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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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CicLAvia XVII Open Thread – Southeast Cities

Yesterday's CicLAvia Southeast Cities included Huntington Park's Pacific Avenue. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday’s CicLAvia Southeast Cities included Huntington Park’s Pacific Avenue. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday, CicLAvia touched down in Southeast Los Angeles County for the first time. The 10-mile car-free open streets route included the cities of Huntington Park, Lynwood, and South Gate, and the L.A. City community of Watts and the unincorporated L.A. County communities of Florence-Firestone and Walnut Park.

The popular open streets event filled southeast boulevards with people on foot, bike, skates, and wheelchairs. Lots of families and children enjoyed the car-free streets. Various activity hubs were filled with activities including live music, bounce houses, face-painting, and much more. Neighborhood activity, from pupusa vendors to churches to clothing stores, spilled out onto the streets, interacting with passersbys. Though these events are predominantly cyclists, there were plenty of pedestrians out for a stroll.

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Family enjoying a walk on Tweedy Boulevard in South Gate

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Friday Corner of Shame: Burned-Out Structure Knocked Down, Remains Unremediated for a Year

A two-story apartment building in Watts burned down over a year ago. The collapsed structure has yet to be cleared from the lot. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A two-story apartment building in Watts burned down over a year ago. The collapsed structure has yet to be cleared from the lot. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Riddle me this: A dilapidated two-story apartment building in your neighborhood burns so brightly that as many as 70 firefighters from 36 units are dispatched to put down the fire. The structure becomes unstable. It is eventually knocked down so as to prevent it from collapsing on its own.

How long will the pile of toxic, sharp-edged, and otherwise dangerous rubble sit unguarded on the lot, spilling over onto neighborhood sidewalks and the yard next door?

A week?

A month?

Frustratingly, for those who live in Watts, the answer appears to be, “At least a year.”

The hot mess pictured above, located at 9254 Central Avenue, burst into flames at around 10 p.m. on April 17, 2015.

The cause of the fire was not known at the time. The building had been sold just one month prior for $460,000, and may have only had one occupied unit. [A call to the Fire Department has not yet been returned.]

Video captured that night by onscenevideo.tv, gives you a sense of how unstable the structure was – one side appeared to be buckling. The Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) was called because the structure was at risk of collapse and, according to the fire department, a private contractor later arrived to stabilize it.

Despite what appeared to be imminent danger, the house sat in its burned-out state for several months. I recall first passing by it last spring and hoping families hadn’t been displaced. Then, as the months wore on, I wondered at what point something was going to be done about the structure. It was boarded up, but otherwise not safeguarded in a neighborhood that was full of kids.

 The structure was still standing, but boarded up, in July of last year. Source: Google maps.


The structure was still standing, but boarded up, in July of last year. Source: Google maps.

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Little-Tokyo-to-Watts Ride Explores Shared History of Japanese- and African-American Angelenos

The unity ride hosted by the East Side Riders and the Asian-Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance kicked off Bike Month on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The unity ride hosted by the East Side Riders and the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance kicked off Bike Month on Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I rolled up on the group gathered in front of the Japanese American National Museum yesterday morning just in time to catch the discussion of some of the history of the Little Tokyo area.

The unity bike ride – the third annual effort between the East Side Riders Bike Club and the Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA) to link the communities that lie along the historic Central Avenue corridor – aimed to educate participants about the history Japanese- and African-American Angelenos shared.

Starting at the museum at 1st and Central, Steve Nagano, a former teacher and participant in the Digital Histories project, spoke about the 30,000 Japanese and Japanese-American residents who had lived in the area prior to their internment during World War II. Rounding up the residents of one marginalized group, he explained, had only made way for others. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans moved into the area, drawn by the prospect of jobs in the war industries and constrained by the history of redlining that had made it nearly impossible for non-whites to live west of Central Avenue.

There were stories passed down through the generations, Nagano said, of African-Americans helping take care of Japanese property during the war and even possibly hiding a few Japanese who wished to avoid internment. But the arrival of the newcomers also left its mark—the area was renamed Bronzeville and the population grew so large and the residences so overcrowded that conditions deteriorated rather rapidly. With the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 no doubt adding fuel to the notion that it was dangerous to have so many potentially “subversive” residents living in such close quarters, many of the area’s buildings were condemned, and at least fifty African-American families were moved to Jordan Downs in Watts (housing that had served as barracks for white workers in the early part of the war). Once those residents were gone, white landlords were reluctant to rent to other folks of color, including some of the Japanese by then returning from internment.

