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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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No “Lane-Stealers” Here: Central Ave. Bike Count Underscores Need for Better Infrastructure and Investment in the Community

A father runs errands with his children along Central Avenue after picking them up from school. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A father runs errands with his children along Central Avenue after picking them up from school. His back wheel has been modified so that his child can stand on it while hanging onto his dad. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

While some might not relish the opportunity to stand out on a street corner and count passersby for two hours, I can honestly say I really enjoy the experience.

Not the act of counting of people, per se. But the chance to absorb the rhythm of a street. I actually spend a good deal of time moving along both Central Ave. (in South L.A.) and Soto St. (in Boyle Heights), where I am participating in the biennial Bike and Pedestrian Count this year. But standing in one place for two hours allows you to get a sense of how and why they are using the street — indicators that can sometimes be just as important as quantitative data in regard to policy-making.

Perhaps most striking to me during my count shift on the west side of Central Ave. (between Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.) Wednesday was that, of the approximately 200 people that passed by me on foot or on bikes, only one elderly couple seemed to be out for a stroll. The rest appeared to be commuting, heading home from school, or running errands (many of those counted passed by a second time, often carrying something purchased at a nearby market).

That stands in stark contrast to more well-to-do neighborhoods where you are liable to see joggers at various times of the day or people taking in the sights, window shopping, walking a dog, or lingering over coffee and people watching.

When one of the students from nearby Jefferson High School (getting experience with data-gathering as part of a National Health Foundation program) was asked if she had ever walked the two blocks north to visit the 3 Worlds Cafe — a project launched by chef Roy Choi that got its start at her high school — she replied, “No, it’s not safe.”

To her and other residents I’ve spoken with, that section of Central doesn’t feel very secure.

Pinning down exactly what makes a section of a street insecure can be tough, given that that sort of information tends to travel by word-of-mouth among residents and doesn’t necessarily correlate with actual crime stats. When gang-bangers are enforcing territorial boundaries by intimidating local youth, for example, they do so knowing that those youth will not report them. So despite Compstat data showing the area around 3 Worlds Cafe as seeing less reported crime than, say, 41st St. (regularly used by students to move between Jefferson HS and Central Ave.), and despite the Newton Division of the LAPD being located practically next door to the cafe, youth are still reluctant to wander up that way.

Walkability for this community, in other words, hinges on much more than just traffic control.

But traffic is indeed a problem, too. Read more…

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Equity, the Mobility Plan, and the Myth of Luxury-Loving Lane Stealers

A man waits for a bus in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A man waits for a bus in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It’s hard to take some of the hysteria surrounding the City Council’s approval of Mobility Plan 2035 this past August very seriously.

And by “hysteria,” I mean the lawsuit and most recent claims by Fix the City president James O’Sullivan, who told MyNewsLA that the city “want[s] to make driving our cars unbearable by stealing traffic lanes from us on major streets and giving those stolen lanes to bike riders and buses,” and that, worse still, “…not all of us — in fact, very few of us — have the luxury of being able to ride to work on a bike or bus.”

Oh, yes. All those transit-dependent people luxuriating on bikes and buses, stealing your lanes. How very selfish they are, indeed.

I’m sure that at this very moment, those very transit users are rubbing their hands together in collective selfish glee as they stand, sweating through their work and school clothes in 90-degree heat at a filthy sun-drenched bus stop while waiting for a bus that is late because it is stuck behind car traffic. In fact, they are probably high-fiving the sweaty cyclists riding past them on the sidewalk as we speak.

Some people are just so selfish.

Shameless luxuriating at S. Flower St., just south of Adams. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Shameless luxuriating at a S. Flower St. bus stop, just south of Adams. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

* * *

The crux of most arguments against the Mobility Plan generally lies in the notion that the needs of the many (beleaguered drivers) are being subjected to the whims of the few (mostly arrogant/entitled hipsters) — a claim supported by census data suggesting that only 1% of folks in Los Angeles County ride bikes to work and just 11% use transit.

Which, I’ll admit, can sound pretty damning.

At least on the surface. (And as long as you don’t consider the possibility of people switching over to transit or cycling as more and better infrastructure for both goes in as part of the Mobility Plan [PDF]. But I digress.)

