Skip to content

Posts from the Boyle Heights Category

No Comments

Eastside Sol Rocks Mariachi Plaza, Engages Boyle Heights on Cleaner Transpo and Energy Alternatives

Kids create a mural of a healthy Boyle Heights landscape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Kids collaborate on a mural of a healthy Boyle Heights landscape at this weekend’s Eastside Sol event. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

In lower-income communities – particularly those where rentership is very high – people often have very little access to clean energy or clean technology alternatives.

The organizers behind the second annual Eastside Sol event held at Mariachi Plaza this past Saturday know how important it is for that to change. Such communities are often most at-risk for health problems caused by air and water pollution.

And because these communities are generally marginalized politically, they have to work that much harder to be heard. One need look no further for an example than the years of door-knocking, organizing and education of residents, lobbying of official agencies, and data gathering put in by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, one of the event’s organizers, just to see environmental authorities finally shut down the Exide facility that had been poisoning the East and Southeast communities for decades.

Eastside Sol at Mariachi Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Eastside Sol at Mariachi Plaza. The solar set-up at right helped power the festival. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

This one-stop community festival where residents can get educated about environmental issues in the community, try out transportation alternatives, get water-saving swag from LADWP, take home plants or trees and tips about how to avoid lead contamination, learn about the potential of a community solar program with RePowerLA and LAANE, and connect with a number of local organizations doing great work in the neighborhood helps make that process a little more enjoyable for all. Especially when it involves great music and good eats.

Kids practice putting on a helmet with tips they learned from Multicultural Communities for Mobility. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Kids practice putting on a helmet with tips they learned from Multicultural Communities for Mobility. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last year’s celebration was fun, to be sure, but this year’s festival doubled in size and fun family options. Kids clamored to paint a mural of a healthy landscape for Boyle Heights with Self Help Graphics (at top).

A youth tries out the obstacle course set up by Multicultural Communities for Mobility. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A youth tries out the obstacle course set up by Multicultural Communities for Mobility. Behind him, participants check out hybrid vehicles. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

They also lined up to get a free helmet and learn about bike safety with Multicultural Communities for Mobility, get a free solar backpack so their phones wouldn’t run out of juice while playing Pokemon Go, get their faces painted, and play video games on the console powered by CALO YouthBuild‘s solar-powered generator (below). Read more…

No Comments

Today in Exide: DTSC Begins 2nd Phase of Residential Clean-up; Releases DEIR and Draft Closure Plan for Vernon Facility

The Expanded Assessment Areas where DTSC conducted testing to determine the extent of lead contamination from the Exide facility in Vernon. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Source: DTSC

The Expanded Assessment Areas where DTSC conducted testing to determine the extent of lead contamination from the Exide facility in Vernon. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Source: DTSC

Last week, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) began a second round of clean-ups of lead-contaminated soil in the residential areas around Exide Technologies’ now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling facility. The Vernon plant and serial violator of environmental regulations cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in March, 2015, to close up shop in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution. As part of the closure process, Exide must clean up toxic waste at its former facility as well as lead-contaminated soil at residences, schools, and parks surrounding the plant.

Begun last year, the first round of residential clean-ups targeted the 219 properties found within the original Northern and Southern Assessment Areas — areas straddling Boyle Heights, East L.A., and Maywood that air modeling determined would be most likely affected by Exide’s lead emissions (outlined in light blue, above). More than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil was ultimately removed from a total of 186 properties.

Challenges in Cleaning up Residential Properties

While last week’s launch of the second round of clean-ups does mark an important milestone, it is only the beginning of the potentially massive project that lies ahead. This past August, the preliminary results of soil testing in expanded areas to the north and south of the plant suggested that Exide’s emissions may have deposited lead dust over as many as 10,000 homes within a 1.3 to 1.7-mile radius of the facility (above map).

Only 146 properties in the Expanded Assessment Areas have been tested thus far, with 50 being prioritized for immediate clean-up. And while 2,800 letters have been sent out to residences within the expanded areas, it is not clear what the timeline will be for following up on those letters and getting properties tested and/or cleaned. Nor is it clear when DTSC will have sufficient funds to perform a wider clean-up.

Per an order, Exide is on the hook for cleaning up any home where lead levels exceed 400 parts per million and homes with bare soil where levels exceed 80 parts per million (the level at which the state recommends further health screenings). But the settlement reached last November initially set aside just $9 million for residential clean-ups. As clean-ups cost about $40,000 per property, those funds only cover approximately 225 sites. And, as of the end of October, DTSC had already used up $8 million of those funds. DTSC was able to secure an additional $5 million from Exide earlier this spring and $7 million in emergency funds from the state in August. But those funds are nowhere near enough to cover testing and clean-ups in the much wider range of territory Exide is thought to have contaminated.

