Miracle Mile Spotlight: Miracle Mile Toys & Games

[From the April 2014 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter.]

Miracle Mile Spotlight:

Miracle Mile Toys & Games

As a child Christine Johnson must have been a very skilled curator of toys and games, because her shop contains a fantastic collection of quality merchandise. It is obvious that every item has been thoughtfully selected. Her eye for detail is readily apparent, from the custom-made shelves to the second-floor play area. Christine is a student of fun with a keen insight into children and what entertains them (and adults, too…).

Christine is a bright and personable woman with a very focused and pragmatic approach to business and community. She grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and moved to Massachusetts when she was 13. A graduate of Wellesley College, she married an attorney who had family and a twin brother living in Southern California.  So, after college she and her husband came west and, in time, settled into a home on South Ridgeley Avenue in the Miracle Mile. They sold the house last summer and now live in an apartment on Wilshire in Koreatown. “Which I like a lot, it’s bigger,” says Christine – space is imperative with three children under the age of 10.

Christine was drawn to brick-and-mortar retailing because: “ I like the idea of touching a product and selling a real product to a real person. And I think it’s important for the community to have those kinds of businesses here, because that’s what makes a community: interaction.”

Although the store has a website, she doesn’t sell online. “You don’t get the same community feeling if you don’t go into a store once in awhile – especially with toys. When you’re online buying toys you’re seeing an abstract of what everybody likes, you’re going to see the things that everybody buys. You can sort by most popular, best reviewed, but you’re not necessarily going to find little gems. Or something that might have gotten slammed in a couple of reviews but happens be a really fine product.”

Although Christine has placed ads in local papers she has found that the best advertising is word of mouth from moms and dads. “We do a lot on Facebook and Instagram has been really good for us. I post pictures of what’s happening in the store or a cute new product and people find it by the hash-tag.”

When asked about the impact of the impending subway construction on small businesses along Wilshire, Christine was blunt: “That is going to be chaos. It’s going to be dirty, noisy, messy. They [Metro] can definitely communicate better with businesses and residents. They’re not doing well with that at all. Nobody really knows what’s happening or when. I can’t plan my business if they’re not giving me any more details. But I came into it knowing all this. I opened the business knowing that Metro was coming. That’s why I picked this spot. And I knew it was going to be hell – for nine years, potentially. And I’ve never been naïve about the challenges.”

She commented that subway construction will diminish already limited parking for merchants and restaurants in the Miracle Mile. Her store has no off-street parking and is dependent on the metered parking on Wilshire. “I’m sure it’s a barrier for some people, I’m sure I’m missing people who maybe found me online, then drive through the area and decide not to stop. But most of my customers walk here or live within a few blocks. And I’m able to sustain the business with that level of locality. I think the business will be able to continue based on my ‘local love’ – fingers crossed.”

Christine [photo, right] is optimistic that others like her will take the plunge and start new businesses in the Miracle Mile. “I have customers who come in – and it’s inspiring, I guess, for them to see a new business like this. They have their own dreams about their own business and they ask me all kinds of questions: how did you do it, how do you manage it, how do you do it with three kids? Starting a business for some people seems absolutely daunting. It is emotionally daunting. But if you can get past the emotional aspect of it, it’s a nine-to-five job –okay, maybe it’s eight to midnight.”

By the way, Christine doesn’t sell toy guns – but she remarked, “I finally caved and got water guns, but they’re behind the register. You have to ask for them,” she laughed.

 

 

Miracle Mile Toys & Games
5363 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
310-651-1414
Hours: 10 AM–6 PM, Every Day
www.miraclemiletoys.com
Facebook

[Note: The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle – for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.]

Miracle Mile Spotlight: Rascal

[From the May 2014 edition of the Miracle Mile Residential Association Newsletter:]

Miracle Mile Spotlight:

Rascal

For many years one restaurant after another cycled through the single story building on the southwest corner of La Brea and 8th Street. The location seemed jinxed – but not to Miracle Mile residents Sandy and Rebecca Clark [photo below]. They saw good bones: exposed brick interior walls, large windows, and an ideal spot for a neighborhood restaurant.

So in 2011 they decided to test their intuition and years of experience in the restaurant business and they opened Rascal. The restaurant almost instantly became a local favorite known for its welcoming atmosphere and great food.

Which begs the question: what is the secret in creating a successful neighborhood joint?

“A huge part of that is staff,” answers Rebecca. “Our philosophy is that we hire for personalities more than experience. We want interesting people, people that travel and are educated – and have all those things going for them.”

“We have no attitude,” adds Sandy, who was the wine buyer for the Chaya restaurants for many years. “Here you can sit where you want, if you don’t like your food you can send it back, here’s a top off. It’s like hosting a party at your home, basically.”

