Skip to content

Eastside

In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues are intertwined with the health, culture, livability and strength of a community, Streetsblog and The California Endowment teamed to bring Streetsblog’s coverage to a hyper-local level in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles. Sahra Sulaiman is Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and oversees work in South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Her work and that of our former Boyle Heights-specific writer Kris Fortin can be found here. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

5 Comments

Justice-Oriented Mobility Advocates to “Untokenize” Active Transportation Movement at November Convening

spicy shoes

In lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, cycling is largely a matter of necessity, not choice.

The Token One
He was so glad I had “talked about people of color committing violence against other people of color,” he gushed, shaking my hand.

My eyebrows shot up.

The focus of my talk at last October’s CalBike’s annual summit had been the extent to which the socio-economic and cultural landscapes of a community are inextricably intertwined with the physical one. Using the installation of amenities in a historically disenfranchised lower-income community of color as an example, I had explained how decades of disinvestment, discriminatory planning, suppressive policing, and denial of opportunity had generated chronic insecurity in the public space. And how, as a result, many residents were still unable to access these “improvements.” Our stories about mobility, I concluded, must therefore also engage questions of access, equity, justice, and a wider range of historical and contemporary barriers in order to be truly inclusive.

At no point did I ever offer support for the artificial and highly problematic construct of “black-on-black violence.”

And yet, here was this white gentleman in front of me, congratulating me for having done so.

The advocates of color I spoke with afterwards had understood exactly what I was going for. They got the placement of mobility in a community context. And they got the call to think beyond bicycles to the constraints contexts imposed on the actual bodies moving through space on those two wheels. These were frameworks they understood intuitively.

But much like the guy shaking my hand, many of the white advocates in the room had filtered the presentation through their own experiences. And what they had come away with was very different.

A few said they had never considered the idea that certain streets might not be accessible to some people for reasons that had nothing to do with cars. Was this really true? Others seemed to think certain communities were unapproachable. How would one even begin to engage people in such a community? How would you know who to talk to? some asked. It seemed so dangerous to some, but also kind of edgy and exciting to others. Are you giving tours?

I wasn’t sure I could have expected better.

Despite being spot-on-topic at the “Equity in Motion”-themed summit, my presentation had been a major outlier.

The panel had been focused on how to pitch stories about the positive aspects of cycling – the joy, sense of well-being, freedom, and links to community it can bring. But as a reporter whose beat is specifically tied to two transit-dependent and historically disenfranchised lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, mobility meant something different to me.

And given the theme, I had argued to the panel organizer, it seemed appropriate to explore the extent to which a choice framework both excluded those who cycle out of need – largely lower-income people of color – and rendered important questions of accessibility to the margins.

The organizer and the other panelists were enthusiastic about including an equity perspective. But in the weeks leading up to the event, it was clear that being open to including equity and actually creating the space for that topic to be properly explored are two very different things. And the more I tried to explain my critical approach to the organizer, the longer and more involved my emails became, and the more consternation I felt I was causing.

People don’t like to be told what isn’t working, I was admonished at one point.

But I didn’t see where I had a choice.

I have to speak to current frameworks to be heard. And I have to spend most of my time deconstructing said frameworks just to explain why I should not be dismissed out of hand. And every single time I have to proceed this way – every time I post another 3,000 – 5,000 word story trying to justify the incorporation of marginalized voices and realities, compose yet another lengthy explanatory email, or look around the room where I am speaking – I wonder if this will be the last time I will be invited to opine on this topic.

The More Things Change, the More They Really Don’t
It’s an odd thing to observe that the more popular the topic of equity has become over the last few years, the less genuine space there is to truly address it in a meaningful way.

