Water, parks, lawns

Water and waterways are in the news recently.

A recent journey by kayak down the LA River was designed to show the Army Corps of Engineers that the LA River is navigable, thereby qualifying it for protections greater than non-navigable waterways. The best photos I've seen are on the LAist blog, Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 The LA Daily News has some too.

The LA Times spouts off about desalination in the opinion pages back on April 10 and more recently in a July 28th opinion piece entitled Oceans of water.

Jessica Hall and Joe Linton, long time sustainable use advocates, have a new blog, L.A. Creek Freak, about waterways in Los Angeles. There's a permanent link over in the right hand column.

Meanwhile the LA Weekly is keeping up on the sad state of LA's parks which I have mentioned previously with a short article on the planned downtown Civic Park. Rolling Out L.A.'s Cement Carpet laments the lack of greenery in the "park" and points out that the long concrete-lined space, as-designed, is suited more for commercial ventures with opportunities for "programmable spaces" and "branding opportunities". Some experts believe that no amount of taxpayer money will make Civic Park work because it sits on a very difficult land site, and its true beneficiaries were never intended to be Angelenos but egotistical politicians and rich developers who needed it as a fig leaf for the massive Grand Avenue project.

Meanwhile back in my small town, an ordinance is being planned for review by the City Council on Aug 12th to address what they see as a growing problem. From an email I received, "If it passes, Code Enforcement will be able to cite people for yards with to much dirt, weeds or dead grass and plants. I saw the council talked about it on channel 22 this weekend; they talked about all the dried lawns in front of houses and the weeds and unkempt lawns. First time offenders will get a fix-it ticket, after that there will be fines, starting at 100 dollars up to 500 dollars. They want home owner to take care of their lawns, watering and weeding."

Of course I'm personally concerned given the summer dormant time for many of the native plants in my garden. Come by at the wrong time of year and the currently GLORIOUS buckwheat in full flower will have faded to rust brown - not a problem in my book, but of course it will be brown and look dead / unkempt to most city employees. Bien sur, I'll water my remaining turf lawn to stay on the good side of John Law, but I really don't like the implicit assumption that only a green lawn is a sign of good care-taking.

I guess my local city decided that with everybody's lawn greening up that it didn't need to spend $300k to purchase a long-vacant lot in an area of town that has needed more park space for years. This was covered in the Daily Breeze. Even though there's about $9 million in City reserves, it seems that the City is unwilling to touch it in the face of a declining revenue stream and potential layoffs, even for a park that might eventually pay them back.

How could it pay them back? Decreased costs of crime related to the attractive nuisance of the abandoned lot, increased property taxes from the improved value of local homes, no immediate cost of maintenance due to a maintenance grant that is already in place. See also From Lot to Spot.

Hawthorne group loses fight for park
By Sandy Mazza, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/23/2008 11:25:35 PM PDT

A Hawthorne community group lost its years-long battle to convert a blighted, vacant lot into a park this week when the City Council voted not to support the effort.

The group, From Lot to Spot, secured more than $300,000 for the city to buy the Caltrans-owned property, which abuts the Century (105) Freeway at 118th Street and Doty Avenue. Since the group could not legally purchase the property itself, its members wanted Hawthorne to buy it and allow the group to develop and maintain it with grant funds.

On Tuesday night, the plan failed to get three votes needed for passage, leaving the door open for a business owner and longtime campaign contributor of Mayor Larry Guidi and his allies to buy the lot.

Guidi and Councilwoman Ginny Lambert were against the plan, while Councilmen Gary Parsons and Danny Juarez supported it. Councilman Pablo Catano, who is recuperating from a stroke, was absent.

Guidi said he is skeptical that the groups - including the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Los Angeles Conservation Corps - that promised to pay for the park and its maintenance would actually do so.

"Have all these organizations guarantee it and I'll personally bring the item back," Guidi said. "Have them write you a letter."