“We really wanted to get to know our neighbors and have a presence in the neighborhood,” Rebecca offers. “Once a month we like to do a fundraising night. We prefer it to be for a local charity. It’s great for us because it brings us new customers and then we give 20 percent of the proceeds to that charity.”

Charity is close to Rebecca’s heart, her “day job” for almost 12 years is with Heart of Los Angeles, a non-profit community center that provides underserved youth with exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics aimed at getting kids into college.

Sandy runs the restaurant and Rebecca handles public relations and the books. But they both agree that being in the restaurant business is as much a lifestyle as it is an occupation – particularly at an establishment that’s open seven nights a week. One of their New Year’s resolutions is to take a vacation this year, something they haven’t done since they opened.

They are optimistic that they might be able to get out of town since the arrival of Chef Andy Lee [photo right], who joined them last October. His culinary skills and knack for organization are key ingredients in the restaurant’s continuing success. Chef Lee is enthusiastic about the advantages of creating dishes for a 50-seat establishment. “For me it’s my dream job,” he says. “I get to touch everything, see everything, and the feedback from the customer is immediate.”

When you have a lot of regulars there are favorite dishes that they always expect – at Rascal it’s the fried chicken, hamburgers, and Brussels sprouts. “One night Andy made the chicken nuggets into a sandwich and so we ran it as a little special,” Rebecca explains. “Then we tried to take it off the menu and our regulars were like ‘no way’ and we had to keep it.”

Their compact kitchen limits the number of items on the menu. “Our magical number right now is eight appetizers and eight entrees,” says Chef Lee. “We change our menu every three or so weeks. It’s a subtle flow. We’re all about what we can do to make a dish better. So, although there are certain familiar dishes, they are always evolving.”

Sandy and Rebecca recently added three outdoor tables and just received approval of a full liquor license. They have always served wine and craft beers and now will be able to offer customers a cocktail with their meal. “But we do not want a rowdy liquor crowd,” Sandy states. He takes pride in their house wines. “There’s a real art to buying inexpensive wines that taste great that you don’t have to charge so much for. At most restaurants the wine buyers are too lazy to do that.”

Sunday “Game Nights” have become a fun attraction for families – you can dine while playing your favorite board games and card games. “That is what makes this so neighborhood,” remarked Chef Lee. “You’re not going to see that at other big restaurants.”

They offer valet parking but say that almost 70 percent of the customers walk to the restaurant, which is further evidence of Rascal’s genuine connection to the neighborhood.

“The funny thing, too, is that I think that L.A. being a city of transplants, so many people walk in here and say ‘This is just like my favorite place in Boston or Chicago or Seattle.’ It just has that feeling of familiarity,” Rebecca says.

“It’s nice to work where you live and live where you work,” Sandy concluded.

Maybe that’s the real secret to a great neighborhood joint: having proprietors like Rebecca and Sandy Clark.

Rascal
801 South La Brea Ave.
(323) 933-3229
Hours:
5 PM-11 PM Monday-Saturday
5 PM-10PM Sunday
rascalla.com

Photo credits: Chef Andy Lee, courtesy of ladinenclub.com; other images courtesy of Rascal.

The MMRA newsletter does not solicit or accept advertisements. Our support of local businesses is a matter of principle ­– for which we receive no financial compensation or consideration of any kind.

2003 vs. 2011 Infrastructure Report Card

“Shut up. We are busy.”
A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President
On April 14, the day it hit the iceberg, the Titanic received seven heavy ice warnings, including one from the Californian less than an hour before the fateful collision. The message said: “We are stopped and surrounded by ice.” Titanic sent back a message that said, “Shut up. We are busy.” – Seth Borenstein

Over 90 percent of an iceberg is underwater. It is a simple but sometimes treacherous fact. Deteriorating infrastructure is Los Angele’s iceberg. Every day we deal with potholed streets that flatten tires and buckled sidewalks that break arms. Trees go untrimmed, alleys fill with refuse, ageing water mains fracture, and two-thirds of our streets go without a weekly cleaning. But that is only what we see: the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

What many people are also not aware of – unless they have direct dealings with City Hall – is the continual diminishment of municipal services across a broad spectrum. Early this year the residents of the 700 block of South Genesee Avenue in the Miracle Mile applied to the City to limit parking on their block to permit holders only. This block has older apartment buildings with little or no off-street parking and its proximity to a popular gym and Museum Row had driven the residents to the breaking point. They obtained the necessary majority of signatures, had their petition vetted, and celebrated when it was approved. Parking relief had finally arrived. But then they learned that it would take eight to nine months for eight new parking signs to be installed. Eight to nine months?