Read more…

No Comments

Scoping Meeting to Explore Impacts of Update to Boyle Heights Community Plan to be Held Tuesday

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tuesday night, from 6 – 8:30 p.m., the Department of City Planning will be holding a Scoping Meeting to gather feedback from the community regarding the potential impacts the policies and goals contained within Boyle Heights Community Plan might have on the area’s environment, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The meeting will not be, as I am guessing some in the community might be hoping, a genuine opportunity to directly address gentrification concerns. The Environmental Impact Report planners will be drafting focuses on categories that focus on the impact of physical infrastructure on things like aesthetics, air quality, noise, transportation/circulation, and greenhouse gas emissions (see full list here, p. 3). To the extent that it can address population/housing/employment or cultural resources questions, it is more in terms of whether a policy or program will have a direct impact on an existing entity (e.g. direct displacement of people or cultural structures to make way for something new).

Which means that if you do have concerns about the kinds of changes slated for the community, you will have to approach them through some of the goals and policies planners are drafting to guide development.

The Boyle Heights Community Plan (BHCP) has been in the works for ten years now. It is one of 35 Community Plans contained within the Land Use Element of the City’s General Plan. And it is intended to serve as a blueprint for growth and development in the area by delineating goals, policies, and specific development standards for the residential, commercial, and industrial zones within the community for the next 20 to 25 years. It was last updated in 1998 and was intended to govern growth and change in Boyle Heights through 2010.

Outreach efforts begun back in 2006 worked to nail down the community’s larger vision and goals for the area that planners would then try to build into the policies established for the plan. The planning process unfortunately had to be put on hold in 2009, and was not picked up again until 2012.

At an open house in 2014, planners presented attending community members with the following draft vision statement:

This community is built on generations of immigrants and prides itself in their hard work ethic, rich cultural identities, and community activism. Boyle Heights is a historical and cultural treasure with a diverse local economy that has a potential to continue prospering. Building upon its pedestrian-oriented and unique neighborhood character, this community envisions policy programs that are supportive of environmental quality, economic vitality, and urban design that promotes safe and walkable neighborhoods.

The community’s responses to the above statement and a variety of themes including affordable housing, employment, preserving and enhancing the social, artistic, cultural, and historic characteristics of the community, and, interestingly, strengthening the community’s connection to the L.A. River, among many other things (see the full list here) were supposed to give planners a better sense of how to formulate their goals and policies.

One only need take a look at the input received on a variety of land-use topics at prior sessions to see that

Proposed zoning for Boyle Heights. Click to enlarge. Source: Dept. of City Planning

Proposed zoning for Boyle Heights. Click to enlarge. Source: Dept. of City Planning

that was likely not always an easy task. Parking seemed to be one of the few things that united everyone – all could agree there was not enough of it. Otherwise, clear divides seemed to run between renters and homeowners: Bring in businesses like Target and Trader Joe’s! Don’t allow big box stores that will displace local businesses! Tienditas (small corner markets often embedded within residential areas) are a great resource and could, with aid, be able to provide locals with access to healthier food! Tienditas are the devil and a gateway to substance abuse! Build more housing! Preserve neighborhood character and height! (see the full list here and feedback from focus groups over the years, here.)

The policies and protections many in the community would like to see put in place to limit the dismantling and displacement of the human infrastructure that makes the community so unique don’t fit easily into a planning framework designed to address questions of physical infrastructure.

Policies could, for example, require that commercial districts reflect a particular architectural history and support street vending, as explained here. But there are fewer safeguards available to support the existing businesses occupying those locations or ensure that it is the long-time paletero who is ultimately able to vend there, not Paleta People. Read more…

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…

7 Comments

Proyecto Pastoral Crowdfunds for Pico-Aliso Neighborhood Project

The residents living in the Pico Aliso neighborhood are squeezed in between busy corridors, freeways, the river, and now a growing series of art higher-end galleries. They are hoping to make the streets safer for the many families that walk there. (Google maps)

The advocates from Proyecto Pastoral living in the Pico-Aliso neighborhood are squeezed in between busy corridors, freeways, the river, and now a growing series of art higher-end galleries. They are hoping to make the streets safer for the many families that walk there. (Google maps)

Squeezed in between the major thoroughfares connecting Boyle Heights to downtown, the Pico-Aliso community has long been treated by the city as an area to be passed through, and as quickly as possible, at that.