Steve Nagano speaks in front of the Go For Broke Monument honoring the Japanese-American veterans who served their country to prove their loyalty. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Steve Nagano speaks in front of the Go For Broke Monument honoring the Japanese-American veterans who served their country to prove their loyalty. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

This look at interwoven histories comes at a moment in which it is becoming increasingly clear just how vulnerable early discriminatory planning practices have left lower-income communities of color all along Central Avenue, as well as to the east, in Boyle Heights.

As Nagano noted, housing is springing up left and right all around Little Tokyo, but very little of it is affordable. And existing senior housing for elderly Japanese (just across the river) is currently under threat. Older and lower-income residents fear that without a conscientious effort to preserve space for those in need, the opening of the regional connector hub and more luxury housing will result not only in the physical displacement of those on the margins but an erasure of the area’s history as well. While much of the public art in the area, including some of the murals, testifies to some of the community’s important history, it is not as meaningful without the presence of the people whose stories it tells.

Heading south along Central to Watts, it is clear residents are struggling with some of the same issues. Read more…

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Re:code L.A. Comes to Boyle Heights Saturday to Talk Updates to Zoning Code

Re:code presentation slide on the need to update the zoning code. Source: City Planning

Re:code presentation slide on the need to update the zoning code. Source: City Planning

Re:code L.A. is holding a forum in Boyle Heights Saturday (TOMORROW) morning from 9 a.m. to noon to talk with the community about the city’s $5 million, five-year effort to update its outdated zoning code.

I know.

That announcement did not set you on fire.

Believe me, I get it.

But you should still think about attending the forum or at least perusing the re:code website.

Here’s why. The zoning code was last fully updated (if that is even the right word) in 1946, when the scattered bits of code that had previously guided development were compiled to create a massive, somewhat unwieldy, and largely insufficient code for a growing suburban-style city.

As you might imagine, 1946 was a very different time in Los Angeles.

Anyone familiar with the history of planning and development in L.A. in the early part of the 20th century knows that policy tools were used both to enforce segregation (see also, here) and, as Occidental College professor Mark Vallianatos wrote in 2013, to create a more “horizontal” Los Angeles as a way

…to avoid some of the perceived ills of dense European and east coast metropolises. Policy makers, planners, voters, industry and real estate interests made choices around land use and infrastructure that enshrined the single family house, the commuter streetcar, and later, the automobile as the building blocks of L.A. Just as London, Manchester, and New York symbolized the scale and challenges of the 19th century industrial city, Los Angeles, with its sprawl and unprecedented car culture, was the “shock city” of the 20th century, a new way of organizing urban land.

Instead of remedying that orientation, since 1946, planners have been adding to the code in such a piecemeal way that the language and codes governing what can or cannot happen on a single property can be both confusing and contradictory.

The situation has gotten so bad that as much as 60% of the city is governed by special overlays and site-specific designations (qualified, tentative, and restricted uses). Meaning, according to re:code Project Manager and senior planner, Tom Rothmann, that 61% of city planning staff are currently dedicated to processing of cases and synthesizing competing regulations in order for development to be able to go through.

60% of city is subject to special overlays and site-specific conditions. (The darker brown areas). Source: City Planning

60% of city is subject to special overlays and site-specific conditions as well as different and sometimes competing sets of regulations. (The darker brown areas). Source: City Planning

Streamlining the code by creating a more flexible and appropriate web-based set of tools will help free up planning personnel to do more actual planning work. It will also make it easier for the end user to know what they can or can’t do with their property before they attempt to undertake that process.

So, the technical reasons for updating the code are more than justified. As is the decision to prioritize the code that will orient Downtown development toward supporting both job and residential growth as its complex set of neighborhoods and land uses continue to evolve.

