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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. 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.

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EWDD Considers Two Proposals for CRA/LA-Owned Lot at Mariachi Plaza

The lot at 1st and Boyle. to the right (across Boyle), an affordable housing project is being built. At a lot adjacent to Mariachi Plaza (where image was taken from) development will likely come in the form of commercial space. (Google maps)

The lot at 1st and Boyle. To the right of the image (across Boyle), an affordable housing project is about to open its doors. At a lot adjacent to Mariachi Plaza (where image was taken from), development may also come in the form of a mixed-use project featuring affordable housing. (Google maps)

The Economic and Workforce Development Department (EWDD) recently reported that it was considering two proposals for the development of the vacant lot at 1st and Boyle, just across the street from Mariachi Plaza. It received the proposals in response to a 78-page Request for Proposals (RFP) released this past May, which had detailed the specifics of the property, the history of the area and the community’s aspirations for the site, and the requirements for the project as well as those governing the application process. [See the full RFP here: PDF]

Considering the prime location of the property – across the street from a transit station in a historic and culturally vibrant neighborhood just outside of downtown – it might seem surprising that only two proposals came in.

But the RFP had been pretty clear about what would be asked of a developer.

The property is one of a number of assets owned by the CRA/LA, the successor to the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). At the time of the dissolution of the CRA in 2012, it held nearly 400 properties across Los Angeles. The majority were put up for sale in the summer of 2015.

Given the significance and/or transit-oriented development (TOD) potential of some of the properties, however, the city entered into option agreements with the CRA/LA, securing its ability to guide the development of ten such parcels. The option agreements, drawn up at the end of 2014, allow the city to purchase the properties outright at fair-market value or sell them to a third-party developer that is willing and able to adhere to land uses in line with the redevelopment objectives for the community in question.

In the case of Boyle Heights, that means not selling the parcel to the highest bidder, but rather to a developer that can work within the objectives laid out in Adelante Eastside Plans and the area’s Community Plan and that is able to respect the community’s needs.

The community, for its part, has been quite vocal about its needs.

The lot had once been home to laundromat. It was acquired by the CRA in 2009 because of its TOD potential. The city appears to have assumed that, when added to the commercial developments planned for the two Metro-owned lots behind Mariachi Plaza and the opening of the Gold Line in 2009, “revitalization” of the area would naturally follow.

But the development never materialized and the lots have sat (largely) empty and blighted ever since.

Meanwhile, the community has continued to lament the loss of the laundromat and other amenities (including a market) when the lots were acquired and the existing structures were razed. So much so that when both Metro and the city held workshops about the future of the lots earlier this year, those were the first things the community asked for (in addition to housing that would be affordable to the lowest income folks, of course). [See earlier stories on the CRA/LA-owned lot and the Mariachi Plaza lots.]

To the city’s credit, the community’s concerns feature prominently in the RFP for the CRA/LA-owned lot.

Read more…

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Election Reflections: “Law-and-Order,” the Resilience of White Supremacy, and You

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Families along Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Where do things stand now?” I asked Adonia Lugo as we organized potential discussion themes ahead of this Sunday’s Untokening event.

Election results were just starting to roll in from the East Coast, she replied, and they weren’t looking good for Hillary.

Perhaps we should relabel the event ‘The UnTrumpening,’ I mused.

We were already planning to raise the question of policing in communities of color as part of a larger discussion on street safety. But the potential election of a self-proclaimed “law-and-order” president suddenly gave that question a much greater urgency.

As a candidate, Donald Trump regularly described “the African-Americans” and Latinos as living in “hell,” promoted the (erroneous and harmful) idea that black-on-black crime is a thing, suggested Black Lives Matter advocates were troublemakers who help instigate acts of violence against officers, and sung the praises of “law-and-order” practices like stop-and-frisk. He even went so far as to deny that stop-and-frisk was in any way problematic, charging that the issue was not the policy itself (which disproportionately subjected black and Latino pedestrians and cyclists to opportunistic, invasive, and forceful stops, despite whites being more likely to be found with weapons or contraband), but that the woman who ruled it unconstitutional in New York was a “very against-police judge.”

The problem in our minority communities is not that there is too much police,” he said in August to an overwhelmingly white crowd of suburban supporters outside Milwaukee, a city whose poorest zip code is also the nation’s most incarcerated. “[It’s] that there is not enough police!”

Stop-and-frisk, he said on another occasion, “worked incredibly well” and was a solution he’d like to see deployed in cities across the country.

To many of those taken aback by the unrest seen in their urban cores and feeling threatened by black and brown voices and bodies pushing for change, this approach to governance is reassuring.

To many of the rest of us, it is terrifying. Read more…

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Equity 101: Bikes v. Bodies on Bikes

Ceebo Tha Rapper shoots a video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police, answering critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ceebo Tha Rapper (at right) shoots a rap video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police. The video was to answer critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Ceebo (DaMonte Shipp) was arrested later that summer on a burglary charged and sentenced to 17 years.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“You’ve Been Whitesplained!”

“Maybe you didn’t catch that you jumped into a convo specifically about transportation/police issues?” the self-described “police/community relations specialist” and bike advocate tweeted at me.

“You’ve been whitesplained!” announced the cheery AOL-style voice in my head.

It’s the voice I hear every time I am told by a white person that race and class have no bearing on a conversation. Which happens way more often than you probably think, by the way.

But to answer her query, I was very much aware that I had jumped into the #moveequity conversation to engage the prompt, “How can community groups and residents partner with law enforcement to build trust and create safer, fairer communities?”

I did so specifically because the thread, part of a national Twitter chat hosted by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership last week, was quickly racking up semi-vague statements about the importance of building relationships.

The vagueness, to be fair, was partially due to the fact that the medium was Twitter, and you can only go so deep in 140 characters. Also to be fair, none of the suggestions offered up were necessarily wrong. Stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police must absolutely be forged if the country is to heal and move toward a more just state.

But in a week when we had all watched yet two more Black men die in a hail of bullets on our screens, the absence of depth, urgency, and specifics in the conversation felt jarring.

So, when I spotted the tweet arguing the best way forward was to “Develop trust and engagement via long-term relationships based on mutual respect. Can’t just make demands,” I decided to ask the most logical and pressing question: How do we do that?

In communities where there has never been any sort of trust, where the relationship is so toxic and so suppressive that residents speak of law enforcement as the equivalent of an occupying force monitoring any and all movement through the public space, and where young men join gangs because they feel so vulnerable and unprotected in the streets, how do you begin to undo that harm?

We had to go beyond bike corral projects and barbecues with officers and collaborate with city agencies to transform the culture of policing from the top down, I argued. Preventive police work and meaningful community engagement had to be valued over the number of drug or gun busts. And any and all work had to be grounded in the understanding that the deep distrust stemmed from the suspicion and brutality with which African American and Latino people were regularly treated in the public space, not the fact that they were on bikes when they were mistreated.

“Please go troll someone else,” came the reply. “I work every day to make my city better for Everyone. Peace out.”

Bikes v. Bodies
That I would essentially be #AllLivesMatter-ed and subsequently blocked by a bike advocate in a conversation specifically dedicated to transportation and policing was somewhat strange, but not surprising.

There exists a pretty significant chasm within the mobility advocacy community when it comes to issues of equity and justice. At the heart of it lies the question of where one anchors the frameworks that guide their thinking: on the bicycle or on the body moving through space on those two wheels. Read more…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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…