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South LA

In an effort to show how transportation, open space, planning and other issues impact the health and character 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 the Communities Editor for Streetsblog Los Angeles and is leading our coverage efforts in these communities. This page serves as a place to read Sahra’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A. Contact Sahra at sahra[at]streetsblog.org or on twitter: @sahrasulaiman.

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Amendments to Remove Central, Westwood Bike Lanes from Mobility Plan, Add Substitutes Move Through Planning Commission

Pedestrians wait to be able to cross Jefferson and continue south on Central along the sidewalk. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Pedestrians wait to be able to cross Jefferson and continue south on Central along the sidewalk. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Listening to the City Planning Commission vote in favor – albeit somewhat reluctantly – of moving forward on the regressive amendments to the Mobility Plan 2035 this morning, I felt my heart sink.

With recommendations the City Council approve amendments that a) remove Westwood Boulevard (between LeConte and Ohio) and approximately seven miles of Central Avenue from the Bicycle Enhanced Network (BEN), b) substitute those routes with less direct and less-likely-to-be-used parallel streets (Gayley and Midvale in Westwood and Avalon and San Pedro in South L.A.), and c) allow for more north-south corridor substitutions in the future, where deemed prudent, the city of Los Angeles officially moved closer to taking a significant step back from its commitment to building a safer and more accessible city for all. [See the CPC agenda and staff report.]

The amendments to the Mobility Plan that the City Planning Commission recommended the City Council adopt.

The amendments to the Mobility Plan that the City Planning Commission recommended the City Council adopt.

Worse still, it was all happening in the guise of greater “safety” and mobility as defined by people who appeared to care very little about either for people other than themselves or their own narrow interests.

That hypocrisy was perhaps best exemplified by the Westwood contingent of homeowners who now were masquerading as bus huggers. Which was truly bizarre, considering that just last year, when Fix the City and their Westside supporters launched their lawsuit against the Mobility Plan, they were decidedly anti-transit and anti-options in their approach. The group’s president had ranted about how the city “want[ed] to make driving our cars unbearable by stealing traffic lanes from us on major streets and giving those stolen lanes to bike riders and buses.” Laura Lake, the group’s secretary, had told the L.A. Times that safer streets and more transportation options could only lead to greater tailpipe emissions, greater congestion, first responders getting trapped in traffic more often (implying more death and destruction), and greater sacrifices made by people whose schedules would be so disrupted that they would lose untold hours that would otherwise have been spent working or with their families.

Today, Lake had completely changed her tune. Now she was telling the commissioners that she was deeply concerned about the more than 900 buses traveling along Westwood every day. If those buses were to get stuck behind a bicyclist, she posited, thousands of bus riders could be impeded from getting to work or school.

Clearly unencumbered by the idea that the whole point of having separate lanes for bikes and buses is to keep them from having to cross each others’ paths and that the only ones blocking buses in such a scenario would be private vehicles, she declared she only hoped to benefit “the greater good.”

Other Westwood advocates that stood to speak took their lead from the backwards logic regularly deployed by Councilmember Paul Koretz regarding bike lanes, arguing busy streets with no bike infrastructure were dangerous for cyclists and therefore better infrastructure must be avoided at all costs.

“It’s really simple,” declared Stephen Resnick, president of the Westwood Homeowners Association. Substituting the less-busy Gayley and Midvale streets for Westwood on the bicycle network was about nothing more than “safety” and “transportation.”

Barbara Broide, another Westwood HOA president, argued bikes on Westwood would deter people trying to connect to the Expo Line via bus and wondered how people could possibly feel safe riding bikes alongside hundreds of buses anyways (which of course they don’t, which is why they have clamored for the bike lane). Stakeholder Debbie Nussbaum warned against bike lanes on busy streets in general, proclaiming they ran the risk of giving people a false sense of security. Read more…

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Jobs or Housing? Historic South Central Residents Decry Feeling Asked to Choose by Billion Dollar Reef Project

Curren Price turned the town hall over to union representatives and representatives of the Reef after his opening remarks. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ninth District Councilmember Curren Price (standing center left, brownish jacket) turned the packed-to-the-hilt town hall over to union representatives and representatives of the “creative habitat” known as the Reef after his opening remarks. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

THE NUMBER ONE THING that representatives from the “creative habitat” known as the Reef felt they had learned from engaging the community, the speaker told the more than 600 town hall attendees this past May 5, was that Historic South Central was “lacking a sense of place.”

