Monday, February 28, 2011

What Remains

The video above, of the Hahamongna Watershed Park, is from the Save Hahamongna site. It's a citizen lobby group focused on the preservation of this unique natural area that is currently threatened with sediment infill and development. A detailed discussion of the planned Devil's Gate Dam Sediment Removal proposal is here. It has been laid out by the County of Los Angeles despite the long-expressed feelings of local residents:

"Hahamongna is the rare spot in the Arroyo Seco at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains where the mountainous watershed meets the urban plain. Periodically floods roar into this basin. Bounded on the north by the mountains and Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on the south by Devil's Gate Dam, Hahamongna contains five unique habitat zones that only exist in alluvial canyons near the mountains. Most sites like this in Southern California have been destroyed."

The effort behind the video has been galvanized by the fate of the Arcadia Woodlands, which was bulldozed into extinction on January 12, 2011. My followup article on the civil disobedience required to draw attention to the habitat destruction, as well as the impact of the ongoing plan to do the same at Hahamongna, is here. A new campaign by Urbanwild Network to save Hahamongna from these plans is outlined here, supported by the Pasadena Group of the Sierra Club.

This last Friday at a meeting of the County Supervisors, Antonovich made a motion to study the Hahamongna sediment removal plan in further detail to try and mitigate the impact of this, particularly the removal of the willows. However, the County Public Works Department is reluctant to engage in a full EIR and permit any delay of this plan.

The County DPW is simply out of control and completely subject to financial shell games that lead to the least maintenance and cheapest, most destructive solutions that can be funded with "emergency" monies as soon as an emergency can be legally established. There is no effort devoted to the stewardship of natural processes and environments, it's simply a plumbing problem created by the earlier engineered water systems that are not performing in a sustainable manner. Legal bullying compounds the original engineering shortcomings, exacerbated by age and lack of a forward-looking plan for modifying and replacing the water system components so that they work without tremendous requirements of maintenance and money. Many ideas, such as a sluice system that works with the natural watershed characteristics, have been proposed to replace the old local dams that are failing and silted up. It's time to take a different direction in our remaining watersheds with state-of-the-art practices and conservation.

Update from Cam Stone early this morning:

A County Board meeting will be held on Tuesday March 1, 9:30 am, at the Hall of Administration in downtown LA, and Supervisor Antonovich will put forward a motion to require the DPW to obtain an EIR for the Hahamonga Sediment Removal Project. The DPW will be at the meeting pleading their case as to why they should be able to move forward on their project without any public input or EIR.

Christle Balvin, Don Bremner and I met with Edel Vizcarra and Tony Bell at Antonovich's office on behalf of the Urbanwild Network to discuss the fallout from the Arcadia Woodlands debacle and the DPW's plans to use an emergency declaration to remove sediment from Hahamonga without any public input. This meeting took place a week ago Friday. Both Tony and Edel were very open to our concerns and vowed that what happened in Arcadia would never happen again. We were all very excited by the tone of the meeting and what seemed like a genuine desire to work with the public and environmental groups on all future DPW projects.

We specifically asked that Michael Antonovich require that the DPW obtain an EIR for the Hahamonga project. Both Tony and Edel supported that notion to ensure the buy-in of the public and environmental groups. They said that the DPW had told them that the safety of the dam was at stake because the dam's valves were currently clogged with sediment and that an EIR would take over a year to complete. We told Tony and Edel that if the county agreed to complete an EIR for the entire project, we believed that the environmental community and local citizens would agree to the immediate removal of sediment from the rear face of the dam out to 40 -50 yards from the dam face without an EIR. I hope that we can all agree to this concession.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Precedent: Historic Structure at Zero

The Federal Department of Energy's (DOE) Net Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative aims to achieve marketable net zero energy buildings by 2025. A net zero energy building produces as much energy as it consumes. Attaining this goal requires that buildings be energy efficient and include a means to produce energy from renewable resources.

