It’s Chinatown, Jake

Photo by Ted Soqui

A tiny City News Service item in Friday’s Los Angeles Times business section told the tale. Or at least part of it: “A blighted, 32-acre railroad property northeast of downtown Los Angeles will be redeveloped into an industrial park with the help of $11.75 million in grants from the federal government, officials said.”

The story was mostly right — though according to more recent information, only 10 percent of the funding will come from grants, with the rest in federal loan guarantees. The site, known as the Chinatown Yards, sits in the crotch of the 5 and 110 freeways, and for nearly a century accommodated the freight activities of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The development deal was nurtured by Mayor Dick Riordan, and will, of course, bring new activity and industry to a previously desolate and unloved area, plus new revenues to the city. Good show for all, right?

Wrong, says Lewis MacAdams, poet, naturalist, and key figure in the benign Green revolutionary cadre known as the Friends of the Los Angeles River. FOLAR and various neighborhood groups have their own plans for the site, MacAdams says — plans that include riverside green space, affordable housing, a middle school, perhaps, and other stuff much more beneficial to the community than what MacAdams foresees as more than 30 acres of prefabricated warehouses on the eastern border of Chinatown.

The Mayor’s Office reportedly described the proposed renovation as an "industrial park," which it is hoped will lure "manufacturing, food-processing, distribution and import-export companies."

But, MacAdams contends, "This means there will be no way for Chinatown to expand, or to build a badly needed new school." He notes that all neighborhood children over the 5th-grade level already have to be bused out of the area. And presently, there’s almost no recreational land in the heavily populated Chinatown district.

What seems most to irritate MacAdams, however, is what he sees as the insider aspect of the deal. The near $12 million in federal funds didn’t go to any consortium of inner-city entrepreneurs. Oh, no. Rather, it went to Majestic Realty, the personal fiefdom of Ed Roski Jr., multimillionaire developer of the City of Commerce, who also was a partner in the Staples Arena deal. Also making out well on the deal is Phil Anschutz, the Denver-based billionaire who is Roski’s arena partner.

Anschutz also possesses a walloping hunk of Union Pacific, the current owner of the yards. No wonder, murmurs MacAdams, that all this seems to have happened so suddenly, minus any offer of a public forum.

Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo allows that Union Pacific somehow picked Majestic to develop the property without the approval of the Mayor’s Office. Nonetheless, he insists the Chinatown Yards renovation will be a good thing for the entire community. Delgadillo says that most of the site (which will eventually encompass 47 acres) will be used for businesses that provide "high-wage manufacturing jobs." He added that the riverbank itself and an 8-acre tract west of the factory area will be dedicated to local amenities.

But to MacAdams, the key issue is that there hasn’t been adequate local input: "No one in the community has had anything to say about this."

Guys and Guns

All nations have their symbols — Russia has the bear and England has the lion. Here in the States, we might as well print the six-shooter — our single most mythologized object — on our currency. Scholars such as Richard Hofstadter and Robert J. Lifton have called the gun a mystic link to a national warrior subculture: In America, writes Lifton, the gun is "the icon of freedom, power and the rights of the individual."

And there’s one further, and blatant, equation within this culture that Lifton calls a "gunocracy": Firepower equals white-male power.

This fact was underlined at last week’s Board of Supervisors discussion of the motion to halt gun sales at the county fairgrounds. When the pro-gun faction testified, one staffer observed that "It was particularly uncomfortable if you were black, Mexican or Jewish."

Not that there was overt racism. But much of the testimony seemed to make the case that Anglo males should be permitted to arm against what sounded like everyone else. And unlike previous pro-firearm testimony on similar issues — for instance, last year’s ban on ultra-cheap handguns — some of those who spoke against the gun-show measure seemed seriously out of control. At least to the deputy sheriffs who had to eject them from the board room.

It is a Psych 101 cliché to equate gun ownership with male plumbing. Yet, the protester at last Tuesday’s hearing who berated the "effeminate liberal rhetoric" of those who backed the gun-sale ban himself invoked the gun lobby’s underlying masculinist agenda. While pro-gun forces have tried to reach women, this effort now seems to have been largely abandoned. NRA literature still available on its Web site ( describes voters prone to supporting gun-control legislation as "mainly women," likely to fall into the sway of "greedy trial attorneys and anti-gun legislators . . . " In other words, feeble creatures, badly in need of the tough-decision-making prowess of the opposite gender.

Such thoughtless oratory in the face of ongoing gun-related tragedy plays into the hands of the NRA’s many enemies. Women constitute much of our sorrowful population of gunshot survivors. They’ve felt the full pain of the loss of children, spouses, parents. They’ve not had the pretense of male stoicism to hide behind. They generally reject the NRA notion that guns have little role in shooting deaths, which they they are disinclined to see, through NRA-colored lenses, as an accidental contingency to the vital right to bear arms, or as a problem whose solution is even more gun ownership.

Appropriately, in the wake of the Granada Hills shootings, a woman legislator may be the first to bring to Congress a bill that would make it harder for the Buford Furrows of this world to get their hands on firearms. According to her spokesman, Howard Gantman, Senator Dianne Feinstein plans this month to introduce a bill that would require the registry not of guns or present gun owners, but of new gun purchasers.

The proposal has been around for some time, and the NRA will fight it with all its might. It may not pass on the first try. It makes sense, however. We’ve had an onslaught of recent local and state gun-control laws in California and elsewhere. But the simplest truth about gun control is that it will always be, first and foremost, a national problem.

The proposed federal license law is simple. In order to buy a gun, you’d have to do three things: complete a background check, pass a gun-safety and -competence test, and be fingerprinted. The requirements could be administered on either the state or the federal level; Gantman said that states would, in fact, be encouraged to pass such legislation of their own. Handgun Control’s Luis Tolley notes that, ironically, it would probably be easier to pass gun-owner licensing than gun registration, due to the gun lobby’s deep resistance to any inventory of the firearms already in the possession of roughly every other U.S. household.

But even this may be changing. Last October, the Times reported that California handgun sales had already fallen to the lowest annual level since 1973 — about 204,000 — even though the state’s population had increased by 60 percent in the intervening years. Could California once more be initiating a national trend? Could it be that gun ownership is no longer fashionable?

Credit Where Due

This column hasn’t always been kind to LAPD Chief Bernard Parks. So it’s high time to come right out and applaud Parks — along with Sheriff Lee Baca — for standing tall on the gun-control issue and putting himself in the forefront of the fight. Parks has spoken loudly and clearly for better handgun controls, and to take assault weapons off the streets and out of the hands of civilians. More power to him. If anything sets him apart from former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, with whom he is so often identified, it is his forthrightness on this very thorny issue.

Just one little thing, though. The day before the county supervisors voted to ban gun sales at the county fairgrounds, Parks mentioned at a Hall of Administration news conference that the city of Los Angeles already had its own ban on gun shows. Asked just how long the ban had been in effect, he said he didn’t know.

In fact, according to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the ban was introduced just four years ago, at the urging of Parks’ sometimes-reviled predecessor, Chief Willie L. Williams.


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