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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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Eyes on the Street: Avalon/Gage Pocket Park Continues to Take Shape

The pocket park at Avalon and Gage takes shape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The pocket park at Avalon and Gage takes shape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As much as I genuinely adore South L.A., I have to admit it isn’t always the sparkliest of places.

Years of neglect by the city, a lack of investment in infrastructure, the seemingly haphazard zoning (or lack of enforcement of codes) that allows for toxic enterprises to set up shop in residential areas, and rampant dumping mean that even the most beautiful of older buildings and streets can seem somewhat drab and run down.

So, it was fun to see such a bright pop of color (above) appear at a traffic island at Avalon and Gage recently.

The space is soon to be a pocket park, courtesy of parks-oriented non-profit the Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT). It will feature playground equipment, fitness equipment, seating and tables, pedestrian lighting, and new trees and plants.

They broke ground on the park in May of this year and planned to complete construction this year, although it appears as though it may not be finished before early 2015.

The plans for the new parklet at Avalon and Gage. Courtesy of the Neighborhood Land Trust.

The plans for the new parklet at Avalon and Gage. Courtesy of the Neighborhood Land Trust.

Read more…

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Beyond the Gates: USC Planning Students Build Ties with Communities through Tours

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Planning students from USC’s Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles listen to Frederick Buggs, Sr., of the East Side Riders BC discuss some of the history of Pancho’s Bakery and what it meant to him as a kid growing up in the area. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call asking me to help someone interested in journalism put together a tour in South L.A.

I immediately found myself getting anxious. Tours into lower-income areas can be a touchy thing, depending on who wants to do the tour, what their intentions and expectations are, who leads it, what the focus is, who the group connects with, how interactions are handled, and so forth.

So, when people ask me about getting to know an area, I usually prefer to steer them towards jumping in feet first and doing volunteer work in schools, participating in community events, or just spending time there.

But it doesn’t mean that tours can’t have value, especially if their objective is to make people comfortable enough to begin to build a longer-term relationship with a community.

That seems to be the idea behind the Beyond the Gates program launched in this past spring by Alison Spindler, then-president of the Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles (PELA), a student organization at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

The PELA students feared that the gates erected around the perimeter of USC following the horrific killing of two international students in April of 2012 would deepen the physical and social disconnect between the university and the surrounding community. Given that that divide was emblematic of the very barriers to equity and social justice they hoped to dismantle through their work in planning, policy, and development, they felt they would have to be the ones to take the first steps toward closing that gap.

Read more…

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Filed Under: D’oh! City Stamps Out Safety-Enhancing DIY Effort in Silver Lake, Leaves Massive Gang Signs in Place in South Central

Undisclosed Silver Lake intersection. Photo by Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Intersection at Effie and Hyperion in Silver Lake. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last month, I sent a photo illustrating some of the new designs that had popped up at Effie and Hyperion in Silver Lake (above) to Joe and Damien.

Joe, without disclosing the location, posted it to Streetsblog with a brief accompanying explanation.

As he noted, the intersection has seen various DIY interventions. The painting of the chunks of cement — which has been going on for years now — seems to have been part of an effort by the neighbors to get people to slow down on the side streets. Cars have had a tendency to fly up and down Hyperion, which serves as a sort of back-door connector between Sunset Bl. and Fountain Ave (where it turns into Hyperion) and faster than the adjacent Griffith Park Bl., which has stop signs every few blocks.

Other interventions I’ve seen have included bollards at the stop signs with fun signage (below).

The Department of DIY takes things into their own hands to make streets safer for bikes and pedestrians at Hyperion and Effie in Silverlake (sahra/LA Streetsblog)

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me on the day the sign read, “Are you Tracy Chapman? No? Then, no fast car!” Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ever efficient when it sniffs out fun and safety-enhancing DIY interventions, the city repainted the intersection in soul-killing shades of gray some time last week (below).

50 shades of sadness reign at Effie and Hyperion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

50 shades of sadness reign at Effie and Hyperion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I find this turn of events disturbing for a few reasons.

