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Cyclists, Hikers Urge Park Advisory Board To End Griffith Park Parking Trial

Standing room only crowd as park users rallied to opposed Griffith Park desecration of Mount Hollywood Drive. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Standing room only crowd as park users rally to oppose Griffith Park desecration of Mount Hollywood Drive. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last night, over a hundred people who walk or bike in and near Griffith Park attended the Griffith Park Advisory Board meeting to express opposition to a current 3-week trial allowing cars on formerly car-free Mount Hollywood Drive. In an attempt to deal with the problem of “too much traffic,” the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP) has opened one mile of Mt. Hollywood to driving and parking.

A month ago, that quiet park road was off-limits to cars, and home to people on foot and on bike, and even coyotes and other wildlife. Today, it serves a parking lot.

DRP Assistant General Manager Kevin Regan stressed that spring break was the heaviest time of the year for Griffith Park, with car traffic sometimes backing up onto adjacent surface streets. “There’s a ton of people coming and there always will be” Regan stated. His statements tended to conflate “people” solely with cars and parking.

With the large standing-room-only crowd in attendance, and more than 50 speaker cards on the Mount Hollywood Drive item, the park board decided to cap testimony at 20 minutes.

Nobody spoke in favor of the pilot.

Many people expressed their deep affinity for Griffith Park’s serene car-free roads as a respite to the car-centric streets of Los Angeles. Weighing in against the trial were representatives from cycling organizations, including the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Finish the Ride, Ride to Recovery, and the city’s Council-appointed Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Though cyclists comprised the majority of the opposition, hikers and equestrians also expressed frustration with the trial. Friends of Griffith Park board president Gerry Hans spoke on his organization’s strong opposition, reiterating concerns raised in the FoGP’s comment letter [PDF].

A few speakers attributed the park’s worsening traffic problems to Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge. LaBonge has had a heavy hand in steering Hollywood Sign tourist traffic away from the well-heeled Beachwood Canyon neighborhood, re-focusing it instead toward Griffith Observatory, then spilling onto Mt. Hollywood Drive.  Read more…

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Griffith Park Traffic Response: Poorly Defined Free Parking Expansion Pilot

Cars parking and turning on Mount Hollywood Drive, until recently one of Griffith Park's car-free recreation roads. Photo courtesy Friends of Griffith Park

Cars parking and turning on Mount Hollywood Drive, until recently one of Griffith Park’s car-free recreation roads. Photo courtesy Friends of Griffith Park

The city of Los Angeles’ Griffith Park is a 4000+acre green-space gem at the heart of highly developed region.

Since the early 1990s, the park has had an extensive network of closed-to-cars paved roads that crisscross many of its wilderness hillsides. These roads offer a quiet respite from the city, plus incredible views. Like other car-free spaces, they are very popular with people on foot and on bicycle. Friends of Griffith Park’s board president Gerry Hans calls these roads “an unexpected mecca for passive recreation, especially bicyclists.”

The city of Los Angeles’ Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP, which as of press time had not responded to SBLA’s inquiry) recently began a trial that opened up a one-mile car-free stretch of Mount Hollywood Drive to driving and parking. This is the park road directly west of the Griffith Observatory.

The trial is poorly defined. DRP has yet to put anything in writing about it. In theory, DRP is testing out 200 additional parking spaces, which may someday become paid parking to help drivers access the park and to help the department capture revenue. The plan, as explained by Hans, is for DRP to eventually charge for parking at three locations: Griffith Observatory, Western Canyon Road, and Mount Hollywood Drive. Today, all Griffith Park parking is free, other than at the L.A. Zoo. Why the DRP is giving away free parking to test paid parking is unclear.

During the trial underway, park staff are surveying people who drive and park on the newly-gridlocked Mount Hollywood Drive. Hans reports that DRP personnel are refusing to take input from hikers and bicyclists present, surveying only motorists. The newly opened road, like many places with free parking, has been full of cars driving, parking, and turning around. It has already become an uncomfortable place for walking and bicycling.

The trial opened last Friday, March 20, and is set to last for three weeks.

