Hired Guns: Part 2

March 23, 2017 § 18 Comments

Part 2: Red Cross Store Blues

When I was a kid there was a lot of empty time. My Dad had a set of Leadbelly’s Last Sessions and I’d put them on the record player when no one was home because if you were a little kid using the adult record player you would get an ass beating. Huddie Ledbetter was himself part of the great black exodus from the South, leaving Texas after serving a prison sentence in Louisiana.

Towns across America were viciously racist in the early 20th Century, and few protests capture the times better than Leadbelly’s Red Cross Store Blues, a song in which the protagonist refuses to be snookered by the Red Cross welfare stores to enlist in a war he has no intention of joining. The other giant of the early blues era and a World War I veteran, Bill Broonzy, was even more to the point with Black, Brown and White.

The work of great blues musicians may seem irrelevant to cyclists pedaling through a rich white town a century later, but the tools put in place to oppress blacks in PV Estates almost a hundred years ago have proven equally effective at harassing another group of undesirables: Bicyclists.

There is disagreement about why so many PV Estates residents so virulently oppose bicycling. My opinion is a minority one, but it has the advantage of being backed by over four hundred years of history: The city’s behavior is rooted in racism.

We don’t have to go back to the slave ships to understand how important racism was to the founding of PV Estates, as well as the founding and maintenance of its police force. The city’s founders spelled it out, quite literally, in black and in white. Their founding document? Racially restrictive deed covenants that forbade the sale of property to non-whites.

In this regard PV Estates was no different from hundreds of other communities across America, and its origins are indistinguishable from California’s other richest and whitest coastal communities. Of the 13,438 people who lived in PV Estates as of the last census, 161 were black. That’s 1.2 percent. This segregation of the races was inherent in the development of the community, and countless others like it. Leadbelly and Broonzy would recognize PV Estates today at a glance.

Even though we take vague comfort (as long as we’re white) that in some ways race relationships in America have changed since PV Estates was created as a subdivision in 1923, in some fundamental ways they haven’t. I always assumed that the city, like the urban Texas cities I grew up in, was racist. But it wasn’t until I got embroiled in the Great Bicycle Gang Imbroglio that I began to understand that PV Estates wasn’t casually, or accidentally, or coincidentally racist. It was methodically laid out, planned, and executed as a racist community. But as with so much else in our national fabric, to understand how important racial purity was for the founders of the city, you have to turn to law, and you have to understand that PV Estates’ desire to remain racially pure was neither unique, special, or unusual. A look into PV Estate’s founding mythology of racial purity is a click away on the Supreme Court’s 1917 decision of Buchanan v. Warley.

Gazing back a century to 1917 it’s almost impossible to use the right lens. Rather than focusing on what they didn’t have – computers, phones, air travel for the masses, television, video cameras, full carbon bikes that are 100% pure carbon – it’s a lot easier to focus on what their recent past was. The year 1917 was only fifty-two years after the Civil War. 1865 was to them as 1965 is to us: Recent history to most, living history to many, and still redolent with personal recollection and experience.

Americans were still struggling with the awesome weight of understanding the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution: Blacks were people, citizens, the equal of whites, and entitled to the same rights. Much of that “understanding” involved a low-grade, unending war against implementing those guarantees, and no place was a more bitter battleground than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joseph McKenna, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Day, Edward Douglass White, Willis Van Devanter, Mahlon Pitney, James Clark McReynolds, and John Hessin Clark were on the U.S. Supreme Court when lawyers argued Buchanan v. Warley. All were northerners except for McReynolds (Kentucky), and White (Louisiana). Louis Brandeis had not yet been confirmed at the time of oral argument and was nominally from Kentucky, but raised in a Jewish family from Prague that valued German culture and that prized Schumann and Schiller as dinner time conversation topics, it’s safe to say that his childhood had little in common with the redneck state in which he was raised.

This constellation of justices, including two of the greatest jurists to ever sit on the court, rendered the opinion in Buchanan v. Warley, which confronted a simple issue: Can a white man sell property to a black man even though the city of Louisville had an ordinance prohibiting it? It was a test case set up by the NAACP to fight the new wave of segregation that was crashing like a giant close-out over the cities that were absorbing the great black migration from south to north.

