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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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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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the problem.

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

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

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

Other activists have taken to the streets.

Read more…

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

A parklet under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A pocket park under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

My, my, what have we here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do someone’s shoes tell us about them?

Some would argue quite a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

The Rodeo/Jefferson site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more…