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Response to Venice Boardwalk Crash Should Be Model, Not Outlier

Screen grab of the top picture of Alice Gruppioni and her husband Christian Casadei from Leggo, a newspaper in Italy.

Saturday in the late afternoona, Nathan Lewis Campbell got in his car and created carnage on the Venice Boardwalk. The 38-year-old native of Colorado drove on to the boardwalk and swerved through the area injuring dozens and killing Italian Alice Gruppioni, a 32 year old newly waling barefoot on the beach next to her husband. They were on their honeymoon.

Later, Campbell abandoned his car and sauntered into a Santa Monica Police Station to turn himself in. The psychopath’s bail is set at $1 million and he is being held on “suspicion of murder.” Unlike a recent high-profile hit and run in Gardena, Campbell is unlikely to be released on his own recognizance.

There are literally hundreds of stories covering this crash circulating the Internet, from CNN to the L.A. Times, from ABC to Yo Venice!, from CBS to Leggo in Italy.

All of the major power players are giving an appropriate response. Local Council Member Mike Bonin and Mayor Eric Garcetti are promising an infrastructure improvement, the media is treating the case with the solemness it deserves, the LAPD is talking about murder and not “accidents.”

The reaction to this devastating crash should become the template for how the city and those in power react to a crash of any sort, but especially a hit and run crash. Whether it be state law, a culture of lawlessness on the streets, a lack of serious investigation  by the LAPD, a lack of urgency by the City Attorney or District Attorney, poor road design, or any of another thousand reasons, the City of Los Angeles is not a safe place to walk and ride a bicycle. At least, it’s not as safe as it could and should be.

If the city truly wants to honor the memory of Alice Gruppioni, it should make a point that the response to this weekend’s tragedy becomes the standard response, and not an outlier. Read more…

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Recounting Sunday’s Justice For Trayvon March, Taking to the Freeway, & Thoughts on Urbanism & Racial Inequities

Justice for Trayvon march walking eastbound across all lanes from the Crenshaw entrance of the 10 freeway.

On the Sunday morning of July 14th I caught word of a rally and march calling for justice for Trayvon Martin on twitter to take place at 4:00pm meeting at Crenshaw Blvd. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. I came out to see and hear what people had to say, and I wanted to feel the reality on the ground as it truly exists, unfiltered by the truncated flyover coverage that accounts for so much of broadcast news.

I also came out with the dual hats of documenting and live blogging, but also lending my own presence to the frustration that our society remains unfair and unjust, far too often shaped unequally along racial lines. I’m not entirely neutral here, but neutrality doesn’t really exist, and perhaps most especially from some sources that attempt to claim otherwise.

I’ll admit upfront I’m no expert on the legal system, and I was not following every turn of the Zimmerman trial (or was it really Trayvon on trial?). Writing from the perspective of a white male currently living in Santa Monica, I am not confronted by the same kinds of prejudice or systemic structural disparities and expectations in my personal life that a Black male would experience in our society.

I can recognize that institutional racism exists, but I cannot speak from the same place, I do not carry the same burden. As an idealist, the fundamental unfairness of this dynamic does burn at me, it angers me, but such feelings must pale in comparison to how it must feel to carry the weight of presumed guilt by simply existing as one’s self. When I was a teenager I sometimes walked or biked alone at night on the suburban streets and pedestrian paths where I grew up, but I was never perceived a threat or stalked by law enforcement or civilian self styled authorities. It never crossed my mind that I might be confronted over imagined crimes simply because of how I looked and where I was going.

From the night of February 26th, 2012, in Sanford, Florida, to the protests and rallies across the country following the acquittal verdict, the street as public space has been a central part of this story. Trayvon Martin, returning to the home he was visiting, was followed, presumed suspicious, presumed guilty of something, with no evidence as such, for the very act of walking down the street with the “wrong” appearance, in the “wrong” place. He was thought to be surely up to no good because of appearance and prejudice.

