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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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Fourteen Artists Named for the Crenshaw Line; What Can We Expect to See From Them?

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Middlebrook’s rich mosaics depict themes of connectivity among diverse populations and between humans and the Earth. (click to enlarge) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Crenshaw Boulevard may be chaotic to navigate due to the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line at the moment, but good things appear to be in the works. The Source reported Wednesday that the new stations will be graced with works from a diverse mix of 14 artists.

If you’ve ridden any of the rail lines, you’ve probably noticed that the stations are unique and play host to artwork that is intended to ground the stations in or make some connection with the surrounding community. This is because 0.5 percent of rail construction project costs are put towards the creation and installation of original artwork at each station.

The formal linking of art with transit began in the 1970s, according to a best practices report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). After the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) offered its support for high quality art and design in federally-funded transit projects and the National Endowment for the Arts published a case study of federal design projects, then-President Jimmy Carter asked the DOT to take a step further and support projects that contributed to the architectural and cultural heritage of local communities. As a result, in 1978, Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore received official support from the Design, Art and Architecture program for permanent public art projects. Boston’s Art on the Line program, which grew out of that initiative, helped set the standard for the integration of public art in transit systems around the country.

I Dreamed I Could Fly

I Dreamed I Could Fly, by Jonathan Borofsky (1993), unfortunately always conjures 9/11 for me.

The 0.5% of construction costs that Metro allocates for art projects is the minimum required by the Federal Transit Authority (the maximum is 5%), and smaller than the national average APTA cites as being between 1% and 2%. But, since 1989, that 0.5% has allowed the Metro Art program to commission over 250 artists for temporary or permanent projects at transit stations.

The projects range from the beautiful Festival of Masks Parade mural by Frank Romero at Wilshire/Normandie, to the intriguing About Place, About Face installation of 27 larger-than-life faces of area residents by Rob Nielson at the Pico-Aliso station, to the downright puzzling and possibly disturbing I Dreamed I Could Fly installation of what appears to be people falling from the sky by Jonathan Borofsky at Wilshire/Vermont (at right). See the full art guide, here.

Putting art in transit stations, says APTA, encourages ridership, improves perceptions of transit, conveys a sense of customer care, enhances community livability, improves customer experiences, improves organizational identity for transit agencies, deters vandalism, and increases safety and security. Which are all fantastic arguments for integrating art at key (and, generally, heavily neglected) bus stops, I might add, but I digress.

In selecting the finalists for the Crenshaw Line, The Source reports that the selection panel assessed how the proposed works would relate to the sites and surrounding communities, while also engaging and enhancing the transit rider’s experience along the line. The final works will take a variety of forms — the artists all work in a variety of media — and be fortified by glass, tile, stainless steel, mosaics, or porcelain enamel.

So, whose work can you look forward to seeing and what kind of work have they done in the past? Read more…


Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…


What Does the “Failure” of the Ban on Fast-Food Restaurants in South L.A. to Curb Obesity Really Tell Us?

Young men play basketball during the Summer Night Lights program at the Jordan Downs rec center. It's one of the few opportunities for young men to be out late at night. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Young men play basketball during the Summer Night Lights program at the Jordan Downs rec center. The program provides one of the few opportunities for young men in the housing development to be out safely late at night. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Yea, everything [is] OK…I hope all is well with you. I’m upset right now & crying because I’m starving. Have no food.”

I stared at the message on my phone. I had just checked in with 19-year-old South L.A. resident Shanique* to see how she was. I had interviewed her earlier in the summer and we had stayed in touch. Her family struggled quite a bit after the loss of her stepfather to a drive-by, the loss of her pre-teen brother to a walk-up (shooting), and being terrorized into silence by her brother’s killers, who lived nearby. Her mother’s disability — incurred years earlier on the job as a postal worker — coupled with a recent cancer diagnosis made it impossible for her to work.

