Featured The Daily Beast

Does Masturbating Make You a Sex Addict? What About Porn? What About Bondage? Even the Experts Can’t Agree.

Aug. 26, 2017


In the world of sex therapy, there is no consensus on what constitutes a sex addict.

On one end of the spectrum are people—usually men—who believe they might be sex addicts because they masturbate a couple times a week.

And then there are people like Josh, a 44-year-old retired military officer from California who couldn’t stop flirting with women online. These digital dalliances sometimes developed into in-the-flesh flings. Ultimately, Josh contracted herpes and infected his wife. As part of his therapy, he told her everything. Now, their marriage is on the rocks, and he fears he will lose the love of his life.

“She hasn’t said it in a long time—that she loves me,” the father of four told The Daily Beast.

Are both examples illustrations of sex addiction?

(Click here to read more)


Washington Post

How Snapchat tech titans are harshing the mellow in Venice Beach

(Published in the Washington Post — August 10, 2015)

How Snapchat tech titans are harshing the mellow in Venice Beach

LOS ANGELES — Venice Beach is where Arnold Schwarzenegger toned his muscles, the Dogtown skateboarders launched a lasting movement and Jim Morrison conceived the Doors. The Dude lived here in “The Big Lebowski.”

For decades, Venice has been the epicenter of weird, a beachy paradise with a gothic twist, where carnival freaks, homeless hippies, yoga instructors and ­fanny-packed tourists blend into a milieu as colorful as its famous three-story murals.

Now, thanks to real estate speculators and a tech boom featuring the likes of Google and Snapchat, Venice’s mellow charm is under siege.

“There are a lot of shenanigans going on to hyper-gentrify this area, almost make it a beachfront resort,” said Laddie Williams, a third-generation Venice resident and community activist. “They are killing our community.”

Is Venice losing its charming weirdness?

As skyrocketing real estate prices push longtime residents out of this oceanside district of Los Angeles, corporate chains are replacing funky shops, and tech geeks are emerging as a dominant part of the scene. Meanwhile, the area’s already robust homeless population is rising, leading to controversial police crackdowns.
Similar trends are transforming much of coastal California. Across Los Angeles, middle-class home buyers are losing out to speculators who plunk down cash offers. And in San Francisco, median home prices have soared from $700,000 to nearly $1.1 million in three years, making it one of the least affordable cities in the world.
But in bohemian Venice, the shake-up has been particularly upsetting, especially since the arrival of Snapchat, the tech giant whose app enabling users to send each other disappearing photos and messages has proved irresistible to teens.

Snapchat’s presence here has swollen from 14 employees to 200 in two years, expanding this spring into office buildings throughout the densely populated, three-square-mile hamlet. One building near the beach spans an entire block.

Among the dozens of tenants displaced by Snapchat was the Teen Project, a nonprofit organization that provides housing to homeless young adults.

“They shoved us right out and treated us like redheaded stepchildren,” said founder Lauri Burns. A few months before the move, a Snapchat executive told her he had noticed one of her homeless clients sweeping the street with an old broom, so he offered to buy the organization a new one.

“You could have just slapped me in the face at that point,” Burns said.

Slapped in the face is exactly how many Venetians are feeling by the tidal wave of new money. And the local tech boom, prompting “Silicon Beach” references around town, is just one source of it.

The main thoroughfare in Venice, Abbot Kinney Boulevard, has been transformed from a funky lineup of artisan shops and antique stores to a ritzy outdoor mall of upscale corporate brands, such as Scotch & Soda, Hyden Yoo and Sofia Kaman Fine Jewels — the shop where Lindsay Lohan was caught stealing in 2011.
In a stunner last month, a piece of commercial property on the boulevard sold for $44 million to a New York partnership, forcing the ejection of Hal’s, a landmark bar and grill. Jaws had also dropped when the same property sold for $20 million two years ago.

“Pretty good flip,” said Carol Tantau, owner of a handcrafted-jewelry store that was priced out of its home of 30 years by the earlier sale.

Residential bungalows are also being emptied and flipped to highflying investors, many from overseas. In five years, the median home price has surged from $832,000 to $1.4 million.
Rents have also skyrocketed. Intensifying the housing squeeze is Airbnb, the sharing-economy app that enables people to rent out houses and apartments to short-term visitors (i.e., tourists).

Venice is often called the biggest tourist attraction in Southern California next to Disneyland; it is also the No. 1 Airbnb spot in Los Angeles. About 12.5 percent of all housing units there have become ­Airbnb units, taking a sizable chunk off the market, according to the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a labor-supported advocacy group.
Tony Bill, a producer who shared an Academy Award in 1973 for “The Sting,” wonders why anyone is surprised that beachfront property in one of the nation’s largest cities would experience such growth. “It’s like, what did you expect? How long did you expect that Venice would be a depressed, inexpensive, inactive haven for people who can’t find a cheaper place to live?” said Bill, who owns one of the buildings that houses Snapchat.

“Venice is not known, and shouldn’t be known, for its starving artists,” Bill said. “It should be known for its accomplished artists. . . . If you’re accomplished, you can afford to pay the rent.”

George Francisco, vice president of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, said growing pains are to be expected. “I think of it as a continuum,” he said. “There were people who provided services for horses. Then the automobile came along. . . . Progress is a train. You can be on it, or you can be under it.”
As a district of Los Angeles, Venice has no mayor, city council or police force. It has just one elected local official, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin. (Bonin, a Democrat, did not respond to requests for comment.)

Long a destination for dreamers and doers, Venice is no stranger to volatile cycles of boom and bust. In 1977, the Los Angeles Times published a piece with a headline that reads like it was written last week: “Venice, Calif. — is Bohemia Still Affordable?”

But the influx of wealth over the past two years has been a bigger steamroller, longtimers insist. “Gentrification right now is on steroids,” said Todd Darling, a member of the Venice Land Use and Planning Committee who argues that the district is essentially becoming a bank for investors from all over the world.

“People like to say the investors are Asian, but they could be from New York or Berlin,” he said. “In any case, it’s people who are not interested in living here. They are interested in an asset that holds value. That happens to be in Venice Beach, California, and it may just happen to cause the eviction of people who have lived there a long time.”

Ballet instructor Angelina Meany and her husband were booted three years ago from the bungalow duplex they had rented for 18 years. It was sold to a partnership from South Africa. The eviction completely disrupted their lives.

They moved 30 miles south to Long Beach and tried commuting back to Venice. But the new arrangement did not take with Meany’s husband. He departed for his native New York last year while Meany, 48, remained in the Los Angeles area. “It was devastating for both of us to have to make that choice,” she said.

