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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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Eyes on the Street: Car Collides with Southbound Train on Expo/Blue Line Tracks

When it is car vs. train, the car will lose every time. The young man in white with the backpack is the driver. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

When it is car vs. train, the car will lose every time. The young man in white with the backpack is the driver. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

If you’ve ever taken the Blue Line (or Expo Line) headed south, you know that riding the section between San Pedro station and Pico is like watching paint dry.

It is torturously slow.

Which may be why drivers feel they can outrun the train. I’ve seen people squeak through the intersection on red at Pico just as a train was leaving that station on more than one harrowing occasion.

I can’t say for sure that the feeling he could beat the train was why the driver above decided to turn in front it yesterday afternoon, but there’s a good chance it was, given an account by an eyewitness who lived in the building across the street.

It’s a bit of a puzzle to me. There is no shortage of signals at that intersection — those turning left onto the freeway onramp have their own sets of lights.

It's not like there is a shortage of signals. (Google map screen shot)

It’s not like there is a shortage of signals. (Google map screen shot)

They have three, as a matter of fact, and a flashing “train” signal for added good measure (below the stoplight, below). Read more…

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Vermont Entertainment Village Breaks Ground; Residents Ask That Local Hiring Be Cornerstone

At yesterday's groundbreaking, South L.A. resident Dana Gilbert holds an L.A. Times article from 1992 about the plans to rebuild the vacant lots at Manchester and Vermont and the jobs the effort would bring to the area. The article features a photo of himself with then-Mayor Tom Bradley. Gilbert showed up to ask for the job he was promised 23 years ago. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

At yesterday’s groundbreaking at Manchester and Vermont, South L.A. resident Dana Gilbert holds an L.A. Times article from 1992 about the plans to rebuild South L.A. using minority contractors. The article features a photo of himself with then-Mayor Tom Bradley standing in the Manchester/Vermont lot. Gilbert showed up to ask for the jobs he and other residents were promised 23 years ago. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

If they weren’t going to let us in, said an elderly woman in Spanish, then why did they send us cards inviting us to the ceremony?

She had shown up to the groundbreaking for the Vermont Entertainment Village project at Vermont and Manchester yesterday with her daughters and their young children only to be told that it was a private ceremony. She and the other curious residents would have to stay outside the fencing while a host of dignitaries spoke about how wonderful it was to see such positive change on the 23rd anniversary of the 1992 riots and what a hard-fought victory the project represented for the community.

A man outside the fence recalled having been hired to do clean-up work on the lot several years back. Another man said he rushed down to the site on his bike after seeing mention of the groundbreaking on the news that morning. A woman standing with her daughter — who had been born shortly after the riots — recalled watching the swap meet burn. A young man sporting tattoos marking his affiliation said he knew it was a great day for them to begin the project because it was his birthday. And a man who had been managing the residential hotel across the street for the last 5 years said he couldn’t wait for the project to be finished — it was needed in the community.

They pored over the extra brochures I snagged for them to look at.

The prospective tenant chart on Sassony's project website.

The prospective tenant chart includes a much-needed grocery store on Sassony’s project website.

“Ooh, it’s beautiful,” “We need this,” “We have been waiting so long for this,” “We will be able to walk to the grocery store and won’t have to go to the Ralph’s [on Western and Manchester] anymore…well, you’d have to go into that Ralph’s to understand…” and “Universal City Walk gonna be jealous!” were just some of the many comments in favor of the project I heard.

Screenshot of the rendering of the Vermont Entertainment Village interior plaza.

Screenshot of the rendering of the Vermont Entertainment Village interior plaza.

But just as common as the praise for the two-block retail destination center, promenade, and performance space were the questions about jobs and how quickly the residents could have access to them.

No one was more adamant about ensuring jobs went to locals than 53-year-old Dana Gilbert. Read more…

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Long-Blighted South L.A. Lots to See Groundbreaking on Massive Development Wednesday

South L.A., is that you? Renderings by the Sassony group for Vermont Village, to be built on the NE corner of Vermont and Manchester. (screenshot from the SG website)

South L.A., er “SOLA,” is that you? Renderings by the Sassony group for Vermont Village, to be built on the NE corner of Vermont and Manchester. (screenshot from the SG website)

As Baltimore grapples with tamping down the police-community tensions that have been brewing for decades, South Los Angeles may be taking a step forward in mitigating the damage done by the unrest that ravaged much of the area in 1992.

Twenty-three years to the day after a not-guilty verdict for four officers videotaped viciously beating Rodney King launched six days of rioting, Councilmember Bernard Parks will be celebrating the groundbreaking for the Vermont Entertainment Village at the northeast corner of Vermont and Manchester — a major source of blight since the swap meet and other businesses were burned to the ground there in 1992 (see a photo of the swap meet burning, here).