When you think about what those numbers mean on the ground, you have a completely different story on your hands. One that suggests that those doing the complaining are (inadvertently, I hope) advocating for the holding of lower-income Angelenos hostage to the very traffic conditions that they themselves find so abhorrent and destructive. Conditions that will continue to present challenges to lower-income residents who desperately want their neighborhoods and the children they raise there to grow and thrive and be healthy. And conditions that the complainants themselves had the means to escape.

Pshaw! Thou art a luxury-loving lane-stealer, you might be thinking to yourself.

Just bear with me.

And let’s take the case of Central Avenue in South Los Angeles — a street slated for a protected bike lane and road diet, per the Mobility Plan — and see why a different approach to mobility matters. Read more…

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ESRBC Bike Co-op Launches in Watts, Members Look Forward to Aiding Community

Several members of the Jones family take a hack at the ribbon to officially open the co-op. Photo courtesy of East Side Riders BC

Several generations of the Jones family take a hack at the ribbon to officially open the co-op. Photo courtesy of Michael MacDonald

This past weekend, the East Side Riders Bike Club (ESRBC) celebrated the ribbon-cutting on their brand new bike co-op and shop located at 11321 S. Central Ave. in Watts.

The event launched with a short bike ride through the community, including a stop at the Watts Towers, before ending up back at the co-op site for a celebration featuring music, a barbecue, and the raffling off of bikes and ESRBC gear.

For someone like myself, who has been tracking the growth of the ESRBC and the South L.A. cycling scene for the past several years now (see here, here), the ribbon-cutting was a welcome milestone for more reasons than one.

Yes, a bike co-op is sorely needed in a lower-income community where bikes are essential for transportation and getting a popped tire fixed can be too expensive for those who are really on the margins. And the safe gathering space, strong role models, and access to bike maintenance skills the space will provide for youth from a wonderful but struggling community is also much-needed.

But the wide range of groups that came by to support the ESRBC — including members from Black Kids on Bikes, The Others BC, Syndicate Riders, the South L.A. Real Rydaz, Barkada, the Eastside Bike Club, Los Ryderz, and the Ghost Bike Documentary folks — signaled that the bike community that has been on the rise in South and Southeast L.A. was continuing to grow and expand its reach. Read more…

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Scramble Crosswalks Ready for Their Star Turn in Hollywood

Chicago's first pedestrian scramble, or "Barnes Dance", at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. Photo: Chicago's first pedestrian scramble, or "Barnes Dance", at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. KEVIN ZOLKIEWICZ/FLICKR via ##http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2014/11/03/40143/los-angeles-ponders-diagonal-crosswalks-what-are-t/##Airtalk/KPCC##

Chicago’s first pedestrian scramble, or “Barnes Dance”, at the downtown intersection of Jackson Blvd. and State St. Pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, every three light cycles. All vehicular turns have been prohibited to improve traffic flow. Photo: KEVIN ZOLKIEWICZ/FLICKR via Airtalk/KPCC

Responding to community concerns that the high volume of pedestrian traffic at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue was creating an unsafe crossing, City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the Department of Transportation recently announced that a “pedestrian scramble” will be installed by the end of the year.

The pedestrian scramble, aka The Barnes Dance, is basically an intersection which has a “pedestrian only” phase in its signal timing. During this time, pedestrians are not just limited to crossing east-west or north-south, but can actually cross to the opposite corner by cutting straight through the middle of the street.

Los Angeles already has a few pedestrian scramble intersections near the college campuses of USC and UCLA. In addition, Pasadena and Beverly Hills have installed scrambles at high-volume intersections. If you’re not familiar with the scrambles, check out the below video by Streetfilms celebrating Los Angeles’ scrambles that was filmed in 2008.

“Hollywood and Highland is our red carpet entrance for people from around the world who come to experience Los Angeles’ center stage,” said Seleta Reynolds, LADOT General Manager. “The new intersection design will prioritize the safety and comfort of people walking. We plan to implement this change in consultation with the community and will evaluate the before and after effects.”

