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Posts from the "East Los Angeles" Category

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The Ultimate First Street Guide to CicLAvia: Where to Eat and Who to Meet

Lupita Barajas sits in front of her restaurant, Yeya's (across the street from Mariachi Plaza), with her grandson, Julian. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Lupita Barajas sits in front of her restaurant, Yeya’s (across the street from Mariachi Plaza), with her grandson, Julian. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

CicLAvia! Bicycles! Hipster Invaders! Gentrification!

Made you look!

Probably provoked some strong emotions, too, given the way recent headlines (see here, here, here) in asking whether activities assumed to be the purview of “hipsters” could be compatible with lower-income communities, have inadvertently re-ified the “us vs. them” framing that guides too much of the conversation on gentrification.*

Very little productive dialogue tends to come of that approach, regardless of how well-intended the question is. For one, it is incredibly effective at enticing all the angry, underwear-clad racists, classists, and all-around terrible people with Internet access out of their caves. But even among those who seek a more elevated debate, that framing almost guarantees that the highly complex issues surrounding community transformations will devolve into unpleasant wranglings over who has the right to make claims on a place based on creative interpretations of history and sweeping generalizations about “culture.”

Behold, the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo source unknown)

Behold, the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo source unknown)

That is not to say that bike lanes, bicyclists, CicLAvia, or even “hipsters” aren’t touchstones in gentrification debates. The gentri-flyer heard ’round the world (at right) made clear that they certainly are.

But, as I tried to illustrate in the stories penned on the storm the flyer generated (here, here), it’s not those things, per se, that provoke such a strong reaction. It’s the processes and power structures they represent.

In other words, people are often looking at current efforts to engage their communities in the context of the long history of discrimination, deliberate disinvestment, displacement, and exclusion from the planning processes those communities have endured and asking where they fit.

From that perspective, it becomes easier to see how residents with a lengthy list of unaddressed infrastructure and other needs might wonder exactly who lower-priority concerns like bike lanes (or an event like CicLAvia, staged in their community by non-residents) were intended to benefit. Particularly since investment often seems to not be directed at a marginalized area until after turnover is already underway and developers appear prepared to “ride the wave of increased gentrification”** by snapping up homes, apartment buildings, and retail sites.

Students from around the area speak about how memories and family define what home on the Eastside means to them at an Activarte workshop led by artist Omar Ramirez. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Students from around the area speak about how memories, family, relationships, and struggle define what home on the East Side means to them at a recent Activarte: Detouring Displacement workshop led by artist Omar Ramirez. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Of course, none of this means that people don’t want to see investments, improvements, events, or even “outsiders” in their communities. On the contrary — a number of the small business owners I’ve spoken with feel that more investment in the area and greater exposure to a wider customer base are necessary for them to survive and flourish.

They would just prefer that when that happens, investments will be directed at existing businesses and local entrepreneurs so they can grow and adapt to a changing landscape, the community will be treated as a partner in planning, development will be respectful of the character, history, and culture of the area, improvements will address the needs and aspirations of the long-time residents — especially those on the margins, and the existing residents’ ability to remain in their homes will be safeguarded so they can reap the benefits of any growth or change that results from that process.

Activarte participants discuss what "home" means to them and prepare to make signs bearing their ideas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Activarte participants discuss what “home” means to them and prepare to make signs to communicate their ideas. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

So, some of the community’s stakeholders are hoping to help visitors and city officials to see the value of that approach by inviting participants to explore the length of 1st St. during this weekend’s CicLAvia, get acquainted with the small businesses, and learn about how culture, history, food, and family play into their vision for the future of their community.

They’re going to make it super-easy for everyone to do so, too.

Most of the businesses along 1st are family-run. Yeya's has been there four years, although owner Lupita Barajas worked in restaurants along the street for 15 years prior to starting her own business. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Most of the businesses along 1st are family-run. Yeya’s has been there four years, although owner Lupita Barajas (holding the baby) worked in restaurants along the street for 15 years prior to opening her own. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Thanks to the work of Aldo Medina of the East L.A. Community Corporation, who is working to organize the businesses and offer them technical assistance, Chris Pina who nurtures the growth of small businesses via Business Source, and Juan Romero, the owner of cafe Primera Taza, 1st st. will be hosting the equivalent of one very long block party. There will be food, music, art, live painting, food, outdoor tables and chairs, awesome people, and food.

