‘An island in the sea of madness’

South Pas strives to maintain its small-town feel as Caltrans pushes freeway tunnel option

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2013

On Saturday, the city of South Pasadena will be celebrating its 125th anniversary with a litany of free events. The library will host authors Mary Ames Mitchell tonight and Jim Gallo and Dan Rice tomorrow night, accompanied by the local band Cottage Industry.

Then, from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, the city’s actual birthday, a “Neighborhood Night on the Town,” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, will feature open houses, art exhibits and live music throughout South Pasadena.

But while the city certainly has reason to celebrate, residents and community leaders are all too aware of the lingering threat that is the Long Beach (710) Freeway extension.

For one thing, the freeway problem has not gone away; it has just moved underground. Caltrans is now considering five alternative options to an overland connector route: build nothing, increase bus rapid transit lines, build light rail lines under Fair Oaks Avenue, improve traffic management, and build the tunnel.

Citizens are equally opposed to the tunnel connector plan as they were to the surface route, which Caltrans has said is off the table, though the agency still refuses to sell the homes it bought up through eminent domain as surplus properties.

“We think the tunnel is too harmful,” said 710 opponent Joanne Nuckols, who served as chair of the city’s Transportation Commission. “We don’t like the no-build option either, because we think something needs to be done to resolve the stub ends of the freeways, which is something they do not have in any of the plans. We think the combination of the [bus rapid transit option], surface improvements and resolution of the stub ends of the freeways, and extension of the Gold Line as opposed to the rail line they’re proposing, would do a long way to improve the traffic flow in the [freeway extension] corridor,” Nuckols said.

“The combination of the non-tunnel alternatives would be a lot less expensive than the tunnel and, cost effectiveness-wise, would move a lot more people and solve a lot more of the transportation problems,” Nuckols said.

Former Mayor Harry Knapp agrees that something needs to be done to improve traffic flow in the corridor.

“Let’s say this whole freeway thing goes away. You still have to do something,” Knapp said. “One of the major ways we proposed to improve traffic on Fair Oaks [Avenue] was to eliminate the two northbound lanes that turn left onto the 110 Freeway just before State Street, and instead extend the defunct exit ramp on the right. But Caltrans owns that ramp and doesn’t want to pay for it. If Fair Oaks moved a little bit better, a lot of people would use Huntington [Drive] and go up Fair Oaks.”

Other issues that face the city in the coming years include balancing preservation needs with economic growth.

“There’s some growth desired, but we just want to keep the mom and pop stuff here and keep out the big box stores,” said Knapp. “Downtown development is one concern. In the original plan, the Rialto Theater was going to be an anchor. But Landmark owns the building and they don’t want to do anything with it, so it’s kind of demolition by decay right now.”

Preservation and self-protection will continue to play a big role in shaping the city for years to come, with strict laws on the books limiting the trimming and removal of trees, as well as a 45-foot height restriction for buildings.

“South Pasadena is much more preservationist than just about any community in Southern California,” said City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted. “It’s surrounded by much larger more populated communities, which have, in part, lost a lot of their identity with development and so forth. South Pasadena has been threatened by the 710 Freeway, and it’s really galvanized the community. Pridefully and stubbornly so, South Pasadena has strived to retain its own identity because it’s like an island in the sea of madness.”

Freeway Fighters

South Pasadena has come to be defined by ‘The Fight’ against the 710

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2013

At the turn of the last century, there were few other places that anyone would rather be than sunny Southern California. And one of the best, if not also one of the most exciting places to be was South Pasadena, home of a widowed first lady, Lucretia Garfield, and visited by diplomats, industrialists, even President Theodore Roosevelt, who stopped here once on his way back from Panama, staying at the luxurious Raymond Hotel.

While Fair Oaks Avenue and Fremont and Mission streets were still dirt roads, the Raymond dominated the landscape for miles in every direction and drew wealthy clientele from the East Coast.

“The Raymond Hotel actually attracted rich visitors to the sunny skies and warm climate of South Pasadena,” said South Pasadena City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted. “It was a world class luxury hotel that attracted well-to-do tourists from back East for the most part and put South Pasadena on the map in the minds of lots of people. It burned down twice and, after the second time, it was never rebuilt. By that time, this area had grown up quite a bit and it had done its job to attract a lot of people and a lot of attention to this area.”