Viviana Franco, executive director of FLTS, said the group has an approaching deadline to buy the property, and that the council's decision effectively blocks its path to securing the funding.

"This lot has been vacant for 20 years," Franco said. "This property has created a blighted neighborhood."

Parsons and Juarez argued the open space area is needed in the densely built, park-poor city. "Our risk is zero," Parsons said. "Give them a chance to succeed. If they do, we get some green space. If they don't get the money, we won't support it."

Juarez suggested that the city conditionally support the park, as long as the money is donated, so FLTS can meet its approaching deadline to secure the property. Guidi and Lambert disagreed.

"We don't know what kind of a park you're going to put there," Guidi said. Franco said that the park would have been designed based on community input.

The 0.3-acre lot is owned by the California Department of Transportation, which had left the land vacant until Franco started asking questions in 2006.

Having grown up a few houses away from it, Franco wanted to know why the lot had been allowed to deteriorate into a trash dumping ground and a workplace for prostitutes.

Caltrans responded by putting the property up for sale.

Franco tried to convince Caltrans to sell or lease the lot to FLTS to build a park for a lowered price. Caltrans refused, saying state law forced the agency to sell it at market price.

In April, Hawthorne business owner Ali Awad placed a deposit on the $300,000 property at a Caltrans auction. Awad owns Repossess Auto Sales and is a longtime campaign contributor to Guidi and his allies.

After Awad put down the deposit, Franco took her fight to the California Transportation Commission, which approves the sale of Caltrans-owned land, in May. The commission granted a stay on the sale and gave FLTS 90 days to raise $300,000 to buy the property.

Awad told the Daily Breeze that he had no plans to develop the lot, and instead was interested in it as a tax deduction and investment. He was firmly against the group's effort to take it over.

"I bought it," he said when asked about the issue in June. "(Franco) gave wrong information to the (CTC). She said the city wants to buy it. If the city wants to buy it, I can't do nothing about it."

Guidi expressed Awad's position at the Tuesday meeting, saying that he believed Franco lied to the California Transportation Committee in May, claiming the city wanted to purchase the lot.

"The stay you won was based on you misrepresenting the city's position," Guidi told Franco.

Franco said that was not true: "I have the transcripts, and in no way did I say the city would pony up the money."

In a letter, Caltrans District Director Douglas Failing confirmed that Franco said she was working with governmental agencies to buy the property, rather than saying the city wanted to buy it.

Franco secured a $300,000 grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and an agreement with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to maintain it and employ local, at-risk youths. The park would have also been used as an educational space for high school students to do service learning projects, Franco said.

Despite the rejection, Franco said the group has another plan to turn the lot into a park, perhaps by working with Los Angeles County.

"It was up to the city last night, and their decision has tremendously put an obstacle in the way, but we are moving onward and upward," Franco said. "We feel it's an opportunity they're passing up."


Yogurt success

This was a weekend for family bar-b-ques. I attended two. They were both exceptionally good but the real news is that I made yogurt successfully for the second time. I've tried twice before, with a 50% success rate. I think this latest success marks a no-return point in terms of favorable outcome.

I have Margaret to thank for the encouragement - she earlier gave me some of her home-brew yougurt culture (with which I failed) and some commercial culture that I've now used successfully. I think that my earlier failure was not intrinsic to a more difficult to handle culture, but rather to improper heating and cooling.

I've had success with heating the milk to 185 F (the surface of the milk is foamy) and then cooling on the stove top to 105 F at which point I spoon off some milk and add it to some culture. That gets stirred all around and added back to the pot on the stove. I incubate in my gas oven with a towel wrapped around the pot and the oven light on for a little extra warmth.

I haven't yet made yogurt when it's been cold out, but I've used incubation times of 12 to 24 hours thus far.


