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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 Sulaiman’s and all of Streetsblog’s coverage of issues in South L.A.

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Reclaiming Public Space for Marginalized Communities: Bikes Don’t Fix Everything, But They Can Help

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The next generation of riders takes to the streets of South L.A. as part of a Unity ride on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The recent tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and here at home in South L.A. have served to underscore just how hostile the public space can be to people of color, particularly those of lesser means.

For those that live that reality day in and day out in Los Angeles, that is not news.

I’ve documented their frustration with law enforcement officers that would rather harass and arrest than protect and serve in a number of dedicated stories (here, here, here, here). More often, however, concerns about officer misbehavior are interwoven in stories on a wide range of topics simply because they are that much of a constant in the lives of the communities I cover (see here, here, or here).

And while some advocates might question the relevance of such concerns to the Livable Streets movement, I would argue that equal access to streets is a cornerstone of livability. There is no earthly reason that men of color should feel that the act of walking or riding a bicycle down the street is akin to extending an embossed invitation to police to stop, question, and frisk them, hand them bogus tickets (for not having bike lights in the day time, for example), or worse.

A young man is separated from his friends and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (photo courtesy of the young man in question)

A young man is separated from his friends, told to put his hands behind his back and face the fence, and questioned by Public Safety for skateboarding near USC. (Photo courtesy of the young man in question. His face was blurred because he feared retaliation for speaking up.)

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the problem.

Among many other things, the abuses of power by the police are facilitated by the de facto segregation of communities by race and/or class, narratives that criminalize members of marginalized communities, the effective disenfranchisement of those communities, and the years of neglect of the health and well-being of those populations.

The entrenched nature of these problems have forced activists to take matters into their own hands in order to chip away at the structures and narratives that have long been used against them.

In South L.A., for example, social justice non-profit Community Coalition worked to put an end to willful defiance suspensions in schools, just finished its third Freedom School summer program, and will host the third annual South L.A. Powerfest this Sept. 6th. In Boyle Heights, the non-profit visual arts center Self-Help Graphics has cultivated Latino and Chicano consciousness and creativity through its programming for 40 years, and just completed a summer session aimed at empowering youth to express their visions for their communities through art.

Other activists have taken to the streets.

Read more…

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A Pocket Park Begins to Take Shape in South L.A.

A parklet under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A pocket park under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

My, my, what have we here?

I pulled up at Avalon and Gage to survey the change happening at what I had always considered a terribly depressing island with great potential.

In case you’re not sure what that category of traffic island looks like, here’s the “before” shot:

The previous configuration of the island at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The previous configuration of the island at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The intersection is one that marks the boundary between the industrial and residential sections of Gage.

It’s a busy transit stop, with bus stops on both Avalon and Gage. And there had clearly been an attempt made to create pleasant environment by putting in nice seating areas featuring tables with checkerboard tops.

But the lack of shade, empty tree boxes, and removal of the tree at the center of the island (made worse by the fact that the stump was left behind, as if the tree had been decapitated), meant that people tended to eschew the seating areas in order to take refuge from the sun alongside telephone poles.

The island from above. The central tree was removed after this 2012 image was made. (Google maps screen shot).

The island from above. Gage runs east-west. The central tree, visible here, was removed some time after this 2012 image was made. (Google maps screen shot).

Thankfully, that’s all about to change. Read more…

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Fun and Food in Boyle Heights and South L.A. this Weekend

Riders at the first Clitoral Mass event in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Riders at the first Clitoral Mass event in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

If you like to get out and about on the weekends, there are some really great events you might want to plug into.

SATURDAY afternoon, women and those who identify as women are invited to join the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles on their third annual Clitoral Mass ride.

The first ride, held in 2012, generated some controversy for excluding men. But, the organizers held fast to their stance, arguing that group rides did not always feel like safe spaces for women and, in particular, women of color or those whose who identified as women.

The women seemed to agree, as they came out in droves — more than two hundred showed up for the first ride.

