Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

Marketing Markets: Frugal Delights

Frugal traveler (what a job!) Seth Kugel hit the mark when he filed a brief report from Los Angeles on a recent layover. His subject? The delicious and bewildering ethnic markets of Los Angeles, an article that makes for a welcome departure from the usual knee-jerk tropes of Los Angeles. For a person who isn’t timid about asking workers or customers at these stores, many pleasures are to be had, from unfamiliar cuts of meat to affordable and delicious morsels. Kugel missed some of the more vibrant markets in town; sadly, there’s nothing on the list from Koreatown and no mention of Super King, which straddles enough ethnic  categories as to render the idea of ethnic as moot. As Kugel finds out, though, the best part about shopping in these largely noncorporate markets is getting insight into the many varied relationships Angelenos have with food.

So I asked a woman who had just ordered what the difference was between the two large flatbreads in her bag. “They’re the same. Same flavor, different shape” she said, to the vigorous objections of the woman behind the counter.

“So why did you buy both?” I asked.

“My mother loves this one,” she said, pulling out the matnakash. “My husband loves this one,” she said, pointing at the barbari. (Note to the husband: she bought two matnakash and one barbari.) I went for a matnakash, but also scored by ordering a beef lula sandwich, a seasoned, molded log-shaped kebab, wrapped in fresh bread that was thicker than a tortilla but thinner than pita, for $5.99.

Categories: Food, Los Angeles, Media

Chavez Ravine Agonistes

29/03/2012 1 comment

Sports fans were breathless yesterday with the news that a group publicly headed by Magic Johnson made the winning bid to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. Almost immediately, baseball fans rejoiced at the departure of the least popular owner in the history of professional sports in Southern California and the ascension of the most popular sports popular sports figure in the city.

Almost immediately, fans seem sure that Magic Johnson will deliver the team and its fans from the ignominious state of recent history—a middling record, atrocious public relations disasters, and an owner who seemed eager to enrich himself at the expense of the team. Euphoric comments abound, with many fans certain that the former Lakers point guard and five-time NBA champion will restore the luster of the Dodgers brand and personally direct the team’s operations. Johnson’s role, though, will probably be mostly as a figurehead since the majority of the winning ownership bid is controlled by Chicago-based Guggenheim Partners, the main source of the winning $2.15 billion bid (supposedly to be paid in cash). Of course, Johnson and his winning smile are a PR coup for the group, which also includes seasoned baseball man Stan Kasten and Hollywood producer Peter Guber.

In fact, the composition of the bid and its murky ownership motivations is reminiscient of a another recent ownership group featuring a savvy athlete/entertainer turned businessman backed by powerful business interests. New York developer Bruce Ratner used the purchase of the New Jersey Nets (with the promise of moving them into new digs in Brooklyn) to enable the lucrative commercial development of the Atlantic Yards area, picking up native son Jay-Z as a partner to smooth over the eminent-domain land grab. As detailed by Malcolm Gladwell piece last year, it was a very shrewd navigation of loopholes in real estate law and exploitation of public appetite for prestige, celebrity, and sports.

The over-the-top price paid for the Dodgers indicates that like the Brooklyn development, the sports team itself is only a lesser byproduct of the deal. Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist and Mark Rosenstraub seem to think the Guggenheim group significantly overpaid for reasons that are unclear.

“It’s the craziest deal ever; it makes no sense. That’s why you saw so many groups drop out,” said Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan sports management professor. “I don’t get it. The numbers just don’t work. It doesn’t make business sense. Nobody came up with this number. Under the most favorable circumstance you broke $1.1 billion with $1.4 billion getting crazy. Now you’re up in the $2 billion range, which is over $800 million more than what pencils out for a profitable investment for a baseball team. If making money doesn’t count, this is a great move. But now we’re into buying art and I can’t value art. I can just run the model numbers and this doesn’t make sense.”

Clearly, a skilled financial operator from Chicago is not buying a Los Angeles sports team for its emotional and nostalgic appeal. Part of the reason lies with the escalating profits and influence of regional sports networks.

According to SNL Kagan, affiliate-fee revenue for all regional sports networks rose 44% in the past five years, from $3.2 billion in 2007 to $4.6 billion in 2011. At the same time, affiliate revenue for non-sports cable networks has climbed nearly 41% in the same period, from $12.3 billion in 2007 to $17.3 billion in 2011… Some reports have said based on the estimated $3 billion TWC paid the Lakers for rights to air their games for 20 years, the MSO will need to charge as much as a combined $3.50 per subscriber per month for the two networks to turn a profit. 