To give the community that sense of place it was lacking, the Reef representative continued, the Reef’s developers were looking forward to providing South Central residents with places to go get dinner with the family or to have a cup of coffee. Important amenities like a grocery store, pharmacy, and bank. A bike hub that the community could access. Investment in a new DASH bus route and bike infrastructure on adjacent streets to enhance overall mobility. A plaza area that could host performances and be a place to hang out. An art gallery that would showcase art from local kids because “kids love to see their work” up on walls.

These amenities would “create a sense of place for the people in this room…” he reiterated, “for all of us to belong to.”

Place vs. Place-making
About half the people in that room – members of the South Central-based United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) Coalition and their supporters – collectively shook their heads in dismay and, in some cases, disgust. This was language that danced around their concerns about displacement and the disruption of the networks that comprised the social and economic foundation of their community. It was also language that suggested the Reef would now be the one to define what “community” and “place” meant for the historic neighborhood they were moving into, not the other way around.

Worse still, these words were being spoken to members of a community that might just have the most powerful sense of place of anyone in the city, perhaps with the exception of Watts and Boyle Heights. True, they might be profoundly disappointed with the city’s long-standing neglect of their environs. But they have no shortage of pride in the neighborhood and the ability of its people to elevate culture, family, heritage, and community in the face of great disparity. That pride and the deep and enduring commitment so many in the room had to raising the community up from within is what has made South Central the unique place it is.

In describing the community by the sum of its amenities, or lack thereof, the representatives of the Reef managed to underscore how disconnected they and the project were from the neighborhood itself.

It wasn’t the smartest way to kick off a nearly three-hour public meeting.

"No nos moverán" translates as "We will not move." The slogan was one of several held up by members of the UNIDAD Coalition who were concerned about the project's potential for displacement. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“No nos moverán” translates as “We will not move.” The slogan was one of several held up by members of the UNIDAD Coalition who were concerned about the project’s potential for displacement. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But it was, at least, consistent.

Despite the approximately 100 meetings the Reef says it has held with members of the community, the line of thinking laid out at the town hall appears unchanged from when news of the $1 billion mixed-use project first hit the cyberwaves two years ago.

“SoLA Village [the project’s controversial name at the time] will be about place-making,” Ava Bromberg, head of operations for the Reef, had told the L.A. Times in 2014 about the 1,444 residential units, 208-room hotel, 67,702 square feet of retail/restaurant use, a 29,255 square foot grocery store, 17,507 square foot gallery, and 7,879 square foot fitness center planned for the 1933 S. Broadway site. “With the Reef, we are turning creative space into more of a community and connecting that community to the surrounding neighborhoods.”

South Central was an area not generally “seen” by investors, she had continued, but perceptions about its creative potential could change, much like they had around Chelsea in New York or the now-thriving South of Market tech hub in San Francisco.

Source: Gensler + P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S, July 2015 DEIR

Rendering of the project as it would sit at the corner of Broadway and Washington in South Central, Los Angeles. Behind it lies the most overcrowded neighborhood in the country–Historic South Central. Source: Gensler + P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S, July 2015 DEIR

To an urbanist or a livability advocate, that approach might sound like it hits all the right notes: increased density via the transformation of surface parking lots, improved walkability and bikeability, transit orientation (the Reef also sits adjacent to a Blue Line station), “place-making,” a rebranding that encapsulates a future vision for the area, space for the creative economy to grow, an underlying goal of community-building – the works. Not to mention the project proposes constructing a significant amount of housing at a time when Los Angeles absolutely cannot build it fast enough.

But to a lower-income black or Latino resident of Historic South Central – a historically disadvantaged community with the distinction of having the most overcrowded housing in the country – that approach and its potential ripple effects present a much more complicated and far less rosy picture. Read more…

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South L.A. Celebrates Slate-Z’s Promise Zone Designation; Prepares to Roll up Sleeves and Get to Work

The area of South Los Angeles designated as a Promise Zone encompasses Historic South Central, moves east along important rail and bus corridors to the Crenshaw District. Source: Slate Z

The area of South Los Angeles designated as a Promise Zone encompasses Historic South Central, moves east along important rail and bus corridors to the Crenshaw District. Source: Slate-Z

If at first you don’t succeed in winning the Promise Zone designation from the Obama administration, try, try again.