While the ceremony, set for 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, may signal a positive step forward in reclaiming the neighborhood for growth and development, my guess is that, for many residents and business owners in the area, the moment can’t help be anything other than bittersweet.

Screenshot of the rendering of the Vermont Entertainment Village interior plaza.

Screenshot of the rendering of the Vermont Entertainment Village interior plaza.

Developer Eli Sasson (of the Sassony Group) has not endeared himself to either the city or the community over the years. Read more…

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West Adams Neighbors Turn Out to Protest Activities at Drill Site; Studies of Environmental Impact of Unconventional Drilling Techniques Still Underway

Pipelines emanating from the drill site at Jefferson/Budlong run under many homes in the neighborhood.

Pipelines emanating from the drill site at Jefferson/Budlong run under many homes in the neighborhood.

Spring is the season for oiling, it seems.

Over the last month, I’ve been opening my email every morning to see anywhere between 10 and 20 notices from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) advising me that wells across the county will be drilled, reworked, subjected to routine maintenance, or completed at some point within 24 hours to 10 days.

The notifications come as a result of Rule 1148.2 (d), which requires operators to notify the SCAQMD — who then notifies the public — of planned operations with information about the well, a description of the planned activities, and information about the nearest sensitive air quality receptor.

The notices, the SCAQMD reminds me, are “provided for information purposes, and are not intended to suggest that the specified activities are harmful to the public.”

But that is not particularly reassuring to neighbors in West Adams, some of whom turned out to protest the well maintenance activities Freeport-McMoRan (FMOG) had scheduled for a well in the heart of a residential neighborhood at Jefferson and Budlong (above) yesterday.

The notification residents receive about the operations planned for the well next door are rather unspecific. Find the original notice here.

The notification residents receive about the operations planned for the well next door are rather unspecific. Find the original notice here.

Just a day and a half earlier, they had received notice that a well would be reworked via “maintenance acidizing” and, angered by the potential of having an unspecified amount of toxic chemicals trucked through their neighborhood streets and injected into the ground beneath their homes, they planned to meet the trucks at the site.

The confrontation never happened — at 6:44 yesterday morning, FMOG filed a cancellation notice.

The neighbors still held their protest, documented here by the L.A. Times, complaining about odors and noise at the Budlong site and decrying the city’s failure to move forward on the regulation of drilling in residential areas.

Although FMOG has reassured the city and the neighbors that their operations are safe — even going so far, at one point, to request that the Zoning Administration absolve them of having to have their applications to drill new wells subjected to public hearings — the general lack of transparency surrounding their operations at the residential sites has not helped their case.

And the full extent to which these activities may or may not be harming the environment is still under investigation. Read more…

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South L.A. to Become SOLA? Now You’re Just Messing With Us, Right?

The Snack Shack along Central Ave. features mementos of jazz history in its tiny patio. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Snack Shack (est. 1941) along Central Ave. features mementos of jazz history in its tiny, but comfortable, patio area. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

I nearly spit my coffee out all over my keyboard yesterday when I read that 8th District Councilmember Bernard Parks wanted to rename South Central, already “upgraded” to “South L.A.” in 2003, to “SOLA.”

“They see these other communities reinvigorated by these contemporary names,” Parks told the L.A. Times, “And they wonder, at times, why their community is lagging behind.”

Folks do indeed wonder why their community is lagging behind, this is true. But I can guarantee you that the vast majority of them are well aware that that lag has far more to do with structural inequalities and decades of disinvestment in the area, not the name it goes by.

And one only need peruse the comments section of any mainstream news story on “South L.A.” to see that the name change has done little to alter outsiders’ negative perceptions of the area. Meanwhile, many who have grown up there continue to speak of “South Central” and the fierce resilience of the community with great pride.

“South L.A.” may be what we advocates use to describe the 51-sq. mile swath of town south of the 10 Freeway, but “South Central,” for many residents, is about more than geography — it is part of their identity.

Whatever Parks’ motivations as he prepares to leave office this summer (and let’s hope it was not inspired by the new, massive SoLA Village planned for Washington and Hill), his idea is not coming completely out of left field. Renaming, re-vitalizing, re-habilitating, and re-invigorating communities and re-introducing them to the world seems to be all the rage right now.

Here in L.A., those objectives have manifested in city programs like Great Streets and People St, which bank on the re-framing and transformation of key community spaces (street furniture, pedestrian improvements, parklets, etc.) to have the power to “activate public spaces, provide economic revitalization, increase public safety, enhance local culture,…support great neighborhoods” and create “transformative gathering spaces.”