Rene Kraus, 60, had lived in his cottage for 27 years when he received an eviction notice a few months ago from the new owners, an investment group going by the oblique name “664 Sunset LLC.”

“It’s a bunch of doctors,” said Kraus, a silversmith who makes belt buckles, rings and other “biker stuff.” He is fighting the eviction in court.
And if he loses? “I got friends, got some money saved — I’ll survive,” he said. “But a lot of other people, they just disappear, dude.”
Often, those people are artists. Sandy Bleifer, who helps organize a biannual tour of art studios called Venice ArtBlock, said her roster of artists had dwindled from 70 to 40 in a year. “We are an endangered species here,” Bleifer said. “Tech companies [are] very nice for the economy, but artists are part of the Venice brand. If we lose our artists, what are we?”

Sometimes, the wealthy do stop to notice the people getting pushed out of their way. After its ouster by Snapchat, the Teen Project found itself homeless for four months, Burns said.
But then two often-demonized real estate moguls came to its assistance: Carl Lambert made arrangements not only to relocate the Teen Project to another beachside property but also to get its rent waived. And Tami Pardee gave the group $17,000 after police shot and killed a 29-year-old homeless man on the Venice boardwalk in May, enabling the organization to find housing for 16 homeless youths.

Burns speaks highly of Lambert and Pardee. But she has no kind words for Snapchat, which she said has donated to her center precisely one computer and one vacuum cleaner (but no broom).
Snapchat executives declined a request for an interview. Via e-mail, they offered a bullet-point list of civic donations. “We love being in Venice and we strive to be great neighbors within the community where we live and work,” the e-mail said.

Google has taken greater pains to fit in since its 2011 arrival. The company houses 600 employees in an iconic Venice building fronted by a massive sculpture in the shape of a pair of binoculars. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the place is known, aptly enough, as the Binoculars Building.

Google hosts the annual Art Walk & Auctions, which showcase the work of local artists and benefit a free medical clinic, and has commissioned work from local artists for its offices. It has also donated 25 computers to the Teen Project.

Many longtime Venetians make no distinction between the two tech titans. “The locals hate Snapchat and Google,” said Don Calhoun, 45, a guitar instructor in a Spinal Tap shirt who was hanging out at a boardwalk oxygen bar. Calhoun tries not to use Google, he said, adding: “I’ve been on Bing! I’ve been Binging away!”

Still, Thomas Williams, site lead for Google’s Los Angeles office, said he feels embraced by Venice. He recounted an interaction with a street performer on the boardwalk, a drummer named Ibrahim. “He just reached out and held both my hands, looked into my eyes and said, ‘I want you to feel welcome,’ ” Williams said via e-mail. “We spoke for a little while and he invited me to a performance, but his goal was really just about wanting me to feel welcome in being here.
“Really cool. Really Venice.”

Featured Washington Post

Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’

(Published in the Washington Post — June 13, 2015)

Rich Californians balk at limits: ‘We’re not all equal when it comes to water’

RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF. — Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching…

(Read more)



Washington Post

Fake grass gains ground in California amid concerns about ongoing drought

Fake grass gains ground in California amid concerns about ongoing drought

(Published in the Washington Post — May 23, 2015)

Christopher Knight makes no apologies: He likes a green lawn. But the actor best known for playing middle son Peter on “The Brady Bunch” also wants to do his part to conserve water.

The solution? Fake grass.

“It feels totally different,” Knight, 57, marveled one day last week, stepping barefoot onto a deceptively lifelike expanse of newly installed plastic turf. “Frankly, I’m not really sure why more people haven’t started doing it.”

After four blistering years of drought in California, more people are doing it. The fake grass business is booming, much to the chagrin of some environmentalists and live-grass purists.

Comprehensive numbers are hard to come by, but makers and installers of synthetic turf say they are experiencing an unprecedented spike in residential business in California. From middle-class families who don’t want to forfeit the patch-of-green part of the American dream to megawatt celebrities who are mortified by TV coverage of their sprawling water-hog lawns, homeowners across the Golden State are ripping up sod and replacing it with plastic.

“Everything is in California right now,” said David Barbera, president of Georgia-based Artificial Turf Supply, which opened both a warehouse and a sales office in Southern California last year. “We have doubled the size of our business in the past 12 months.”

The benefits of fake grass are hard to deny. Live grass guzzles some 55 gallons of water per square foot annually, making the all-American lawn increasingly untenable in an era of skyrocketing water rates and excessive-use penalties. Over the past two months, since Gov. Jerry Brown (D) declared a state of emergency and decreed that water use be cut by 25 percent this year, synthetic turf companies report an avalanche of interest.

In many parts of the state, the trend is being fueled by cash rebates of up to $3.75 a square foot for installing low-water (or no-water) landscaping. The vast majority of rebate-takers go the more natural — and cheaper — route of shrubs and succulents, officials said. But a growing number of homeowners are rejecting spiky deer grass and scratchy sagebrush and paying up to $10 per square foot to luxuriate in plastic’s convincing lushness.

“For people who want to play with their children — soccer, baseball, Frisbee — they can’t do that in a front yard with cactus. You’re going to get a needle in the rump,” said Ara Najarian, mayor of the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, who has emerged as something of a synthetic turf champion.

To be sure, fake grass — known as “frass,” in some quarters — has its critics. Santa Monica, for instance, will not approve rebates for homeowners who install plastic. Sacramento and Glendale have long banned the installation of artificial turf in front lawns, as have some homeowner associations, which view the product as tacky.

Najarian has been waging a spirited campaign to get his city’s ban overturned. “I’ve always been a firm believer that we need to give families the option,” he said. But Peter Fuad, president of the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Association, adamantly defends the ban.

“You can’t be assured people won’t buy the cheapest Home Depot special,” Fuad fretted during a recent City Council meeting. “Are you going to allow red, white and blue turf?”

Synthetic turf advocates dismiss such fears. Today’s fake grass, they say, is nothing like the preternaturally green stuff that used to carpet the local miniature golf course.

The venerable Hollywood Bowl, one of the nation’s most iconic amphitheaters, recently made the switch. Mark Ladd, the venue’s assistant director of operations, notes that the fake greenery looks authentic: The height and color of the blades are varied, with a few brown ones thrown in to emulate dead thatch.

“Nobody has a truly perfect lawn,” Ladd said. “The old stuff would look really kitschy.”

Danna Freedman, owner of SYNLawn — a local wholesaler and affiliate of AstroTurf — says some of her most loyal clients are rich and famous. They include former California first lady Maria Shriver, comedian Steve Martin and actresses Julia Roberts and Laura Dern.

