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New Chamber of Commerce Excited About Great Streets on Venice Blvd.

Bonin bus stop

Mike Bonin hops on the Venice Rapid for his morning commute. This uncharacteristically damp morning isn’t the best background, but there’s still a lot of work to be done before Venice can truly be considered a Great Street. Photo: Damien Newton

Mike Bonin is not someone who is known for thinking small.

“There’s a universe of opportunities,” said Councilmember Mike Bonin, of the proposed “Great Street” on Venice Boulevard. “But it’s important that this not be ‘Mike’s project,’ or the ‘Mayor’s project,’ or the ‘DOT’s Project,’ but the people’s project.”

Bonin was speaking excitedly about the “Great Streets” designation granted to Venice Boulevard between Inglewood Boulevard on the east and Beethoven Street on the west. Great Streets is an initiative to take a section of street in each of the fifteen City Council Districts and turn them into great places to walk, bike, sit outside, or just be…just exist.

While Bonin prefers the phrase “universe of opportunities” to describe everything that can be done, Mayor Eric Garcetti uses the term “urban-acupuncture” to illustrate the idea that these streets will be slimmed down to car traffic and opened up for other uses. Think of streets with trees for shade, modern crosswalks, clean and wide sidewalks, even just appropriately placed park benches and trash cans.

“A small burst of energy can transform a community,” Garcetti is fond of saying.

“One small change, especially if the community is behind it, can get things rolling,” Bonin echoes.

So what will Venice Boulevard look like after it has been changed to a Great Street? And when will Venice, or any of the other 14 Great Streets, actually start to see improvements?

There is not a good answer to the second question. Nobody seems to know when street improvements are going to come.

As for the first one…

“I have some ideas, but it’s really up to the community,” Bonin promises.

During the 2013 election, Bonin offered a vision of a Venice Boulevard teeming with small businesses and a walkable community during our candidates’ forum. But when pressed in our Great Streets interview, he kept going back to the idea that this was the community’s decision.

Not his.

Not Garcetti’s.

The community’s.

Just a year and a half ago, Mar Vista residents held a protest over the poor state of Venice Boulevard. Bonin's and Garcetti's predecessors helped get portions of the road repaved before the 2013 "CicLAvia to the Sea." Photo: Mar Vista Mom

Just a year and a half ago, Mar Vista residents held a protest over the poor state of Venice Boulevard. Bonin’s and Garcetti’s predecessors helped get portions of the road repaved before the 2013 “CicLAvia to the Sea.” Photo: Mar Vista Mom

Bonin’s office is kicking off the public process with a meeting in January. The exact date and time are yet to be determined. However, both his and the Mayor’s staff promise a process which isn’t “design and defend” by city staff but that begins by asking the question, “What do you want your Great Street to look like?”

Each of the fifteen street segments throughout the city were chosen not just because of geography, but because they are a place where some sort of energy was already in place pushing change. This could be in the form of a coming state grant, an active business improvement district, or something else. The “small burst of energy” that Garcetti mentioned is already in place on the fifteen corridors. And it is the job of both the Mayor’s Office and the Council Office to help that small burst grow into something sustainable.

On Venice Boulevard, the burst comes in the form of the newly founded Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce. Headed by Sarah Auerswald, the Chamber is embracing the idea of changing Venice from the mini-freeway it can sometimes be.

The Chamber even has their own “Pop-Up” event scheduled on November 29. For the event, businesses along Venice Boulevard will move their storefronts onto the sidewalk, encouraging people to walk around the area, not just park, shop, and leave.

“The stakeholders we’ve been in touch with so far want to be involved in the process,” Auserwald, who has literally canvassed the street herself, writes. “They don’t want to be handed a set of plans and told that this is what’s happening. We feel strongly that it’s got to come from the grassroots up and not be handed down from above. That way, there’s ownership at the local level, which is what’s going to be necessary to sustain whatever changes happen for the long term.”

