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South LA

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

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Leimert Park People St Plaza Opens; Stakeholders Debate Building a Cultural Center

Leimert Park Village's People St Plaza officially opened for business this past weekend. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Leimert Park Village’s People St Plaza officially opened for business this past weekend. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Don’t tell anybody I’m using these,” Councilmember Herb Wesson said of the blue art scissors he wielded as the moment came to cut the ribbon on Leimert Park Village’s People St Plaza project this past Saturday.

The enormous pair of wooden scissors held by Institute for Maximum Human Potential President/CEO Delores Brown — the fiscal sponsor of the plaza project — were only ceremonial.

The cutting of the ribbon on the People St Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The cutting of the ribbon on the People St Plaza. Councilmember Wesson is flanked by (l-r) Johnnie Raines, Empowerment Congress West (ECWA) member-at-large, ECWA Chair Danielle Lafayette, Institute for Maximum Human Potential President/CEO Delores Brown, Leimert Park Art Walk co-founder Ben Caldwell, LADOT GM Seleta Reynolds, Director of Special Projects for the Dept. of Cultural Affairs James Burks, Urban Design Center founder Sherri Franklin, Manager/Program Director of Great Streets, Nat Gale, and Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The ribbon-cutting marked the end of the first stage in a long process for Leimert Park Village stakeholders.

A year and a half prior, at the first community-wide design charette, they had talked about the possibility of converting part of 43rd Pl. into a plaza space.

With the Leimert Park Metro station due to be finished in the next few years, they had felt the time for deciding what face they wanted to present to the world was now.

Situated directly in front of the beautiful Vision Theater, the KAOS Network, and part of Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice campus, the site looked to be the perfect anchor for the rebranding of the community as a hub for black creatives and the celebration of the African diaspora. Read more…

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Saturday! Leimert Park Celebrates 2nd Annual 20|20 Vision Charette with People St Plaza Launch

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson -- "chain link" -- at bottom right) and "Except for God" (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Adinkra symbols for Unity and Human Relations (Nkonsonkonson — “chain link” — at bottom right) and “Except for God” (Gye Nyame), intended as a nod to the spirituality of the Ghanaian people (the symbol is prevalent there) have already been painted on a few dots in the Plaza. The Plaza officially opens this Saturday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It is noon on a Monday.

The weekly Leimert Park Village (LPV) stakeholders meeting has just finished, and Sherri Franklin, founder of the Urban Design Center, and Romerol Malveaux, former Field Director for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, are leading a small group of people on a walk around the village streets.

Map in hand, Franklin is taking note of existing issues with the sidewalks, trees (or lack of), pedestrian lighting, planters, and street furniture. The notes will be used to help determine how the Prop 1C dollars Leimert Park received should be deployed to improve the streetscape.

It’s not an altogether uncommon scene.

Since the launch of the Leimert Park Village Stakeholders 20|20 Vision Initiative in January 2014, it seems there is always work to be done.

The 20|20 Vision Initiative was born out of the LPV stakeholders’ desire to harness the change the Leimert Park station will bring to the area when the Crenshaw/LAX rail line is completed in 2020. The nearly 200 stakeholders in attendance focused on developing an overarching vision for the area and what they would need to do to make that vision a reality. Participants debated how to make Leimert Park a destination, deepen relationships with sister cities or communities, attract investors looking to build partnerships with local artists and cultural caretakers, support black creatives and foster development from within the community, and the possibility of turning the space in front of the Vision Theater into a car-free plaza.

Since that initial charette, LPV stakeholders have been meeting every Monday morning to hone those plans and move forward on their implementation.

A year and a half later, their People St Plaza project is set to open in a ceremony this Saturday, June 27, at 2 p.m.

But instead of the Plaza symbolizing the end of the journey and cause to take a breath, it seems more like a beginning. Or maybe a benchmark. But definitely not an end. To wit, the ceremony will be taking place during a break for those attending tomorrow’s Second Annual LPV 20|20 Vision Initiative Charette, “Harnessing Our Cultural Economy.” Read more…

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Ron Finley’s Da FUNction Kicks Off Effort to Transform South L.A. Food Landscape

Support for the transformation of the state of South L.A.’s food landscape seems to be gaining some traction.

