Los Angeles has been and continues to be ripe for invasions of all kinds. Whether the reason be the city's strategic location on the Pacific Rim, its agreeable weather or its reflexive liberalism, L.A. has long drawn invaders of every kind to its soil.
Here are a half dozen of the city's most interesting — and adorable — invaders.
1. Los Gabachos!
Brigadier General Stephen Kearny invaded Southern California in 1846 and fought in the decisive battle that drove out the Californios and sealed the conquest of El Pueblo de Los Ángeles. According to America Invaded, by Christopher Kelly and Stuart Laycock, the American invaders met with a Californio resistance led by Andrés Pico, a rancher in the San Fernando Valley and brother to the deposed Mexican governor of California. Pico helped organize the scattered Californian military irregular forces, anti-American ranchers and young vaqueros (cowboys) into a guerrilla army.
The high-water mark of Californio resistance came at the Battle of San Pascual — the Little Bighorn of American military blunders of the policy known as Manifest Destiny in California. Misinformed that the Californios were offering little or no resistance, General Kearny left the bulk of his men behind at Santa Fe and led a token force of 100 calvarymen into battle at San Pascual on Dec. 6, 1846. They were joined by an additional 50 men from the garrison of Los Angeles under Archibald Gillespie. On being charged by Kearny's cavalry, the Californios on horseback turned and appeared to flee. Sensing a rout, the Americans gave chase and ran headlong into the waiting forces of Pico's men.
The Battle of San Pascual continues to this day to be the bloodiest battle fought on California soil. The damp conditions made the Americans' gunpowder unusable, and the Californios, armed with long lances and braided rawhide lariats, killed 19 Americans. “Quickly the battle became so bloody that we became intermingled one with the other and barely were able to distinguish one from the other by voice and by the dim light of dawn which began to break,” recalled José F. Palomares, one of Pico's men at the battle.
Eventually, the Californios withdrew to higher ground, to be overwhelmed by the intervention of U.S. naval forces. On Jan. 10, 1847, the U.S. forces reoccupied Los Angeles and Gillespie was able to definitively raise the U.S. flag over the government headquarters.
2. Imperial Japan!
The Man in the High Castle, an Amazon adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 science-fiction novel, dramatizes the Japanese occupation of the West Coast. How many of the show's devoted viewers know that, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, submarines from the Imperial Japanese Navy prowled the offshore waters in California? One such Japanese submarine sunk the oil tanker Montebello off the coast near Cambria on Dec. 23, 1941. The ensuing panic prompted the Rose Bowl, scheduled for New Year’s Day 1942 in Pasadena, to relocate that year to Durham, N.C.
On Feb. 23, 1942, another Japanese submarine surfaced in the waters off the shore of Santa Barbara and shelled the Ellwood oil refinery. No one was killed or injured in the attack, but Kelly and Laycock quote a report from Radio Tokyo at the time as saying: “Sensible Americans know that the submarine shelling of the Pacific coast was a warning to the nation that the paradise created by George Washington is on the verge of destruction.”
Two days later, Los Angeles went into a panic when an early-morning blip on the radar triggered air-raid sirens warning of a possible attack. “Anti-aircraft guns fired over 10 tons of ordnance into the night sky,” Kelly and Laycock wrote. Eight Americans died during the phantom raid, which involved no Japanese planes. Stephen Spielberg made this so-called Battle of Los Angeles the jumping-off point for his satirical WWII film 1941.
The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942 largely eliminated the threat of Japanese invasion to California and the West Coast. In November 1944, the first of at least 20 Japanese balloon bombs to land in California was spotted off the coast of San Pedro, near Fort MacArthur, by a U.S. auxiliary ship.
The invasive insect having its apocalyptic moment in Southern California is not the Africanized honey bee or the Argentine ant but rather the polyphagous shot hole borer, a beetle infecting dozens of species of trees in California with a fatal fungal disease. Smaller than a sesame seed, the beetle could cause the death of an estimated 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, according to Greg McPherson of the U.S. Forest Service
That's more than a third of the trees in the region.
“It's not so much the fact that adult beetles make small tunnels into the tree trunks but that they introduce a fungus,” says Mark Hoddle, director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside. “The fungus grows in the tunnels and it ultimately kills the tree.”