Auserwald hopes the pop-up event gets people who aren’t thinking about changes to Venice to start thinking outside the box. In fact, she sees Great Streets as a great chance for the Chamber to stand out in the community.

“We see our role as getting the word out and making sure every stakeholder who wants to be involved can be,” she continues. “After that, the next steps are to start to look at all the possible designs and improvements that could be made to the street. Then, of course, the money must be found as well. Another thing that will need to happen is to deal with the fact that Venice Blvd is currently a State Highway, under the control of Caltrans and not the City of L.A.”

The potential handover of Venice Boulevard from Caltrans to the City is another burst that the Mayor’s Office is counting on. When Auserwald and I met at the Venice Grind last week (Streetsblog is a media sponsor of the November 29th Pop-Up), the road in front of our table was smoothly paved following the improvements that happened prior to the April 2013 CicLAvia to the Sea. However, that’s not the condition on the entire Boulevard. Under state law, Caltrans has to fix the road conditions before handing over control, a process that is in negotiation.

With repaving comes other opportunities, but a Great Street isn’t just a smooth street. There has to be more.

“We hope that in 10 years Venice Blvd will be a great, safe street, with a beautiful, sustainable design that encourages safe walking and biking alongside the cars that will of course still be driving on it as well,” Auserwald concludes. “We see better maintenance, new lighting, more retail and restaurants we can all walk to and enjoy. We see a main street bringing people to a destination: Mar Vista.

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City Nears Purchase of Key Parcel for L.A. River Revitalization

Map of Taylor Yard parcel G2.

Map of the 41-acre Taylor Yard parcel G2, which the city of Los Angeles is purchasing to restore and revitalize the adjacent Los Angeles River. Image from City of Los Angeles MND notice. [PDF]

A big property acquisition is underway that will set the stage for planned large-scale revitalization of the Los Angeles River. The City of Los Angeles is expecting to complete the purchase of a former railyard site that Mayor Eric Garcetti and others describe as the “crown jewel” of any large-scale restoration of the river.

While there’s a long lineage of leaders who pressed for this purchase, credit will go to Garcetti and City Councilmember Gil Cedillo for marshaling the present push.

In a statement to SBLA, Mayor Garcetti emphasized:

This parcel is a crown jewel in our plans to restore the Los Angeles River, and I’m proud to have made acquisition of it a top priority for the city.  This site represents a large amount of open space that will help us free the river from its concrete straight jacket and connect local communities to its natural beauty.

In May, Mayor Garcetti celebrated the federal government’s selection of an extensive $1 billion, 11-mile habitat restoration project. Though that is great news, there are still a lot of hurdles before that federal money washes up on L.A. shores–not the least of which is getting the feds to begin setting aside initial portions of that $1 billion.

Another hurdle is ownership of river land. Though the city has approved an ambitious river master plan, some parts of the plan would take shape on river sites that are currently privately owned. For the most part, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the main federal agency involved in L.A. River work, does not proceed with project design and implementation on privately owned sites.

So, to tap into federal funding, the city needs to buy land.

Read more…

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The Debate Over CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds Is Not Over

From left to right: California Mayors Robert Garcia (Long Beach), Chuck Reed (San Jose), Jean Quan (Oakland), Miguel Pulido (Santa Ana), and Ed Lee (San Francisco) at a press conference in Sacramento, yesterday. Photo: Melanie Curry

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti led a group of California mayors on a trip to Sacramento to push for legislation on a number of issues that impact cities before the final, frantic weeks of August that mark the end of the legislative session. On their agenda was getting assurance that cap-and-trade funds would be available to help cities reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years.

While the fate of cap-and-trade funds has been decided for this budget year, the mayors said they want to be certain that the program operates as intended and that funds are allocated fairly to urban areas down the line. With hundreds of millions in cap-and-trade funds generated this year, and tens of billions in the years to come, it is hard to blame them.

