Wednesday, January 11, 2017


The Los Angeles City Council will take up a long-stewing measure today to allow EBT cards (electronic food stamps) users to shop fresh at local farmers markets, swiping cards as one does a credit card in a smartphone-compatible mobile POS system like Square.

If the City Council passes the ordinance as expected, it will create a new law to require certified farmers markets vendors to prove to the Bureau of Street Services that they are set up to accept EBT cards as payment.

The Bureau of Street Services manages the closure of streets for farmers markets and approves new markets and vendors.

Enforcement on any violations will be managed by the Department of Building and Safety. Complete guidelines will be published Feb. 1.

The ordinance will take effect as soon as it is passed. None of the reports quantified the number of permits to process, or the estimated number of EBT users who live close enough to a farmers market to patronize local vendors.

This post was edited for clarity on Mon. Jan. 16, 2017.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


The New York Times' Neal Boudette wrote on Tuesday about how the big carmakers are adjusting to the threat of ride hail making individual car ownership obsolete.

Among the interesting bits were examples of Los Angeles-area people going mostly carless (from my view the last and final test among U.S. cities), that automakers are now considering the first and last mile (to the bus or train station and back) that mostly occupies public transit analysts, and that a shift away from individual car ownership could be a financial relief for automakers, who expend massive capital to produce new cars. Boudette breaks out that math:

Automakers are generally betting that sales of vehicles to fleet services will offset any decline in sales to individual consumers. Boston Consulting Group predicts that 44,000 cars will be sold to ride-sharing fleets in North America in 2021, more than making up for an expected net decline in consumer sales of about 8,000 vehicles. 

The bigger impact might be on how the automotive industry — not just carmakers, but also fleet service operators, parts makers and the like — makes its money in years to come. 

According to the consulting firm PwC, the global automotive industry generates about $400 billion a year in profits; about 41 percent of that — or about $164 billion — comes from new vehicle sales. 

By 2030, PwC forecasts that even as overall automotive profits grow to about $600 billion, only about 29 percent of that will come from new vehicle sales. By then, PwC predicts that “mobility services’’ — including ride-hailing and other types of last-mile transportation services — will represent 20 percent of the automotive industry’s profits. 

Ford is among the automakers angling to be in position if that shift occurs.
“We are on the cusp of a revolution,” Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive, said at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Cars, he said, “are no longer our entire game.”


If you skim the LA City Council's recent meetings, you might believe that it took action on sidewalk repair, finally deciding who exactly is responsible in one cohesive policy. No. All the 15 members of the council did on Dec. 13 is receive another report from a subcommittee and officially file that report.

This is an issue that has gone on and on. I wrote about this all the way back in my Patch days in 2010. There were two versions of the article - one for Encino and one for Chatsworth. The Patch people killed the Chatsworth one, the more comprehensive one, and for some reason pulled the timeline that ran with both. Pathetically, it does not require much updating after six years.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


I only just read this unnecessary piece about the Gatto family in the Los Feliz Ledger yesterday, though it was published Oct. 27. The title misleadingly suggests it's a look back at unresolved elements of the investigation and not a big MacGuffin of a lurid look into a struggling family.

No one can make the paper reevaluate or pull the article. There is unfortunately no unified standard of journalistic ethics for all media outlets to follow. I keep the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics in mind when in doubt, and try to share any thorny issues with editors. I know, from my own Ledger days, that the paper's Publisher-Editor Allison Cohen would not much heed them anyways, having used her position to rail against Griffith Park preservationists and the imperfect, but mostly sincere and committed, local business improvement district. I was unfortunately a party to both, having my reporting twisted with heavy editing to unfairly slam individuals among those two groups.

But here it is anyways, in full. The section relevant to the writing about the Gattos falls under the obligation to minimize harm in the process of reporting:

As it turns out, I don't need to call Cohen out. A reader did it brilliantly. To Cohen's credit, she received the criticism directly and then posted the letter to the comment space of the article. Nicely said, Ellen Barry:

I read the article about Mr. Gatto’s unsolved murder today and was saddened to see that the Ledger decided to invade the family’s privacy in their grief by airing dirty laundry about estrangement among his children.
Your paper need not stoop to National Enquirer levels to inform us about what is newsworthy: the fact that the murder remains unsolved. Even though the probate issues are publicly filed, it is none of our business that the family is grappling with this additional strain as they grieve their father’s loss. I don’t have any need to know what he thought of his daughter’s relationship, nor how much money he left, or its disposition. Shame on you for trying to “spice up” a story with little heft by adding in gossipy details about his family’s life. After all, none of the family members are suspects in the murder, and they are entitled to hash out their grievances privately. And shame on the family friend for gossiping as well. I can only imagine his widow’s distress. You owe her an apology. 
Ellen Barry
Silver Lake

Saturday, September 10, 2016


I wrote a listicle for LA Weekly to help people find 7 places to combine yoga and booze this month in Los Angeles. Yes, I ask the hard hitting questions for you. It was part of my week of fun articles, the other being my piece on Netflix-for-rad-toys startup Joymode. (Look for it on Thrillist on Thursday Sept. 22.)