Freedman noted that SYNLawn artificial grass is made from soybean oil and recycled plastic bottles collected from national parks — an environmental bonus. Since the drought began, she said, her 12-year-old business has swelled by at least 50 percent a year, prompting her to hire nearly 20 additional employees.

Today’s artificial turf is the descendant of AstroTurf, which was developed in the mid-1960s by chemical giant Monsanto. Originally called ChemGrass, it was rechristened after gaining fame in the newly erected Houston Astrodome, where the trials of maintaining indoor natural grass had compelled crews to paint the dead outfield green.

Since then, the product has traveled a bumpy road to ­sporting-field prominence, waxing and waning in accordance with technological improvements and controversies over toxicity or injuries. The $1 billion-a-year industry began expanding into the residential market in the 1990s.

Nevada, the Sagebrush State, was an early adopter. The percentage of Nevada residents taking a water-savings rebate for replacing natural grass with artificial turf has skyrocketed over the past decade. A quarter of lawn conversions now include an artificial turf component, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Doug Bennett, the agency’s conservation manager, said he was initially skeptical that the product would hold up in the relentless sun. But to his surprise, many projects installed a decade ago remain intact.

A former horticulturist, Bennett has mixed feelings about faux turf. He wonders how the spent stuff affects the waste stream.

“It’s made of plastic; it will degrade,” said Lisa Cahill, director for sustainable solutions at TreePeople, an environmental nonprofit group based in Los Angeles. “And those pieces — even if very, very tiny — can end up in the ocean.”

And synthetic turf can be hot to the touch on a sunny day, Bennett notes. Once, while standing at an outdoor party on a fake-grass lawn, he kicked off a flip-flop and stood on the grass.

“I leaped off onto the concrete,” he said. “I literally would rather walk on concrete.”

The Nevada water agency tries to take a middle-ground approach to lawn conversions, requiring a minimum number of live plants for the sake of the ecosystem. With a chuckle, Bennett recalled a woman who applied for a rebate with a landscaping blueprint that was 100 percent artificial, right down to the palm trees. Her rebate was denied.

“Google ‘artificial palm trees.’ They exist,” he said.

For many artificial-turf enthusiasts, it isn’t just about saving water. It’s also about reconnecting with idyllic childhood memories.

Danna Ziv, who lives in Montecito near Santa Barbara, said her 2,000 square feet of fake lawn reminds her of playing on the grass as a child in the San Fernando Valley. Her father, the late Dan Blocker, played the character Hoss Cartwright on the 1960s TV western “Bonanza.”

“My husband is from Israel,” Ziv said. “He really wanted to have grass because they don’t have a lot of it there.”

For others, it’s all about the environment. Olivier Roumy ditched his 25-year career as a high-end hairstylist for Washington politicians and moved to Los Angeles to work sales for DuraTurf, whose expanding list of clients include both Knight and the Hollywood Bowl.

“Everybody is concerned about the water. It’s a problem.” Roumy said, over the buzz of a power-broom grooming Knight’s new lawn. “So it makes me really feel like I’m helping the planet.”

Knight readily admits he had other motives for spending around $4,000 for his new lawn and a matching patch of green on his rooftop balcony. While the rebate and the water conservation were important, he said, his primary consideration were the dog owners who pretended not to see his posted signs. (“No dog pee on wet lawn!”)

An endless stream of canine leg-lifters had left his grass blemished with yellow spots. “Now I don’t even have to worry about the damage,” he said, admiring the handiwork of the DuraTurf crew.

Still, Knight said, he plans to leave the dog-pee signs up.


Ablitt House Stands Tall As a Towering Work of Art

Ablitt House Stands Tall As a Towering Work of Art

(Originally published May 26, 2008)

The uniquely designed home in Santa Barbara has won over even those who once opposed the project.

Deep down, we all want to be able to tell the naysayers, “I told you so.”

In rare instances, the words don’t even need to be uttered for the general sentiment to hang in the air.

Owner Neil Ablitt is offering free tours of his unusual abode, the Abblitt House. At 53 feet high, the home is among the tallest structures in Santa Barbara. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)
Owner Neil Ablitt is offering free tours of his unusual abode, the Abblitt House. At 53 feet high, the home is among the tallest structures in Santa Barbara. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

Such is the case with the Ablitt House, by many accounts the most fantastical home in Santa Barbara. With its 20-foot-by-20-foot footprint, four single-room floors, infinitely detailed interior design and 360-degree rooftop view of the city, mountains and ocean, the house is considered a bona fide work of art by even the most vocal of former naysayers.

The proud owner of this narrow tower of a home at 13 W. Haley St. is native Santa Barbaran Neil Ablitt, the retired founder of Ablitt’s Fine Cleaners & Launderers a few paces away. His daughter now manages the operation.

At 53 feet high, the not-so-humble downtown abode is among the tallest structures in town, yet is oddly difficult to spot by passers-by on State Street. The skinny house is tucked into an alley behind State Street’s Velvet Jones nightclub, with only its bell-towered top peaking above the buildings on the main drag. Now, even the hotel manager who once opposed the project and the planning commissioners who denied it admit the house is a gem.

For Ablitt, it has been a long journey.

The Ablitt House has four single-room floors. The contractors incorporated Neil and Sue Ablitt’s love of ‘books, tile and wine’ into the design. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)
The Ablitt House has four single-room floors. The contractors incorporated Neil and Sue Ablitt’s love of ‘books, tile and wine’ into the design. (Lou Fontana / Noozhawk photo)

Things started OK in 2002, with the Historic Landmarks Commission, but hit a snag in early 2004. Facing opposition from the Holiday Inn Express, the Ablitt House was narrowly rejected by the Planning Commission. Ablitt appealed to the City Council, which was charmed by the design and unanimously overturned the commission’s decision. In December 2004, architect Trevor Martinson made an 11th-hour attempt to derail the project. It failed.

In November 2005, construction crews broke ground. On Dec. 17, 2006, Ablitt and his wife, Sue, moved out of the boat they had been living in for 14 years and into the house. However, they had to sleep on floor mattresses for five months while their bed was custom-designed to fit in their bedroom.

Since its completion, the house already has won at least one national design award for the tile work.

To thank the community, Ablitt has been giving free tours of the structure, which, for earthquake safety, digs into the ground nearly as deep as it is high. In the 14 months since the house became inhabitable, about 1,500 visitors have toured the home, ascending the home’s 72 tile-decorated stairs in wide-eyed wonder.

“Around every corner, there’s a little adventure,” marveled Eva Kirkpatrick, who was taking a tour with a handful of others.

