The City of Agoura Hills Wants To Know What You Think

If you’re an Agoura Hills resident, take this survey!
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The City of Agoura Hills has released a “quality of life” survey, asking residents for feedback about living here, what you would like to see improved, and some demographic information. Answers are anonymous.

But you probably already know how I will answer. (Heart emoji.)

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Click here to take the survey.

Applying For Children’s Passports

If you need to get passports for children under 16 in the US, you must apply in person. I just did this for the first time and I suspect it wasn’t the easiest or hardest way. But it was kind of hard. I’m posting this so you can be warned: applying for children’s passports takes preparation.

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We are taking the family on an international vacation this summer – more about THAT dream come true in a different post – so we finally had to get passports for them. I say “finally,” but it’s all relative. I didn’t get my first passport until I was 30.

Of course I knew that it would be cumbersome to go through the process since we would be dealing with a gargantuan government agency in a time of great international safety concern, but I figured since I was doing this in March, and our trip is scheduled for the summer, we had plenty of time, so we could handle it easily.

Well. Here’s the saga.

To apply for a passport for a child under age 16, you must appear in person with both parents. There is a way to apply with the written consent of the absent parent, which Kelly Loubet Singh describes in her great and detailed post about the process on Everyday Childhood.

You must bring:

Identification (like the child’s birth certificate)

Application (Form DS11)

Payment ($105 per application)

Parent’s identification (passport or driver’s license)

We had all of those things. That part is easy. I prepared everything, then looked into visiting a passport office.

The easy way, I’ve heard, is to make an appointment at a passport processing facility like Malibu City Hall or an office in Simi Valley, but those places had their first appointments available in April and May. I checked out all of them near Agoura Hills and they were all the same. Very long lead times for appointments. Cutting it too close to our trip.

The best option for us was to visit the Van Nuys Passport Office which is located inside the Van Nuys Post Office at Sherman Way and the 405. A friend went through this process recently (with only ONE parent, see link above) and warned me that the lines were long. Because of the aforementioned scarcity of appointments at other locations and the sad, pared-down workforce, the demand for new passports and renewals far exceeds the capacity of the agency to quickly process them all.

Okay. So we chose a weekday and notified the school the kids would be late. We left Agoura Hills before 7am and arrived at Van Nuys Post Office at 7:35.

There were already 20 people in line. The ones who were first? Got there at 6:45 AM. And they were still there when we left at 9:30.

After a chilly wait (the waiting area is in shade at this time of day, so if you go in summer at least you have that) the door opened and the line advanced to a triage desk. Two officials, one very nice and one NOT, review paperwork and send you off to the side if your stuff is not complete, or give you a number like at the deli counter if it is.

If you get your number, you advance. “Follow the blue arrows, ma’am,” the not-nice official barked at me as she handed me number 85, and we proceeded around the corner, past two very sad, mostly-empty vending machines, to the processing room. There is a waiting area with about 50 seats on one side of the room, and several desks set up on the other side. At 8:15 AM there were only 2 officials serving all these people.

And of course the line behind us grew to stretch all the way around the side of the building, so that 50-seat waiting area soon filled and families were just standing around waiting. For hours.

When we sat down, number 71 was being served. Eventually more staff came in and we watched as each family or person was served. It took about 15 minutes per party for the officials to review the paperwork, write things, print things, and then send them on their way.

Meanwhile, I really had to go to the bathroom. Two cups of coffee, and even though I went before we left, I had to go again. But guess what.

THERE IS NO PUBLIC BATHROOM AT THE US PASSPORT OFFICE IN VAN NUYS.

Did you hear that? Hundreds of people, waiting for hours, and there is no public bathroom.

Notice I didn’t say “no bathroom.” Oh, there’s a bathroom there alright. And I heard the sound of toilets flushing and a hand dryer roaring right behind the wall where I sat – but that bathroom is only for employees.

Never mind the public health and sanitation issues here. Or the blatantly horrible customer service. Or the fantastic inconvenience. All I really cared about was that I had to pee and we’d be here at least another hour. I asked a worker who told me the closest bathroom was across the street at the gas station. It was actually a 1/4 block to the corner, then diagonally across, requiring crossing two very busy streets at the walk light.

I got to the gas station. No restroom in sight. I was desperate. I walked, gingerly now, to the service center (smog, brakes, etc.) adjacent to the gas station and asked. The worker pointed to a door in the back of the brake shop. I didn’t have a choice at that point so I went in.

It was like the Trainspotting bathroom. The most nightmarish bathroom I have visited since, oh, maybe Woodstock ’94.

But, desperate. So let’s just never speak of this again.

I managed to get back to the passport office, worried that I might miss our turn, when the number was all the way up to…75.

We waited until about 9:15, and since we were the most prepared people in the history of passport applications, it only took 10 minutes for the slowest official to process us. But. GAWD. He was slow. Meanwhile, I heard the toilet flush about 20 times behind the wall where the chairs in the waiting area are situated. I watched families gather and wait in standing room only, with children and elderly members. All those people, waiting for hours, with nowhere to relieve themselves. I mentioned it to the same worker who had suggested the gas station. She said “A firmly worded letter to OSHA might help.”

The waiting wasn’t so bad, because we knew to expect it. We had everything we needed, and the mornings off from work and school. But if you’re a human person who needs water and food and a place to go to the bathroom, Van Nuys is not the passport office to visit, people. I’m told the Oxnard office is in a nice library, where you can look at books as you wait, and there’s likely a public restroom.

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They were excited to open their mail from the US government.

But back to the passport – we received the kids’ passports exactly 3 weeks from the day we applied, and our identification paperwork arrived a day or so later. Achievement unlocked.

Next up: international travel with kids. See you on the other side.

 

 

Free Shade Trees For Your House

Shade trees provide beauty, protection from the sun and heat, and reduce energy costs. If you live within the city of Los Angeles you can get free young shade trees to add shade to your home.

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Ask me how I know this.

Shade trees are important to your home’s landscape. We once had a gloriously green back yard. The drought killed the grass, but there were four beautiful, mature birch trees between our house and the one behind us, to the east.

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View of our backyard, spring 2010

Unfortunately, they were on our neighbors’ property.

Last Friday, at the end of a very busy week for me, I noticed the neighbors had someone trimming one of the trees. I didn’t really pay attention until the tree was gone.

Heartbroken, I called over the wall to ask if they were cutting all of the trees. They were. They have their reasons for doing it, but having been given no notice, there was nothing I could do to change their minds.

I watched helplessly as the tree guy systematically dismembered and chopped each tree down, section by section, with a chainsaw.

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One tree gone, a second tree being murdered

Once I realized what was happening and helpless I was to stop it, I just stood back there and sobbed, watching the trees disappear, and with it the shade they provided over our yard from the morning sun. And the privacy between our second floor and the neighbors’ backyard, and the middle school beyond.

Now in the morning, instead of beautiful dappled shade and the glory of the green birch leaves, we are subjected to harsh sun beating down upon our house and backyard. For a while each morning, the sun’s glare bounces off the roof of the middle school’s MPR and directly into the windows at the back of the house. I have to wear sunglasses to work in the kitchen.

 

I can’t even show you the new view. It’s too sad.

 

Yes, we will get drapes or treat the windows or install awnings.

But we cannot quickly replace the beauty and shade and protection of those trees. A friend let me know that the city of Los Angeles and other groups give away up to 7 free shade trees to local households in a program called City Plants. Unfortunately we are NOT in the city limits, so I’m looking into other programs and what we can plant that will work well and grown quickly.

In the meantime, it hurts my heart to look out the window and see the place where those trees aren’t.