Food from the garden

My vegetable garden featured daily at mealtimes this weekend. I ate my one Kohlrabi* chopped finely and added as crispy goodness to a chicken salad sandwich. This was topped with a juicy slice of Celebrity tomato, also straight from the garden. I've never been a huge fan of the larger tomatoes, preferring instead to pop cherry tomatoes into my mouth by the handful, but I have to admit that it was a nice slicer: firm yet ripe, low acid, juicy like no one's business.

Sunday I served up some white chard cooked down in a pan with its rinse water, some olive oil and diced shallot. These chard leaves were culled from among the chard that I plan to keep as a perennial garden plant. It too was juicy, with a slight smokey taste.

Finally, I used lemon grass from my garden to punch up some zucchini blanched in water+soy+lemon grass in an impromptu attempt at an Asian flavored side dish. I'm not sure it was a successful combination - edible but not so good that I'll try it again. Maybe I'll try lemon grass in a marinade before grilling.

* I planted a whole package of Kohlrabi seed, but got only one plant. I don't know what went wrong. Wikipedia states it will "grow almost anywhere".


Weekend update

Saturday was a home projects day. I fixed a sprinkler head in my meadow that had suspiciously broken for a second time. The head is nearest my new neighbors' house and the kids might have driven a bike up on it or stepped on it while running through my yard. I've deployed a rose bush (Rosa Californica) in a pot to deter wholesale use of my native plant garden and meadow as a kid highway, but this sprinkler head is at the edge and still vulnerable. Then again there could be some weird water hammer effect that consistently breaks the same sprinkler again and again.

The rose was an impulse purchase from Theodore Payne some time ago. I re-potted it into a larger home, but didn't quite know what to do with it. Yesterday I decided that I'd try to put it in the ground where it currently sits, but found there were too many roots from the adjacent Italian Cypress which run down the property line. I have about 4 to 6" of soil before I hit massive roots. So it's still in its pot. A consequence of being a pot-bound oprhan at my house is that it has never looked as good as the one featured on The Payne Foundation website or Las Pilitas.

Theodore Payne says, "Many birds love rose hips and the intense thorns offer good protection from predators." They neglect the possibility of protection from kids. It takes a wide range of soil moisture and type, so I ought to be able to find a place for it where it can grow into its role.

While out in the meadow, I used the opportunity to weed the crab grass, spurge, and St Augustine that had shown through in a few patches. This year I haven't been as attentive to the meadow or to my remaining lawn as I should be and I'm concerned that next year will see a large crop of weeds.

Later in the day, Juli came over and she helped with the French Door. I'll feel really lame if I install a new one and haven't finished the old. We installed a threshold (still needs a little work - mostly larger screws to secure it and a bit of creative effort with wood putty, stain, and varnish) and an outdoor light (installed, but no electricity yet supplied). The cracks between frame and jamb have been foamed. This isn't the world's longest list of accomplishments, but it's encouraging since I had thought that I'd never get a start on it all. It all seems do-able now. The To Do list has been updated accordingly.

Sunday we had Phase II of my son's birthday - the fun center visit. The family party was last weekend. There are a lot of conflicting drives around this ten year old's birthday and I've managed to address them adequately without completely breaking the bank or my frustration yield threshold. I've had a lot of help, too. I won't go in to the whole long story, but suffice it to say that I've had planning in place for months but that it has changed regularly. I don't often blog about this stuff, so there's no reason to start with the details now. Suffice it to say that as this is written, (before the fun center departure) that I'm happy and relieved.


Things I've done in three weeks

Since I haven't had time to blog, I haven't really had time to do much that I would blog about. Some progress did happen, despite my absence from the blog sphere.

My garage is cleaner and tidier.

My vegetable garden is growing. Tomatoes are below average this year. Celebrity and Green Zebra seem to be the survivors of the great tomato blight of 2008. Green Zebra is not even phased compared to all other tomato plants. Celebrity is in advanced decline but had a sufficient crop nearly ready before it was hit hard. Sweet 100 failed as did Sun Gold. Sniff. Squash are doing well, corn is magnificent, new plants like lovage are doing well.