Another major draw to the area in the early part of the last century was Edwin Cawston’s world famous ostrich farm, which at the time was located right next to the Arroyo Seco. According to local historian Rick Thomas, ostrich feathers symbolized wealth and upper-class refinement and remained popular in America for nearly 50 years.

“It really was for the feathers and the fashion,” said Thomas. “Cawston made a whole entertainment element to it. Eventually, it went out of business because women’s fashion changed.”

However, with economic growth came the need for increased mobility. With the area’s population growing, and the advent of the automobile, South Pasadena quickly found itself sandwiched between the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways, which the California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, has tried to connect for more than 50 years.

In 1949 the city of South Pasadena passed its first resolution against the proposed route, and by the 1950s Caltrans had begun the seizure of hundreds of homes in South Pasadena, Pasadena and El Sereno through eminent domain and hardship sales.

If any single thing has come to characterize South Pasadena over the past five decades, it has been the dogged resistance of this little city to the state, and ultimately winning … so far.

The struggle to stop the state from connecting the freeways, or, “The Fight,” as Thomas calls it in his Images of America book, “South Pasadena,” has been going on for more than five decades.

“In the ’70s, it got shelved and nothing happened for about 10 years,” said veteran freeway fighter Joanne Nuckols, who has served as chair of the city’s Transportation Commission. “Then, all of a sudden, Caltrans decided to pull it off the shelf in the mid-’80s and everything started up again. That pretty much lit a fire under everybody that we really needed to look at this.”

The cities of Los Angeles, La Cañada-Flintridge, Sierra Madre, Glendale and South Pasadena all have passed formal resolutions against the proposed route, but cities like San Marino and Alhambra continue to support Caltrans’ proposal. Pasadena has expressed strong concerns about the project, but it has stopped short of formally opposing it because they believe their hands are tied by the voter approved Measure A. That proposition called for completing the extension between the two freeways. However, it did not specify how the extension should be completed.

“South Pasadena fiercely protects its small town environment,” said Thomas. “Unfortunately, this town is so uniquely positioned to be the travel point from Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley, so it just gets in the way of transportation corridors. The whole city was considered endangered early on. We don’t even need that designation anymore because we have so much clout.”

While The Fight has been the source of much controversy over the years, it has also contributed to defining South Pasadena in other ways.

“The preservation movement and The Fight kept the small-town atmosphere,” said former Mayor Harry Knapp, another longtime freeway opponent. “The freeway fight gave some uncertainty to developers, even now, and preserved that small town feel that we’re really trying to keep.”

Today, even with an overland connector route permanently off the table, The Fight continues, with city leaders now opposed to plans to connect the two freeways with two giant 4.5-mile-long tunnels.

Birth of a City

Self-protection lies at the heart of South Pasadena’s very beginnings as a city

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/28/2013

Centuries before white settlers inhabited the southern portion of the San Gabriel Valley, the city we now call South Pasadena was home to members of the Hahamongna branch of the Tongva tribe of Native Americans.

Also known as Gabrielinos, tribe members built thatched dome structures along the banks of the seasonal Arroyo Seco. There they lived and worked the land and streams and traded with other Tongva tribe members who lived throughout modern-day Los Angeles. When South Pasadena incorporated in 1888, very few Native American people were allowed to own land.

“The Arroyo Seco was really the cradle of civilization for Indians that inhabited Pasadena and South Pasadena,” said South Pasadena City Librarian Steve Fjeldsted. “It not only gave them their water, but was also part of their trade and travel routes. Of course, later it became one of the first routes between Pasadena and Los Angeles.”
When Spanish explorers began colonizing the area in the 18th century, Indian culture was absorbed by the missionaries. California became a Mexican province when Mexico won independence from Spain. According to the definitive historical text by Jane Apostol, “South Pasadena: A Centennial History,” very few Indians received shares of land “when the property once controlled by the missions was given away in huge land grants on which ranchos were established.” Most of present-day Altadena, Pasadena, San Marino and South Pasadena formed the boundaries of Rancho San Pasqual.

What is now known as the Flores Adobe, the oldest house in South Pasadena, served as headquarters for Mexican Gen. José María Flores during the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. The adobe, which is still around today, is the place where Mexican commanders drew up their plan of surrender to the United States.

In the 1870s, members of the California Colony of Indiana began moving to the area and started purchasing property. San Gabriel Orange Grove Association members Calvin Fletcher and Benjamin Eaton were among those who invested in land at the southern end of the colony, south of Columbia Street.

