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Days of Dialogue Opens Conversation on Police-Community Relations in South L.A., Gets an Earful

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Dialogue was great, said a young man from Youth Justice Coalition as we left the Days of Dialogue on Police-Community Relations in the Aftermath of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown event held at Dr. Maya Angelou High School in South L.A. last night, but what he cared about was action.

It seemed to be a sentiment shared by many of the approximately 200 people that participated in the conversation hosted by 9th District City Councilmember Curren Price and Days of Dialogue, an organization founded in 1995, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

The sentiment was particularly strong among the youth. They see themselves reflected in the cases of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Omar Abrego (a graphic video of Abrego on the ground can be seen here) and, most recently, Clifford Alford, the young man mistakenly identified as a potential robbery suspect and brutally beaten by police while handcuffed on October 16, just two blocks from the school where the event was held. And they are tired of fearing that they could be next.

But these frustrations with law enforcement and fears of being victimized by those who feel at liberty to abuse their authority are nothing new.

When Patricia, the facilitator at the table where I sat with a dozen community members, asked us to give voice some of these concerns, she didn’t have to ask twice.

Helen, an African-American woman in her 70s and a life-long resident of South L.A., related a story about having stopped to ask the police for directions because she was lost only to have them run her plates instead.

“I didn’t ask them for that,” she said wryly.

She then went on to describe how her mother had sat her and her siblings down while they were still little kids to tell them that, because of the color of their skin, they would always have make sure to move slowly and keep their hands visible at all times when interacting with the police.

For another young African-American mother at the table, those lessons still resonate today. During a recent routine traffic stop, she said, she had panicked and stepped out of the car with her hands up announcing that there were babies inside.

“Kids move so fast and they’re not good at keeping still,” she explained. She had been afraid that any sudden movements the kids made might have prompted officers to open fire first and ask questions later (as happened recently in South Carolina, when a trooper shot a man after instructing him to retrieve his license).

To someone who has never experienced profiling or had a negative encounter with law enforcement, those sorts of reactions might seem like paranoia or even bias on the part of the speakers. For the participants in the dialogue, however, it was clear their apprehension and distrust might be better described as a trained response to years’ and years’ worth of, as participants put it, being “terrorized,” “pre-judged,” “abused,” “disrespected,” “harassed,” and “left unprotected” by officers. Read more…

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Trick or Treat: LADOT Gets It Right on Halloween

This year the LADOT released its annual safety guide for Halloween, a tradition that dates back to 2008.

Uhm, ok. Image:##http://followpics.co/walking-down-the-street-on-halloween-i-happen-upon-the-greatest-group-costume-ever-imgur-okay-who-will-do-this-with-me-next-year-we-could-dress-up-our-kids-as-banana-peels-super-stars-and-tu/##Follow Pics##

Uhm, ok. Image:Follow Pics

And honestly, it makes me kind of proud.

You see, Streetsblog has a history with LADOT on Halloween. Back at the Streetsblog L.A. predecessor site, Street Heat, we needled LADOT for not providing safety tips as is common with agencies around the country. With some families exploring their neighborhoods at night for the first time, the world’s unofficial pedestrian holiday provides a good time to get some free press around safety issues.

The next year, LADOT did publish…but the guidelines were kind of weak. They focused on how to keep your kids from getting run over (good!) but didn’t mention anything to the people that might be doing the running over (bad).

A couple of years later, the agency finally added tips for drivers, much to our delight. Even more exciting, the tips started to be picked up by local TV stations.

So now, as parents are picking up their kids and getting ready for a big night out, we are happy to republish the LADOT safety tips.

Be safe out there kids, parents, and drivers. Have a good night.

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More Housing, Less Sprawl: Tackling Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Crisis through Smart Growth

It is no secret that Southern California is currently facing one of the worst housing crises it has faced in more than half a century.