With the demolition of the 6th Street Viaduct and the subsequent increase in commuter vehicle traffic during peak hours along 4th and 1st Streets, safety for lower-income families who must cross those thoroughfares to get to transit stops, school, or recreational opportunities has become even more of a concern.

This past January, a new stoplight was installed at 4th and Pecan Streets after the youth from the Boyle Heights Technical Center conducted a study that demonstrated the clear need for traffic calming there. And a new signal is planned for 4th and Clarence Streets (where one person was killed when a car slammed into a taco stand, recently) along with improvements to sidewalks and pedestrian lighting that will help Pico Gardens’ residents access the new park planned for underneath the 6th Street Viaduct (thanks to $5 million in funds secured in the second cycle of Active Transportation Program funding).

But members of Proyecto Pastoral’s Comunidad en Movimiento (CEM) seem to believe there is more to be done. And they would know best – volunteers from the group have been helping children navigate busy corridors as part of their Safe Passage/Camino Seguro program for almost 20 years now. The program began in 1999 as a way to help children move unscathed through a public space that was heavily impacted by gang activity.

The drop in violence in the neighborhood, thanks in part to their efforts, has allowed them the space to turn their attention to traffic safety over the last several years. Read more…

No Comments

DTSC Begins Environmental Review Process for Residential Clean-Ups Around Exide, Seeks Public Input

The area around Exide within which DTSC is conducting soil lead testing and clean-up of contaminated yards. Source: DTSC

The area around Exide within which DTSC is conducting soil lead testing and the clean-up of contaminated yards. Source: DTSC

This coming Saturday, June 25, and next Thursday, June 30, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will hold scoping meetings to gather community input regarding the extent to which the clean-up of lead-contaminated properties located within a 1.7-mile radius of shuttered lead-acid battery smelter Exide could affect surrounding neighborhoods. Community comments, the DTSC Notice of Preparation (NOP) states, will “help shape the scope of the Environmental Impact Report” (EIR) which will ultimately guide the clean-up of as many as 2,500 contaminated properties.

Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown had contemplated exempting the residential clean-up from a review as he prepared to ask the legislature for the $176.6 million needed to test 10,000 properties and clean up as many as 2,500.

Proceeding without an EIR for the residential clean-ups would have expedited the process of remediating the highest priority properties – already expected to take at least a full year. Doing so, however, many community members ultimately decided, might have worked against their own interests.

Speaking on the issue back in March, Executive Director of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice Mark Lopez said, “The reason we are in this whole mess is because the state didn’t fully understand the impact of Exide on our communities.”

Assessing potential impacts on the community ahead of time would hopefully preclude any further damage and ensure what promises to be a massive clean-up is carried out in the most sensitive way possible.

The input DTSC is looking for from the community is specific to the kinds of activity residents can expect to see on their streets, including traffic congestion, air quality issues, water quality issues, noise issues, and issues related to the movement of hazardous materials. In particular, DTSC intends to explore the feasibility of clustering clean-ups, meaning a street that has several contaminated properties would see multiple crews doing soil excavation, removal, and replacement at multiple homes at the same time. DTSC estimates they will be able to remediate approximately 50 properties per week.

DTSC has brought on Pasadena-based ESA PCR to draft the EIR, and seeks to have the EIR completed and certified by the summer of 2017. Testing of properties within the 1.7-mile radius of the plant will continue while the EIR is being conducted. Residential clean-ups would begin immediately after certification.