Like with the idea of the name change, however, what sometimes tends to be missing from these efforts is a deeper discussion of how we will get from A to B — how more substantial changes will be effected, particularly in lower-income communities where insecurity in the public space and the lack of access to jobs often present significant hurdles to community-building — and who exactly these “re-imaginings” are for. Too often, for those on the margins, these approaches to urban interventions seem to imply that neither the area nor its current crop of residents are particularly palatable to outsiders.

Which is not to say that re-branding can’t be of value when done properly. Read more…

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Fourteen Artists Named for the Crenshaw Line; What Can We Expect to See From Them?

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Middlebrook’s rich mosaics depict themes of connectivity among diverse populations and between humans and the Earth. (click to enlarge) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Crenshaw Boulevard may be chaotic to navigate due to the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line at the moment, but good things appear to be in the works. The Source reported Wednesday that the new stations will be graced with works from a diverse mix of 14 artists.

If you’ve ridden any of the rail lines, you’ve probably noticed that the stations are unique and play host to artwork that is intended to ground the stations in or make some connection with the surrounding community. This is because 0.5 percent of rail construction project costs are put towards the creation and installation of original artwork at each station.

The formal linking of art with transit began in the 1970s, according to a best practices report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). After the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) offered its support for high quality art and design in federally-funded transit projects and the National Endowment for the Arts published a case study of federal design projects, then-President Jimmy Carter asked the DOT to take a step further and support projects that contributed to the architectural and cultural heritage of local communities. As a result, in 1978, Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore received official support from the Design, Art and Architecture program for permanent public art projects. Boston’s Art on the Line program, which grew out of that initiative, helped set the standard for the integration of public art in transit systems around the country.

I Dreamed I Could Fly

I Dreamed I Could Fly, by Jonathan Borofsky (1993), unfortunately always conjures 9/11 for me.

The 0.5% of construction costs that Metro allocates for art projects is the minimum required by the Federal Transit Authority (the maximum is 5%), and smaller than the national average APTA cites as being between 1% and 2%. But, since 1989, that 0.5% has allowed the Metro Art program to commission over 250 artists for temporary or permanent projects at transit stations.

The projects range from the beautiful Festival of Masks Parade mural by Frank Romero at Wilshire/Normandie, to the intriguing About Place, About Face installation of 27 larger-than-life faces of area residents by Rob Nielson at the Pico-Aliso station, to the downright puzzling and possibly disturbing I Dreamed I Could Fly installation of what appears to be people falling from the sky by Jonathan Borofsky at Wilshire/Vermont (at right). See the full art guide, here.

Putting art in transit stations, says APTA, encourages ridership, improves perceptions of transit, conveys a sense of customer care, enhances community livability, improves customer experiences, improves organizational identity for transit agencies, deters vandalism, and increases safety and security. Which are all fantastic arguments for integrating art at key (and, generally, heavily neglected) bus stops, I might add, but I digress.

In selecting the finalists for the Crenshaw Line, The Source reports that the selection panel assessed how the proposed works would relate to the sites and surrounding communities, while also engaging and enhancing the transit rider’s experience along the line. The final works will take a variety of forms — the artists all work in a variety of media — and be fortified by glass, tile, stainless steel, mosaics, or porcelain enamel.

So, whose work can you look forward to seeing and what kind of work have they done in the past? Read more…

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Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…

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What Does the “Failure” of the Ban on Fast-Food Restaurants in South L.A. to Curb Obesity Really Tell Us?

Young men play basketball during the Summer Night Lights program at the Jordan Downs rec center. It's one of the few opportunities for young men to be out late at night. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Young men play basketball during the Summer Night Lights program at the Jordan Downs rec center. The program provides one of the few opportunities for young men in the housing development to be out safely late at night. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“Yea, everything [is] OK…I hope all is well with you. I’m upset right now & crying because I’m starving. Have no food.”

I stared at the message on my phone. I had just checked in with 19-year-old South L.A. resident Shanique* to see how she was. I had interviewed her earlier in the summer and we had stayed in touch. Her family struggled quite a bit after the loss of her stepfather to a drive-by, the loss of her pre-teen brother to a walk-up (shooting), and being terrorized into silence by her brother’s killers, who lived nearby. Her mother’s disability — incurred years earlier on the job as a postal worker — coupled with a recent cancer diagnosis made it impossible for her to work.

And Shanique’s own promising progress in school had been halted by the trauma of a rape perpetrated against her in her own home at age 14 by the friend of a cousin. When her grades began to drop, instead of being offered extra help and counseling at her high school, she had been asked to leave. She was also shunned by her cousin’s family and friends and intimidated into dropping charges.