But questions of how a modernized code will intersect with realities in the surrounding communities in such a way as to foster growth that is more transit-oriented, inclusive, innovative, affordable, healthy, and celebratory of culture and heritage are harder to answer. Read more…

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“More than Just Food” Looks at Role of Community Services Unlimited in Advancing Food Justice

Nina, an intern with Community Services Unlimited, stands in front of the mini-urban farm at Normandie Elementary. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Nina, who interned with Community Services Unlimited in 2012, stands in front of the mini-urban farm at Normandie Elementary. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Food is a way in which you can get folks to think critically about their environment,” Lawrence De Freitas, a staff member with South Los Angeles-based Community Services Unlimited, Inc. (CSU), tells researcher and author Garrett Broad in an interview for Broad’s new book, More than Just Food: Food Justice and Community Change. [Broad will be hosting a talk at CSU Saturday, details here.]

“A community that understands how the environment impacts them,” De Freitas continues, “has the ability to think critically to take action.”

It’s a statement that, on the surface, might not sound particularly controversial.

Broadly speaking, food, healthy food access, environmental conditions, urban gardening, and education around healthy choices have been hot topics for several years now.

But the kind of critical thinking and action CSU actively encourages and pursues as a food justice organization, Broad’s work suggests, constitutes a significant break from the typical “magic carrot” approach to programming around food.

The “magic carrot” approach bases programming on the assumption that if kids experience where food comes from and eat the things they grow themselves, it will have an overwhelmingly positive and irreversible domino effect. Namely, the kids will become healthier and they will wish to continue making healthy choices going forward. Consequently, they will engage their families about the need for healthier fare, which will result in their families and, by extension, their communities, all growing healthier together.

It’s a lot to ask of a humble carrot.

And a first grader.

And it’s complete “bullshit,” according to Broad.

Produce is great, but it isn't endowed with quite as many magical properties as some programs assume. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Produce can be super, but it isn’t endowed with quite as many magical properties as some programs assume. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Food itself can’t be disconnected from the larger system that delivers it, he argues. Nor can questions about individual behavior be disconnected from the decades of disenfranchisement, disinvestment, and neglect of lower-income communities of color that has impacted their ability to access it.

A child might be able to grow a carrot at school, but if her family regularly struggles to pay rent, or violence in her community means spending time in a garden is not always advisable, or a history of trauma and/or lack of access to health services impacts her ability or desire to make healthy choices, or the decisions made by those around her are colored by emotional, economic, and/or physical insecurity, or gentrification makes her feel less welcome at a community garden or green space, or she sees no connection between herself and the agricultural practices she is being taught, then growing a carrot at school might mean little more than growing a carrot at school. [See previous articles exploring these issues here, here.] Read more…

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Street Beats Inspires Spontaneous Episodes of Dance, Music, Joy, and Safety on Crenshaw Corner

Dancing to Street Beats on the corner of Florence and Crenshaw. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dancing to Street Beats on the corner of Florence and Crenshaw. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Last week, the Street Beats team converted the extremely busy and often dangerous intersection of Crenshaw and Florence into a play zone.

No, really.

With the help of a grant from the Mayor’s Great Streets program and countless extra hours over several months dedicated to pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, and building relationships with local artists, community advocates, neighborhood block clubs, churches, and other stakeholders, the folks at Studio MMD, Ride On! Bike Co-op, Community Health Councils, and TRUST South L.A. managed to bring the neighborhood out to spend the day at a corner most of us would rather hurry through.

The idea was to engage Hyde Park neighbors on the kinds of street interventions that could help improve the safety of those that move through the intersection — be it on foot, by bike, by bus, or in a car. Using do-it-yourself bump-outs and a scramble crosswalk, they hoped to demonstrate just how much a simple design intervention could positively impact the way traffic flowed through a crossing, making it safer for all users.

A woman eyes up the scramble crosswalk that could take her through the intersection much more efficiently than she could normally go--something that is appealing when you are carrying a lot of stuff with you. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A woman eyes up the temporary scramble crosswalk that could help her navigate the intersection much more efficiently than she normally would be able to–something that is particularly appealing when you are carrying a lot of stuff with you or have young kids in tow. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But, as Studio MMD’s Michael MacDonald told me back when they first took on the project — people are not all that likely to come out to an inhospitable street corner on a Saturday just to talk street engineering and bump-outs.

Even ones as bright and fun as they envisioned (below).

The rendering of the transformed intersection by Studio MMD.

The rendering of the transformed intersection by Studio MMD.

