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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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CicLAvia Open Thread: It Was a Great Day for South L.A.

Members of the L.A. Real Rydaz and World Riders post up on MLK Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Members of the L.A. Real Rydaz and World Riders post up on MLK Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I am such a terrible reporter,” I texted my boss as I left Leimert Park around 4 p.m. yesterday. “All I did was talk to everyone I’ve ever met in the last three years…”

It was true. Instead of just taking in the event or snapping photos of happy participants, I went from pit stop to pit stop, seeking out the folks who were working to make sure L.A.’s re-introduction to South L.A. was a fantastically positive one.

If they weren’t busy behind the scenes, they were riding with their group, supporting the community organizations, acting as unofficial ambassadors for the area, and helping local youth access the event, as the East Side Riders Bike Club did by “picking up” students from Fremont High School on their feeder ride up from Watts.

South L.A. youth that rode with the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz to CicLAvia. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

South L.A. youth that rode to CicLAvia with the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz take a break at the Free Lots! site and chat with Sondrina Bullitt of CHC. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

And true to South L.A. advocacy fashion, just about every conversation I had assessed the day’s events, the turnout, and the work that was left to be done.

At the Free Lots! site (hosted by Community Health Councils, TRUST South L.A., Esperanza Community Housing, the Neighborhood Land Trust, Kounkuey Design Initiative, and the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN)), I talked with LURN Senior Associate Luis Gutierrez about both their efforts to see vacant lots transformed into community assets and the possibility of a cross-cultural dialogue on strengthening communities like South L.A. and Boyle Heights from within (see photos by LURN’s Rudy Espinoza, here)

Over at the Jazz Park Hub, I spoke with Reginald Johnson of the Coalition for Responsible Community Development about CRCD‘s effort to put together a Business Improvement District along Central Ave. and about the challenge of communicating South L.A.’s needs and aspirations to agencies that have little connection to the area or are reluctant to shed old stereotypes, either about its people or the community as a whole. Read more…

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Caribbean-Style Parades, Drum Processions, and Bike Rodeos, Oh My!: Here’s What’s on Tap at CicLAvia on Sunday

Ade Falade puts his bike up on the stand at the repair station outside the KAOS Network in Leimert Park as members of Black Kids on Bikes gather for their monthly ride. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ade Neff puts his bike up on the stand at the repair station near the Vision Theater in Leimert Park as members of Black Kids on Bikes gather for their monthly ride. BKoB members will be set up here to help repair bikes on Sundays. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Rain, rain stay away. Come again some other Sunday.

This Sunday, December 7, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., South L.A. will host its first CicLAvia and there is simply too much awesome stuff planned for the rain to make an appearance.

As you hopefully know by now, the route for this year’s event is anchored in two of South L.A.’s more historically significant and vibrant neighborhoods.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend's CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend’s CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

And while they are vastly different — Leimert Park is in the throes of an African-American-centric artistic and cultural renaissance while Central Ave., situated on the edge of Historic South Central proper, is now a majority-Latino community and is diligently moving forward on creating a Business Improvement District to spur economic growth along the corridor — both communities are taking the mission of helping residents and visitors alike see their neighborhoods with new eyes very seriously.

Both are also connected by Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. — which hosts the annual King Day parade every January and is flanked (on the Leimert end) by 40′ high pine trees, which were planted in honor of Dr. King.

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade last year. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade last year. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s overview, because South L.A’s greatest assets are its people — their unique identities, heritage, experiences, cultures, artistry, and aspirations, the day is going to be about much more than riding bicycles. Consider the following list (and CicLAvia’s downloadable pocket version) your formal invitation to get off your bike at a hub and stay a while. Read more…

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Community Gets Ready for Sunday’s CicLAvia: “It’s Going to Be a Good Day for South L.A.”

The East Side Riders' Ride4Love has always been about family, community, and service. Here, ESRBC co-founder Tony August-Jones brings his sons along while nephew Joshua Jones ensures they stay in the carrier. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The East Side Riders have always been about family, community, and service. Here, ESRBC co-founder Tony August-Jones brings his sons along while nephew Joshua Jones helps ensure they stay in the carrier. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It was exciting, said Community Health Council’s (CHC) Andres Ramirez Huiztek, that South L.A. would finally have the opportunity to “show [people] what CicLAvia can be” this weekend.