And Shanique’s own promising progress in school had been halted by the trauma of a rape perpetrated against her in her own home at age 14 by the friend of a cousin. When her grades began to drop, instead of being offered extra help and counseling at her high school, she had been asked to leave. She was also shunned by her cousin’s family and friends and intimidated into dropping charges.

She was now struggling her way through a continuation school and working part-time at a grocery store. She was eager to find more work to help support her mother, as her hours were constantly being cut or adjusted, but this was made more difficult by a felony conviction. When Shanique’s best friend had called her on the day before her 18th birthday to ask if she could pick her and another friend up, she neglected to tell Shanique that they had just attempted to break into a home. Although the police could see from the surveillance footage that Shanique had not been anywhere in the vicinity of the incident, she says, the public defender told her flat-out that he was busy with murders and didn’t have time to prepare such a trivial case.

“They could have at least charged me as a juvenile!” she had fumed to me at the time.

Instead, she was stuck with three years’ probation, $5000 in court fees, and a felony strike that would have made it practically impossible for them to qualify for affordable housing when their rent suddenly jumped from $500 to $1600 (when, according to Shanique, the daughter of their landlord decided she wanted access to the property).

The combination of all these things meant that money often ran out well before the end of the month.

But I guess I still hadn’t expected things to be so dire.

Panicked, I immediately dialed her number.

The phone rang.

And rang.

Finally, she picked up.

Too upset to talk, she hung up almost immediately.

She texted me that she would probably go to the rec center about a mile from her house to see if she could get food from the Summer Night Lights program there — they usually grilled hotdogs for the community. She’d done it before, she said. She’d be OK.

* * *

Shanique came to mind as I read the 7-page study on the failure of the 2008 ban on the opening of new, stand-alone fast food restaurants in South L.A. to curb obesity there and the subsequent myriad stories and think-pieces dedicated to questioning the value of the ban, pointing out that obesity appears to have risen between 2007 and 2011 (from 63% to 75% of the population), decrying the nanny state and paternalism, and wondering what made a ban seem like a good idea in the first place.

Shanique, you see, despite suffering from hunger on a pretty regular basis, is obese.

Read more…


Your Moment of City-Planning Zen: Lulu Guides You Through the Community Plan Implementation Overlay Tool

How will South L.A. develop over the next twenty years?

It’s the question city planners working on the Southeast and South Los Angeles Community Plans have been asking themselves for the past several years. As draft plans move closer to finalization, the decisions they make now about how the communities will be structured and zoned will guide future growth, impact the creation of economic opportunity, safeguard (or change) neighborhood character, and (hopefully) enhance the quality of life there over many years to come.

The new video City Planning just released (above, also available in Spanish) explains the role of the Community Plan Implementation Overlay (CPIO) tool. Where the goals, policies, and programs of the community plans are aspirational, the video suggests, the CPIO can provide the teeth necessary to help bring the specific vision of a community or neighborhood to life.

The ten-minute, easy-to-follow video is narrated by a cheerful, animated Lulu (who sounds kind of depressed in the Spanish version), who claims to be a long-time South L.A. resident (she’s actually voiced by city planner Haydee Urita-Lopez). She explains that the CPIO puts restrictions on nuisance land uses, provides incentives for desired developments, and establishes rules that will guide the appearance of new (or remodeled) structures.

There is a brief tutorial on how the CPIO has broken up each of the communities into four districts — Corridors Districts, Transit-Oriented Districts, Industrial Districts, and Residential Standards Districts — and explains (briefly) how its rules will guide development in each. Read more…


Eyes on the Street: Leimert Park Prepares People St Plaza for Grand Opening

The view of the People St Plaza in Leimert Park from the front of the Vision Theater. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The view of the People St Plaza in Leimert Park from the front of the Vision Theater. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The date for the grand opening of Leimert Park’s People St Plaza is not quite set in stone, yet, but it’s coming very soon. And I couldn’t be more excited. The stakeholders in Leimert Park have begun to install some of the unique features they developed as a way to tie the plaza to the culture of the community, and they look pretty fantastic.