In much of the popular urbanist discourse the goal of complete streets is invoked, usually to denote particular design features or characteristics. But if there are people in our society who cannot even walk without presumed guilt, than I would contend that no street can be truly “complete”. No sidewalk, no bike lane, no ideal tree canopy, no parklet, can correct for social paranoia empowered by firearms and flawed legal institutions. The street is a social construct foremost. Design features and infrastructure are important, but always secondary. Read more…

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If You Expect Justice to Be Served on LAPD Sgt. Yanez, Prepare to Be Disappointed

(Author’s note: there is some editorializing in this story. The opinions are mine. Unless Bell is quoted saying something, don’t put my words in his mouth. – DN)

Following last Monday’s story detailing the likely role an LAPD Sargent took covering up his daughter’s deadly hit and run crash, Streetsblog received a lot of email. Letters from friends of the slain victim, Jesse Dotson, were the most common. But a depressing interchange with attorney Allan Bell, retired police officer and the Senior Trial Attorney at The Law Offices of Allen J. Bell & Associates, shows that the deck is stacked against justice when it comes to prosecuting Sgt. Arturo Yanez for his role in covering up his daughter’s crime.

Just a reminder, Jesse Dotson, by all accounts a decent and optimistic family man, was killed by a dangerous driver who left him laying in the street.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, in late June Jesse Dotson was bicycling to work when he was struck by a hit and run driver. The car belonged to Vanessa Yanez, the daughter of LAPD Sgt. Arturo Yanez. Four hours after the crash, Yanez reported her car stolen and returned to a lot near her house. The crash occurred 16 miles away.

When the Gardena police charged Vanessa Yanez with a host of crimes, including vehicular manslaughter, bail was set at $100,000 but she was released on her own recognizance despite the fact that the police believe she killed someone, ran from the crime, and lied about a stolen car.

As for Sgt. Yanez, he lives with his daughter and actually owns the car that killed Dotson. He either believes his daughter’s ridiculous story and is one of the worst investigative officers ever, or he is complicit in the scheme to report the car stolen. Gardena police state they are not investigating Sgt. Yanez, but LAPD opened its own investigation.

I was relieved that LAPD was investigating, but Bell set me straight that there is little good news for fans of traffic justice.

First, Bell easily refutes my claim from last week that the LAPD review could strengthen Gardena’s police department’s case against Sgt. Yanez. Read more…

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A Tale of Two Communities, Part II: LAPD Finds it Stirred Up Hornets’ Nest by Profiling USC Students of Color

Graduating senior Jay Sneed (at podium) offers closing remarks at the forum to address racial profiling at USC while Tommie Bayliss waits to speak to senior officers in person (Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog)

*This is a sister-story to our recent piece on how the new security measures around USC resulted in the increase in profiling of lower-income youth of color around the campus. Read that story here.

WE DO NOT BELIEVE AT THIS POINT that there is any indication that this [incident] was race-based,” Capt. II Paul Snell of the LAPD Southwest Division told 1000 attendees at a forum last Tuesday night to address the mistreatment of black students by the LAPD when shutting down their party on May 4th.

People’s eyes rolled back so far in their heads, it looked like some of them might get stuck that way.

Too many in attendance had either been on the scene, had friends who had been there, or had seen the many images, videos, and detailed accounts of students describing how 79 officers (some in riot gear) had used bias, aggression, bullying, excessive force, and even racial slurs to disperse a party of minority students celebrating their last day of classes.

I reached out to squeeze the heavily tattooed arm of Tommie Bayliss, a student at the cinema school who I had watched grow increasingly agitated while awaiting his turn to address the panel of officers and USC officials.

“Are you OK?”

His head snapped up in surprise.

After a long pause, he nodded, “Yeah.”

I didn’t buy it.

Just minutes earlier, he had been demanding accountability and shouting questions to the panel out of turn. His friend and a co-organizer of the event, Jay Sneed, had quickly rushed over to settle him down while Rikiesha Pierce, another event organizer and author of a Neon Tommy article about biased policing at a party in mid-April, took to the microphone.

“They can’t hear you when you’re screaming,” she admonished Bayliss. “You gotta stand. You gotta be decent. You have to come with understanding and intellect.”

Bayliss has understanding and intellect in spades, and he recognized the importance of decorum. But he also saw the forum was quickly coming to an end, which meant he wasn’t going to have a chance to say his peace publicly. Read more…

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A Tale of Two Communities: New Security Measures at USC Intensify Profiling of Lower-Income Youth of Color

This is what stopping teens can look like. Mikey, Jonathan and George/Jorge were frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park last spring. They were stopped while waiting for friends. Note: the photo is not from South L.A., as many of the youth I spoke with wished to remain anonymous.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“What you got on you?” the 15 year-old girl says the cops pulled up alongside her asked as she walked along Vermont one night.