This comes on the heels of Time Warner Cable’s $3 billion deal for the rights for the Lakers, which seemed astronomical. With similar deals now in place with for the nearby Angels, the Texas Rangers, and even the San Diego Padres, among others, professional sports has shifted into an incredibly high-priced race to obtain television channels, cable subscriptions, and control of other content-delivery systems. (Some of this may be due to the proliferation of devices to watch games, with some viewers keeping track on multiple screens.)

The staggering amount of the total sale is surprising in that it makes previous owner Frank McCourt an overwhelmingly winner, with the Los Angeles Times estimating that he may clear a billion greenbacks at the end of the day. Major League Baseball also comes out looking good, affirming the value of its teams in comparison with other professional sporting leagues. The National Football League’s Miami Dolphins were sold for $1.1 billion a few years back, and the sale of the Dodgers eclipses even the sale price of the English Premier’s league’s flagship club, Manchester United by at least $700 million (and the Manchester squad is considered perhaps the greatest sports brand in the world).

An offer that exceed expectations by such a large margin seems to suggest that even more than cable TV is at stake. Even with the mind boggling sales price, McCourt wrangled a stake in the land surrounding Dodger Stadium, which is currently being used for parking. Before his divorce curbed his development ambitions, he had envisioned a series of condominiums and retail space to occupy the area, with Dodger Stadium either being renovated or torn down to accommodate the new development. His continue involvement in the land indicates that some form of development will probably go forward, much to the chagrin of fans of open space and local residents. But an area full of condominiums, movie theaters, or retail outlets that congregrate in perverse shopping malls like the Grove and the Americana only makes the original eminent domain seizure that drove out the existing community seem even more shameless.


Life Before the Secession

A nice bit of Angeleno history today from a scion of the Ahmanson family. Born and raised in Nebraska, Howard Ahmanson moved to Los Angeles and became a successful insurance underwriter before starting Home Savings and Loan, which soon became the country’s largest savings and loan, and the foundation that bears his name (and that donated money for the downtown performing arts building).

Even though the area is of the city’s most vibrant cultural and culinary districts, it’s easy to forget that the mid-Wilshire/Koreatown area’s profile was much larger half a century ago.

In mid-century Los Angeles, anything on Wilshire Boulevard was considered more prestigious than anything on the side streets. On the eastern end near Lafayette Park was the Bullocks Wilshire department store. Several miles west were the Miracle Mile department stores, which had beautiful shop windows facing the boulevard, even though most people entered the stores through portes-cochères in the rear. Many of the major liberal establishment churches—the PCUSA, the United Methodists, St. Basil’s Cathedral, and the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Magnin’s huge reform synagogue—lined the street. The Ambassador Hotel was one of the great hotels of the city. And then there was The Brown Derby Restaurant, which gave us the Cobb Salad.

Ahmanson, Jr. traces some of the neighborhood’s diminishment to an exodus of well-heeled whites to the OC following the tumult of the 1960s.

After the Watts Riots of 1965, and in the 10 or 15 years after that, the upper and upper-middle classes of Pasadena, San Marino, Arcadia, and Hancock Park relocated en masse to the Newport Beach area in what I call the secessio patriciorum, or the secession of the patricians. Los Angeles Magazine featured an article in 1977 called “The Ripening of Orange County: Is It Stealing the L.A. Dream?” Indeed, a lot of the life seemed to get sucked out of Los Angeles at that time. One consequence of the secession was that finance and retail and new construction tended to concentrate either downtown or west of central Beverly Hills.

And, as he rightly points out, thanks largely to the efforts of Asian and Latin American immigrants, the neighborhood has enjoyed a new life, though not as a great retail and financial corridor envisioned by Ahmanson père. But that’s a small price to pay for a good Korean food and affordable rents in one of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods.

Categories: Fogs of Time, Los Angeles

Business Minded

Again, the New York Times comes with an insightful portrayal of Los Angeles, this time centering on the city’s economic woes. Joel Kotkin, who seems to be everywhere these days, hammering home his predictable talking points, appears, as does  Austin Beutner, the city’s former first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy.

 Half a century ago, Los Angeles was a dominant economic force in various respects, with its formidable military contracting industry, for example, and a garment trade that rivaled that of New York. Today, unemployment in Los Angeles County is 12.5 percent, one of the highest rates among the country’s major metropolitan areas. The recession walloped industries like manufacturing and retailing that have traditionally been strong in the city.

Now, Los Angeles is more like an “Athens by the Pacific,” Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development at Chapman University, has written, comparing the city to modern-day Greece. But dysfunction can breed innovation. As Los Angeles works to solve its economic woes, it could provide a road map for other ailing metropolises, said Austin Beutner, the city’s former first deputy mayor and chief executive for economic and business policy.

Comparisons with the current incarnation of Athens? Ouch. Not even on par with Dallas–even worse:

Mr. Kotkin says he thinks a different approach to attracting jobs — one that focuses on the city’s small, local communities, as opposed to its vast size — would be more fruitful….