I've noticed that sunflowers I've seen in other gardens look great right about now when my garden looks a bit in decline - my great piles of buckwheat flowers are beginning to brown, but in other people's garden the sunflowers are going strong. I need some for next summer.

LA Weekly Article - Parks and Wrecks

I've been very busy with work and unmotivated to post. I'm hoping that the rest of my summer doesn't go by so furiously. Perhaps today is a harbinger of a slower pace to come.

The LA Weekly can often be counted on to produce in depth and insightful criticism of Los Angeles policy and politics. This week's article on Parks and Wrecks is right on target.

Although I don't live in Los Angeles, the distinction between the city of Los Angeles and the greater LA area is lost to people who visit. I've written before about a desire for local green space and where I think it could go, so the LA Weekly article resonated with me.

Not only does Los Angeles (and the Greater LA area by extension) have less parkland per capita than other major cities, we also have more abandoned/unused parks than other major cities. This suggests that one ought to investigate what makes a park successful and the concept of "permeability" is offered up and defined as "well lit, open, accessible." This theme isn't developed directly in the article, but does enter into the picture when local governments talk not only of building parks, but maintaining or rebuilding them - recurring costs that tend to put a damper on politicians' enthusiasm.

The Weekly states that the possibility of failure for the LA River revitalization is high, given history and current politics. The Olmstead brothers' plan for Los Angeles, developed in 1930, was abandoned almost as soon as the ink on it was dry and jurisdictional issues plague any decision making process that involved the LA River.


Modjeska Canyon garden coverage in LA Times

The article is here.

There are 18 nice photos that go with the article.

The profiled homeowner has a list of three favorite gardening books which include "Designing With Plants," by Piet Oudolf with Noël Kingsberg. Another favorite, "California's Wild Gardens: A Guide to Favorite Botanical Sites," edited by Phyllis M. Faber, is one I'm not familiar with, but sounds interesting.

I've read before about Modjeska Canyon. Theodore Payne was an early Modjeska Canyon inhabitant and it's still a rural enclave in the midst of dense Orange County. I ought to visit - it seems like an idyllic place to live.

Here's some text to provide a flavor of the article

...Sarkissian is auteur and fierce editor of an elegant garden that echoes this canyon habitat. "The whole canyon is my garden," Sarkissian says. "To me it's the most amazing place in Orange County."

This slender woman has engaged this land and environment with intimacy, passion -- and patience. The couple have lived in the modest house they built since 1989 but did not begin to garden until seven years later. Sarkissian walked the land, watched the light, observed wildlife, learned about native plants and water harvesting, revived their clay fill soil ("the worst," she says), and took in what it means to live with threats of fire and flood.

In 1993, the Sarkissians commissioned landscape architect Lisa Iwata of Land Interactive to plan the front garden. They had a wish-list of 80 California chaparral and desert plants; Iwata chose 50; there are now 42.

"We wanted a coherent design," says Sarkissian, "not just a collection of plants."

Among the challenges: a yawning county-built concrete flood-control channel (read: ditch) marching from street to creek. A modified Iwata plan went into the ground in 1995 and constantly evolves, as gardens do.

Water harvesting was key....

I wish they'd provided the list of 80, 50, and 42 plants. There are two photos that have an interesting juxtaposition of roses with cactus.


Garage clean up

This has been on my To Do list for a long time, but it wasn't the first thing on my list to do this weekend. Instead, I thought I'd be working on detailing out my French door installation. Juli's job was to spray low expanding foam into the crack between door frame and stud. "I'll be right back from the garage with the foam - I know it's in there somewhere", I said.

Some time later, I was still looking for the foam and I'd decided that I couldn't make real progress until the garage was in a better state. I'm happy to say that it now is.