Bundled up in her boyfriend’s jacket to stave off the chilly air, she didn’t realize that they were actually talking to her until she heard one grumble, “Fucking Mexican!” and repeat the question.

Now she found herself both amused and pissed — not only were they messing with her, she’s Salvadoran.

“I was like, ‘Dayum, for real??’” she laughed as she recounted the incident to me over a plate of fries at a little restaurant not too far from where she had been stopped.

She was just going to the market, she told them. She didn’t have anything on her.

“Well, you just look [like you’re] bad,” she says the cops told her before pulling away.

“Geeeez-us,” I groaned, cradling my head in my hands.

I had spent the last month and a half moving up and down the streets around USC, speaking with lower-income black and brown male youth (aged 14 – 25) about the encounters they have had with officers from the LAPD and USC’s Department of Public Safety (DPS). Every single one of the approximately 50 youth I had randomly approached for an interview told me multiple stories about getting harassed, insulted, stopped, and sometimes even frisked and handcuffed by both DPS and the LAPD.

But I hadn’t expected to hear a story from her.

She’s tiny – maybe 4’10” tall on a good day – and she’s been working hard to stay out of trouble. In fact, she had recently moved up to the USC area to get away from the craziness and drama of the streets in Watts, where she had lived for the last several years. There, she was stressed from having to constantly watch her back. Her new neighborhood seemed so peaceful in contrast.

“You realize there’s a Harpys clique just up the street, right?” I laughed, pointing over my shoulder.

“Huh?”

She had never even heard of that gang. The only trouble she had had was with the cops. But it didn’t faze her, she said, waving me off dismissively. That kind of thing is normal.

Rites of Passage in the ‘Hood

“Normal.”

“Happens all the time.”

“It’s like a rite of passage.”

All across Los Angeles, these are ways that a lot of youth of color from lower-income communities describe being stopped, questioned, searched, or, on occasion, falsely accused of misdoing and arrested or even brutalized by the police. Such incidents are so prevalent, in fact, that I’ve had to postpone meeting up with people that wanted to tell me their stories about enduring harassment in order to finish this article. The list of friends, acquaintances, and random people I’ve encountered that regularly experience this kind of discrimination is actually that long.

Most strikingly, although all describe hating how disempowering, humiliating, and even traumatic it can be, and that it feels like the police prefer sweating them to keeping them safe, they tend not to think of getting stopped as anything out of the ordinary.

It sucks, they tell me, but it comes with growing up in the ‘hood.

Until recently, many of the residents – young and old — in the neighborhoods around USC might have felt no differently. They were used to being scrutinized by both the LAPD and DPS, monitored by some of the now 72 cameras USC has set up on and around campus (watched 20 hours a day by LAPD and round the clock by USC), and observed by the more than 30 security ambassadors positioned on campus and throughout adjacent neighborhoods.

“We know [LAPD and DPS] are going to slow down [their cars] when they see a group of us standing out here like this,” an older black gentleman said of himself and his friends as they chatted in front of his home under the watchful gaze of cameras posted up on Normandie Ave.

“They always do.”

His friends nodded solemnly.

Since the implementation of new security measures around USC following two shootings in the area last year, however, things have apparently become more intense than “normal” for some. In particular, the stepping up of DPS patrols on and around campus combined with the arrival of 30 officers to the Southwest Division to conduct high visibility patrols and “more frequent parole checks on local gang members” (the $750,000 worth of personnel costs which were paid for by USC) have put everybody on notice.

Neighbors (and, most recently USC students of color, apparently) really began to feel the shift in tone with the beginning of the fall semester, when the new measures went into full effect.

The reason? Despite DPS’ use of “video patrol” techniques and the LAPD’s use of cutting-edge computer-generated models to aid in predictive policing, the methodologies behind the identification of suspicious behavior or candidates for “parole checks” appear decidedly unsophisticated.

And aggressive.

Black and Latino youth report that officers from both the LAPD and DPS regularly pull up alongside them and verbally accost them with a barrage of questions. Read more…

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RIP: Buffered Bike Lane in Front of LAPD Headquarters

During the Dorner drama, the bike lane and sidewalk in front of LAPD headquarters was media parking. Image via UCLA Public Affairs/Twitter

This weekend, the Bureau of Street Services will be repaving parts of 1st Street in Downtown Los Angeles. After the repaving, the street will be repainted. Part of the repainting will include removing the buffer from the 1st Street Buffered Bike Lane in front of LAPD headquarters between Spring and Main Streets.