In addition to residents, workers, and tourists who may arrive by car or are staying in one of the local hotels, Hollywood and Highland is also home to a busy Red Line Metro rail station and a handful of local bus routes.  Read more…

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Challenge Grant Winners in Boyle Heights and South L.A. Race Against the Clock to Raise Project Funds, Build Networks

Shouldn't all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Shouldn’t all intersections be magically musical? A re-imagined Florence and Crenshaw by the Street Beats team. Rendering: Studio MMD

Twenty-three days is not a lot of time to get community buy-in on a complete streets pop-up event/project and raise $10,000 in support of it. Especially in lower-income communities like Boyle Heights and parts of South L.A., where the stakeholders who would ideally be buying into the projects tend to be less familiar with concepts like “tactical urbanism,” are generally of lesser means, and/or are often unreachable via a social media campaign (or wholly unable to make online payments to it).

But the three sets of groups that won Great Streets Challenge Grants in those neighborhoods are determined to forge ahead.

Ride On! bike co-op founder Adé Neff acknowledged the timeline and lack of funds to do more comprehensive outreach was tough, but said he was excited to use the grant program as an opportunity to build connections along Crenshaw and between community advocates in South L.A.

Usually grants for community projects go to people outside the community, he said, because people are out of the loop with regard to funding opportunities or lack the capacity and structure to go after them. That disconnection often means that projects that do take place in the community generally fail to engage residents in more than a rubber-stamp sort of way. Meaning, any benefits that accrue to the community tend to be superficial and temporary, at best.

For someone like himself, freshly out of Antioch’s Urban Sustainability M.A. program and looking to be a driver of change in South L.A., that is a frustrating landscape to be part of.

“We have the talent pool” to do the kinds of innovative grassroots advocacy in South L.A. that could strengthen the community from within, he said. What remained was “to create the capacity to do it.”

To that end, he has joined up with architect Michael MacDonald of Studio MMD, TRUST South L.A., and Community Health Councils to put together a project that they hope will build some of those bridges between advocates while breaking down some of the barriers between folks in the Hyde Park area. All while making the busy intersection at Florence and Crenshaw safe and fun for a day.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Google map screen shot of Florence and Crenshaw.

Their project, Street Beats, intends to set up the tools to let passersby make music on each of the four corners of the intersection. Read more…

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At-Grade Crossings along Metro Blue Line Will See $30 Mil in Pedestrian Safety Improvements

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Blue Line slices its way through South L.A. toward Long Beach. For much of that trajectory, the Blue Line shares a ROW with Union Pacific Railroad. The fact that pedestrians must cross four sets of tracks at many intersections makes the crossings more dangerous. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“In the interest of time,” Greg Kildare, Executive Director of Metro’s Enterprise Risk, Safety, and Asset Management team, began his address to the Board on July 23, “I will just say that staff believes that the [Metro Blue Line] pedestrian gating project is an extremely important safety improvement to our oldest rail line and consistent with [Metro CEO] Mr. Washington’s vision of reinvestment in our aging infrastructure, the state of good repair, and a safety-first orientation. That concludes my presentation.”

Agreeing that the upgrades were “long overdue,” the Board approved the installation of $30,175,000 worth of Pedestrian Active Grade Crossing Improvements at the 27 intersections the Blue Line shares a right-of-way (ROW) with Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) without hesitation or discussion.

The improvements are indeed long overdue.

Between 2002 and 2012, 13 of the 18 non-suicide* fatalities along the Blue Line happened between Vernon Ave. and Imperial Hwy. in South Los Angeles. [*Suicide is a significant issue along the Blue Line — at least 30 of the nearly 80 pedestrian fatalities along the line over the last two decades were confirmed suicides.]

The wide openness of the at-grade crossings through that stretch, inadequate pedestrian infrastructure, and lack of barriers at a number of the intersections — particularly on the UPRR side — create dangerous conditions for pedestrians. None of which is helped by the fact that the tracks run adjacent to several major parks and through the middle of a housing development, meaning that families and kids might make the long trek across the tracks several times a day.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Youth leaving the park cross the sets of tracks at 48th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Because the freight trains that use the UPRR tracks run infrequently and move so slowly — often inching forward, backing up, stopping, and inching forward again — a train can appear to be more of a nuisance than a hazard.

Multiple trains on the tracks can throw off a pedestrian’s calculations of which side a train is coming from, how fast it is moving, or how quickly the pedestrian feels they can get across the tracks. Or, as in the case of middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga, killed in 1999 when he clambered over a freight train stopped at the intersection only to be hit by a passing Blue Line train at 55th and Long Beach Ave., there is a potential for people to be confused by the train the signals apply to and believe they are safe when they are not.