“It’s the most creative, most original house in Santa Barbara,” visitor Susan Billig said.

In the past few months, Ablitt has channeled his inner tour guide, peppering his spiel with good-natured barbs about the naysayers and revealing his own free-spirited temperament. “The only thing we told the contractor is that we like books, tile and wine,” he likes to say.

On the tour, Ablitt takes a modest tack, deferring all credit to architect Jeff Shelton and the handful of artists who worked on the home. “My only job has been to keep my mouth shut, sweep the alley and stay out of the way,” he says. “These guys are geniuses.”

Contractor Dan Upton said the job led to many sleepless nights, but he wouldn’t have wanted any other contractor to claim the burden. “My job is to give the house a soul,” he said. “This was an easy one, in a way, because so many good people worked on it.”

Of course, genius design and a soulful construction don’t come cheap. Initially, Ablitt estimated he could build the house for about $480,000. The actual bill was triple that amount, and it’s still climbing.

But to Ablitt, it has been worth every penny. “It’s a work of art, and a work of love,” he said.

From the beginning, the house has been a media darling. In addition to the play-by-play write-ups in local publications during the city hearings, the story caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which in 2004 ran a front-page story on the house. It was picked up by The Associated Press and ran in about 60 newspapers across the country. Shortly after, Ablitt got a call from the TV show Good Morning America, which wanted exclusive footage of the interior. The interior didn’t exist at the time, so the deal fell through.

Soon, the Ablitt House will be the focus of a half-hour production on HGTV (Home & Garden). Ablitt doesn’t own a television, “and I never will,” he says.

Ablitt purchased the small lot in 1984 for $6,400 – quite a deal in Santa Barbara, where land is so valuable that a small bungalow home can sell for upward of $1 million.

At the time, the lot seemed useless. For starters, it was too small. The city’s commercial-district zoning laws required that residential buildings in the downtown area be set back 10 feet from all neighboring property lines. Given that the size of Ablitt’s lot is 20 feet by 20 feet, that gave him zero room. “Technically, I couldn’t even put up a flagpole,” he says.

Plus, a severe drought had caused the city to issue a moratorium on new water connections. Without a water connection, a landowner could not obtain a building permit. But in 1987, the city held a lottery for water connections. Out of hundreds who applied, Ablitt was among about a dozen winners.

A decade passed and nothing was done. In the mid-1990s, Ablitt and his wife set sail for Mexico and didn’t return for seven years. When they came back in 2001, Ablitt went to his dry-cleaning business and was bedazzled by a new development next door. It was called the Zannon Building.

Ablitt walked around the premises and happened across two strangers: Shelton and Upton. He struck up a conversation with them, complimenting the building. He told them about his tiny lot. Shelton’s first response was terse: “I’m not taking any more work.”

But when Ablitt walked the men to the site, Shelton grew animated. A wave of inspiration had come over him. The next day, he approached Ablitt with a rough sketch design.

To get around the mandatory 10-foot setbacks, Shelton made a coy move. He stuck an office in the house, thus qualifying it for “mixed use” status, meaning it was no longer strictly residential. (The city later dropped the requirement for them.)

Shelton said he was expecting city staff members to disapprove. “To my surprise, they were not only not against it, they were sort of delighted,” he said.

Still, the architect knew the staff members weren’t the deciders. It would be up to the commission and the council. Before meetings, Shelton said, “I just kept telling Neil, ‘Don’t worry about it, just keep smiling and don’t complain.’ “

As it turned out, the Planning Commission was less amused by the design. Commissioner John Jostes said Ablitt was asking for too many special favors, which in the planning world are known as “modifications.” For instance, residential homes need a yard, but this home certainly wouldn’t have one.

Then-Commissioner Bill Mahan found it unfair that Ablitt intended to build his home right on the property lines of his commercial neighbors, none of whom had expanded their structures to the edge – yet.

Commissioner Harwood “Bendy” White thought the land could have been put to better use, maybe to build more high-density homes downtown, he said.

Now, all three say they love the finished product.

“It is extremely playful and interesting and unique,” Jostes said. “And being in the middle of the block, it’s not nearly as visible as I thought it would be.”

Mahan said it’s only a matter of time before the house becomes a local landmark. “There’s no question the architecture is a delightful thing,” he said.

Mahan, who earlier this year launched a ballot initiative to lower building-height limits to 40 feet in downtown Santa Barbara, also said he has no qualms with this particular 53-foot structure. “It’s really more like a tower – towers don’t bother me at all,” he said. “I think they bring a nice variance to the skyline.”

White echoed the praise. “It’s a remarkable piece of craftsmanship,” he said.

However, asked if he would vote for the project now, knowing what he knows, White and Jostes declined to speculate.

White added that Ablitt one day could face the bleak prospect of watching tall walls being built mere inches away from his windows. “If I were Neil, I would probably not be happy if people came in and built to the property line all around me. I would feel hemmed in,” he said. “So we’ll see how those things unfold over time. Maybe it will never happen.”

Oakland Tribune / Argus

Runaways: Area Teens Create Their Own Societies, Surrogate Families

Area Teens Create Their Own Societies, Surrogate Families

(Note: This is the sidebar to my larger story about runaways for The Argus, in the Bay Area. See the full story. It was published on April 7, 2001.)

Kim shivers and sucks Easy Cheese from a can.

Sitting in her home – a shed near the Union City BART station – the 17-year-old Fremont runaway says she’s lived on the streets for four years.

The shed – lit with a single light bulb – contains a bed, a table, a stereo and a cabinet where some canned food is stored. A 40-ounce bottle of beer rests on the table, and a Confederate flag hangs on the wall above it. Kim and her three friends – another 17 year-old girl and two men in their 20s – smoke cigarettes.

Kim says she snorts crystal meth every other day with friends, a habit that has caused her to drop from about 105 to 90 pounds and her gums to bleed, her mother says. Her mother also says Kim’s been pregnant twice – one fetus was aborted and the other miscarried, she says.

“I depend on myself,” Kim says. “I don’t trust anybody. And I’m doing OK. I’m still breathing; I’m still healthy.”

Kim’s not alone. Scenes like this are familiar for many teens in Fremont, Newark and Union City.

Beneath the sterile surface of the middle- and upper-class suburbs that have become a part of the Silicon Valley exists a network of homeless teens and adults who stick together, forming a kind of surrogate family.

The network isn’t news to parents of runaways or to local police. But knowing about the network and having the ability to reach out to those who are part of it can be two different things.

To reach out, one must speak their language.

