Community and Cyclists Clash on Ballona Creek Trail Gate

ballona_creek_entrance.jpg
Photo of Entrance by Will Campbell

Last night, Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s office held a public meeting to help decide whether or not to close the entrance to the Ballona Creek Bike Trail along Culver Drive between Purdue Avenue and Sawtelle Boulevard. The meeting followed a contentious City Council Transportation Committee hearing where the people living adjacent to the entrance and trail users clashed over the effect of closing the opening.

Those living adjacent to the street have been trying to get the entrance closed because they claim it has become a hot bed of gang banger activity. The entrance is used to foment drug deals, grand theft autos, attacks on residents, and other activities that make the community unsafe. One resident claims the problem is so bad that even when there is nobody at the gate, residents can’t live in their community without keeping half an eye on the gate.

Cyclists charge that the bike path actually makes the neighborhood safer and closing access will make both the path and the neighborhood more dangerous. By closing an access point, the trail becomes more isolated and could be a greater breeding ground for illegal activity. Cyclists also pointed out that there are bikers who get attacked on this trail and one such attack occured last week. Besides, just closing a gate would not stop gang members from cutting the fence open. The cyclists’ mantra for the evening could be summed up as, "criminals jump fences, citizens use gates."

Rosendahl hoped the meeting would allow the sides to come together on a compromise, but every compromise position proposed by either side was quickly squashed by either the other side or one of the city’s representatives. Rosendahl himself was not at the meeting, he was at a memorial for one of the fire fighters killed in the line of duty last week. The city was represented by three members of the LAPD, LADOT bike coordinator Michelle Mowery, and Arturo Pina from the Councilmember’s office.

Those living adjacent to the opening seemed flabbergasted that people from out of the area would oppose them on closing the bike entrance. They repeatedly questioned the right of outsiders, which includes people living in the neighborhood but not within a block of the entrance, to oppose them even shouting at people that, "You’re not my neighbor," and "Be quiet you don’t live in my neighborhood!" I should note that the shouting started before we even reached public comment.

Mowery was also a target of the residents’ anger, specifically that of Lou Corbin, who seemed to be an unofficial leader of the residents. Corbin accused Mowery of misleading cyclists and leading the effort to bring cyclists out to these meetings.

The meeting began with the LAPD reading a laundry list of crimes that have occured in the area and explained their inability to do much about it. Budget cuts have left LAPD undermanned to deal with every local issue and while there are some patrols in the neighborhood, they can’t be there all the time. Residents complained that it takes from 45 minutes to 2 hours for police to respond to calls, and by then the gang bangers have already fled.

Next, Mowery explained how the LADOT lacks a process to deal with closing bike path entrances because it’s never come up before. While LADOT has had contact with the LAPD on the issue of closing the Culver Drive gate, none of the people she spoke with were at the meeting last night. LADOT shares the concerns the cycling community that closing the gate will have no impact on local crime.

Mowery also hinted that closing an entrance could impact the city’s ability to compete for funds for other bike projects. "This trail was built with federal funds, and they expect that we will provide consistent and safe access to it."

Corbin was the first called upon to give public comment, and he angrily asked to speak last because of what he perceived to be an unfair bias towards letting the cyclists speak last. Corbin got his way, but then decided to speak in the middle of public testimony. He also continued his harangue against Mowery questioning why she was allowed to sit with the other city officials. At one point, the LAPD even threatened to shut the meeting down if people couldn’t behave like adults.

While the point of the meeting was supposed to be about finding a middle ground, the public comment quickly broke down to those living adjacent to the entrance versus everyone else. In addition to cyclists speaking against the closure, so did environmentalists working on Bellona Creek projects, residents from the larger Del Rey community, including a resident from a couple of blocks away and another from four houses away from the entrance, a representative from the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, and local business people.

The arguments of the neighborhood were clear. Not only does the gate provide a threat to the community, but there’s another gate 200 yards away at Sepulveda Boulevard. Cyclists answered that the Sepulveda entrance is a danger to cyclists because of increased traffic.

Gate closure proponent Bob Thayer did offer some compromises, but those were dismissed by LADOT. Thayer suggested moving the gate to Sawtelle Boulevard where it would be adjacent to a commercial area and not a residential area. When Mowery noted that moving the gate to that area would cost in excess of $1.5 million, Thayer suggested a pedestrian entrance that could be used in safety-related emergencies. Unfortunately, such an entrance would be in violation of the ADA.

