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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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The Tour de Watts Gathers Momentum, Signals Good Things Ahead for Watts

A new form of leadership in Watts. Charles Standokes, Javier Partida, John Jones III, Fredrick Buggs, and Ronnie Parker (on the red bike just out of frame). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A new form of leadership in Watts. From left to right, Charles Standokes, Javier Partida, John Jones III, Frederick Buggs, and Ronnie Parker (on the red bike just out of frame). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While heading to South L.A. for the United Riders of South L.A.‘s Tour de Watts this past Saturday, I was reminded of a guest lecture I gave in a USC journalism class a few weeks ago.

For an hour and a half, I talked about how fortunate I felt to be covering South L.A. and how wonderful and welcoming the people there were. We talked about the problems, of course, and about the importance of taking a nuanced approach to get behind the typical perceptions of the area and its inhabitants. But, I thought I had done a pretty good job of painting a portrait of the South L.A. I know: the one that varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood; the one filled with good people whose ability to be good neighbors to one another is sometimes constrained by challenging circumstances; and the one that isn’t always easy to wrap your arms around but which rewards you tenfold for the effort.

Then, I got their evaluations.

Most had enjoyed the talk immensely and many even found themselves inspired to think about using a bicycle to get to know a community (huzzah!). But, the majority seemed to be incorrigibly wedded to the idea that South L.A. was a seedy and unsafe place.

Not because they’re terrible people, or racist, or even classist — I don’t believe they are. Simply put, that’s just how powerful the stereotypes surrounding South L.A. are.

What does it take to take people’s minds? I wondered as I pedaled down Avalon.

E.J. and Tiffany bring the next generation into the movement. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

E.J. and Tiffany of the East Side Riders bring the next generation into the movement. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sometimes I feel like I can write about how great the people of South L.A. are til I am blue in the face and it won’t make a bit of difference.

Part of the reason, I would guess, is that I still have to write about the problems I see there.

Crime, gang-activity, blight, intense poverty…those things are real. And, they do negatively affect the population.

In fact, just as I was rushing to meet up with the riders at the WLCAC, I ran into a young man I knew on the corner of Century at Ted Watkins park. His fixie had gotten a flat, he said, and he was walking to get his van so he could pick up the bike, which he had left at the park with friends.

What he was telling me, essentially, was that, even though he was a strong, grown man, walking a bicycle a few blocks down the street by himself on a sunny Saturday morning would serve as an invitation for people to take it from him and possibly hurt him in the process.

I nodded.

It’s a story I’ve heard a million times. The unfortunate reality for people in Watts and other parts of South L.A. is that the streets are not all that secure for pedestrians. Or for young cyclists, for that matter, if they are out riding on their own.

It is also a story I don’t enjoy telling because it seems to confirm the negative stereotypes of the area.

And, while it does confirm them to some extent, there is a lot more to the story. Read more…

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“Our Fears Have Not Been Allayed”: The Limits of Regulatory Powers Over Unconventional Oil and Gas Extraction Techniques

Pastor Kevin Sauls and members of Holman Church place a Ban Fracking Now sticker on the full page ad Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas took out in the LA Sentinel in anticipation of the City Council vote. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Pastor Kelvin Sauls and members of Holman United Methodist Church place a Ban Fracking Now sticker on the full page ad Freeport McMoRan Oil & Gas took out in the LA Sentinel in anticipation of the City Council vote. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Qué significa ‘fracking’ en español?” the woman wearing a “People Not Pozos” shirt and a “Ban Fracking Now” sticker asked me.

I scratched my head.

Shouldn’t she know? I wondered.

And, how exactly does one say, “Fracking is a ‘well stimulation treatment that…includes the pressurized injection of hydraulic fracturing fluid or fluids into an underground geologic formation in order to fracture or with the intent to fracture the formation, thereby causing or enhancing…the production of oil or gas from a well‘” in Spanish, anyways? It’s not like it rolls off the tongue all that easily in English.