For one, the paint was apparently deemed so troubling it could not stand, but the deep cracks and uneven pavement, which constitute genuine safety hazards for cyclists, skateboarders, and pedestrians (particularly those pushing children in strollers or using wheelchairs) trying to navigate the awkwardly sloped hill and its poorly marked pedestrian crossings and stops, are not a problem.

Second, the colorful paint — again, meant as a fun way to enhance safety and located a quarter of a mile from the blindingly green Sunset Triangle Plaza — was somehow more threatening than the gang signs painted in the middle of the intersection at 23rd and Trinity that I wrote about last year.

What’s that you say?

Allow me to explain. Read more…

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Days of Dialogue Opens Conversation on Police-Community Relations in South L.A., Gets an Earful

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Friends and family members of Ezell Ford shoot a music video decrying police brutality. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

Dialogue was great, said a young man from Youth Justice Coalition as we left the Days of Dialogue on Police-Community Relations in the Aftermath of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown event held at Dr. Maya Angelou High School in South L.A. last night, but what he cared about was action.

It seemed to be a sentiment shared by many of the approximately 200 people that participated in the conversation hosted by 9th District City Councilmember Curren Price and Days of Dialogue, an organization founded in 1995, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

The sentiment was particularly strong among the youth. They see themselves reflected in the cases of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Omar Abrego (a graphic video of Abrego on the ground can be seen here) and, most recently, Clifford Alford, the young man mistakenly identified as a potential robbery suspect and brutally beaten by police while handcuffed on October 16, just two blocks from the school where the event was held. And they are tired of fearing that they could be next.

But these frustrations with law enforcement and fears of being victimized by those who feel at liberty to abuse their authority are nothing new.

When Patricia, the facilitator at the table where I sat with a dozen community members, asked us to give voice some of these concerns, she didn’t have to ask twice.

Helen, an African-American woman in her 70s and a life-long resident of South L.A., related a story about having stopped to ask the police for directions because she was lost only to have them run her plates instead.

“I didn’t ask them for that,” she said wryly.

She then went on to describe how her mother had sat her and her siblings down while they were still little kids to tell them that, because of the color of their skin, they would always have to make sure to move slowly and keep their hands visible at all times when interacting with the police.

For another young African-American mother at the table, those lessons still resonate today. During a recent routine traffic stop, she said, she had panicked and stepped out of the car with her hands up, announcing that there were babies inside.

“Kids move so fast and they’re not good at keeping still,” she explained. She had been afraid that any sudden movements the kids made might have prompted officers to open fire first and ask questions later (as happened recently in South Carolina, when a trooper shot a man after instructing him to retrieve his license).

To someone who has never experienced profiling or had a negative encounter with law enforcement, those sorts of reactions might seem like paranoia or even bias on the part of the speakers. For the participants in the dialogue, however, it was clear their apprehension and distrust might be better described as a trained response to years’ and years’ worth of, as participants put it, being “terrorized,” “pre-judged,” “abused,” “disrespected,” “harassed,” and “left unprotected” by officers. Read more…

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Leimert Park People St. Plaza Set for Soft Opening at December CicLAvia

Detail of People St. Plaza plan and the Sankhofa symbol -- one of many designs that stakeholders hope to use to fill the polka dots that will grace the plaza. Plaza design: Kendall Planning + Design

The People St. Plaza plan for 43rd Pl in Leimert Park and the Sankofa symbol — one of many designs that stakeholders hope to use to fill the polka dots that will grace the plaza. The Metro station for the Crenshaw Line will be just a few hundred feet away. Plaza design: Kendall Planning + Design (click to enlarge)

On my way to a meeting of the Leimert Park Village stakeholders at the Vision Theater a few weeks ago, I poked my head into the art space known as the KAOS Network looking for founder and artist Ben Caldwell.