Garcetti said cap-and-trade funds should support new construction as well as operations of existing mass transit and affordable housing in California’s cities, “and not just in the coastal, wealthy areas of the state.” Of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds allocated in this year’s budget, only $50 million go towards transit, including capital improvements, intercity rail, and operations.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said 10,000 potential residents could be housed along transit corridors in Oakland, adding that investment in transit and affordable transit-oriented development could address issues of wage equality and diversity.

The current state budget allocates $130 million from cap-and-trade funds to a new program, Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC), aimed at concentrating affordable housing in transit-rich areas to encourage new residents to make more trips by transit rather than driving. Read more…

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Editorial: Respect Your Advisory Committee, Build a Safer Hyperion Bridge

Members of the Glendale Hyperion Bridge Community Advisory Committee, city staff, and elected officials walk the bridge during their final meeting on August 7. Photo: Don Ward

Members of the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge project Community Advisory Committee, city staff, and elected officials walk the bridge during their final meeting on August 7. Photo: Don Ward

There has been quite a bit of proverbial water under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. Under a great deal of community displeasure in 2013, the city of Los Angeles set aside an outdated bridge retrofit plan and formed an advisory committee to decide the future of the historic span.

The 9-member Glendale-Hyperion Viaduct Improvement Project Community Advisory Committee is a broad cross-section of the local communities. It includes representatives from nearby elected city bodies: the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, Los Feliz Neighborhood Council, and the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. Rounding it out are folks representing historic preservation, parents from local schools, and concerned non-profits: Friends of the L.A. River, the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, L.A. Walks, and the Los Feliz Improvement Association.

The committee has been meeting roughly every other month since December 2013. It reviewed design options and technical studies, and discussed how the bridge could best serve the diverse future transportation needs of all adjacent neighborhoods. The available technical studies focus on delays to car traffic, with no thorough evaluation of safety, health, or environmental outcomes. Even using these stacked-deck car-centric studies, bridge bike lanes and sidewalks not only appear feasible, but perform better than the existing bridge configuration.

At the committee’s final meeting on August 7, they were unable to come to a full consensus on a final recommendation for the configuration of the bridge.

So, as folks do in democracies, they took a vote.

The final vote was 6 to 3 in favor of the “Option 3″ road diet configuration. Option 3 reduces one car travel lane, resulting in three car lanes (one northbound, two southbound), two bike lanes, and sidewalks on both sides of the bridge. The Community Advisory Committee completed their task; their advice to the city is to include two sidewalks and two bike lanes on the new bridge.

Option 3 is a compromise. Read more…

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Is Reynolds the Antidote to L.A.’s Defeatist Attitude on Transportation?

Seleta Reynolds (left) goes for a walk in DTLA with out-of-towner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo:##http://www.gjel.com/blog/los-angeles-hires-seleta-reynolds-what-it-means-for-walking-and-biking-in-socal.html##GJEL Accident Attorneys##

Incoming LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds (right) goes for a walk in downtown L.A. with out-of-towner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: @JSadikKhan Twitter

Should Mayor Eric Garcetti have hired someone with more Los Angeles experience to run Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation? With San Francisco’s Seleta Reynolds chosen as the incoming department head, there’s been a small buzz that only someone with direct experience with our region can handle making L.A. a better place to live. It has to be someone with local experience, they say.

As someone who is not from the area originally, and was only an Angeleno for six months when I became the first editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles, allow me to say that idea is complete hogwash.

For some reason, people that live and drive in Los Angeles have sat through so many traffic jams that they have come to believe that idling in endless traffic is a natural phenomenon.  They also believe a harmful corollary: that things that have worked in other areas to make people’s commutes better will not work in Los Angeles. Because “this is Los Angeles.”

It’s the reverse of exceptionalism.

Because over the last six and a half years, we’ve heard that Los Angeles, and Angelenos are so enamored with our vehicles that we will never be able to walk, much less ride a bike or ride transit, even though wild dogs can learn to ride transit. Following the passage of Measure R, many are starting to accept that transit is a viable option in Los Angeles, although the anti-transit theory it still pops up in some cities on the Westside.

