Thursday, May 24, 2007

Now that my summer plans for Lebanon have been all but destroyed, here's a dose of politics:

The Americans came into Iraq and destroyed a stable, moderate country. Now that the mess has been made, and the Iraqis are dying as a result, why do the Americans think they have a right to "get the hell out"?

It's amazing that Americans refuse to believe that they have only themselves to blame for events like 9/11, and the general hatred of much of the world. It's not rocket science that if you invade a country (or support a tinpot dictator), (help) murder it's people, and then ask why we can't all be friends, those people will spit on you. Ask the Iranians, the Pakistanis, the Lebanese, or basically any other people Americans are afraid will bomb them one of these days.

And you expect that the Iraqis will forget what America has done anytime soon?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Agoura Finds Love

For the longest time, everytime you went into Thousand Oaks, you would see these little white signs at the freeway offramps advertising internet love connections. Well now we've got our own source for commercial eyesore & hookups over here:

Sadly, the site doesn't appear to be very gay-friendly, even if the models look younger than those on the TO site. No matter how young or square either TO or Agoura are, though, at least we both beat out the Valley.

Friday, May 18, 2007

No Village for Agoura.. For Now

Stop Agoura Village: Agoura Hills will reconsider EIR for commercial project

From our anti-development friends at Stop Agoura Village comes word that the city has been commanded to halt the process towards Agoura Village's realization as a result of technical faults in its Environmental Impact Report, notably its biological element (the Santa Monica Mountains are a federally protected area). A few comments:

1. Although the setback was unexpected, the city had this coming. For years Agoura Hills has been building right up against the mountains, one of the country's few great urban sanctuaries, with little or no protest from city residents. I wonder where Ms. Mary Altmann of picturesque Malibou Lake was when the city allowed construction of the vast office complexes along swaths of Agoura South? Her words suggest that her actions are an indicator of NIMBYism much more than of genuine concern for Agoura Hills: "On beach days, if there is a fire, we can't get out to the 101 (freeway) and they didn't address these issues." Huh? I agree that Agoura Hills's rampant expansion into the Santa Monica Mountains needs to be stopped, but what a ridiculous reason! I wish someone who actually cared about our city was working to help it, not some NIMBYist who only wants to preserve her tract of pristine, rural Malibu Ozarks.

2. The City of Agoura Hills needs to take this as a sign o' the times. Agoura Hills has little room left to carelessly sprawl out into, and the majority of growth for the future lies in redeveloping infill land or poorly used land (like land along Chesebro or City Center) into higher densities than we're used to. I'm not saying Agoura Hills should become the next Manhattan, or even LA- the city is essentially suburban and should be kept that way. The majority of residential areas will stay as they are, but mixed-use development should be introduced into our commercial zones (a staple of the Agoura Village Plan). If residents of rural areas like Old Agoura and Malibou Lake want their neighborhoods to remain as they are, they better place their bets on increased density in the City Center.

The bottom line, growth cannot be stopped. This is a fact that must be accepted. However, growth can be managed. It is up to Agoura Hills' citizens to determine how the city will manage its growth. Will they choose the utterly mediocre types of development currently in vogue in the Valley and neighboring Thousand Oaks? Or will Agoura Hills choose to make its own path, one where pedestrian life and livability are given precedence over pure profit?

Think of the children!

A new Agoura Hills law has made parents liable for their kids' drinking.

We build nothing for kids to do and then get mad when they turn to alcohol and drugs? This in the same week that Agoura Village is put on hold... What else are the kids supposed to do?

Throwaway City: A Report on Thousand Oaks in 2007

I was driving around TO today, first along the Boulevard and then in the Los Feliz neighborhood (the strip bounded by TO Blvd, Hillcrest, Duesenberg, & Erbes), and I was struck by how little the city had taken with regards to what was built, where it was bullt, and what it looked like. For the main street of a relatively wealthy city, large tracts along Thousand Oaks Blvd. seemed straight out of a rundown truck stop 30 miles past Omaha.

