Thirty-seven years ago two brothers from Northern Mexico, Armando and Leonardo Lopez, opened their first nightclub in a former dance studio at 831 South La Brea Avenue. They named their establishment Leonardo’s and built a large clientele of working-class Mexican and Latin Americans seeking the live music, dancing, and food of their homeland. The Lopez brothers answered a demand that led them to expand to 12 Leonardo’s nightclubs from Downtown L.A. to Oxnard to Lancaster. Several years ago the brothers went their seperate ways and Armando took ownership of the flagship La Brea Avenue club while Leonardo took possession of property across the street to develop a retail center. And this is where Armando’s daughter, Maria Lopez, enters the picture. A graduate of Cal State Northridge with a major in International Business, Maria had a plan to realize the full potential of the popular nightspot. She wanted to preserve its existing customer base while expanding its appeal to the residents of the Miracle Mile. But first she had a major obstacle to overcome. “We’ve always been a family business,” she explained. “All of my brothers and cousins grew up working here, but the girls not so much. It was a very Mexican business; the men ran it. I was the first to challenge that.” Her father’s traditional ways were no match for Maria’s intelligence, charm, and energy. Seven years ago she became actively involved in the business. When asked if her father is easy to work with, Maria replied: “It’s a hard balance between the old school and the new school. But I think he trusts me now. I’ve proven myself.” Maria’s first innovation was the creation of Candela Taco Bar & Lounge, “The intention behind Candela was to build a bridge between our Miracle Mile neighborhood and our traditional Mexican-American nightclub business.” The restaurant’s success launched an expansion into catering and hosting a wide array of functions for local businesses and organizations. What used to be a predominantly Mexican-American nightclub that was only open on weekend evenings is now a dynamic, seven-days-a-week enterprise that has attracted a broad range of customers. This reinvention of the business inspired the name change from Leonardo’s to Candela – although the weekend nightclub is still commonly referred to as Leonardo’s or the La Brea nightclub. Candela Taco Bar & Lounge has earned high marks for the quality of the food, full liquor service, and its home-like feel. The popularity of $1 taco Wednesdays compelled Maria to open the restaurant at 11:30 AM on Wednesdays; the rest of the week the restaurant operates from 4 PM to midnight. “I was raised to appreciate that customer loyalty is the most important thing in this business,” she emphasized. “It’s such a fine line between growing a business and honoring our long-time patrons.” This continuing customer loyalty is very evident given the popularity of “Tango Tuesdays” and the many hundreds of nightclub patrons dancing every weekend to the live music of popular Mexican and Latin American performers. Maria grew up in Encino – a regular commute that her father still makes – but the daily demands of managing the restaurant inspired Maria to move to the Miracle Mile a year ago. “It’s changed my life in so many aspects,” she states. “I relate to my customers better because I’m a local now. I frequent other restaurants. It’s very much a neighborhood vibe around here.” In turns out that Maria was a trailblazer for another woman in her family: her mother, Consuelo Lopez. “We were very fortunate to have a stay-at-home mom when we were growing up. About four years ago, she was suffering from empty nest syndrome and she came to me and said, ‘Please, let me have a job with you.’ The kitchen is her thing. She’s been an incredible help. We develop new dishes together and she helps a lot with our catering business.” So, now Armando Lopez finds himself working side-by-side with both his daughter and his wife. But it is a wise man who can change with the times – and a lucky man to have a daughter like Maria, who knows what needs to be changed. Maria Lopez (center) with her parents, Armando and Consuelo Lopez. Candela Taco Bar & Lounge 831 S. La Brea Ave Los Angeles, CA 90036 Telephone: 323-936-0533 Website: CandelaTacoBar.com
Interview with L.A.P.D Senior Lead Officer Perry Jones
and the Wilshire Division Cyber Support Unit
The MMRA annual surveys reveal that burglary tops the list of crime concerns for Miracle Mile residents. Lately, there have been rumblings that burglaries seem to be on the increase. We decided to get the facts from the L.A.P.D. Senior Lead Officer for the area covering the Miracle Mile. Perry Jones is known for his professionalism and his strong relationships with the community. As an example of this, to accommodate the deadline of this newsletter Officer Jones came into the station on his day off for this interview and insisted on putting on his uniform for the photo that accompanies this article [below]. We met at the L.A.P.D Wilshire Division.
Officer Jones, what is a Senior Lead Officer?
A Senior Lead Officer is basically a person that is assigned to a certain geographic area in the City of Los Angeles, we’re responsible for the good and bad and indifferent. We take care of all the problems in the community and we are the liaison between the community and the police department. So, we are the ones that bridge the gap. We get the resources to fix a problem or we fix them ourselves.