The first historic renovation net-zero facility is located in Grand Junction, Colorado. It takes the approach of conserving material with facility reuse and upgrading systems to shrink the energy consumed by construction and use to a zero impact. According to the architect of this project, Westlake Reed Leskosky, the design team is targeting LEED Platinum certification. Upon completion, the Wayne Aspinall building is expected to be the GSA's first Site Net Zero Energy building on the National Register of Historic Places. Building physics analysis has been used to study space thermal comfort, natural ventilation and daylighting potential, envelope thermal performance, renewable energy potential, and whole building energy performance. A 115 kW roof and canopy mounted photovoltaic array, DC micro-grids, GeoExchange, and variable refrigerant flow systems are proposed.

The project is being designed and implemented using the latest in 3D BIM technology, including Revit, Navisworks and Innovaya.

Energy retrofits for this existing historic structure is expected to result in over a 50% reduction in energy use.

GSA itself has put up a decent online tool that steps through the PROCESS of sustainability pretty well. Very straightforward demonstration of what the process is really about with respect to buildings. This doesn't address location or property site attributes, of course, which is the other half of creating sustainable environments with water retention strategies on grade, landscaping and building orientation.

Monday, February 21, 2011


The movie clip above is "Blade Runner, the Architectural Cut" by Herve Attia. Excerpts from the noir film (1982) are intercut with shots of the locations taken in 2009. The well-known Los Angeles locales include FLLW's Ennis House, the Bradbury Building, the Million Dollar Theater, Union Station and the Second Street tunnel. So of course this film is an old favorite, and an excuse to post this. These disparate locations are fused together in a single dystopian urban megalopolis, inspired by Hong Kong, rendering a bleak future set in 2019 where bionic life is created to be expendable. The Wiki movie summary explores the complexities of adapting Phillip K. Dick's book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" and the thematic layers that play out in the film.

The depiction of a constant, nasty rain as climate change, along with the superimposition of refinery flares and oil production rigs in the urban scape beside the massive city pyramids is a futuristic projection from the late '70's vision of a debased and polluted earth. The overweening corporate control of all life and resources is embedded as an added element in the original novel by Philip K. Dick, which wrestled with the philosophical issues of artificially created life. It's a dark vision that doesn't need to become reality; the changing urban strategies that embrace natural processes and conserve energy are becoming, thankfully, the direction of the future.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Concert Hall Inside Out

Gehry's Miami Concert Hall is an outstanding example of an intense response to a client's radical redefinition of classical music and its presentation to the public. The video captures the client's enthusiasm for the "push" between their program and the creative problem solving that resulted in this unique structure that engages the public from the outside. This is based upon an old principle in theme park design: get people involved in the story of what is happening and draw them into the experience.

In this case, the "ride" is the musical experience that captures peoples' attention in short bursts and exposes them to longer performances inside the structure. It's very geared to today's dynamic interaction that happens in public spaces, art installations and on the internet; kind of an experiential mashup that defines a place in outdoor space that doesn't demand static attention. Instead, it throws music and images out into the trees and gardens and allows people to taste it first before committing to a longer experience. Thus it creates an outdoor, urban "art space" that acts as a connection between the public way, the garden and the interior of the structure itself. It's a fun linkage that lets people relax in a public space, then decide to enter the structure through a transparent glass facade, far different from the corporate experience of entering through a formal glass curtainwall directly from an urban street into a bland, boxy lobby.

What's also inside out are the swooping curves and disjointed forms that happen within the interior of a calm, rectangular structure, as opposed to the usual gesture from Gehry, those famously complex forms smashing into each other that spark peoples' interest in exploring the building. This dynamism happens after one is drawn into the structure through the glass facade. A further review and discussion of the structure is here at Bloomberg.

Monday, February 14, 2011

State of the World 2011

A global food crisis: Worldwatch Institute released in January its report State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. This report spotlights successful agricultural innovations and unearths major successes in preventing food waste, building resilience to climate change, and strengthening farming in cities. The report provides a roadmap for increased agricultural investment and more-efficient ways to alleviate global hunger and poverty. Drawing from the world's leading agricultural experts and from hundreds of innovations that are already working on the ground, the report outlines 15 proven, environmentally sustainable prescriptions.