Nowadays, we hear some mix of theories from “smart growth won’t work in Southern California,” to “road diets won’t work in Southern California” to “people won’t bicycle in Southern California.” These sort of self-defeating prophecies sap the energy out of transportation reformers, jade community activists, and generally have a corrosive impact on those seeking to make our streets safe for everyone.

By reaching outside of LADOT and Metro staff to find a new department head, Eric Garcetti is signaling the end of the pessimism and reverse exceptionalism that have marked our transportation discussions over the past years, decades, and even generations.

It is a new day, and Seleta Reynolds is a new leader. Read more…

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What World Cup Soccer Tells Us About Using Public Space in Los Angeles

Join 4000-5000 people watching South Korea

How often does Los Angeles find 4,000-5,000+ people assembled in public space? Come to Wilshire Blvd. and Serrano Ave. in Koreatown, on Thursday June 26th at 1 p.m. and experience it. If South Korea can upset Belgium on the 26th, there could be additional outdoor viewings, which grow bigger and bigger as Korea progresses toward the final. Larger image and full K-pop audio experience at Radiokorea.com

I assume that most Streetsblog readers who have any interest in sports turn elsewhere for insightful sports coverage. We barely cover competitive bike racing here. I don’t claim much in the way of sport expertise, nonetheless, as a somewhat-closeted soccer fan, I am going to try my hand at writing about the World Cup Football. It’s not Football in the American sense though, it is, of course, Soccer.

For the uninitiated, there’s a big international soccer tournament that’s being played right now in Brazil: World Cup 2014. It is already being watched by record numbers of television viewers worldwide.

LA Mayor Garcetti Talks World Cup from KPCC on Vimeo.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, in the above video, connects the World Cup with Los Angeles traffic. He suggests that if just enough people skip work and instead watch the games, then L.A.’s streets and freeways could flow more smoothly.

But, there are some other aspects of World Cup Soccer that get me thinking about L.A.’s streets and public spaces.

First off, let me acknowledge that there are plenty of serious downsides to all this. This is the guys cup, the women’s will take place next year and will be awesome and receive virtually no attention. Plenty of folks from the host nation, Brazil, are protesting the warped priorities of spending billions on stadiums while ignoring much-needed stuff including housing, transportation, health, etc. Streetsblog readers have seen the way big sports stadiums plague neighborhoods and create massive parking craters. The international soccer governing body, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association,) is a corruption-plagued old-boys-network, and they’re raking in the dough on this tournament. Like other sports and many other aspects of daily life, there’s plenty of racism expressed by soccer fans.

So, what’s the upside?

Soccer crosses cultures and national boundaries. As Mayor Garcetti mentions in the above video, Los Angeles is home to huge populations of immigrants from many of the nations playing in the World Cup.

Most days, it’s not easy for me to strike up a conversation with immigrants from Mexico, Korea, Cameroon, etc. in my neighborhood. Now, when my family is out walking, we’ll spot people proudly wearing their national team’s kit (soccer-ese for shirt) and we’ll at least have a short conversation about how their team is doing.

Nationalism and patriotism can be really destructive, generally, and especially in support of U.S. militarism. I find nationalism comforting, though, when it takes the form of immigrants proudly supporting the soccer team from their home country. Latin Americans get behind colonial teams overcoming their imperialist colonizers. African immigrants similarly rally behind teams from their continent. Though there’s never quite a level playing field, there are upsets. The U.S. is fun to root for, precisely because we don’t dominate soccer the way we do other sports and other arenas. Read more…

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Mayor Garcetti Nominates New LADOT Head: Seleta Reynolds

Seleta Reynolds (right) then serving as President of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) giving a 2010 award to Leslie Meehan of Nashville. Photo: APBP

Seleta Reynolds (right) then serving as President of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) giving a 2010 award to Leslie Meehan of Nashville. Photo: APBP

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has nominated Seleta Reynolds to be the new general manager for the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT.) From preliminary research on Reynolds’s background, this looks like great news. Reynolds currently works for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) where her focus had been livable streets, with a focus on building more equitable streets.

Reynolds’ Twitter feed @seletajewel celebrates great bike and walk facilities.  Reynolds is featured in Streetsblog San Francisco articles explaining Bay Are Bike Sharepushing Caltrans on standards for protected bicycle lanes, and arguing for better motorist education for bicyclist safety.

Updated: Read our follow-up post, including a brief interview with the nominee here.

Mayor Garcetti’s full press release follows after the jump.  Read more…

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Just How Great Will Those Great Streets Initiative Sites Become?

Mayor Garcetti announced six Great Streets, including Figueroa pictured here, that will become more accessible to wheelchairs, pedestrians, strollers and bicycles. photo Flying Pigeon L.A.

North Figueroa Street is on Mayor Garcetti’s new Great Streets Initiative list. Photo: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Yesterday and today, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the sites for his Great Streets Initiative. The mayor’s Streets initiative now has an initial budget of $800,000. SBLA previewed six of these Great Streets announced during Garcetti’s State of the City address. The full list now includes 15 street segments, one per City Council District. Here is how Garcetti describes Great Streets:

We’ll saturate your street with services. We’ll make your street accessible to pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles–not just cars. We’ll create an environment where new neighborhood businesses can flourish. We’ll pave the streets and make them green streets — clean and lush with plant life, local art, and people-focused plazas.

Below is the list, from yesterday’s L.A. Times article:

District 1: North Figueroa Street between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60
District 2: Lankershim Boulevard between Chandler and Victory boulevards
District 3: Sherman Way between Wilbur and Lindley avenues
District 4: Western Avenue between Melrose Avenue and 3rd Street
District 5: Westwood Boulevard between Le Conte Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard
District 6: Van Nuys Boulevard between Victory Boulevard and Oxnard Street
District 7: Van Nuys Boulevard between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and San Fernando Road
District 8: Crenshaw Boulevard between 78th Street and Florence Avenue
District 9: Central Avenue between MLK Boulevard and Vernon Avenue
District 10: Pico Boulevard between Hauser Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue
District 11: Venice Boulevard between Beethoven Street and Inglewood Boulevard
District 12: Reseda Boulevard between Plummer Street and Parthenia Avenue
District 13: Hollywood Boulevard between La Brea Avenue & Gower Street
District 14: Cesar Chavez Avenue between Evergreen Avenue and St. Louis Street
District 15: Gaffey Street between 15th Street & the 110 Freeway


View Great Streets Initiative in a larger map

The street mileage is listed here. The total mileage is 12.4 miles.

I want to be excited about any effort to make streets more livable, more walkable, and more bikeable, but frankly the initiative feels a little timid. One step forward for every dozen-plus steps backward.

Read more…

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Federal Study Now Favors $1B Los Angeles River Restoration Plan

Eleven miles of the Los Angeles River are going to get a whole lot greener over the next decade as federal agencies step up their efforts. photo: Joe Linton / Streetsblog L.A.

Eleven miles of the Los Angeles River are going to get a whole lot greener over the next decade as federal agencies step up their efforts. photo: Joe Linton / Streetsblog L.A.

With billions in federal funding for the Regional Connector and the Westside Subway Extension already on his accomplishments list, today it was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s turn to bring some attention, meaning some money, to the Los Angeles River.

The federal Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has been studying the river for nearly a decade and is in the process of making its recommendations to congress on what projects the feds should get involved in. USACE is now completing their study, called the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study. Where the USACE initially favored doing a limited series of projects, called “option 13,” Garcetti and others favored a more extensive series of projects, called “option 20.”

Option 20 is, of course, more expensive. Option 13 would cost $454 million. Option 20 will cost $1 billion.

Mayor Garcetti traveled to Washington D.C. and pressed for the more robust option 20. He sweetened the pot by committing the city to cover a greater share of the overall project costs. His efforts bore fruit. Garcetti’s role as federal rainmaker is impressive.

