Search This Blog

Friday, July 15, 2011

In Honor of the Carpocalypse (or Carmageddon, if you prefer) . . .

Interactive Before and After images of construction of the Sepulveda Pass.  Courtesy of the LA Times - All Rights Reserved.
 . . . . The LA Times brings us extensive coverage of the 405 closure this weekend, including two interesting presentations on the history the 405 Sepulveda Pass featuring historic photos of the development of the pass.  Definitely worth reading up on the complete history if you have time, but you can also get the short visual version thanks to their interactive image history.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bag Ban Takes Effect

It's official - the Plastic Bag Ban in unincorporated Los Angeles County took effect yesterday, Friday July 1st.  The ban initially impacts large retailers, preventing them from dispensing sold items in plastic bags and instead requiring them to use paper bags only.  Cost of the change will be passed along to consumers who will be charged 10 cents a bag, unless they bring their own reusable tote bags.  Eventually the ban will include smaller, independent stores.  An overview of the ban was detailed by the LA Times:
The bag ban was touted by county supervisors as an environmental measure to rid the county of "urban tumbleweed" that pollutes landfills and gets washed out to sea. Paper bags will still be available, but customers will be charged 10 cents per bag.

The effort is intended to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to the market for shopping.
The plastic bag ban will affect anyone who shops at stores outside the county's incorporated cities, such as the communities of Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Altadena, La Crescenta, Topanga Canyon, Marina del Rey, Baldwin Hills, Athens, Willowbrook, Florence, Rancho Dominguez, Valencia, East Pasadena and East Los Angeles. About 1.1 million people in the county live in the unincorporated areas.
Although some remain critical of the ban, this is a big environmental victory that should have long-term benefits for waterways throughout Southern California and beyond (see the Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize winning series on the ocean - Part 4 for more information on plastic bags effects).  Although incorporated areas of Los Angeles remain unaffected, the ban still impacts 1.1 million people, a figure that only 8 US cities (not including Los Angeles) have populations larger than.  In other words, this limited action by the County of Los Angeles actually produces a massive civic-sponsored change in urban function, pointing out how the scale of  Los Angeles is not just a challenge, but also an immense opportunity to exploit.  While we tend to focus on ways in which mistakes are magnified by the sheer size of Los Angeles, this ban highlights how small positive changes can also become monumental shifts for the benefit of the environment.

More coverage of the ban is available at the LA Times and at Marina Del Rey Patch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reading LA

Image from LA Times - from the 1997 PBS series based on "Cadillac Desert." Credit: Skeet McAuley.  All Rights Reserved.
Wow - for some reason I had missed the start of this series, but the LA Times architecture critic, Christopher Hawthorne, has a great year-long reading series called "Reading LA," that focuses on classic books about the planning, design, and urban form of Los Angeles.  Included on the list are acknowledged master studies of LA's historic growth such as "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies" (written by the British architectural historian and critic, and LA admirer, Reyner Banham) and Mike Davis' 1990 "City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles,"  but so are niche books about noted architects, growth periods, or icons in the history of Los Angeles.  Hawthorne provides a nice introduction to each work, as well as a personal book report of the highlights and lowlights of each installment in the series.  Definitely some good reads on the list that I'll have to check out.  You can find a running log of all of the books at the series homepage, and should be able to find all of them in the LA Library system.  Here's to some good reading . . .

Local Seed Bank

The LA Times had a great profile about a local, grassroots seed bank effort in Venice.  Attached to Venice High's Learning Garden, the new Seed Library of Los Angeles provides a growing clearinghouse for native and agricultural seeds for community members to access, and an opportunity for like-minded individuals to share knowledge.   More from the article below:
One Sunday afternoon at the garden adjacent to Venice High School, a dozen or so people filed into a small, plain building, one by one, to get three or four tiny envelopes, each holding a few seeds.

That low-key but ambitious event marked the opening of the Seed Library of Los Angeles, an institution its founding members hope will provide free seeds to gardeners and become a preserve of local agricultural diversity.

Like-minded people in communities around the country are doing similar work: offering low-cost or free, local, open-pollinated, pesticide-free seeds. Members borrow seeds, grow plants, and allow a plant or two to go to seed at the end of the season. Those seeds are returned to the library, which will grow 10 of each batch to confirm purity before distributing the rest.

"People are drawn to seed libraries because they feel a certain powerlessness over their food supply," said David King, who is garden master at the Learning Garden at Venice High and founder of the seed library. "They're worried and angered by developments such as genetically engineered alfalfa."

They also seem drawn to playing a role in the cycle of life that's at once romantic and DIY-inspired.

Saving seeds is important work that carries "a sense of the sacred genetic information of our forefathers," King told members at one meeting.

"What could be more poetic and life-sustaining than a seed library?" asked Sarah Spitz, a founding member of SLOLA, which members pronounce SLOW-lah.

Linda Preuss has been saving seeds for 20 years, and said she's hooked on "a fantastic whole process you get to be involved in. It's a great metaphor for life."

"We just like to hold it in our hands. We like to see what color it is — one tiny basil seed that's so tiny, you can hardly see it, and it will produce so much," said Preuss, a computer consultant who is the seed library's database chairwoman and who as a volunteer gardens with residents of a shelter for abused women and children.

On that first distribution day, in May, members took Tommy Toe tomatoes, White Dixie lima beans, Metki White cucumbers. Megan Bomba was among the volunteers who weighed seeds in fractions of a gram a tiny scale and wrote down who "borrowed" what.

"I've always been interested in seed saving, and it was a thought I had several years ago: Wouldn't it be great if gardeners in L.A. could have a seed exchange?" Bomba said later. "I believe in people having access to those resources and being in charge of genetic resources."

Members — about 85 people have joined so far — have hashed out best practices over chocolate mint tea (leaves from the Learning Garden) and homemade bread, as well as listened to the more experienced among them explain how to hand-pollinate flowers.

Library members adopted a "safe seed pledge" — a promise to "not knowingly buy, grow, share or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants." Lifetime membership is $10.

A refrigerator, donated by Spitz, keeps the seeds safe from rodents and insects. King expects it will be two years before the library needs more storage space.

The original library stock came from donations and seeds SLOLA purchased. Decisions about what to buy were based in part on members' desires; King said he also hopes to survey some food professionals, too.

"I'm not a chef, but I'm a pretty good cook. I came up with 46 [ideas] without even an additional swallow of coffee," King said during an interview at the garden, which is just shy of an acre and owned by Venice High School. The school uses 60%, and the community uses the rest through the nonprofit Learning Garden.

Early seed library members said they expected a lot of the saved seeds to be from native plants that thrive in the Southern California climate.

"The increased public interest in going native is just astonishing. It's wonderful," said Genevieve Arnold, seed room manager at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley. One inspiration, she said, is the region's water shortage.

There also are plans for some experimenting.