This Saturday’s scoping meeting will be held at Perez Park (6208 Alameda St. in Huntington Park) from 10 a.m. to noon. Next Thursday’s meeting will be held at Commerce Council Chambers (2535 Commerce Way in Commerce) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The public comment period runs between June 16 through July 18 of this year. Comments can also be submitted via email: ExidePIACleanup[at]dtsc.ca.gov. For more information, see the NOP here, or visit DTSC’s website.

4 Comments

Gov. Brown Directs $176.6 Million to Expedite Cleanup in Communities around Exide

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

According to a press release, California Governor Jerry Brown just signed legislation directing $176.6 million “to expedite and expand [lead] testing and cleanup of residential properties, schools, daycare centers and parks around the former Exide Technologies facility in Vernon, California.”

The legislation came in the form of A.B. 118, by Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and S.B. 93, by Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).

The funds — a loan from the General Fund — will allow the state to expedite soil testing within the 1.7-mile radius of the Exide Technologies facility and remediation of contaminated soil “where lead levels are the highest and potential exposure the greatest.”

That last disclaimer suggests that $176.6 million may be enough to get the ball rolling on residential testing and cleanups, but not enough to finish the job.

Last fall, the Department of Toxic Substances Control was already running out of funds to continue testing and remediation, after spending just $8 million to put together a work plan and test and clean up fewer than 200 properties.

While the average cost of testing and cleaning up area properties — originally estimated to be at about $40,000 per site — may come down over time, the fact that as many as 10,000 may need remediation means the final bill may be more than double what was allotted today.

And it does indeed appear that most properties around the plant will need remediation, if current figures are anything to go by.

Of the 758 properties the Department for Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has sampled thus far, only five have not needed cleanup. And, according to KPCC, of the 382 properties the County Department of Public Health (DPH) tested, 354 needed remediation, with 215 of them registering levels between the cleanup threshold of 80 parts per million (ppm) and 399 ppm of lead, and 139 having more dangerous levels hovering between 400 and 999 ppm. Read more…

6 Comments

Re:code L.A. Comes to Boyle Heights Saturday to Talk Updates to Zoning Code

Re:code presentation slide on the need to update the zoning code. Source: City Planning

Re:code presentation slide on the need to update the zoning code. Source: City Planning

Re:code L.A. is holding a forum in Boyle Heights Saturday (TOMORROW) morning from 9 a.m. to noon to talk with the community about the city’s $5 million, five-year effort to update its outdated zoning code.

I know.

That announcement did not set you on fire.

Believe me, I get it.

But you should still think about attending the forum or at least perusing the re:code website.

Here’s why. The zoning code was last fully updated (if that is even the right word) in 1946, when the scattered bits of code that had previously guided development were compiled to create a massive, somewhat unwieldy, and largely insufficient code for a growing suburban-style city.

As you might imagine, 1946 was a very different time in Los Angeles.

Anyone familiar with the history of planning and development in L.A. in the early part of the 20th century knows that policy tools were used both to enforce segregation (see also, here) and, as Occidental College professor Mark Vallianatos wrote in 2013, to create a more “horizontal” Los Angeles as a way

…to avoid some of the perceived ills of dense European and east coast metropolises. Policy makers, planners, voters, industry and real estate interests made choices around land use and infrastructure that enshrined the single family house, the commuter streetcar, and later, the automobile as the building blocks of L.A. Just as London, Manchester, and New York symbolized the scale and challenges of the 19th century industrial city, Los Angeles, with its sprawl and unprecedented car culture, was the “shock city” of the 20th century, a new way of organizing urban land.

Instead of remedying that orientation, since 1946, planners have been adding to the code in such a piecemeal way that the language and codes governing what can or cannot happen on a single property can be both confusing and contradictory.

The situation has gotten so bad that as much as 60% of the city is governed by special overlays and site-specific designations (qualified, tentative, and restricted uses). Meaning, according to re:code Project Manager and senior planner, Tom Rothmann, that 61% of city planning staff are currently dedicated to processing of cases and synthesizing competing regulations in order for development to be able to go through.