What’s putting pressure on DRP to do something? It apparently has to do with the longstanding L.A. icon called the Hollywood Sign, which resides in an essentially inaccessible area of Griffith Park.  Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Avalon and Gage Pocket Park is Now Open

New children's play area open at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

New children’s play area open at Avalon and Gage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Over the past year, I watched the Neighborhood Land Trust and Department of Parks and Recreation slowly transform a dumpy traffic island at Avalon and Gage into something families in the community could actually use and be proud of.

The transformation couldn’t come soon enough.

The island sits at a very busy intersection in a neighborhood whose environment is intensely impacted by the factories found on the east side of Avalon, along Gage, and the heavy and fast-moving traffic (especially truck traffic) the corridor sees.

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

The island from above. It sits on the edge of an industrial zone (at right). (Google maps screen shot).

The section of Gage just east of Avalon. (Google map screen shot)

The section of Gage just east of Avalon. The new pocket park is at center left (A). Click to enlarge. (Google map screen shot)

The island, in its earlier iteration as a tiny and uninspiring oasis from the chaos, had never realized its full potential. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Avalon/Gage Pocket Park Continues to Take Shape

The pocket park at Avalon and Gage takes shape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The pocket park at Avalon and Gage takes shape. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As much as I genuinely adore South L.A., I have to admit it isn’t always the sparkliest of places.

Years of neglect by the city, a lack of investment in infrastructure, the seemingly haphazard zoning (or lack of enforcement of codes) that allows for toxic enterprises to set up shop in residential areas, and rampant dumping mean that even the most beautiful of older buildings and streets can seem somewhat drab and run down.

So, it was fun to see such a bright pop of color (above) appear at a traffic island at Avalon and Gage recently.

The space is soon to be a pocket park, courtesy of parks-oriented non-profit the Neighborhood Land Trust (LANLT). It will feature playground equipment, fitness equipment, seating and tables, pedestrian lighting, and new trees and plants.

They broke ground on the park in May of this year and planned to complete construction this year, although it appears as though it may not be finished before early 2015.

The plans for the new parklet at Avalon and Gage. Courtesy of the Neighborhood Land Trust.

The plans for the new parklet at Avalon and Gage. Courtesy of the Neighborhood Land Trust.

Read more…

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South L.A. Power Fest Illustrates Successful Placemaking Requires Deep Community Roots

"We are only as strong as our weakest link." Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth at Community Coalition. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“We are only as strong as our weakest link.” Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth at Community Coalition. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

“We are only as strong as our weakest link,” youth leader Alfonso Aguilar tells the youth participating in the South Central Youth Empowered through Action (SCYEA) program at Community Coalition (CoCo).

“So, if you’re feeling weak, step into the center of the circle.”

Much to my surprise, a dozen students ranging from 14 to 18 years old move into a huddle in the middle and immediately link arms. Those left on the outside circle cheer them on and pledge their support before the circle collapses in a massive group hug.

It was an uplifting way to end what had been a long day for them — it was now well after 7 p.m. and the youth had come to CoCo directly after school so they could get a snack, do their homework, and pound the pavement in the surrounding neighborhoods to promote this weekend’s South L.A. Power Fest at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

I was there because I had wanted to do the door-knocking outreach with the SCYEA youth.

Much like when Erick Huerta and I assisted CicLAvia with door-knocking in Boyle Heights, I was looking to hear directly from community members about how they saw their neighborhood and their relationship with the public space. I spend enough time in South L.A. to feel like I know the needs and concerns pretty well, but its important to continue to check in and listen, especially as the area grows and changes.

It seems even more important to listen to the youth from the area — like those CoCo had tasked with doing the outreach as part of their leadership training — who often feel constraints on their mobility in the public space most acutely.

So, I was thrilled when CoCo gave me the OK to tag along with their door-knockers last week.

Doing outreach with Community Coalition youth Raymond and Antoine. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Doing outreach with Community Coalition youth Raymond Davis and Antoine Johnson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Besides being really cool youth, it was clear that they knew the issues well, cared about engaging neighbors, and were sincere in wanting residents to come out to the event.