The broad definition I stumbled my way through apparently satisfied her because she smiled, nodded, and turned her attention back to an oddly clad gadfly making his way to the center podium in order to address the members of the City Council.

“I love prostitution!” he proclaimed.

Earlier, he had waved a bag of lollipops in the air and announced to the councilmembers that he had brought one for each of them because they knew how to suck.

Clearly, I do not hang out here often enough, I thought.

Finally, it was time for Council President Herb Wesson to turn his attention to the motion much of the packed-to-the-gills house was waiting for. Put forward by Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Mike Bonin, it would take the first step toward limiting unconventional oil well stimulation practices within Los Angeles until they could be proven safe.

“Mr. Koretz, treasure that ovation,” winked Wesson, as the crowd stood to enthusiastically applaud what they felt to be the courageous efforts of the councilmembers to wrest back some control over community health from the oil corporations.

Among those present February 28th to witness the unanimous vote were representatives of several environmental organizations and community groups that have dedicated much time and energy to lobbying against harmful drilling practices and educating the public about them.

Many were also just regular people, like the woman who had asked me to translate “fracking” into Spanish for her, or another young community organizer who said he had gotten involved in the fight because of fears that oil companies were “destroy[ing] our health.” For them, the fight was clearly personal. But, when pressed for details, some of them struggled to articulate exactly what it was they thought the oil companies were doing in their communities or how those practices were affecting them.

There are reasons for that. Read more…

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MyFigueroa Project Picking Up Key Neighborhood Council Support

MyFigueroa planned improvements on 11th Street leading to Figueroa Street. Image from MyFigueroa website

MyFigueroa planned improvements on 11th Street leading to Figueroa Street. Image from MyFigueroa website

MyFigueroa is picking up some steam as the city’s decision on an appeal of the project’s certification  approaches.

MyFigueroa is the city of L.A.’s innovative downtown complete streets project, in the works since 2008. The project extends from Downtown L.A. (from the 7th and Fig outdoor mall) into South L.A.(to Exposition Park), and features pedestrian, transit, and bicycle improvements, including what will be the city’s first protected bike lane. MyFigueroa was approved by the City Council in 2013,  but an appeal ended up putting the project before the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee in late January 2014, when approval was put on hold for “30 days.” In city-timeline-speak, thirty days is usually equal to two to four months.

The project is expect to return to PLUM any day now, so MyFig proponents have been making the rounds to reaffirm the broad public support that MyFig enjoys. Many Neighborhood Councils have passed resolutions supporting MyFig, but are now weighing in with letters urging prompt approval.

Just last week, MyFig got a boost from the Empowerment Congress North Area Neighborhood Development Council (NANDC.) According to MyFigueroa advocate Michael MacDonald, NANDC voted to approve sending a letter to the city’s PLUM committee at their March 6th meeting. The motion stated that NANDC supports the project as an investment in the community, and, further, urges the city to proceed with the project as designed rather than risk its funding through redesign.

Last night, MyFig was on the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council’s (DLANC) agenda. At the beginning of the meeting the board was presented with an award in honor of their advocacy for complete streets by Councilmember Jose Huizar. Public comment was unanimous in support of MyFig, and the DLANC approved this MyFig support letter by a vote of 16 in favor, none opposed, one abstaining. Here’s a selection from the DLANC letter: Read more…

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Feasibility Study on Slauson Corridor Rail-to-River Project Takes Another Step Forward

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is not as empty as we imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. is not as empty as we imagine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

How are you going to get community input?

It was a question asked by one of the few community members who had shown up to Metro’s Rail to River meeting last week on the potential conversion of 8.3 miles of the rail right-of-way along Slauson Ave. into an active transportation corridor.

He and a friend were looking at one of the boards illustrating the neighborhoods the corridor ran through and speaking with Ryan Johnson, a planner with the Alta Planning & Design team working on the feasibility study for the project.

I told him that was a good question.

I had heard from several people involved in the project that Metro had been reluctant to do too much community engagement at this point because they are still studying the feasibility of the project. Getting the community excited about a project they are not sure they can bring to fruition hadn’t seemed prudent.

