The L.A. Times last year wrote a front-page story about a $750,000 educational-video series shepherded by the L.A. school district that was deemed so bad it was never shown to a single local schoolchild. Example: a segment called “Dog-Gone” featuring a talking canine who persuades pets to flee their environment-fouling owners. The seven-part, federally funded project became an instant symbol of waste and mismanagement in the school district.
Well, guess what? Theeeeey’re back. A Kentucky-based school-supply distributor has the tapes on sale for $89.95 apiece ($579 for the series). Some U.S. school districts have actually purchased sets, generating $10,000 in sales and counting.
Now, you might think the school district is getting the money. Or perhaps the National Guard, which funded the project as a “public service.” Not at all. According to lawyer David Eisen, who was hired by the district to investigate, the money is going to series producer Lesa Walden-Young. The problem is, Department of Defense regulations prohibit her from profiting from the project.
The Guard is looking into whether Walden-Young violated federal rules and, if so, what to do about it — but only because the agency was tipped off to the situation by OffBeat. Eisen buried the fact of the video sales in a footnote to his report, which, no big surprise, exonerated L.A. Unified in the affair. And district officials apparently saw no reason to risk another round of bad publicity by alerting the National Guard. (Walden-Young would not comment for this article. In past interviews, she defended her integrity and the quality of her work.)
The real losers in the whole mess are the children at Youth Education Town (YET), a National Football League–sponsored group in Compton and the supposed recipient of the original federal grant. Other than appearing in some of the videos (Walden-Young had volunteered at YET), the kids got nada. “The lady that made the tapes,” said center director Shirley Allen, “used some of my students as volunteers to appear in the tapes. She never got back to me after taping the kids. We haven’t benefited at all.”
Ever notice that bottom-feeding celebrities, after dropping below the radar, tend to resurface in unlikely pairings? Think big-box store openings and aging baseball players. Think The Joey Bishop Show. The latest celebrity odd couple is Norma Jean Almodovar, the L.A. cop turned call girl, and former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, the maven of masturbation. They’re back, amidst a bevy of bikers and prostitutes, in, of all places, Butte, Montana.
Almodovar, you may remember, is the Daryl Gates–era civilian traffic officer who enraged the then-vindictive and unfettered LAPD by turning prostitute and announcing her plans to write a book about her conversion. Unsurprisingly, she was soon arrested for pandering and ultimately packed off to the state pen for most of 1988. Almodovar’s latest brainchild is transforming a former brothel in downtown Butte into a museum celebrating the world’s oldest profession. The museum will exhibit such artifacts as vintage whips, corsets and a metal vibrator, as well as prostitutes’ art, including Almodovar’s ceramic figures. “It will be a place where ordinary people can see our lives, and the art we make, so that they realize we’re human beings,” explains Almodovar over the phone from her new Butte home.
More than 100 sex-industry workers, including several from L.A., have come to Butte so far this summer to donate volunteer labor — of the legal kind, Almodovar assured OffBeat. But that’s not enough to meet the estimated $500,000 price tag for buying and restoring the old brothel. (A fund-raiser last fall at L.A.’s Improv club, featuring performances by porn icons such as Xaviera Hollander, raised only enough to cover part of the $25,000 down payment.) That’s where former Surgeon General Elders and the bikers come in.
Jeff Matney, president of the Agoura-based Harley-Davidson Riders Group of Southern California, expects to rally as many as 10,000 hog jockeys in Butte August 6 through 8 to help raise dollars for the museum. On the fund-raising menu: coed mud wrestling and a “best breasts” contest.
Elders arrives August 9 for a ceremony adding a condom-promoting post card from the 1930s to the museum’s collection. The card shows a woman sitting on a fence, watching a man reach toward his car; where the spare tire should be is a giant condom emblazoned “Safety First — Carry a Spare.” What’s Elders’ interest in the museum? “Sex workers have been and are safe-sex educators,” she explained.
Since her 1994 book, Cop to Call Girl, Almodovar has been a full-time sex-worker advocate, running the L.A. branch of the prostitutes-rights group COYOTE, hitting the international conference circuit and organizing a 1997 symposium on prostitution at California State University, Northridge. To her regret, she no longer practices her craft, she says. Her bills are covered by a personal benefactor she won’t name.