As we canvassed an area near Manual Arts High School on 41st St., Raymond Davis (above, left) would announce he was a sophomore there, that he knew the concerns of the community, and that he wanted a place for kids to be able to play where parents wouldn’t have to be fearful for their safety.

The festival would have something for everyone, he would continue, including a job and other resources tent, information on healthcare enrollment, cooking demonstrations, food trucks, music, zumba, and an artivist (artists + activism) tent where local artists will share their work and contributions to social justice.

“I don’t like that park,” one man said, scowling as he turned the event flyer over in his fingers. Read more…

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

A parklet under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

A pocket park under construction. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog LA

My, my, what have we here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Judge Denies Demolition Injunction for Riverside-Figueroa Bridge

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

Landbridge supporters rallied on the Riverside Figueroa Bridge this morning, while the fate of the bridge was being decided in court. photo courtesy Kathleen Smith

At a hearing this morning, Judge James Chalfant denied an appeal that would have stopped the demolition of the city of Los Angeles’ historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Plaintiffs Enrich L.A. and RAC Design Build have been pushing for the city to preserve the span into and convert it into the Landbridge, an elevated park similar to New York City’s High Line.

The Riverside-Figueroa Bridge spans the Los Angeles River in North East Los Angeles. It connects the communities of Elysian Valley and Cypress Park. The existing bridge was built in the 1920s, then partially re-built in the 1950s. In 2006, the Los Angeles City Council approved a project to tear down the bridge and replace it with a widened freeway-scale version. In 2008, the city designated the bridge as a historic-cultural landmark. In 2011, the city began construction on the widened replacement bridge, which opened to car traffic last week.

Landbridge proponents’ counsel asserted that, since the bridge was named a historic landmark, the city is legally required to bring the demolition before its Cultural Heritage Commission, which it has not done. The plaintiffs also assert that the new wide bridge design has changed from what had been approved. Initially designs showed the new bridge inhabiting the same space as the existing bridge. According to the plaintiff’s legal case documents, the “current construction extended beyond approved boundaries by more than 60 feet.” This change in design, unannounced by the city of Los Angeles, has opened space for the two bridges to exist side by side.

Deputy City Attorney Mary Decker asserted that the 2006 City Council approval is all that was needed to proceed.  The city further requested that, if an injunction were approved, the court must:

order immediate posting of a bond by the Petitioners. The amount of the bond must be at a minimum, $18,000/day for each day of delay starting June 9th, 2014, which is the amount of damages the City is estimated to incur based on delays and disruptions to the existing contractor schedule.

At the beginning of the hearing, the judge appeared heavily inclined to side with the city. He asserted that there was an “insurmountable… evidence problem” with Landbridge proponents’ documentation being gathered from city documents posted on-line. He chastened Landbridge proponents that their Cultural Heritage Commission process requests were “too late” and “not the kind of thing you do at the last minute.” Landbridge proponents’ counsel responded that their clients had been working closely with the city, up until the Board of Public Works vote last week, and that asserting legal claims too soon could have soured a process that appeared to some hope of success.  Read more…

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Weekend Update: Lawsuit and Rally to Save Riverside-Figueroa Landbridge

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. LandBRIDGE proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Tomorrow is a crucial decision point for the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Landbridge proponents rally at the bridge at 8am.

Last Wednesday, proponents of preserving the historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge lost an appeal before the L.A. City Public Works Commission. EnrichLA, RAC Design Build, and others, have pressed for converting the bridge into a “Landbridge” – an elevated park, similar to New York City’s Highline, accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

Last Thursday, the new parallel bridge opened to traffic; car traffic that is, bicyclists and pedestrians are still awaiting the opening of their facilities. Late Friday, Landbridge leaders filed a lawsuit to prevent demolition. Landbridge proponents are seeking a legal injunction against demolition. The case is scheduled to be heard at 8:30am tomorrow morning at Department 85 or 86 in Los Angeles Superior Court, 111 N. Hill Street in Downtown Los Angeles.

Just before the court hearing tomorrow, Monday June 2nd, 2014, at 8am, there’s also a rally at the bridge itself. Event details at Facebook.