The good news is that the buffer will remain for the rest of 1st Street and the bike lane itself will be undisturbed. The bad news is that the LAPD officially asked that the buffer be removed and LADOT agreed. The parking lot for LAPD headquarters requires nearly 100 yards of extra walking as compared to the headquarters. Downtown cyclists complained about LAPD cruisers parking in the lane since it was painted, and the result of those complaints seems to be removing the buffer so the police can resume curb parking in front of the headquarters.

Of course, the LAPD and LADOT are not saying that this is about curb parking. They continue to assert this issue is about emergency access to police headquarters. But, given that the LAPD was completely unable or unwilling to enforce “no parking in the buffered bike lane,” it seems wildly unlikely that they’ll enforce “no parking in the stopping but no parking lane.”

By removing the buffering in front of LAPD headquarters, the LAPD is sending a message that it was more interested in non-emergency parking (a police car can park in any lane in an emergency, so this was never about access) than road safety. Cyclists proposed several alternate solutions that were never considered very seriously including making the lane L.A.’s first cycle track or protected bike lane or using plastic bollards to keep the lane clear of all but emergency vehicles and cyclists.

Downtown cyclist Roger Rudick makes the case for keeping the lane in a previous story on Streetsblog. Read more…

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VROOM! Speed Limit Increases for Sunland Boulevard Roar Back to Council

Sunland and Nettleton, facing North. Image via google maps.

It’s been nearly a year since a speed limit increase was brought before the City Council Transportation Committee, but a new proposed increase on for chunks of Sunland Ave in the San Fernando Valley will be heard tomorrow at 2 p.m. The ordinance would establish speed limits of 40 and 45 miles per hour on Sunland Boulevard from Nettleton to Tuxford Streets; between Nettleton Street and Sunland Park Drive, and between Nohles Drive and Foothill Boulevard Newhome Avenue; between Foothill Boulevard and Tuxford Street; and, between Sunland Park and Nohles Drives.

You can read the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting here. You can read the draft ordinance itself, here.

As we’ve seen in the past, the speed limit increase proposal is actually brought by people that want to see slower moving traffic.  Because of state law requiring that speed limits be set at the 85th percentile of traffic flow in order for the police to use radar to enforce traffic, many stretches of city controlled road have no speed enforcement. The LAPD back legislation that would change the law, but also support limit increases. They argue it makes their jobs easier, more cost efficient, and more safe.

The state law, known as the speed trap law ins Sacramento, is viciously defended by the California Highway Patrol and AAA.

In this case, constituents living along the street have complained to their City Councilman, former Transportation Committee Member Richard Alarcon about the lack of enforcement and he brought the motion to the committee. When he served on the transportation committee in 2007, Alarcon would vote for similar proposals after complaining bitterly about the state law, so this must be something of a bitter fight for him tomorrow.

Sunland and Nohles, facing South. Image via google maps.

We say “fight” because the Transportation Committee under the leadership of Chair Bill Rosendahl has been reluctant to pass limit increases. In addition, representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Walks and Midnight Ridazz will be on hand to fight the increases. While all of the groups would like to see slower moving traffic, they point out that state law only forbids radar enforcement. There are other means of fighting speeding traffic available. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Sepulveda Blvd. Bike Lane Turning Into “Express Lane” for Scofflaws

When not riding his bicycle, Chen takes pictures of bike lane violators from his perch in a Culver City Bus.

In May, Streetsblog reported that new bike lanes were painted on Sepulveda Boulevard between Venice Boulevard and National Boulevard. The new lanes could connect all the way to the Expo Line Station scheduled for Sepulveda and Exposition, about a half mile north of where the lanes now end.

Reader Irwin Chen notes that the lanes are being put to good use…by speeding motorists as well as cyclists. Chen photographed cars both violating the bike lane and driving to the right of the lane at high-speed. He then mails the pictures to the LAPD, who assure Chen that they are enforcing vehicle code on drivers who violate the lane.