Of course the untidy garage was an impediment to doing anything on the house, since you could barely move around with twisting an ankle or moving half a dozen things to get to what you wanted. Now it's all good.

And the spray foam? It wasn't in the garage after all. It was next to the French door in the kitchen all along.

Metal recycling

Without lifting a finger, one of my To Do list objectives is accomplished.

From: My brother
Sent: Fri 6/27/08 10:42 AM
To: Brent and Family

Last Sunday we were returning to Susana for work and we spotted a stake-side truck driving up the road. I thought out loud that it could be one of those guys I've seen combing the neighborhood for the curb side goodies folks for some reason like to leave out for others... F encouraged me to follow, so we sped off after the truck and managed to catch up when it pulled over in Redondo. Sure enough, this guy and his presumed spouse were out collecting scrap at the curb sides and had stopped to gather some cast iron grates someone had put out. I asked him if he would be interested in construction scrap I had just up the road. With a shrug like, "sure, I'll drive up and see," he followed us. When I peeled back the Lanai gate, his expression suggested that we made his gas intensive search worthwhile- I had wondered if these guys even broke even with the price of gas as their trucks are usually empty... In matter of 20 minutes we cleared out the remainder of the metal I had laying about and the old range too. With scrap prices as they are, he may pocket at most $15-25 [I'm guessing much more -Brent] from my backyard recycling efforts, but better yet, he saved me the effort of figuring out when and how to get rid of the metal I had been hoarding for over two years.

Previously, a pickup truck load of this junk had already been hauled off to the recyclers, thanks to Brent's efforts, but the twisted and contorted pieces I had remaining probably would have required two more trips, with further coordination for the stove. As luck would have it, it was now all packed up with both parties benefiting. With a "Gracias, Amigo", the scrap collector was off again on his search.


Jiffylube? No

I have 8 or ten corn plants - a red popping corn that ought to engage my son in the garden and provide a bit more fun factor.

I'm taking this morning in the garden to oil my baby corn cobs. Oil, placed at the tip of a growing ear of corn, apparently prevents worm predation. What sort of oil? Corn oil.

Credit: both joke and information from my recent attendance at a lecture hosted by the CNPS.

Actually, I'm told any sort of oil will do.

Tomato problems

My tomatoes have some sort of disease. It's affecting Early Girl and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes and the symptoms are that the interior leaves yellow, then brown and die. The green leaves curl. The plants have lost vigor and drop fruit or produce poor-tasting fruit that ought to be bursting with flavor. Leaves in a late-intermediate state of failure show green on the veins and yellow creeping in from the edges giving way to brown. Yellowed leaves have holes, perhaps indicating predation, but there's not huge numbers of critters on the plants. Both of these plants came in from the local nursery, instead of being grown from seed as my later plants have been.

There are some aphids, but not in overwhelming numbers, so I think that's a result of the plants' weakened states. I'd put a picture up, but my crappy Samsung camera refuses to turn on due to low batteries, even though the batteries ought to be fresh.

These symptoms are consistent with fusarium and verticillium wilts, except the curled leaves. However, both hybrids Early Girl and Sweet 100 ought to have F and V resistance. Neither has T (Tobacco Mosaic virus) resistance.

I didn't pay too much attention to it, but the problem started before I left for Germany. Now that it has my attention, I've decided to take action by purging the plants.

The tomato problem solver suggests alternaria canker.


Habitats to Attract Swallowtail Butterflies - Jul 10

I'm desperately in need of something to take my mind off work, which has been all-consuming. This is a free lecture that looks interesting.

Creating Garden Habitats to Attract Swallowtail Butterflies

“Out of the Wilds and into Your Garden” Series

Thursday, July 10th 2008 – 6:00-7:30 p.m.

Arthur Johnson Memorial Park
Community Room
1200 W. 170th St
Gardena, CA

310-217-9539 or www.gardenawillows.org

Presented by the Friends of Gardena Willows Wetland Preserve, Inc.