Is steel the new wood?

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Steel building going up on Baldwin Avenue in El Monte

Every day I would drive by this construction site on my way to the San Bernardino (10) Freeway. And I’d think, what an unusual building going up. Have you seen it? I snapped a picture of it on Tuesday (see above).

It is made of metal, steel I’m guessing, and it is quite impressive. It is two buildings, really, replacing older industrial ones on Baldwin Avenue between Lower Azusa Road and Gidley Street.

The architects are Lima Hizon Luzano and they are based in Monterey Park ( Their web site says they are building projects in Long Beach, Artesia, San Dimas and Chicago as well.

Anyone know why they are not using wood framing? Is steel the new wood?

Zack wins Arroyo advocacy award

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The Arroyo Seco in Pasadena

Michelle Zack, historical writer and Altadena Town Council member, was given the Best Advocacy award this week by The Council of Arroyo Seco Organizations during their 2008 Arroyo Verde Awards.

Zack has been a tireless advocate for cleaning up the arroyo and serves on the Town Council’s Watershed Committee. She also knows alot about the origins of water and development in Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. She’s the author of the highly praised book on the history of Altadena called “Altadena: Between Wilderness and City” and wrote the story for the 15-minute docudrama “Eaton’s Water.”

I’m glad to see CASO giving credit where credit is due. Also getting an award was the City of Pasadena for its Central Arroyo Stream Restoration Program. Preserving the Arroyo Seco has been a long fought battle, one that can be won with the right amount of dedication and attention.

Our own Hilda Solis as labor secretary?

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Rep. Hilda Solis, D-El Monte

The last time I spoke to Hilda Solis was at the opening of the East Valley Clinic in West Covina. Before that, Solis was standing next to an unfinished Gold Line in Glendora listing the reasons why the foothill extension of the light-rail line was a good deal for the economy and the environment.

No doubt about it, Solis is a whirlwind on environmental issues, transportation and health care. Labor would not come first to my mind. But she did author a minimum wage hike law back in 1996.

Many people I spoke to today were suprised to hear the Associated Press report that Solis was President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of labor. In fact, many were just as suprised a few years back when she won the Profiles in Courage Award. Quite an honor.

But Solis is not a stranger to labor issues. One of the biggest litmus tests for her will be the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees to form a union with a simple check mark on a card instead of a drawn-out union vote via secret ballots. The House passed the bill in 2007 along party lines by a vote of 241-185 and it received 51 Senate votes but not enough, that would be 60, to stop a filibuster. Is Obama positioning his cabinet and the Congress to pass the new law which will change the way labor unions are formed for the first time in 71 years?
Some say the battle over the EFCA will be the fiercest battle in the Congress and the Obama White House. Will Solis be in the middle of that fray?
By the way, she voted in favor.

Historic Fenyes House

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Fenyes Mansion, Pasadena

I got a rare opportunity to tour the Fenyes Mansion Sunday during one of only two days in the year this 103-year-old house — designed by architect Robert Farquar — is open to the public.

What’s amazing about viewing any historic building is the feeling you get of going back in time once you step through the portal. Visitors Sunday — and there were many — were transported to early 20th Century, when Eva Fenyes would paint en plein air paintings in her solarium. Or when she and her family and friends would put on plays in the sitting room to the north which featured a theatrical balcony.

Docents spoke of the kitchen, where a gas stove and ice box were considered luxuries, and where the Ben-Hur spices lined up in the walk-in pantry, not far from Mrs. Fenyes picnic baskets which she often loaded up with food and took out on the lawn when the light was right for one of her watercolor paintings.

In the solarium, seen below:

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One could imagine Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardener, contemplating his vines while espousing simplistic philosophies of life. I’m referring to the movie “Being There” which was filmed on the premises.

I’m glad Pasadena respects its historic resources. It makes a city so much richer.

Don’t worry — shopping can’t save us

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TO shop or not to shop, that is the question.

With apologies to Will Shakespeare whose Hamlet was pondering a much more serious “what if” kind of query, I, too, venture forth into unsettled waters.