In a letter to the LAPD, Chen writes:

I’m writing to you with some follow up info. It has been about 6 weeks since I reported my experience riding in the bike lane on Sepulveda near National and since that time, I have stopped riding in this area because it is far too dangerous with cars constantly driving illegally in the bike lane and passing me on my right. I have attached some photos which I think are self-explanatory: cars are illegally entering the bike lane and using it to bypass traffic, sometimes at speed greatly exceeding the posted speed limit. Read more…

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LACBC Starts Save the 1st Street Bike Lane Campaign and Some Alternate Designs for the “LAPD Lane”

The "Watch the Road" sticker is a nice touch. Photo: Roger Rudick.

Last night, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition e-mailed an action alert to members, asking them to write LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, Mayor Villaraigosa and others asking them to save the 1st Street Buffered Bike Lane that runs in front of LAPD Headquarters. The bike lane has become a de-facto parking lane for LAPD cruisers, as documented by Streetsblog contributor and author Roger Rudick. While complaints mounted, the LAPD responded with a request that the buffer be eliminated so that the lane run against a “car stopping” lane for the police.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition responded with an action alert for members asking city officials not to change the bike lane design. The LAPD officals confirm that emails are already starting to flow in, as cyclists take to the keyboard. A full copy of the action alert can be found at the end of the article.

For Rudick, the debate is about more than just one bike lane. “We have a new bike plan in place. It’s not an accident that a buffered bike lane was placed right in front of LAPD headquarters. It’s supposed to send a message to cops, every day, that bikes have all the rights of cars–and that they’re required to enforce the law. Many officers, as we know, have been highly supportive. But LAPD still has vestiges of the bad old days. The same cops who park on that bike lane, trust me, are the same ones who are going to look the other way when a car runs a cyclist off the road.”

Despite the assertations in the letter and earlier this week in Streetsblog. We don’t actually know what the LAPD’s complaint against the bike lane is. Advocates and journalists assume it has to do with access to the headquarters, but requests to LAPD for the exact cause of the complaint have yet to be answered.

For the sake of argument, the rest of this article assumes that access is the key problem identified by the LAPD. There are other solutions to the issue outside of removing the buffered bike lane completely. Read more…

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It’s Official, 1st Street Bike Lane Will Lose Some of Its Buffer

Taken 10/20. All pictures by Roger Rudick

For months, cyclist and writerRoger Rudick rides down the 1st Street Buffered Bike Lane. Often, Rudick stops near LAPD headquarters and snaps a picture of a police cruiser parked in the bicycle lane. Rudick would then send it to a sympathetic ear in the department, be it Sgt. David Krumer or Officer Jeff Kievit. After the complaints were too numerous to be written off as the work of a few rogue scofflaws, the LAPD revealed their internal strategy for informing officers that parking in a bicycle lane is not only unsafe, it’s illegal.

Parking in the bike lane was a 24 hour activity.

Last week, Biking in L.A. reported on a persistent rumor that an educational campaign wasn’t the LAPD’s only strategy for dealing with the problem of cruisers parked inside of the buffered bike lane. The second strategy involved getting rid of the buffering and reconfiguring the street so that parking is created between the bike lane and curb. The timing of this leak was especially unfortunate because anecdotally, there are fewer and fewer reported instances of LAPD cruisers being parked in the bike lane.

In other words, the buffered bike lane would be replaced with a far more dangerous door zone bike lane. Instead of a space separating bicycles from car traffic, the new configuration could actually force cyclists into traffic.

Sadly, the rumor turns out to be true. LADOT spokesman Jonathan Chui  explains:

LAPD did make a request to LADOT to accommodate police vehicles in front of the headquarters without blocking the bike lane.  As a courtesy we try to accommodate other city agencies when possible.

The bike lane will remain on 1st Street.  In this case, for a single block, the bike lane on the south side will be realigned adjacent to the number 2 lane.  The area adjacent to the curb will still preclude parking, but will allow police vehicles to stop if necessary without blocking the bike lane.  This will be part of an upcoming resurfacing project.

Please note that the use of ‘buffers’ with bike lanes is generally used in unusual cases where the right-of-way is too wide for a single bike lane.  There are only a handful of locations with this condition and this block happens to be one of them.

Given that the LAPD was utterly unable, or unwilling, to stop police cars from parking in a bicycle lane, it is wildly unlikely that there will be a successful effort to keep them from parking in a “stopping but no parking” zone. The announced change has many bicycle safety advocates incensed, especially because the LAPD’s Parker Center is connected to a large parking structure. Read more…