I became interested in the trend when I received an invitation for one of the events, and wondered how common it is to stack a happy hour on top of yoga class. I learned it's common, and spreading. Boston has a Bendy Brunch (vinyasa + mimosas), and Washington D.C. has Soul & Spirits, both produced by yoga event organizer Grip the Mat, which does Vinyasa to Vino here in LA.

Later this month, a St. Louis ale house will combine yoga with a tasting, like the Dude's Brewing Company event featured in my Weekly article. That event was planned by Yoga Buzz, a St. Louis nonprofit that plans various yoga events to make it more accessible to the community. Early next month, another Yoga Buzz event will add baseball to the yoga-drinking mix. Browse Eventbrite and you'll find events throughout the country.

Here in LA, all the events from my list - with the exception of Sunset Yoga & Cocktails - will repeat. I will catch the next Sound Off Yoga. Glow in the dark earphones in a dim garden, deep house in my ears alone (sort of), and the lovely garden at The Garland - epic idea.

I didn't get to include one photo of the Grip the Mat founders, Christy Skarulis and Ashley Braun, in my piece. We also didn't publish some of the photos of Green Tree Yoga & Meditation, a wonderful South Park nonprofit seeking to renew the community through access and practice. The outtakes:

Grip the Mat founders, Christy Skarulis and Ashley Braun, teach vinyasa at The Lazarus Experience on Wednesdays, followed by wine and mingling. I love this photo of the friends and founders, but we picked the photo we ran because it better encapsulated the actual event, with yogis with wine in hand. Photo: Courtesy Christy Skarulis

Green Tree Yoga & Meditation (above and below) brings donation-based yoga and meditation, and a new kind of community, to South Los Angeles. Below, the instructor is Green Tree founder Raja Michelle. Photos: Courtesy Green Tree Yoga & Meditation 

Sunday rooftop yoga at the Standard DTLA buys you a day at the pool, a package with a perfect name - Bender. As in, bend your body around before you go on a [booze] bender. Photo: Bender Twitter

Thursday, September 8, 2016


My overview of the downtown Los Angeles Arts District for a special issue of The Real Deal is now live. The Real Deal is really a trade magazine for an investor-developer-agent-analyst readership, so I'm glad I had an editor who let me write honestly about a community uneasy with the change driven by that readership.

I didn't have the editorial space to go as deep as I could have on different perspectives on change in the area, with Boyle Heights just across the river as an example of a vociferous, bordering on violent,  debate over the redevelopment of a longstanding Los Angeles community.

It is noteworthy that two Arts District success stories - Poketo and Angel City Brewery - don't just sell product, but organize community.

How quickly Boyle Heights would change without opposition is debatable; the two communities differ significantly. Part of the developer interest in the Arts District is the availability of a particular kind of space. As I wrote in the article:

This post-industrial hub still has the factory buildings that characterized the neighborhood in the 1920s, when an industrial boom kept it busy. After manufacturing shifts and global trade required more vertical clearance to stack high-volume shipments, the Arts District’s four- and five-story square blocks of symmetrical floors became obsolete, and the sector was pushed out to areas like the aptly named Commerce, about six miles southeast. 
The upper floors of the buildings, left empty for years, were eventually populated, in part, by a migration of New York artists needing cheap and voluminous space. The community of bohemian crafters living in their work studios transformed the mini-factory town into the Arts District. “You couldn’t even lease these places at 10 cents (per square foot). People were living there when they shouldn’t,” Hillman said.
In 1981, the Artists in Residence Ordinance allowed artists to legally live in the industrially zoned units. Then, in 1999, another ordinance allowed a separate set of building standards that relaxed safety-retrofitting guidelines for buildings constructed before 1974, an attempt to preserve space that would otherwise be destroyed because of the costs of retrofitting. The city’s grudging tolerance of the artists’ illegal dwellings, combined with easier redesign for developers, gave rise to the modern urban real estate phenomenon of live-work lofts. 
Then developers caught on to an investor’s dream: inexpensive, easily repurposed open space in buildings with good bones. 
Two landmark projects from Linear City Development — the Toy Factory Lofts in 2005 and the Biscuit Company Lofts in 2007 — set the stage for converting hollow, neglected factories into mixed-used models of functional high density.
I chose the strips to include in the map with blurbs and photos. I've since received feedback it wasn't an entirely accurate portrayal of what is in the district. It was just a tough call, as I was limited to 18 locations. My editor and I decided 7th St. would roughly be the southern boundary, so I omitted SoHo House but included Bestia.