The reason for the delay: the City’s street sign department has been so decimated by budget cuts that they are down to a skeleton crew and buried with backorders.

Is this a trivial example of how city services are falling ever further behind? It probably is to the people who wait months to have a burned out street lamp replaced or years for curb-cuts at their intersection.

But from the trivial to the profound, every City department is failing to provide adequate service to the residents and businesses of Los Angeles. Yet, like the Titanic speeding across the North Atlantic, the City ignores basic services while it rushes to approve new developments – one after another – without regard to the impact these projects will have on our crumbling infrastructure.

In a 2009 audit of the City’s Capital Improvement Program then City Controller Laura Chick concluded: “…that the City of Los Angeles does not have a citywide capital improvement program and capital budgeting process to adequately identify capital and major equipment needs, plan for solutions and necessary improvements, fund and approve its capital projects.”

In other words, the City is sailing without a chart – and has been for a long time.

Until recently it has been impossible to know the true condition of our infrastructure, but a recent Public Records Act request by the organizationFix the City yielded a never-before-seen 2010/2011 “Infrastructure Report Card” that appears to have never been released.

The report card looks like this:

But this 2010/2011 report card only tells part of the story about our failing infrastructure. When compared with a 2003 “Infrastructure Report Card”prepared for then Mayor Hahn the results are devastating. It not only shows that many of these grades have gone down since 2003, but it also reveals that much of the money required to fix our infrastructure was neither secured nor spent at that time.  Now in 2014 the amounts needed to repair our infrastructure have almost doubled and the cupboards are bare.

Also, several critical aspects of the City’s infrastructure covered in 2003 report card were not even mentioned in 2010/2011 report card: water, power systems, telecommunications, airports, public buildings, parks and the Port of Los Angeles. It’s as if the City wishes to “drop a course” to avoid a failing grade. But these items are conspicuous in their absence.

So, what do these report cards say about the City? A quote from the recently released 2020 Commission report says it best: “Los Angeles is sinking into a future in which it no longer can provide the public services to which our people’s taxes entitle them and where the promises made to public employees about a decent and secure retirement simply cannot be kept. City revenues are in long-term stagnation and expenses are climbing. Year by year, our City – which once was a beacon of innovation and opportunity to the world – is becoming less livable.”And what was City Hall’s reply to the 2020 Commission? Basically, their response has been: “Shut up. We are busy.”

Mansionization–RFA–HPOZ Survey

Mansionization–RFA–HPOZ Survey

Click on map to enlarge.

The mandate of the MMRA board of directors is to represent the will of our residents. Good communication between the board and the residents is critical to this mission. Although informal and far from scientifically accurate, surveys help the board gauge the general opinions and attitudes of the community. 

Topics like mansionization, Reduced Floor Area Districts, and Historic Protection Overlay Zones can provoke strong and often heated responses. Even though we are very early in the exploratory stages of what our response should be – or should not be – to mansionization, we felt that we should emphasize that this will be a two-way conversation between the board and the residents from the start.

So, please, take a few minutes to complete this survey – there are only 17 questions and you will also have the opportunity to make general comments. All MMRA residents, property owners and renters, may participate [see map above to determine whether you live or own property within our boundaries].

We utilize SurveyMonkey for our polls; it is a secure and simple way to gather your input. Poll participants are completly anonymous and your honesty is welcomed. Just click on this link:

Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey

 

Mansionization Threatens Miracle Mile

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Mansionization Threatens Miracle Mile

MMRA Board Creates an HPOZ Committee
And Considers Other Options

Mansionization is very much in the news these days [see links below]. The issue is especially relevant to the residents of South Ridgeley Drive where a circa-1920s home was sold and then quickly demolished to make way for construction of what appears to be a much larger residence that will overwhelm the existing houses.

In a recent front page article the Los Angeles Times reported that “…as the housing market rebounds and construction picks up, many homeowners complain that “mansionization” has revved up — reigniting long-standing policy battles and sometimes bitter fence fights over the face and feel of L.A.’s neighborhoods.”

The Baseline Mansionization Ordinance [BMO] passed in 2008 was aimed at stopping “super-sized” home construction in L.A. But developers have been able to easily exploit loopholes in the ordinance by manipulating bonuses for environmentally friendly construction techniques or excluding up to 400 square feet for a garage from the overall limits on floor space. These and other “tricks of the trade” have nullified the purpose of the ordinance: to preserve the character and protect the scale of well-established residential neighborhoods.

Last year the Beverly Grove community, which has been a battleground over McMansions, succeeded in creating a “Restricted Floor Area District” [RFA] to plug the loopholes in the BMO. An RFA limits the maximum base floor area ratio and related bonuses for new construction and remodeling of existing homes.