She was now struggling her way through a continuation school and working part-time at a grocery store. She was eager to find more work to help support her mother, as her hours were constantly being cut or adjusted, but this was made more difficult by a felony conviction. When Shanique’s best friend had called her on the day before her 18th birthday to ask if she could pick her and another friend up, she neglected to tell Shanique that they had just attempted to break into a home. Although the police could see from the surveillance footage that Shanique had not been anywhere in the vicinity of the incident, she says, the public defender told her flat-out that he was busy with murders and didn’t have time to prepare such a trivial case.

“They could have at least charged me as a juvenile!” she had fumed to me at the time.

Instead, she was stuck with three years’ probation, $5000 in court fees, and a felony strike that would have made it practically impossible for them to qualify for affordable housing when their rent suddenly jumped from $500 to $1600 (when, according to Shanique, the daughter of their landlord decided she wanted access to the property).

The combination of all these things meant that money often ran out well before the end of the month.

But I guess I still hadn’t expected things to be so dire.

Panicked, I immediately dialed her number.

The phone rang.

And rang.

Finally, she picked up.

Too upset to talk, she hung up almost immediately.

She texted me that she would probably go to the rec center about a mile from her house to see if she could get food from the Summer Night Lights program there — they usually grilled hotdogs for the community. She’d done it before, she said. She’d be OK.

* * *

Shanique came to mind as I read the 7-page study on the failure of the 2008 ban on the opening of new, stand-alone fast food restaurants in South L.A. to curb obesity there and the subsequent myriad stories and think-pieces dedicated to questioning the value of the ban, pointing out that obesity appears to have risen between 2007 and 2011 (from 63% to 75% of the population), decrying the nanny state and paternalism, and wondering what made a ban seem like a good idea in the first place.

Shanique, you see, despite suffering from hunger on a pretty regular basis, is obese.

Read more…

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Your Moment of City-Planning Zen: Lulu Guides You Through the Community Plan Implementation Overlay Tool

How will South L.A. develop over the next twenty years?

It’s the question city planners working on the Southeast and South Los Angeles Community Plans have been asking themselves for the past several years. As draft plans move closer to finalization, the decisions they make now about how the communities will be structured and zoned will guide future growth, impact the creation of economic opportunity, safeguard (or change) neighborhood character, and (hopefully) enhance the quality of life there over many years to come.

The new video City Planning just released (above, also available in Spanish) explains the role of the Community Plan Implementation Overlay (CPIO) tool. Where the goals, policies, and programs of the community plans are aspirational, the video suggests, the CPIO can provide the teeth necessary to help bring the specific vision of a community or neighborhood to life.

The ten-minute, easy-to-follow video is narrated by a cheerful, animated Lulu (who sounds kind of depressed in the Spanish version), who claims to be a long-time South L.A. resident (she’s actually voiced by city planner Haydee Urita-Lopez). She explains that the CPIO puts restrictions on nuisance land uses, provides incentives for desired developments, and establishes rules that will guide the appearance of new (or remodeled) structures.

There is a brief tutorial on how the CPIO has broken up each of the communities into four districts — Corridors Districts, Transit-Oriented Districts, Industrial Districts, and Residential Standards Districts — and explains (briefly) how its rules will guide development in each. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Leimert Park Prepares People St Plaza for Grand Opening

The view of the People St Plaza in Leimert Park from the front of the Vision Theater. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The view of the People St Plaza in Leimert Park from the front of the Vision Theater. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The date for the grand opening of Leimert Park’s People St Plaza is not quite set in stone, yet, but it’s coming very soon. And I couldn’t be more excited. The stakeholders in Leimert Park have begun to install some of the unique features they developed as a way to tie the plaza to the culture of the community, and they look pretty fantastic.

Over the last week, Ben Caldwell, founder of the KAOS Network, and others laid down some of the Adinkra symbols which will eventually fill the entire plaza.

Adinkra symbols which will be used to populate the polka dots on the plaza.

Adinkra symbols which will be used to populate the polka dots on the plaza.

The symbols — representative of the philosophies of the Akan people (an ethnic group in Ghana) — were once only seen on cloths worn by community leaders during special occasions. Although they are more widely worn in Western Africa nowadays, and are commonly found stamped onto everyday objects, they still retain their meaning, represent proverbs, depict historical events, or offer some truth about human behavior or the world as the Akan understood it.

The values and ideas the symbols promote will be used to help guide programming in the plaza, incorporated into educational materials, and used throughout the Village area to reinforce the notion that when you enter Leimert Park, you are entering the home of a population with a unique cultural heritage.

The finished plaza will also feature an “urban farm lab” managed by the Carver program, wooden benches, bistro-style chairs and tables, a portable stage, and possibly some of the re-purposed street furniture that Caldwell and USC Annenberg Professor François Bar oversaw the development of in the tactical media courses they joint-taught.

So, what will you see if you stop down to check out Metro’s Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw community fest this weekend or the Leimert Park Art Walk (Sunday, March 29)? Read more…