As we noted two weeks ago, food justice crusaders Community Services Unlimited will be opening an organic produce market, cafe, and community gathering space in the coming months to fill the much-needed gap in healthy options in the area.

It’s a cause that even Aloe Blacc was able to get behind, as seen in the video below.

But CSU is not the only one looking to improve the food landscape in the area.

Self-described “gangsta gardener” Ron Finley — the man whose quest to create a “food forest” in the parkways outside his South L.A. home eventually led to a city ordinance allowing the curbside planting of produce — has his own project targeting the Vermont Square public library.

The library, located at 48th and Budlong Streets, sits on a rather large parcel of land that is underutilized. While the area immediately behind the library is sometimes used as a makeshift soccer field on summer evenings (thanks to the outdoor lighting), the grassy area beyond it tends to be used primarily by homeless folks.

Google maps view of the Vermont Square library. The proposed garden would go behind the library (sitting at bottom, right). The library also sits adjacent to a park which is already a gathering space for the community.

Google maps view of the Vermont Square library. The proposed garden would go behind the library (sitting at bottom, right). The library also sits adjacent to a park. Activation of the library land might help keep the park more active, too.

Hoping to make the space more active and accessible for all, Finley has re-envisioned the space as one hosting a garden, possibly a cafe, and ongoing health-oriented activities. To launch his effort to bring this vision to life, he is hosting (together with the L.A. Design Festival) a day of fun at the site. Read more…

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Activist Profile: Tafarai Bayne

Tafarai Bayne, then with T.R.U.S.T. South L.A. takes in a mural along the RideSouthLA route before a ride in 2012. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

South L.A. community organizer and streets advocate extraordinaire Tafarai Bayne was often seen exploring the vast landscape of Los Angeles on “The Flash,” his recently retired bicycle.

Despite The Flash’s retirement, Bayne’s passion for the cycling community remains a prevalent aspect in his work.

On December 7th, 2014, Bayne was joined by tens of thousands of Angelenos as CicLAvia cycled through South L.A. neighborhoods, from Leimert Park to Central Avenue via Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard.

CicLAvia’s South L.A. route was a monumental event for multiple reasons: not only was it the first CicLAvia held through and for South L.A. communities, it was also the first route that Bayne had a strong hand in planning and executing after helping plan the event in previous years.

“The route in December was the culmination of years of work that I and some good friends/allies started in 2010 after I got the chance to attend the first CicLAvia,” wrote Bayne.

In association with TRUST South L.A., Bayne approached Joe Linton, then an organizer for CicLAvia (and currently the editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles). Despite Linton’s warnings of a lengthy planning process (written about by Streetsblog L.A.’s Sahra Sulaiman here) — one that ultimately lasted about four years — Bayne was determined to bring the cycling event to his community.

His interest in elevating communities like South L.A. had begun at an early age.

Born in Watts, Bayne was raised in the city’s Crenshaw District. As a student at Downtown Business Magnet, he often found himself navigating Los Angeles on city buses to get to classes held in downtown spaces. He credits the combination of his upbringing and the commutes that allowed him to experience the ambiance of multiple neighborhoods with giving him a lens to think critically about his city and the number of ways in which communities like South L.A. were often overlooked.

It was teacher-turned-UTLA secretary, Daniel Barnhart, that helped him think about how to channel his passion for social justice and the advancement of his community into advocacy.

“I was introduced by [Barnhart] to the idea of advocacy and community organizing,” said Bayne. “He’s an organizer for the teachers’ union now, but at the time he was going to the [1999 World Trade Organization] protests in Seattle. He’d come back and show us his gas masks and talk [to us] about challenging what people were perceiving as unjust, unfair laws. People weren’t getting a say on how things were being decided or on the impacts they were feeling. This really got me thinking about engaging in Los Angeles.”

