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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. Recently, Sahra Sulaiman was promoted to Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and will oversee work in South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. Her work, that of our former Boyle Heights specific writer Kris Fortin and a team of freelancers can all be found here.

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Youth Rise Above Heckling to Win Concession for Community on Metro Projects at Neighborhood Council Meeting

Irvin Plata from YouthBuild Boyle Heights gives the thumbs up after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irvin Plata gives the thumbs up as Canek Pena-Vargas (at left), Site Coordinator at YouthBuild Boyle Heights, debriefs with students after a victory at the neighborhood council Wednesday night. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“They’re not even from Boyle Heights!” heckled an agitated Teresa Marquez before the handful of youth from YouthBuild Boyle Heights that had nervously stepped up to speak at the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) regarding the fate of Metro-owned properties Wednesday night had even had a chance to make their comments.

Another woman, Yolanda Gonzalez, also jumped up to argue against listening to the youth, proclaiming angrily that they were too busy with ethnic studies to know anything about civic processes or economic development.

The women — both property owners known for being vocal in community politics (Marquez is also a member of Metro’s Design Review Advisory Committee for the Boyle Heights sites currently slated for development) — couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I spoke in Genaro Francisco Ulloa’s economics classes at YouthBuild last week, I found a group of young people who were highly engaged in questions of how economic development and public policy intersect in lower-income communities like theirs. Some even mustered up the courage to take a stab at speaking out at the January 22nd Metro-run meeting. Their discussion of how the social fabric of the area could be undermined by the erasure of important cultural markers and the displacement of existing residents and businesses was some of the most poignant testimony of the night.

Since that meeting on the 22nd, the youth had been working with their teachers and Joel Garcia and Cesia Domingo Lunez of the Boyle Heights Youth & Arts Stakeholders Committee to come up with a set of testimonies and concrete demands to present to representatives of the BHNC, Metro, and developers regarding the plans for the Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights.

It was crucial to speak up Wednesday night, they felt, because the BHNC was about to vote on whether to recommend Metro grant a “phased” or “interim” ENA (Exclusive Negotiated Agreement) to the developers looking to build affordable housing at 1st and Soto and Cesar Chavez and Soto.

They recognized that the phased-ENA approach — a new effort by Metro that would set aside a 3-month window for intensive community outreach and the incorporation of feedback into site plans before the full ENA is granted — was a step in the right direction. But they didn’t think it went far enough, given how outreach around plans for Mariachi Plaza — one of the most important sites in the community — had been completely neglected.

To that end, they had a few demands. They asked that Metro both extend the “interim” phase of the ENA to 6 months and revamp its current advisory committee process, which tends to rely heavily on the usual suspects and is not particularly transparent. They also asked that part of that revamping include hiring a local community group to do outreach to ensure that all sectors of the community — especially youth — were represented as well as “afforded the time needed to understand how these projects will impact their lives.” [The full list can be found here.] Read more…


DTSC Issues Eight Violations Against Exide after Inspection of Shuttered Facilities

The sign greeting visitors to Exide Technologies' Vernon facilities. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The sign greeting visitors to Exide Technologies’ Vernon facilities. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A press release sent out by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) this morning states that the DTSC has issued eight violations of state hazardous waste laws against embattled Vernon lead-acid battery recycler Exide for violations discovered during recent facility inspections it conducted with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The violations are of concern.

Exide was ordered to cease smelting operations in March of 2014 because of its struggle to comply with new rules issued by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). The rules, approved in January of 2014, established requirements for the reduction of arsenic emissions and other key toxic air contaminant emissions, set requirements for ambient air concentration limits for arsenic, as well as hourly emission limits of arsenic, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene (all known carcinogens), and contained additional administrative, monitoring, and source testing requirements for stack emissions at lead-acid battery recycling facilities.

Unwilling to take responsibility for the health risk assessment, which had found that arsenic emissions from the plant posed an elevated cancer risk to as many as 110,000 people living in surrounding areas, and displeased by the more stringent emissions standards which required that Exide install costly new “negative pressure” air filtering equipment by April 10, 2014, Exide promptly sued.

To the relief of most residents, Exide lost its appeals and was forced to remain closed while cleaning up the facilities and making the required upgrades to the plant.