A family with small children moves across the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A family with small children first zigs to the right to access the curb cut, get around the signals, and cross the tracks at 55th and Long Beach Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Even when people obey the signals, their journey from narrow pedestrian island to narrow pedestrian island can be lengthened by having to zig-zag their way across the tracks (above and below). Read more…

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East Side Riders’ Dreams of a Bike Co-op Finally Materializing in Watts

John Jones III, center, stands with supporters of the East Side Riders' new co-op space in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

John Jones III, center, stands with supporters of the East Side Riders’ new co-op space in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It may have been a hot and sticky Sunday afternoon, but it didn’t keep the East Side Riders from firing up the grill and cooking for the community in front of their new bike co-op on Central Ave. in Watts.

Feeding the community is something they have done since launching the club several years ago. In those days, they would make sandwiches and hand them out to folks in need as they rode. As the club grew, they expanded their community service efforts to include promoting health and safe streets, encouraging black and brown unity, raising awareness around the need for justice in cases of hit-and-runs, building and fixing bikes for free for kids in the community, sponsoring families at Christmas, and, along with Los Ryderz Bike Club, serving as rolling ambassadors of positivity and change for Watts and the larger South L.A. community.

So far, they have managed to do all this out of their own pockets and without having a permanent home. In the early days, the club was run out of members’ garages. Then, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) gave them space to store their bikes, meet up, and launch their rides. But they still wanted something of their own — a place they could adapt to meet community needs.

They finally settled on a new site at 113th and Central, a few blocks down the street from the WLCAC. It’s also across the street from Nickerson Gardens, the largest public housing development west of the Mississippi. While that might be intimidating for some, the East Side Riders think they’re right where they need to be. Read more…

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Man is Shot and Killed by the Officers He Called to Help Search for Stolen Bike. Is it a Livable Streets Issue?

Three teens are detained and frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park. They were stopped while waiting for friends.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Three teens are detained and frisked for weapons on Ave. 50 and York Blvd. in Highland Park. They were stopped while waiting for friends. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Several months ago, I asked that a link to a story on the beating of Clinton Alford by LAPD officers be included in our daily headlines.

The 22-year-old African-American man had been riding his bike along Avalon Blvd. near 55th St. in South L.A. one night when a car pulled up alongside him and someone inside shouted at him to stop. Because the man didn’t identify himself as a police officer, Alford told the L.A. Times, when the men came after him and grabbed the back of his bike, he took off running.

Once he realized they were cops, he lay down voluntarily and allowed them to restrain him.

That’s when another car pulled up, a heavyset officer ran over, and the assault on the restrained young man began in earnest.

“I was just praying that they wouldn’t kill me,” he said of the blows that repeatedly rained down on his head and slight frame. “I just closed my eyes and tried to hold on.”

A reader objected to the inclusion of the link in the headlines, arguing that it was racism that had prompted the attack, not the fact that the young man was bicycling, and that I shouldn’t try to push an agenda on our readers.

I was disappointed by the comment — it is well-known that law enforcement has long associated bikes with criminality, substance abuse, and gangs in lower-income communities of color. In Alford’s case, they assumed he was leaving a crime scene, despite the fact that he did not fit the description of the robbery suspect they were searching for.

But I wasn’t surprised by the comment, either.

The idea that someone’s race or status can be separated from their ability to move through the public space is a sentiment I come up against consistently in a variety of forums within the livable streets advocacy community. It manifests both in the non-inclusion of such issues in policy (like Vision Zero) and in the categorization of the hostility of the public space to people of color as separate from issues of livability. It doesn’t mean advocates don’t care about the problem. But it does mean they may not know where it fits in to livability or how.

Even at Streetsblog NYC, editor Ben Fried, in response to the Eric Garner ruling, wrote of

…grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.

Much like the commenter, he essentially points to racism as the problem.

Which, of course, it is.

But racism has never been a passive noun. It colors the assumptions we make about those around us  — who they are and what their intentions might be. And when those assumptions manifest in the behavior of those tasked with the authority of defining “security” and monitoring the public space, we have a livable streets issue on our hands.