I found him huddled around a table with Sherri Franklin, the founder of Urban Design Center, and Alison Kendall, Principal Architect at Kendall Planning + Design (both of whom worked on the project pro-bono), finalizing the designs for Leimert Park’s People St. plaza project to be implemented at 43rd Pl. between Leimert Park Bl. and Degnan.

As Kendall and Franklin discussed the color scheme and the type and placement of street furniture and foliage around the perimeter, Caldwell scrolled through images of symbols that they hoped to use to fill in the polka dots that would grace the plaza. It was coming down to the wire, Kendall said, as she flipped through the pages of the plan. They needed to get their design specifications in to LADOT for approval so that the plaza would be ready in time for a soft opening at CicLAvia on December 7.

Watching them go back and forth over which elements would fit within LADOT’s standard kit offerings provided a hint of the effort it had taken to pull the proposal together.

Stakeholders had first needed to find a “community partner” (in this case, the Institute for Maximum Human Potential) who could provide insurance for the plaza, aid with the design, and take responsibility for the financing, maintenance, and programming around the project. Then they needed to gather signatures and letters of support, pull together a budget and list of potential plaza-centric activities, and design the space in a way that felt organic to the community but fit within the standard options that LADOT was offering (see more about the development of the project and the Thought Leadership Team here).

While they had embraced the idea of putting together a People St. project, they had been adamant that they wanted it to reflect the character and culture of the community. It also had to fit into their “20/20 Vision” — the longer-term strategy for the future named, in part, for the year the Leimert Park station of the Crenshaw Line is expected to open. Read more…

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Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. Read more…

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Construction Updates, the Naming of Stations, and More at Tonight’s Meeting on the Crenshaw Line

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.53.06 AMThe Crenshaw Leadership Council (CLC) will be holding their quarterly meeting on the progress of the Crenshaw/LAX line tonight from 6 – 8 p.m. at Dulan’s on Crenshaw (4859 Crenshaw Boulevard).

The meeting will provide updates from the work of the small groups, or PODs (Project Oriented Discussions), the CLC supports — Small Business Resources, Economic Development, Transit-Oriented Development, and Safety.

You will also have the opportunity to learn about Metro’s station naming policy and offer feedback on the station names currently under consideration. Should the stations be named after a neighborhood? A landmark structure? A historic figure? A living one (don’t laugh — Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky might just get their own stops)? Drop by the meeting to offer your thoughts and get some soul food while you’re at it.

Finally, the meeting will provide updates on construction, including the upcoming 2-week closure at Crenshaw Bl. and Rodeo Rd. Read more…

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Oct. 9, South L.A. Advocates Discuss Civic Action and Community Voice in South L.A. on Visions and Voices Panel at USC

Flier for the October 9th Visions and Voices event at USC focusing on South L.A.

Flier for the October 9th Visions and Voices event at USC focusing on South L.A. Click to enlarge.

This coming October 9, at 6 p.m., I will be participating in a panel on Civic Action and Community Voice in South L.A. as part of USC’s Visions and Voices series.

Visions and Voices is the dynamic arts and humanities initiative established in 2006. The goal was to feature critically acclaimed artists and distinguished speakers, theatrical productions, music and dance performances, film screenings, lectures, and workshops on a variety of themes to challenge the USC community to expand their perspectives, become world-class citizens, and make a positive impact throughout the world.

Given the changes sparked by USC’s expansion of its physical footprint in South L.A. and how the desire for a secure campus has exacerbated tensions between the campus community and the longer-term residents in the process (see here, here, here), it seems like an appropriate moment for the program to take a closer look at its relationship with the community it calls home.

The organizers — Annenberg professors Alison Trope and Robeson Taj Frazier and post-doctoral scholar George Villanueva — have put together three events on South L.A. for the 2014-15 season.