Cyclists had some compromise suggestions as well, many of them articulated by Kent Strumpell, Rosendahl’s representative to the Bike Advisory Committee. All of these also had problems that made them unworkable.

First it was suggested that residents could be allowed to lock the gate closed at night, but residents replied that most of the problems occur during the day.

Next it was suggested that a surveillance camera system could be installed. The LAPD representatives replied that such a system would be too expensive to be feasible. The LAPD also rejected having more patrols or bike patrols because of the cost.

Two of the last three speakers were residents who live directly adjacent to the gate. They both spoke about how this particular entrance isn’t used that often by cyclists but by gang members. They described how cars will pull up to the gate and wait for people to walk out before commencing a drug deal. Getting license plates hasn’t been effective because the cars are often stolen.

There is no question that this community is suffering the impact of a lot of gang related crime. The questions that do remain are what impacts will closing this gate have, and with no compromise in sight, what will the City Council do?

  • Charlie D.

    Why are there gates on the path to begin with? I have never seen any path that can be closed off like that. The main thing that will deter criminals is more people using the path. Open all the entrances and encourage people to use the path. What’s the point of all the chain link fence anyway? Why not just tear it all down?

  • Simon

    I’m really not sure I understand what the gate has to do with the criminals.

    Why would gang bangers want to do their deals on a bike path? What’s the difference? It sounds like they’re just going to that neighborhood because it’s got bad police coverage, not because of anything else.

    You’d think the LAPD could put an officer there just for a day or two. If he caught one perpetrator then you figure criminals would pick a different spot next time.

  • Shhh… we don’t take kindly to queer ideas like logic and common sense ’round these parts pardner.

  • Call me crazy, but it appears that if those gang members really want to be on the trail, the fence is easily jumped.

    Sounds like just a bunch of way too typical NIMBYism.

  • i’m riding on it tomorrow morning. i’ll make sure to bring my brass knuckles.

  • homeowner

    If you “ride” the bike path you don’t see the impact of the crimes. This entrance is just east of the culver city projects, it is used as an escape route for crime. For instance.. Dealing of drugs is done by the seller driving down the street, parking and meeting the buyer at or around the gate. The buyer then has a quick route home to the projects and the seller also has a quick route out of the neighborhood. Culver dr is close to the major street of sawtelle, so this makes it an easy get away. If you only ride the path you wouldn’t see much of this happening. This is why closing the entrance will not affect the cyclist. The cyclist will continue to ride by as always. We are all told to do what is best to create a safe environment for our homes and when the police dept tell you that they need to close off this entrance, because it serves as an artery to the crime, we as a community should have more support to this. We have tried other options, we are tired of living with camera’s, seeing the crime and not being able to do anything to control it. And many have stated that you wouldn’t close off major exits on frwy’s but you are comparing apples to oranges. There are many “streets” that have been closed off to traffic when it becomes a hazared, for example look at the streets that run along jefferson near the back entrance to the cemetary, they were closed off do to it being a residential area and the streets being used as shortcuts to the mall … well this is our residential area and it has become a hazard because it is used as a getaway for crime.

  • Damien Newton

    Homeowner,

    Thank you for posting. I appreciate it. It’s good to get an alternate view on issues as a lot of the posters here tend to agree on a lot of issues. No matter what the outcome of the gate closure controversy, I hope that there is a solution to the crime problem in your area.

  • You can’t even access the bike path from the section 8 housing (projects). So what does that have to do with anything? I’ll tell you this, a lot of kids use that path to walk home from school. This will shut them down too.

    Fences don’t address crime, and even if they did I can jump that fence in one leap. I can also cut a hole in it using garden shears. I could cut the chains off with a cheap set of bolt cutters. Unless LA is ready to spend tens of thousands of dollars on serious fencing they can’t really “close” anything.

    You’re really ticked? Support legislation that will increase police funding so LAPD can patrol that area more often.

  • i found the path well used and pretty pleasant.
    the sawtelle entrance is poorly marked, and not easily accessed by cyclists. i think it should be made wider to attract more people and dispel unwanted uses.

    perhaps its an ideal route because of its design/neglect. lets think of ways we can solve the situation without closing it off.

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