The Ovas are at it again, with a day ride this year. Meeting up at Grand Park (200 N. Grand Ave.) at 1 p.m. and rolling out at 1:30 p.m., they will take those identifying as women on a 30-35 mile tour of the city, and have a number of pit stops planned to invigorate and educate riders. People’s Yoga will prepare riders for the tour with a stretch session, Buyepongo will lead a drum circle, Comida no Bombas will provide dinner in Echo Park, activists will discuss gentrification at a stop at Mariachi Plaza, and a support car (with mechanics) will follow the riders. There will also be a condom mobile and lots of free snacks and water.

The tour will end where it began, in Grand Park. For more information about the ride, see a previous article about the ride planning here, or visit their event page, here.

If you are not woman-identified or just feel like stuffing your face instead, head over to the L.A. Taco Festival in Mariachi Plaza from 2 – 8 p.m. on Saturday. Read more…

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Lovely Art Installations Evoking Walking Placed in Hard-to-Walk-to Locations

The Walk a Mile in My Shoes public art installation at the intersection of Jefferson and Rodeo. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The Walk a Mile in My Shoes public art installation at the intersection of Jefferson and Rodeo features a bronze replica of Dr. King’s work boots. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

What do someone’s shoes tell us about them?

Some would argue quite a bit.

Others would argue that you need to actually spend some time inhabiting someone else’s shoes in order to really understand who they are and the journey they’ve been on.

Kim Abeles, the artist behind the ”Walk a Mile in My Shoes” public art installations at Jefferson Blvd./Rodeo Rd. and Rodeo Rd./Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., seems to believe both are true.

Walk a mile in my shoes... Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Walk a mile in my shoes… Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Inspired by “the wish to walk in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who walked in solidarity for the civil rights movement” as a way to know them and their struggles, she began looking for a photograph of King’s shoes.

Instead, she came a cross “a profound collection of shoes belonging to members of the peace marches” that had been collected by Xernona Clayton, a civil rights activist whose foundation was one of the forces behind the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in Atlanta.

Abeles used bronze casts of King’s work boots (above) and shoes worn at marches (below) to anchor her art pieces.

A bronze cast of shoes Dr. King wore to march for civil rights stands at Rodeo Rd. and King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A bronze cast of shoes Dr. King wore to march for civil rights stands at the intersection of Rodeo Rd. and King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

She then used photographs of the shoes of others who played key roles in furthering civil rights to tell a richer story — one of an ongoing movement whose strength lies in diversity, empathy, creativity, and unwavering commitment to forward motion.

Some of the shoes featured at the Rodeo/King site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Some of the shoes featured at the Rodeo/King site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Some of the shoes I spotted at the Rodeo/King site included those of Rosa Parks, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sidney Poitier, and Maya Angelou (for background on their efforts and those of others included in the piece, see here).

More interestingly, Abeles took the themes of inspiration, empathy, and “walking” as forward movement a mile down the road to the Jefferson/Rodeo site, where the featured shoes belong to a diverse set of local activists who have made unique contributions to community building.

It was fun to see the names of people I recognized and admired, like pedestrian advocate Daveed Kapoor or Richard Montoya (below), the co-founder of Culture Clash and man behind Chavez Ravine and Water and Power.

The shoes of Richard Montoya at the Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The shoes of Richard Montoya at the Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The overhaul of the spacious traffic island at the Jefferson/Rodeo site allowed for the shoes to be put on pedestals, as it were, and for the inclusion of a blurb about each of the activists featured. The smaller space at the Rodeo/King site meant that activists’ affiliations had to be listed on a plaque on the structure holding King’s shoes.

Both are lovely sites and great reminders that there are many ways to serve your community.

The Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

My only issue with the installations was their placement.  Read more…

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Advocates Gather in Leimert Park to Hear about CicLAvia Route through South L.A. Planned for December

He of many hats, Tafarai Bayne, speaks about the ways South LA can benefit from hosting December's CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Tafarai Bayne, he of many hats, speaks about the ways South LA can benefit from hosting December’s CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

South L.A. residents and advocates gathered at the KAOS Network in Leimert Park last night to learn more about CicLAvia and how the 6-mile route planned through the area on December 7th, 2014, would affect the community.

Staff from CicLAvia gave presentations explaining “ciclovias” and describing how the car-free, open streets events had first originated in concerns about the unhealthy conditions of city streets.