60% of city is subject to special overlays and site-specific conditions. (The darker brown areas). Source: City Planning

60% of city is subject to special overlays and site-specific conditions as well as different and sometimes competing sets of regulations. (The darker brown areas). Source: City Planning

Streamlining the code by creating a more flexible and appropriate web-based set of tools will help free up planning personnel to do more actual planning work. It will also make it easier for the end user to know what they can or can’t do with their property before they attempt to undertake that process.

So, the technical reasons for updating the code are more than justified. As is the decision to prioritize the code that will orient Downtown development toward supporting both job and residential growth as its complex set of neighborhoods and land uses continue to evolve.

But questions of how a modernized code will intersect with realities in the surrounding communities in such a way as to foster growth that is more transit-oriented, inclusive, innovative, affordable, healthy, and celebratory of culture and heritage are harder to answer. Read more…

1 Comment

Residents Debate Priorities for Mariachi Plaza at Second Design Workshop

Wednesday's design workshop looked at potential uses for the two Metro-owned lots at Mariachi Plaza. Map detail: Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Perkins + Will, DakeLuna

Last Wednesday’s design workshop looked at potential uses for the two Metro-owned lots at Mariachi Plaza. Map detail: Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Perkins + Will, DakeLuna

“If it wasn’t for Garage [Board Shop and Sk8 for Education program],” 9-year-old skater “Bite Size” told me, “I’d probably be hanging out with the wrong type.”

I looked at him. He really was adorably bite-sized as he stood next to a skateboard nearly as as tall as he was. It was hard to believe he was old enough to be worried about kicking it with the “wrong type,” but as both he and 10-year-old skater Jose Solano attested, there were a lot of older guys in their neighborhoods that had no problem with steering vulnerable kids in the wrong direction.

Screen shot of Enrique "Bite Size" Fino from a short film on The Garage by Bearwalk.

Screen shot of Enrique “Bite Size” Fino from a short film on The Garage by Bearwalk.

Because of that, both Bite Size and Jose were on a mission. They had prepared short speeches to give at last Wednesday’s workshop about the importance of creating an engaging space at Mariachi Plaza that would help inspire youth to stay in school and be their best selves.

When there wasn’t time for them to deliver it to the crowd of 60 or so participants that had come to work on the development guidelines for the Metro-owned lots at the plaza, they settled for delivering the speeches to me.

While he had been skating for four years, Bite Size said, it was the program at the Garage that had given him a place to go that was safe and free of negative influences. And, he said, it had helped him get his grades up by requiring he did his homework.

A wink and a laugh from Garage founder Jerry Carrera indicated that perhaps Bite Size’s grades were not quite as high as he was suggesting.

There was room for improvement, Bite Size acknowledged. But he was doing much better than he had been.

“I go there every day,” he grinned. “I love Pizza Fridays!”

Solano echoed Bite Size’s enthusiasm and reassured me that, since he started the Garage’s program, he had raised his grades from Ds and Fs to “straight-up As” and was motivated to keep doing well.

Carrera and several of his skaters were not at the workshop, as one might have assumed, to ask that part of Mariachi Plaza be turned into a skate park.

What they were looking for was to preserve some open space at the site, be it for skating or some other form of fitness or play, and that Metro look at creative partnerships (possibly with non-profits) to make sure that any development serve as much as an investment in the people of the community as an investment in the site.

Gesturing toward the youth while reporting his table’s ideas for the site back to the larger group, he asked, “Where are these kids gonna play?”

“We want green space for kids today,” he concluded. “They are the future of tomorrow.”

It was a point well taken.

A woman reports her table's ideas back to larger group. Although many present were housing proponents, they were adamant that any development speak to the culture and multi-generational nature of the community. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A woman reports her table’s ideas back to larger group. Although many present were housing proponents, they were adamant that any development speak to the culture and multi-generational nature of the community. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Nearly 40 percent of the area’s population is under the age of 18 and they don’t have that many places to hang out. Boyle Heights is quite park poor and when the youth try to access a space like Mariachi Plaza because it is relatively safe, in a central location, accessible, and lit at night, they are often chased out by law enforcement.