Did I mention food? Read more…

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Hit-and-Run on Cesar Chavez Sidewalk Kills 66-Year-Old Woman

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The site of a hit-and-run last week. Click to enlarge. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Normally, you think of a sidewalk as a relatively safe place to be.

They have their problems, and are often in pretty lousy shape, but they usually manage to provide a sufficient buffer between pedestrians and the cars whizzing by in the adjacent roadway.

Not so in East L.A. last Wednesday, when the driver of a Red Dodge Durango came barreling down the sidewalk at Cesar Chavez Ave. and Eastman, injuring two women, one fatally.

I first heard about the incident from Jon Leibowitz, who was doing outreach for CicLAvia along the October route. He was in shock from having seen a truck slam into people in a busy business district and keep going.

Shop owners in the area confirmed it had been a horrific scene.

The manager of the bakery (the far sign, at left) said she heard a terrible noise and looked up to see a truck flying past her shop’s window, scraping the bricks and damaging the security gates as it went.

It was so violent, she said in Spanish. So violent.

We heard screaming, she continued. My first thought was for my son -- he had just walked out the door. We ran outside and that’s when we saw the women.

The two pedestrians, aged 66 and 49, had been knocked into the street.

The driver moved back into the roadway and disappeared. Read more…

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Food Vendors Rally for New Law That Would Provide Path to Legal Vending

There’s always been a certain irony that Los Angeles is the only one of America’s ten largest cities to have a blanket ban on street vending. Los Angeles is famous for its street vending culture, especially for the high quality food options available on many street corners, but every time a vendor takes to the streets, he or she is breaking city law. This has led to thousands of struggling low-income entrepreneurs being penalized with hefty fines, confiscated equipment, and even incarceration.

Image: Rudy Espinoza/LURN

Yesterday, city officials took the first step to change that reality.

Flanked by dozens of supporters, members of the Los Angeles Street Vendor’s Campaign, and street vendors themselves, Council Members Curren Price and Jose Huizar rallied behind a motion that would set the city on a path to legal street vending at a rally at City Hall.

“Adopting a safe, legal and regulated street vending policy that works in concert with and compliments  established businesses can add to the economic vitality of our city,” said Council Member Huizar. “Beyond  providing much-needed regulation and a pathway for people to vend legally, this plan should also aim to increase access to good, healthy food.”

Price represents the 9th City Council District, which covers large portions of South Los Angeles. Huizar represents Downtown Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and other communities east of the Los Angeles River.

Public health advocates have long argued that the city’s ban on street vending is a roadblock to improved public health. Occidental College Professor Mark Vallianatos has written extensively on this subject, including many times at Streetsblog.

“Decades ago the city pushed pedestrians out of the streets to make way for cars and banned vendors as obstructions on the sidewalks. Removing commerce – and especially food – from the sidewalks made them dead places, so it ironically reduced rather than promoted walking,” Vallianatos writes, noting that banning street vending is also about mobility planning that makes walking less attractive. Read more…

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Roads We Walk: Jovenes Inc and Art Center College of Design

Images provided by Eric Hubbard of Jovenes Inc., taken by Art Center students.

“The road I walk every day,

it’s no game, I’m trying to make my way.

People see what they want to see. That’s not me.

Take a look, take a look…Take a look, I might surprise you.”

The catchy beat and chorus spilled out of headphones hanging down from the ceiling at the Art Center Wind Tunnel Gallery, like an anthem to the sprawling city landscape. Bodies swaying, heads-bobbing as audience and artists alike moved through the small and carefully curated space.

Now on its second year, the collaboration between Jovenes Inc and Art Center School of Design produced a captivating collection of “ARTifacts.” The collection includes an original song, interactive installations, videos, photographs, print work, and live performances that pieced together the stories of a group of Angelenos from very different walks of life.

The collaboration is a negotiated collaboration between young men faced with the every day challenges of homelessness and graduate students students in one of the country’s most renowned design schools. The unusual experiment sprung out of a professor /student mentorship. Eric Hubbard, Development Director at Jovenes Inc. was a student of Professor Elizabeth Chin during his time at Occidental College. Chin, a trained anthropologist, is now a professor at Art Center in their Media Design Practices track, which focuses on “designing media systems to facilitate the agency of citizens…social justice, and generating knowledge…”

The Monday evening art opening gathered urban young men in baggy clothes, rubbing their hands, and smiling nervously in a space visibly unfamiliar. In contrast the art students paced back and forth guiding their collaborators and audience members through a maze of interactive visual, sensory, and audio pieces.