Advocates need to accept that part of keeping streets “safe” and “livable” for everyone else has involved curbing the “threats” to their security. And that while cars, bad design, and a blatant disregard for the rights of those on foot or on bikes are certainly a massive component of that, those “threats” have also been construed as people of color attempting to engage in the very thing that livability advocates seek to encourage — unfettered movement through the public space. Read more…

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Open-Air Bike Tune-Up Session Brings Community Together in Leimert Park

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The founders of the Ride On! bike co-op and members of Black Kids on Bike gather in Leimert Park to host an open-air tune-up session. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“I know you!” I laughed, pointing at soon-to-be 9th grader Cortez Wright. “You were the reason the [King Day] parade got stopped!”

Back in January, the young man and three of his friends — all experienced cyclists — had taken the opportunity to join the Black Kids on Bikes‘ (BKoB) parade “float.” It was a pretty informal affair, essentially consisting of the group riding in slow circles along the parade route, occasionally doing tricks, and letting community members try out their bikes, if they were so inclined. The larger goal was to put a young and dynamic face on cycling in the South L.A. community, both to change negative stereotypes around cycling and to attract new people to the movement.

And it was all going very well until an overzealous police officer used the helmetless Wright and his friends as an excuse to stop and harass the group, asking if they were supposed to be there. Minutes later, that same officer stepped in front of the Real Rydaz, claiming he had to stop the bikes because of the kind of “chaos” that kids like Wright and his friends were causing.

“I still don’t have a helmet…” Wright nodded.

But he had stayed connected to the Black Kids on Bikes — a group he looked up to — and jumped at the chance to hang out with them when he saw the notice about the free tune-up session in Leimert Park hosted by Ride On! posted on the group’s Facebook page.

It was easy to see why. When I arrived a little after noon yesterday, the plaza was bustling.

Erik Charlot works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Erik Charlot (left) works on a bike while chatting with some of the lovely ladies of Major Motion. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Music blared from some speakers set up at the corner by some of the weekend vendors and the DIY co-op was in full swing. Members and their supporters had brought their portable bike stands, tools, and cleaning supplies from home and set up under the shade of the plaza’s enormous fig tree.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Michael Glasco, Michael MacDonald, dog Tobey, and Malik Mack make sure a tiny bike is in working order. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As the group grew in size, so did the sense that a community was being built. Read more…

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Today in Two Steps Backwards: USC Discontinues Rideshare Subsidy Program for 3000+ Employees; Offers Parking Passes as Consolation

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as "the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles." Source: USC

Rendering of the $650 million USC Village, sited at Jefferson and Hoover and touted as “the most expansive development project in the history of South Los Angeles.” Source: USC

The letter sent to the more than three thousand faculty and staff that participated in USC’s Rideshare Subsidy Program this past June 16th started off happily enough.

The USC Rideshare program is growing and continuing to evolve!  In 2015, we recorded our highest-ever Air Quality Management District (AQMD) survey result – an AVR (average vehicle ridership) of 1.92. This is a phenomenal result – nearly 2 people on average in every car that comes to our campuses – and represents USC’s seventh consecutive year-over-year improvement in this important metric.

Not bad, right? Carpooling is happening. It’s improving every year. And, on top of that, more than three thousand of the faculty and staff (out of a total of ~17,000) are choosing some form of transit or rideshare to get to campus. Despite the Reason Foundation’s dire predictions about the Expo Line, people are taking advantage of the three USC stops. Things are looking up. Good on you, USC!

Metro gave USC three -- count 'em, three! -- stops.

Metro gave USC three — count ’em, three! — stops. Jefferson/USC, Expo Park/USC, and Expo/Vermont.

So, the logical thing is to reward that and encourage more rideshare, right? Because building and maintaining parking lots is expensive. The university already owns and/or manages ~16,000 spaces and is currently in the process of building some surface lots and two more structures — one at the main campus and one at Health Sciences in Boyle Heights — containing a total of 2,000 spaces. Using the median construction cost of a single above-ground parking space in Los Angeles, calculated at $19,355, it looks like those 2,000 spaces alone will cost approximately $38.7 million to build. And that is without factoring in the opportunity cost of constructing more facilities for students on what is rather valuable real estate.

All of which makes the next part of the letter that much more confusing. Read more…