The Los Feliz intersection is undoubtedly the worst kept in the city, with a bizarrely undersized car rental 2-story anchoring the south end and a boxy, setback mess (anchored by a Chef Burger) along the north side. Then, as you head north and west on Los Feliz Dr., you encounter a complete lack of sidewalks or streetlights, as if no one had informed the city that the area was no longer a horse community bordering the Conejo wilderness. Most of the homes in the neighborhood are nondescript and solidly middle-class (though in most other cities in this country similar homes would have housed working poor), but at some point along the street appears a partially gated block of squeezed-in mini-mansions. Most of the houses on Los Feliz are relatively colorless, but these newer homes are downright tasteless! They have absolutely no relationship to their surroundings, and add absolutely nothing to the neighborhood. Why does Thousand Oaks (and much of the rest of American suburbia) have such trouble understanding the concept of building things that go together?

In a more general context, Thousand Oaks is a perfect example of the poor job modern American cities do in providing for their citizens. If you look at the well-kept, attractive areas of Thousand Oaks, they are almost exclusively well-kept as a result of private money. Compare the walkways of Lakes or the Janss Mall to the potholes and sidewalk-less streets of Los Feliz or North Thousand Oaks. Now, I'd like to clarify, when I label a neighborhood as "nice", or "attractive", I don't mean to say "wealthy". In my mind, nice denotes an area where buildings are at a human scale, where people can walk around without being afraid of either speeding cars or crime. Some of the few examples of neighborhoods that come close to this would be Forest Cove in Agoura Hills or Oakview in Thousand Oaks (south of TO, west of Conejo School Rd), though in a perfect example the neighborhood would include local commercial elements, a factor lacking in both of those two examples. But at the end of the day, the city of Thousand Oaks, despite its tremendous wealth, is failing its citizens. And its citizens don't seem to mind.

Recently I was driving along the 23 north of Moorpark (the road that leads to Fillmore), and what struck me was the sudden transition from relatively small, working class housing to miniMansions just past High Street. Out of nowhere, three partially gated, setback communities with (large towers announcing their distinction from the rest of Old Town Moorpark) erupted out of the hills, forever marring North Moorpark's natural beauty. I wondered, don't these people have any shame? I understand that the housing crisis forces people to live in places they might not love, but anyone living in this community would have money, and the power of choice, andf it surprises me how people don't care how tasteless or gaudy their communities are. At the end of the day, most people just don't care if they have to drive through rundown backwaters to get to their homes, as long as their homes are walled off from the backwater. People have no civic pride, no sense of place or pride in where they live, and it shows, all over the Conejo Valley. Look at most of the region's commercial buildings- apart from complexes like the Lakes or the Promenade, most of the city looks like a modified version of the Kanan Rd./ TO Blvd. Strip Malls (the subject of a previous post). These are complexes of ugly buildings, of throwaway architecture. If Thousand Oaks was destroyed in an earthquake tomorrow, would anyone mind if we rebuilt things completely differently? Whereas in towns in the MidWest levelled by tornadoes we see a struggle to rebuild civic buildings and streets that defined the city as distinct, in most of the Conejo Valley there are very few places that really define the region. The Civic Arts Plaza is an example of a distinct building (though the architecture doesn't inspire much civic pride in my heart...), but most of the CV looks like any other colorless patch of suburbia. One of the few things that distinguish the area in this sense, the natural beauty, is being degraded more and more everday. Traffic is reaching crisis levels on the 23 (and is pretty bad on the 101 too), and housing is so unaffordable that in the Janss-Gainsborough neighborhood of Thousand Oaks bungalows meant for 4-5 people (a "single family") today often hold up to 10 people (multiple families), with people sleeping in converted garages for exorbitant amounts (at a clinic that I worked in that neighborhood, I came into contact with patients that would pay around $700 a month for the privilege to live with their families in non-air conditioned, 2-car garages). The Conejo Valley is rapidly becoming another San Fernando Valley, a nameless, colorless, tasteless expanse that no one loves.

Today I was in a camera store in north Los Feliz and I saw, tacked on the wall, a piece of paper that read: "But we'll LET ALL THINGS BE EXACTLY AS THEY ARE and it will all work out the way it is supposed to." This attitude seems to be the mantra of the Thousand Oaks City Government, and unless it changes sometime soon, expect an evermore degraded quality of life in this region.

It appears that the Agoura Hills City Council has caved in and demanded a revised EIR for the Agoura Village specific plan. I'll comment on that when I have time.