How long have you been the Senior Lead Officer for the Miracle Mile area?
I’ve been at the Wilshire Division for twenty-three years and a Senior Lead Officer for the past twenty years. They re-did the geographic area about six or seven years ago and that’s when I inherited the Miracle Mile area. The Wilshire Division is divided up into nine Basic Car Areas and the Miracle Mile is in Basic Car Area 7A33 [see map below].
Is it fair to say that sometimes the perception of the crime rate seems to be in the eye of the beholder, regardless of what the actual statistics might be?
If I’m the victim of a crime, crime is at an all-time high and if I live three blocks over – and it doesn’t effect me – crime is at an all-time low. I can give you the numbers in my area, but numbers don’t mean anything to me. If I have one crime victim in my area I have a problem. I prefer to have zero crimes. So, for me to say that crime in my area is down 24% over last year is only mildly interesting if I have a crime victim on South Ridgeley. I’m not numbers driven. Having been a victim of crime myself, of burglary and car theft, I know personally what I want when someone steals from me: I want that person caught, I want them arrested, and I want my stuff back. And I want to feel safe – and that’s what we’re striving to do at Wilshire Division.
What is the truth about the crime rate in the Miracle Mile?
Overall, in Basic Car Area 7A33, we’re down 23.4% from last year. I’ve had 92 total burglaries this year, last year at this time I had 127. We’ve had a dramatic reduction in burglaries.
What do you attribute this reduction in burglaries to?
Community involvement and education. We’ve passed out close to 20,000 flyers this year about burglary prevention. We’ve been walking foot beats. We’ve been dedicating our resources to what we call our ‘dots on the map’ and when we get a cluster of dots in a particular area that’s where we devote our resources.
Do you find that burglars concentrate on a particular area where they’ve had success? Do they return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to commit more burglaries?
The easier it is to get into a home, the more visible valuables inside the home are, the more concealed it is by shrubbery, the more poorly illuminated, no alarms, no dogs, with high fences – anything that would buy more time for a burglar to break in and give them cover to get out – those are the homes that burglars target. It takes a burglar a few seconds to get inside and they’re out of your house in two-to-three minutes. That’s a lot faster than we can ever respond.
We always hear that the best defense is neighbors looking out for neighbors.
The way we catch bad guys is a combination of burglar alarms and the eyes of the neighbors. The eyes of the community have allowed us to catch a lot of bad guys this year.
How do alarm companies interface with the police department?
When your alarm goes off the alarm company contacts our dispatchers, they try to get as much information as they can, and then we get the call. It takes about three-to-four minutes. But by the time we get the call and get the helicopter overhead, the bad guy is usually gone. But when we have a neighbor that sees them going in, we get that call quicker than we get a call from an alarm company. The neighbor can give us a description of the suspect. That’s the kind of call we look for. We have a much better chance of getting that guy.
So, residents shouldn’t hesitate calling the police, even if they’re not certain if a crime is being committed?
Anytime you sense something is suspicious or out of the ordinary it never hurts to call us. If we show up and catch a bad guy, wonderful. If we show up and nothing bad is going on, that’s wonderful, too. It gets people in the habit of communicating with the police department and that deters a lot of crime. And knowing your neighbors and looking out for each other is the best determent against crime.
Would it be useful if residents included surveillance cameras in their security systems?
Cameras are very, very helpful for us – particularly if they’re placed in the right positions on the exterior and interior of the property. The first thing we do in an investigation is look for video footage.
How important is having an inventory of your possessions if you are burglarized?
Keep it all: serial numbers, photographs, receipts – anything that helps to identify your personal property. We recover a lot of things, but we need documentation to link it back to you. We recover an enormous number of bikes, but we don’t know who they belong to, because the owners didn’t know the serial numbers. I’ll stop a guy with seven iPads in his backpack and I know they’re stolen, I’ll run the serial numbers, but they come back clean because the folks they were stolen from didn’t have the serial numbers when the reports were made.
What should people do if they come home and they see that their residence has been broken into?
Call 911. Don’t go inside or you could become a victim of more than just a burglary. Call us. Let us do our job. Our number one priority is protecting life. Let us come and clear the property and make sure the bad guy is gone and that you’re safe. If you go in and check it out yourself and then call us, well, then it’s just a reporting call for us and it might take us some time to get there depending on how busy we are. We protect people first and property second. Don’t clear your home yourself; let us do it.
From what I understand, vehicle burglaries seem to be, by and large, crimes of opportunity. People tempt smash-and-grab thefts by leaving smartphones or laptops in plain view.