Over the last week, Ben Caldwell, founder of the KAOS Network, and others laid down some of the Adinkra symbols which will eventually fill the entire plaza.

Adinkra symbols which will be used to populate the polka dots on the plaza.

Adinkra symbols which will be used to populate the polka dots on the plaza.

The symbols — representative of the philosophies of the Akan people (an ethnic group in Ghana) — were once only seen on cloths worn by community leaders during special occasions. Although they are more widely worn in Western Africa nowadays, and are commonly found stamped onto everyday objects, they still retain their meaning, represent proverbs, depict historical events, or offer some truth about human behavior or the world as the Akan understood it.

The values and ideas the symbols promote will be used to help guide programming in the plaza, incorporated into educational materials, and used throughout the Village area to reinforce the notion that when you enter Leimert Park, you are entering the home of a population with a unique cultural heritage.

The finished plaza will also feature an “urban farm lab” managed by the Carver program, wooden benches, bistro-style chairs and tables, a portable stage, and possibly some of the re-purposed street furniture that Caldwell and USC Annenberg Professor François Bar oversaw the development of in the tactical media courses they joint-taught.

So, what will you see if you stop down to check out Metro’s Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw community fest this weekend or the Leimert Park Art Walk (Sunday, March 29)? Read more…


Ride On!: South L.A. Advocate Looks to Set Up Bicycle Co-op in Leimert Park

Ade Neff works on his bike in front of the Vision Theater in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ade Neff works on his bike in front of the Vision Theater in Leimert Park. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As one of the few attendees at the recent Live.Ride.Share. forum from South Los Angeles, aspiring bicycle co-op founder Ade Neff said he felt frustrated by what he wasn’t hearing. While the many of the advocates on hand had fantastic visions for the future of transportation in Los Angeles, they often seemed to gloss over the more complex needs of lower-income communities of color and deficiencies in the existing transit system that those communities already depended on.

“My daughter’s bus stop was in the bushes!” he said of the absence of infrastructure at the stop where she and her classmates disembarked near their school. “Nobody is talking about that…” or basic things, like finding ways to make the uncomfortable daily struggle of transit-dependent parents to get on and off crowded buses while juggling children, strollers that need to be folded, and multiple bags easier.

And, he felt, the kinds of mobility hubs he was hearing about — and could possibly be established at sites like the coming Leimert Park Metro station — featuring bike share, a repair shop, and other amenities could be great for visitors and those of means but nowhere near sufficient to address the needs of residents like himself.

Beyond the lack of bike infrastructure and poor connectivity of existing networks either within South L.A. or linking it to other communities, the lack of affordable resources to support lower-income cyclists can make obtaining and maintaining a quality bicycle a real challenge.

“Right now,” he explained, “I have to travel 8 miles to get to a [bicycle] co-op.”

There are a few shops in the vicinity of Leimert Park, but parts and repairs can be costly. So Neff, a recent graduate with a Masters in Urban Sustainability, Capoeira teacher, and father to a middle-schooler who has to watch his budget, makes the trek to toward Venice to visit the Bikerowave.

He, at least, has the ability to get to a co-op and knowledge of what he needs once he’s there. Too often, when the bikes of those of lesser means break down, the bikes go into the garage and stay there. Repairs can be put off for months — even if it is something as simple as a flat tire or a slipped chain that they could have fixed on their own. Folks that have no other means of transportation sometimes make crude DIY fixes and continue to ride around on unsafe bikes.

Recently, when helping out a bike clinic at a charter middle school near Culver City, Neff said he was dismayed to see the problem extended to younger kids, as well.

“No matter how much I adjust the brakes,” he mimicked braking on one of several unrideable bikes he worked on, “it’s not gonna stop [this] bike.”

In his head, he began creating a list of each of the things the kids would need to make their bikes street-worthy before he realized there was no point. Most wouldn’t have the money for those kind of overhauls.

That absence of affordable resources in his community, Neff said, is a key reason he’s looking to launch a co-op in Leimert Park Village some time in the next year.