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks, starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. It would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence. (map taken from 2008 Harbor Division study)

The bike and pedestrian paths would run along the Harbor Subdivision tracks, starting just north of Vernon, at Washington, heading south parallel to Santa Fe, heading west at Slauson, and taking a turn southward near Western. It would end at the Crenshaw Line stop at Florence. It could also extend along Randolph (where the path turns north) southwest toward the river. (Map taken from 2008 Harbor Division study)

And while that makes sense, to a degree, if feasibility involves projections of who will use the space and how, knowing how residents currently use the space, their concerns, their aspirations for it, and insight into elements that would entice them to use it would seem important.

Their input would also matter with regard to routes. With regard to the question of whether Metro should invest first in extending the Slauson path along Randoph St. to the river or follow it north toward downtown and Vernon, for example, locals who work in either of those areas might have very different perspective than those who were looking to use the bike facilities for recreation.

With that in mind, I told the young man and his friend, I had spent the weekend prior to the meeting engaging vendors and other folks along the corridor about the meeting and stuffing flyers into their hands.

The neighbors — all of whom unequivocally viewed Slauson as a dangerous, largely inaccessible, and unfriendly space — had been thrilled to hear about the potential for a park-like zone.

All of the vendors remembered me from when I had interviewed them a few months ago and were eager for updates. As before, they were interested in the potential conversion of the space, but apprehensive about what it might mean for them. Most lived in the area and had been vending there on the weekend for several years. They did it because they needed the income. But, they also felt that their presence helped make the area safer — without them, there are few eyes with vested interests in the area looking out onto a street dominated by industrial structures.

Despite their concerns, they were reluctant to commit to attending.

Proclaiming their presence, many felt, might bring unwanted attention and result in their being shut down. Back on November 6th of last year, Councilmembers Jose Huizar and Curren Price introduced a motion asking for the City Council to draft a report and a proposal for the legalization of street vending within 90 days. The Council has yet to make a move in that direction, and the vendors are aware that their presence remains precarious.

I could go to the meeting, the vendor of miscellaneous tools and appliances set up at the corner of Main St. had affirmed in Spanish, but I am a little afraid. I have a permit to vend and I pay taxes — I always have — but I am afraid to speak up.

Why don’t you just come to listen, so you will know what’s going on? I asked. If you have any questions, I can ask them for you so you won’t have to worry.

I could go, he repeated, nodding and folding up the flyers and putting them in his pocket. I will think about it.

He didn’t show up, unfortunately.

Nor did the others.

Read more…

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Garbage Removal Makes Space for New Trash to Accumulate

The tires were left neatly stacked, and two more may have been added to the pile since BSS cleaned up the area. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The tires were left neatly stacked in front of the vacant lot at 41st and Main; one may have been added to the pile since BSS cleaned up the area. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I lost the last of three Turkish wool hats on Sunday.

Silly as it may sound, it genuinely bummed me out. I had brought them back from Istanbul over a decade ago and they were wonderful reminders of where I had been, offered a link (of sorts) to my heritage, and, most importantly, were very warm for biking on winter nights.

I remembered yanking stuff out of my bag at the vacant lot at 41st and Main I photographed for my story on blight and wondered if I had inadvertently dropped it and added it to the pile of stinky garbage occupying the sidewalk.

Lovely, I thought.

Are you there, hat? It's me, Sahra. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Are you there, hat? It’s me, Sahra. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I am nothing if not selectively nostalgic, however.

So, I decided to swing by the lot on my way home from the Rail-to-River meeting held at a school near Slauson and Avalon last night to see if perhaps it was there. The garbage pile had been there for well over a month, so I figured that if it had fallen amongst the other discarded clothing items, it probably wouldn’t have moved. The only question would be how badly it had been contaminated.

I was stunned by what I saw. Read more…

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Blight Begets Blight: Vacant Lots are Popular Dumping Grounds in South L.A.