Wait – scratch that.

If at first you don’t succeed, take the initiative to change the federal government’s understanding of urban poverty. And along the way, commit to laying the foundation for long-term cross-sector collaboration on behalf of your community, regardless of whether you win the grant.

Yes, that’s much better.

And it’s a winning formula, if the announcement that South Los Angeles was named one of five urban Promise Zones yesterday is anything to go by.

The designation is a game-changer with regard to a community’s ability to access federal funding. While it does not come with an outright guarantee of federal money, it makes the process of accessing aid much easier by boosting the competitiveness of grantees’ funding applications. The added preference points given to applications from 2014 Promise Zone awardees Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Pico-Union, and Westlake have yielded 42 new grants for a total of $162 million over the past two years. And by feeding into a coalition of cross-sector community-based organizations, educational institutions, and city agencies working together to tackle the root causes of multi-faceted problems, the wisdom goes, the dollars will bounce a little harder within the community and make the social infrastructure a little more sustainable.

A Promise Zone designation also comes with a dedicated federal staffer that will help a grantee navigate the grant funding landscape. Because HUD works in partnership with 17 other agencies on Promise Zone programs, that staffer is essential in making grantees aware of the opportunities for funding that are out there and sorting out which will help the grantee further its goals for the community. Five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members will also be assigned to the grantee to offer technical assistance and build capacity.

Although it is a federal program, Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Nani Coloretti told the slew of elected officials, educators, and non-profit representatives gathered at Los Angeles Trade Tech (LATTC) for a breakfast celebration of the announcement Monday morning, the Promise Zone program aims to take its cues from communities.

It’s a claim that seems to have been borne out in this latest round of applications.

When members of the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) collaborative sat down to ask themselves why they had been passed over as a Promise Zone in 2015, they were prepared to believe the problem originated on their end. Many had been bitter about South L.A. being ineligible to participate in the first round of competition for a Promise Zone designation the year before* and, in response, had declared they would aggressively pursue the designation in the second round. They submitted a strong proposal that year, but it still failed to score very highly with HUD. Was the proposal lacking focus? Had they been unable to convince HUD that South L.A. could thrive? Was it that HUD was reluctant to award a second Promise Zone to L.A. – a designation that lasts ten years – so soon after awarding the first?

Nope, the collaborative members were shocked to learn when they came together for a debrief. The fault seemed to lie with the way the federal government conceptualized urban poverty.

South L.A.’s own brand of poverty, marked by overcrowded housing, underemployment, and high rates of homelessness, apparently wasn’t scoring well when held up against expectations modeled on poverty seen in cities like Detroit (where high vacancy rates and high levels of unemployment are the norm). Out of five possible points on the housing section of the application, South L.A. had scored a “1.” The same was true with jobs.

The information galvanized the collaborative. Read more…

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A Year after Breaking Ground at Vermont and Manchester, Major Shopping Center Project Appears to Have Stalled

Scaffolding set up around the perimeter of the lot near Vermont and Manchester doubles as clothing racks for vendors on the weekends. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Scaffolding set up around the perimeter of the lot near Vermont and Manchester doubles as clothing racks for vendors on the weekends. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last year, on the 23rd anniversary of the 1992 riots, then-councilmember Bernard Parks held a groundbreaking ceremony with developer Eli Sasson and a host of local dignitaries at the site of the proposed Vermont Entertainment Village. The shiny new open-air mall, Parks and others claimed, would anchor positive growth in the South Los Angeles neighborhoods around Vermont and Manchester and transform them into a destination.

According to documents the Sassony Group filed with the city in 2014, the project was to be a “two- to three-story, approximately 127,000 square foot retail shopping and entertainment center” with a central courtyard for cultural programming and public entertainment (below).

Local residents had been thrilled at the announcement there would be a full-service grocery store and that local hire would be considered “mandatory,” with regard to construction.