But it’s not the only one. Read more…

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South L.A. Voices Speak on Link Between the Arts, Recreation, Food, and Social Justice

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

George Villanueva moderates the Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement Visions and Voices panel at USC featuring Ben Caldwell, Karen Mack, Neelam Sharma, and J.P. Partida. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Fun in the sun!” Watts resident William Fabian wrote under the prompt “My South L.A. is…” created by organizers of the Visions and Voices panel, “Food, Recreation, and the Arts as Social Justice and Civic Engagement,” at USC last night. The panel was the second in a three-part effort by USC to engage some of the advocates doing work in the South L.A. area while taking stock of its role in the civic and community life of the area as it undergoes expansion.

“Fun in the sun” is generally not what first comes to mind for most people when they think about South L.A., much less Watts. But it helps illustrate why it is so important to hear directly from residents in marginalized communities, particularly communities that have been much maligned in the media.

Urban planners and others seeking to diagnose the problems facing communities like South L.A. sometimes seem to assume that the problem is, in part, one based in a lack of vision of what a functioning community or public space should be. And that “teaching people that their streets can be sites of recreation” is part of the remedy.

Panelists Ben Caldwell (artist and founder of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), Karen Mack (of city arts organization L.A. Commons), Neelam Sharma (of food justice-oriented Community Services Unlimited, based near USC), and Javier “J.P.” Partida (founder of Los Ryderz Bike Club in Watts), put those notions to rest by making it clear that reclaiming the public space has always been central to their efforts to nurture and celebrate culture, identity, community, health, artistry, and innovation. And that they and others in the community have been doing that work for quite some time.

For Karen Mack, who founded L.A. Commons in 2002, that work involves bringing people together to communicate their experiences via the arts in the public space.

There are many narratives about L.A., she said, but they have tended not to be inclusive. Instead, because the areas that are richest in culture are often the most resource-poor, those voices are generally not heard. By actively engaging those voices and empowering them to speak to each other — as in the case of a mural project where Latino students interviewed African-American business owners about the Crenshaw community both now shared — communities can grow stronger from within. And because the project outputs often include traveling murals, story-telling summits, and/or community walking tours, L.A. Commons offers outsiders opportunities to connect with both the home-crafted narratives and the residents that were responsible for bringing them to life.

Ben Caldwell, filmmaker, artist, ethnographer, local historian, and all-around creative, also believes the arts can be deployed to build more vibrant, healthy, and inclusive communities.

“People think we only have ‘Boyz n the Hood,'” he said, chuckling.

While those youth are indeed present in South L.A., “we see them differently, too.” They are part of the community and have something to contribute, when engaged properly. Read more…

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“I’m a Cycle-Path”: Los Ryderz’ Founder Joins other South L.A. Superheroes at Visions and Voices Panel Thursday

Founder of Los Ryderz, Javier "J.P." Partida (far left) stands in front of an Earth Day mural with some of the youth from the club after a ride focused on healthy food options. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Founder of Los Ryderz, Javier “J.P.” Partida (far left) stands in front of an Earth Day mural with some of the youth from the club after a ride focused on healthy food options hosted by Community Services Unlimited. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“If it weren’t for J.P. …”

Ask any of the youth from the Los Ryderz Bike Club how they feel about the club and that is usually one of the first things to come out of their mouths.

“…Who knows what I’d be doin’.”

“…I don’t know where I’d be.”

“…He’s like a second father – the father I never had. I call him ‘Dad.’”

They’re talking about the club’s founder and president, Javier “J.P.” Partida, a long-time resident of Watts whose cool and occasionally gruff exterior masks an enormous and very generous heart.

Partida will be joining other South L.A. superheroes Neelam Sharma (from Community Services Unlimited), Ben Caldwell (of the KAOS Network in Leimert Park), and Karen Mack (of arts organization L.A. Commons) to talk about the joys and the challenges of bringing food justice, urban agriculture, community arts, and recreation to South L.A. this Thursday night as part of the Visions and Voices series at USC. (Event information here.)