Vacant lots are magnets for illegal dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Vacant lots are magnets for illegal dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I was on my way home after taking photos of the pretty new parklet that had popped up along Vermont Ave. a month ago, when I stopped by this beauty of a vacant lot (above) at 41st and Main.

Unusually, the gate to the lot was open and the remnants of a red sofa had managed to sneak itself in, apparently in need of a spot to luxuriate in the winter sun away from the stinking pile of garbage left on the sidewalk.

Fetid garbage bags line the sidewalk in January, making that stretch nearly impassable. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Fetid garbage bags line the sidewalk in January, making that stretch nearly impassable. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While the sofa has since been removed and the gate closed, the garbage bags remain.

In the month since I first photographed them, they’ve been picked apart by scavengers and scattered all over the place, making sidewalk passage even more difficult.

What remains of the garbage bags at 41st and Main. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

What remains of the garbage bags at 41st and Main as of this past Sunday. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

And, they’ve been joined by newer, even stinkier and more dangerous friends.

What remains of the garbage bags left at the corner of 41st and Main. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Garbage attracts more garbage. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Some of the newer garbage also included hazardous waste (i.e. motor oil) and boards with nails sticking out of them and some of it appears to have been set on fire recently. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Every Day He’s Hustlin’

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, looking south. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The well-dressed and good-looking young man with enormous glasses walked toward where I was standing at the front of the packed Blue Line car, gave me a wink and a smile, then turned around and began delivering his sales pitch for headphones to the passengers.

Watching him work the car, I was reminded of how puzzling I find complaints about vendors — especially from those that claim they won’t ride the Blue Line because of them — on the trains.

Most of the vendors I have seen are friendly and savvy salespeople who understand that being presentable and personable, having a solid product, and, above all, not harassing passengers are the keys to success.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t get the occasional sad-faced vendor of incense who won’t take no for an answer or someone like the guy that likes to pop his glass eyeball out, of course. But, in my experience, they are in the minority.

The majority either are largely unobtrusive, floating by and murmuring, “DVDs,” like sweet nothings, or are more like the guy with the glasses — someone who is a regular presence, who takes his “job” seriously, and who has invested a lot of time and effort in honing his business and people skills.

If they’re as smart as the guy in the glasses, they anticipate their customers’ needs. When it has rained, he’s offered me umbrellas. When it has been cold, he has peddled hats.

And, he has always had a smile.

Now he was heading back up the aisle toward me again, this time with a different product in his hands.

“Battery chargers!” he announced.

Pointing at the young male passengers, he argued it was not cool to be caught with uncharged phones or other devices. What would the ladies think of such a man? Not very much.

This guy was good. Read more…

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Partnerships Offer Chance for New Riders to Join Ride 4 Love in Watts

The Ride4Love has always been about family, community, and service. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Ride4Love has always been about family, community, and service. Here, founding member Tony August-Jones (right) introduces his youngest kids to the ESRBC way of life. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I won’t be able to be at the Ride4Love in Watts this weekend, and I am more than a little bummed out about it.

The Ride4Love is the East Side Riders‘ (ESRBC) biggest event of the year.

Timed to fall around Valentine’s Day, it is a special event that the ESRBC has long used to highlight both the strengths and challenges in their community.

Founding members John Jones III (president) and his brother Tony August-Jones, who grew up in the area, were taught to give back from a young age. Even while their own family had faced a number of struggles, their mother had always worked hard to offer the needy a place to find shelter or food, or both. It was not unusual for their four-bedroom house to have as many as fifteen people living in it at once, sometimes more.

Once the bike club was launched six years ago and Fred Buggs Sr., Ronnie Parker, and others were brought into the fold, giving back soon became a core part of the club’s activities. So much so that the founders’ children have all cited helping others as one of the things they like most about participating in the club.