Their optimism had been further fueled by Parks’ announcement in a Facebook post (which was removed very shortly afterward) that he had been talking with major (unnamed) retailers who were interested in the space. His claims had made the projected completion date of winter 2016 seem like it might be feasible.

The performance space planned for the Vermont Entertainment Village. Source: Sassony Group

The performance space planned for the Vermont Entertainment Village. Rendering: Architecture Refined Corporation

But residents would have settled for a less flashy project, too. Not because they were particularly concerned about gentrification, per se, they just wanted to see something positive happen on the site after so many years of neglect.

The lots at Vermont and Manchester effectively constitute one of the most glaring visual reminders of how the hardest-hit neighborhood in South Los Angeles had been left to fend for itself after the riots [see the burnt-out swap meet that sat on the site, here]. Covering two full city blocks and sitting directly across the street from County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Constituent Service Center, the blighted space has thumbed its nose at local officials and area residents for more than two decades, an unhappy homage to all of the city’s broken promises to rebuild and revitalize.

The sun sets on the vacant lot at 85th and Vermont, directly across the street from County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' Constituent Service Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The sun sets on the vacant lot at 85th and Vermont, directly across the street from County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Constituent Service Center. The lot is one of two block-long lots owned by Eli Sasson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Resident Dana Gilbert, fearful that the community was being sold yet more horse manure, showed up to last year’s groundbreaking carrying an image of himself walking the lot with then-Mayor Tom Bradley 23 years earlier. He was unlikely to get the job he had been promised back then, he knew, but he wanted reassurances that area youth would now have a chance to find steady work.

Those in power, he said, shouldn’t get away with false promises and “building [the community] up if you’re just gonna tear them down again.”

At yesterday's groundbreaking, South L.A. resident Dana Gilbert holds an L.A. Times article from 1992 about the plans to rebuild the vacant lots at Manchester and Vermont and the jobs the effort would bring to the area. The article features a photo of himself with then-Mayor Tom Bradley. Gilbert showed up to ask for the job he was promised 23 years ago. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At the groundbreaking for the Vermont Entertainment Village, South L.A. resident Dana Gilbert holds an L.A. Times article from 1992 about the plans to rebuild the vacant lots at Manchester and Vermont and the jobs the effort would bring to the area. The article features a photo of himself with then-Mayor Tom Bradley. Gilbert showed up to ask about the job he was promised 24 years ago. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Unfortunately, the project appears to have stalled almost immediately after the hoopla of last year’s groundbreaking. Read more…

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Metro Awards Contract for Environmental Study and Design of Phase I of Rail-to-River Bike Path

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east just took another step forward. Source: Metro

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path along the Slauson corridor (between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east) just took another step forward. Source: Metro

As bike month comes to a close, we have some good news for South L.A. cyclists. At yesterday’s Metro Board meeting, a $2 million contract was awarded to Cityworks Design to begin working on plans for a 6.4 mile segment of the Rail-to-River bike path project (segments A-1, A-2, and A-3, above).

The Rail-to-River bike path, as County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas described it last October, is an important opportunity to turn an 8-mile stretch of a “dormant” and “blighted” rail right-of-way (ROW) in a “historically distressed area” into a biking and walking path that could more efficiently connect people to transit while also bettering the local economy, health outcomes for residents, and the local environment.

Running between the Crenshaw/LAX Line station at Fairview Heights station to just east of the Blue Line station at Slauson and, in subsequent phases, to the river, the path will not only help connect cycling commuters to transit but offer the local residents of a neglected industrial corridor much-needed green space and a place to safely stretch their legs.

Yesterday’s development doesn’t mean the project is about to break ground, unfortunately. Instead, Cityworks Design has been tasked with undertaking environmental review, clearance, and design work for the project. Supporting documents describe Cityworks as specialists in environmental clearance and able to work within the time constraints of the project. Which is a good thing, as the TIGER grant requires the funds be obligated by September of 2017 and expended by 2022.

The project has been a few years in the making. Read more…

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Four Years in the Making, CicLAvia Southeast Rides Strong

Sadly, a scheduling snafu meant that I was out of town for CicLAvia Southeast this past weekend. Having to settle for watching the photos pop up on social media was not nearly as good as being there in person. But it was still pretty great, believe it or not.