Which means that the current set of violations are a result of Exide’s failure to properly manage the very processes intended to help it operate more cleanly. Read more…


Finally Given a Platform, Boyle Heights Speaks Out on Metro’s Mariachi Plaza and Affordable Housing Plans

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irvin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Accused of smirking her way through Metro’s heated community meeting on the fate of Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights by an agitated attendee, a clearly flustered Jenna Hornstock (Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning) had had enough.

“It’s hard to stand up and say, ‘We screwed up!’” she said of feeling like she had been on an apology tour since last November, when Metro bypassed the community engagement process and announced they were seeking to grant Exclusive Negotiated Agreements (ENA) to proposals for Mariachi Plaza and affordable housing projects at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto.

Agreeing that the community had indeed been overlooked, Hornstock declared to the packed house at Puente Learning Center that she was not smirking. Rather, she was trying her best to absorb the pain and heartfelt concerns of residents who feared being displaced — both culturally and economically — from their community.

But as residents continued to hammer her about the fact that implementing federal housing guidelines — the calculation of rents using the Area Median Income of L.A. County ($81,500) and the use of federal funds to build the sites — would harm the community by both pricing out area residents and opening up the applicant pool to folks from outside the area, she couldn’t help but throw up her hands.

“I don’t know what we should be doing,” she said citing the very real economic dilemma affordable housing proponents and projects face. “If developers can’t fund projects, they won’t build them.”

That dilemma is precisely why people seemingly counterintuitively cry “gentrification” when told affordable transit-oriented housing projects are coming to their communities.

In the case of Boyle Heights, for example, the median income is $33,325 — far below L.A. County’s median. And because it is the median and not the average, the number of households earning less than $40,000 per year is nearly three times that of those above the threshold.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times' neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 homes are below $40,00 per year. Source L.A. Times.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times’ neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 households in Boyle Heights earn below $40,000 per year. Source L.A. Times.

The majority of Boyle Heights residents would easily meet the first set of qualifications by falling below the maximum income limits set (calculated using percentages of the county AMI) on affordable units.

The problem is, as well over 9,000 households earn below $20,000 a year, a great many of them will struggle to the meet minimum income limits and the resulting rents developers may set for the apartments (see a sample set of requirements from the East L.A. Community Corporation below). Read more…


Filed Under: Ugly Things You Find on the Interwebs

The cover photo from the offending FB page.

The cover photo of a purported bike “thief” from the offending FB page. In reality, it is a photo of Bay Area cyclist and creative DAGHE taken by Pendarvis H., Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion.

“Wow… is all I can say,” wrote Veronica Davis, avid cyclist and member of Black Women Bike: D.C. under a photo on a facebook page entitled, “Black People with Bikes that Aren’t Theirs,” that insinuated she was riding a stolen bike.

“The ignorance of this page is astounding,” she continued. “Especially since this is a photo of me on a bike I didn’t steal.”

It’s true, the ignorance of the page was astounding (even featuring stock photos of black children on bikes and labeling them as thieves) as was its growing number of “likes” (3280 and counting since I first saw the page this morning).

I was tempted to brush it off as one of the many, many, many outrageously stupid, racist, ignorant things you can find on the interwebs with great ease. But it was tapping into something that seems to be up for national debate right now — the right of people of color to move through the public space free of suspicion — and using the photos of known African-American cyclists and livable streets advocates to make a case against their right to do so.

And while the owner of the page claimed it was harmless, stating, “This page started off as shits n gigs [sic] but for some reason people cant [sic] accept that. Im [sic] not purposely trying to be racist. All im [sic] trying to do is make people laugh,” it really isn’t.

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford (killed in Walmart while carrying a toy gun sold by the store), 12-year-old Tamir Rice (killed for brandishing a toy gun and not given first aid because officers were busy tackling and handcuffing his 14-year-old sister when she tried to come to his aid), Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, 34 (gunned down in Gardena by the very police he and his brother had called for help while looking for their stolen bike), and many others all offer powerful illustrations of how easily biases about the intentions of people of color can upend their fates.

And while these issues have finally become big news of late, it is not news to folks of color that they are often viewed with suspicion in the public space, particularly by law enforcement. Walking-while-black (or brown) offers its own unique set of challenges. But so does riding bikes. Read more…

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Calendar for Metro Outreach on Boyle Heights Projects and a Correction About Tonight’s Meeting

Earlier this week, we mistakenly posted that Primestor, the developer looking to overhaul the space around Mariachi Plaza, would be presenting at the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUC) meeting of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council tonight.