And really, why would you want to put so much effort into bringing people together just to talk bump-outs? Read more…

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110 Freeway Off-Ramp Project Threatens Historic Church, MyFigueroa

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Caltrans planned 110 Freeway flyover off-ramp next to St. John’s Cathedral. Image via Caltrans MND document [PDF]

Tonight, Caltrans is hosting a meeting to gather input on a new freeway off-ramp that would funnel 110 Freeway traffic onto Figueroa Street just south of downtown Los Angeles. The meeting takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Orthopedic Institute for Children, 403 West Adams Boulevard in South Los Angeles.

Caltrans’ proposal, officially titled the Interstate 110 High-Occupancy Toll Lanes Flyover Project, would spend $43 million extending the elevated express lanes structure, so drivers who currently exit at Adams Boulevard near Flower Street could also exit two blocks north at Figueroa Street, south of 23rd Street. The new off-ramp would be an elevated flyover extending over Adams, Flower, and the Metro Expo Line and landing on Figueroa Way, a small one-way street that merges onto Figueroa Street.

Aerial view of the flyover trajectory, with identified historic resources highlighted. Image via Caltrans MND document [PDF]

Aerial view of the flyover trajectory, with identified historic resources highlighted. Image via Caltrans MND document [PDF]

In January, Caltrans released its environmental study, a Mitigated Negative Declaration [PDF], essentially stating that the project would have no significant negative environmental impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Organized opposition to the project has primarily come from the L.A. Conservancy. The Conservancy opposes the 70-foot tall freeway ramp for impairing views of the adjacent 1924 St. John’s Cathedral, as well as contributing noise and further breaking up the neighborhood.  Read more…

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Ride4Love Rides Again: More than 200 Cyclists Roll for Unity, Love in Watts

Watts is LOVE. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Watts is LOVE.
Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“This is such a great turnout!” was something I must have heard come out of my own mouth somewhere between 20 and 30 times during the East Side Riders’ Ride4Love last weekend.

And it was.

I mean, they always get a good turnout.

Last year, just under 200 cyclists showed up for the event.

But I still clearly remember the days when it was a struggle to get folks to come to Watts — the days before people believed there could be such a thing as a South L.A. bike community and the days before the clubs around South L.A. and the larger Southland were so well-connected and supportive of each other.

So, I would not be lying if I said that seeing more than 200 riders of all origins, stripes, and ages rolling in harmony through the streets of a community I love so much made my heart feel like it might burst.

Decoration on the bike of a ride participant. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Decoration on the handlebars of a ride participant. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A bursting heart, however terribly cheesy it may sound, was actually quite apt for the day.

The Ride4Love is the East Side Riders’ (ESRBC) signature event, timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day and intended to highlight both the beauty of and the challenges remaining in the Watts community.

Giving back to the community has always featured heavily in the event, either through more direct action, like feeding the homeless, or by setting an example of positivity for the community by showing that the African-American and Latino communities are stronger when they ride together as one.

Determination. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Determination. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Recognizing that they were a largely local group, the community was thrilled to see them. Read more…

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No Más Deaths!: Stakeholders Demand Curren Price Support a Bike Lane for Central Avenue ahead of Mobility Plan Hearing

Posters created by South L.A. community members adorn the walls outside of TRUST South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Posters demanding safe passage for cyclists on Central Avenue adorn the walls outside of TRUST South L.A. They were created by South L.A. community members. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Bottom line is, citizens want to be involved, they want to be engaged in the process of figuring out how we reprogram our streets, how we reprogram our communities, making it more livable, making it more desirable, making it safer.”

So said councilmember for the 9th District, Curren Price, when interviewed by KCET’s Nic Cha Kim at CicLAvia: South L.A. in December of 2014 (minute 4:20).

It is a perspective that many who live, work, play, and move along the Central Avenue corridor in historic South Central share.

Given that the corridor communities have a median income hovering around $30,000, an average household size between of 4 and 9 people, a median age of 23, and little opportunity for economic advancement thanks to limited access to higher education, area residents are very much at the mercy of their environment. Rapidly rising rents and the lack of affordable housing around the city make it nearly impossible for them to move anywhere else. And the high dependence of many families on transit, cycling, and walking to get back and forth to work and school means that just going about their daily lives entails constant flirtations with danger.