You see, some of the very first ride events I had attended when I started writing for Streetsblog back in 2012 were in service of bringing CicLAvia to the communities of the Southeast.

CicLAvia Southeast L.A. Host Committee members Mayra Aguilar and Arturo Ramirez bring up the rear with members of the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

CicLAvia Southeast L.A. Host Committee members Mayra Aguilar and Arturo Ramirez bring up the rear of a ride through the Southeast with members of the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The enthusiasm of the ride participants was infectious and the turnout was often amazing – 200 or 300 riders per event in areas of Los Angeles that were pretty much completely off the map in terms of bike advocacy.

But it also quickly became apparent to me that, for members of the Southeast Bicycle Alliance (SBA) and their supporters, the exploratory rides were about more than just putting on a major open streets event.

The Southeast communities face some of the most pressing environmental challenges in the Los Angeles area — pollution from freeways, the port, oil drilling, and Exide and other toxic industries (past and present) mean children there have a much greater chance of growing up with any number of wholly preventable ailments. Disinvestment in some parts of the region has also resulted in insecurity in those communities’ public spaces, making it hard for some residents to bike and walk for recreation or to build community in the way they might wish to. And the association of cycling with poverty or legal woes, in the minds of some, has meant cycling wasn’t always seen as an honorable or desirable mode of transportation.

But the SBA advocates had envisioned a better future for themselves and their neighbors.

They knew there was much to celebrate about their communities, and they believed their communities deserved the same access to streets as their better-served counterparts in Los Angeles’ core.

Brothers Bryan August-Jones and John Jones III (ESRBC members) jump for joy at the Watts Towers. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Brothers Bryan August-Jones and John Jones III (East Side Riders Bike Club members) jump for joy at the Watts Towers after a ride through Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Perhaps most importantly, they seemed to realize that the process of community engagement involved in putting together a CicLAvia was just as, if not more, important than the staging of the event itself.

Group rides therefore were as much about exploring routes as they were about highlighting commonalities and forging bonds between the riders, tapping into residents’ sense of community pride, and illustrating how cycling could be used to promote equity, justice, and fun. The positivity the rides communicated inspired many to join the growing South L.A. and Southeast cycling communities and launch clubs and/or signature events of their own. As the number of participants grew, long-time residents willingly crossed boundaries into communities they had once shied away from and ride events all over South Los Angeles started feeling like family reunions.

Which is not to say that building all that momentum was easy.

The SBA advocates spent long hours networking, strategizing about how to sell Southeast community leaders on the idea of an open streets event, and trying to convince CicLAvia that heading to the Southeast was a good move. Diplomacy was even required on one exploratory ride a few years ago, when local law enforcement in Huntington Park decided it was problematic to have so many cyclists gathering in a parking lot (the ride’s starting point). We were escorted along Pacific Avenue at a crawl by officers on motorcycles and only left at the border of South Gate once officers were sure we weren’t coming back.

Read more…

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CicLAvia XVII Open Thread – Southeast Cities

Yesterday's CicLAvia Southeast Cities included Huntington Park's Pacific Avenue. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday’s CicLAvia Southeast Cities included Huntington Park’s Pacific Avenue. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday, CicLAvia touched down in Southeast Los Angeles County for the first time. The 10-mile car-free open streets route included the cities of Huntington Park, Lynwood, and South Gate, and the L.A. City community of Watts and the unincorporated L.A. County communities of Florence-Firestone and Walnut Park.

The popular open streets event filled southeast boulevards with people on foot, bike, skates, and wheelchairs. Lots of families and children enjoyed the car-free streets. Various activity hubs were filled with activities including live music, bounce houses, face-painting, and much more. Neighborhood activity, from pupusa vendors to churches to clothing stores, spilled out onto the streets, interacting with passersbys. Though these events are predominantly cyclists, there were plenty of pedestrians out for a stroll.

xxx

Family enjoying a walk on Tweedy Boulevard in South Gate

Read more…

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Friday Corner of Shame: Burned-Out Structure Knocked Down, Remains Unremediated for a Year

A two-story apartment building in Watts burned down over a year ago. The collapsed structure has yet to be cleared from the lot. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A two-story apartment building in Watts burned down over a year ago. The collapsed structure has yet to be cleared from the lot. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riddle me this: A dilapidated two-story apartment building in your neighborhood burns so brightly that as many as 70 firefighters from 36 units are dispatched to put down the fire. The structure becomes unstable. It is eventually knocked down so as to prevent it from collapsing on its own.

