As far as I’m concerned Antonio Villaraigosa walled himself off from me way back a few months before his first election in 2005. First he started posting election signs that phonetically spelled out the pronunciation of his last name (ELECT Vee-ahh-ray-go-sah!) to help educate those who were obviously having trouble wrapping their tongues around that contrived conjunction of his and his then-wife’s last name. Shortly after that, he led me to vote for Hahn when he decided to pander to the animal activist vote and kneejerkedly blurt out his support for closing the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo, as if that’d be the most important order of city business to get to the moment after being sworn in.
Then came all his missteps and failures and that silly affair with that TV news reporter and the divorce and more missteps and more failures, which just built the divide between him and me all that much thicker and higher.
In fairness, the wall came down a bit shortly after his re-election when I’m guessing his Hummer-lovin’ transportation deputy Jaime de la Vega had someone phonetically spell out “bicycle” (bye-sea-cull) for ‘Tonio and after practicing it diligently he actually said the word publicly for the first time. Shortly after that revelation someone got a picture of him astride a borrowed fixed-gear at a community event in Baldwin Hills, and that endeared
me him a little more to him me. Then, as we all know, that high was followed by the low of him pedaling along Venice Boulevard where he took a bone-breaking tumble trying to avoid an inattentive cab driver. But from that near-disaster came his understanding that supporting bikes on the streets and cyclists’ rights to safely ride them there would be a lot easier and more positive a pet project than, say, taking over the school system or running for governor, or spending more time out of the state campaigning for a presidential candidate, or dating other local news reporters… well, scratch that last one.
And my belabored point is? Belabored more after the jump.
As if all that figurative barrier building wasn’t enough, now comes the news from LA Curbed that the mayor’s building a literal wall around his temporary home – the official mayoral residence, known as Getty House in Hancock Park. In February he put in a request to the Department of City Planning for a variance from the 42″ wall height allowed so that he could wrap the house with a 72-incher (correction: 75″, according to Park LaBrea Press). The purported logic? Security features “embedded in the wall” (probably cameras, heat-seeking missiles, poisoned darts, and an endless loop of Justin Beiber singing “Baby! Baby! Baby! Oh!”) will save taxpayer money spent on personnel. In other words he can fire the guards.
I guess my being so aghast at that enough to overwrite a blog post about it begs the question why? And to be honest, beyond the fact that the building of walls is just a stupid thing for an elected official to literally and/or figuratively endorse, my outrage can be seen as trivial. See, I have a bit of only-in-LA funky history with Getty House, thanks entirely to its lack of perimeter walls.
My first encounter with the accessible place on the corner of Sixth Street and Irving Boulevard came on my last year of trick-or-treating, Halloween night 1978. I knew it was the mayor’s home and the kids I was with thought the odds of anyone answering were pretty remote. But we decided to give it a try and marched up to the front door, me in my hobo costume. Ringing the bell, I figured at best a member of the staff might open up. To say I was surprised when Mayor Tom Bradley himself opened the door with a big smile and holding a basket of candy goodness would be an understatement, and I left with an unforgettable moment forever etched in my brain.
My second experience came about 20 years later — again unforgettable, but not for good reasons. At that time in 1997 I was working at the corner of Sixth Street and Western and on my lunchbreak I got in my car to go to the nearest ATM at Wilshire and Irving boulevards. So I headed west on Sixth to Irving and waited for traffic to clear to make a left. The problem was opposite me waiting to make a left and go north on Irving was a big Sparkletts truck that impeded my view of any oncoming eastbound traffic. Inching forward I thought the coast was clear and began my left turn only to discover in horror an oncoming Mercedes whose path I knew immediately I wasn’t going to clear. Sure enough, the sedan punched into the back end of my beloved Honda Civic four-door hard enough to spin her a full 180 degrees with just enough momentum left to roll the vehicle up onto its driver side where it stopped and stood almost as if it was all a choreographed film’s action sequence.
From such an unconventional position inside and entirely (miraculously) uninjured, I calmly turned the ignition key shutting off the frighteningly hyper-revving engine. Then I unstrapped my seatbelt, stood up, pushed up and open the passenger side front door before popping up and out of and down from the totaled car like it was a cake at a stuntmens’ convention. And I stuck the landing facing, yeah… Getty House. Its resident this time being Mayor Richard Riordan. Standing there trying to process what had just happened, one of the guards (who’ll no doubt be replaced by Villaraigosa’s wall) hustled over and asked me and the other driver if we were OK. Amazingly we both were, and I asked the guard if I could use a phone. Without hesitating he escorted me through the same front door Mayor Tom Bradley had given me Halloween candy two decades earlier and into the kitchen where I shocked my boss calling to tell her that I was going to be late returning from lunch.
I suppose if I hadn’t had those decidedly disparate personal experiences with the place, I might not really give a damn about the walling off of Getty House — or at least not so big a damn. But I also know that had a wall been there all along it would have prevented me from getting candy from one affable mayor, and getting assistance from another mayor’s security detail. Plenty of people believe that old saying about good fences making good neighbors. But this barrier Villaraigosa is getting for his last couple years living there is a bad one that cements him further to me as a bad politician.