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:##http://endinggridlock.org/blog/congratulations-to-las-next-mayor-eric-garcetti##Angelenos Against Gridlock##

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:Angelenos Against Gridlock

That’s the point Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove home Wednesday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation, and Jobs summit.

While it isn’t a revelation to most that it’s getting harder and harder to be poor or even middle class and afford to live in Los Angeles County – especially in westside cities like Santa Monica – it was refreshing to hear Garcetti address the root cause of this crisis: a lack of new housing being built.

But even more refreshing was to hear Garcetti, who currently chairs Metro’s Board of Directors, talk about making sure new housing – especially units affordable to low and middle-income residents – gets built next to the region’s expanding transit system.

At the summit, Garcetti announced his plan to increase L.A.’s housing stock by 100,000 new units by 2021. At the same time, he announced his intention to bring a motion before the Metro board to “analyze affordable housing preservation and construction around our transit system, from using MTA-owned land and targeting transit-pass programs.”

Does that mean we may see some of those sprawling surface parking lots redeveloped into places where middle- and low-income residents – many of whom rely on public transit for their daily commute – can live?

Studies have shown that lower-income residents will leave their cars at home 50 percent more often if they live within a quarter mile of reliable public transit.

Placing affordable housing near transit is a major tool in combating these issues, which is one reason why State Senator Darryl Steinberg fought for a generous portion of the California’s cap-and-trade money to be used to subsidize transit-oriented development.

The reality is, Garcetti said, that without growth, especially near transit, the region’s problems will only get worse. While the housing crisis may be evocative of the post-war era, regional leaders seem to realize that sprawl – the answer to our mid-century housing crisis – is not the answer today. (In case you didn’t already realize it, sprawl is really bad for people, the environment, and the economy.) Read more…

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CA Environmental Groups Grade Legislators

Screen shot 2014-10-31 at 11.08.28 AM

The California League of Conservation Voters scorecard is available here.

It’s scorecard season in California. Advocacy groups are giving grades to legislators based on how they voted on bills in the last year’s sessions, and releasing the scores just in time to influence next week’s election.

The California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and the Sierra Club both scored legislators according to how they voted on environmental issues, some of them germane to transportation.

The Sierra Club’s scorecard headline is: 2014: Environmental Power Unifies and Wins.

The CLCV added an additional score this year, dinging fifteen Assemblymembers who signed a letter to the California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols begging her to postpone the application of cap-and-trade to fuels in January.

“Considering the severity and scope of the assault on AB 32, CLCV takes the historic step — the first time in more than forty years of scoring the Legislature – of negatively scoring the signatories to the letters as if they had cast a vote against AB 32 implementation,” said the League in a press release. ”We take this unprecedented action to make it clear to lawmakers that their public support or opposition to state laws that tackle climate change will be part of their permanent record of environmental performance we share with our members, other environmental advocates, and the media.”

Read more…

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Portland Suburb: To Fight Climate Change, Expand Highways!

Is more of this the way to beat congestion in the Portland region? Photo: Bike Portland

Is more of this the way to reduce carbon emissions in the Portland region? Photo: Bike Portland

Clackamas County, outside of Portland, has some opinions about the region’s plan to address climate change. According to Michael Andersen at Bike Portland, county commissioners have drafted a letter to regional planners saying the right way to control carbon emissions is to build more highways.

Scratching your head? Well, the misguided belief that building more roads reduces congestion, and thus emissions, is still deeply entrenched in American transportation bureaucracies.

Clackamas County wants more roads to be included in the climate plan from Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency. But get this — Metro’s plan already has a lot of road work in the name of reducing emissions, Andersen reports:

Metro’s draft version of that plan (PDF) calls for the region to dedicate 58 percent of related funding over the next 20 years — about $20 billion — to roads, even though the report says that “adding lane miles to relieve congestion … will not solve congestion on its own.”

Metro’s draft plan calls for $12.4 billion to be spent on transit, which it rates as enough to achieve a 16 to 20 percent cut in per-capita carbon emissions. The plan calls for $2 billion to go to improving biking and walking, which it rates as enough for a 3 to 6 percent reduction.