With more youth congregating along 1st Street since Carrera opened a second skate shop there last fall (his original shop is in East L.A.), and more folks using the plaza as ground zero for reclaiming their streets (like the 700 women who participated in the Amigas Who Run event this past weekend), it is even more imperative that the next iteration of the plaza be more welcoming to all ages and all uses.

Because Boyle Heights is a multi-generational community, the question of carving out space for users of all ages had been on the minds of many participants, even those who were there to speak up on behalf of seniors and other vulnerable members of the population.

At the table where I sat, residents discussed the importance of ancillary uses, including a walking path, lots of shade trees, a play area, seating areas, street vending, music (particularly mariachi), and murals — both cultural and street art-style — that reflected the culture and composition of the community. A range of amenities, they felt, would keep the plaza active, beautiful, and welcoming to all ages.

The interest in preserving and activating open space was so great, in fact, that many participants came down in favor of closing off some or all of Bailey Street (below).

Participants discussed the potential for closing off part or all of Bailey Street to make a pedestrian plaza, potential space for street vendors and open-air markets, or fitness area.

Participants discussed the potential for closing off part or all of Bailey Street to make a pedestrian plaza, potential space for street vendors and open-air markets, fitness area, or any number of other uses.

The portion in lighter orange between the two lots (above) is the minimum area that participants and the design team considered converting to open space.

Being able to use that section (or more) of the street would allow for more uses to be packed into the project. Residents wouldn’t have to choose between the structures they appeared to be most in favor of — affordable housing for seniors or very low-income residents, a grocery market, or a laundromat — and the open green space they were desperate for. And it might even allow for some of the more practical amenities many have called for, like public restrooms.

One gentleman even suggested a single structure bridging both lots in such a way as to allow for more housing to be packed in while leaving Bailey Street open (and creating a tunnel that offered shade).

As always, the question of affordable housing touched off heated conversation among participants. Read more…

4 Comments

Planning for Mariachi Plaza Begins Again; How it Will Tie in to Other Area Projects Remains Unclear

Resident Jose and ELACC organizer Carla de Paz report back to workshop attendees regarding discussions had at their table. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Resident Jose and ELACC organizer Carla de Paz report back to workshop attendees in both Spanish and English regarding discussions had at their table. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A jacuzzi.

Yes, Petronila Lozano, community member and volunteer with Union de Vecinos, repeated in Spanish, a jacuzzi with beautiful trees around it.

The Metro lot at Mariachi Plaza could be a place where both the elders and the youth of the community could relax and enjoy themselves, she winked, sketching out her ideal vision on the back of a handout: shade trees around a fountain, seating areas, a laundromat on the first floor of a three or four-story structure and affordable residences above, possibly with space reserved for a gym where seniors could dance and be fit.

Although the only one suggesting a public jacuzzi at Saturday’s design workshop for the two lots at the Mariachi Plaza site (below, in orange), Lozano was not alone in wanting to see the lots be home to multiple, creative uses.

The design workshop looked at potential uses for the two Metro-owned lots at Mariachi Plaza. Map detail: Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Perkins + Will, DakeLuna

The design workshop looked at potential uses for the two Metro-owned lots at Mariachi Plaza. Map detail: Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Perkins + Will, DakeLuna

The approximately 60 stakeholders in attendance were interested in seeing everything from a cultural center to a mariachi museum to a children’s playground to a space for street vendors to assisted living for seniors to affordable housing to a grocery market to after-school programming for youth to an event hall at the site.

The variety of aspirations, in some ways, pose something of a challenge to Gwynne Pugh Urban Studio, Perkins + Will, Dake Luna, the urban design/architecture consultant team Metro hired to create development guidelines for the Metro-owned lots.