As people embraced them, they explained, the events evolved into important opportunities for community building. Open streets events here and around the country are now seen as key to creating vibrant public spaces, promoting active transportation and good health, bringing together diverse populations, and giving residents a fun and safe way explore new corners of their city.

And, they reassured the audience, the event is inclusive and welcomes pedestrians, skateboarders, and anyone else interested in leaving their car at home for a day.

Then, Tafarai Bayne, former CicLAvia board member and current member of the Board of Transportation Commissioners, put up a (still-being-finalized) map of the route that will run between Leimert Park and the Jazz District (below).

He told the group that, as it appears at the moment, Leimert Park Village (at the end of the route, at bottom left) will serve as the anchor of one hub and the other, Central Ave., will be closed between Washington and Vernon.

King Blvd. will serve as the connective (and, many will be pleased to know, flat) corridor between the two.

Organizers had originally considered staging some of the route along Crenshaw so that event participants could more easily access the Expo Line, but the construction of the Crenshaw Line has left much of the street in very poor condition.

The latest version of the South L.A. route runs largely along King Blvd. between Leimert Park Village and the Jazz District.

The latest version of the South L.A. route runs largely along King Blvd. between Leimert Park Village and the Jazz District. Yellow points signal crossing points for cars. Central will be closed between Washington and Vernon. Click to enlarge.

The route is exciting because it will offer families in park-poor South L.A. the opportunity to turn their streets into a giant park for a day — one that they can play in as they see fit. Given how much the community enjoys the King Day parade along King Blvd., I have no doubt that it will be a smashing success.

But it is even more exciting because it is so rare that South L.A. is considered a destination to be celebrated.

That step forward represents a personal and emotional victory for advocates like Bayne, one of South L.A.’s more recognizable ambassadors.

Read more…

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The DOGGR Days of Summer: DOGGR Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Fracking Regulations

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

Early drilling operations in Baldwin Hills (photo courtesy of L.A. Times, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2008/10/theres-been-muc.html)

It’s that time of year again.

Time for the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the agency tasked with regulating the Oil & Gas industry, to once again skip the home to one of the largest urban oil fields in the U.S. on its listening tour.

The occasion? DOGGR is seeking public comment on the latest version of the proposed regulations (released mid-June) regarding the use of unconventional well stimulation practices in oil and gas production.

Let me see if I can put what that entails into English.

With last year’s signing into law of Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the highly imperfect but significant first step forward in regulating unconventional oil and gas drilling practices in California, DOGGR was officially tasked with taking on some of the very regulatory functions it had shied away from for years. These included defining a range of unconventional drilling practices (and related terms) and adopting rules and regulations specific to those practices that operators must be able to comply with to receive a permit to drill. The regulations, the bill specifies, are to be completed by January 1, 2015.

In addition to requiring operators seek specific permits for fracking and other unconventional practices — a first in the history of drilling in California — SB 4 orders the State to conduct an environmental impact report (EIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), analyzing the effects of hydraulic fracturing statewide by July 15, 2015 (DOGGR’s broad Notice of Preparation under CEQA can be found here).

This is also a first, as fracking operations have generally gotten around being subjected to CEQA reviews.

That doesn’t make SB 4′s approach perfect — it appears fracking can continue unabated, even while testing to determine whether it is safe is still underway (especially with the defeat of SB 1132 in May). But, it is still a major step forward, considering that, as recently as 2011, Governor Jerry Brown fired Elena Miller (who reviewed drilling permits at DOGGR) and Derek Chernow (acting director of the DoC), for slowing down the permitting process and suggesting that fracking operations should be subjected to CEQA.

The different deadlines for the completion of the regulations and the EIR are one of the many things activists point to as a being problematic. Why, for example, would the state require that regulations for drilling practices be put in place before studies examining the safety of those very practices are completed? And, will future drilling operations be subjected to project-specific CEQA reviews (and therefore a public process)? Much will depend on what comes out of the EIR.

Other problems quickly surfaced in the first set of draft regulations for public comment that DOGGR released last November, two months after the bill was signed into law. Read more…

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Am I Hallucinating?: Public Art Pieces Appear in South L.A.