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Confirmed: Sprawl and Bad Transit Increase Unemployment

Since the 1960s and the earliest days of job sprawl, the theory of “spatial mismatch” — that low-income communities experience higher unemployment because they are isolated from employment centers – has shaped the way people think about urban form and social equity.

But it’s also been challenged. The research that supporting spatial mismatch has suffered from some nagging flaws. For example, many studies focused on job access within a single metropolitan area, so it wasn’t clear if the findings were universal. Other studies looked only at linear distance between jobs and low-income residents, not actual commute times. In addition, researchers including Harvard economist Ed Glaeser have argued that it’s difficult to determine whether neighborhood inaccessibility causes higher unemployment, or whether disconnected areas attract more people who have trouble finding work.

A new study [PDF] from researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau, the Comptroller of the Currency, and Harvard University, however, addresses those shortcomings and confirms the original theory of spatial mismatch: Geographic barriers to employment — sprawl, suburban zoning, poor transit – do indeed depress employment levels.

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Today’s Headlines

  • A Heady Discussion on the Future of Trains in L.A. with Damien, Juan, Maddie, Gerard (Zocalo)
  • Just Fixing the Asphalt on L.A. County’s Worst Roads Would Cost $19 Billion (My News L.A.)
  • Historic Lankershim Depot Gets Major Refurbishing (The Source)
  • Metro, Caltrans Don’t Have Best Reputation on Telling You About 405 Closures (LAT)
  • Frustration Growing with Metrolink in O.C., Change “Imminent” (Voice of OC)
  • Photos from “Invisible Cities” at Union Station (The Source)
  • Grand Park’s Dia De Los Muertos Highlights Social Concerns, Including Ped. Deaths (Daily News)
  • SCAG Boss Talks Highway Congestion Relief for a Southern L.A. County Bottleneck (Press-Telegram)
  • Maybe if We’re Really Lucky, WE Can Help Pay for a New Football Stadium (LAT)
  • Really? It Might Rain Tonight? Good One, God. (LAT)

For more headlines, visit Streetsblog USA.

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New Chamber of Commerce Excited About Great Streets on Venice Blvd.

Bonin bus stop

Mike Bonin hops on the Venice Rapid for his morning commute. This uncharacteristically damp morning isn’t the best background, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before Venice can truly be considered a Great Street. Photo: Damien Newton

Mike Bonin is not someone who is known for thinking small.

“There’s a universe of opportunities,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin, of the proposed “Great Street” on Venice Boulevard. “But it’s important that this not be ‘Mike’s project,’ or the ‘Mayor’s project,’ or the ‘DOT’s Project,’ but the people’s project.”

Bonin was speaking excitedly about the “Great Streets” designation granted to Venice Boulevard between Inglewood Boulevard on the east and Beethoven Street on the west. Great Streets is an initiative to take a section of street in each of the fifteen City Council Districts and turn them into great places to walk, bike, sit outside, or just be…just exist.

While Bonin prefers the phrase “universe of opportunities” to describe everything that can be done, Mayor Eric Garcetti uses the term “urban-acupuncture” to illustrate the idea that these streets will be slimmed down to car traffic and opened up for other uses. Think of streets with trees for shade, modern crosswalks, clean and wide sidewalks, even just appropriately placed park benches and trash cans.

“A small burst of energy can transform a community,” Garcetti is fond of saying.

“One small change, especially if the community is behind it, can get things rolling,” Bonin echoes.

So what will Venice Boulevard look like after it has been changed to a Great Street? And when will Venice, or any of the other 14 Great Streets, actually start to see improvements?

There is not a good answer to the second question. Nobody seems to know when street improvements are going to come.

As for the first one…

“I have some ideas, but it’s really up to the community,” Bonin promises.