Justice William Day, writing for the majority, was no slouch. In his nineteen-year tenure on the court he penned over four hundred opinions, of which only eighteen were dissents. He was an enemy of large corporations and voted with antitrust majorities throughout his time as a justice. But it was nonetheless surprising when he ruled that ordinances prohibiting blacks from owning property in white neighborhoods were unconstitutional.

The decision sent shock waves through the nation. It was the first time in the prior thirty-eight cases that had come before the court regarding civil rights that the court had ruled in favor of blacks. And although the racist south was most deeply entrenched fighting the Fourteenth Amendment, few if any northern communities in America wanted to integrate either, and a quick review of PV Estates’ 2010 census data shows that for this enclave at least, little has changed. “If you’re black, oh brother, get back, get back, get back.”

But in those days when questions of race were still so close to the carnage of the Civil War, and the status of blacks had only been elevated in principle rather than in fact, racists felt no qualms about putting their bestial arguments into Supreme Court briefs. Justice Day noted “That there exists a serious and difficult problem arising from a feeling of race hostility which the law is powerless to control, and to which it must give a measure of consideration, may be freely admitted.” This is of course the mantra of the anti-politically correct, or the Trumpers of 2017, a hundred years later: We hate blacks and the law can’t stop us from hating them.

Yet Justice Day was not hobbled by this reality as he considered and then struck down the racist arguments supporting discrimination in housing sales: “It is the purpose of such enactments, and, it is frankly avowed, it will be their ultimate effect, to require by law, at least in residential districts, the compulsory separation of the races on account of color. Such action is said to be essential to the maintenance of the purity of the races, although it is to be noted in the ordinance under consideration that the employment of colored servants in white families is permitted, and nearby residences of colored persons not coming within the blocks, as defined in the ordinance, are not prohibited.” The racists wanted separation of the races but, apparently, not when it came to their servants. This parallel in PV Estates is evident any weekday on countless city streets, where Hispanic workers tend the yards on condition that they leave the city at day’s end. Justice Day made clear that the case was not one of maintaining racial purity, but a white man’s right to sell his property to a black man if he saw fit, and vice versa.

The appellants argued that the proposed segregation would promote the public peace by preventing race conflicts. “Desirable as this is, and important as is the preservation of the public peace, this aim cannot be accomplished by laws or ordinances which deny rights created or protected by the Federal Constitution,” was Day’s curt response.

Finally, Day rebutted the racists’ strongest suit, one that PV Estates residents still bandy about today — property values: “It is said that such acquisitions by colored persons depreciate property owned in the neighborhood by white persons. But property may be acquired by undesirable white neighbors or put to disagreeable though lawful uses with like results.”

And just like that, the constitutionality of these ordinances was tossed on the rubbish heap.

If only racism could have been tossed on the rubbish heap with it.

END

*Note: I’m cobbling this together in fits and starts and am only up to Part 2. The next three installments will be published next week. In the meantime, back to our regular bike racing programming nonesuch and whatnot and etcetera.

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Hired Guns: Part 1

March 22, 2017 § 28 Comments

Part 1: The Tax Man Goeth

The mayor of Palos Verdes Estates, the city council, and over sixty percent of the voters in the last municipal election on March 7, 2017 voted for something so important and crucial to the community that it could only have been given the most anodyne name imaginable: Measure D.

This ballot item, if it had been forced to comply with the same rules of truthful disclosure that we require of foodstuffs, would have been called “City Fire Department and EMS Tax.” Because that’s what it was: A tax to continue paying for that least objectionable and most necessary of all city services – a fire department and its attendant emergency medical services.

Who could possibly vote against that?

The answer turned out to be “about forty percent of the people who voted in an election that had less than thirteen percent of all eligible voters show up to vote.” Normally that would be a crushing victory for the tax man, sixty to forty. But in PV Estates, tax proposals like this one had to be approved by two-thirds of the people who voted, and the end tally left the tax supporters about three hundred votes short. In other words, the people of PV Estates voted, incredibly, not to pay for their own fire and emergency medical services.