Now attuned to the significance of public policy, Bayne didn’t wait long to test out what he’d learned. After graduating high school, he volunteered at the “Convergence Center” at the 2000 Democratic National Convention — the gathering site for protesters and community organizers from around the country. He then went on to intern with Public Allies. It was through this internship that Bayne was placed at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), where he was brought on board, first, as an intern and then as full-time staff. Bayne later found himself returning to Public Allies and, finally, spending seven years working at TRUST South L.A., an organization that addresses affordable housing (and, more recently, mobility) challenges in South L.A., and shifting his attention toward urban planning. Read more…

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Rosa Parks Station on Track to Complete Environmental Review Process, Finalize Station Design

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

If you’ve ever tried to navigate the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook station, either to transfer between the Blue and Green Lines or to catch one of the nearly dozen buses that connect with the station, you know it isn’t the most user-friendly place.

Not only do the narrow stairs connecting the two platforms (used by 78% of all 30,000+ passengers that pass through the station daily) create a natural bottleneck, in combination with impatient Sheriffs, families with strollers, cyclists with bikes, and glitchy TAP validators, they can facilitate human traffic jams that inhibit people’s ability to transfer to transit.

Moreover, the narrow Blue Line platform can be quite crowded and uncomfortable in the heat of the day.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A calm moment at the transfer point between the Blue and Green Lines at the Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. Depending on the season and time of day, the Blue Line platform can be bathed in sun and very, very crowded. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is aiming to change all that with the (proposed) construction of a more open and welcoming community-oriented transit center it believes will be an asset to the neighborhood.

The revamped station will better connect transit riders to nearby education, cultural, health, commercial, and recreational resources via a Mobility Hub (and Bike Hub), more comfortable waiting areas and more sheltering canopies, improved pedestrian circulation via a new Transit Hall, a reconfiguration of the bus depot area, a new southern at-grade entrance to the Blue Line, and upgrades to the lighting, signage, landscaping, stairs, elevators, and escalators (see the project fact sheet here).

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: JGM)

The station will also feature a Sheriff’s facility, Metro Customer Service Center (to better serve lower-income riders), better integration with the Kenneth Hahn Plaza (KHP) shopping center to the south, and possibly a cafe.

Via a rendering from Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc. and design architects Hodgetts + Fung, it appears passengers will also enjoy a much more enticing, well-lit, and well-signaled connection to the Green Line under the 105 freeway (below). Read more…

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Community Services Unlimited Set to Launch Organic Market in South L.A.

Students from Lincoln Heights and South L.A. finish up their morning work session in CSU's urban farm at the Expo Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Students from Lincoln Heights and South L.A. finish up their morning work session in CSU’s urban farm at the Expo Center. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When talking with neighbors along south Vermont Ave. a few weeks ago about the potential redevelopment of the lots at Manchester, the amenity residents were most excited about was the arrival of a grocery store.

Having something within walking distance was one reason — most of the folks I spoke with struggled with finding transportation to get to the store and lacked the means to be able to stock up on groceries in bulk when they did make the trip. But the other reason was that they felt the nearest grocery stores tended to have poor produce on offer for unreasonably high prices. So much so that, when they had the opportunity, many would travel miles away to more well-to-do neighborhoods just to have access to better options.

That reality is just part of what will make Community Services Unlimited‘s (CSU) new venture such a welcome addition to the community.

The long-standing South L.A. food-justice organization recently put down an offer on the Paul Robeson Center building and, in line with their motto, “Serving the people, body and soul,” are looking to convert the historic space into a model of sustainability and a health hub for the community.

This weekend’s party/fundraiser is part of their effort to raise funds to cover the down payment and costs of building out the first floor of the building, according to Executive Director Neelam Sharma. Plans for the first phase include a grocery market space to sell organic produce, herbs, jams, and their line of Beyond Organic products, and a kitchen where they can prepare their produce bags and host cooking demonstrations.

Attendees at CSU's Earth Day South L.A. celebrations take in a cooking demonstration run by Heather Fenney Alexander. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Attendees at CSU’s Earth Day South L.A. celebrations take in a cooking demonstration run by Heather Fenney Alexander. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Other plans for the site include an urban farm (where they can continue offering free gardening workshops), solar panels on the roof, a rooftop garden, a community space to be activated with daily health and wellness activities, offices and a gathering space for the youth from their From the Ground Up internship program, a few rooms that could potentially be set aside to serve as shelter for youth in need of a temporary space to stay, and a café. Read more…

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City Unveils First Serious Draft Plan to Address Sidewalk Repair. Public Is Split.

