by Timothy Rutt
The year 2012 was a very busy year in Altadena: some endings, some new beginnings, and the promise of change to come. Here’s our annual totally biased and opinionated look at the Top 10 Altadena Stories of 2012, in no particular order:
Nov. 3 Birthday Bash at Farnsworth Park that featured historical displays, music, entertainment, and great food from Altadena sources. Don’t want to wait another 125 years for the next one.
2. Altadena visioning process: in the spring and summer, consultants hired by Los Angeles County set about to survey Altadena residents on what direction we needed to go: what did we like about living here, what do we need, how can we make it better? After several interviews with leading citizens and groups, online surveys, and three public “visioning meetings,” the end result is a document that identifies some desirous characteristics of Altadena living (including “Diverse, eclectic, unique character” and “Community cohesion and strong institutions”) and suggests some directions to go. The Altadena Town Council has already started that process by forming a committee to update the community standards, but volunteer organizations and individuals have an opportunity to contribute, too.
3. West side shootings: the west side of Altadena became a firing zone during the latter part of the year, with multiple drive-by and car-to-car shootings, culminating in an off-duty deputy and his brother becoming targets in December. (Another sheriff’s department employee, Law Enforcement Technician Victor McClinton, was killed in northwest Pasadena on Christmas Day, so the shooting zone wasn’t just restricted to Altadena). Several people were wounded in the incidents -- and nobody in Altadena died from gunfire this year -- but gang activity has been blamed for much of it. Local clergy and law enforcement leaders held a rally on Dec. 30 to decry the violence.
5. Food Culture: Altadena’s burgeoning food culture really came into its own this year. Key to this was the opening of the Altadena Farmers' Market in May, where organic, sustainable, small-scale farmers and foodcrafters have a place to ply their wares to an enthusiastic public every Wednesday. It was a long haul through the county process for market manager Joseph Shudliner, a world class foodie and cookbook author who also founded the Institute of Domestic Technology. People come from all over Los Angeles County to check out the market -- and that's one of our major criticisms of it. While the market handles very interesting goods from interesting places and attracts buyers from far away, the high prices are prohibitive for people who actually live in the neighborhood. This is an issue the market needs to solve.
Ground zero for Altadena food culture, however, remains the Zane Grey Estate. The estate’s residents, Steven Rudicel and Gloria Putnam, run Mariposa Creamery, their hobby goat milk farm, on the grounds. Recently, they've purchased some agricultural land in the mountains to start the Angeles Crest Creamery, expanding their goat cheese empire. (We’re also awaiting “Bar Altadena,” their planned wood-fired pizza restaurant to be located at the site of the late Gallery at the End of the World.) Shuldiner's Institute of Domestic Technology runs many of its classes in the estate's recently-constructed commercial cheesemaking kitchen.
But Altadena food culture can also point to the backyard farmer and orchardist’s group, RIPE-Altadena, the Altadena-centric Arroyo Food Co-Op, the dormant-but-still living Altadena Underground Farmer’s Market (a victim of county regulations), the Eatwell Market (likewise), and many backyard and home kitchen food hobbyists who have managed to turn their passion into a small business.
Also worth noting is Muir Ranch, the working farm behind John Muir High School in Pasadena, which not only grows amazing vegetables and flowers in an urban setting, but is a living classroom in agriculture, engineering, and business for the students -- and a vendor at the Altadena Farmer’s Market.
Altadena food culture was noticed by Bon Apetit magaine’s blog, comparing Altadena to Brooklyn, NY, another food culture center (New Yorkers think comparing you favorably to themselves is always a compliment). In a more practical way, the Altadena food sensibility is spreading -- Shuldiner was recently hired as a consultant in the revamping of Los Angeles’ Grand Central Market, where he has all kinds of plans for creating places to meet and eat in the venerable old space. Now, if we only had a decent destination restaurant ....
7. Arroyo Pacific loses school bid: the Arcadia private school dropped its bid to open a satellite campus on Palm Street in the face of neighborhood opposition and official rejections. Arroyo Pacific twice came before the Town Council and the Land Use Committee with plans for the property, and were twice turned down. Rejection by the county planning committee was the last straw, as AP President Philip Clarke withdrew his bid and put the property on the market. A developer specializing in urban living is looking at the property now, but the ultimate fate of the property is still up in the air.
8. Endeavour: the feel-good story of the year. Space Shuttle Endeavour went on a grand aerial tour on its way from Florida to its final resting place at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. On the last day of travel, Sept. 21, it took some turns through Southern California, particularly around JPL, which means flying over Altadena, and by all reports, it was a grand show.
Another triumph for local space fans was JPL’s breath-taking and ultimately successful landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August.