It might seem strange to think that a mostly older community with a large proportion of retirees would vote against a fire department. This is no henhouse filled with spring chickens; the city’s median age is a sun-wrinkled, HGH-assisted 50. PV Estates sits on a hilly slope that is highly susceptible to the wildfires that make California such a staple of national night-time summer weather news reports. Setting aside the conflagrations, the fire department is also the first responder when people wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains, when they fall and break a hip, or much more importantly, when their cat gets stuck in a tree.

But voting against the fire department and EMS wasn’t really a vote against either, and it certainly wasn’t a vote against cats. It was a vote against the PV Estates Police Department, an agency that of late had become the endless target of bad news, litigation, and virulent anonymous hate speech attacks.

To understand how a minority of voters could torpedo an entire police department, though, you have to go back to 1978, to Howard Jarvis, and to Proposition 13, the mother of all regressive tax laws. And to understand why the white voters in PV Estates were so staunchly behind regressive taxation, even to the detriment of their own community, you have to go all the way back to the city’s inception and the deed restrictions that marketed PV Estates as an ideal community that would bring together “the cream of the manhood and womanhood of the greatest nation that has ever lived, the Caucasian race and the American nation.” Those were the words of its founder, and his adherents are alive, well, and kicking like hell.

END

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Hired Guns: Introduction

March 21, 2017 § 14 Comments

Introduction

The city of Palos Verdes Estates, or part of it, is battling for the survival of its municipal police force. Opponents want to demolish it and replace it by contracting for law enforcement services with the monolithic Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. It sounds like pedestrian city politics, unless you happen to be a bicyclist. In that case, it isn’t pedestrian at all.

This issue affects a lot more than the pedal pushers who often run stop signs as they breeze through one of the most scenic and challenging bike routes in the United States. Class war, surfing localism, contempt of outsiders, hate speech, enraged small town racists, the California Vehicle Code, murder, Wall Street predators, regressive taxation, and the complex act of understanding and enforcing the law all turn up when this topic is spaded over, like wriggling earthworms in a cool mound of leafy compost.

I got involved in this whole thing backwards, simply by riding my steel Eddy Merckx with down-tube shifters on the way to work one day. I had been in California for a couple of months and was renting a house in Palos Verdes Estates, a place I ended up in entirely by accident. The law office I was working at was in San Pedro, and when I arrived in California I told the realtor, an avid cyclist nicknamed “the Badger,” that I wanted to rent in San Pedro because it was close to my office.

“Dude,” he said. “You don’t want to live in Pedro unless you like lung cancer or want to hang out at Godmother’s. Let me show you some places in PV Estates.”

To my unsophisticated eye it looked like a lot of other suburbs I’d seen throughout my life. Nice homes, affluent people in nice cars, white people everywhere, and, oh yeah, the most stunning scenery imaginable stuck right in the heart of Los Angeles. I traced the road on a map and saw that my commute to San Pedro would be along PV Drive South, a twenty-minute drive with three stoplights, no traffic, and postcard views of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island from start to finish.

Did I mention that this was in the heart of Los Angeles? Because when I told my family back in Texas that I had a twenty-minute, no traffic, sprawling ocean view commute in the middle of LA, they thought I was lying through my teeth and everywhere else.

One morning as I rode to work, because it didn’t take long to figure out that the most beautiful, car-free road in California was also the most beautiful car-free bike commute in California, I blew through a red light at the intersection of Hawthorne and Via Vicente. There was no traffic in any direction, but I hadn’t gotten through the intersection before I heard the siren of the guy I would later get to know as the dreaded Deputy Knox.

By 2007 I had been riding competitively and racing for thirty-five years. I had run tens of thousands of red lights and hundreds of thousands of stop signs, and I had done it in Texas, Japan Germany, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. I’d never been ticketed, not once, and had never been hit by a car. Deputy Knox of the LA Sheriff’s Department pulled me over and wrote me a ticket. I knew enough not to argue with a 6’4” dude carrying a gun, handcuffs, and a radio, but even so I was surprised at his glowering anger. He was prodding and pushing me to react, but I’d experienced that in plenty of other venues with cops, so the more he pushed the meeker I got. I wanted to get to work, not star in a new chapter on civil rights.

