Franchises sucking the local flavor out of Los Angeles

Times Staff Writer

On the south side of Los Angeles, near USC, is a new student housing complex called the Tuscany. Never mind that it’s about 8,000 miles from Tuscany.

Much of the ground floor is devoted to retail. The businesses are: the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Cold Stone Creamery, Quiznos, Robeks and Chipotle.

Throw in a Radio Shack, Victoria’s Secret and two Starbucks, and you get the feeling that’s what every single block in all of Los Angeles will look like one day: a bethonged populace stumbling from franchised burrito to lattes and back.


Turning our attention to the north, another example of the franchise-ization of Los Angeles is underway. The venerable Wiener Factory in Sherman Oaks has lost its lease. The single-outlet hot-dog stand that has been a fixture on Ventura Boulevard for the last 36 years is going to . . .

Be replaced by what?

Pinkberry, the chain purveyors of fancy frozen yogurt or, in the views of some, a yogurt-like substance.

The chain plans to lease the site but is still trying to persuade residents that the tiny parcel has enough parking.

In the meantime, a Valley institution is left with no home. The good news: Kevin Lentz, the Wiener Factory’s owner, says that he’s knee-deep in offers from fans of his restaurant to help relocate.

In an interview last week, we asked Lentz if he sees this as a parable for what’s happening around the city.

“When I was growing up here in the ‘50s and ‘60s, L.A. had a reputation that the streets were paved with gold,” he said. “It was a wonderful place to raise your kids, and there were mom and pops all over. They were family-run businesses. You would go in, and everyone knew you by your first name, and they took care of you.


“The business community nurtured the residents. Nowadays, with the franchises, it seems to be more cold. There doesn’t seem to be that personal interaction,” he added. “That’s something we’ve always tried to do here. And if we go out and open other locations, that’s not going to change.”

Amen, brother.

Does the Wiener Factory have the best hot dogs ever?

Among hot-dog enthusiasts, that’s a loaded question -- kind of like asking which religion is best.

In our humble view, the Factory serves a more-than-competent dog, thus the reason for the lines inside at the counter and outside at the takeout window.

Still, we’ve yet to have a hot dog here as good as Superdawg in Chicago.

So what kind of car is the nominated head of the Department of Water and Power driving?

A Mercedes sedan. David Nahai, after all, is a Century City attorney, the longtime chief of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and a bigwig within the League of Conservation Voters.

Nahai was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last week to head the nation’s largest public utility, although he still must be confirmed by the City Council. It was not a coincidence that Villaraigosa tapped someone with environmental credentials the same week that he was delivering a keynote speech at a climate-change conference in Seattle.

In a recent interview, the subject of Nahai’s car came up. A Mercedes? asked a reporter. Maybe it’s time to switch to a hybrid for PR purposes?

“I just can’t give it [the Mercedes] up,” Nahai said. “It’s a lease.”

Hmm. The last chief of the DWP made nearly $300,000 a year. Nahai’s salary still hasn’t been set, but after mulling it over, Nahai said he’s in the market for a hybrid.

What did he have to say on the more substantive issues?

Plenty. Nahai believes the DWP one day will generate one-third of its power from renewable sources and such talk isn’t just feel-good bunk.

“We’re very fortunate that we live within reach of three world-class renewable areas -- wind power in the Tehachapis, solar in the Mojave and we’ve got geothermal in the Imperial Valley,” he said. “Geographically, we’re very well positioned.”

The DWP already is building a large wind farm near Tehachapi, and Nahai said the agency has an option to purchase 12,000 to 16,000 additional acres from other landowners.

His challenge is to find money to build those facilities while upgrading the DWP’s aging infrastructure. More on that soon.

Were toxics found in those fish plucked from the L.A. River?

Yes: trace amounts of industrial compounds known as PCBs -- a probable human carcinogen -- but no mercury.

The group Friends of the Los Angeles River recently plucked several fish from the water and dispatched them to the lab for testing. The nonprofit is trying to learn exactly which fish species are living in the river -- which the city hopes to restore -- and exactly how toxic those fish are.

Jonathan Brooks, the group’s science coordinator, said the source of the PCBs remains unknown. He hopes further testing will help identify what they’re coming from.

And, get this: Brooks also is developing an edible-fish guide for the river.

He says he wouldn’t recommend that anyone eat fish regularly from the river, but that it is probably OK to do so occasionally if it is properly cooked and if fatty tissue is avoided.

On this point, we respectfully disagree. In fact, if you are eating a carp-and-eggs breakfast courtesy of the L.A. River, our advice is simple.

Spit. It. Out. Now.

Any interesting news on the fundraising circuit?

Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick has an event tomorrow. Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti are scheduled to attend, but the special guest is billed as state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown.

Brown -- who also showed up recently at Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton’s swearing in -- and Villaraigosa will, we hope, be seated together. They have much to chat about. Such as their potential 2010 gubernatorial campaigns for the Democratic nomination.

If a dog goes No. 2 on a lawn that has been fertilized with manure, does the dog’s owner have to pick up after the dog?

Yes. Although it seems like the dog’s owner is providing a free service, the law in most cities is that you’ve got to clean up after Fido.

In Los Angeles, for example, the only exception is for guide dogs for the blind, which seems logical enough.

This, of course, is the time of year when many Southern Californians like to spread fertilizer on their lawns. Fertilizer was even plopped on the lawn outside City Hall last week, lending the city’s hub of government the exact kind of odor it should be trying to avoid.

As for the fertilizer, we offer two thoughts:

Your lawn likely won’t die without it, although it may lose that nuclear green sheen.

Fertilizer is loaded with nitrogen, and when fertilizer is washed to the ocean by rain or sprinkler systems, it contributes to serious ecological problems. Check out the Times’ Altered Oceans series for more on that.

Doggy doo, too, isn’t the kind of thing you want in your rivers or oceans. So why, we wonder, is fertilizer OK but dog business is not?

What was traffic like outside the Sports Arena for the first of last week’s Springsteen shows?

At one point, there were cars pointed in four different directions in the middle of Figueroa Street, despite the presence of police and city transportation officers.

Not that it mattered. One review put it very well, by Corey Podell at LAist: “His performance made me forget about the insane traffic and closed parking lots on the way, it made me forget about my terrible seats. . . . Really, it made me forget about everything bad that ever happened in the entire world ever. EVER.”

That’s right.


Next week: Fun with e-mail.