Numerous times walking through the Miracle Mile I have seen people who have left their smartphones inside their cars plugged into their chargers with the cord leading to the console or under the seat. The thief sees that cord and thinks: ‘I’ll take a chance breaking into this car.’
[Accompanying Officer Jones to the interview were Officers Robert Davenport and Joe Armstrong with the Wilshire Division Cyber Support Unit; the interview continues:]
Officer Davenport and Officer Armstrong, what are your assignments with the L.A.P.D?
Armstrong: We are the Cyber Support Unit for the Wilshire Division. The unit has been around for about two years. We are tasked with monitoring social media. Each L.A.P.D. division has their own social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We disperse important information to the public
Davenport: We try to get the pulse of the community and to support the community and the businesses. We don’t just do crime prevention tips, we also want to let everyone know that Officer Jones is out there meeting with the community, that he’s available to the community. That we’re not just guys in uniforms who only care about placing people under arrest. We live in this community. Social media gives us a chance to demonstrate that we are human and that we’re just trying to help people navigate through their day.
It seems that what the Cyber Support Unit is doing is extending the principles of community based policing into the 21st Century.
Davenport: Yes, our problem was that the police department was slightly behind the times because the digital revolution came on so fast. When Captain Leslie first came onboard he promised that Wilshire Division would have a larger footprint in the social media world and when Officer Armstrong joined us he challenged us to do that. He created a website for the Wilshire Division and we’re the first division in L.A.P.D to have our own website. He also created a phone app for Android and iPhones. We’re the first to do that as well.
Armstrong: We have about 7,000 followers on our Twitter account. We have an Instagram account – people like to have photos. We have a Facebook account and we’ve started creating videos for our Vimeo account.
Davenport: If you repeat the same message over and over it becomes dull. The unique thing we do is to try to keep it fun as well as informative. We keep it interactive with maps and a community events calendar. It provides the community with a digital forum where they can talk to us.
Armstrong: Wilshire Division has a smartphone application available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Search for “LAPD Wilshire” on either store and you can download it for free.
Los Angeles Police Department, Wilshire Division
4861 West Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019
The Council District 4 Players Guide
A message from James O’Sullivan, MMRA President
Abbott: Strange as it may seem, ballplayers nowadays have very peculiar names.
Costello: Funny names?
Abbott: Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the St. Louis team we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.
Costello: That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the St. Louis team.
Abbott: I’m telling you. Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third…
Don’t look now but we are less than two months away from electing a new Councilmember for Council District 4, which includes the Miracle Mile. Do you have any idea who you will vote for? How many of you reading this right now can name more than a couple of the 14 certified candidates? To be honest with you, having followed this stuff closely, even I am challenged to name more than a handful. That should change soon as yard signs start popping up and our mailboxes are stuffed with campaign flyers.
Conventional wisdom has it that none of these candidates for CD 4 will win a majority of votes in the March 3rd primary – resetting the clock for a May 19th runoff between the top two contenders, but I’m not sure about that. Several candidates have already raised some serious money and more will be collected before the primary ends. City matching funds will add $50,000 to $100,000 to each candidate that qualifies, but someone could decide to self-finance – which would blow the lid off and throw conventional wisdom out the window.
Trying to find the best candidate by reading their comments and pledges in newspapers (the few statements that can be found) hasn’t been very helpful so far. Even a search for their positions on their websites (which many don’t have yet) is an exercise in frustration. Candidates know that the average person wants their streets and sidewalks fixed, their trees trimmed, and adequate police and fire protection, so they promise to deliver those things. The obvious, boilerplate promises; there’s nothing new here.
The problem is that most of their promises – boilerplate or otherwise – are beyond their ability to deliver. Most of the things being promised – protecting neighborhoods; alleviating traffic congestion; solving pension and healthcare issues; bringing film and TV production back to L.A.; adding more bike lanes; and a whole laundry list of other items – require the approval of 14 other council members to get done.
Once elected, our new councilmember will be introduced to the odd and uniquely L.A. political process that delivers unanimous council votes almost 100% of the time. Individuality is not encouraged on the City Council. It’s a go-along-to-get-along sort of place. But each Councilmember does wield considerable control over their district and related funds. This is where real issues arise and hard questions need to be asked.
Recently, a hubbub arose when the LA Times reported that Councilman Tom LaBonge was sponsoring an 80th birthday party for Elvis Presley at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood. Unsubstantiated rumors quickly went viral about funding attached to this sponsorship, prompting many to wonder if those funds couldn’t be put to better use – like repairing a root-damaged sidewalk?
My interest in this issue led me to do a search of funds controlled by CD 4. That search yielded results that were as clear as mud.