Knox wrote the citation, gave me a nasty lecture, and sped away. That encounter, between a meek, bony guy on a bike endangering no one in a victimless crime, and an angry cop trying to prod him into a confrontation, made a huge impression on me. “What if I’d been black?” I wondered, scared. Knox was lean but he was muscular, he was big, and he was ready to arrest me and haul me off to jail if I had given him any guff. My instinct, by the way, proved dead-on the following year when my friend and fellow riding partner Jeff Konsmo was pulled over and cited by Knox. However, unlike my red light violation, Jeff was pulled over because Knox didn’t understand – or chose not to understand – vehicle code section 21202a and its exceptions. When Jeff objected to the grounds of the citation, Knox slapped on the stainless steel jewelry and shoved him in the back of the patrol car.

This was my first and lasting impression of bikes and law enforcement on the peninsula. They hated your guts. You didn’t belong. Get the hell out.

END

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Broke, broker, brokest

March 14, 2017 § 40 Comments

It is always sad when people who pretend to be rich are too poor to pay for luxuries like fire departments and ambulances.

While Garret and Cynthia Unno of Palos Verdes Estates were banging the drum for stricter enforcement of traffic laws, a/k/a EVIL CYCLISTS ARE RUNNING ALL THE STOP SIGNS AND ENDANGERING OUR 5,000-LB. STEEL BOXES, someone forgot to keep the home fires burning, or rather someone forgot to make sure that there was going to be someone to put the home fires out.

In an impressive push to punish skinny, hairless, underwear-clad bicycle riders, the rabidly unfit PVE bike-hating minority whipped its police department into a veritable ticket-issuing orgasm of stop, cite, and pad the local budget. In addition to stationing Deppity Doofus on Paseo del Mar every Saturday to apprehend the criminal Donut Ride biker gang and cite its riders for blasting through stop signs, the hue and cry reached such fitful proportions that all you had to do to get Mayor King to lose it was whisper “Cyclist! Stop sign!” and she’d sound off like a hound with a treed possum.

And the fever was catching. Councilpersons Jim Goodhart and John Rea, although initially of the opinion that perhaps cyclists weren’t much of a problem in PVE, and might even be vulnerable road users deserving protection, eventually caught the Biker Plague Rage and abandoned all pretense of making reasoned decisions about allocation of police resources vis-a-vis bikes and traffic enforcement.

The more tickets that got written, the hotter the fever grew until Garret, Cynthia, Zaragoza Lady, and the other advocates of SAVE OUR STOP SIGNS had logged so many attaboys and attagirls and lockemups and hangemhighs on NextDoor that the servers started to smoke.

Problem was, in this case where there was smoke there wasn’t any fire. If there had been, the LA Fire Department, under contract with the city, would have come and put it out and the nutty SAVE OUR STOP SIGN folks would have realized that the real issue they had in Palos Verdes Estates wasn’t the honor of their violated stop signs but something much more important: Whether or not they were going to have a fire department and EMS to haul them off on a crash cart when their clogged arteries, hypertension, erectile dysfunction, scabies, stroke, aneurysm, gout, and cardiac arrest kicked in.

Because at the same time the Unnos were training their lasers on the STOP SIGN SANCTITY PROJECT, another cabal of tax-hating, Trump-loving, Everything-for-me-Nothing-for-you residents was quietly putting together a measure that would defund the city’s fire and emergency medical services. They quietly drafted the measure. They quietly put it on the ballot. And they quietly laughed all the way home while the STOP SIGN WORSHIPERS, gloating over the daily count of traffic citations, neglected to mobilize their forces to preserve something that actually mattered.

And when the tax measure that supports fire and EMS services was rejected because it couldn’t pass the hilariously high 2/3 vote ceiling, Mayor King, Defeated Councilman Goodhart, and Defeated Councilman Rea (beaten in his quest for city treasurer) realized that they were now facing a budget shortfall of almost $2.5 million out of a total city budget of $17 million, and the cuts would begin in July.

What does this have to do with flatlander transients pedaling into PVE and making a mockery of the modesty and virginal pureness of the city’s stop signs? Well, this: The body blow to the city’s finances may well lower the boom on the city’s police force.

PVE, unlike the ghettos of Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, and Rolling Hills Estates, has its very own police force whereas the other peninsula cities contract out with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. PVE has long been willing to pay for the extra cost, which is significant, because it gives the city extreme control over law enforcement (such as directing its manpower at keeping stop signs safe from bicycles) that simply can’t be exercised over the county sheriff’s department, a massive law enforcement agency that had a budget of almost $3 billion in 2015.