There is one major error on the map of Santa Fe Ave. that is, I'm sorry to say, all mine: One Santa Fe and the Ford Factory swapped places. The addresses printed are accurate, but each is where the other should be on the map. I had an opportunity to proof the maps after The Real Deal's graphics team did their work. I focused on how the text descriptions had been edited rather than looking at the spatial representation of the streets I chose. Apologies to the Arts District community.

There was much more to cover than I got to. I didn't just want to mention more places on the map; I wanted to find out if the arts will really stay in the Arts District. I would have liked to get the full story on how and why exactly the wulf., an experimental performance space, will move elsewhere. While I was doing my reporting, the nonprofit's managers and performers were reticent to detail what exactly happened to the lease. WriteGirl is in the Arts District, too. Will they be priced out? Who else?

Finally, I would also have loved to do a sidebar on Natalie Chapple's beautiful work on Angel City Brewery, and other reworked watering holes around the city.

This post was published, then unpublished, then updated on Sun. Jan. 8, 2017.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Washio suddenly ended its Uber-for-your-clothes-like business of smartphone application-based laundry service to and from wherever you are, effective Aug. 29.

The company's founders addressed customers in a letter on the Washio webiste:

As of Aug 29, Washio will be shutting down its operations. No more orders will be accepted and outstanding orders will be returned promptly to customers.

We are not alone in believing in Washio’s core business, technology and team, and hope it lives on in some shape or form in the future. But, that story has yet to be told…

From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank you for all of your support and belief in Washio, our vision and our love for sharing cookies and clean clothes.

The cookies are a reference to the cookies given to customers at each visit, the mobile service's version of a hotel mint on your pillow.

I wonder how much ever-changing contracting policies for their pick-up and drop-off staff, called Ninjas, led to this abrupt shuttering.

I am trying to find some to talk, but I expect it to be challenging. When I first wrote about the Los Angeles gig economy for LA Weekly last year, the Ninja I spoke with insisted on anonymity, and painted a picture of a controlling company that prioritized profits and secrecy over efficient scaling and a productive culture. At the two laundry facilities where the Ninjas pick up and drop off loads before and after shifts, no one directly tells them not to talk among themselves, compare notes, or share advice. It's just a silent but palpable edict in those two 'Drop Shops,' one Hancock Park-ish and one Palms-ish, the Ninja said.

The outlets (TechCrunch, Los Angeles Times, Business Insider, Quartz) who've reported the story were not able to get comment from Washio on the specific operational missteps that led them to fold (no pun intended).

It's unlikely they spent too much paying Ninjas, according to my source's account in the Weekly piece:

Washio's pickup and delivery drivers, each assigned the job title Ninja by the company, uniformly oppose the unpaid pockets of time tacked on their shifts, according to one Ninja who spoke anonymously. 
Calls by L.A. Weekly to the app companies, aside from Washio, were not returned. Washio responded by saying it had no comment. 
The Ninjas meet one another when they pick up and deliver loads of laundry to a "Drop Shop" at two locations in L.A. The locations give Washio's Ninjas a chance to share notes about their unseen bosses, a more personal version of the Facebook and Meetup groups where Uber and Lyft drivers trade job stories and woes. 
"The biggest thing is money," the source says, because Washio's pay has fallen off a cliff since 2013 — not to mention the work they're allegedly made to do for free. 
According to the source, "shift preparation and completion tasks" at the two Washio Drop Shops take about 45 minutes — and this is deemed off-the-clock by Washio's owners. 
After the company's 2013 founding, Ninjas were paid $18 per hour. Then Washio instituted a per-stop payment of $7.10, with a $2.01 subsidized tip. 
But now the per-stop payment is just $5.09, with the rest expected to be made up by tips from customers. If a customer in L.A. forgoes a fair-sized Washio tip, that Ninja loses nearly 30 percent of his or her per-stop income.

For New Yorkers who are willing to pay a pretty penny to do laundry with a few swipes on their phone, FlyCleaners is still in business. Another Washio imitator, Prim, has already shut down.

If you want to get someone to come to your home to do laundry, TaskRabbit's housekeeping "taskers" are still an option.

Here is the full letter posted to the Washio homepage, no longer live but still cached: