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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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Planning for Third Clitoral Mass in Full Swing

The Ovarian Psyco-Cycles have spent the last few months planning this year’s annual Clitoral Mass ride with one thing on their mind: creating a safe space for “solidarity between womyn, queer, femme, trans, gender non-conforming, and two-spirited individuals from different walks of life to promote solidarity in bicycling, encourage safety, health in our communities, and taking back the night.”

The Clitoral Mass Route Committee has been meeting every week with a dedicated core of members that have taken the lead on coordinating logistics, volunteers, scouting the route, and making sure that everything is on point for the upcoming August 16th event.

The lessons learned from the two previous rides and feedback from participants have been instrumental in the planning of this year’s ride. I sat down with Joan Zamora, Alejandra Ocasio, and Amoxeh Tóchtlí, three of the leaders on the planning committee, to talk about the planning process and some of the changes being made.

One of the biggest adjustments this year is that of the start and end points of the ride. The planning committee has always looked for sites that were accessible by public transportation and bicycle. While everyone that participates is encouraged to take those modes of transportation, some still can’t avoid having to drive to the starting location. In the past, that presented a problem of individuals needing to get back to their cars safely from other parts of town at the end of the night.

So, this year’s ride will begin and end at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. It is also going to to be a daytime ride, with a meet-up time of 1 p.m. and a roll out of 1:30 p.m. Ocasio said that this should help attract a bigger turnout and make it easier for participants to plan and coordinate for the ride. The Metro Civic Center Station located at the west end of the park and numerous bus lines adjacent to it make it an ideal location to start and end. Read more…

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Filed Under: (Mostly) Rad! Skate Park to Open Thursday in Hard-to-Skate-to Hazard Park.

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A lone security guard ensures no skateboarders get in an early run at the new skate park before the official opening on Thursday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Skateboarders are generally not the first people you think of when you think about livable streets.

Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I rarely hear discussion of them, their needs, or their aspirations come up in planning or other forums.

I find their omission kind of odd, given that skaters are perhaps the most active and creative users of public space — they take great joy in finding new and exhilarating ways to interact with every-day infrastructure.

The skateboard is also a cheap and popular form of transportation for urban youth, helping them move safely and swiftly through areas they might otherwise be reluctant to walk through.

And it can give youth in troubled neighborhoods a buffer from the pressure to join a gang. Knowing skaters keep to themselves, gang members tend to leave groups of skaters alone, even if they are from outside the neighborhood (as long as they look like skaters, that is). So, even when skate parks are located in areas of intense gang activity, it is not unusual to see a wildly diverse mix of kids from around the city gathered there, on a completely different plane from the chaos around them.

But, instead of celebrating the power of the humble skateboard, cities tend to move in the opposite direction. Public spaces are skate-proofed and skateboarders are seen as transgressive and regularly pushed out of public areas. In Boyle Heights, where skateboarding is prevalent, youth tell me that the Sheriffs often harass and demean them (sometimes with racial epithets, many complained) when they try to hang out in places like Mariachi Plaza.

Which might explain why I found a young skater staring forlornly at the newly-renovated but still fenced-in skate park in Hazard Park yesterday.

He had seen a picture of it on Instagram, he said, and it looked so beautiful that he had to come by and test it out.

He explained that the previous skate park there had been so cracked up and poorly maintained that nobody ever went there to skate. Instead, he and his friends would head over to Lincoln Heights. It was usually overcrowded, he said, but there were few other places they could go.

“What about the one in Hollenbeck Park?” I asked.

It was for more expert skaters, he explained. And it was small, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to play around and learn. The new one at Hazard Park looked like it was still on the tougher side of intermediate, but it would give him and his friends some place to go in their own neighborhood and a chance to learn new tricks.

He sighed again.

“The picture I saw didn’t show any fences around it. And the security guard just did this [he makes a waggling motion] with his finger when I asked when it was opening.”

I reassured him it was opening this week.

My only concern, I said, was that skaters would have a hard time getting there. Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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City Planners Listen to Stakeholders Regarding Potential for Bike Lanes Along Boyle and Soto

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

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

As I pedaled my way up the hill towards Mariachi Plaza, I had to dodge a skateboarder coming straight at me at a rather significant clip.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen a skateboarder in the middle of the road there.

The eastbound stretch of 1st between Boyle Ave. and Pecan St. is quite wide, and the skaters usually turn onto Pecan or hop back onto the sidewalk and out of traffic at the Pecan/1st intersection. The thrill of an unfettered downhill is brief, in other words, but apparently worth the risk of skating against traffic.

