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Volume V - Issue #41: March 2004

"Playa Vista"

        Back in the Fall of 1996, I read an article in the paper that suggested that the owners of the old Hughes Aircraft plant and land (just outside Culver City in West Los Angeles) might tear down the original buildings, including offices & the huge hangar where the 'Spruce Goose' airplane was built. I was then working on my series of Rick Walker noir detective novels – http://www.rickwalkerPI.com – and Book #4 was to be a plot where billionaire Howard Hughes hires my detective hero in 1957, the year Howard went into hiding.
        So I called Maguire Thomas Partners and asked, as an author, if I could visit the buildings. They assured me that the buildings were not planned for demolition – too historic, very rentable – but that I was welcome to come take a look.
        I arrived for my appointment wearing boots and a red flannel shirt and carrying a notebook, very much conveying the persona of a writer. They had me sign a waiver, in case I fell in a hole or some such, and introduced me to my escort, a security guard named Jerry.
        Jerry showed me around the main buildings – the giant hangars, the airport's arch-roof cargo hangar, the commissary building (where Howard had an apartment), engineering offices in Building 2 – and then Jerry unlocked Building 1, which was kept ready for the occasional film shoot, with working electricity and water. (Bldg. 2 was then decrepit – roof damage, pigeon droppings – and Bldg. 3 was off-limits, under lease to an artist as a studio.)
        So we walked thru every room of Bldg. 1, seeing how things were organized, the huge silver map of the world in the conference room, and then the upstairs kitchen & offices, and finally Howard's office in the southwest corner – the location of which will be a plot point in the "Ballad of the Tall Man" novel. Jerry and I chatted for at least an hour, there in Howard's office, swapping security stories and tales of Culver City history, and at one point Jerry complained that he had to work on Sunday because no one else was willing to cover the weekends, or were not acceptable to the owners. So I said, "Heck, I'm unemployed, get them to hire me." I had already established my bona fides with tales of my two years as a security guard at Universal Studios, and emphasized that my California Guard Card was current.
        A couple weeks later, I was the weekend security guard for Maguire Thomas Playa Vista, taking responsibility for all of Playa Vista's 1200 acres. It was wonderful: I was by myself all day, driving a 4-wheel-drive pickup truck and wearing boots (lots of brush and mud), and civilization was very far away. The other days I worked various other posts for That Security Company.

* *          * *          * *          * *

        I did not know that I was going to be involved in a perfect example of Why Things Do Not Work.
        There turned out to be three main factions involved (with a fourth added later): the owners, Maguire Thomas Partners [M.T.P.], which later morphed into Playa Vista Capital LLC; the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, who truly care about the ecosystem and nature and the flora & fauna; and The Protesters, who had as their life's mission stopping any commercial redevelopment of the Playa Vista land holdings.
        The land consisted of the old airport area & buildings, the West Bluffs across Lincoln Blvd., the wetlands proper near the beach, an area inside Marina del Rey with capped oil wells, and two parcels north of Ballona Creek that contained a Little League ballfield and a place where local trespassers walked their dogs and hiked.
        I got into the job right away, learning the gates and roads and people. Before long, I set the all-time record by running off 54 trespassers on the last Sunday of 1996 – little knowing how much trouble my Daily Log report would cause.

        The folks at the M.T.P. office were nice enough, but there was an element of snobbism – guards should be seen and not heard. Jerry, however, spent a lot of his days (now Monday thru Friday) sucking up to the office people. What I didn't know was that he was also bad-mouthing the new guy – me. It became apparent much later that Jerry would catch maybe a dozen trespassers each week and my thoroughness made him look bad. So rather than getting his butt out in the field and enforcing the perimeter, he chose to do damage to me (and to That Security Company, his employer) with gossip.

        The Friends of the Ballona Wetlands [F.B.W.] people had negotiated a deal a decade before with M.T.P. that ensured the restoration of the sensitive wetlands proper, basically about 90 acres west of Lincoln Blvd. and south of Ballona Creek. Included in the deal was $12 million in escrow to be used to clean up and replant the ecosystem and construct a visitor center – funded in perpetuity.
        Good people all, especially Mary, a tireless septuagenarian who hauled water in buckets, restored native plants, removed wind-blown trash, etc. She and others gave tours to school kids, Scout groups and such, often instructing the kids while having them go to work and tear out nasty (non-native) ice plant and then replant the area with native grasses and seedlings. Several times a year they would haul out a half-high 40-foot dumpster of damage-causing plants.

        The Protestors, on the other hand, used (and still do) all kinds of confrontational and underhanded and illegal strategies to prevent the start of construction by M.T.P. They filed frivolous lawsuits that delayed matters so long that repair of the wetlands ecosystem became seriously questionable – the funds in escrow were contingent on start of construction of Phase I. The Protestors buried spurious artifacts and sued under the Native American Artifacts Act. I personally caught a professed member of the central Protestors group sneaking into the property carrying a camera and a dead opossum! – his obvious intention to manufacture evidence of some sort was thwarted by my diligence. The spray-painted grafitti and the chopping up of the garden hoses is also laid to their doing.
        The Protestors held press conferences at the bus stop at Lincoln and Jefferson, and handed out flyers to commuters on Friday afternoons, demanding that M.T.P. turn the land over to them. What was never reported in the press was that each Monday after such demonstrations, the contract landscape laborers had to pick up after the 'do-gooders', always filling several big trash bags with garbage strewn by the Protestors.