I come from a back-East household that absolutely loves Christmas as much as well, Darren McGavin in the movie “A Christmas Story.” And though I never got a Red Ryder BB gun like Ralphie or received a bizarre lamp in the mail like his father, I did unwrap some nifty toys that my mom and dad worked hard to afford to give me and my sisters and brother every Dec. 25.

My dad was a postman and would deliver mail along the winding streets of a tony, Long Island village. Each Christmas, he’d come home with envelopes filled with cash from thankful patrons. It was my treat to open them. His “bonuses” would mean more presents for me.

One Christmas, must have been like this year when people were struggling, the envelopes stopped. A pizzeria owner who appreciated my dad but couldn’t afford a cash gift gave him the played 45 rpm records from the store’s jukebox. My dad came home with a purple-label recording of Elvis Presley’s “Stuck on You” and what became my older sister’s favorite, Nat King Cole’s “I’m The Happiest Christmas Tree” with “Buon Natale” on the B side. We wore those records out on the living room Victrola! We even made them into one of our family plays that we’d perform every year on Christmas Eve.

That year was like this year, when things are tough and people are saving more than spending. This week, my wife, Karen, removed us from her extended family’s Christmas exchange. And my family is only giving presents to the children. In our own household, we’re making Christmas pickles (my wife’s recipe) and Christmas sugar cookies (my mother’s recipe and my personal favorite) as well as almond-flavored rosettes (they’re deep fried but delicate — a Christmas miracle!) as gifts.

But what about you? How do you answer the existential holiday question: To shop or not to shop?

Like any true Italian/Catholic, my answer comes shrouded in layers of guilt — guilt that’s thicker than my mom’s spaghetti sauce. Only this time, it’s not coming from family but of all places, from the White House and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

If we don’t shop, consumers will be guilty of destroying the nation’s economy, Americans are warned. If we do shop and get in over our heads with credit debt, consumers will be guilty of destroying the nation’s economy.

Talk about your mixed messages. Reminds me of that old Henny Youngman joke about his mother-in-law plunging off a cliff in his new Cadillac. But I digress.

After 9/11, President Bush told us to go shopping. After the collapse of Countrywide, we were told it was because of irresponsible borrowers. We stopped buying homes and went shopping. When the credit markets seized up faster than a sore back with muscle spasms, the government blamed irresponsible consumers who maxed out their credit cards and defaulted on credit loans.

I am tired of taking the blame for Wall Street’s greed-mongers, for government’s laissez-faire fat cats, and for failing businesses run by CEOs who get rewarded for running their companies into the ground.

I will Christmas shop but like I’ve always shopped: With restraint, looking for bargains and staying within budget. Because like Hamlet, I can’t “be” without celebrating Christmas with family and friends. But I’m not going to do it out of guilt or to solve the nation’s economic troubles.

Don’t put that trip on me.

Peripheral Canal idea is back

The peripheral canal is back.
The idea of building a concrete chanel to move water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta so more water could flow to the Central Valley and Southern California will be part of a report submitted to the Governor by New Year’s Eve.
The story is breaking in, which will launch a special section on the topic of “Resurrecting the Delta Canal” on Sunday. Their Q&A with Mike Chrisman, California Resources Secretary, is found here.
Remember, the idea of a peripheral canal was shot down by California voters in 1982, mostly because environmentalists didn’t think it would protect habitat for fish and birds and Northern California voters didn’t want Southern Californians getting more of their water.
“There is no reason to do more studies. It is time to act,” said Anthony Fellow, one of the San Gabriel Valley’s longest running water officials. Fellow sits on the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District board and is first vice chair of the powerful Metropolitan Water District board.
All San Gabriel Valley water agencies this year have been cut off from receiving MWD water. We are relying only on our ground water supplies. Scary, huh? MWD made the move because a judge limited the movement of water through the delta to save the delta smelt from extinction.
Fellow says a worst-case scenario would be an earthquake in the Bay-Delta region that would cut off supplies to Southern California. He advocates making the infrastructure improvements to the Delta, which by the way, is being called the Delta Canal as a way to shake off negative branding associated with the first failed effort.
“The bottom line is: Something has to be done. We are playing Russian roulette with our water supply.”
Just another example of California’s broken down infrastructure. Where will the state get the money to pay for this canal? Obama, can you hear us?