That’s who needs special lanes, I thought as I crossed Boyle and picked up the 1st St. bike lane. There are more skaters than bikers, and they need to be able to get around easily, too. 

I was thinking about the possibilities for community-specific road reconfigurations because I was on my way to a roundtable meeting to discuss the possible implementation of bike lanes on Soto St. and Boyle Ave., two of the 19 streets on the 2010 Bike Plan’s Second Year slate of projects. The roundtable, run largely by David Somers of City Planning and LADOT Bikeways Engineer Tim Fremaux, was the city’s first stab at connecting with a few Boyle Heights stakeholders and gathering specific feedback regarding mobility and other issues along those streets.

Screen shot of the 2010 Bike Plan's lanes planned for Soto (from Huntington to 8th) and Boyle (from 5th to 8th).

Screen shot of the 2010 Bike Plan’s lanes planned for Soto (from Huntington to 8th) and Boyle (from 5th to 8th). Click to enlarge.

I was looking forward to hearing other stakeholders’ thoughts on the lanes. Although I didn’t expect any of the participants to offer push-back, I knew they would be aware of the concerns that others in the community might raise when the city looked for support for the project from the wider public.

First among those concerns is the view that bike lanes can act as a gateway drug for gentrification.

When the city comes a-calling in a long-marginalized community and only offers the one thing that is at the bottom of that community’s lengthy list of needs, it’s not unusual for some to be suspicious of the city’s intentions.

The popular “bikes mean business” mantra doesn’t help allay fears, either, as it doesn’t necessarily hold up in lower-income communities. There, bicycles can signify of a lack of resources, and long-standing businesses catering to hyper-local needs are not the ones well-heeled cyclists are likely to favor (see the discussion of the gentri-flyer debacle for more on this).

Another key concern is that Boyle Heights is a largely (bus) transit- and pedestrian-heavy community and that it needs upgrades to its pedestrian and bus infrastructure much more than it needs bike lanes that facilitate connections to rail.

This is not to say there aren’t a lot of cyclists in the area — there are. There is a sizable number of commuters, as well as a growing contingent of youth that regularly ride for both transport and recreation.

But they aren’t as visible a presence as the pedestrians. And it is often economics and community mobility patterns (i.e. moms needing to run errands with a few kids in tow) that keep many reliant on walking, skateboarding, and/or transit, not the lack of bike infrastructure–meaning that the community may be unsure that it would reap any benefits from the presence of the lanes. Read more…

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Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project Takes Another Step Forward

The new bridge appears to make space for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Source:

The new bridge appears to make space for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement project

At a press briefing yesterday morning, Councilmember Huizar and representatives from the Bureau of Engineering (BoE) and the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) announced that “the planning and building” of the Sixth Street Viaduct is progressing “substantially.”

As proof, they released two new renderings of the bridge illustrating the efforts of the BoE, the design team lead HNTB, architect Michael Maltzan, the joint venture of Skanska and Stacy and Witbeck, and Huizar’s office to refine the design vision of a ribbon of arches across the entire length of the new Viaduct. The arches will soar up to 60 feet, throughout, and two will feature ascending stairs (rendering below), offering patrons unique views of the city, river, and park space below.

To tell you the truth, though, the briefing took me by surprise.

I didn’t even find out about it until after the fact, something that I find odd for a few reasons.

For one, this is one of the most iconic structures in the city and is widely beloved, including by many in Boyle Heights who have been very vocal in asking that the city and design team do more to involve the community in the process of determining the bridge’s future.

For another, this $401 million project is the largest of the BoE’s $1 billion bridge project portfolio, and will have a significant impact on folks on both sides of the bridge and below it during the four years of construction and beyond (should it impact housing prices, for example).

And, third, over the past couple of months, I had tried contacting project people through the website and facebook regarding project updates, all to no avail.

I had been particularly curious about the progress of the project because, at a public meeting on the project last year, the crowd had been told that the design would be 90% completed by January of 2014 and that a community briefing would be held at that time so the public could review the design. Participants also learned that the reconfiguration of intersections that would be impacted by increased traffic flows once demolition was underway (below) was to have begun this summer.

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project

The intersections slated for improvements to help accommodate the increase in traffic they will see during the period the viaduct is closed. Click to Enlarge. Source: Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project

Those plans and the briefing never materialized. Nor did the work on the intersections.

Instead, it now appears intersection improvements and reconfigurations will likely begin in the fall. And, some time in August (or later), the comprehensive set of updated Viaduct renderings will be completed and presented for public review at a briefing.

Notably, although only two renderings were released yesterday, they do seem to signal a slight shift in the tone of the project. Read more…

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I See London, I See France. I See L.A.’s Dirty Underpass(es).

