Sunday, September 21, 2014

Canoga Please! Canoga Park's Celebrated Street Walkers (No, Not That Kind!)

Canoga Please! The wife and I recently purchased a cozy, mid-century home in your lovely town after my company (Peppy Donuts) transferred me to their Roscoe Boulevard location. We love the area and hope you can advise us on a matter we find a bit confusing: Every day, we see people of all ages walking down roads, streets and thoroughfares that we presumed to be primarily for motor vehicle use, and around whom we, as drivers, must carefully negotiate. 
I’ve looked closely each time I’ve experienced this strange phenomenon and there are always sidewalks on both sides of the street that are completely unobstructed - there are no cars across driveways, construction barriers, over-spraying lawn sprinklers - none of that.
Furthermore, the pavement itself seems to be in excellent repair and curbs are sloped at each corner for those in wheelchairs or anyone would otherwise have trouble climbing up or down a small step. In short, I’ve never noticed anything whatsoever that would prevent a pedestrian from using the nearby sidewalk which I would presume to be more convenient and far safer - and yet here are all these people just walking down the street instead. We desperately want to fit in, so please advise: Are Canoga Park sidewalks specifically prohibited from pedestrian use? --Tarzana Transplant, Malden Street

P.S. To be clear, I’m referring to people walking down entire blocks of streets busy with vehicular traffic - not pedestrians merely using a crosswalk to get from one side of the street to the other. To be clear.

P.P.S. Before you ask: No, we’re nowhere near Valerio Street with its festive, anything-goes, year-round carnivalĂ© atmosphere.

Dear Tarzana Transplant,
As you noticed, we do things a bit differently here in Canoga Park. While it’s not illegal per se to use the sidewalks lining public streets, it is tacitly discouraged. In fact, many residents insist that walking down a busy street is their constitutional right. (Ha!)

Some trace Canoga Parkians’ practice of eschewing sidewalks in favor of traffic-heavy roadways to a misinterpreted “Take Back Our Streets” initiative from 1998 that was supposed to help combat rampant gang mischievousness. Others point to a significant uptick in people strolling along roads, or road-strolling [known as straatenwandelen in Canoga Park’s Dutch quarter, Little Nieuwenhoornin] beginning in late May when spectators become confused after attending our annual Memorial Day Parade and seeing throngs of people marching down Sherman Way. Then there are those who, aware that Canoga Park’s formidable army of unlicensed street vendors have the right-of-way on public sidewalks, have decided that it’s easier to just walk in the streets rather than have to step aside every ten feet to allow yet another plywood-and-lawn-mower-wheel pork-rind pushcart, or varken winkelwagen, to pass. 

Regardless of how the delightful custom started, one thing’s for sure, Canoga Park’s a city on the move! 

*  *  *  *  * 

Canoga Please! Heading home from Costco last week after having used the one membership card everyone in my building shares, I was pushing my double-wide baby stroller down the middle of Variel Avenue toward the psychic readings/daycare facility where I drop off a good number of my kids. I darted out into the middle of the block from between two parked cars, as is my custom, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a car flew down the street at a terrific speed of probably 25 miles an hour and glanced the edge of my stroller sending my precious, precious cargo flying onto the pavement: groceries everywhere!
I was able to recover most of them, but one five-gallon drum of Clamato was irreparably dented. Can you imagine?!
As it was among a handful of items - canisters of high-end nuts, DVD box sets, blister-packed year’s-supplies of razors, top shelf liquor and small electronics - that I had arranged generally in the shape of a sleeping child and tucked under a baby blanket in my stroller while shopping but had forgotten to pay for at the register, the store refuses to refund me any money towards it nor allow me a free replacement. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Unfortunately, as I was playing Donut Dash on my iPhone when I was clobbered, I did not get a good look at the driver or the vehicle. But I bet they were probably texting - typical! What recourse do I have in this matter? --Vanessa G., Covello Street

Dear Vanessa,

I forwarded the details of your email to the attorneys at Steinmart, Marshall & Korvette who have already secured a settlement for you from Costco for the cost of the tomato & clam broth cocktail plus punitive damages, redeemable from their snack bar in 1/4-pound all-beef hot dogs. 

They are currently working on litigation against everyone else who is liable for your terrible misfortune: the City of Los Angeles, the Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council, any living descendants of the Variel family for whom the street was named where the incident occurred, MushBrain Distractions Inc. (software developers of your donut game); and since you were unable to provide any info regarding the car that hit your stroller, manufacturers of all cars, domestic & foreign. And Pixar, who developed the movie “Cars.” 

