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(June 2, 2004)

        Once upon a time, there was a nice West L.A. neighborhood.
       A man from Iran came to the nice neighborhood, and raised his family in a little home there. The neighborhood was very good to him, as was the United States, his adopted country. The man became successful and wealthy, and eventually moved to an even nicer, more expensive neighborhood.
        Before leaving his old haunts, though, the man noticed that there were four houses forming a perfect square extending from one street on the south to another on the north. Hmmm, he thought, if I could buy these four houses, I could build lots and lots of ridiculously overpriced condominiums there, and, as they say in real estate and war, "make a killing."
        The man is about to do exactly that. He's about to kill a great big chunk of the very neighborhood that was once so nice to him!
        What a way to pay back your old stomping ground!
        What a way to pay back your adopted country!
       I don't know what the man would say to such comments, but I expect it would be things like "This is what makes America great" and "Free enterprise!" and "Times change."
        After all, the man doesn't have to live in the neighborhood any more. He doesn't have to look at a gigantic ugly condo hive full of $800,000 boxes--- $800,000!---that will block out the sun. He doesn't have to put up with the increased noise, population, traffic, and pressure to find street parking.
        I do, though. I live in the man's old neighborhood.
Now if this were Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, all the residents would have happily united behind these requests, shaking hands and saying "Good work, neighbor!" and "Good that we take care of each other!"
        The man's name is not important, because there are many like him all over Los Angeles. They prowl about like wolves seeking sick animals, waiting for houses to die. Or rather, as is often the case, their occupants. (The man waited patiently for years for the last elderly resident in the last of the four homes to go to heaven!) Then they move in, slavering, dismembering the carcasses, replacing them with ugly monoliths---and "make a killing."
        This is epidemic on the west side of L.A., as it is in Paris and many other "desirable" cities. Some call it "gentrification." I call it assassination.
        But there is nothing to be done about it. Trying to stop people from making money is like trying to stop Michael Jackson from getting a new chin. The popular cliché, "he would sell his own grandmother," exists for a reason.
       No, I cannot stop this man from razing four lovely old westside houses and building 18 or 20 habitation boxes, stacked atop one another. Neither can the neighborhood, although many of its members nobly, naively attended public hearings about the new condo hive. The man also attended. Yes, he was there in his fine suit, shoes worth hundreds of dollars, glinting teeth. And he was a handsome man, with chiseled features and a degree of charm that evidently had so impressed the city zoning official on hand that she kissed the man on arrival!
        Wow! Now that's what I call clout!
        After all, the city zoning official didn't kiss a single neighborhood resident. But then, why should she have? They were workaday folks, many of them elderly and not too kissable, really. And none of them were building a multi-million-dollar hive.
        Well, the noble, naïve neighbors asked their little questions, and the man apparently found them so silly that he sometimes could not restrain a smirk, even an outright laugh. This hearing was, after all, a formality. A little inconvenience on a Monday night. Another step toward becoming even more fabulously wealthy than America had already enabled him to become.
The man was matched in terms of chicanery and deceit by the very neighborhood residents he had bullied into submission!

        At the meeting, it was demonstrated that the hive, as expected, would essentially take up almost every square inch of space on the lot spanning the two streets. There would be the minimal amount of required greenery, "visitor parking," etc. Of course, this was all put in terms that made everything seem very grand and generous, which is what wolves---I mean, developers---do so well. And soon most of the residents were smiling and nodding, to show how nice and accomodating they were.
        No wonder they were nice! When one obviously deranged maverick upstart resident dared to raise the idea of stopping the condo hive, or limiting it, why, the man just made it clear that he could instead build an even bigger apartment building, with many, many more units! Which would create much, much more density, population, traffic, and parking problems! He was being considerate to the neighborhood, he said, by putting up a limited number of $800,000 condos on the lot.
        What a benefactor!
        Now you might think the point of writing this is to prove that the man is uncaring, exploitive, venal, callous, arrogant---that he is a very bad man, indeed!
        You would be only partly correct.
        The man was matched in terms of self-interest by the very neighborhood residents he had bullied into submission! I explain:
        Because the gigantic hive would span two streets, some residents wanted it to have driveway access on each street---thus distributing the traffic more evenly, and preventing one street from bearing the brunt of increased density, and so on. These residents also wanted the man to put in two levels of parking instead of just one, in order that his tenants have sufficient spaces and would not be forced to compete with the neighbors for already crunched street parking.
        Now if this were Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, all the neighbors would have happily united behind these requests, shaking hands and saying "Good work, neighbor!" and "Good that we take care of each other!" But what do you think happened? That's right--- NIMBY! The neighbors on Street B did not want a driveway distributing traffic in their part of the neighborhood, preferring that neighbors on Street A shoulder this burden entirely.
        Of course, the Street B neighbors didn't say this outright---in fact, they didn't say anything at all t the meeting when the request for two driveways was made! Why? Because they had conspired in advance to remain silent on this issue! To show it zero support! They had their house in order, their ducks in a row, their chickens counted!
        Guess I'll never let anyone from Street B borrow a cup of sugar again!
        Even more irksome was how the Street B folk smiled at the man and shook his hand! Why, you'd think they were dear old friends, and exchanged gifts on holidays.
        What's more, the leader of the Street B people---a smiley little woman who professes to be a champion of the neighborhood---actually argued against the dual access, and the extra level of parking! Why? Because she said this would cost the man extra money! Now that's compassion---worrying about the finances of someone who is perhaps 50 times wealthier than you are!
        Well, in the end, whaddya know, it seems that someone circulated a petition to Street A people to pressure the zoning department to pressure the man to put in an extra level of parking, and street access on both Streets A & B.
        Of course, this petition has about as much chance of succeeding as the man has of suddenly appreciating the great gift given to him by this country, and by his former neighborhood.
        Or of the neighbors on Street B learning to walk upright, and get shoes to fit their hooves.
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