At a time when the city is announcing a billion dollar investment in this stretch of the Los Angeles River, it would be unfortunate for them not to preserve existing structures that contribute the historic character of river.

 

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South L.A. Park Has Great Potential, but Lacks Sidewalks That Would Make it Accessible to All

No sidewalks in sight. Jackie Tatum Harvard Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

No sidewalks in sight along 62nd St. at Jackie Tatum Harvard Park. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When people talk about park access, they usually are referring to whether or not people have a park near their homes.

In the case of the Jackie Tatum Harvard Recreation Center, you have a great park with some great new facilities in South L.A. — a traditionally park-poor area — but it isn’t that easy to access.

The reasons for this are many.

The park, located at 62nd and Denker and has traditionally been a hangout of the Harvard Park Brims (Bloods) sets that run in the area.

As HPB territory is surrounded on all four sides by Crip sets, it has historically been somewhat embattled. Long-time residents all have stories of how active the area and, in particular, the park used to be, both as a place for gang members to party and where daytime shootings were not out of the ordinary.

While things have gotten better of late, gang members can still limit park access; they apparently even temporarily chased out workers putting in the new skate park there just a few years ago. And, the fact that it is a known gang hangout endangers non-gang members, too. In 2012, Patrick Carruthers, a beloved nineteen-year-old park volunteer with a learning disability was shot in the back and killed in a middle-of-the-day walk-up while listening to music on a picnic bench.

Some attempts to manage the problem have been made with the (overdue) installation of cameras around the park last year that are monitored by the LAPD’s 77th Division. But, budget cuts have hurt the ability of parks in lower-income neighborhoods like this one to fill staff positions and offer classes to the community that might help keep youth engaged in healthy activities and out of trouble. And, because many in the area struggle financially, the park lacks the ability to charge fees for programs to cover some of their costs the way one in a wealthier community might be able to do.

No sidewalk here, either. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

No sidewalk here, either. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The other access issues should be more easily (and are long overdue to be) fixed.

While it may have nice tennis courts, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, an awesome water slide and aquatic center, several playing fields, beach volleyball pits, a playground for kids, and even horseshoe toss pits, if you’re disabled, pushing kids in a stroller, or just want to take a stroll around the park, you’re out of luck.

Somehow, the park has gone all this time without having sidewalks on three sides. Read more…

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Kickball to the Rescue!: How Active Programming in Parks Makes Communities Safer

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Championship game of the kickball tournament held this past Sat. at Ted Watkins Park in Watts. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

When I first visited Ted Watkins Park at 103rd and Central in 2001, I didn’t stay very long.

I was exploring the community with my boyfriend of the time, who happened to be white, and we caused quite a stir. A few people even jeered at us, with one asking if we had “come down from the hills” to grace Watts with our presence.

Despite it being one of the few “neutral” sites everyone could access (not located within a housing development or claimed by a gang), the 27-acre park itself didn’t seem particularly welcoming, either. The equipment and facilities were in bad shape and the place felt rather dirty. There wasn’t really much of a picnic area where we could sit down and take everything in, and my ex was pretty sure no one wanted us to do that anyways.

Fast forward a decade and a $6.8 million renovation later, and Ted Watkins Park is a totally different place.

Bright and colorful, nicely landscaped, chock-full of picnic tables, playing fields and handball courts, and peppered with fitness equipment along the west side, it is a jewel of the community.

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Jimmy and his daughter take a break from the sun and the kickball game. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

During daylight hours, you can find many people working out on the equipment and jogging or walking around the outer edge of the park (there is even a path through the tree-lined fitness area on the west side, so folks don’t have to make their way past the guys selling used cars along the park’s edge on Central). The handball courts, skate area, and children’s play area are also always bustling with activity.

With regard to programming, the Watts farmers’ market can be found there Saturday mornings (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.), there are often formal soccer games or informal practices and games happening at one or more of the playing fields, and, in summer, the Parks After Dark program lets people enjoy the park until late into the evening.

While both the renovations and programming play an important role in the park’s success, my observation is that programming plays a bigger role than you might imagine. Read more…