“They started subletting it, more people came out, and South Pasadena has remained independent and small to this day,” said Fjeldsted, “but that’s part of its earliest beginnings.”

According to Fjeldsted, it is a common misconception that South Pasadena split off from Pasadena’s historic Indiana Colony to form its own city. In fact, residents of what used to be Rancho San Pasqual always thought of themselves as a separate entity from Pasadena, and petitioned for their own school district and post office a decade before incorporation.

“I think part of the misconception comes from its name, which makes it sound like it’s the southern part of Pasadena or Pasadena junior. But despite the name, South Pasadena is its own community,” said Fjeldsted.
One of the reasons residents of South Pasadena decided to incorporate was to keep Pasadena’s seedy elements away from its borders.
“There was a lot of wildness taking place in Pasadena: saloons, ladies of the night and other forms of wild behavior,” said Fjeldsted. “In order to stop it, Pasadena incorporated and had its own ordinances forbidding those things, but then it all moved down to the other side of Columbia Street. The settlers here didn’t want Pasadena’s riff raff and bad behavior coming to South Pasadena, so it incorporated on March 2, 1888, and passed the same ordinance that Pasadena had passed. That just moved some of those things farther south to Los Angeles, but that’s what solidified the entire community into being incorporated.”

Self-protection, which continues to be a strong trait of the community to this day, was at the heart of South Pasadena’s very beginnings as an official entity. Apostol noted that a leader of the temperance and anti-saloon movement of the day, Dr. Hiram Reid, said South Pasadenans had to incorporate in order to have “police control over their territory … and thus they were compelled by sheer necessity for self-protection to incur the expense and trouble of forming a city corporation.”

Upward bound

Eagle Rock teacher goes the extra mile to get more students enrolled in college

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/21/2013

It takes dedication to be an effective teacher, and Eagle Rock High School's Susan Ward-Roncalli has that in spades. The 26-year Eagle Rock veteran wants to see as many students as possible go to an institution of higher learning. That's why, when the federal grant for the GEAR UP program recently ran out after 10 years, she committed time out of her already busy schedule to keep the mentoring component of the program alive.

The GEAR UP program was designed to encourage more students to attend post-secondary institutions. Out of that program, Ward-Roncalli has maintained a group of about 100 juniors and seniors who go into seventh-grade classrooms and teach mentoring lessons, strategies for academics and how to avoid bullying, among other topics. With her help, a small group designs the lessons, which they then share with the larger group.

"For seventh-graders, it's starting that process of eventually going to college," Ward-Roncalli says. "They see that these juniors and seniors are academically oriented and they talk to the seventh-graders about how important it is to get involved with academics and sports and to keep their grades up. Having it come from other teenagers has a bigger impact than just adults telling them again and again."

Under Ward-Roncalli, a service learning coordinator, students learn content objectives by performing a service for their community, she explains. All seniors must complete a service learning project, and with roughly 500 kids, that can be quite a task.

"For example, if they were learning about nutrition, they could put together a food basket for the homeless that would meet nutritional guidelines, versus making a poster where they show their knowledge," says Ward-Roncalli, adding that it's sometimes difficult to get outside agencies to participate. "We've had partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, through our woodshop class, through our gardening and horticulture class; we do some LA Food Bank stuff and Cell Phones for Soldiers through US History classes when they're talking about different wars. We try to have some connections, but it's kind of challenging because of the time limitations."

She said students are not enthusiastic about these community service-based projects until they actually do them and realize the good they're doing.

"They moan and groan and then they get out there and actually see a live person that they're helping and think, 'Oh, this isn't so bad,'" she says.

Students also work closely with LA County and the city of Los Angeles as poll workers. Registrars recruit high school students to work for the elections--they get their service learning project done, get paid and are more likely to vote afterward, the teacher says.

Ward-Roncalli turned an American literature class into an advanced placement class for juniors, including students who never thought they'd take an AP class. In order to convince them to move on to the senior AP class, she made a bargain that she would go with them. more than 85 percent of the students stayed with her.

"So they'll have two AP classes under their belt when they go to college," says Ward-Roncalli, who tied with fellow Eagle Rock High teacher Laurie Bollman-Little for Teacher of the Year in Pasadena Weekly's annual Best of Pasadena contest in 2011. "They haven't had much exposure to rich literature or the opportunity to do a lot of writing. We have to sort of supplement. We'll sit here as long as it takes to make up work so they will get college credit, and it takes all of both of our energy to have them write essays that are good enough, but they're willing to stay and do it. They're sort of connected now, they're a team here, but it does take a lot of energy to build that team."