Instead, tonight’s meeting (see agenda) will focus on Abode Communities’ affordable housing plans for the site at Cesar Chavez/Soto. The Joint Development Agreement between Metro and Abode would result in 77 family-oriented units (54 2-bedroom/1-bath units and 23 3-bedroom/2-bath units) and 8000 sq. ft. of commercial space divvied up between two four-story buildings that will be connected by a skybridge. Another Metro-owned parcel across the street (in light yellow, at right) is slated to be the home to a new grocery store. (See more specifics here and here).

Abode's plans for the site at Cesar Chavez and Soto.

Abode’s plans for the site at Cesar Chavez and Soto.

The plans for this project will not be up for review at the meeting tonight, but Metro will be asking for the PLUC to recommend the project move forward with a the first phase of a phased exclusive negotiation agreement (ENA) between Metro and the recommended developer.

Typically, an ENA grants a developer the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents, free from competition from other developers. A phased or interim ENA of the kind Metro is proposing would allow for the community to have a window into the development of the plans and input on their refinement over a period of approximately three months. At the end of that period, Metro would be able to report back to the Board to seek the full ENA for the site.

The PLUC voted to recommend this approach with the 1st and Soto projects (below), to be built by Bridge Housing Corp. and ELACC, on December 11th (sending it to the larger BHNC for final approval), but rejected allowing the Mariachi Plaza project to move forward. Read more…


#StreetsR4Families: Maryann Aguirre on Creating Safer Spaces for her Daughter

Thumbs up. Photo: ## Huerta/Flickr##

Thumbs up at the Pacoima Mural Ride. Photo: Erick Huerta/Flickr

“The first [bike] ride I took Leah on was the Black-Brown Unity ride two years ago,” says Maryann Aguirre, member of the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles Bicycle Brigade, a cycling group comprised of women of color based in Boyle Heights, “and I was f*cking dying!”

Pedaling the 12 miles the route wound between Boyle Heights and Watts with a heavy trailer and her then-5-year-old daughter in tow had proven tougher than she had anticipated.

While she laughs at the memory of how hard it was, I have to smile at the fact that the first ride she chose to take her daughter on was one aimed at building better relations between African-Americans and Latinos by raising awareness about their shared experiences with police brutality.

It makes perfect sense, really.

Although only 24, Aguirre has long been deeply engaged in making her community a better place. She is well-grounded in the concerns of the underprivileged, active in protesting gentrification, passionate about justice for people (particularly women) of color and willing to show up to fight for it, and, more recently, working to bring cycling and pedestrian infrastructure that fits the needs of existing residents to the working-class Latino community of Boyle Heights.

When I ask how she wants me to describe her, however, she balks at the confinement she feels sometimes comes with labels like “organizer” and “activist.”

“This is just something that I do because of the conditions I/we/she live(s) in, because of my existence,” she says. “To me, there is no other choice.”

“You are a conscientious community member with a passion for justice…” I try.

“…in my ‘hood,” she finishes, laughing.

Most of Aguirre’s actively practiced conscientiousness – even that around livable streets — is oriented toward making the world a more welcoming space for her daughter, Leah Flores. Aguirre sees access to jobs and educational opportunities, affordable housing, a public space free of harassment from law enforcement or those carrying racial, gender, or other biases, and safe spaces for the expression of cultural and other identities as being integral to making a community and its streets healthier and, by extension, safer, more just, and more accessible for when Leah is ready to move through them on her own.

Which is probably the reason that, despite the fact that I am there to talk to Aguirre about the challenges of raising a child in a single-parent, car-lite household for Streetsblog’s #StreetsR4Families series, we spend the vast majority of our two-hour conversation on everything but her transit habits. Read more…

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Exide Settlement with DTSC Limits (For Now)* Homes that Can Be Tested for Lead, County Supervisors Explore Legal Options

One of the two assessment areas where the DTSC conducted soil sampling looking for lead contamination. Image courtesy of DTSC

One of the two assessment areas where the DTSC conducted soil sampling looking for lead contamination. This one straddles the border of Boyle Heights and East L.A. Image courtesy of DTSC

Good news, good people of Maywood, Boyle Heights, and East L.A. who live within the limited assessment areas (see one, above)! The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) wants you to know that, per a Stipulation and Order settlement reached on November 6 with embattled Vernon-based lead-acid battery recycling plant Exide, if Exide has contaminated your yard with lead, it can be cleaned up at no cost to you! (emphasis theirs)


Er, wait.

