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83-year-old good Samaritan scores a rare victory against City Hall

It cost James Buch nearly $400 to get his car back after it was towed, as has happened to many others
Good Samaritan set out to warn other drivers and persuade City Hall to do the obvious and paint the curb red

Stop whatever you're doing, turn off the television, wake the children and salute the flag.

A West Los Angeles man has fought City Hall and won.

His name is James Buch and he doesn't like me saying it, but he's 83, not that you'd know it from the way he dances salsa. It was his love of dancing, in fact, that tripped him up last month.

You may have seen Buch featured in this column a week ago. He'd gone dancing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Saturday night salsa fest, and returned to an empty space where he'd parked his car on 6th Street near Fairfax.

His car had been towed, which happens all the time on that street. Why? Because the tow-zone signs are partially obscured by trees and a larger sign, and it cost Buch nearly $400 for the ticket and the tow.

OK, Buch said, he was in the wrong, but so were lots of other people. The good Samaritan went on a mission to warn other drivers not to make the same mistake he had, and he also wanted to persuade City Hall to remove any confusion by doing the obvious and paint the curb red.

Buch drove back to 6th Street for four Saturdays, but not to dance. By his count, he shooed away more than 100 drivers who stopped to park exactly where he had. But his fight with City Hall — to get the curb painted — was a bust.

Officials at the L.A. Department of Transportation told Buch and me their policy is to use tow-zone signs rather than to paint curbs red for long stretches, such as the 400-foot area in question. They also said the city has broader authority to tow from such areas than from red curbs.

Huh?

I had to wonder whether they were trying to prevent parking or fleece unsuspecting drivers into getting towed.

When the column ran last Wednesday, a remarkable thing happened.

DOT came to its senses.

As spokesman Bruce Gillman noted, several officials got together and decided that "painting the curb red helps alert drivers to not park there …"

Yes, exactly.

On Friday morning, a city crew showed up and painted the curb red.

"That's fantastic!" Buch said. "That's a miracle!"

Of course it is.

But solve one problem in the big city and another one bubbles up, am I right?

UCLA, for instance, became an aquarium Tuesday afternoon when a water main ruptured on Sunset Boulevard and sent a massive geyser skyward. This was no routine eruption, either, in a city that has had more than a few. You almost expected to see airborne marine life, as if it were some kind of "Sharknado" sequel.

And there you were, brushing your teeth without water and flushing the toilet every third day to conserve water in the middle of a drought, even as the city's ancient infrastructure spilled enough H2O in a few hours to irrigate the entire Central Valley.

And this happened just as I was trying to get to the bottom of another water-related mishap. On the day of my column about Mr. Buch, Sam and Shaela Cook awoke in their Eagle Rock home and noticed that the sprinklers were going full blast on a neighbor's sprawling lawn.

"At 10:30, they were still on," Shaela said. "At 12:30, they were still on."

And they would stay on into the evening.

A few things about this are worth noting.

First, we're in the middle of the aforementioned drought.

Second, we're under orders to conserve water and consider converting to drought-resistant landscaping (the Cooks are about to rip out their own lawn).

Third — and this is the one that convinces me there is a God — the property owner with the nonstop sprinklers is everyone's favorite utility: the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Yep, the guys with the leaky pipe in Westwood.

Was it cynical of me to wonder if the moment the DWP closed off the rupture in Westwood, the sprinklers would go back on in Eagle Rock?

The Eagle Rock facility is an electricity distribution station and it's bordered on three sides by enough grass to stage simultaneous soccer, croquet and volleyball matches.

Yes, grass, at the agency that will pay you to remove yours.

The lawn does have some dry spots, so it didn't appear that 12 hours of watering are routine procedure. But Shaela, who said she hears "what sounds like a gush" when the sprinklers do go on, wondered why there's any grass there at all. The day the sprinklers ran crazy, she said, the sidewalk was flooded and precious water raged through the gutter.

"It was a stupid amount of water," Shaela said.

Her husband told me he dialed DWP again in mid-afternoon and said: "I want to let you know your sprinklers have been running all day, and you should probably try to find a way to turn them off."

The sprinklers finally went off some time around 7 p.m.

So what was going on?

"A crew member is on site testing the system now to determine if a valve may have gotten stuck or if it was caused by a faulty timer clock," DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said Tuesday by email, just before he jumped over to the Westwood disaster.

He also told me that DWP has hundreds of properties and is still in the process of converting to drought-resistant landscaping at every location. Ramallo said the Eagle Rock property is scheduled for a landscaping makeover this fall.

I'll keep an eye on the situation, but in the meantime, if you've got problems that aren't getting resolved, you can either hope for a miracle or drop me a line. I'll call Jim Buch and we'll see what we can do.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATstevelopez

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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