The first will look at community building in and around USC and South Los Angeles, with a focus on movements and organizations that are responding to the disparities and injustices that structure life in South L.A. Speakers will include Alberto Retana, the Executive Vice President of grassroots organization extraordinaire Community Coalition (see our recent coverage of them here), Francisco Ortega, the immigration-policy advisor and South L.A. policy advisor for the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, Erin Aubry Kaplan, a journalist and columnist who writes about African American life in Los Angeles for a variety of outlets, and me, the Communities Editor for South L.A. and Boyle Heights here at Streetsblog L.A. Read more…

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South L.A. Power Fest Illustrates Successful Placemaking Requires Deep Community Roots

"We are only as strong as our weakest link." Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth at Community Coalition. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“We are only as strong as our weakest link.” Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth at Community Coalition. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“We are only as strong as our weakest link,” youth leader Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth participating in the South Central Youth Empowered through Action (SCYEA) program at Community Coalition (CoCo).

“So, if you’re feeling weak, step into the center of the circle.”

Much to my surprise, a dozen students ranging from 14 to 18 years old move into a huddle in the middle and immediately link arms. Those left on the outside circle cheer them on and pledge their support before the circle collapses in a massive group hug.

It was an uplifting way to end what had been a long day for them — it was now well after 7 p.m. and the youth had come to CoCo directly after school so they could get a snack, do their homework, and pound the pavement in the surrounding neighborhoods to promote this weekend’s South L.A. Power Fest at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

I was there because I had wanted to do the door-knocking outreach with the SCYEA youth.

Much like when Erick Huerta and I assisted CicLAvia with door-knocking in Boyle Heights, I was looking to hear directly from community members about how they saw their neighborhood and their relationship with the public space. I spend enough time in South L.A. to feel like I know the needs and concerns pretty well, but its important to continue to check in and listen, especially as the area grows and changes.

It seems even more important to listen to the youth from the area — like those CoCo had tasked with doing the outreach as part of their leadership training — who often feel constraints on their mobility in the public space most acutely.

So, I was thrilled when CoCo gave me the OK to tag along with their door-knockers last week.

Doing outreach with Community Coalition youth Raymond and Antoine. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Doing outreach with Community Coalition youth Raymond Davis and Antoine Johnson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Besides being really cool youth, it was clear that they knew the issues well, cared about engaging neighbors, and were sincere in wanting residents to come out to the event.

As we canvassed an area near Manual Arts High School on 41st St., Raymond Davis (above, left) would announce he was a sophomore there, that he knew the concerns of the community, and that he wanted a place for kids to be able to play where parents wouldn’t have to be fearful for their safety.

The festival would have something for everyone, he would continue, including a job and other resources tent, information on healthcare enrollment, cooking demonstrations, food trucks, music, zumba, and an artivist (artists + activism) tent where local artists will share their work and contributions to social justice.

“I don’t like that park,” one man said, scowling as he turned the event flyer over in his fingers. Read more…

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Ticketing of Ovarian Psyco Sparks Questions About How Group Rides Should Manage Safety

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A ride marshal from Clitoral Mass is ticketed for running a red light. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

On Saturday’s Clitoral Mass ride with the Ovarian Psyco-Cycles, one of the ride marshals had a run-in with the police.

I did not witness the event, but was told by multiple sources (including one of the officers) that the Ovas had blocked traffic so that riders could continue through a red light on 7th St. in the Skid Row section of downtown. When the officers moved into the intersection to stem the flow of riders, one of the marshals went around the car. She was subsequently pulled over and cited.

Witnesses felt the officers had been a little overzealous, with the female officer nearly knocking the rider over with her door, and both preferring to hand the rider a full-fledged ticket rather than the warning she asked for.

By the time I arrived a few minutes later, the female officer was already writing the ticket out.

The exchanges between the officers and the riders were calm and courteous, with the male officer freely offering his name and badge number to those who requested it and neither officer seeming to be perturbed by the fact that they were being recorded by several people with cellphones.

That doesn’t mean the organizers and supporters of the ride weren’t frustrated, of course.

While the officers had likely felt obligated to do something about the blocking of traffic because it happened right in front of them, they could have just given the ride marshal a warning. But they made it explicit that they were choosing not to do so in this case.

I finally approached one of the officers and asked what the solution to this kind of situation was. Read more…