The burned-out mess along Venice Blvd. under the 110 Freeway. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The burned-out mess along Venice Blvd. under the 110 Freeway. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A few weeks ago, a significant hullabaloo was raised when developer Geoffrey Palmer proposed a walkway over the 110 Freeway that would allow residents of his apartment complex to walk between the buildings without having to traverse the underpass and the homeless encampment there.

Some were angered by the overt vilification of the homeless — the developer wrote of fears that building residents would be targeted for crime — and the very real squeezing out of the poor as the downtown area becomes more “livable” for those who can afford it.

Others argued that a walkway would harm the vibrancy of urban pedestrian life by preventing the activation of the underpass.

Whatever your take on the need for the walkway, it is hard to argue with the notion that underpasses generally suck for pedestrians.

Dark and neglected, they often feel like filthy, trash-filled no-man’s lands.

And, their isolation from the “eyes on the street” that businesses, residences, and other active structures/spaces offer can give them a creepy aura. The greater the accumulation of trash (and, in particular, human waste and other mysterious fluid trails on the pavement), the greater the sense of invisibility, and, for some, the greater the fear that something could happen to you there and that nobody would ever know.

Even as a cyclist who moves rather quickly through underpasses, I can’t say I love them.

I often fear I am less visible as a driver’s eyes adjust to the darkness from bright sunlight. And, the enclosed nature of an underpass makes me feel (irrationally, I am aware) like I have fewer places to escape to, should a car come at me.

But, few things have made an underpass feel quite so inhospitable as the torched homeless encampments along Venice Blvd., underneath the 110 Freeway (pictured above).

Over the winter, it served as shelter for a number of homeless people.

At some point between then and spring, their encampments appear to have been set on fire. Read more…

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Exide’s Third Application for Permit to Handle Hazardous Waste Found Deficient

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“God Bless America”? Folks might feel a little more “blessed” if Exide didn’t shower them in lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’… Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Just after I got word yesterday that the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) had determined that Exide Technologies’ third application for a formal permit to handle hazardous waste at their lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon was deficient, an email popped into my inbox from State Senator Ricardo Lara’s office.

Lara’s press release touted yesterday’s advancement of his bill, SB 712, from the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. The bill requires that Exide, which has operated in Vernon for 14 years with an interim permit from the DTSC, achieve compliance with federal and state hazardous waste laws by December 31, 2015 or be shut down.

The need for such a bill seemed strange — did we really need a bill to ask a corporation to comply with laws already on the books?

According to Lara, yes.

In the bill first presented before the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality this past January, he notes that, “There appear to be no repercussions for a facility that does not have a current and up-to-date permit [to handle hazardous waste] in place. In fact, there seem to be advantages to the facility by having the process continued for as long as possible under an interim or previous permit because a new permit is likely to require more stringent conditions and/or mitigation measures.”

It’s hard to argue with that reasoning.

Exide took over operations at the Vernon site from Gould-National Battery (GNB) in 2000, but apparently didn’t begin to draft an application for a formal permit until 2006. Meanwhile, they had already been fined by the DTSC in 2003 and 2004 for improper storage of the batteries, a lead-contaminated drainage channel, and failing to clean up public areas (sidewalks, etc.).

And, while their draft permit application seemingly went nowhere until it was submitted in 2011, Exide continued to violate air quality and other standards, even being charged with “contribut[ing] through deposition approximately 424 lbs. of lead in both 2004 and 2005, and 712 lbs. of lead in 2006 to the watershed.” Read more…

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Gentri-flyer Opens One Hell of a Conversation. Now What?

Boyle Heights residents gather at Prospect Park for the Primavera Festival and a talking circle on gentrification. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Boyle Heights residents gather at Prospect Park for the Primavera Festival and a talking circle on gentrification. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Gentrification.*

Much like pornography, everybody is pretty sure they know what it is when they see it, and almost everyone has an opinion about it.

But, nailing down a set of defining principles everyone can agree on so we can sit down and have a discussion about it is easier said than done.

For one, communities change. Teasing out whether that change was catalyzed by gentrification, community-led development efforts, or the normal growth and change neighborhoods undergo as cities grow and change can be a challenge. Especially while a community is in the early stages of that transformation.

And, keeping conversations from getting heated, as they did when the gentri-flyer heard ’round the world (below) hit the Internets last Monday, is no small task. While many people do finally seem to understand that any benefits the influx of investment bring won’t “trickle-down” until well after many of the lower-income residents have long-since been displaced (assuming such benefits even exist), questions about the significance of social impacts can get very contentious.

With good reason.