If you’ve attended a CicLAvia event before — a festival that spans and connects communities by temporarily closing the streets to cars and opening them to people for recreation — you might be wondering, “Which people? What kind of CicLAvia? A car-free festival really isn’t that complicated, is it?”

In theory, no.

But, in practice — particularly in the planning of the expansion to new communities — it can be.

As CicLAvia organizers and volunteers have learned while putting together events in Boyle Heights/East L.A. and South L.A., communities that have long been marginalized by the city often have different relationships with their streets and different ideas about what it means to be “livable.” And as these communities often consider their people — their unique identities, heritage, shared experiences, cultures, and aspirations — to be their greatest assets, they are adamant that they be seen as more than just a space people will move through. They want to be respected as partners in the planning of how their streets will be re-purposed for the day. And they want to see themselves reflected in the framing of the event and the messaging around it, both so the event feels welcoming to community members unfamiliar with it and to ensure the community is adequately and accurately represented to potential visitors.

In this way, CicLAvia seems to be transitioning from being an “open streets” event to a kind of “open communities” festival. And while that process is not without its growing pains, the unique opportunity it affords neighborhoods to re-introduce themselves to Angelenos on their own terms may help bridge some of the deep divides that mark what can be a surprisingly segregated city.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend's CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend’s CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

At least, I hope so.

For South L.A., that means a chance to counter persistent negative stereotypes by introducing people to the diversity and vibrancy of the neighborhoods that comprise the area, showcasing their powerful artistic heritage and the artists carrying those (and new) legacies forward, and shining a light on those community heroes who have tirelessly worked to strengthen their communities from within.

For South L.A. native and advocate-extraordinaire Tafarai Bayne, this day has been a long time coming. Read more…

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Residents Plan to Oppose Expanded Drilling at Jefferson-Budlong Site at Zoning Hearing Today

Pipelines emanating from the drill site at Jefferson/Budlong.

Pipelines emanating from the drill site at Jefferson/Budlong. PXP, the previous operator was acquired by current operator, Freeport-McMoRan.

Over the course of a lengthy conversation yesterday, Rizgar Ghazi, head of permitting at the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), explained that part of the delay on the decision regarding embattled lead-acid battery recycler Exide’s petition for a formal operating permit was that Exide had to first draft an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

The months it would take for both the EIR to be drafted and reviewed and for the DTSC to conduct painstaking inspections of the plant, he assured me, would help ensure that Exide was in compliance with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and that the risk to surrounding communities would (finally) be minimized.

Contrast this highly flawed (particularly in the case of Exide, which has operated for over a decade on an interim permit) but somewhat transparent process with the one that guides permitting for oil drilling and well stimulation.

As the many concerned West Adams residents who will be on hand at 1 p.m. today to protest Freeport-McMoRan’s (FMOG) quest for a CEQA exemption from the City Zoning Administrator to expand operations at their Jefferson and Budlong site already know, the cards are very much stacked in favor of the operators. The residents vehemently disagree with FMOG’s declaration that drilling one new well and re-drilling two existing wells will not “have a significant effect on the environment” and do not wish to have any more wells added to the eleven already in operation on site, all of which also were exempt from CEQA.

For the uninitiated, the purpose of CEQA is (among other things) to alert the public to the significant environmental effects of a proposed project and prevent or minimize damage to the environment via development of project alternatives, mitigation measures, and mitigation monitoring. Until last year, even the implementation of some bicycle lanes required the drafting of an EIR and a lengthy public process.

In the case of oil drilling, however, as long as the applicant is in compliance with the “authorized activities” previously approved for a site, operators can generally forego the public hearing or EIR process in favor of an administrative review process. Because the drilling of new wells is not seen as a change to the land use or a modification to pre-existing entitlements, a review process is not triggered. And this remains true regardless of the technique (fracking, acidization, etc.) utilized, the thousands of pounds of acids and other hazardous materials/waste that must be trucked in and out of a site and through communities, the pollution generated by the hundreds of trucks that transport the water and other materials, the (potentially contaminated) dust that gets kicked up on site, the land that must be cleared, the millions of gallons of water contaminated in the process, the number of times a well must be fractured to complete drilling, or the potential for earthquakes as a result of drilling.

And while it is true that the majority of oil districts were established well before CEQA was even a twinkle in environmentalists’ eyes, drilling operators, oil and gas lobbyists, the Department of Conservation’s (DoC) regulatory agency, the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), and even the state have continued to work actively to guard the right of operators to remain exempt from it. Read more…

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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…