Today, at Elysian Valley’s Marsh Street Park, alongside the relatively-natural stretch of the Los Angeles River, Mayor Garcetti stood with fellow elected officials, federal officials and community leaders to celebrate that the USACE study will now favor option 20.

This doesn’t mean that there’s a guaranteed billion dollars to be spent on the river tomorrow. There’s actually no money attached to today’s announcement. Today’s announcement is sort of an approval to get in line for federal monies.

Well, more of a preliminary approval. USACE Colonel Kim Colloton mentioned today that the study results still go through the Corps review board and needs approval from the head of the agency. Once these steps are completed, anticipated by the end of 2014, then Los Angeles River projects make their way into the USACE’s budget, and funding needs to be allocated by the US Congress.  Read more…

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Location, Location, Location: Contested Public Space Means Moving Watts School Could Deny Some Education

Carlos Penate speaks to the crowd of INSPIRE students about what the school means to him. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Carlos Penate speaks to the crowd of INSPIRE students about what the school means to him at a rally yesterday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“They say they care about our safety, but they’re putting us in harm’s way!”

It is a refrain I’ve heard several times over the last month from students of INSPIRE Research Academy, a state-subsidized continuation school based at YO! Watts that offers 17-24-year-olds a free education and a rare second chance to get their high school diplomas.

The students are referring to Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s bid to take over the city-owned YO! Watts building (housing the offices and staff of YO! Watts and INSPIRE), and possibly the old library on the same lot (currently utilized as a rec center, classroom, all-purpose community room, and storage area for the bike program’s bicycles) and Firehouse 65 (a building attached to YO! Watts that is structurally sound but which has been boarded up for the last several years).*

His offices are currently located next door, in the Chase Bank Building, where the city pays $126,000 in rent.** The potential sale of that building and the desire of the councilmember to lay the foundation for the re-creation of the Watts Civic Center, find a home for Operation Progress, and offer the community more services from a city-owned building where rent would be minimal are all behind the decision to relocate.

The rec center (old library) is at left. The YO! Watts building is at center, left (the right portion of the building is a boarded up firehouse). At right is the Chase Bank Bldg., where the councilman's current office is located. (Google maps)

The rec center (old library) is at top, left. The YO! Watts building is at center, left (the right portion of the building is a boarded up firehouse). At right, is the Chase Bank Bldg., where the councilmember’s office is currently located. (Google maps)

However, a move into the YO! Watts complex would necessitate the displacement of all or part of INSPIRE, and possibly that of the Youth Opportunities program that has offered at-risk teens and young adults a vocational, educational, career, and social support system in the form of job readiness training, GED/college/SAT preparation, paid internships, occupational skills training, tutoring, life-skills training, and mentoring at that site for over a decade.

Perhaps cognizant of what a blow this might be in an area with tremendous need but precious few resources for older teens, both Buscaino and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Jacob Haik, suggested to Fox 11 in April that a move would offer the school the much-needed opportunity to grow and flourish.

Citing “keep[ing] student safety as a primary concern” and “provid[ing] them with a solid, safe learning environment” as being among their priorities, they claimed that the school had outgrown its facilities when enrollment jumped from 25 to 200 in just two years.

And, despite efforts by INSPIRE staff to set the record straight about enrollment – it has never exceeded 150 and currently stands at 121 – Buscaino’s office has continued to make the case that the buildings are overcrowded, that students packed into the basement set of offices and computer center in YO! Watts constitute a fire hazard, that the YO! Watts building may not even be up to code, and that the current set-up in the rec center – where heavy draperies are all that mark the partitions between class “rooms” – constitute a less-than-ideal learning environment.

While it is true that the school’s facilities are far from ideal on paper, current students, INSPIRE staff, and those speaking off the record from YO! Watts (who have been told not to speak on the matter by the city) question the extent to which youth welfare is a genuine concern of the the councilmember’s office and whether any solutions they offer will be truly attuned to the youths’ needs.

This is due, in part, to the condescension with which they believe they have been treated. Read more…