Lou Steinmart asks you contact his office immediately with the make of your stroller, so they can be added to the lawsuit, as well as the location of the yard sale where you bought it, so the previous owner can be sued as well. The Law Offices of Steinmart, Marshall & Korvette can be reached at 555-555-5555 (“¡Todos Cincos!” for back-of-bus ad aficionados), or you can walk right down Roscoe Boulevard to their office, across the street from Peppy Donuts. You have rights

--Burton Cantara

Do you have a question about Canoga Park? Email it to us at and it may be answered here. Questions may be edited for brevity or to accommodate photos we've been looking for an excuse to run. Sorry, due to the volume of mail we receive, we cannot respond to every inquiry.

Monday, September 15, 2014


The former location of the former Sand Mound -
wait, is that right?  The location of the former -
No, the former location of where the Sand Mound
used to be. Well, you get the idea. Staff photo.
• Canoga Park Sand Mound Allegedly Gone
• Sandpile, A Fixture At Vassar & Valerio, Reportedly No Longer There
• Report: Area on Ground Where There Used To Be A Bunch of Sand Now Doesn't Have That Sand There
• Hey, What Happened To All That Sand That Used To Be There? Asks Locals
• Large Mass Of Sand Known To Fans As "Moundy" Has Disappeared, Witnesses Say
• Study Indicates Big Mound Of Sand, Or Sand Mound, No Longer Where It Was
• Mound Was There Previously, Insist Neighbors, But It Ain't There No More
• Where'd It Go? Residents Demand Answers To Questions Surrounding Missing Sand Mound
• Former Sand Mound Location Finally Able To Accept Discarded Urine-Soaked Microfiber Sofas And Abandoned Shopping Carts Again

By Sherman Farralone, Quilt staff


The Canoga Park Sand Mound, the municipally protected pile of sand at the southeast corner of Vassar & Valerio in Canoga Park’s tight-knit Vassalerio neighborhood, is gone.

The large deposit of sand, dirt, broken glass, animal feces of indeterminate origin and miscellaneous grit first appeared on a curb in Canoga Park in early April of this year, and “just stayed there for months and months despite countless work crews or other City of LA municipal employees that obviously saw it and ignored it,” shrugs neighbor and frequent Sand Mound visitor TĂ©odor Pasternak. “To be accurate, I never visited it so much as walked past it on the way to Jack in the Box,” he adds. 

When asked whether he actually called the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services and reported the large pile of sand, Pasternak became flustered and irritated. "Listen, I, uh, need to go. Jack in the Box stops serving those egg & cheese burrito wads in five minutes," he insisted before hurrying off. [For the record, Jack in the Box serves those egg & cheese burrito wads all day. -Ed.]

Robust and overflowing, the Canoga Park Sand Mound was in its prime in late spring 2014.  File photo.
A traffic-slowing curiosity at first, the Sand Mound quickly became a favorite with school children who would clamber over it on their way to breakfast at Canoga Park Elementary, and soon became a local celebrity, with Canoga Parkians from as far as Osborne Street making the trek to visit the mysterious but seemingly benign pickup truck load-sized pile of sand. Initially estimated at somewhere between 2 to 3 cubic yards in volume upon its appearance in early April, in recent weeks the silica monolith seemed to have diminished in size, whether due to an undisclosed illness, depression, or, as some experts have suggested, erosion.

Radio shock-jocks John Kobylt &
Ken Chiampou. Photo: Wikipedia
As word of the unexplained sandpile grew beyond Canoga Park, the mound of sand, or “Moundy,” as locals knew it, attracted more wide-spread attention. In May, KFI-AM 640 personalities / radio shock-jocks “John & Ken” hosted a remote broadcast from the Mound, railing against the “do-nothing morons over at the LA Department of City Streets” who would allow a large quantity of "suspicious - and for all we know - pervert” sand containing “God knows what” remain next to a public elementary school without anyone doing anything about it “for weeks now!” Petitions were signed, bullhorns were blasted, Larry Flynt soundbites were played and government cheese was hurled, but in the end, the Mound remained steadfast. (Eventually, the duo gave up and turned on the school itself after realizing it was part of the LAUSD.) 

Seeing an opportunity for increased tourism to the West Valley, the Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council (CPFNC) stepped in and officially proclaimed the Sand Mound Municipally-Protected Landmark #743, sworn in the same day as Canoga Park Municipally-Protected Landmark #742, “that broken toilet on Valerio near Milwood that’s been there forever - the third one, the one near the end of the block.”

Staff photo.
There was discussion in May of including the Sand Mound in Canoga Park’s annual Memorial Day Parade, as some insisted the sand was a veteran and that it was elemental in securing a victory during Operation Overlord when Allied forces stormed the beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944; the Mound presumed to be part of the beach itself. But there was no way to confirm nor deny the rumor, and according to Murla Havemeyer, head of Parade Organizement for the CPFNC, moving the Mound “just would have been too much of a pain in the ass.”  