What do her former sisters-in-arms think about her project? A random and thoroughly unscientific OffBeat survey failed to turn up a single local sex worker who’d heard of it. But several thought it was a fine idea. “It will help make us more legitimate,” said “Devon,” who offers fantasy-fulfillment services. Devon also predicts success. “Anything to do with sex will sell.”
California’s ranking last week as one of the worst states in which to raise children — and Maine’s selection as the best —- was a yawner for many L.A. parents. We’ve been told so often that our children are doomed to a lifetime of gun-toting savagery because we chose to procreate here that the big news story left us cold.
But something about the rankings from the Children’s Rights Council in Washington, D.C., didn’t look right, so we decided to take a hard look. Sure enough, we discovered that the council’s bottom six states — California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington, D.C. — are also the highest in black and/or Latino population. And most of the top states — Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and North Dakota — are lily-white. California (No. 46 on the Children’s Rights list) is No. 2 in total black population (2.4 million), No. 1 in Latino population (9.94 million) and No. 2, behind New Mexico, in percentage of Hispanic population (30.8 percent). By contrast, New Hampshire is 44th in black population, Maine is 46th, North Dakota is 48th, and Vermont is 51st (the list includes the 50 states plus Washington, D.C.). (All figures are from U.S. Census Bureau, 1997 population estimates.)
A simple case of racism? we wondered. The problem was, racially diverse Connecticut and Massachusetts also made the Children’s Rights Council Best Of list (No. 2 and 3 respectively). So we decided to call the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, a 79-year-old organization that works on issues of abused and neglected children, foster care, and adoption, for some perspective.
Spokesperson Joyce Johnson explained that the Children’s Rights Council grew out of the fathers’ rights movement of the ’70s and ’80s. The group’s big issue is joint legal and physical custody of kids after divorce. “I’m skeptical of their agenda,” Johnson said. “They made a lot of states look bad.”
“This was not an objective study,” agreed professor Jorja Prover of UCLA’s School of Public Policy and Social Research. Prover said the study relied on negative factors that have been linked to single-parent families, such as dropout and teen-pregnancy rates, and ignored positives, including prenatal health care and after-school enrichment programs. “Research can be wonderful in terms of giving us information, but it can also push a point of view,” Prover said.
So, before you all start streaming back East in search of the halcyon days of childhood, OffBeat has a handy-dandy list for you.
Top 10 Ways To Judge State-Ranking Studies:
1. Consider the source.
2. Consider the source.
3. Consider the . . .
Community groups have long protested defense contractor Rocketdyne’s failure to clean up toxic wastes at its Santa Susana Field Laboratory in the hills between the Simi and San Fernando valleys. But this week, it was a cleanup plan that raised hackles.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control has proposed letting the company excavate contaminated soil from one of the filthiest sites at the Rocketdyne facility, the sodium burn pit. In the old days, Rocketdyne workers would chuck barrels of sodium into two water-filled pools and fire guns at the containers to burn off wastes (sodium mixed with water ignites spontaneously). Left behind in the process were PCBs, dioxin, mercury, the rocket-fuel oxidizer perchlorate, and radioactive contagions, according to state officials.
Rocketdyne already has removed 10,000 cubic yards of radioactive soil from the pit, and now wants to replace 3,200 cubic yards of contaminated soil with “clean” dirt topped with native vegetation. Activists at a July 28 public forum protested that the bedrock is contaminated and should be removed or capped as well. The issue took on new urgency after the Environmental Protection Agency in July found perchlorate in water in a Simi Valley spring four miles from Rocketdyne.
“Rocketdyne has a plastic tarp over it now, but it wants to just dig out the contaminants and back-fill the pits without proven protection against water infiltration,” said Dr. Shel Plotkin of the Southern California Federation of Scientists. “To save a buck, they’ll allow the pits to further pollute the ground water and put nearby residents at risk.” Plotkin wants Rocketdyne to cap the pit with clay, compacted soil and a plastic liner. The EPA continues to investigate the source of the perchlorate in the spring; the state is expected to approve a cleanup plan within the month.