Earlier editions of this report have extensively covered consumerism as well as global warming and economic issues.

One of the leading thinktanks on global issues and environment, Worldwatch Institute has been publishing annual research summaries since 1974, and now has an online portal for its vital signs benchmarking. It supports several blogs as well as covening a symposium every year in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The photo above shows some of what remains after the removal of most of the Arcadia Woodlands. The tree sitters from the now-destroyed Woodlands have expressed their gratitude for community support of their civil disobedience on the day the County sent in the bulldozers to rip out the trees and wildlife:

Dear Arcadia Community,

I can't thank the community enough for your tremendous support not only during and after our incarceration, but amid the action as well. Activism requires strength and persistence through many facets and it took all of us to shed a brutal light on the devastation that unfolded the day the Woodlands were destroyed. Thank you for your heartfelt support at the Community Meeting at Eaton Center. It is truly inspiring to see how much positive collaboration has come forth through such a tragedy. Our budding committee is a progressive force mirroring those who are driving it towards powerful change and those who refuse to be muted as our old growth woodlands are destroyed

Although those of us who climbed into the trees are currently facing multiple criminal charges for this action, we haven't the slightest regret. It was an act of civil disobedience, a peaceful, yet powerful act that has only reinforced our conviction to confront injustice and stand up for what is fundamental to the diversification and survival of all life, regardless of its legal or political status. John, Andrea, Travis and I would like to share our Arcadia4Justice website with you all. Through this site you can stay posted on our case, find media links about the action and most importantly give to our legal defense fund. We need your contributions to continue our fight. It has been a pleasure to get to know this community, thank you all.

My Best,

Julia Jaye Posin

Monday, February 7, 2011

Built on Sand

An angry public distrust of both government and the financial sector has resulted from this deep, seemingly unending recession. A completely self-inflicted growth bubble based upon financial weapons of self destruction, to quote Warren Buffet, has been based upon inflating property values to the point that landscapes are littered with unneeded and abandoned "projects" that enriched only banks and developers, leaving taxpayers with the tab. Ireland is a devastating case in point.

Building and development became the sole support structure for revenue and taxes, and ballooned into the stratosphere due to lack of fiscal oversight formerly provided by the Glass-Steagall Act passed in 1933 that established the FDIC. This was overturned by the Republican-sponsored Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act in 1999 on behalf of the banking industry, and signed into law by President Clinton. While this was going on, the housing industry pushed the State legislature into forcing more development through massive housing requirements (RHNA allocations via SCAG) in order to keep the bubble ballooning. SB 375 is a legislative device designed to bust CEQA and force more development into communities, rather effectively disguised as a regulation designed to reduce traffic while forcing massive additions of square footage.

Today in Los Angeles, Development Overlay Zones are being created that void the need for public review and, again, bust CEQA guidelines and public oversight, promised to the Neighborhood Councils. Los Angeles, like Sacramento,appears to be still hooked on the same deadly development drug. It finally fell to Orange County cities to quit the League of California Cities over SB 375 housing allocations and threats of developer litigation. A deeper issue underlies the financing that was supposed to carry all this development; in the ensuing collapse of the CDO market, the banks are no longer lending. The supposed underlying mortgages do not in fact exist, so there's no product upon which to leverage sales of these tranches. The evaporation of assets has hit the public in their pockets in the form of public ownership of big banks (Freddie and Fannie) as well as millions of home foreclosures and the disappearance of jobs.

This has led to an early signal on State policy change with respect to population increase. There is a dawning understanding that profits come more effectively from streamlining instead of physical construction and development. If the artificially instigated pressure comes off of Sacramento for growth, then the overdevelopment simply goes away.The Jerry Brown grab for CRA money is the front edge of a major policy change that will shift investment towards many industries as well as the streamlining of infrastructure and business. If money must now be used wisely in productive strategies, the old brute-force buildout has seen its final days.

Sim Van der Ryn is back!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Tribute to What Was

Arcadia Woodlands Tree Sitters: arraignment Set for Thursday, February 3, 2011

News Conference to Follow Court Appearance

Tree sitters John Quigley, Andrea Bowers and Julia Posin will be arraigned on charges of trespassing and obstruction of an officer in the performance of his duty on Thursday Feb. 3, 2011. Following their court appearance John Quigley and Julia Posin will hold a news conference to discuss their case.