Celebrated in film, television, on the stage as well as
in song, the Canoga Park Sand Mound's appeal knew
no bounds. Above, vintage sheet music for a popular
1940s Sand Mound-inspired tune, which really makes
no sense on a few different levels. Image: Wikipedia.
June was a busy month for the Sand Mound, as mentions on social media coupled with the beginning of the vacation season gave it world-wide exposure. Instagram logged over 1.4 photos of the Sand Mound in June alone, and on Twitter, users “tweeted” the “hashtag” #sandmound twice as often as they did #WorldCupCrocodileLumbagoParfait, or, really, any combination using all those words. By the second week of June, declared the Canoga Park Sand Mound the top travel destination east of Topanga Canyon, west of Canoga, north of Sherman Way, and south of Saticoy, in the western part of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley here in the US - across the entire world.

Woodland Hills’ annual fireworks show suffered its lowest turnout ever this Fourth of July, with throngs of patriotic Americans and even larger throngs of patriotic others eschewing the Warner Center location for the views afforded by the heights of the Canoga Park Sand Mound. Indeed, throughout July, “Moundy” continued to be a popular place for locals to visit, for youthful taggers to congregate while deciding just which wall or fence of the nearby Canoga Park Early Education Center they were going to hit, and for dog walkers to allow their dog to “do their business” by, on or in.  

Andrej Ciernik at his Grammy's
house. Photo: Grammy Ciernik
But things took a decidedly dark turn for the Mound in early August, when little Andrej Ciernik, 5, went missing from his cozy, mid-century Northgate Avenue home. When a sandal matching his shoe size turned up at the Sand Mound, friends and neighbors feared for the very life of the ebullient young man, thinking that perhaps he had been swallowed whole by the Mound, or worse, was walking around somewhere with only one shoe on and getting his left sock all dirty.

Ciernik was later found in Big Lots down the street, pressing the buttons and activating hundreds of cheap, noisy animatronic decorations in the stores’ extensive Halloween-in-Early-August aisles, unharmed aside from a sore index finger.

The Shoe That Launched A Frantic Search. Then later, turns
out the adorable footwear belongs to one of those old, gnarled
creepy little dwarf-people. Credit:
Despite there being no connection between the boy’s disappearance and the Sand Mound (the shoe actually belonged to last surviving “Wizard of Oz” midget Karl “Lollipop” Meinhardt who’d come to the mound to smoke comically oversized novelty cigars and perform his one-man show “Li’l Mark Twain”) public opinion began to mount against the mound, even though there was evidence that the Canoga Park Sand Mound had in fact pointed rescuers towards Big Lots, or at least some of the sand trailed off in that general direction.

It was perhaps a case of too little, too late. Children who had grown up as much as they would have between April and the end of the school year remember the Mound as, at first, a frightening, unknown entity that eventually won them over by hiding little toys and trinkets and wet, unwrapped Jolly Ranchers for them to find in its voluminous dunes. But their pleas for adults to leave the Sand Mound alone fell on deaf ears as parents warned the kids to stay away, under punishment of having to vacuum out all that goddamn sand from the floor mats of the car.
In a last effort to turn its image around, the Sand Mound participated
in the "Ice Bucket Challenge." Those few who even who noticed felt
the Mound was "really trying too hard." Photo: Estate of Sand Mound.
A last ditch effort to turn public opinion near the end of August saw the Sand Mound itself taking the ALS “Ice Bucket” Challenge. No one retweeted its endeavor, perhaps because on the same day the Los Angeles Times, once an unabashed supporter of the Sand Mound, published a pointed op-ed piece laying accusations at the feet, or sand, of the formerly beloved Mound. Titled “What Do We Really Know About This Sand Mound?”, the LA Times made the unprecedented editorial decision to move the op-ed page from across the editorials to the front page, replacing its daily above-the-fold breaking news story of a courageous, pregnant and courageously pregnant single woman with three children working four jobs. Or vice-versa.

Within a day of the Times story, the Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council fast-tracked the construction of a "Canoga Park Mulch Pile" to be placed nearby, hoping that citizens would embrace this new pile of organic detritus untainted by recent scandal (but not possum excrement), thereby minimizing news coverage and general interest in the increasingly unpopular Sand Mound. 

The Canoga Park Mulch Pile, seen above and in the left of the photo below, was constructed around the
corner from the Canoga Park Sand Mound to distract from the latter's negative press. Rejected by many,
some residents even feared that it was developed to mate with the Mound and spawn an unholy brood of
creeping sandmulch monsters, as prophesized in legend by local Canoga Indian shamans. Staff photos.