Mr. Kotkin says that to achieve growth in an economy like that of Los Angeles, “you’ve got to grow it from the ground up, nurture its roots — in the small factories, in people’s houses,” Mr. Kotkin said. “L.A. can never again compete at the megacorporation level. It can’t compete with Dallas.”….

This phenomenon can be seen all across Los Angeles, where new restaurants, shops and other small businesses are started by the children of immigrants looking to meld their ethnic heritage with their American upbringing and education — the food-truck revolution being just one example.

The prominent obstacle to growth, according to the author: bureaucracy.

Categories: Los Angeles, Media

Ned Sublette Comes to Town

Later this week, Los Angeles gets a visit from one of music criticism’s leading lights, Cuba scholar Ned Sublette. Sublette arrives in town as part of a panel discussion with photographer Virginia Beahan and Cuban specialist Lillian Guerra for the Getty’s current photography exhibition, “A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now.” Sublette authored the magisterial Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo, which I’ve often described to friends in evangelical terms because of its expansive yet carefully researched depiction of the history of Cuban music, tracing its path from transatlantic origins to modernity.

When I first heard that Sublette was coming through L.A., I was reminded of his fantastic article, “The Kingsmen and the Cha-Cha-Chá,” which appeared in a 2007 Duke University collection of essays, Listen Again: A Momentary History of Pop Music. In that piece, Sublette describes the influential role of Cuban music in the development of American music (and especially rock n roll) before political events sabotaged a fruitful musical exchange. As he persuasively argues, bands like Beatles and the Rolling Stones all took cues from Cuban music, sometimes through the use of maracas, as the Rolling Stones did in a number of songs, and other times through the direct incorporation of Cuban styles (either consciously or unconsciously) like the Beatles did with the bolero-reminiscent “And I Love Her” and the mambo-esque guitar licks of “Day Tripper.”

A couple Los Angeles references pop up in the Kingsmen piece, despite the Cuban context (which is more often felt in this country in places like New York, Florida, and even New Orleans). Particularly interesting for me was the discovery that Richard Berry, an African-American singer who gigged with Ricky Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers in Los Angeles (a band led by two Filipino brothers who performed for a primarily Mexican audience), wrote the words and music to “Louie, Louie” using a cha-cha-cha beat popularized by Cuban-born Los Angeles bandleader Rene Touzet. Later, the song migrated north, to Portland, where it was recorded by The Kinsgmen. Of course, the Kingsmen’s version became a Billboard-topping early milestone of rock n roll, though few knew of its origins as a cha-cha-cha cover or the way its Cuban rhythms would secretly spread into American pop music.

Here‘s a great interview with Sublette, this one concerning his equally wonderful tome about the history of music and race in New Orleans, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square.

Categories: Latino, Los Angeles, Music

Coming Due

Fantastic column from veterano George Skelton in today’s Los Angeles Times. While the tax warriors in the state have furiously and proudly battled against any sort of tax increase, Californians have watched previously vaunted educational programs and other services drift into serious dysfunction. Skelton writes that the car tax increase by then-Governor Gray Davis (issued to shore up sagging state revenues thanks to the declining economy) triggered the emergence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political campaign, which promised an immediate return to the lower rate.

Schwarzenegger’s first act as governor in late 2003 was to knock the tax back down to 0.65%. It was probably his biggest financial mistake, certainly one from which the state never has recovered.

Skelton is dead on when he describes the choice voters will have to make in the coming years: low taxes or education, transportation, and other services. Seems like an easy choice to me, though.

A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found a majority of voters saying they supported hiking taxes for K-12 schools, higher education and programs for the needy. But 61% opposed increasing the vehicle license fee.

These days, Californians think that ludicrously low car taxes — and all property taxes — are their birthright.

We used to think that our birthrights were affordable higher education, smooth transportation systems and beautiful state parks.

Categories: Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Bicyclist’s Restraint

First, Steve Lopez urges commuters to accept toll roads on local highways, and now columnist Hector Tobar issues a mostly positive portrayal of the groups of bicyclists that explore the city, mostly at night. Bicycles are an increasing presence on city streets, and both riders and drivers should adjust, according to Tobar.

 But L.A. also needs a citywide adjustment to our attitudes about cyclists. We need to accept them as rightful occupants of the streets. This became clear to me as I talked to Deyoe on Wednesday night, and he explained how seemingly “crazy” behavior can actually make a cyclist safer on the streets.

“The worst thing you can do when you’re riding is to be timid,” he said.

Also mentioned is an interesting-looking band of explorers who call their ride the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time. Oulipo plus bicycles? Looks awesome to me.

Categories: Los Angeles