Public art makes people happy. So do Rubik's Cubes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Public art makes people happy. So do Rubik’s Cubes. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

After a depressing day of photographing South L.A.’s trashed streets, I thought I was hallucinating when I stumbled across a man-sized Rubik’s Cube.

It seemed to have come out of nowhere.

And, it didn’t do anything special besides sit on a corner.

But, it seemed to have had an impact on the atmosphere around it.

In an area where gang activity can be quite intense (the LAPD just arrested over 50 people in a gang sweep a few blocks north of there) and people are often wary about being too open with each other in the streets, the art gave them something neutral they could get goofy with for a moment.

It did cause a bit of a spectacle when they first put that and the kinetic bird sculpture in (around the corner, below), Chris Conant from the design-build company Conant-Moran told me. Read more…

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Dead Spaces Make for Dead (and Unwalkable) Places

Mirror, mirror along the wall of a vacant lot... 43rd. and Vermont. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…of a vacant lot. 43rd. and Vermont. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

I’m feeling sorta trashy.

Not in that way.

I’ve just had trash on the brain lately.

Even as L.A. is celebrated for moving toward being more walkable and livable, trash seems to be the one constant, particularly in lower-income areas.

One of the reasons is that there is a lot of dead space in places like South L.A.

Vacant lots, alleys, under- and overpasses, foreclosed homes/properties, and streets running alongside freeways all lack someone to watch over and take responsibility for them on a regular basis.

Which means we get this:

Piles of random clothing and issues of the National Enquirer from the year 2000 (at the overpass at 52nd and Broadway) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Piles of random clothing and issues of the National Enquirer from the year 2000 (at the overpass at 52nd and Broadway) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Piles of random clothing, instruction manuals for jurassic technology, handwritten correspondence from the 90s, and issues of the National Enquirer dating back over a decade.

All piled up on the overpass the corner of 52nd and Broadway.

The mess stretches the entire overpass, actually.

Looking west on 52nd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Looking west on 52nd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

It’s on the north side of the overpass, too.

More piles of crap. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

More piles of garbage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

And, it’s around the corner, all up and down Grand, the street running along the east side of the freeway. 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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Weekend Memorial Events Highlight Continued Vulnerability of Cyclists

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Friends of Oscar Toledo, Jr., gather around the ghost bike put up at 47th and Normandie in South LA. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

For those of us who pay attention to such things, it was a terribly mournful weekend.

Friday night, friends and family gathered at 47th and Normandie to witness the installation of a ghost bike in honor of hit-and-run victim Oscar Toledo, Jr., at the growing memorial there.

His youth and the freshness of the event meant that emotions were running high. When I spotted Toledo’s girlfriend, she threw herself into my arms, her body shaking with sobs.

“IT’S BEEN THREE FUCKING DAYS!” she wailed in disbelief.

She wasn’t the only one in tears. As the group gathered in a circle to hold hands and say a few words about Toledo, people cried openly and cursed both the unfairness of their loss and the person who had done this to someone they had loved.

The mood was more subdued Saturday afternoon for the Memorial Ride for Benjamin Torres, killed in an early morning hit-and-run in Gardena.

When the East Side Riders — now, in conjunction with Los Ryderz and the team from Ghost Bike Documentary — promised to do a monthly ride to honor Torres until justice was finally served, I don’t know if they realized justice would seem more elusive than ever two years on.

We had all hoped someone would come forward or have a change of heart and accept responsibility for the deed. Instead, the family has had to find solace in their memories and the ever-growing network of families and friends whose loved ones have been left to die in the streets.

But, even when the perpetrator is known, there is a limit to the comfort that knowledge and the extended bike family can offer, as was evident at Sunday’s memorial ride and vigil for Phillip O’Neill.

The case against the driver Jose Gonzales, charged with manslaughter for striking O’Neill from behind and killing him, is currently making its way through the court system. Unfortunately, as the friends and family of September hit-and-run victim Andy Garcia know all too well, Gonzales’ prosecution will neither bring O’Neill back nor fill the void his loss created.

Read more…