But the mulch pile had little effect and was, surprisingly, quickly removed as though Canoga Park had suddenly become one of those "fancy" communities were piles of crap along the road aren't left for months at a time. Soon after, barriers went around the once proud Sand Mound, warning all to stay away from the now-presumed dangerous and unpredictable pile of sand. 

And then suddenly, before the few remaining Sand Mound-friendly residents and a scattering of pro-Mound activists could organize, Canoga Parkians awoke one morning to find the southeast corner of Vassar & Valerio bare once more, perhaps making the tight-knit Vassalerio neighborhood a little less tight-knit. With no fanfare, no notice, no warning (except for the barriers and a public notice in tiny type buried on page 37 of the Winnetka Warbler), the Canoga Park Sand Mound was gone.
Photographed here shortly before its disappearance, in early September the Canoga Park Sand Mound was
quarantined from public enclimbment. Playful, frolicsome mound-clambering was now illegal. Staff photo.
But where had it gone to?

Some suspect the Sand Mound was quietly euthanized with a shovel. Others say it was brutally dismembered and used to fill a few dozen pot holes along De Soto. And there are those who insist it was just ignominiously dumped and buried in a landfill like the recyclables LA residents are required by law to sort and put in blue bins. But the public may never know, as both the Canoga Park Friendly Neighborhood Council and the Los Angeles Bureau of Streets refuses to comment, or answer the phone, and we called at least twice on at 2 a.m. on Sunday when this story was being filed. 

Close friend and fellow municipally-protected landmark the Canoga Park Nude Palm seemed devastated about the Canoga Park Sand Mound's sudden disappearance and had no comment but swayed slowly and sadly in the breeze. 

Others were more vocal.

“Man, I’m glad that sh_t is gone an' sh_t, you know...?” says Blythe Avenue resident Radek Murta, from his cozy, mid-century home. “F_ckeeng...last month I’m skating down the f_ckeeng street looking into parked cars an’ sh_t? And I f_ckeeng hit some sand an' f_ckeeng fall on my ass an' sh_t. F_ckeeng snapped off the tip from my f_ckeeng brand new can of Rusto, yo. I should f_ckeeng sue somebody an' sh_t, you know?”

A makeshift memorial has gone up on the former Canoga Park
Sand Mound site. Photo courtesy
Though the Sand Mound’s popularity waned to practically nil over the past month, there are those who won't let it be forgotten: Shortly after it disappeared, a small tribute went up at the Mound’s former location. Candles, notes and photos have popped up at the roadside memorial, maintained each night by a small group of supporters. One such remembrance, signed only “Bernice,” features a photo of a woman in her 50s and an accompanying note asking the mound to remember “that night in Lompoc.” Other apparent tributes include a few plastic bottle caps, a “Taxifornia” business card advertising either an accounting firm or a cab service, empty Cheetos bags, two photocopied leaflets for low-cost auto insurance and a fresh pile of dog doo.

The Sand Mound in July 2014. Staff photo., an online network of sandmoundthusiasts, or sand mound enthusiasts, separate the Mound’s glorious early days from its later descent into infamy, with the discussion boards on their website rife with excited chatter about approaching the CPFNC with a proposal to restore the Mound or at least identify its former location with a permanent plaque or marker, inscribed with a legend detailing how a large pile of sand, ignored by a municipal street services for months, became the pride, however briefly, of the West Valley.

CPFNC Chairperson In Charge of Municipal Landmarks and Pulling Gum Out Of The Water Fountains at Lanark Park Barbara Walczek dismisses the grassroots movement as short-sighted and instead suggests organizers look to the future for a potential new municipal landmark that embodies not only the spirit of Canoga Park, but in many ways, all of Los Angeles. 

“With the amount of decay and neglect suffered by so much of the DWP’s notoriously decrepit waterworks, it’s only a matter of time before a water main bursts within our boundaries, and, bam, then we’ve got The Canoga Park Geyser or The Canoga Park Sinkhole or The Canoga Park Twelve Blocks Without Water For Two Weeks And Millions Of Dollars Of Damage To Six Or Eight Businesses Along Sherman Way Or Topanga,” Walczek says. “And then believe me, everyone will forget all about that stupid pile of sand.”

And yet there's that small but faithful cluster of folks keeping a nightly vigil at the now empty, lonely site who would likely disagree.

Additional reporting by Burton Cantara, Ingomar Schoenborn, Charlotte Rudnick, Jordan Covello, Bryan T. Formosa, Marlin Gault, Michale Hemmingway, Nita Keswick, Blythe Moorcraft, Chase Stagg and Hanna Vose.