Fortunately, the city has an emergency budget of over $9 million, but even lawyer arithmetic will tell you that this rainy day fund won’t last for more than a few seasons of stop sign protection when it has to cover EMS, fire, and the erection of a crying wall for the politicians who’ve been booted out of office. As the high-G note of panic shrieks through the town, a huge contingent of citizens now plans to attend the March 14 council meeting to protest the outcome of a democratic vote that most were too lazy to participate in.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things spending all of your political capital to attack bicycles via anonymous troll web sites, yappy-yap comment threads on NextDoor, and defense of the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch wasn’t so smart after all, unless of course you never plan on needing fire protection in a place frequently ravaged by wildfires, and unless a population of geriatric couch-loungers never plans on waking in the middle of the night with chest pains.

The silliest part is that despite losing their fire and EMS, the angry minority’s attempts to oust cyclists from the peninsula hasn’t even worked. Last time I checked, the Donut Ride was still going strong. And I heard through the grapevine that last Saturday Deppity Doofus sat and waited at Paseo del Mar a lonnnnng time  for the ride to come by, but for some funny reason it never did.

Weird.

And I guess if your house catches fire, you can call the Unnos, the Lunada Bay Boys on Mom’s Couch, or the city’s hidden-in-plain-view anonymous Internet troll. I’m sure they’ll hurry right over.

END

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Double header crazypants

September 29, 2016 § 44 Comments

On Monday night there was a traffic safety committee meeting held by the city of Rancho Palos Verdes. You think committee meetings are boring?

This one wasn’t.

It featured a guy who began by complaining about people taking pictures. The chair told him he was “out of order” which is nice speak for “shut the fuck up” and informed him that it was a public meeting, open to the public, held for the public, and publicly regulated under the Brown Act, which publicly regulates public meetings.

The guy was not mollified by the law because he was part of a contingent who demanded that the city put up signs saying “Bikes Must Ride Single File.” No matter that this isn’t the law, and no matter that the California Vehicle Code doesn’t prohibit riding two abreast, no matter that the committee has given extensive, detailed PowerPoint presentations on CVC 21202(a) and its exceptions, and no matter that the most fundamental principle of statutory construction is that the law permits everything that is not specifically prohibited.

In Rancho Palos Verdes these NIMBYs had come to the meeting to advise what they thought the law should be and to demand that the city put it on a sign. Right? Because after inventing a few new anti-bike provisions for the vehicle code they could follow it with signs that said, “No poor people,” “No Torranceites,” “No San Pedroians,” and of course “No people whose last names end in a vowel.”

It was clear that, having bought a second-hand home with an ugly garage on top of a hill and surrounding the whole faux estate with an iron gate and guard shack, this guy thought that the public meetings were private, too, and no amount of explaining that the meeting was “public” seemed to have any effect on him at all.

Because polysyllabic words and laws and facts kept getting in the way of his opinions, the guy followed up his outburst a few minutes later by showing the middle finger at what appeared to be the committee. When the sheriff’s deputy came over and told him he couldn’t flip off the committee, he told the deputy that he hadn’t been flipping off them, he’d been flipping off … me. For taking pictures.

I hadn’t said a word the entire meeting and when I looked back he threw a fleck of paper at me while raising his middle finger again for emphasis. There I was, back in Third Grade with the classroom bully showing me the finger, throwing spitballs, and daring the teacher to get on with her job. If you think it’s extraordinary that a grown man would go to a public meeting and show his contempt for public participation by flipping people off and flinging flecks of paper at his imagined enemies, you need to come to one of these meetings.

But what’s more extraordinary is that the very people who flipped us off, threw things, and booed Delia Park at the previous meeting when she described the catastrophic injuries of a friend belong to the same anti-bike contingent that opened the meeting with an appeal for civility and made pointed complaints about the militant biker bullies–never mind that not a single cyclist in any public meeting has insulted, attacked, threatened, or made an obscene gesture to anyone ever, and never mind that several cyclists began by thanking the committee for their efforts.

One first-time biker attendee later commented that “I thought you were exaggerating, Seth, but these people really are batshit fucking crazy.”