“This project means a lot to me,” said Lorenzo, or Mr. LA, one of the youth collaborators from Jovenes. “I hadn’t done this before, but now I feel like a superstar…” Read more…

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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…

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Las Fotos Project Looking for Your Help to Build Community Gardens Map

In an effort to create an online and physical map of community gardens throughout Boyle Heights, the Las Fotos project is asking for your help. The map will include original work by the young women who participate in the program. You can submit leads on any public or private gardens or fruit trees by clicking here. If your lead is confirmed, you could win a $100 gift card.

Click on the image to see a larger version of the flyer. To see the poster in Spanish, click here.

Las Fotos Project has since worked with Latina youth throughout Southern California, and has developed partnership with national and international nonprofit organizations and schools to expand the movement of empowering Latina youth through photography and self-expression. It was founded in 2010 by Los Angeles-based photographer Eric V. Ibarra after seeing a need for teenage girls throughout Los Angeles to have a skill that could help build their confidence and self-esteem.

“Las Fotos Project’s student photographers are creating a resource map with all the gardens and public fruit trees for the community of Boyle Heights,” writes Natalie Franco, a professional advisor and advisor for this project. “We need your help! Please submit your leads to any gardens or public fruit trees here: www.lasfotosproject.org/boyleheightsgardens

Over the course of ten weeks, 14 students will use Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to document the location and size of all gardens throughout the community. The map will distinguish between gardens and green spaces on public property, shared community gardens, and school gardens, and will distinguish them by size: small medium, or large. Read more…

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Eastside Access Project Breaks Ground with Bailey Street/Mariachi Plaza Improvements on First Street

Bailey WEB

In November of 2009, I took a bike ride with Carlos Morales and other members of the Eastside Bike Club, not to be confused with the Eastside Riders, and Browne Molyneux of the Bus Bench to explore the bicycle and pedestrian access to the Gold Line’s about-to-be-opened Eastside Extension.

During the ride, we ran into City Council Member Jose Huizar who was not yet a member of the Metro Board of Directors. Huizar listened to the concerns of some of the riders, and engaged with us about what kind of fixes we would like to see.

Today, the first round of those are much closer to reality. Earlier today, Huizar  the Department of Public Works and Metro joined with community members Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony in Boyle Heights for the first part of the Eastside Access project. This project would turn Bailey Street into an extension of the Mariachi Plaza station, creating a pedestrian connection from the plaza to Pennsylvania Avenue and Bailey Street.

“Since the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension route opened in 2009, our goal all along was to enhance and transform the areas around the light-rail stations to improve pedestrian and bicycle access and traffic, as well as support business, community and art-related projects,” said Councilmember José Huizar. “The Garden Street on Bailey Project is an important part of a multi-million dollar, multi-agency commitment to do just that.”

The Eastside Access project is a $12 million pedestrian improvement project in and around four stations of the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension along First Street. A graphic showing all of the remaining projects can be found at the bottom of this story.

 On Bailey Street, the city will construct a series of small improvements along the one block between Mariachi Plaza and Bailey Street. These improvements include: Read more…

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Op/Ed: Saving Wyvernwood is the Environmental Choice

(One of the ongoing stories in our Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles coverage has been the debate over whether or not to proceed with the redevelopment of Wyvernwood Garden Apartments. Jesús Hermosillo has a master’s degree in urban planning and contributes regularly to Boyle Heights Beat. Streetsblog has not taken a position on the project and welcomes an op/ed by the Fifteen Group or any proponents of the project. – DN)

To save or not to save Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, and build something else in its place, is the question more and more people are grappling with as city officials prepare to decide on the proposed Boyle Heights Mixed Use Community Project.   Anti-redevelopment arguments center on preserving a cultural landmark, and averting another mass displacement reminiscent of Chavez Ravine. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, there is no doubt a new Wyvernwood will change Boyle Heights forever. The consequences of the $2.2 billion real-estate venture—one of the largest ever proposed in the United States—could spell an ecological catastrophe for Boyle Heights.