Funding issues aside, the actual clean-up process itself has also had some challenges. Residents have complained that parkways adjacent to contaminated yards were not cleaned and are concerned that, should the contractors have to return to clean the parkways at some point, the dust kicked up could contaminate the yards that had just been cleaned. Advocates have also argued that DTSC is not doing enough to inform residents about the option of having the interiors of their homes cleaned, that it is doing a poor job of letting people know of the extent to which they are at risk from harmful toxins, and that the process is not moving nearly fast enough, given the potential harm. And officials from Commerce — frustrated that they had been overlooked despite their location just to the east of the plant — suggested they may conduct their own testing rather than wait for DTSC.

In an effort to allay some of these fears and promote greater transparency, DTSC has drafted a community engagement plan and meets regularly with an advisory group comprised of community members and advocates and representatives of elected officials and relevant government agencies. It also released the Interim Remedial Measures Work Plan, which offers a detailed discussion of how contaminated soil from the 50 yards prioritized for clean-ups will be safely removed and trucked to distant landfills over the next six months.

Cleaning up Exide’s 15-acre Site in Vernon

Other new documents released and up for comment include Exide’s Draft Closure Plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) (full DEIR, here).

The 264-page Closure Plan  — needed to ensure health and safety will be protected before the dismantling and decontamination can begin at the 15-acre site — is a very long time coming. [See the Executive Summary, here, appendices, here.] Read more…


Folleto desencadena polémica en Boyle Heights a través de los redes sociales

El folleto más inadecuado y polémico de la historia (Foto publicada en varias páginas de Facebook. Haga clic aquí para agrandar el tamaño).

El folleto más inadecuado y polémico de la historia (Foto publicada en varias páginas de Facebook. Haga clic aquí para agrandar el tamaño).

Cuando ayer por la mañana vi por primera vez el folleto a la izquierda en mis redes sociales, pensé que se trataba de una broma.

Promocionaba a Boyle Heights como un “vecindario encantador, histórico, accesible para peatones y ciclistas” donde uno puede hacer una entrega inicial “tan baja como de 40 mil dólares y tener acceso a una línea de crédito decente” e invitaba a los vecinos del Distrito de las Artes a participar de un recorrido (gratuito) en bicicleta seguido de una conversación con refrigerios artesanales.

Nadie que conozca un poco sobre Boyle Heights —una comunidad obrera predominantemente mexicana-estadounidense con una larga historia de activismo político y social— puede pensar que esto es una buena idea, ¿no?

De un solo plumazo, este folleto representa el temor de todos los residentes: una horda de extraños de onda que buscan casas para reclamar mientras disfrutan de refrigerios artesanales ya que las especialidades que se ofrecen en Boyle Heights no les resultan compatibles con sus sensibilidades más refinadas.

Pocas cosas han logrado gritar a los cuatro vientos: “¡No me interesa conocer esta comunidad!” con tanta eficacia.

Y no ayudó que los folletos fueran distribuidos solamente en el Distrito de las Artes (al otro lado del río de Boyle Heights), lo que significa que los residentes se enteraban de segunda mano y por lo tanto, fueron libres de construir sus propios relatos sobre las motivos detrás del folleto.

Esperando entender de qué se trataba realmente esta historia, me comuniqué de inmediato con Adaptive Realty y hablé con Bana Haffar, agente inmobiliaria y organizadora del evento.

Si bien hablamos antes del mediodía, ya entonces había recibido oposición y comentarios negativos sobre el evento. Read more…

No Comments

Hearing For One Hit-and-Run is Rescheduled While Another Takes the Life of a Young Man in Watts

21-year-old Wendy Villegas, charged with a DUI, vehicular manslaughter, and a felonly hit-and-run at her pre-trial hearing yesterday. (Screengrab, KTLA)

21-year-old Wendy Villegas, charged with a DUI, vehicular manslaughter, and a felonly hit-and-run at her pre-trial hearing yesterday. (Screengrab, KTLA)

When a female (who may or may not have been walking her bicycle) was hit and killed by a bus on Slauson in South L.A. last month, I got a few phone calls from friends in the area.

“Was it you?”

“No,” I reassured them. “I’m still here.”

I was surprised they had heard about it. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. It feels like more mainstream attention is being given to incidents on the road that result in the death or serious injury of pedestrians and cyclists of late, and it actually feels like people are paying attention. Or, at least starting to see these preventable tragedies — particularly hit-and-runs — as a problem.