The discussion point of the meeting was colossally stupid. A handful of NIMBYs on Crest Road were seeking to apply the city’s event permitting ordinance to “organic” groups of ten or more cyclists. Unable to understand the law’s intent–regulation of large events that had a significant impact on the public right of way–these folks yammered on endlessly about how the law should be applied to local, unorganized, organic bike rides.

Under the ingenuous pretense of “safety,” though none of them had consulted any of the cycling groups whose safety is most imperiled in traffic collisions, and after having a prior petition to ban cyclists from the roadway being unceremoniously booted due to its patent illegality, they were now trying to regulate unorganized group bike rides in the hope it would make things somehow more orderly, i.e. get rid of bikes. When I asked one of the NIMBYs whether or not he would attend a free Cycling Savvy course to get educated about the law from the cyclist’s perspective, he told me he was “too busy” because he “had a 16-year-old who was just getting his driver license.”

Well, of course! No responsible father with a new young male driver in the family would possibly be able to make time to go learn the law and safe traffic skills that have to do with cyclists, especially the cyclists who allegedly cause so many traffic problems up on Rancho Palos Verdes Estates Wish We Were Palos Verdes Estates Crest Road.

The details of the ordinance appeared irrelevant to many of the NIMBYs, the main “detail” being no detail at all but rather its most salient feature: The ordinance specifically applies to “organized” events. Speaker after speaker on the cyclists’ side tried in vain to explain to the waxed-in brains of the NIMBYs that THERE IS NO ORGANIZER FOR THE DONUT RIDE. But they either didn’t understand, wouldn’t understand, or couldn’t understand.

It’s true that you can’t fix stupid, but in this case you couldn’t even shut it up. The committee, obviously perplexed by having to deal with something that made no sense at all, referred it for further “study by staff.” This will presumably involve someone sitting in a lawn chair watching groups of cyclists go by at 25 mph and trying to determine if they’re “organized” or “in a group” or “ten or more.” One fool suggested that group riders be required to ride with identifying stickers, a great idea that was used with much success in the late 1930’s.

A cyclist speaker offered the NIMBYs a thousand bucks if they could find the organizer of the Donut Ride, which one of the crazypants asserted was any person who mentioned it on their web site. Kind of like, you know, how you’re an organizer of the Super Bowl when you note on your blog its location, date, time, and the teams who are playing.

Almost three and a half hours later the meeting adjourned, but not before one guy spent several minutes complaining about committee member David Kramer’s “conflict of interest” because in addition to his duties as a committee member he was formerly an officer of Big Orange. We’ll set aside for a minute the fact that nothing on the agenda affects Big Orange as a club at all, another detail that didn’t matter because it so obviously contradicted this guy’s attack.

Lacking any ability to understand that Big Orange doesn’t have a single organized ride in RPV, and unable to do anything other than wave tax returns and Secretary of State filings, this bonehead repeatedly insisted that Kramer “recuse” himself.

Kramer repeated, as he always does, that the committee makes no decisions (ergo there’s nothing to be recused from), that all committee recommendations must be voted on by the city council which has the power to accept, reject or modify anything done by the committee, that the committee acts in a volunteer advisory capacity only, and that his activities as a cyclist have long been public, but the NIMBY didn’t care. All that the NIMBY could grasp is that Kramer is a cyclist, Kramer belongs to Big Orange, therefore Kramer has a conflict of interest. Of course with NIMBY logic, all of the motorists would have to recuse themselves from the committee, too, since no motorist could possibly be expected to be neutral on issues that affected cars. But in an absence of understanding and in a surfeit of ignorance, facts meant little, and one of the NIMBYs assured me outside the building that a lawsuit would be brought to remove Kramer from the committee.

“You’re not going to like that,” he said. I could only hope that he retained a very expensive lawyer with a huge, nonrefundable retainer.

In line with the NIMBY hatred of cyclists on Crest, riders recently reported a white Toyota Corolla buzzing, honking at, and harassing cyclists going up Crest in, surprise, single file. It’s hard to understand what they meant by civility, except perhaps this: Please shut up and go away from RPV.

The next day was Tuesday. I mentally flushed out the cremains of the night before with a good bike ride, one of those organic rides without a leader or promoter that’s been going on for over 30 years, and that evening I was back at another city meeting to witness another series of mindless assaults on cycling. This one was at Palos Verdes Estates.