In essence, it will be very hard to please everyone.

At the same time, there were a number of long-standing common threads underlying most suggestions that do offer potential developers a solid set of parameters they should be prepared to work within.

Namely, people want to see a development that speaks to and elevates the culture of the community, prioritizes the existing residents (particularly those of lower and very low income), embraces the multi-generational nature of the community, contributes to the local economy by complementing rather than competing with existing businesses (particularly along 1st Street), and serves as a gathering place, site for creative/artistic expression, and symbol of both the community’s heritage and its future potential.

And it must do all these things while bolstering the local economy in the form of local jobs. One of the most pressing concerns regularly raised about the planned affordable housing projects is that the area’s very low-income residents will struggle to access it (see more on why, here). People in Boyle Heights tend to work a lot, but there are few good-paying jobs in the area. “Work” for the working poor may mean juggling a few informal jobs, vending either full time or on the side, and/or putting in long hours, sometimes six days a week, only to earn enough to just get by. Formal, steady part-time jobs for youth looking to help their parents or save up money for college are practically non-existent.

An ideal project, consequently, will work to safeguard the community’s cultural heritage and bolster the potential of the very people that make it so unique.

Piece of cake, right? Read more…

1 Comment

“Ovaries so Big…” that They’ve Got Their Own Documentary

Ovas Taryn Randle and Maryann Aguirre speak with the crew working on the documentary about the group. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ovas Taryn Randle and Maryann Aguirre speak with the crew working on the documentary about the group. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Ovarian Psyco-Cycles have been a game-changer in the Los Angeles cycling landscape. And now, with a documentary featuring the stories of three of their members set to debut at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, they are essentially announcing that they are here to stay. Y con ganas.*

The Ovas first burst into the cycling community’s consciousness in 2012, when former Streetsblog writer Kris Fortin wrote a two-part introduction to a group of bad-ass womyn of color with “ovaries so big, [they] don’t need no fucking balls.” (Part two is here)

Fortin’s exploration of the life challenges that had brought the womyn together and the sisterhood that grew from cycling and reclaiming the streets as a group elicited cheers from readers here and around the country.

Then the Ovas decided to hold a “Clitoral Mass” bike ride to celebrate their two-year anniversary and some folks lost their damn minds.

While the idea of carving out space for womyn and womyn-identified folks — particularly those of color — who don’t feel their experiences are validated or welcome in other cycling spaces is not terribly controversial right now, conversations around equity, inclusion, and the mobility of those on the margins had yet to really take root in the livable streets movement. So, the idea of a female (identified)-centric ride caused a bit of a stir.

The Ovas were accused of exclusion by some and of misandry by a (thankfully) small minority of disgruntled men. Some of the critics threatened to show up and crash the ride. A few even took it upon themselves to organize a counter-balancing ride for “Brovarian Psychos,” where those poor and oppressed (and grammatically-challenged) souls seeking to promote “man-ism, jism, mens’ rights, reform of family court, selective service, anti-male stereotypes, to counter-manginas and white knights, and restore balance to the force” could finally feel supported.

Despite all the foolishness, the Ovas’ first event went off peacefully. And instead of the world ending, the ride became something of an institution — a day of sisterhood and solidarity around which riders from around the Southland and beyond were willing to adjust their summer schedules so they could be sure to be in town. It even inspired a national movement and, in 2013, saw sister rides spring up in Oakland, Toronto, New York City, Atlanta, and Chicago. Last year’s ride was no different. Hundreds — many of them new to cycling — showed up in the heat to spend a day exploring the city, sharing meals, dancing at pit stops, and engaging in conversations around social justice.

Riders circle up for the 2015 Clitoral Mass event. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riders circle up for the 2015 Clitoral Mass event. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Ovas’ visibility has helped change stereotypes about who bikes and complicated the conversation around what cycling and, more broadly, accessing the public space, means to different communities. Read more…