The Language

Kevin Gribble of Newark says he knows this language because he’s been there, and still is there, in a sense. Gribble recalls riding with the Aryan Brotherhood in Los Angeles until the police arrested him for armed robbery. He went to prison for seven years and has been out for six. Now, Gribble says he’s a new man.

A short, stocky 39-year-old with tattoos on his forearm, Gribble wants to give back to those who are aimless, and says he has the street skills to do it.

After serving his time, Gribble started a trucking company. He employs runaways and derelicts to load the trucks and handle the paperwork.

He also stays in touch with area runaways. Often, he and an assistant, a 17-year-old runaway named Samantha, check up on more than 25 young homeless people who congregate at about six sites in Fremont, Newark and Union City, he says. Though they belong to no organization – most runaways don’t trust those who do, Gribble says – the two provide runaways with food, blankets, cigarettes and, most importantly, a chance to engage in small talk.

Gribble knows Kim and some of her friends well. He also says he knows Mark Jenket, a 17-year-old runaway from Union City whose parents have hired private investigators to find him and bring him home. (Click here to read the story about Jenket.)


Gribble and Samantha say Kim and Mark traipse in a circuit of young transients from the area. Investigators, police and parents can search all they want, they say, but only runaways know the whereabouts of other runaways.

“(Runaways) don’t want to get caught,” says Samantha, who dropped out of a Fremont high school a year ago. “We get into this little group, and it’s all we can trust. So when we say someone’s at 7-Eleven, they might actually be all the way across town.

A Nightly Stop

One of the regular stops on the circuit for Gribble and Samantha is the shed by the Union City BART station. About 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night, Gribble and Samantha head to the shed.

As he approaches the shed, Gribble explains that he gives most of the teen runaways he visits a gold-colored bracelet.

“The only thing I ask of them is that they don’t sell it,” he says.

The bracelet is more than a simple gift. It is a thermometer that tells Gribble when he needs to intervene. If a teen runaway sells the bracelet, the logical conclusion is that it was sold to obtain money for drugs.

Gribble and Samantha approach the fence surrounding the back yard in which the shed is located. The door is open and the light is on. He calls Kim’s name through the fence.

A girl’s voice shrieks. Another giggles. Gribble and Samantha, who have found Kim and another girl with two men, cover their eyes and shake their heads.

“They’re naked,” Gribble explains. The girls dress while a man named Jesse approaches the gate, fully clothed and carrying a beer.

“Hey Kevin, what’s up?” says Jesse, a tattoo artist who’s missing a front tooth.

Now fully clothed, Kim, who has been seeing Jesse for about two months, gives Gribble a bear hug when he enters the shed. She thanks Gribble for the electric heater he gave her for Christmas.

“You were purple when I came here the first time,” Gribble says. “By the way, can you get that bracelet? I want to see it.”

Kim says she’ll get it in a while.

Then, to quell the awkward silence that has befallen the room, Gribble explains the presence of a news reporter. Kim and the other girl, who refers to herself as “Spaz,” give short answers to questions about Mark Jenket, but they talk openly about themselves and runaways in general.

“I see (Jenket) all the time,” Kim says, twisting her braided hair with both hands. “All the runaways hang out with each other. If you’re friends with one, you’re friends with all – it’s like a big family.”

Kim says the network includes 20 to 30 people.

They hang out wherever there is a room, Samantha adds. Sometimes, that means sleeping during the day in the home of a working parent or a friend – or at a local motel with others, they say. Kim says she has slept in the parking lot of a local restaurant.

Despite their poverty, the girls always have money for crystal meth, or crank.

Spaz, 17, earned her nickname by snorting vast quantities of it. Crank, she says, makes her smarter.

“I don’t smoke weed. I don’t drink alcohol,” she says. “I just do crank. It makes you able to communicate.”

Both of the girls get money through seasonal jobs and “spanging,” slang for soliciting spare change.

“You’re like, ‘OK, get away, bye,’” Kim says. “On the right day, you can make $150.”

Their reasons for running are as diverse as each runaway’s personality, the teen transients say. Spaz, for instance, ran away just to fit in.

“Most of my friends have no place to live, so I felt like I was missing out,” says Spaz, also a high school dropout. A 25-year-old man named Fie sits in a chair behind her, periodically tilting Spaz’s chair back to kiss her neck as she talks.

Samantha, on the other hand, says she ran away because she doesn’t get along with her family.

“I come back for the holidays and some weekends,” she says. “But it’s only a matter of time before I gotta get out of there.”

Kim, like Samantha, says she can’t get along with her mom, but certain people – such as Gribble – have given her the support she needs.

“I’ve known Kevin for a while,” she says. “He lets me help unload boxes (for money at his trucking business). If I need cigarettes, he will help me out – he brings me money, and something to eat.”

Gribble, while flattered, seems bothered by something.

“Kim, can you please get me that bracelet?” he says. “I have to get going.”

Kim leaves the shed to go look for it and returns, empty-handed. She shrugs her shoulders.

“I don’t know what happened,” she says. “I can’t find it.”

Other Freelance

A Brush with Art, Success for Boy with Autism

This article was published on the website of Santa Barbara Newsroom, an experimental project launched by a group of journalists.

Until May 11, Kevin Hosseini will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council, 855 Linden Ave. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
Until May 11, Kevin Hosseini will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council, 855 Linden Ave.. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

* * * WATCH THE VIDEO * * *

(Originally published on April 7, 2007)

Perhaps like many artists, Kevin Hosseini can get frustrated to the point of hurling his paintbrush across the room when a piece isn’t coming together.

But unlike others, the 12-year-old Carpinteria resident benefits from a one-word reminder neatly handwritten on a note next to his easel: “Calm.”

Kevin was diagnosed at an early age with autism, a developmental disability related to the central nervous system that can cause people to become easily over-stimulated. But that hasn’t stopped Kevin from finding success.

A gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces to patrons who live as far away as New York City, as well as closer to home, including Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and state Assemblyman Pedro Nava.

Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

Until May 11, he will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council (, at 855 Linden Ave. And on May 12, he will be one of 28 artists featured in Carpinteria’s first-ever home studio tour.

Kevin discovered his passion by accident about two years ago, when his behavioral therapist, Colin Zimbleman, who’s also an artist, came to the house with a canvas and paintbrush in the hopes of finding a fun activity that would bring a therapeutic effect.

It worked. In addition to the artistic success, Kevin still benefits from the lessons of life learned through painting. For instance, sometimes life is messy – sometimes you drop your brush on the floor and leave a splotch that needs cleaning. The key, Zimbleman tells him, is to solve the problem one step at a time: get a paper towel, get it wet, rub the floor clean, throw the towel away.

