(Photo of Poppyfield/Olive area by Bethany Baird, Aug. 29)
- Station Fire: One of the worst fires in the history of the Angeles National Forest swept through our mountains in late August and early September. This was a story that affected everyone in Altadena (everyone who breathes, that is!) Thanks to good luck and the valiant efforts of firefighters, our homes were spared, but it was a week or so of stress, fear, and frazzled nerves as the fire swept through our area. There are actually several stories here, but there are four that rise to the top for us:
The Battle for Mt. Wilson: the site of an historic and valuable observatory, as well as the broadcast tower of almost every television and radio station and many emergency responders, was almost a victim of the fires as they swept up the hill. Several times, it seemed like it was going to be lost -- but heroic efforts from firefighters on the ground, as well as a pounding from the air by these amazing aerial tankers, saved the facility. And ironically:
Fire, what fire? Even as they were in danger of losing their most valuable asset, the broadcast media appeared uninterested in the early days of the fire. Folks in La Canada or Altadena fleeing their homes didn’t spark the wall-to-wall fire coverage that we’ve come to expect when Malibu burns (one sterling exception: KPCC, which had excellent fire coverage throughout). Broadcast coverage picked up in later days, but on the worst night of the fire in Altadena, as acrid smoke filled the air and people fled their homes, the two all-news stations in town played ballgames. Once the aerial tankers arrived, TV coverage picked up considerably, and after it was done they bent over backward to congratulate themselvesfor their fire coverage , but those of us sweeping up know better.
Online breakthrough: Without real-time information being broadcast, the Internet stepped in and stepped up. This news site (among others) tackled the fire, pointing to informative websites, serving as a forum for “boots on the ground” coverage from neighbors, and scotching rumors almost as soon as they started. There were many official websites with fire-related news (some updated better than others), and Twitter and Facebook also became valuable resources of information.
(Photo: The Altadenablog family receiving a commendation for Station Fire coverage from Supv. Michael Antonovich)
And now, we’re a virus: As a sidebar, the bad guys in computer programming set up websites about the Station Fire (some even using the Altadenablog name!) that would load malware onto your computer -- so some innocent looking for fire news would be infected. Thanks to reader and the computer god who walks the earth Steve Bass for spreading the word to the world at large.
- Business not as usual: The sinking economy struck a few telling blows in Altadena, with the closure of such landmark businesses as Ronnie’s Automotive, Altadena Nursery, and Karen’s Hallmark (one of the Webster family stores). On the west side, in Lincoln Crossing, while Super King and 24-hour Fitness seem to be doing well, other businesses closed or are struggling.
But it wasn’t just the closures that made the news: a bunch of young creative business owners on North Lake challenged our moribund Chamber of Commerce by forming the Altadena Arts Coalition, which held several open-house events on North Lake this year and the amazing Project:Altadena photo show. Now working more closely with the Chamber, we have high hopes that they will inject some necessary life into our eastern business district. Thanks to Lori Webster (Webster’s Fine Stationers), Molly Tierney (Photography by Walt), “Chef Jeff” Klein (The Beat Cafe at the Coffee Gallery), Lance Anderson and Marisol Martinez (Altadena Junction), and especially powerhouse Ben McGinty (Gallery at the End of the World) for stirring the pot.
- Councilman behaving badly: Herbert Simmons, newly-elected councilman from Census Tract 4602, was barely in office a month before he sparked an ethics investigation. His offense? Violating the town council’s ethics rules by using his position to solicit funds for a teacher and student of the month program he had set up. First he said he’d never received the ethics rules -- despite signing papers that said he had. Then he swore up and down that he never used his council position to solicit funds -- but several business owners and the PUSD superintendent of schools DID say he represented it as a council project. Writing letters promoting his program on his own self-made Town Councilman letterhead, and proclaiming it his first project as a town councilman didn’t help his case, either. Not to mention County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office ripping him a new one and sending a letter to the council chair denying Simmons’ claim of county sponsorship.
Simmons’ reaction wasn’t to respond to the charges, but to to fire back with a series of countercharges: accusing the council of trying to stop his program (which has gone on unimpeded, as one can tell by looking at his website and seeing him posing in every picture of the students and teacher being honored); accusing the council of not wanting students to succeed (a foolish charge for a council that includes the founders of the Bright Futures Scholars, MYPD, and the person in charge of educational outreach for JPL); accusing a councilwoman of “attacks” against him without specifying what these “attacks” were (the best we could find was she sent him a copy of the ethics rules); and filing a formal complaint against the chair for, among other things, depriving him of a photo op with the governor.
Simmons also lawyered up (with Rene Amy, longtime scourge of the Pasadena Unified School District). And, for someone who demonstrated little interest in following the rules, he suddenly became a fan of the Brown Act and wanted to re-fight battles that were settled years ago about the council’s place within the Act. In the end, public disclosure of letters to the Council from Antonovich and PUSD Supt. Edwin Diaz, along with his letter to local principals, and the Pasadena Weekly’s revelations of Simmons’ past brushes with the law, didn’t leave him many options other than resigning, which he did hours before the council was to determine if they would oust him.
And now, the Fork in the Road: A story with Altadena roots -- to celebrate the 75th birthday of the Coffee Gallery’s Bob Stane, a group of creative and daring folk, mostly from Altadena, put up a work of guerilla folk art: “The Fork in the Road” on Pasadena Ave. in Pasadena, right on ... the fork in the road. This witty work not only created a local buzz, but got some worldwide attention. Not all important stories need to be earthshaking!