Local community resident and one of the leaders in the fight to save the Arcadia Woodlands, Camron Stone will comment on the response by the Board of Supervisors to calls for an investigation into the LA County Department of Public Works.

WHEN: Arraignment:Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 8:30 am

News Conference:Immediately following the court appearance, Approximately 10:30 am

WHERE: Alhambra Court House
150 W Commonwealth,
Alhambra, Ca
Judge Jose A Rodriguez

PURPOSE: To discuss the case of the brave Tree Sitters and to update the press on the call for an independent investigation of the LA County DPW and its deception of local citizens, communities and elected officials throughout the entire three-year planning process for the Santa Anita Dam Sediment Removal Project. That process finally led to a trampling of rights of local residents and environmental groups who desperately wanted to talk about alternatives to the Woodland destruction with minimal impact to the major stated goals of the project.

Update: Arraignment Postponed Until February 18 - see article from Arcadia Weekly Also, Cam Stone's photos of the remaining wasteland. And now a legal defense is being mounted by the "Arcadia 4"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

An urgent warning comes from, of all places, China, at Davos last week. It identifies the challenge facing human habitation on a global scale, the need to bring growth and development back into a scale that balances with natural processes. We just can't keep burning it up, and for China to embark on a radical departure from its earlier megaconstruction and expansion is quite startling. But this does resemble its one-child policy that it implemented decades ago in response to an obviously unsustainable population growth spiral.

China is now headed for global economic dominance, and it is trying to direct this growth in a responsible manner, after becoming world-famous for its pollution and environmental destruction linked to top-down bureaucratic control. The fact that this recognition is presented at Davos is unprecedented, as the Chinese government is very careful about positions that are taken globally by its citizens and institutions.

Here in the US, we're stuck in a high-consumption lifestyle that keeps us from moving ahead with the critically needed structural changes to our economy that would turn upside down the old, polluting and destructive industries that are in the grip of the oil and coal industries. It's the leftover Cold War economy. The waste in these systems is prolific and toxic, and its reduction is a key strategy in the transference to energy sources from natural processes. However, making the transition out of these structures and their grip on our economic system will be the biggest challenge the US has had since World War II and the Sputnik era that put man on the moon. We see ourselves falling behind, without the resolve and initiative that it takes to mobilize a common effort that changes the face of business practices in this country. Right now the dinosaurs rule, but every business knows that's the death of the commerce and innovation which drives profit, so perhaps the sun is finally rising. Old slogan from Japan, by the way, which provides an object lesson on the limits of expansion as a profit driver. Streamlining achieves the same objectives.

It's also been obvious that our extreme energy consumption creates political weaknesses as well. With the events now unfolding in Egypt, Jordan and the Mideast, it's clear that energy supplies must come through local distributed networks. Petrocollapse could arrive on the heels of these political changes sweeping the Arab world, triggering spikes in oil prices that threaten economic stability. If we needed something to kickstart the "green revolution", it's certainly here. The aging hippies could finally be right.

The Business Response to Climate Change is a student (no longer "flower children") initiative from the CSRwire news service that lays out a strategy towards shifting the economy and business activity around the new science-based model of streamlined and efficient processes that reduces the grip of these old systems and energy sources on our infrastructure. Unlike India and China, the US no longer has vast undeveloped areas to expand into; the physical frontier is used up. Reflecting President Obama's "Win the Future" point of his recent State of the Union address, it's about restructuring what we have to capture energy and resources effectively. It's also about bringing up the young human capital into the system and using that freewheeling energy constructively. The definition of sustainability, by the way.

We're at the threshold of systemic change that's being driven by the limits to growth. Energy from the sun is a huge part of the answer, but the US has to make those industries viable within a global community that fluidly speaks in songs, videos and pictures, accelerating change and shifting values. The ability to swiftly adapt and respond is a key trait of successful systems. It's called "life".