L.A. Without Palm Trees?

Los Angeles’ iconic palm trees are the signature look of the city. There are 75,000 of them in Los Angeles, 3,000 in Beverly Hills, and 6,000 in Santa Monica. Most of them are Mexican fan palms, which in the wild grow from 40 to 60 feet, but in the city have reached 100 to 150 feet.

I’ve always loved the view of the lined palm trees adorning the city’s streets and swaying gently in the sky. They warm my heart. So I was devastated to learn that many of these iconic trees, which were planted in the 1930s, are nearing the end of their natural life spans. They are dying of old age and a fungal disease that has attacked similar plants around the world. As they die, city planners are replacing them with oaks, sycamores and other species native to Los Angeles, which are more adapted to the region’s semi-arid climate and require less water. They also provide more shade and cost less to care for.

Surprisingly, a lot of Angelenos are OK with the idea of replacing the palm trees with other trees! Reading about the issue I realized that not everyone here is a fan of the giant palms. They consider them hazardous and a nuisance because their big, spiky fronds fall off the trees in the Santa Ana winds that sweep the region through in winter, hitting cars and sometimes pedestrians.

I’m still new to LA (two years this month) and haven’t had any bad experiences with palm tress, so I can’t stand the thought of the city without them. I’m glad there are others who feels this way, like the Palm Society of Southern California, a research group that supports keeping the city lined with palms.

While it may take a while for that to happen (hopefully not in my life time), if you come to LA, enjoy these beautiful palms and the view they provide because they may not all be here the next time you visit.

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Palisades Park: A Santa Monica Landmark

Palisades Park, in Santa Monica, has been one my favorite places in Los Angeles since I first arrived here. Why do I like it so much?

First, because of its privileged location. High on a cliff, one can look down on the Pacific, enjoy the sea breeze and magnificent views of the ocean and the mountains while also getting some exercise. Busy but never overcrowded, the park is a place where people go for a walk, to jog, bike, do yoga, meditate, read, write, play with their children, walk their dogs, watch the sunset, or just hang out. I go there to walk, take pictures and, being a beach person, to be close to the ocean.

Palisades is a Santa Monica landmark. Its original landscape design was done in 1913 by architect I.G. Le Grande, who installed a long, winding footpath and added rows of Canary Island date palms and Mexican fan palms to the existing eucalyptus trees along Ocean Avenue.

I love the wide variety of trees, plants and flowers beautifully displayed throughout the park’s 26 acres. My favorites are the exotic succulent garden, the iconic palm trees, and the community rose garden, dedicated to one of the park’s founders. The picnic areas, under the shade of gigantic fig trees, are nice and inviting. And many benches and sitting areas along the entire stretch make it possible for people to rest and appreciate the views. The park’s Redwood Pergola, built in 1912, is considered an outstanding example of a Craftsman-style Pergola and is often seen in movies shot in Santa Monica. Park visitors, especially musicians, like to hang out at the pergola.

Among the many other features, the park has a Veterans Memorial; several sculptures, including the “Genesis Sculpture,” a wooden sphere by sculptor Baile Oakes; and the Overlook Beacon, which gives the viewer the feeling of being aboard ship in the ocean, with unrestricted views of the Pacific.

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Palisades park was a gift to Santa Monica from U.S. Senator John P. Jones, a mining baron who co-founded the city in 1875. In 1892, he and his business partner, Arcadia Bandini Baker, moved to preserve the bluffs’ charms for the public enjoyment. Ignoring the enormous real estate potential of the land, they deeded it to the city on the condition that it forever remain public parkland.

It’s nice to see that through the years, Palisades park has been preserved and continues to be used, not only by the people of Santa Monica, but also by people from Los Angeles Westside, and by visitors from all parts of the country and the world. It’s a remarkably democratic space, where the rich, the poor and the homeless, the old and the young, locals and visitors, and dogs galore, equally share the beautiful grounds as they go about their activities.

I’ve been going there since I first arrived in LA to walk, watch and photograph the beautiful sunsets and appreciate the flowers and plants along the park’s 26 acres. Anyone visiting LA must come to Santa Monica and take a stroll at Palisades park.

One Year in LA. No Regrets

One year ago yesterday I arrived in Los Angeles. October 1, 2011 was a beautiful day, as most days are in L.A. We arrived at LAX late morning with our oversized luggage, and a couple of hours later were having lunch at BOA in Santa Monica, looking out at the Pacific Ocean. What a great feeling!

Some friends back in D.C. thought this move was, well, insane! After living in the nation’s capital and working for a highly reputable international development organization for many years, why was I moving to “LaLa land” of all places? What was I thinking?!

L.A.’s hardest critics are usually people who’ve either never been here or just visited briefly. They have a stereotyped image of the place –Hollywood, celebrities, money and frivolity. Nothing worthy of substance and cultural value could ever happen here. Actually, it was this kind of misconception about L.A. that inspired me to start Discovering L.A.

Having lived in California and visited L.A. many times, I knew there was much more to it than Hollywood and celebrities. I knew that besides its beautiful views of mountains and ocean, and its fabulous weather and beaches, this city had a lot to offer. L.A. has great museums, a fantastic Music Center, home to the L.A. Opera –with Placido Domingo at the helm– and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. It has prestigious universities —UCLA and USC among others–that offer academic and cultural opportunities, and a large number of think tanks. There’s also a lot of activism in L.A. on myriad issues.