- Fahrenheit 459: (that’s cop-speak for “burglary”) One of the top stories of the year was the wave of burglaries and car break-ins that plagued the east side. During daylight, the usual pattern was crooks working in teams to see if the house was empty, then breaking in through the back door, take what they could, and run. At night, they’d rattle vehicle door handles looking for unlocked cars. A full house met at Webster Elementary School in October to hear a presentation by the sheriff’s department, where Blood street gangs were blamed. Despite the department putting more resources into the burglaries (Including a team of two officers whose job is to just handle these crimes), and some spectacular arrests, the wave shows no signs of abating.
- MonteCedro pulls out: In February, the Episcopal Homes Communities announced that they were stopping development of MonteCedro, the retirement community that was to spring up on the site of the old Scripps Home. In October, they announced that the Kensington in Alhambra, the retirement community where Scripps residents were sent, was going to be sold. A sad development, thanks to the plunging economy -- and Altadena has a large, flat area west of Lake Ave. with an uncertain future.
- Aveson’s June Jubilee: Out of perhaps thousands of performers In Southern California willing to work for free, Aveson Charter School booked a crew of hard-core, foul-mouthed rappers to provide
“entertainment” during their June Jubilee -- apparently with the understanding that they would not PERFORM like hard-core, foul-mouthed rappers. (Using the same theory, we suppose one could book a stripper for a children’s party and ask her to keep her clothes on and just do the gymnastics ... but it seems better to us to just not go there to begin with). We heard that the actual performances were fine (altho’ one performer was giving out questionable promotional materials), but Aveson’s website had a link to the record company’s page, so children could conveniently experience the R-rated language in just one click directly from their school's website.
Also in the “what were they thinking?” department: Aveson also booked a “graffiti artist” to give a demonstration during the jubilee. This was followed by somebody demonstrating the "art" in a wide swath of Eaton Canyon the next day. While the two occurrences probably weren’t related, it did call into question Aveson’s judgement about booking a someone whose art bore a resemblance to vandalism. Considering the longstanding friction in Aveson’s relationship with its neighbors, it probably wasn’t the best move for the school. And the discussion in the newsgroups and comments on this website made this the hot issue for awhile.
Murder: On May 9, Jerrill Dulaney, aka “Monster," was gunned down at Fair Oaks and Altadena Drive. While not characterized as a gang member himself, Dulaney nonetheless was probably a victim of them. While there were several shootings and at least one notable gang-related killing in Pasadena, the predictions of a summer of bloodshed thankfully didn’t pan out.
- What’s that Smell? It’s Lincoln Crossing: and we’re not entirely speaking of the not-to-grade sewer line that had to be redone, either. The westside’s long-a’borning shopping center continued to host successful anchors in 24-hour Fitness and Super King Market, but tossed out one of the original tenants, BJR Printing, and continued to stir up flurries.
The county sent a letter to developer Dorn Platz listing oh-so-many ways they defaulted on agreements, including nonpayment of taxes, mechanics liens, court judgments, and putting the property on the market, which they were not allowed to do. The federal department of Housing and Urban Development announced that they would launch an investigation into the whole mess. One of the partners in the development, the West Altadena Development Corp (WAD-C)., said they could line up more solvent investors if Dorn Platz could get the boot.
In the most bizarre development, when the West Altadena Project Area Committee that oversees the development instructed its staff to write the county a letter asking to dump Dorn Platz, the staff ignored them and instead told the county that WAD-C wanted to withdraw, leaving Dorn Platz entirely in charge. The staff tried to gloss over and finesse their rewrite at the following months’ meeting, but it didn’t fly.
We have often said that, if we had the time and resources, we would love to write an investigative piece about Lincoln Crossing -- that shopping center is vital to West Altadena, and the community deserves it -- but something about it isn’t passing the smell test.
Relay for Life: Not a major story, but an emotional one. The American Cancer Society held its first Altadena "Relay for Life" at Farnsworth Park on June 5 and 6. Fifteen teams were fielded to walk 24 hours in support of the ACS’s mission and to remember those who faced and are facing cancer. The community support was incredible, the “silent lap” at night, lit by luminaria, was especially moving, and everyone who experienced it came away changed. It was a wonderful example of how this community, despite its rough edges, can come together for an important cause. We’re looking forward to the 2010 walk at Loma Alta Park.
There were lots of stories that came close to making the cut this year, among them: the stellar lineup of speakers at the Altadena Library, truly a community cultural treasure; another fabulous summer of free concerts thanks to the Sheriff’s Support Group and their sponsors; the outpouring of help and community spirit in the wake of the Station Fire, including the big community “thank you” to first responders; the court decision closing Sahag Mesrob Armenian Christian School’s location on Palm; the February graffiti wave; the maturing of the Arroyo Co-op; the bus crashing into Altadena Hardware; the Boho Highbrow Weekend; Cathy Gott's plans for making lower Zorthian Ranch into a farm for the autistic and developmentally disabled; and so much more.
Again this year, we resolve to spend more time covering events on the west side of town, and more arts coverage (because Altadena is full of interesting artists and events), and more on how this community can prepare for crisis. We proved how well we can work together in the Station Fire -- that’s something that needs to be cultivated and developed, because the next crisis IS coming!
Thank you for all your contributions to this website -- more than ever this year, it was truly a community endeavor, and we became Altadena's "town square." Thank you also for all your tremendous support, whether it was a good word, a contributed photograph, or a little cash in the tip jar (which has really improved our equipment and coverage this year). We will continue bringing the best of Altadena -- and sometimes the worst! -- in the year to come.
We love this work. We love Altadena!