Fred Buggs Jr. and Joshua Jones cite feeding the homeless as one of the activities they enjoy. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Fred Buggs Jr. and Joshua Jones cite feeding the homeless as one of the activities they enjoy. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In doing the work that they do, the ESRBC is well aware of the unfortunate stereotype that paints Watts as a dangerous place. Certainly, I haven’t been shy in dedicating pages to airing some of the deeper intransigent issues that plague the area and impact access to public space. But, even in acknowledging these realities, the ESRBC, as do I, want outsiders to understand that Watts is so much more — it is full of wonderful folks who care deeply about community. Read more…

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Active Streets Participants Explore Vermont Square in South L.A.

Participants in the Active Streets walk gather behind the Vermont Square Library.  Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Participants in the Active Streets walk gather behind the Vermont Square Library to debrief about the walk. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“This is such a pretty neighborhood!”

It was a comment I heard several times over the course of the Active Streets event held at Vermont Square park (48th and Budlong) last weekend.

For people unfamiliar with South L.A., the neighborhood appeared to have defied expectations. It certainly defied stereotypes — the winter sky shimmered, the almost two-block-long park behind the homey library sparkled, people’s well-kept homes and yards looked inviting, and the streets were largely clean and peaceful.

It didn’t mean there weren’t issues, of course.

On the short walk the two dozen participants took around the neighborhood to document pedestrian issues, everyone stopped to snap photos of broken asphalt at the ends of driveways and alleys and the dislodged fire hydrant on a quiet corner that a drunk driver had likely slammed into.

Some idiot knocked over a fire hydrant. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Some idiot knocked over a fire hydrant. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The residents didn’t seem as taken with the state of the alleys as the non-residents did.

So many of the alleys have been gated for so long that, while they don’t love them, neighbors don’t always notice them the way that they might be put out by the aggressive, in-your-face blight that is a vacant lot. Read more…

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Hearing For One Hit-and-Run is Rescheduled While Another Takes the Life of a Young Man in Watts

21-year-old Wendy Villegas, charged with a DUI, vehicular manslaughter, and a felonly hit-and-run at her pre-trial hearing yesterday. (Screengrab, KTLA)

21-year-old Wendy Villegas, charged with a DUI, vehicular manslaughter, and a felonly hit-and-run at her pre-trial hearing yesterday. (Screengrab, KTLA)

When a female (who may or may not have been walking her bicycle) was hit and killed by a bus on Slauson in South L.A. last month, I got a few phone calls from friends in the area.

“Was it you?”

“No,” I reassured them. “I’m still here.”

I was surprised they had heard about it. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. It feels like more mainstream attention is being given to incidents on the road that result in the death or serious injury of pedestrians and cyclists of late, and it actually feels like people are paying attention. Or, at least starting to see these preventable tragedies — particularly hit-and-runs — as a problem.

It has been incredibly heartening, for example, to see KTLA take an interest in ghost bikes (and the work of the activists who put up the memorials) and show up yesterday to cover the Ride for Justice for Andy Garcia. Garcia was the young man killed in a hit-and-run last September when an intoxicated 21-year-old named Wendy Villegas slammed into him and dragged his bike under her car several hundred feet up the Cesar Chavez bridge.

KTLA met the riders at the starting point in Bell Gardens, interviewed Garcia’s mother, Carmen Tellez, who was riding with the group, and then stayed to cover the hearing.

Their presence was also an opportunity, notes Tellez, for her to educate the reporters about just how many cyclists are regularly killed on the road, something she felt they are still only just beginning to understand.

But, for all the attention to and education around the problem, the carnage continues.

Just last night, a 19-year-old man was killed in a horrific hit-and-run in Watts.

Jerry Arredondo had stopped by a friend’s place on 105th and was crossing the otherwise quiet street when a (possibly drunk) driver came screaming down the block at between 80 and 100 mph, hit a dip in the road, went airborne, and slammed into him, apparently launching Arredondo 20 ft. into the air and 40 ft. forward. The car then continued on down the street, smashing into seven other parked cars, finally stopping after losing a wheel.

The driver then got out of the destroyed rental car and into a BMW, apparently driven by an acquaintance who thought it prudent to help the first driver get away from the mayhem he had just created.

A search is currently underway for both drivers.

Even when drivers are found, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, as Garcia’s family can attest. Read more…