The gentri-flyer. (Photo source unknown)

Behold: the gentri-flyer. Touting Boyle Heights as a “charming, historic, walkable, and bikeable neighborhood” where you could put down “as little as $40K with decent credit,” it invited Arts District neighbors to join in on a (free!) hour bike tour followed by a discussion and artisanal snacks. (Original  photo source unknown, click to enlarge)

It can be hard for those in communities undergoing gentrification to speak about issues that profoundly affect them — social marginalization, the criminalization of minority youth, feelings of vulnerability at the possibility of losing one’s family home, the trauma of displacement, or the loss of a cultural community, shared history, and/or social networks — without implying that someone is to blame.

Meanwhile, those looking for an affordable place to live who get labeled as “gentrifiers” often wonder what exactly they were supposed to do differently and see it as unfair that they, as individuals, are being blamed for a process that they feel they had little control over.

That is, if they are even cognizant of having a role in a larger process at all. Many may not be. Or, they may instead see themselves as part of a different process altogether, one in which they are the brave “pioneers,” rescuing homes, businesses, and neighborhoods from disrepair and contributing to the betterment and vibrancy of an “up-and-coming” community.

All of which makes figuring out what to do about gentrification — or even coming to a consensus about whether anything should be done at all — even tougher.

In the case of the “gentri-flyer,” no sooner had residents of Boyle Heights and other minority communities begun to express concern over the predatory tone of the flyer, than all hell had broken loose.

Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gentri-flyer Sets Off Social Media Storm in Boyle Heights

Behold: the most tone-deaf flyer in the history of man. (Photo seen on several facebook pages).

Behold: the most tone-deaf gentri-flyer in the history of man. (Photo seen on several Facebook pages. Click to enlarge).

When I first saw the flyer at left pop up in my social media feeds yesterday morning, I actually thought it was a joke.

Touting Boyle Heights as a “charming, historic, walkable, and bikeable neighborhood” where you could put down “as little as $40K with decent credit,” it invited Arts District neighbors to join in on a (free!) hour bike tour followed by a discussion and artisanal snacks.

No one who knew anything about Boyle Heights — a predominantly Mexican-American working-class community with a long history of political and social activism — could possibly think this was a good idea, right?

In one fell swoop, the flyer embodies every single one of residents’ worst fears: a passel of hipster outsiders coming in to stake their claims while munching on “artisanal” snacks because Boyle Heights’ own offerings did not appeal to their more refined sensibilities.

Few things have ever screamed, “I have no interest in getting to know this community!” quite so effectively.

And, it didn’t help that the flyers had only been distributed in the Arts District (just across the river from Boyle Heights), meaning that residents were finding out about it secondhand and thus left to construct their own narratives about who was behind it and what their intentions were.

Hoping to figure out what the story was, I immediately reached out to Adaptive Realty and spoke with Bana Haffar, a realtor and the organizer of the event.

It was before noon when we spoke, but she was already getting pushback about the event.

The negativity seemed to have taken her by surprise. She had looked at a tour in a community she liked as a positive thing. And, as an immigrant from an embattled community herself, she felt she understood the value of community, being a good neighbor, and not pushing others out.

And, she noted, she was only tapping into a reality that is already well underway — property values are on the rise and turnover has been happening in the area for some time. Boyle Heights is no longer just an Ellis Island for new immigrants. Beyond acting as a refuge for those looking to escape high rents elsewhere around the city, it is also serving as that first gateway for transplants to L.A. I just met four of them on the train this weekend, incidentally. They knew so little about the community that they had convinced themselves that their pad near Mariachi Plaza was in the heart of East L.A.

As part of a small real estate group dealing in smaller holdings, Haffar seemed to believe they might be able to help make positive contributions to the area (i.e. being better landlords to local renters) and bring in people who also were interested in building community.

I spoke to her at length about some of the changes that the area had undergone in recent years and where people’s concerns, at least as I understood them, lay. We talked about the challenge of ensuring a community benefited from changes it was undergoing. Then I connected her with a few people I felt she might benefit from hearing from about those issues, if she were serious about the notion of being a more conscious neighbor.

Watching the debate evolve on social media, I saw that many of Boyle Heights’ residents were grappling with some of the same questions we had discussed: Who is a gentrifier? Do outsiders sometimes bring positive change? What is the cost of them doing so? Must it always be a loss for the community? How can we make it a positive thing? What can we do better than outsiders? Are we doing enough of it? How can we do more?

And, as the very notion of gentrification never fails to stir up intense passions, I also watched with some amusement as the troops rallied and people discussed plans to crash the tour or call upon their homeboys to stand around and look menacing.

Sometime in the afternoon (I didn’t spot it til late), however, things took a turn. Read more…