How long will the pile of toxic, sharp-edged, and otherwise dangerous rubble sit unguarded on the lot, spilling over onto neighborhood sidewalks and the yard next door?

A week?

A month?

Frustratingly, for those who live in Watts, the answer appears to be, “At least a year.”

The hot mess pictured above, located at 9254 Central Avenue, burst into flames at around 10 p.m. on April 17, 2015.

The cause of the fire was not known at the time. The building had been sold just one month prior for $460,000, and may have only had one occupied unit. [A call to the Fire Department has not yet been returned.]

Video captured that night by onscenevideo.tv, gives you a sense of how unstable the structure was – one side appeared to be buckling. The Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) was called because the structure was at risk of collapse and, according to the fire department, a private contractor later arrived to stabilize it.

Despite what appeared to be imminent danger, the house sat in its burned-out state for several months. I recall first passing by it last spring and hoping families hadn’t been displaced. Then, as the months wore on, I wondered at what point something was going to be done about the structure. It was boarded up, but otherwise not safeguarded in a neighborhood that was full of kids.

 The structure was still standing, but boarded up, in July of last year. Source: Google maps.


The structure was still standing, but boarded up, in July of last year. Source: Google maps.

Read more…

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Little-Tokyo-to-Watts Ride Explores Shared History of Japanese- and African-American Angelenos

The unity ride hosted by the East Side Riders and the Asian-Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance kicked off Bike Month on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The unity ride hosted by the East Side Riders and the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance kicked off Bike Month on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I rolled up on the group gathered in front of the Japanese American National Museum yesterday morning just in time to catch the discussion of some of the history of the Little Tokyo area.

The unity bike ride – the third annual effort between the East Side Riders Bike Club and the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) to link the communities that lie along the historic Central Avenue corridor – aimed to educate participants about the history Japanese- and African-American Angelenos shared.

Starting at the museum at 1st and Central, Steve Nagano, a former teacher and participant in the Digital Histories project, spoke about the 30,000 Japanese and Japanese-American residents who had lived in the area prior to their internment during World War II. Rounding up the residents of one marginalized group, he explained, had only made way for others. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans moved into the area, drawn by the prospect of jobs in the war industries and constrained by the history of redlining that had made it nearly impossible for non-whites to live west of Central Avenue.

There were stories passed down through the generations, Nagano said, of African-Americans helping take care of Japanese property during the war and even possibly hiding a few Japanese who wished to avoid internment. But the arrival of the newcomers also left its mark—the area was renamed Bronzeville and the population grew so large and the residences so overcrowded that conditions deteriorated rather rapidly. With the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 no doubt adding fuel to the notion that it was dangerous to have so many potentially “subversive” residents living in such close quarters, many of the area’s buildings were condemned, and at least fifty African-American families were moved to Jordan Downs in Watts (housing that had served as barracks for white workers in the early part of the war). Once those residents were gone, white landlords were reluctant to rent to other folks of color, including some of the Japanese by then returning from internment.

Steve Nagano speaks in front of the Go For Broke Monument honoring the Japanese-American veterans who served their country to prove their loyalty. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Steve Nagano speaks in front of the Go For Broke Monument honoring the Japanese-American veterans who served their country to prove their loyalty. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

This look at interwoven histories comes at a moment in which it is becoming increasingly clear just how vulnerable early discriminatory planning practices have left lower-income communities of color all along Central Avenue, as well as to the east, in Boyle Heights.

As Nagano noted, housing is springing up left and right all around Little Tokyo, but very little of it is affordable. And existing senior housing for elderly Japanese (just across the river) is currently under threat. Older and lower-income residents fear that without a conscientious effort to preserve space for those in need, the opening of the regional connector hub and more luxury housing will result not only in the physical displacement of those on the margins but an erasure of the area’s history as well. While much of the public art in the area, including some of the murals, testifies to some of the community’s important history, it is not as meaningful without the presence of the people whose stories it tells.

Heading south along Central to Watts, it is clear residents are struggling with some of the same issues. 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…