        This went on for about 1½ years. Then the permits & financing all got approved and the owners, now reorganized as Playa Vista Capital [P.V.C.], brought in the big earth movers and Cat-9 bulldozers – at the old airport site, which was never a wetland – so security was tightened. Jerry worked 8am to 8pm and I worked 8pm to 8am for the several weeks that it took to bring in additional qualified guards.
        Meanwhile, the Protestors were planning eco-terrorism. I was disappointed because the called-in bomb threats happened on my night off, as did the bullet holes in the earth mover windows. But on the nights I worked, I was spending my evenings patrolling the 1200 acres and after midnight I parked among the million-dollar earth moving equipment (all lined up nose-to-tail for security) and listened to Art Bell on the radio (to stay awake) and then turned on my flashlight and wrote another chapter of the Working Minds philosophy book that sources this ezine and website. (I wrote the 600-page book in ten months, taking every opportunity, such as when on a very quiet post.)

        But the new management at P.V.C. decided to put the contract for security up for bid, partly because the new conditions would call for additional services: gate guards and 24-hour patrol for the thousands of condominiums expected to be on the market shortly, for one thing. The owner of That Security Company refused to bid low, and so that October of 1998, I handed the keys and documentation to the new security company, on the dot at Midnight.

        Then things started to make sense. Jerry stormed into the P.V.C. offices and ranted about them doing him dirt, giving the contract away. Then he published a letter in the beach-area Argonaut newspaper saying how wrong the owners were and that for the last several years he had acted on behalf of the Protestors, that he had 'prayed about the matter', and that God essentially told him to spy on his employers.
        Thus it became clear to all why Jerry never caught trespassers, how the Protestors knew my days off ('all clear on Thursday'), and that was how the Protestors got the new main gate phone number for the bomb threats. Later on, I asked the owner of That Security Company why Jerry was still working for our company. His reply was that Jerry had a First Amendment Right to send in such a letter. Apparently, conflict of interest and industrial espionage were okay, and the fact that on next go-round on bids for a Playa Vista security contract, That Security Company was locked out of contention by Jerry's shenanigans.

* *          * *          * *          * *

        Anything like situations in your life? Sound like the daily news in your town or Washington, DC? Crimes committed by the Protestors covered up by their mole guard Jerry; the whole matter swept under the rug by my employer and by the owners, and never any confrontation on the matter with the Protestors.
        No one is responsible. Except Mary and Ruth and the F.B.W., dragging trash and weeds out of the swamp so that the dwindling habitat for endangered species that travel the California fly-ways is preserved for future generations. Yes, there are heroes like the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands, but they are as rare as a pearl in a bed of oysters.
        The majority of Mankind – the weasels, the back-stabbers, the Oligarchy, the religionists, the bureaucrats & politicians, the tabloid journalists (of every medium) – are not worth the powder it would take to blow them up.

* *          * *          * *          * *

        The current status at Playa Vista is that the Freshwater Marsh is restored, work proceeds on the major wetlands area, and permits are approved for start of Phase II, the commercial/- office sector. The two parcels north of Ballona Creek were bought in December by the State.
        The existing condos and apartments look like anywhere in Orange County, even including the failure to address pedestrian needs – the maids & employees will have to trudge an extra mile from the bus stop each day to get to their jobs.
        Recent construction digging beneath the Loyola University bluffs turned up a Native American burial site, which brought in the fourth faction, the local Tongva-Gabrielino Tribe. The official site-manager wants major and costly handling of his ancestors' bones, while another faction within the tribe is very vocal that he has no standing – just another mess added to the original.

        The Protestors will of course claim all victory, even the sale of the two parcels to the State (driven by economics, not by protests), but in reality the Protestors are self-aggrandizing, publicity-seeking eco-terrorists. They will not be found pulling weeds or picking up trash (not even their own) for the benefit of the ecosystem.
        That work falls to the unsung heroes of the deal. Not the developers, not the lying eco-terrorists, not the passive Tribal Americans, but the hard-working sun-burnt and wind-burnt folks of the Friends of the Ballona Wetlands and the Ballona Wetlands Foundation.

        Map this onto your local factions. They are there. The Developers, who simply want to 'pave Paradise' and make a buck or two. The God-driven reactionaries, who see no problem in lying, spying, bombing & terrorism-by-frivolous-lawsuit to achieve their dubious mission. The unsung workers who actually produce progress for Mankind and protect the Holy Biosphere. The politicians and bureaucrats who switch sides based on who pays the most. The N.I.M.B.Y. locals who close the gates after they get inside Paradise. The blindered journalists who 'see no evil' where facts prove otherwise. And the general public, who just don't give a darn about their future.

        Why do things not work on this planet? The Culture-Structure is designed so that Things Do Not Work! The only solution is replacement of ignorance & superstition with Reason. Develop a Working Mind, and Mankind may just have a chance for survival. Leave things as they are and the same madness (as above) will prevail. Do nothing and you deserve what you get.

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a poem written inside Playa Vista [1996]:  http://www.genordell.com/writings/coffeebreak.htm

Friends of the Ballona Wetlands:   http://www.ballonafriends.org/
The Ballona Wetlands Foundation:   http://www.ballona-wetlands.org/
Playa Vista official website:   http://www.playavista.com/

[copyright 2004 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved]

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