Following a legal settlement in the summer of 2014, Angelenos have been waiting on the city to finally announce its plan to bring the city’s sidewalks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Over three quarters of a year later, the city has released its draft plan, and the City Council is planning a series of public meetings to bring this plan to the public. The plan is available on the City Clerk’s website and here at Scribd.

Even if the city fixed the cracks, this sidewalk on Alameda is not ADA compliant. No wheelchair could fit past this obstacle course. Photo: Roger Rudick

Even if the city fixed the cracks, this sidewalk on Alameda is not ADA compliant. No wheelchair could fit past this obstacle course. Photo: Roger Rudick

The first of these meetings is a traditional City Council Committee hearing, albeit with two committees in attendance. However, the chairs of the Budget and Finance Committee (Paul Krekorian) and Gangs and Public Works Committee (Joe Buscaino) are already planning a series of public workshops on the plan to be held throughout the city.

“This is a critically important issue for all Angelenos,” said Krekorian in a press statement. “We have an opportunity and obligation to move beyond piecemeal legislation and create a complete program to fix our broken sidewalks. This new report won’t be the final program, but it’s a good way to begin what will be a long, very public discussion. We want to hear from all residents and stakeholders so that we can come up with the best and fairest policy possible.”

As part of its legal settlement last year, the City pledged to spend $1.4 billion over the next three decades to retrofit the city’s sidewalks to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Estimates vary over how many miles of city sidewalks need reconstruction, but there is little doubt that the decrepit and crumbling sidewalk infrastructure, along with a noticeable lack of curb cuts in many parts of the city, are the largest barriers to creating walkable communities.

The plan itself is proving somewhat controversial for what some see as a double standard between how businesses and homeowners are treated.*** Read more…

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Planning and Programming Committee Recommends Metro Board Take Next Steps on Rail-to-River ATC

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On October 23, 2014, the Metro Board of Directors voted to adopt the Rail to River Intermediate Active Transportation Corridor (ATC) Feasibility Study and directed staff to identify funding for full implementation of the project. The Board also authorized $2,850,000 be put towards facilitating the environmental, design, alternative route analysis, and outreach work required for the project to move forward and requested the staff report back in May of 2015.

At this past Wednesday’s Planning and Programming Committee meeting, the committee filed the requested report detailing recommendations that the Board take the next steps of applying for grants from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant (TIGER) program and the state Active Transportation Program (ATP). To facilitate the application process, staff also requested the Board authorize an allocation of $10.8 million in hard match funds in time to make the grant programs’ June 1 and June 5 deadlines.

The report suggests the Rail-to-River project has the potential to be very competitive.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), it will eventually 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.

First proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, it has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

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 visuals included in last year’s feasibility study divide the project into two phases (to be implemented concurrently). The central segment runs along Metro’s ROW on Slauson, eventually connecting with the Crenshaw line, to the west, and possibly the river, on the east.

But it isn’t going to come all that cheaply. Read more…

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Healthy Kids Zone: Schools at the Center of Healthy Communities

Bike Month is here and rides and panels are in abundance. Though the anchor of the month is Bike to Work Day, let’s make some room for the youth and talk a bit about why so many kids don’t ride their bikes to school anymore.

A myriad of environmental factors can affect a student’s experience in the classroom even before the school day begins. For example, many Los Angeles neighborhoods are unsafe for walking and biking and saturated with unhealthy food choices contributing to elevated rates of preventable diet and exercise related diseases like obesity and diabetes. A lack of amenities, such as parks and open space, and a disconnect from the health care system further reinforce these problems.

To address these issues, Community Health Councils (CHC) has been developing a Healthy Kids Zone (HKZ) pilot project to position schools as centers of healthy communities. The HKZ project is a pioneer effort in Los Angeles and nationwide with an unprecedented scope that bolsters grassroots efforts to improve school community health and safety with citywide policy.

Healthy Kids Zone graphic

Healthy Kids Zone graphic

K-12 schools have always been considered centers of learning and socialization in our neighborhoods. Our children experience many “firsts” at school, like friendships, fist fights, and fractions. Schools host sports events and musical and theatrical performances, polling places and community meetings. They are natural neighborhood hubs, where the community’s youth come together. An HKZ builds on the natural role of schools in communities by applying higher standards of development and enforcement guidelines to designated areas in the communities surrounding high-need schools.