Javier "J.P." Partida speaks about the history of the Watts Towers and what they means to the community at the exploratory ride for a South L.A. CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

J.P. Partida speaks about the history of the Watts Towers and what they mean to the community at the exploratory ride for a South L.A. CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I had first met Partida in 2012, at the CicLAvia South L.A. Exploration Ride through Watts led by the East Side Riders (above).

Seeing how the community responded to seeing 60+ cyclists riding through his neighborhood had inspired him to think about getting youth from the community on bikes, he said when he called me a few months later. Could I come down to Watts to talk with him about launching a youth-centric club?

Oh. Hell. Yes.

Watts is packed with young people who have nowhere to go.

There are no bowling alleys, movie theaters, arcades, or safe spots in the public space where kids can just hang out and have fun with their friends. And even though the majority of the youth are not involved in gangs, the intensity of gang activity in the area constricts their movement. Parents may not even allow kids to hang out in their own front yards, wait at bus stops they feel are too exposed, or walk too far in any direction on their own. The kids that can afford their own bikes are often afraid (or not allowed) to ride alone or stray too far from home for fear of getting jacked while riding, or worse.

Given his own upbringing in that environment and the informal mentoring he was already doing with the kids that came through YO! Watts, Partida felt he couldn’t get a bike club off the ground fast enough. At our first meeting, he laid out a million ideas for events, logo designs, group gatherings, and even a co-op – and he wanted it all to happen right away.

“Just get the kids out on bikes,” I remember telling him at the time. “Start with that. The rest will fall into place.”

That turned out to be very true. At first. Read more…

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Thanks Everyone! Next Event with Gehl Architects in Santa Monica!

Photo and cake: Amy Weiss

Photo and cake: Amy Weiss

Saturday night’s Streetsblog Los Angeles Birthday party saw over fifty people pack into the house of Amy, Jack and Jonathan Weiss to celebrate the 7th anniversary of our first article in Los Angeles.

There are too many people to thank for our ongoing success, at one point in the night we did a hand count of everyone who had contributed a story to Streetsblog, been featured in a Streetsblog story, had attended a Streetsblog event, had volunteered on one of our local boards, or had donated once before the party. By the time we were done, most people had raised their hand more than one time. It was truly as much a reunion as it was a party.

Of course, the evening wouldn’t have been possible without our amazing hosts. The Weiss family went above and beyond in their party preparation with birthday themed decorations and cake, catered food, home made sangria and just basically helped everyone have a great time.

Up next in our event calendar is an an urbanism + placemaking happy hour with Gehl Architects from 6 to 8 p.m. in Santa Monica on March 11. Snacks and drinks will be provided. Get more details and RSVP, here.

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Live.Ride.Share, L.A.’s First “Shared Mobility Conference” Comes on Monday

After you have spent the weekend celebrating Streetsblog Los Angeles’ 7th birthday party, you’ll probably be too exhausted to go to work. If that is the case, consider attending Live.Ride.Share, a conference on the future of mobility in the “share economy.” The all-day conference is currently at maximum registration, but you can find the RSVP information at the end of the story.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.00.44 PMThe Live.Ride.Share conference will bring together local and national transportation leaders to discuss both a quickly growing economic sector and the role the sharing economy can play in the changes taking place in Los Angeles-area transportation.

The conference will feature presentations, panel discussions and workshops that include locals leaders such as Mike Bonin, Michael Woo and Seleta Reynolds and state, national and international figures such as Stuart Cohen, Ben Plowden, and David Bragdon.

For me, Plowden is a particularly exciting speaker. As Director of Surface Strategy and Planning at Transport for London, he is known as the brains behind the city’s groundbreaking “cycle superhighway” plan. He will be discuss London’s strategies for enhancing cycling infrastructure and what L.A. can learn from London’s innovative approach.

To get on the waiting list for the conference, click here.