Central Avenue, boasting the highest number of cyclists anywhere in the city during peak hours (and a very steady stream in off-peak hours), has seen nearly 300 collisions between drivers and pedestrians or cyclists over the last decade.

That we know of, that is.

Many of those who have been hit by cars have never reported the incidents to authorities, either because they preferred to handle things informally with the driver, the injuries were minor, or the incident was a hit-and-run and they saw no point.

So, even though more than three-quarters of residents are renters, the vast majority would tell you they are deeply invested in the well-being of their neighborhoods and would like nothing better than to see them become safer and healthier places for all.

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. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Thus far, however, efforts to get Councilmember Price to sit down and have that conversation with stakeholders about their needs and aspirations have proven futile.

Over the past year, the community has been shut out of discussions about Great Streets’ and the councilmember’s plans to remake Central Avenue in the image of Broadway (downtown) and to remove the Central Avenue bike lane planned to help bike commuters get safely between Watts, historic South Central, and jobs downtown from the Mobility Plan altogether.

The Great Streets plans for the street were only made available to the public after Streetsblog published an article complaining about the blatant steamrolling of the community. When local stakeholders tried to follow up by delivering letters to the councilmember’s office and approaching the members of the Business Improvement District, they were still not able to get any response from Price to their demands for a bike lane.

Fed up with failed attempts at peaceful engagement and concerned that Price would once again try to see Central Ave. removed from the Mobility Plan at tomorrow’s city planning commission hearing, residents took action. Gathering their signs, courage, a megaphone, and a banner to be hung on Price’s building, they stormed the councilmember’s constituent center at Vernon and Central yesterday.

Members of TRUST South L.A. hang a banner from Curren Price's constituent center. Photo: Ashley Hansack

Members of TRUST South L.A. hang a banner from Curren Price’s constituent center. Photo: Ashley Hansack

“We’re tired of coming to you!” said resident and safe streets advocate AsSami AlBasir El.

“When are you going to come to our* office?” he continued. “I’m asking…when are you coming down to have a dialogue?…What solution do you have?” [*He was referring to the conference room at TRUST South L.A., where residents, volunteers, and stakeholders regularly meet, discuss community problems and potential solutions, and plan community engagements as part of a mobility advisory council.]

Residents and stakeholders in the South Central community ask District Director James Westbrooks to help make their community safer. Photo: Ashley Hansack

Residents and stakeholders in the South Central community ask District Director James Westbrooks to help make their community safer. Photo: Ashley Hansack

Staff on site were not able to offer much in the way of reassurances.

When District Director James Westbrooks was asked by AlBasir El if he would be willing to tell the kids standing there — kids that are regularly transported back and forth to school by bike along Central Avenue — that “we’re not gonna have a bike lane,” there was not much Westbrooks could say.

Price made up his mind on the subject a long time ago.

Sadly, the logic used to reach that decision — detailed in a statement emailed in response to stakeholders’ action — seems rather questionable. Read more…

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South L.A. Art News: The Tenth Wonder of the World is No More

The Tenth Wonder of the World at 62nd and Budlong is no more. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Tenth Wonder of the World at 62nd and Budlong is no more. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

While South L.A. does have its share of incredible murals, it doesn’t have much in the way of public art, as a general rule.

This is beginning to change. Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently celebrated the installation of several new sculptures along 103rd St. recently. In the 8th district, Community Coalition’s Power Fest and artivist events regularly feature live painting and art-making around community justice themes. In the 10th district, Leimert Park Village stakeholders turned the plaza at 43rd Place into a work of art grounded in African principles and symbols and cemented its role as ground zero for creative expression of all forms. And in the historic 9th district, Councilmember Curren Price is hosting a meeting tonight (at 6 p.m. at his constituent center on Central Ave.) as part of an effort to put together a strategic art plan for the area.

Sadly, South L.A.’s art scene lost one of its more unusual staples as 2015 came to a close. The Tenth Wonder of the World, located at the corner of 62nd and Budlong, is no more.

I first stumbled across the marvelous hodgepodge of sculptures and structures a few years ago. Dianne and Lew Harris — brother and sister, curators and residents in the home — were sitting outside as they usually did, and invited me to check out the space.

Dianne and Lew Harris sit outside the Tenth Wonder of the World and engage passersby. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dianne and Lew Harris sit outside the Tenth Wonder of the World and engage passersby. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Read more…