At the end of the meeting I was accosted by a guy who claimed to be “Frank Ponce” and who “wanted to talk” to me. Imagine a pudgy bully whose hairpiece has been dipped in a bucket of chiGrecian Formula, clad in a two-for-one suit from Men’s Wearhouse, wearing an imitation of a fake Swiss watch and looking like he wanted to kill you.

Then imagine another guy, larger, blobbier, dumber looking (possible? yes!) who was also wearing a sandwich board with my picture on it and the caption “This Clown Wants More Signs.”

This clever fellow had discovered a picture that was on my web site and was now going to expose me as an advocate for bike signage. Plus he was going to call me a clown. Unfortunately, Mom’s allowance must have been a bit on the low side because the construction of the sign had the quality you normally associate with a cardboard roof used by a homeless person to cover his shopping cart.

How a person can strap on a homemade sign and duck-waddle around in public while calling someone else a clown is a metaphor for the wholesale absence of reflection, perspective, or self-awareness that the bike haters displayed at every turn. I was waiting for the Sandwich Clown to ask for gas money since Mom had perhaps kicked him off the couch for the evening, the best explanation for him even being out of the house.

Upon leaving the parking lot, Mr. Men’s Wearhouse, still furious that none of the cyclists would engage with him or take him up on his unspoken offers of a duel using tubes of Rogaine, taunted me as I walked by. Rumor has it that the fake watch consortium is going to set the wheels in motion to “revoke my law license.” It will be fascinating to watch the $99 suits tangle with even more words, rules, laws, and procedures, seeing as they still haven’t been able to read and understand CVC 21202(a) and its exceptions. Imagine their surprise when someone tries to draw them a stick-figure diagram of what an anti-SLAPP motion is and what attorney fee sanctions look like.

As I left the parking lot, catcalls ringing in my ears, it occurred to me that there it was again! Third Grade! Another flaccid wanker thinking that no one could possibly resist the idea of jumping into a verbal sewer with him. I kept walking, slightly pleased that with so little effort I’d taken up permanent residence into such a small and sand-filled head. And best of all, I was staying there rent-free.

The PVE City Council meeting itself was something of a clusterfuck. Because the council had seen the large turnout of cyclists in past meetings and been inundated by NIMBY emails complaining about outsiders/flatlanders/transients influencing their special snowflake on the hill, they sought to do an end-run by moving the time from 5:30 to 7:30 in order to conduct a workshop on traffic safety. It was never articulated as such, but the idea seemed to be to wear down the cyclists with an earlier meeting that would cut off speaking times. The plan only half-worked because the fire marshal had to stop people from entering after the room filled to capacity with cyclists.

While the tiny Men’s Wearhouse contingent had vociferously sought to rally the anti-cycling troops for the meeting, the packed-to-capacity council chambers were filled predominantly with cyclists. When asked to stand if they supported BMUFL signage, only a smattering of the 90+ attendees remained seated. If the plan had been to get all the concerned PVE residents out in force, it worked, because the meeting showed what we’ve known all along: Most residents don’t give two ratfucks about five new BMUFL signs and the only ones who oppose them are either still subsidized by Mom or are retired or are woefully underemployed or all three.

The workshop, although ostensibly held to educate the council as to this “complex” issue of four signs, seemed in fact to be Traffic Safety Principles 101 for the Completely Clueless NIMBYs. It was a rehash of many, many presentations I’ve heard in bits and pieces from the city’s traffic engineer, and it was all politespeak for “These BMUFL signs are legal, you dumbshits.”

But the problem was this: If the NIMBYs were so thick-headed that they couldn’t understand CVC 21202(a), and if they were so pig-headed that they refused to recognized the legality of BMUFL, how in the world was the workshop going to educate them about something as complex as “basic principles of traffic engineering”? Their go-to guy was a stooge in a sandwich board and a sub-literate, flabby realtor in a cheap suit whose Linked-In profile picture reminds me of a hubcap thief from the 1920’s. These people were going to be “educated” about engineering and the law?

No. They were not.

It was like having a civil rights lawyer address a group of Trump supporters on the illegality of segregation.

Civil rights lawyer: “Segregation is illegal.”