Thirst for knowledge

Local geniuses teach gifted students in need of a challenge at South Pasadena's Institute for Educational Advancement

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/21/2013

While some mentoring programs meet the needs of students who are struggling through school, the Institute for Educational Advancement serves a very different need. For gifted students who may not be challenged by a traditional classroom setting, the Institute's Academy in South Pasadena fills that gap.

Students from greater Pasadena and throughout Southern California take advanced classes year round at the Institute (IEA) to feed their hunger for learning. During the school year classes are held on Saturdays, and during summer they are held all day. Currently, classes include chemistry, astronomy, calculus, self-paced math, ecology and humanities, with fun classes like Games and Theory, Playwriting and the Female Hero in Myth and Literature.

IEA was founded in 1998 by Elizabeth Jones, former associate director of The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and Jim Davis, former Superintendent of La Canada Unified School District. The nonprofit organization receives funding from individual donors, corporations and foundations.

"IEA is dedicated to supporting our nation's brightest students in pursuing their full academic and personal potential," says program coordinator Jen Mounday, adding that the Academy provides "programs that help gifted children balance intellectual ability with social, emotional, physical and spiritual growth."

Mounday said students accepted into the Academy do not necessarily need to be identified as a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) student. Their application takes into account an array of factors to determine a child's ability, including extracurricular activities, test scores, parent feedback and the student's own interest.

"It's a completely different dynamic, because it's for kids who actually want to be here, who are capable of taking in more than what's given to them at school," says Tony Travouillon, who teaches astronomy and self-paced math at IEA and has a doctorate in astrophysics from Caltech. "In terms of social and intellectual skills, there's such a spectrum, so it makes it tough because you have to reach everyone in different ways. You want them to keep coming back each week. Enjoyment is important," he says.

According to Mounday, IEA began after-school and weekend enrichment classes for gifted youth in response to funding cuts for gifted education in California public schools.

"Our brightest students weren't being challenged in school and were looking for alternative education," says Mounday. "Based on a gifted education concept called 'telescoping'--taking an advanced class and compressing it into a short-term experiential unit of study--IEA built its program. Many of our students admit to being bored in school and enjoy coming to a small, focused classroom setting where they can learn creatively at an accelerated pace with other exceptional minds."

The Academy also provides an outlet for gifted students struggling to make friends with like-minded peers. As Mounday pointed out, many students develop lasting relationships at the Academy, bonding over topics like neuro-energy and chemistry. It's also a place where professors from such institutions as Caltech and UCLA can do some extra teaching.

"It's a good way for me to do more education, which I like," says Travouillon. "And the kids are amazing, because they're very proactive. They're here because they want to know more, so they're always pushing me. I have to come up with the right pace and keep up with as much as they're willing and capable of learning. And with most kids here, it's a lot."

IEA also offers scholarships for Pasadena-area students. For more information about the Academy and to learn how to apply, visit educationaladvancement.org, or call (626) 403-8900.

Addicted to writing

Prolific Jerry Stahl releases a flurry of fiction exploring the ‘maniacal workings of an addicted brain’