And, yes, you can indulge in celebrity culture, if that’s your thing. Hang out in Hollywood and Beverly Hills long enough and you’ll eventually catch a glimpse at one of the Kardashians or a real movie star. I must confess, I often forget that Hollywood is just around the corner. And if it weren’t for the Oscars, the Golden Globe, Emmys and other award shows, I wouldn’t remember I live in the entertainment capital of the world. But I have seen my share of celebrities, in very relaxed and informal situations, mostly around Santa Monica. No big deal.

Anyway, one year later, six months of which were spent on finding, buying and remodeling a house, I have no regrets. This was not a move made on a whim. California was our first home in the US many years ago, so moving to L.A. felt more like a long-overdue homecoming than a risky adventure.

June Gloom? Bring It!

I had been warned: the months of May and June in Los Angeles have lots of gray, gloomy days.

It was hard to envision that after having seen fall and winter days that were ten times sunnier than some spring and summer days on the East Coast! But locals assured me it would happen. And lo and behold, as June came along, so did those gray, breezy, gloomy days…

I don’t know about “May gray” –I didn’t notice anything special about the weather last month– but “June gloom” is for real! So far, almost every day in June has been cloudy and windy and somewhat gloomy.

This phenomenon is the result of three things that occur around this time of the year: cold Pacific Ocean water, an ocean current known as the California Current, and a high pressure formation known as the Pacific High. Put these three together and voilà! Welcome to June gloom!

While tourists and locals may dread this weather, I must confess I am enjoying it. I actually welcome a little cloud coverage in this intensely sunny city. For one, because, as many Angelenos do, we decided not to use our garage and turned it into a gym. That means our cars can bake in the sun for hours, making the first few minutes of a ride quite unpleasant. These cloudy, cooler days make a huge difference in that regard…

I also noticed that this phenomenon takes place mostly in the morning and early afternoon. By mid to late-afternoon the sun starts to break through the clouds and the rest of the day ends up being quite pleasant.

Whether one likes or hates June gloom, I guess it’s safe to say that June is not the best month to visit the L.A. area, especially if lying in the sun in Santa Monica or Malibu is your number one priority. Save that for the other summer months.

But no matter what your plans are, or what time of the year you come to L.A., the thing to always remember is that temperatures here vary within just a few miles. For example, when it’s 72°F in Santa Monica, it might be 80°F downtown, and even hotter in the Valleys. And the coast remains cool and comfortable, even a bit nippy, throughout the summer. No wonder the weather forecast for the L.A. area is a rather complicated report on what’s happening in the mountains, the desert, the valleys, the basin, the beaches, etc.

The bottom line? When visiting L.A. always dress in layers!!

P.S. Those are not my feet… 🙂

Los Angeles’ Coral Trees

I love driving along San Vicente Boulevard between Brentwood and Santa Monica, with the beautiful coral trees that adorn its entire five-mile stretch, from the western edge of the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs campus to the coast in Santa Monica.

I recently learned that this species of coral tree is original of South Africa, and that the trees along San Vicente Boulevard have been there since 1950. I also learned that in 1966 the Los Angeles City Council declared the coral tree the city’s official tree, and in 1976 the San Vicente stand was declared a city historic-cultural monument. A very well deserved honor.

Since early February the coral trees have started to bloom and I can’t wait to see what it’ll look like when they are all in full bloom. I hope they don’t disappoint me…

For now, here are a few photos of the San Vicente trees taken over the past four months.

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Beautiful Sunsets

I read it somewhere that the Santa Monica pier is one of the ten best places in the world to watch the sun set.  I believe that’s true. In the past few months I’ve watched the sun set in Santa Monica many times and have taken photos while on my late afternoon walks along Palisades Park.

Here are a few of my photos of Santa Monica’s beautiful sunsets.

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Santa Monica: More Than A Pretty Beach

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in California for three months and never once posted about it! In my defense, moving from one coast to another, house hunting for weeks, dealing with difficult sellers and agents (that deserves a post of its own) and doing everything else needed to settle in a new state, has been a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, while doing all this, we’ve been living in Santa Monica, on a rental apartment just a stone’s throw of great shopping and restaurants and half a block from the ocean front. This has been a great experience and I’ve become a huge fan of the city.

Santa Monica is special, not only because it has super friendly people, great beaches and breathtaking sunsets but also because it’s a very progressive community with admirable standards of social inclusion. Its reputation as a liberal, caring, and well-organized city, with good schools, and good public services is one of the reasons Santa Monica is one of the most sought after places to live in Los Angeles County.

One of the things that struck me the most about Santa Monica was the city’s policy on homelessness. Unlike other communities, Santa Monica is known for treating the homeless with great compassion, and for being dedicated to preventing and addressing homelessness through outreach, permanent and temporary housing and shelter, and supportive services.

To be sure, there are those who see the homeless presence as a danger to the community. They forget that many of the people roaming the streets today are war veterans, former successful professionals, moms and dads, who fell victim to addiction, financial misfortune or mental illness.

While the city has had problems in the past with the way the police treated the homeless, it is certainly much more proactive in addressing homelessness than the city of Los Angeles –named the “meanest” city in the United States by national homeless advocacy group in 2009, according to the LA Times— and other cities in neighboring counties.  Just this past week, in three Orange County cities, three homeless men were killed by what is believed to be a serial killer, someone who does not embrace the notion of compassion and tolerance towards those who live on the streets.

On January 25, over 200 community volunteers will take to the streets in Santa Monica to visually count homeless people in the community, as part of the city’s Annual Homeless Count. I am seriously thinking about joining their effort.