Trumpers: “But we hate black people.”

CRL: “It’s still illegal.”

Trumpers: “No, it isn’t.”

CRL: “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).”

Trumpers: “Can we change the law just for here? PVE is unique!”

CRL: “No. It’s the supreme law of the land and codified in numerous federal and state laws and the California Constitution.”

Trumpers: “We still hate black people. We still hate integration. We love segregation. We don’t understand why we can’t have it. We grew up with it. And we’ve lived here since 1984.”

The part of the workshop that did work was that it promptly concluded at 7:30, before even a fraction of the cyclists had gotten to speak out in favor of BMUFL signage. This served the city and the NIMBYs’ agenda perfectly: It delayed the decision on the signs even further, it forced the cyclists to come back again (and again and possibly again), and it let the BMUFL advocates know that the city wasn’t going to easily and quickly fold to the recommendations of its own attorney, traffic engineer, safety committee, and what one NIMBY at the last traffic committee meeting referred to as “transients.”

The other part of the workshop that worked out exquisitely for the NIMBYs was that the latter half of the workshop degenerated into “cyclists running stop signs.” No matter how many times the police say they have limited resources, no matter how many times people point out that stop sign violations are equal among cars and bikes, and no matter how many times people point out that stop sign violations have nothing at all to do with BMUFL signage, once the Dreaded Stop Sign Issue is raised, everything goes running down into the gutter.

It’s as if you convened a meeting to discuss space travel and no one could stop talking about stop signs.

Bike Advocate: “BMUFL signage is legal and saves lives.”

Men’s Wearhouse: “Bikes run stop signs!”

Bike Advocate: “So do motorists but that’s not the issue.”

Men’s Wearhouse: “Bikes run stop signs!”

Bike Advocate: “Yes, but today we’re here to discuss BMUFL signage.”

Men’s Wearhouse: “Norm is videotaping all the scofflaw bikers running stop signs!”

Bike Advocate: “Yes, we’ve seen samples of the high quality videos made by Mom’s Couch Productions. But today we’re here to discuss BMUFL signage, how it’s legal, recommended by the city engineer, and how it saves lives according the the NIH.”

Men’s Wearhouse: “Blobbly Bob is going to make another sandwich board showing bikers running stop signs!”

Bike Advocate: “I hope it’s a wide one.”

END

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September 7 at 7:30 PM

September 6, 2016 § 22 Comments

There will be a traffic safety committee meeting at the Palos Verdes Estates city hall tomorrow at 7:30 PM. The traffic safety committee has recommended that the city install six signs that say “Bikes May Use Full Lane.” The full agenda is here; the address is 340 Palos Verdes Drive West, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274.

Sounds like glacial change that couldn’t possibly be controversial.

However, a handful of NIMBYs think that this is outrageous and will spoil the peninsula. So, in typical NIMBY fashion, they have cobbled together a petition that urges the city to delay putting up Bikes May Use Full Lane signage even though such signage has been approved by the city’s traffic safety commission and is completely legal. I’ve heard but can’t confirm that there is also a petition to limit cyclist usage of certain sections of public roads. This isn’t on the agenda, but we’ll see at the meeting if that’s in fact what some of the NIMBYs are advocating. I won’t urge you to show up and make your voice heard. Everyone has their own to-do list. Families, kids, jobs, fantasy football, and the all-important rest time for the next big group ride. I get it.

But for those who think that democracy only happens when people show up, please take a few hours out of your lives to help the traffic safety committee do what it already knows is the right thing to do.

And the right thing to do, as a very first step, is to install signage that will encourage motorists not to behave like this 14-carat asshole driving in Palos Verdes Estates who almost killed one cyclist and almost injured many more yesterday:

END

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Strawberry fields forever

April 20, 2014 § 36 Comments

The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.

“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”

I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.

They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”

“Racer 5.”

“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.

“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”

“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.

“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”

I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.

Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.

I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”

The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”

“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”

They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”

Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”

“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”

Convo saver

The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.

“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.

The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.

I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”

“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.

“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”

Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900’s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”

“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”

“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”

“What’s a chaser boat?”

“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”

I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960’s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.

“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.

“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ’em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.

“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”

“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.

“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”

“What was it?”

“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”

“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.

Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”

END

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