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 2/14/2013

Fresh off a successful script for HBO Films, “Hemingway and Gellhorn,” which premiered last year, author Jerry Stahl is ready to take a step back from Hollywood for a moment to focus solely on fiction. 
“I’m just working nonstop on fiction,” said Stahl, who has written screenplays for several television shows and movies. “It’s pretty great, just to kind of walk away from Hollywood for awhile, or for the duration. We’ll see. Just to work on prose has really been a luxury.”
Stahl, 59, has also written a half-dozen books and countless columns and articles for a slew of newspapers and magazines. He has contributed several short stories to various literary magazines and won the Pushcart Prize.
Stahl’s latest book, a novella called “Bad Sex on Speed,” is a rapid treatise that details the inner workings of a mind on methamphetamine and entire lives affected by a drug that seems to be everywhere these days. In it, Stahl utilizes second-person narration, a rare but fitting literary device, which he says was completely unplanned, yet works with the subject matter.
“I was typing for a few pages and realized, ‘Jesus, fuck, I’m in the second person. Alright then.’ There’s an immediacy with it. There’s a nonstop narrative on that drug, kind of a hyper-awareness where it’s like, ‘You’re doing this, you’re doing this now, now you’re doing this.’ I was trying to tap into that kind of, really, just relentless self-awareness.”
Stahl is clearly on a roll, with several projects already out or on the way, all while having his second daughter at the ripe young age of 58, an experience he blogs about for Rumpus.net. Those posts, under the title “OG Dad,” will be released as a collection sometime in 2014. Meanwhile, HarperCollins is putting out his new book “Happy Mutant Baby Pills” in September.
“Among other things,” Stahl explained, “it’s about a very radical woman with a backdrop of Occupy who wants to protest the debilitating and demeaning influence of capitalism by taking every kind of medication, over the counter, under the counter, huffing paint, whatever, basically trying to have the most mutant child she can as a protest. As like this thing, ‘See? This is what America does. This is what GMOs do. This is what capitalism does.’ It’s a lighthearted romp, as you can tell.”
Stahl recently edited and contributed to “The Heroin Chronicles,” a collection of original short stories by authors such as Gary Philips and Jervy Tervalon of Altadena, who co-edited “The Cocaine Chronicles,” the first in Akashic Books’ drug series. Stahl also contributed to “The Speed Chronicles” in 2011, but not the forthcoming “The Marijuana Chronicles.”
“I did not make it into the Marijuana, Aspercreme, Testosterone, or Skin-Tag Away (Chronicles), as far as I can tell,” said Stahl, known for his dry but always witty sense of humor.
Stahl will be reading from “Heroin Chronicles,” along with other authors who contributed to the collection, and discussing “Bad Sex on Speed” tomorrow night at Stories Books & Café in Los Angeles.
As an editor, he had the opportunity to choose the writers he wanted to include in the collection. He decided not to go after famous people so much as those who might not have had the chance to be in print. The “encyclopedia of bad behavior,” as Stahl refers to it in the introduction, includes hilarious and harrowing stories from both veteran and first-time short story writers.
“It’s nice to be able to give somebody a shot, no pun intended,” joked Stahl. “I think when it comes to heroin, there’s something for everyone. Everyone can enjoy a good heroin story. Ultimately, the stories, in the same way that being a drug addict is never really about drugs, you know, the subject may sort of, on one surface level, be heroin, but below that there’s sort of a universal level of desperation and confusion and striving and loneliness that sort of transcends being a drug addict. It’s just focused through that lens.”
Addiction is a running theme in Stahl’s work, having played a role in nearly everything he’s written, but it is by no means all he has to offer. Stahl’s writing penetrates all that is held sacred in American society, turning normal upside down and inside out to expose the strangeness of reality, as if to say, “Don’t kid yourself, this is what life really is.” His novels are refreshing and honest literary adventures in a tired world of popular fantasy books like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.”
“There are great stories to mine from addiction,” said Stahl. “It might be a go-to place now and again, but I think it’s more about the mindset behind addiction. Like in this new book, ‘Bad Sex on Speed,’ it’s not really about addiction, per se, it’s about the maniacal workings of a brain that I was trying to chronicle. I was trying to write inside that head. So it’s not so much about the physical act of being addicted, as a few levels below that is just the kind of insanity that seems normal as you are in the grips of addiction, or in that world. Or what seems insane to a non-addict is just meat and potatoes to an addict.”
In 1995 Stahl penned “Permanent Midnight,” a haunting and candid memoir of his heroin addiction that was turned into a movie starring his friend, Ben Stiller, who called the book “funny and honest and scary.” It was a decidedly different role for Stiller, who hung out with Stahl for nine months while the studio was trying to get financing for the movie.
“Having Jerry there was invaluable to me, because he gave me the confidence to be this guy who was going through experiences I had never gone through,” Stiller told the Weekly after an earlier story about Stahl appeared in this paper in 2005. “He supported me in it fully and it really made the difference.”
One reason Stahl’s writing resonates so powerfully is because he’s not afraid to hold a mirror up to America’s addictive habits.
America seems to be an addiction-heavy place, he said, “although to all kinds of crazy drugs. It’s just non-stop. It’s just ridiculous. Doesn’t even need to be a substance. Addicted to addiction. It’s kind of a lost country. The great thing about addiction is it consolidates your obsessions. If you’ve got to be addicted to something, writing’s good. It’s slightly easier than life.” 

Jerry Stahl will read, sign and discuss “The Heroin Chronicles” and “Bad Sex on Speed” from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Stories Books & Café, 1716 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. For more, call (213) 413-3733 or visit storiesla.com.