“Then it’s not some big heavy thing,” he said.

Painting became an obsession. Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings at modest prices for lack of space on the walls, said his mother, Debbie Hosseini. So far, he’s made a total of about $2,500 — not a bad stipend for a 12-year-old.

Every year, one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
Every year, one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

“He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so he gets satisfaction from his art,” she said, while sitting in the kitchen, as Kevin dabbed away on a brightly colored abstract painting of Bob Marley in the adjacent room. “Also, the recognition he gets is satisfying – people see him as a capable person.”

Every year, one in 150 children is diagnosed with autism. The disorder is especially prevalent among boys – one in 94. Twenty years ago, for reasons researchers have yet to decipher, the rate was one in 10,000.

Debbie and her husband, Carpinteria Sanitary District Financial Director Hamid Hosseini, started noticing something amiss with their son when he was around 2 years old.

He started forgetting words that he had learned; his vocabulary dwindled from about 75 words to 25. He became obsessed with lining up his toys in neat rows, and with watching water pour out of a hose. He started having gastro-intestinal problems.

As a toddler, Kevin would escape from the house at night and run into the darkness. At the time, the family lived near a creek in Carpinteria.

“One time I had 10 people out looking for him,” said Debbie, an accountant and computer programmer. “I was afraid he had drowned in the creek.”

Some of the episodes were scary. Once, when he was 4, the pair was on the freeway and he started acting up from the back seat. He wanted her to stay in the fast line, because he was fascinated with the yellow line.

“He started throwing things at my head, and he got out of his car seat, yelling ‘Yellow line! Yellow line!’ ” she said. “He tried to open the van’s back door.”

Now, thanks to years of behavioral therapy, Kevin is better able to control himself, and his parents are better trained in dealing with the tantrums. The biggest lesson: Do not respond to a child’s tantrum by giving him what he wants – until he settles down.

 gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN
gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces. Photo by Edgar Oliveira / SBN

But Debbie said she learned another, perhaps even more valuable lesson: Don’t just treat the weaknesses – focus on the strengths, too.

“He’s developed a skill that maybe he can use later on, instead of bagging up groceries,” she said. “Something that he’s passionate about.”

As for Zimbleman, who spends five hours a week with Kevin free of charge – his costs are covered by the Tri-Counties Regional Center — said he was blown away by Kevin’s natural ability as an artist.

“He’s got a Kevin style – people can see that,” he said. “Between the color, texture, the technique he uses, the subject matter – it all just kind of fits,” he said. “His work has a gut-level intensity to it.”

Click here to see more of Kevin’s art.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Torrance Daily Breeze wins two first and two second place awards from California Newspaper Publishers Association

Torrance Daily Breeze wins two first and two second place awards from California Newspaper Publishers Association

PUBLISHED: May 3, 2014 at 6:26 pm | UPDATED: September 6, 2017 at 6:28 am
The Los Angeles News Group, which includes the Daily Breeze, captured 10 first place and 11 second place awards announced at the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual awards banquet in San Jose on Saturday.

The Daily Breeze in Torrance won two first and two second place awards.

The annual journalism contest honors the best work in the state for 2013. LANG received 37 awards over the four circulation categories in which it competed.

“The journalists of the Los Angeles News Group are deeply committed to serving our communities, and having such a broad array of work recognized is a testament of how seriously that mission is undertaken each day,” said Michael A. Anastasi, LANG’s vice president of news and executive editor.

“Both Publisher Ron Hasse and I are very proud of our colleagues.”

The Daily Breeze was honored in the large circulation category for the following stories:

•First place: Coverage of Local Government, Lennox School District dysfunction. Rob Kuznia.

•Second place: Agricultural Reporting, 48 Hours. Brian Sumers.

•Second place: Best Sports Story, 25 years since the Wayne Gretzky trade changed hockey forever. Elliott Teaford.

•First place: Graphic Illustration, Gang Injunctions. Paul Penzella.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Pay to Play Politics in Tiny School District

Pay to Play: Construction firm TELACU bankrolling Centinela Valley school board campaigns, receiving millions in contracts


Feb. 19, 2014

For a couple of moms from working-class families hoping to retain their seats on the Centinela Valley school board, it was a stark lesson in machine politics.

In a small room at the Proud Bird restaurant near LAX, a group of maybe 15 had gathered to support board members Sandra Suarez and Gloria Ramos. Nearly everyone sharing finger foods that day was connected to a community development corporation called TELACU, which bills itself as the fifth largest Latino-owned business in California.

There were architects, lawyers, consultants. And high-powered figures from TELACU itself. Everyone in attendance wrote out two checks for $99 — the highest amount that can go unreported in campaign filings — one for Suarez, one for Ramos.

Donors included President and CEO David Lizarraga, who at the time was chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and has since been appointed by President Barack Obama to a key administrative post in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Also included was John Clem, the TELACU executive who heads up all the construction projects in the Centinela district, as well as the wives of both men.

All for two women in a tiny district that oversees just three comprehensive high schools in Lawndale and Hawthorne.

“It was kind of odd,” Suarez said. “They were giving us money — I’m not used to any of that. … To tell you the truth, I didn’t even realize they were giving for us at first.”

The event was a window into the political machine that has been picking leaders in the tiny district since 2008. In the two past contested elections, TELACU has poured large amounts of money into campaigns to elect their favored candidates who almost always win.

TELACU won, too. Since 2008, the TELACU-backed Centinela Valley school board has put two construction bond measures on the ballot totaling nearly $200 million. Voters approved both, and TELACU was awarded contracts to manage the construction projects.

Clem, president of TELACU Construction Management, did not return calls from the Daily Breeze on Tuesday and Wednesday. But Centinela Valley officials have pointed out that as a result of the two successful bond measures — one in 2008, another in 2010 — major face-lifts have occurred or are in the pipeline for all three campuses. The projects have replaced old, sometimes crumbling facilities with state-of-the-art classroom wings, media centers, offices and commons areas.

Critics, on the other hand, say the whole thing smacks of a money grab for the interested parties at the expense of the taxpayers.

“The problem with Centinela Valley, and so many school districts and community colleges, is that they have become bond-passing machines that milk the public to pay for lavish construction projects, outrageous salaries and terrible loans,” said Mariano Vasquez, the plaintiff in a lawsuit opposing a recently passed parcel tax floated by Centinela Valley and four feeder elementary school districts.

“This causes a very harmful misallocation of scarce resources and capital that slowly brings ruin to the town.”