It has been incredibly heartening, for example, to see KTLA take an interest in ghost bikes (and the work of the activists who put up the memorials) and show up yesterday to cover the Ride for Justice for Andy Garcia. Garcia was the young man killed in a hit-and-run last September when an intoxicated 21-year-old named Wendy Villegas slammed into him and dragged his bike under her car several hundred feet up the Cesar Chavez bridge.

KTLA met the riders at the starting point in Bell Gardens, interviewed Garcia’s mother, Carmen Tellez, who was riding with the group, and then stayed to cover the hearing.

Their presence was also an opportunity, notes Tellez, for her to educate the reporters about just how many cyclists are regularly killed on the road, something she felt they are still only just beginning to understand.

But, for all the attention to and education around the problem, the carnage continues.

Just last night, a 19-year-old man was killed in a horrific hit-and-run in Watts.

Jerry Arredondo had stopped by a friend’s place on 105th and was crossing the otherwise quiet street when a (possibly drunk) driver came screaming down the block at between 80 and 100 mph, hit a dip in the road, went airborne, and slammed into him, apparently launching Arredondo 20 ft. into the air and 40 ft. forward. The car then continued on down the street, smashing into seven other parked cars, finally stopping after losing a wheel.

The driver then got out of the destroyed rental car and into a BMW, apparently driven by an acquaintance who thought it prudent to help the first driver get away from the mayhem he had just created.

A search is currently underway for both drivers.

Even when drivers are found, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, as Garcia’s family can attest. Read more…

No Comments

A Hearing and a Meeting on Boyle Heights Streets This Week

Streets slated for enhancement around the USC Campus near Hazard Park.

Streets slated for enhancement around the USC Campus near Hazard Park (faintly visible to the south of Norfolk St.). One note – the extension of the improvements along Norfolk have been taken off the table — the street will be connected with Soto via another route, but the drawings have not been updated to reflect that yet. (Click to enlarge/for sharper resolution)

The Boyle Heights/El Sereno/Lincoln Heights communities logged a victory last fall when USC decided that they would not only reroute a road originally planned to connect Norfolk St. with Soto through Hazard Park (left), but that they would also vacate claims to that portion of the land by handing it over to the Dept. of Parks and Rec. and forgoing future development on that parcel.

It was a unique gesture of goodwill on the part of USC.

The parcel of land in question (the section of Norfolk between Playground St. and Soto, below) was not originally part of the park. But, it had been absorbed into the park by default over the years and handball courts were built on a portion of it.

So, when USC met with the community last year to announce planned improvements, including the construction of a new clinic building, student housing, and a hotel on the health sciences campus (HSC), and that development of a parcel of land along Soto would trigger a mandatory extension of Norfolk through the handball courts, the community decried what they felt was a land grab.

The extension of Norfolk St. would have passed between the cones on the sidewalk and the fence on the hillside on the left, requiring the removal of the handball courts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The extension of Norfolk St. would have passed between the cones on the sidewalk and the fence on the hillside on the left, requiring the removal of the handball courts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Promises of new handball courts and other improvements did little to assuage people’s outrage, fears of excessive traffic along Soto’s already busy corridor, and worries about the encroachment of students (and their cars) into the residential areas across the way from the campus complex.

Seemingly dedicated to being better neighbors, USC has since committed to providing Hazard Park with a new jogging path, new outdoor fitness equipment, a new toddler play area, additional security lighting, $50,000 to support the park’s youth sports programs, and upgrades to the park gym, outdoor basketball and tennis courts, and restrooms. They have also committed to constructing 1,500 new parking spaces within the campus and working with the CD 14 office to secure additional metered parking for park-goers over the next several years.

This Friday, February 7th, the process will take another step forward with a hearing before the Hearing Officer on behalf of the City Planning Commission at City Hall regarding the redesignation of the street classifications of San Pablo, Alcazar, Eastlake, Norfolk, Playground, and Biggy Streets (to facilitate beautification) and the streetscape improvements planned for each. Read more…

1 Comment

“Nothing Brings Me Comfort”: Family of Hit-and-Run Victim Plan to Hold Ride to Driver’s Hearing


Andy Garcia, center, with some of his riding buddies. Photo courtesy of Carmen Tellez

What goes through the mind of a drunk driver who senselessly mows people down?

It’s a question the family and friends of Luis “Andy” Garcia are still waiting for answers to.