If your yard has been contaminated with lead, you’re probably not too happy about it, given the connection of lead to developmental delays and learning difficulties in children and a host of physical ailments. And the fact that, per the settlement, Exide has up to five years to clean up your yard and home is probably not helping you feel any better about your situation. Nor is the knowledge that only two yards have been cleaned up since the announcement in February that almost all of the 39 yards and 2 schools tested in the first round of sampling had lead levels in excess of 80 parts per million (the level at which the DTSC requires a clean-up and the state recommends health-related testing).

If your yard doesn’t fall within one of the two (rather small) assessment areas — the designated areas the South Coast Air Quality Management District studies have revealed “to be most likely impacted by Exide’s emissions” — it could be a very long time before your is soil tested or any contamination is cleaned up on Exide’s dime.

According to the settlement, some time in the next four and a half years, Exide must submit “a Residential Corrective Measures Study to address all properties impacted by Facility operations that were not investigated or remediated during the initial five-year period” or part of the recently approved Interim Measures Work Plan (IMWP) Exide drafted to guide its clean-up procedures.

Any contamination found on any additional properties, as best I can tell from the settlement, would need to be addressed within a 10-year period and paid for with funds set aside by Exide for that purpose (see pp. 11-12 for details; clarification on future remediation plans will follow next week).

The Southern Assessment Area, located in Maywood. Source: DTSC

The Southern Assessment Area, located in Maywood. Source: DTSC

Which is something that may not sound as reassuring as the DTSC hopes, given their official responses to public comments on the draft IMWP, released this past Wednesday, November 19th (two weeks after the settlement was made), and the particularly large emissions footprint Exide is estimated to have (below). Read more…


Metro Postpones Approving ENA for Mariachi Plaza, Gets Blasted for Having it on Agenda in First Place

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it’s a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

“Injustice. [...] Lack of accountability. Lack of outreach in our community,” a frustrated Teresa Marquez, president of the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association, told the Metro Board of Directors this morning. “Nobody’s talking to us!”

She was right.

Metro had apparently reneged on promises in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for a project at Mariachi Plaza], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding the development site.

Instead, only a handful of people were made aware of the plans for an 8-story parking garage with medical offices and a 3-story retail and fitness center adjacent to the plaza, the motion before the Planning Committee last Tuesday to grant developer Primestor an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) for the site, or the motions to grant ENAs to two other affordable housing projects slated for Cesar Chavez/Soto and 1st/Soto.

The firestorm the Mariachi Plaza plans and the lack of community outreach ignited (not even the neighborhood councils had been advised of the plans) prompted the Board to pull the item and the two linked to affordable housing from the consent agenda. All three were postponed until February of 2015 in order to give the developers time to engage the community in the planning process. *(The extension of the ENA for the 1st/Lorena site, which some hoped to also see postponed, was granted to A Community of Friends.)

It was a move that Primestor CEO and Co-founder Arturo Sneider said he applauded.

During the public comment period, he spoke of Metro’s Request for Proposals (RFP) process as keeping them from being able to do extensive community engagement.

Although Metro had released the RFP almost a year ago, Primestor could do no outreach during the “blackout period” while its proposal was being considered. And since Metro had only conducted the final interviews in September and decided upon the winning proposals some time after that, there really had been no time for a community process. (The same had been true with the proposals for housing at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto)

Sneider reassured Metro that Primestor was committed to community engagement and local hiring, and was looking forward to beginning that process.

It was not enough to reassure those present to protest the project. While they were pleased that Metro had (finally) listened to the community, they were frustrated at their sense they were never seen as a partner in development and that their voices only tended to be heard when there was a massive outcry in the eleventh hour.

Many of the speakers wanted to make it clear that community engagement was not only important for a productive planning process, but also essential to ensure that current residents would be able to reap the benefits of any investments in the area. Read more…


Dupont-Walker, Community Press Metro on Surprising Changes Slated for Mariachi Plaza, Demand More Outreach

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But, according to Metro, it’s a rendering of what Mariachi Plaza could look like a few short years from now. (Source: Metro)

How can we ensure stakeholder input has value and is incorporated into planning? And, in so doing, help the community feel comfortable in trusting Metro to make sure that happens?