HKZs are designed to improve well-being for young people and the surrounding community as a whole through the improvement of five key health improvement categories:

  • nutrition,
  • physical activity,
  • environmental health,
  • safety, and
  • health services.

CHC has identified these categories as having direct impact on the health of students and school communities before and after school hours. The project has been developed in conjunction with a multi-sectoral advisory committee team representing organizations with expertise in the health improvement categories. This past spring the HKZ concept and pilot implementation project were included in the City’s first ever general plan health element, Plan for a Healthy LA, providing high-level citywide policy support for the project.  Read more…

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How a More Inclusive Bike Week Can Help Move Us toward “Bike Life”

Stalin, Hugo, and an apprentice at the Watts Cyclery keep Watts moving for as little money as possible. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Stalin, Hugo, an apprentice, and the Watts Cyclery kitty keep Watts moving for as little money as possible. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I can honestly say my faith in humanity has been restored today,” Joey said Wednesday as we popped his back tire back on his bike and I packed up my patch kit. “If I ever see you in the street again, I promise I’ll pay you back somehow.”

His declaration was quite sincere. He was worried that his boss was going to be upset at how late he was. He was still 20+ minutes away from the tire shop on Western where he worked, on foot, and he didn’t have fare for the bus or train on him. He was kind of bummed because the bike was new, too. A car making a hard right without warning had tossed both him and his previous bike into the air. He managed to walk away from the incident OK. The bike, not so much. He couldn’t afford to see this one damaged.

“I don’t even know what I hit,” he had said when I first spotted him walking his bike along Exposition Blvd. “I had been watching for glass…”

Glass wasn’t the issue this time. When we flipped the bike over and took a look at the wheel, we found a twisted industrial staple that I ended up having to yank out with my teeth after the embedded section broke off inside the tire.

“Here,” I tossed him my patch kit. “Grab one of the smaller patches and the glue while I find the hole in the tube.”

“Cool,” he nodded. “I was just going to fix it at work [with a patch for car tires].”

The imperfect fix he had planned did not surprise me. Like the majority of the folks whose tires I’ve stopped to patch in South L.A. (something that happens, on average, every other week), he was riding out of necessity, and something as basic as a popped tire could impinge on both his budget for the month (it’s a $6 to $8 fix at local shops) and his ability to get from A to B in a timely way.

Joey was fortunate in that, aside from the cheap and slightly-loose-on-the-rim tires, his bike was rather solid. Too many of the lower-income commuters I’ve spoken with are not riding on such reliable steeds.

Such as the youth whose crank kept coming loose at inopportune times and causing him to fall over in the street, occasionally in front of cars. Or the youth on the road bike with broken brakes who was wearing holes into the bottom of his shoes after he resigned himself to braking Fred Flintstone-style. Or the numerous men and youth whose rims have been damaged by collisions with cars but who couldn’t afford new wheels. Or the school kid whose rim snakebit his tube beyond repair and who cried on the phone when his mom said that was the end of his days of biking to school. Or the young man whose valve detached from the tube when we tried to fix his flat and who got a loaner tube from a friend on the condition he try to scrape together the $3 to buy one from a nearby sidewalk bike vendor as soon as possible. Or Watts resident Marcus, who had been able to convince a dollar store owner to sell him a patch kit for the $.88 he had in his pocket but who then had no way to pump up the tire. He called me at 11 p.m. a week later, from near Ted Watkins park, stranded with another flat. Was I in the area? He was afraid he wouldn’t be able to traverse the last 15 blocks home safely that night.

The struggle very low-income commuters face in maintaining bikes that were never in great shape to begin with is so bad that the owner of the Watts Cyclery even found himself having to create layaway and monthly payment plans for people who desperately needed a bike or a fix, but couldn’t pay for it upfront.

Despite the many odds they face, low and very low-income commuters consistently comprise a significant proportion of the total commuter cycling pool. And many more would likely bike, provided they could either easily/cheaply access solid bikes or get their existing bikes up and running again.

Which is why it is so unfortunate that Metro’s approach to bike week isn’t more reflective of their experience. Read more…