Garcia, an experienced cyclist and recent transplant to L.A., was riding home with friends on the night of September 14th, 2013, when 21 year-old Wendy Villegas came tearing up the bridge on Cesar Chavez, slamming into him and dragging his bike under her car for several hundred feet. She also knocked aside Mario Lopez, sending him into the pavement hard and breaking his back, and launched Ule Melgar so high into the air that he almost sailed over the railing to the river below.

Seemingly unaware of the havoc she had wrought, she kept going.

Thanks to the help of a driver that witnessed the incident and got her license plate, police were able to track her down. She was still intoxicated when they took her into custody at seven in the morning.

The family, Garcia’s mother tells me, is still waiting for some expression of remorse from her.

According to those present at her arraignment last October, her lawyer suggested that wearing an ankle bracelet to monitor both alcohol intake and movement would be inconvenient to a young, working student as well as a challenge for her to pair it properly with the variety of shoes she wears.

For Mario Lopez, still in pain, struggling with mobility, unable to work, and dealing with both anxiety and feelings of helplessness, it was too much.

He said that, at that moment, he thought, “Well, what about Andy? [Andy] was a full time student in college. He had responsibilities. But yet, he can’t and will never be able to fulfill them…And she is worried about her fashion sense! What about the inconvenience she brought upon his family and friends?”

For Garcia’s family, her concerns about the bracelet left them cold.

“I understand that it is her attorney’s job to work and manipulate the legal system to her benefit. However, what I can’t understand is how she has not shown one ounce of remorse,” writes Garcia’s mother. “Her behavior in the courtroom demonstrates her lack of compassion towards human life. Her nonchalant demeanor is extremely offensive to me. It is like her having to appear in court is a mere inconvenience in her life. She has yet to look me in the eye, much less [offer] some sort of apology.”

Several months on, the family continues to mourn as they await justice. Read more…


As 1st St. Undergoes Transformation, Pedestrians in Other Areas of Boyle Heights Wonder When Their Moment Will Come

A man and his child navigate the construction along 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A man and his child navigate the construction along 1st St. in Boyle Heights. The mural on Eastside Luv is by Robert Vargas. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Are you just visiting?” a woman asked as she watched me take pictures of a decrepit bench on Cesar Chavez.

I had to laugh — I suppose I could have been mistaken for a misguided tourist taking photos of exotic oddities. It is not all that unusual to find out-of-towners lurking around Boyle Heights, cameras in hand, hoping to supplement their photos of historic murals with tidbits of local culture.

No, I explained, I was documenting some of the disconnect between the investment along 1st Street (as part of the Eastside Access project) and the neglect of some of the other important streets in the area.

“Oh!” she grabbed my hand. “I have a story for you.”

She had been walking with her children along Marengo St., near LAC USC, when she came to an intersection where there was no curb ramp — only a steep drop to the road. She had to look down at the road in order to navigate that drop with her son’s stroller, she said, “and that’s when my two girls were hit by a car.”

I looked at her girls. They were so tiny — maybe 5 and 7 years old.

“Were they hurt?” I asked.

They ended up being OK, she said, but it was maddening that poor infrastructure could make the streets that much more dangerous.

I nodded. That whole area around the hospital is really unpleasant to walk around, and I could see how it could make things very difficult for the community. Along Cesar Chavez alone, within just 15 minutes time, I had come across four people in wheelchairs, three elderly people with walkers, and numerous families with small children in strollers.

It wasn’t just up that way, she continued. So many of the side streets were missing curb ramps that it was hard for families to get around their own neighborhoods.

“I hope you can write about that,” she said. “That really needs to change.” Read more…

1 Comment

Inside Out 11M Rolls into Boyle Heights

The Inside 11M project visits Eastside Luv in Boyle Heights. Photo: via L.A. Taco

Susy Chávez Herrera grew up in City Terrace, Los Angeles, CA and Colima, Mexico. After years away from home she’s recently returned to LA. A trained anthropologist whose favorite subject are urban settings, she enjoys gardening, and loves nothing more than to lose herself in the sunny streets of Oaxaca, Mexico on a quite Sunday morning. 

We headed out early enough on Saturday morning August 10, 2013 that the Inside Out 11M rolling photo booth crew was still setting up when we arrived at Mariachi Plaza.

Like most weekends, the western side of the plaza was already buzzing with morning activity. We watched a recovering Mariachi, trumpet in tow, make his way across the plaza as we stood next to the photo truck on the eastern side of the plaza. Three generations of my family decided to participate mostly on the grounds that this was a nationwide group action project highlighting immigration as it sought to “create a portrait of America that includes immigrants and the descendants of immigrants.” 