The queries, posed by Metro Board Member Jacqueline Dupont-Walker to Metro CEO Art Leahy during Tuesday’s Planning Committee meeting were in response to Boyle Heights residents’ complaints that Metro had failed to seek adequate community input on a potential development at Mariachi Plaza that would fundamentally transform the area.

She was right to ask.

Despite promises made in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for projects at Mariachi Plaza and other area sites], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding th[ese] development site[s],” no notice seems to have been given — either to the community or the advisory committee for the Eastside Access project — about Tuesday’s motion to allow Metro to enter into an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) with Primestor Development.

An ENA grants Primestor — one of four applicants who submitted proposals for Metro’s RFP to develop the Mariachi Plaza parcels — the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents.

According to Metro, Primestor won out over the other applicants because of their track record with financing, commitment to job creation, “well-conceived proposal,” “attractive, transit-oriented design,” and expanded development footprint, made possible by their decision to “partner” with a neighboring property owner.

The new footprint of the plaza project. The green represents private property Primestor would acquire. Source: Metro

The expanded footprint of the plaza project. The green represents private property Primestor would acquire. Source: Metro

Specifically, that means that the buildings now housing J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia restaurant, and Libros Schmibros (in green, above) will be turned into “retail and commercial office space that could provide a combination of food and beverage retail opportunities [and] a fitness center.”

The vacant lot at Bailey (the grey square below, at right) will be converted into an 8-story office building with 6 floors (528 spaces) of parking and 2 floors of medical offices, helping address the spillover demand for medical services from White Memorial Hospital (which sits across the street from the lot).

Together, the two buildings would provide 120,570 square feet of commercial space and be called “La Plaza del Mariachi.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 2.29.19 AM

Mariachi Plaza, is that you? An 8-story structure at Bailey (the grey square) will boast 6 floors of parking and 2 of medical offices. A 3-story fitness center and retail space could crowd the western end of the plaza. (Source: Metro presentation)

If that design comes as a surprise to you, either because of the notion that six stories’ worth of parking falls under the definition of “transit-oriented design,” because retail space appears to be built on the plaza itself, or because the murals that speak to the culture and history of the area and help define the space would be forever lost, you are not alone. Read more…

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Boyle Heights Takes to the Streets for 5K and Munchkin Run

Runners in the Munchkin Half Mile gather at the start line. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

Runners in the Munchkin Half Mile gather at the start line. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

With the installation of the jogging path around Evergreen Cemetery in 2004 and the more recent rise of the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners (now celebrating their first year anniversary), Boyle Heights has become a much friendlier place for those who prefer to get their exercise by pounding the pavement.

But there generally haven’t been that many races or other running events in the Boyle Heights area for those enthusiasts to participate in. And while there was an attempt to hold one recently — a Mariachi 5K run — it hit a stumbling block this past August when businesses and residents complained that the organizer hadn’t worked with them, hadn’t hired local mariachis, and that the “mariachi” theme would invite parodies of the culture (see Seattle’s Fiesta 5K Olé! controversy).

Organizers of this past Saturday’s Boyle Heights 5k Run/Walk and Munchkin Half Mile hope that dynamic will soon change.

And they're off! Runners make their way down 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

And they’re off! Runners make their way down 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

Lead organizer Juan Romero, owner of local café Primera Taza, spoke of his desire for runners and families to have an event of their own that celebrated health, family, and community while raising proceeds for those in the area in need.

The race was an idea many in the community had been tossing around for the past few years, he said, but no one had been able to take the lead on getting it off the ground. This past March, hoping to finally see that idea come to fruition, Romero decided to take on the responsibility himself.

The Mendez Jaguars stand with Councilmember Jose Huizar. Photo: Mendez High School FB page

The Mendez Jaguars stand with Councilmember Jose Huizar. Photo: Mendez High School FB page (click to visit)

In collaboration with White Memorial Hospital (whose health resource fair immediately followed the race) and the Variety Boys and Girls Club (the recipient of race proceeds and the provider of insurance for the event), he encouraged schools and local organizations to put together race teams.

Then, he wrangled donations from resident Jaime Perez for iPad minis for the male and female 5K winners (see results here), got 20 chromebooks from the Foundation for the school that was able to put together the biggest team (congratulations, Mendez Jaguars!, at right), got 200 bike helmets to kids, and was given 400 medals for the runners by the House of Trophies.

Even with all that planning, the event was more successful than anyone had anticipated. Read more…