment-posters on all the stories and sites either lauded the design or expressed a general interest in preserving the best of the architectural past.

I’m glad the city and its preservationists are in a huff, that closed-door meetings are going on. But I also understand that suggestions being made to move the Pasadena Water and Power Department into the spiffed-up version of the YW are problematic considering how expensive it would be to rehab and the fact that we’re paying tons more for water in the drought.

One commentator, who apparently has inside knowledge of the current owner, having worked on several proposals over the years with her, got to the crux of the matter: The building is privately held. And by one of the richest billionaires in Hong Kong. She can sit on the property until Kingdom come and not worry so much as the average developer would about paying the taxes and putting fresh plywood on the boarded-up windows.

It’s a shame. But it’s a fact. When the real-estate economy turns around, I hope she sells to someone who can do right by it — boutique hotel or whatever.

The one big worry is not to worry over — it’s a protected building. No one can knock it down or do anything but rehab it while entirely maintaining its architectural integrity.

As an aside, back in the YWCA day, Doo Dah founder Pete Apanel and painter-writer D.G. Fulford both had studio/offices there …

The Friday column: Truths for the angry liars

IN the heat of this whole shouting match about health, I had an appointment Wednesday with my physician, Malathi Narayan.

She naturally follows the politics of the debate with a professional passion. Like many people I’ve visited with this week, she was impressed by the recent Steve Lopez column on the irony of the Forum parking-lot clinic with America’s own Third World medical problems on display a few miles away from the Beverly Hills liposuction clinics. She supported the no-nonsense, down-the-middle approach of the doctor Lopez interviewed about cutting the rhetoric and doing right by our country’s people and their health care needs.

She, too, was concerned about the news of the crackpots at the Town Halls — who, as the newsroom’s Ben Baeder notes, are probably in some deeper way more ticked about government bailouts for rich bankers and general economic uncertainty.

But, as she moved the stethoscope around and pumped up the blood-pressure gauge, my doc mused about the wrongheadedness of many of the pseudo-points the Town Hall shouters are making in their anger about the economy and their fears of creeping socialism.

“Free speech is one thing,” she said. “But are they allowed to simply spout out-and-out lies?”

Ah. The lies like these nutjobs comparing economically sound health care reform to the Holocaust, toeing the Sarah Palin conspiracy-theory line about the Obama plot to encourage euthanasia of the disabled and the old and to establish what Palin calls “death panels” to get rid of them?

“Yeah — they’re allowed to lie all they like,” I said.

All my doctor — born in another country but as American as all the rest of us in this self-inflicted triage zone — could do was roll her eyes.

What we can do is stay calmer than the wingnuts.

We can press the point that the real economic problem with medicine is the system we have now, where all of us pay way more for the uninsured than we would if there were a safety net for the poor and unemployed who crowd the emergency rooms.

We can note that the best solution to the fact we pay too much for good health — and stay too sick if we’re out of work — is an American solution, which naturally will be more laissez-faire than Canada’s or Britain’s.

But if there’s a model, hold your nose and support the French way: which is by no means commie.

For far better doctoring, the French pay about $3,500 per capita. We pay more than $7,000. They choose their own docs, most of whom are self-employed, and any specialists they want. Those docs can prescribe any treatment necessary. The French live on average two years longer than us. They have more hospital beds and doctors per capita than us. A national insurance fund, paid into by workers and employers, covers everybody, including the indigent and temporarily unemployed. WHO ranks French health care No. 1; we’re 37th, just ahead of Slovenia. Yet they spend less than 11 percent of their GDP on health, compared to our more than 16 percent. Tell those quiet truths to the angry liars.

Surfin’ The Sea Ranch

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Photo credit: Rick Gough

Thanks to our glorious friends Jessica Seaton and Keith Wilson, we got to spend a vacation week with them up at their classic NorCal beach house at The Sea Ranch in Sonoma County near the Mendocino County border. I had never surfed anything like 114 miles north of the Golden Gate — San Simeon was the cold-water record — but now I have. I recommend a 4/3 wetsuit and a perfect day like this one.

Will Mayor Bill Bogaard run again?

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard writes a note to say that there has been “a surprising” amount of interest as to whether he will run for another term as mayor in less than two years.

As I speculated in a recent column, from my vantage point, at least, there are signs that he will indeed run for a fourth term (he served another two-year term as rotating mayor when on the City Council in the 1980s) as the citywide-elected mayor.

While in his early 70s, he’s vigorous and healthy. I don’t think he’s ready to hand over the job to any of the other candidates who could have a chance of winning — younger people, not retired, who would not be able to devote the full time that he does to the post.

Those potential candidates include council members Chris Holden, Steve Madison and Margaret McAustin. Currently, no one in Pasadena not on the council has the name recognition to mount a serious campaign.

Most of all, he’s truly interested in the city and the minutiae of the job — and it’s mostly minutiae.

But with the letter he sent a few minutes ago in an e-mail, Bogaard is reserving the right to not decide (or at least announce) his plans until next spring. That makes it incredibly harder for Holden or any others to mount a campaign. Most every political pundit — and paid strategist — would agree that the mayor, who has been elected by overwhelming margins, is likely unbeatable barring unforeseen bad news out of City Hall.

The letter follows:

“I am delighted that several capable and experienced people like my colleague and friend Chris Holden are considering a campaign for Mayor at the end of my current term in 2011. Pasadena is a dynamic and complicated City and it deserves strong leadership in the position of City-wide elected Mayor.

“It is an honor for me to serve as Mayor of Pasadena, and I continue to find the problems and possibilities facing the City to be challenging and rewarding.

“Some of the issues that are critically important are recovery from the budgetary shortfalls imposed by the worst recession since WWII and the breakdown of state government in Sacramento; construction of the Gold Line to Azusa and then on to the Ontario Airport; completion of the recently developed strategic plan for the world famous Rose Bowl; conversion of City operations to “sustainability” by achieving adequate renewable energy and water conservation; continued creation of affordable housing and jobs for local residents; and construction of the urgent care center that has been a community goal this entire decade. I am motivated to continue my part in the vigorous efforts underway to address these issues.

“Since our elections this spring, friends and supporters have been asking about my plans, and expressing their hope that I will run again. My decision about seeking the support of Pasadena voters for another term as Mayor will depend on progress that is made over the next year, and my current thinking is to make a decision about re-election in the second quarter of 2010.

“This is a great City with great people and possibilities, and I am humbled by the opportunity to serve as Mayor.”