A question I would like each CD 4 candidate to answer is this: Will you frequently post online simple-to-read reports detailing where the money under your control comes from, where it is goes, and who it benefits?
Many hundreds-of-thousands of dollars are transferred into – and out of – these funds to pay for a variety of things and I can’t figure out what the hell is going on. Many of the expenditures may well be for things that really benefit the community, but it would be nice to know that with some certainty.
The well-worn issue of accepting campaign contributions from real estate developers recently took a turn toward the ludicrous with the candidates parsing which are the good developers (the small ones) and which are the bad developers (the large ones) – as if virtue could be measured by square footage. One candidate even made the classic error in a debate by saying he would never take money from a developer…after he already had. Of course, he then returned the contribution post haste.
While campaign contributions are not a big issue for me, I understand why many voters are concerned. For years we have watched money from developers flood political races while noticing that the doors to City Hall are held wide open to every real estate project that crosses the threshold. Conversely, many residents who feel that their neighborhoods are under siege find the welcome mat is not rolled out for them.
It would help ease the perception of impropriety between political contributions and project approvals if the playing field were leveled. One key means to achieve this would be for each candidate to pledge complete transparency. If elected they would:
- Immediately disclose whenever their office is approached about a development project in CD 4, whether by the developer or any person or group representing the developer. This information should be posted on the council website and the Neighborhood Councils and homeowners/residential groups should be promptly notified about the project, from its conception.
- Disclose any follow up meetings with the Councilmember or staff regarding the project. All too often projects gallop out of the starting gate without the community’s knowledge.
And speaking of knowledge as power:
- Advocacy groups are constantly meeting with the Planning Department and LADOT on issues – from bike lanes to rewriting the zoning code – and the public is left out in the cold. Any changes contemplated in CD 4 should be clearly and concisely posted on the Council website. There should be full disclosure in real time so that everyone is informed.
Would a CD 4 candidate who agreed to do all of the above get my vote? Yes, if they also agreed to:
- Faithfully follow the policies for decision makers as outlined in each Community Plan in CD 4, as well as in the Framework Element.
- Require the City to officially document and demonstrate that the infrastructure in the area of the contemplated project is not threatened in relation to user needs. This would include particularly critical services, such as water and sewerage, as well as public schools, police and fire services, and transportation infrastructure.
My point is, I don’t want promises, I want answers – and so should you.
Large Turn Out at January 10th Meeting
Approximately 100 residents attended the Miracle Mile Historic Protection Overlay Zone [HPOZ] Meeting on January 10th at Candela/Leonardo’s Night Club. Sponsored by the Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] and hosted by Mark Zecca, MMRA board member and chairperson of the HPOZ committee, the meeting featured a panel composed of Shannon Ryan from the L.A. Office of Historic Resources-HPOZ Unit and Robbie O’Donnell, a founder of the Wilshire Park HPOZ.
Last May the MMRA board of directors created an HPOZ committee to do fact-finding, gather the input of residents and property owners, and report on how an HPOZ might be designed and implemented. The board’s action was sparked by the spread of mansionization into the Miracle Mile.
The HPOZ committee conducted a series of informal meetings with residents and consulted with experts – including Michelle Levy, head of the HPOZ Unit at the Department of City Planning, and Katie Horak, Senior Associate with Architectural Resources Group, Inc.
The committee also launched an online poll [MMRA Mansionization-RFA-HPOZ Survey] to gauge community support. At the November 2014 MMRA Annual Meeting, which was attended by over 130 residents, a large showing of hands demonstrated interest in pursuing HPOZ protection for the Miracle Mile.
After months of research, outreach, and preparation, the HPOZ committee presented its findings to the community at the January 10th meeting. The advantages and disadvantages of an HPOZ were discussed in detail in a question and answer session following the opening presentation.
The meeting was videotaped and posted in two parts on the MMRA Channel on YouTube. Residents who did not attend the January 10th meeting are encouraged to view the meeting on YouTube. It offers a comprehensive examination of the benefits of HPOZ to our community and honestly examines the impact on property owners – and does so at greater length than can be recounted in this newsletter.
The residents attending the January 10th meeting demonstrated nearly unanimous support for seeking HPOZ status. This support is also reflected in the results of the online survey. As a result, the HPOZ committee will recommend to the MMRA board of directors at its February 5th meeting that the HPOZ application process be initiated and a motion to that effect will be introduced for adoption by the board.
The HPOZ committee will be holding a series of future community meetings to iron out the many details involved in creating an HPOZ: boundaries, design guidelines, financing the required architectural review, etc. For the latest updates and additional information visit the “HPOZ & RFA Info” page on the MMRA website: MiracleMileLA.com.