During the 2013 election, Bonin offered a vision of a Venice Boulevard teeming with small businesses and a walkable community during our candidates’ forum. But when pressed in our Great Streets interview, he kept going back to the idea that this was the community’s decision.

Not his.

Not Garcetti’s.

The community’s. Read more…

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6 Transportation Ballot Initiatives to Watch Next Tuesday

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via ##http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/07/as-clayton-commission-gets-a-marta-vote-do-over-spotlight-shines-on-gail-hambrick/##Saporta Report##

Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via Saporta Report

Next week, voters in Maryland and Wisconsin may tell state officials to keep their greedy paws off transportation funds. Louisianans will consider whether to create an infrastructure bank to help finance projects. Texans will weigh the wisdom of raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund for — what else? — highways. And Massachusetts activists who have been fighting to repeal the state’s automatic gas tax hikes will finally get their day of reckoning.

Those are just a few of the decisions facing voters as they go to the polls Tuesday. They’re the ones getting the most press and that could have the biggest impact. For instance, if Massachusetts loses its ability to raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation, it could inspire anti-tax activists in other states that would like to gut their own revenue collection mechanisms, too.

There are lots of local initiatives on next Tuesday’s ballot that aren’t generating so much buzz but could still have major implications for the state of transportation in key parts of the country. Here are some contests you should pay attention to.

This is what Pinellas County's rail system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday's ballot referendum. Image: ##http://greenlightpinellas.com/about/view-the-maps##Greenlight Pinellas##

This is what Pinellas County’s transit system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday’s ballot referendum. Map: Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida: For years, transit advocates have been trying to correct what they see as a major deficiency in Tampa’s regional transportation network: It is the largest metropolitan area in the country without rail transit. Voters in the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay region — Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough — all have to approve a new one-cent sales tax to pay for a potential light rail system and other transit improvements. Voters in Hillsborough rebuffed an attempt to get approval in 2010. Pinellas and Polk are trying this year.

Specifically, Pinellas County voters will decide on Greenlight Pinellas, a plan to increase bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater. It would form part of a regional transit system that the three counties are still trying to figure out. It’s by no means a done deal: The Pinellas contest has been one of the most bitterly and loudly contentious of this cycle. But a vote in favor of building the system would be a game-changer.

“The hope is that a positive vote, particularly in Pinellas, would really be a shot in arm for Hillsborough to come back to the voters or to proceed with some other funding mechanism to support the system,” said Jason Jordan, who tracks transit-related ballot initiatives around the country for the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Polk, the least urban of the three counties, will vote on a one-cent sales tax measure that would fund both transit and roads.

Read more…

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Documentary to Explore Racial Discrimination in Transportation Planning

Beavercreek, Ohio, nabbed its own infamous place in civil rights history last year, when the Federal Highway Administration ruled that the suburb had violated anti-discrimination laws by blocking bus service from nearby Dayton.

The Beavercreek case marked the first time civil rights activists had successfully filed this type of administrative complaint with the FHWA against a public agency for violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Since the law was passed, dozens of these complaints have been filed, but not until Beavercreek did advocates use this mechanism to compel action by a local government, according to the maker of a new documentary. The decision gave Dayton area transit riders access to a bus route to a growing, mostly-white suburb that had sought to keep them out.

The Beavercreek case illustrates larger, more widespread problems with America’s transportation system, say researchers at Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. The Kirwan Institute is producing a one-hour documentary exploring the Beavercreek case and how racism can influence transportation decision making. The filmmakers hope to air the show on PBS after its completion this spring.

I got in touch with producer Matt Martin about the project via email. Martin noted that in a Title VI administrative complaint, the plaintiff must only show there was “disparate impact” on protected classes of people, rather than the much-tougher standard of intentional discrimination required in civil rights cases that go to court. Raising awareness of the administrative complaint as a tool for local activists and preserving its usefulness is one of the film’s main goals, Martin says.

Here is our short Q & A.

Read more…