In recent weeks, Superintendent Jose Fernandez — who took the helm roughly at the same time that TELACU began exerting its influence in Centinela — has said publicly that the district intends to try for a third construction bond. This announcement came just days before a Feb. 9 story in the Daily Breeze revealed that Fernandez amassed more than $663,000 in total compensation last year. At least $215,000 of that came from a one-time expense, but Fernandez — in exercising another generous provision of his contract — also has taken a $910,000 loan from the school district to purchase a home in Ladera Heights. He has 40 years to pay it off, at 2 percent interest — an unusually favorable set of terms.

TELACU first demonstrated its ability to influence the outcomes of Centinela Valley school board elections in 2009. The company donated $28,000 to a political action committee called Citizens for Better Schools, according to campaign finance reports obtained from the Los Angeles County Register-Recorder’s Office. Citizens For Better Schools, in turn, dished out $55,000 to purchase mailers and other promotional materials touting three candidates: Rocio Pizano, Hugo Rojas and Maritza Molina.

(By comparison, Pizano’s election committee raised $5,000, according to the documents. Rojas and Molina apparently raised no money.)

Pizano was an incumbent. But Rojas, a karate instructor and former Hawthorne school board member with at least two DUIs on his record — and Molina — then a 23-year-old recent college graduate — ousted two incumbents with education credentials. One of them, Rudy Salas, is the principal at Hawthorne Middle School. The other, Frank Talavera, is an educator who at the time was teaching at Gardena High School. Both opposed an effort to put a bond measure on the ballot in 2008.

Sources say those two board members were controversial as well and had a vindictive streak. Salas declined to be interviewed; Talavera couldn’t be reached.

In his ballot statement that year, Talavera wrote that his experience “will help me guide the district in a more positive direction where students are the PRIORITY and not buildings or superficial fix-ups.”

TELACU’s preferred candidates were triumphant. In December 2009 — a month after the election — the new school board unanimously approved Fernandez’s generous employment contract. Not long after, the board voted to put another $98 million bond measure on the ballot. In November 2010, the voting public gave its assent.

The initiative raised eyebrows on the Lawndale City Council.

“I think it’s outrageous they do this in low-income communities,” Councilman Larry Rudolph said. “What are we getting for it? I don’t see anything except for these big fancy buildings. I don’t see how they are going to make the kids any smarter.”

Rudolph added that in his own elections, he does not accept campaign contributions. “I wouldn’t want to be in debt to anybody,” he said. “I don’t have to do anything but vote my conscience.”

Although it is common for big construction companies to make financial contributions for the passage of bond measures, it is rare for them to put up money for individual school board candidates — at least in the South Bay.

“In our case, I doubt anybody got a dime,” said Jane Diehl, a former longtime school board member in the Redondo Beach Unified School District. Diehl was on the board when voters in the district approved a $145 million construction bond measure in 2008. That project has been managed by the company Balfour Beatty.

“Most of the school board elections in Redondo are pretty sparse,” she added, saying candidates there generally raise around $8,000. “If you want to win, you gotta walk” and knock on doors.

Mark Steffen, president of the Torrance school board, said he believes the same is true in Torrance Unified, where voters approved a $355 million pair of bond measures in 2008.

Balfour Beatty manages those projects as well.

“They’ve never offered, nor have I sought out dollars from them,” Steffen said.

In the Centinela Valley school district — which oversees Lawndale, Leuzinger and Hawthorne high schools — TELACU hasn’t been the only heavy contributor to election campaigns.

In 2011, the investment firm Piper Jaffray of Minneapolis contributed $25,000 to Citizens for Better Schools, donating much of that to TELACU’s favored candidates. The two firms have combined forces elsewhere in support of school bond measures, including a 2010 bid in Claremont. Piper Jaffray contributed $25,000 to that campaign, and TELACU $20,000.

Also contributing to Centinela’s 2010 effort to get a construction bond measure passed were law firms such as Dannis, Woliver, Kelley — which has a lucrative contract with the school district. (It donated $7,500.) Another law firm gave $5,000.

The event at the Proud Bird back in the summer of 2010 was a campaign fundraiser for the 2011 school board race. It was early in the game, and things wound up taking an unexpected twist — both Suarez and Ramos fell out of favor.

It so happens that Suarez is big on historic preservation. When it came to her attention that the bond measure called for knocking down much of Leuzinger High, she began to have doubts. By October 2010 — a few months after the fundraiser — she was fully opposed, and speaking out publicly.

It’s less clear why the construction company ended its support of Ramos. But she — unlike the other three members — was generally known for occasionally voicing dissent on district matters.

In any event, Citizens for Better Schools found two new candidates to support: banking executive Lorena Gonzalez, who was challenging Suarez; and Ugo Felizzola II, a 24-year-old financial analyst who was trying to unseat Ramos.

This time, the political action committee spent $82,000 on its campaign favoring those candidates. Once again, TELACU made a sizable donation; records show it contributed at least $10,000. (This was the race in which Piper Jaffray pitched in $25,000.)

Because none of that money went to the candidates directly, they did not have to report the support. The committee spent at least $26,486 on each candidate. The money paid for slate mailers, door hangers, brochures and campaign signs, among other things, according to documents.

A political consultant closely aligned with TELACU met with leaders of the teachers union to request that they endorse the two political newcomers. The union declined, opting instead to endorse nobody.

The effort to oust Suarez was a success; Ramos managed to eke out a victory over the young Felizzola.

Suarez says that prior to the election, Fernandez sometimes took her and other board members to fancy restaurants such as Houston’s in Manhattan Beach. The tab, she said, was often picked up by a law firm or by TELACU.

She later took her husband to Houston’s, not knowing the prices.

“When we looked at the menu, we realized what they were, and we looked at each other,” she said.

They ordered an appetizer, ate it quickly and left.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Home school no longer just for the deeply religious, enters mainstream

Home school no longer just for the deeply religious, enters mainstream

Published Sept. 27, 2013


When he was a toddler, Joseph Biner of Westchester was shy and withdrawn. And yet he couldn’t sit still in a chair for any length of time.

His mother, Patty Biner, began to dread the prospect of sending him off to kindergarten.

“I wanted to find a more constructive way to teach him,” she said. “I didn’t want to just throw him to the wolves.”

Kids might bully him. Counselors might label him.

“I’m sure they would want to say he has ADHD and put him on medication,” she said. “I think most ADHDs are just boys being boys.”

Patty and her husband, George, decided to home-school their child. In doing so, they joined a rapidly expanding movement.

Once primarily the domain of the Christian right or the far left, home schooling is increasingly appealing to families that don’t consider themselves deeply religious or ideological.