Meadows resident Ian White found the headstone of abolitionist Owen Brown amidst a pile of debris while on a hike Aug. 23. Whether it was recently placed there, or recently uncovered by erosion after being hidden for years, no one knows -- but this important local artifact of American history was found, by the son of one of the 20th century’s notable African American artists. Attorney and trails champion Paul Ayers, a member of the crew that recovered the stone, says it’s in a safe place, but the battle ahead is to see if it can be returned to Owen’s grave -- and if it’ll stay there when it is.
10. Walmart Neighborhood Market: The topic that we expended the most pixels on this year was the upcoming market on Lincoln Avenue and Figueroa Drive. After years of neglect, the derelict grocery store on the site became a hub of renovation activity, and the rumors swirled that Walmart was involved. Altadenablog was the first to confirm that a Neighborhood Market, the mammoth retailer’s smaller-footprinted grocery store, was moving into the site.
Controversy began immediately. Walmart has collected a lot of enemies over the years. True, the macro big picture of how Walmart treats its employees and suppliers, and its effects on local economies and small business, should give one pause. But the micro local reality is that an Altadena market would provide badly-needed jobs with industry-competitive wages and benefits to 65 full- and part-time employees. Blue sky ideas were floated of about how much better upscale markets like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's would be in that place (the alternatives never seem to be about a new Ralphs or Vons, for some reason) -- but the fact remains that Walmart is the only business that has seen potential in that site, period. We don’t doubt the sincerity and earnestness of the people who don’t want a Walmart of any sort in town, but they should have something more to say to the 600 people who applied for work at Walmart’s Dec. 8 hiring fair than how keeping the building vacant is better for the community.
At least two organized groups have arisen to protest Walmart coming in: one is SaveAltadena, which seems to be largely run by former town councilman Steve Lamb. SaveAltadena has a closed, membership-only Facebook page. Lamb and co-administrator Allison Gibson have consistently refused Altadenablog membership on the page, with Lamb saying the press isn’t invited (although we know other reporters among the members, and we’re not saying who so they won’t be bumped. But some SaveAltadena members are keeping us informed as to what’s going on, even sending us screencaps of their Facebook page). SaveAltadena has had several meetings, attended some protests, and run some cash mobs, where a local business is drowned with love and money on a particular day.
Another group, Neighbors Building a Better Altadena, has also sponsored cash mobs and at least initially tried to emphasize patronizing local Altadena businesses rather than just lobbying against Walmart. But their website languishes after a promising start, and most of their recent efforts seem to be more anti-Walmart than pro-Altadena business (presenting petitions, attending protests, paying for a fishing expedition to research Walmart’s various county applications). We hope there’s more activity after the holiday slump, and we think promoting local business -- not trying to dictate who brings jobs to town -- is where the emphasis needs to be. We think ultimately the Walmart Neighborhood Market will open and be very successful (not everybody can afford the farmers' market). But while we have issues with Walmart as a corporation, we also don't think it's the big enemy of Altadena businesses: Pasadena is, and the internet is. An emphasis on buying local -- and Altadena businesses providing reasons to buy local -- is what is really needed.
Several important stories just didn’t make the cut this year: the retirements of popular Sheriff Capt. Steven McLean and übervolunteer Carolyn Seitz; Altadena Heritage’s 25th Anniversary; the start of the Altadena Bicycle Club; redistricting for PUSD school board, and for our local representatives (goodbye, Anthony Portantino and Adam Schiff -- Portantino retired and his district boundaries moved, as did Schiff’s). County enforcers tried to shut down Altadena Hardware's bulk nail scale, an attempt that ended in farce.
Some notable Altadenans passed on in 2012, among them: pioneering jazz artist manager John Levy; R&B impresario and performer Johnny Otis; former resident Rodney King; actor John Ingle (“Edward Quartermain” from General Hospital) and his wife of 58 years, Grace-Lynne Martin Ingle, an accomplished Broadway singer and actress in her own right; and Altadena businesswoman and activist Virginia Lance. We personally miss budding young actor and East Altadena Little League Challengers' standout, Tim Borquez.
What’s ahead in 2013? Well, Walmart of course (and maybe we’ll find out if they actually are going to take over the Calavaras Crater). The Community Standards District process will generate controversy, no matter what happens. Let's hope Altadena’s food culture will get a boost with at least one good restaurant opening. PUSD is talking about closing down more schools, and Altadena always seems to be a favorite target.
One thing we promise is that, as we have for five years, we’ll be here chronicling it all. Thanks to all our sponsors -- local businesses and organizations who bring Altadenablog to you every day. Thank you to all of you who give us your tips, phone calls, amazing photos and first-person stories. Thanks to our freelancers: Laura Monteros, Erika McCarden, Lizze Slocum, and ad artist par excellence Devon Pettengill. Thanks to our regular photographic contributors: Steve Gerow, Bill Westphal, Gary Altadena, Chris Considine.
We need more columns from Michele Zack!
And thank you to our readers, who pushed us over the 2 million pageview threshhold this year.
We love this work. We love Altadena!