Google earth image via Los Angeles Times

Despite its billing as an exemplar of New Urbanism—an urban-design movement promoting compact, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods as a green alternative to automobile-reliant development—one of the proposal’s central features is undoing the historic garden community’s pedestrian-oriented design to make way for vastly expanded car facilities.

Fifteen Group, the Miami-based company that owns Wyvernwood, proposes to replace the seventy acre “Garden City” campus containing hundreds of orange-colored buildings, 1,187 homes and over 6,000 residents, with something similar to an Eastside version of Playa Vista,. The proposed development contains  4,400 condominiums and rentals; 325,000 square feet of stores, restaurants and offices, recreational facilities for residents including swimming pools and spas; and parking for 9,048 cars.

Although total parking spaces proposed is over five times more than 1,799 spaces currently on site, the number ultimately built could be higher if Fifteen Group fails to obtain an exemption from city minimum parking rules requiring 10,903 to 11,003 spaces for a project this dense.  Fifteen group justifies the project as creating “a healthier place to live and work.” At the same time, the developer wants to continue subsidizing automobile ownership after describing Wyvernwood’s current provision of 1.5 parking spaces per home as “inadequate,” corresponding to “a time when there were fewer automobiles” than today. Read more…

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Change.Org Petition Asks for Bike Lanes on North Figueroa

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s East L.A. Bike Ambassador Program is proving to be one of its most active local programs. While the group is meeting again tonight to discuss strategy for working with the city to improve bicycle access and safety in East and Northeast Los Angeles.

Photo: LACBC via Change.Org

It’s been a cause celeb for many bike advocates to expand the My Figueroa! (aka South Figueroa Corridor Project) to Figueroa Street in Northeast Los Angeles. Now that desire has taken the form of an online petition at Change.Org asking LADOT and City Planning for Bike Lanes on North Figueroa Street between Colorado and San Fernando Boulevards.

As of publication, the petition has over 200 signatures, an impressive number but well short of the 500 signatures goal. You can sign the petition by clicking here.

In the petition the LACBC brings up more than just bike friendliness as a reason to invest in bike infrastructure. They focus on how a strong bike network creates a safer environment for all road users, fosters a stronger sense of community and increases the incentive for people to shop locally.

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Developers and Proponents of New Wyvernwood Face Off at Special Forum Held by Council Member Huizar

Yellow in favor of the new development, white opposed. Photo: Erick Huerta

City Council Member Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, East L.A. and parts of the Downtown, held a community meeting with the current residents of Wyvernwood Apartments to hear their concerns regarding the proposed redevelopment project to replace the current apartment with a higher-cost mixed-use housing development. In 2011, Huizar expressed concern with the project, but last night seemed more neutral while listening to the 200 residents in attendance.

The new Wyvernwood Apartments proposal is a $2 billion dollar project submitted by the real estate company Fifteen Group, to remodel the entire Boyle Heights apartment complex to mixed used housing development. The new plan offers opportunities for businesses to open up on bottom floors, with housing on higher up. The proposal includes plans to widen sidewalks and to make pedestrian access to and around the development easier. A final environmental report on the project is expected next month.

A different angle shows a lot more yellow.

Representatives from City Planning and the Public Housing Department spoke to residents about some of the processes involved with the proposed plan and urged them to continue to stay involved in future meetings to voice their concerns or support. The next community meeting will be held in October after the FEIR is released and city planners present their recommendations.

Passions flared before and during the meeting as each side was given 30 minutes to voice their reasons for supporting or being against the renovation. Supporters included resident Guzman Guerra, who testified that many are tired of living with an infestation of bed bugs, rats and cockroaches in their apartments. Others added that with the changes in the complex, crime, drugs and gang activity would be reduced while living conditions improve. The currently-standing 80-year-old apartment complex suffers from outdated plumbing, electrical wiring and structure damage. Just last month, a sewer pipe broke, leaving a stench throughout the development.

But not everyone supports the project. Maria Hunter challenged supporters, saying that if residents were sanitary and hygienic, they wouldn’t have insect or rodent infestations. If Wyvernwood residents became more active in reporting drug and gang activity, holding the owners responsible for their apartments, renovation wouldn’t be needed.  Read more…