The practice instead appears to be entering a new phase of mainstream attention, attracting greater numbers of people who are most concerned about subjecting their kids to the pitfalls of the traditional school environment: standardized testing, peer pressure, bullying and even violence.

Related story: Home-schooling families take play seriously

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released its five-year report on home schooling. Among its findings: the number of home-schooled students ages 5 to 17 in the United States has jumped 17 percent since the last study in 2007 — to a record 1.77 million students. That represents about 3.4 percent of all the nation’s K-12 students.

Meanwhile, the proportion of K-12 students who are attending private schools has shrunk in a decade, from 12 percent to 10 percent.

Pam Sorooshian, who co-founded a group for home-schoolers in Long Beach called Dragon Tree, said the home-schooling option is no longer perceived as bizarre in the way it was when she was home-schooling her three daughters, now all in their 20s. (Two are college graduates and the third is a senior at Cal State Northridge.)

“When we first started home schooling, people would kind of look at us blankly,” said Sorooshian, an economics professor at Cypress College in Orange County. “They’d say, ‘What? Can you do that?’ Now, they say, ‘Oh yes, my niece home-schools,’ or ‘my nephew home-schools.’ Everybody knows somebody who does it.”

As home schooling enters the mainstream, it is also becoming more secular, according to the survey.

Every five years, the Department of Education asks respondents to cite the most important reason driving their decision to home-school. In 2007, the one cited by the highest proportion of parents — more than a third — was “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.” But the share of those parents has shrunk since then, from 36 percent to 21 percent.

Now, the plurality belongs to the 25 percent who say their chief reason for home schooling is a concern about the traditional school environment, specifically as it relates to “safety, drugs and negative peer pressure.”

To be sure, a large share of families still home-school for religious or moral reasons. By the study’s count, nearly two-thirds of the families included “a desire to provide religious instruction” among their three top reasons for home schooling. But even here, that figure is eclipsed by the 91 percent of families who selected “school environment” among their top three reasons.

By the survey’s reckoning, the growth of the home-school movement has been meteoric, doubling since 1999.

Joseph Murphy, a professor of education at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee — and a leading expert on home schooling — believes the growth will soon level off.

“Most home-schooled households have a mom who stays at home,” he said. “There are only so many people in the country that can afford to take a breadwinner out of the box.”

Data hard to track

In any case, reliable statistics on home schooling can be difficult to find.

The U.S. Department of Education’s figures must be viewed with a careful eye because the methodology changed from conducting random surveys by land-line telephone — which fewer and fewer people have — to sending them out randomly via mail.

In California, the statistics are even fuzzier. That’s because, technically, there is no such thing as home schooling in California. Here, it is done in several ways. Families that go it alone must establish what amounts to a miniature private school. They can hire a credentialed teacher to tutor their child. Or they can home-school through an independent study or online program sponsored by a public school.

While the California Department of Education keeps a tally of private schools in the state, it omits from the count any private school with fewer than six students — and in so doing neglects to track the number of home-schoolers.

As is required of private-school operators, home-school families that opt to become mini private schools need only fill out an online form every October. This is called a “private school affidavit,” and amounts to a notification to the state that the school exists. The affidavit includes a verbal pledge, agreed to under penalty of perjury, to offer the same general branches of instruction that students get in traditional public schools.

“You can’t be teaching basketball all day, or dance,” Sorooshian said. “To be honest, there is nobody who is authorized to check on that. We don’t report to anybody. We have a lot of freedom to do things the way we want to.”

Though K-12 home schooling is becoming more mainstream, it isn’t being treated as such by all four-year universities.

Some advocates single out the University of California as especially unfriendly to the home-school movement.

“I have people who talk to me about getting into college after high school, and I always have to warn them about UC,” said Wes Beach, a home-school advocate in Santa Cruz County who serves as a kind of guidance counselor for home-schoolers. “There just isn’t a way unless you get really high test scores.”

Beach said he’s worked with only one home-schooled student who went straight to a UC campus (Santa Cruz) as a freshman.

The reason: The UC system has strict guidelines on the coursework that must be completed before students are eligible to apply. Those courses — known in education circles as the “A through G requirements” — in essence need UC’s stamp of approval.

Conversely, home-schoolers often don’t draw a bright line between subject areas, instead favoring an approach that allows the interests of the child to drive instruction.

Julian Sharisi, who grew up in Long Beach but is now a student at the private Sarah Lawrence College in New York, remembers a typical school day during his high school years. He would wake up between 9 and 11 a.m., eat breakfast and then read whatever interested him. Class for that day might include a private piano or cello lesson, a dance or acting class, or a trip to a museum or play.

“I never really liked math or algebra; I didn’t see the point — I wasn’t particularly good at it,” Sharisi said. Then he got into music theory and computer science. “Suddenly, I have a passion for math and physics,” he said.

Beach says the one exception to the UC system’s impenetrability is UC Riverside. About five years ago at that campus, a group of professors whose children were home-schooled lobbied the administration to create a separate set of guidelines for such students. To this day, the campus has a committee of professors — many of them current or former home-school parents — that vets home-school applicants.

Many home-schoolers skirt the point-of-entry challenge by taking two years’ worth of community college credits, thereby rendering their high school transcript moot — and enabling them to transfer into four-year universities as juniors.

That’s what Sorooshian’s daughters did. All three went to Cal State schools. One is working as an adjunct professor at Cal State Long Beach.

Sorooshian isn’t really among the wave of more mainstream families. A statistician by trade, she’s a self-described hippie at heart.

Sorooshian subscribes to a form of home schooling called “un-schooling,” which some view to be radical, though she believes the method is widely misunderstood. The idea is to let the child’s interests or real-world applications drive instruction, rather than textbooks and curriculum.

When one of her daughters was 5, for instance, rather than make her fill out worksheets that teach the concept of counting money and making change, Sorooshian might instead have taken her to a bakery, given her a $20 bill to purchase a cookie, and then asked her how much money she should expect to get back.

The Biners, meanwhile, lean toward the libertarian end of the political spectrum. Their concerns had less to do with countering the establishment and more to do with the school environment. In a sense, their trail was blazed by Patty Biner’s brother, who pulled his son out of school long before Patty’s eldest child was of school age. The reason? The boy had been held at knife-point in a middle-school bathroom.

“The principal did nothing,” she said. “The teachers did nothing.”

Patty’s oldest son, Joseph, is 14, and now attends Da Vinci Science charter high school, which has no home-school component.

“He tested very well,” said Biner, a stay-at-home mom with a master’s degree in engineering. (Her husband is an engineer.) “His advisory teacher was shocked to find out he was home schooling his whole life.”