Hoddle says the beetle's name refers to the variation in its diet — it feeds (and can kill) native trees like sycamores, willows and oaks, agricultural staples like avocado trees, and many of the more ornamental trees in the urban environment.
This beetle and its near relative the Kuroshio shot hole borer invaded the state in 2012, according to arborists and tree scientists at the University of California Riverside. Last year the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved $750,000 in emergency spending to treat infested trees and remove the goners.
By the time this beetle is through, it could transform the tree line in California. The U.S. Forest Service is pursuing a plan to substitute trees that can withstand the rising heat and winds expected in the years to come. Forest Service officials estimate replacing the trees killed by the pestilent beetles could cost up to $6 billion.
“I’m not much of an alarmist,” Hoddle says. “We've dealt with lots of invasive species. But this one certainly ranks in the top three or four. It attacks many different species of important plants that are native to California, and it's very difficult to control.”
4. Global Wealth!
From 2013 to 2015, three-quarters of land buys in L.A. valuing more than $5 million were purchased using shell companies. The New York Times discovered a rogue's gallery of foreign buyers behind the shield of LLCs buying up luxury real estate in the Platinum Triangle: Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Holmby Hills.
Among those involved: a Russian ex-politico and suspected embezzler; a crooked Saudi arms dealer; a fugitive Nigerian businessman; a Lebanese-Nigerian business associate to a Nigerian strongman; a former aide to Vladimir Putin who turned up dead in a Washington hotel room; and the daughter, son and stepson of the foreign heads of state from Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, respectively.
More recently, as of August 2016, Chinese real estate developers out to establish a brand name bankrolled at least seven of the last 18 land deals downtown in excess of $19 million. The four highest prices paid per square foot for land in downtown during that same period were by Chinese investors, according to a report in the L.A. Times.
5. Adorable kittens!
Yes, thousands of tiny, motherless, mewing fuzzballs with eyes barely open and pink, toothless mouths are invading L.A. animal shelters. The number of new arrivals is growing annually; the Department of Animal Services saw more than 2,600 stray kittens last year. This year the number of kittens in shelters is on pace for a record-setting 3,000. The Mission Hills nursery took in a reported 646 kittens in May alone.
Brenda Barnette, general manager of L.A. Animal Services, attributes the spike to a 2008 injunction filed by an animal welfare group that blocks funding for spaying and neutering stray cats.
The six city shelters in L.A. have been making a move away from kitten euthanasia since 2011 — the goal survival rate for the end of this year is 90 percent (up from 57 percent in 2012). Rather than vanquish these invaders outright, Animal Services seeks to foster the kittens until they are 8 weeks old, the minimum age state law requires before they can be spayed or neutered and then adopted.
Animal Services needs volunteers to serve as foster parents for the adorable critters. Kittens are helpless in the earliest weeks of life — they don’t even open their eyes for the first week to 10 days, and they can’t see for shit a while after that; they can’t urinate or defecate on their own without maternal nudging and grooming of the private bits. Volunteers (shudder the thought) have to bottle-feed cat formula to the pointy-eared little foundlings every two hours.
6. New Yorkers!
Since hard data on transplants from New York are nonexistent, this one might be more paranoia than anything. Anecdotally, we sense they move among us, but we have no census to take an accurate count.
We know that more people are leaving the New York region than any other major metropolitan area in the country. We know that nearly 170,000 of them have left Brooklyn in the past seven years. They're not all moving to Denver or Portland, Oregon. We know that the number of jobs in Los Angeles County’s creative industries swelled by 6,000 in 2013.
There are clues to be found in the celebrity confessionals about a weakness for sunshine, and of commoners ditching cramped, lifeless apartments back East, their Instagrams infiltrated by palm trees and succulent gardens.
Our experts tell us the surge of New Yorkers going West has been in force for decades — beards and “creatives” drawn to the clement winters, the greater space and affordability (well, at least compared with NYC).
In the absence of a census, one must take the measure of New York Times Style Section think-pieces and decipher the Delphic pronouncements from the cultural figureheads of New York: Michael Govan said when he came out West and took over as director of LACMA in 2006 that “L.A. is the new New York.” Lena Dunham paid a reported $2.7 million for a Hollywood home. The Wall Street Journal declared in 2015 that “L.A. is having a New York moment.” Fran frickin' Lebowitz said two years ago, “L.A. is better than it used to be, New York is worse than it used to be.”