Since the passage of the BMO in 2008, 58 out of 690 single-family homes in the Beverly Grove area have either been demolished or remodeled in a manner that was out of scale and character with the neighborhood [photo right]. Fifth District Councilman Paul Kortez, in a letter supporting the RFA, wrote: “A large bulky home towering over an adjacent modest historic home can result in a loss of sunlight and privacy as well as a reduction in appeal and property values.”

The Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] believes that the simplest and fastest remedy to this problem is for the city council to eliminate the obvious loopholes in the existing Baseline Mansionization Ordinance. But well-heeled real estate investors and developers have a vested interest in thwarting or delaying such action. So far, they seem to have the upper hand and communities like the Miracle Mile are left without a ready defense against mansionization.

This is why the MMRA is evaluating the only other options available: the creation of either a RFA or a Historic Protection Overlay District [HPOZ].  Both of these options have their advantages and disadvantages and neither would offer a quick solution to this problem.

At the May 2, 2014 MMRA board of directors meeting a motion was unanimously approved to create a committee to explore HPOZ protection for the Miracle Mile. The committee was instructed to do fact-finding, seek the input of residents and property owners, and report on how a HPOZ might be designed and implemented.

The MMRA board was briefed by Michelle Levy, head of the HPOZ unit at the Los Angeles Department of Planning, on what is involved with creating an HPOZ and what protections it provides to a community. The city has 30 HPOZ zones with an additional 16 neighborhoods at different points in the process of seeking HPOZ status.

Unfortunately, because of staffing cutbacks to the Planning Department, approval of new HPOZs are in limbo. Just this week the Los Angeles Timeseditorialized that because of mansionization the city council “needs to fund these positions or run the risk that some of those aspiring historic districts won’t have enough historic properties left to qualify.”

Levy explained that the first step in becoming a historic district is to establish the boundaries of the proposed area. An HPOZ adds historic development standards strictly dealing with design to the existing zoning regulations, whether it be a single family, multiple family, or commercial zone. These standards require that any alteration to the façade of a historic property would be subject to review for conformance with the adopted preservation plan. The preservation plan is developed by the community to establish the guidelines for how properties within its boundaries can be altered and/or developed. The overall goal of an HPOZ is to preserve historic buildings and prevent mansionization and other new development that is incompatible with the surrounding properties.

Levy stressed that outreach to property owners is critical to establish whether or not there is consensus to create an HPOZ. Widespread support will be needed as the community usually funds the expense of having a block-by-block historic field survey performed to identify “contributing” and “non-contributing” structures, which determines whether a particular building is subject to the full weight of the preservation plan or not. The historic survey is a very important component and informs the foundation of the historic district. The City is looking for 60 to 75 percent “contributing” structures [intact historical properties] within the HPOZ.

By its very nature the creation and implementation of an HPOZ is an exacting and complicated process. We encourage residents to review the links below to educate themselves on the subject.

Obviously, mansionization is a controversial matter – as is creating either an RFA or HPOZ to combat it. The MMRA is a consensus-based organization. We are committed to effective outreach whether it be via this newsletter, our website, door-to-door canvassing, or informal surveys [see below]. We welcome your input and participation in the discussion regarding the pros and cons of implementing a RFA or HPOZ in the Miracle Mile. You can contact the Executive Committee or HPOZ Committee at:

info@MiracleMileLA.com.

Photo credits: Top, Adrian Scott Fine, courtesy of the Los Angeles Conservancy; middle: Aaron Blevins, courtesy of the Park La Brea News/Beverly Press; bottom: courtesy of Office of Historic Resources, City of Los Angeles.

News media links:

Los Angeles Times: Return of ‘mansionization’ has some L.A. homeowners grumbling

Los Angeles Times: L.A. is bogged down in trying to save its historic structures

Los Angeles Times: What McMansions say about Americans

Baseline Mansionization Ordinance links:

Los Angeles Department of City Planning: Baseline Mansionization Ordinance Summary

CityWatchLA.com: L.A. Mansionization: the More You Stir It, the More It Stinks

CityWatchLA.com: It’s Time to Fix the Citywide Ordinance Intended to Stop the Mansionization in L.A.

Reduced Floor Area District links:

Beverly Grove Reduced Floor Area District Ordinance

CityWatchLA.com: Koretz Gets Formal Request to End North Beverly Grove Mansionization

CityWatchLA.com: One More L.A. Neighborhood On the Verge of Being Saved from Mansionization

Historical Protection Overlay Zone links:

Los Angeles Department of City Planning: HPOZ Brochure and Historic Rehabilitation Guide

PreserveLA.com: FAQ: Los Angeles HPOZs