The addition of the Metro Gold line into East L.A. has turned Mariachi Plaza into the kind of downtown destination it has always been for those of us from the area. Eastsiders have met the Metro addition with a mix of hope and unease. The addition of green bike lanes, the opening of Libros Schmibros sandwiched between a liquor store and an AA meeting site, and the christening of Mariachi Plaza as a destination for CicLAvia have all pointed towards the unknown for a neighborhood largely ignored.

As noted in recent articles focused on the changing face of Boyle Heights, the changes have not all been external. The exit of Homeboy Industries for a nearby downtown location, the relocation of Self-Help Graphic’s to a factory building just before the First St. Downtown bridge, a stone throws away from the “Artist District,” and a growing population of those of us from the area who have returned “home” armed with the college educations that were supposed to take us out of the neighborhood, have begun to change the once largely poor and working class area.

Nowhere was this tension of in-betweeness more evident than that morning. Read more…


How Do You Taint A Block Party? Lobby For A Freeway!

"Close the Gap" shirts ran for $5 each at Alhambra's block party in support of the I-710 freeway expansion from Alhambra to Pasadena. Kris Fortin/LAStreetsblog

For most people who live in Alhambra, the pedestrian is a second rate participant on the city’s roads. Car dealerships line Main Street in the north, wide four lane streets run along Valley.

So, to see Alhambra close one of the busiest north-south arteries in the city from 11 am to 2 pm on a Wednesday was beyond surprising. Alhambra’s “Close the Gap” event blocked Fremont Avenue from Valley Boulevard to Mission Road from 11 am to 2 pm. Wednesday to automobile traffic as a way to promote the Interstate 710 expansion project.

Alhambra hasn’t closed a street since the annual Jubilee ended a few years ago, but that event happened on a minor side street off Main Street that doesn’t get nearly as much foot or car traffic.

Art Beanda, 46-year-old Alhambra resident, sat with his two children in front of the apartment complex off Fremont Avenue.   After four years at the apartment complex, the block party gave Beanda his first chance to meet his neighbors.

“You see them and I mean, this guy lives here and you just say hi, but from far away,” Beanda said.

While the block party is a great direction Alhambra is headed for pedestrian activities, the association to the highway project felt odd. It’s great to see Alhambra close off a street for a recreational activity, but I’ve never heard of a pedestrian friendly event lobbying for a highway project. One step forward for Alhambra pedestrians felt like a step back by lobbying for the highway project.

Whether or not the 710 project goes through or not, will Alhambra continue to use July 10 (7/10) to promote the existence or non-existence of the expansion? Probably not. Read more…


It Is Easy Being Green…for the 1st Street Bike Lane in Boyle Heights

The 1st Street Green Bike Lane in early 2012. All pics by Carlos Morales

In contrast to the uproar over the repainting of Downtown’s green bike lane; Spring’s sister bike lane  on 1st Street on the Eastside has proven quietly effective, at least according to anecdotal evidence and utterly uncontroversial.

In fact, while residents, business owners, safety advocates, pedestrian advocates, bicycling advocates, urban planners, and the Neighborhood Council came ready to defend the Downtown bike lane, the green in Boyle Heights exists as just a regular part of the urban fabric. The closest thing to a complaint about the lane was the initial confusion that some cyclists and drivers felt when the green paint was first applied. Carlos Morales, founder of the Eastside Bike Club and owner of Stan’s Bike Shop, actually half-joked that some cyclists thought they should avoid the green and would swerve out of the lane where conflict zones were marked with green paint.

When asked directly if anyone has complained about the green lane, nobody at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Los Angeles Department of Transportation or Office of Council Member Jose Huizar, who pushed for the green lane to be in Boyle Heights, could remember any.

But can anyone show if the lane is working, has anyone studied whether or not the lane has increased safety or ridership?


“Not by LACBC, unfortunately,” writes Eric Bruins, the Planning & Policy Director for the Bike Coalition.

“It doesn’t look like it,” writes Rick Coca, a spokesperson for Huizar.

“Not to my knowledge either,” writes Tim Fremaux, a bicycle planner at LADOT. “We generally defer to what the feds identify.”

Fremaux then pasted studies by the FHWA that show that green paint added to bike lanes or Sharrowed Lanes lead to an increase in bicycle visibility, which leads to increased safety, which leads to increased safety, which leads to increased ridership.

Fortunately, someone was willing to state that there has been a difference on 1st Street since the new paint went in on November of 2011.

“I have seen more people on bikes using First St.,” offers Carlos Montes, chair of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council’s Transportation Committee offers. Read more…