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Testing Around Exide Plant Continues, Community Voices Frustration over Lack of Clarity in Results

Map of the Expanded Assessment Areas. Testing for lead contamination was originally conducted in the green squares. The current round of testing was conducted in the wider assessment area. Source: DTSC

Map of the Expanded Assessment Areas. Testing for lead contamination was originally conducted in the green squares, based on modeling done by the AQMD regarding the distance and direction toxic particles might travel. The current round of testing was conducted in the wider assessment area. Source: DTSC

“I still don’t have a clear picture of what the results [of the lead testing in the Expanded Assessment Areas] are,” said a representative of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard.

We were now nearly two hours into a community workshop explicitly intended to brief residents on the extent to which lead emissions from Exide Technologies’ secondary smelting operations may have contaminated properties found within the Expanded Assessment Areas (see explanation, at left). And a number of stakeholders had met one-on-one with representatives of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and L.A. County Department of Public Health (DPH) in the two hours prior to the meeting to get the specific results of testing done on their property.

Having tracked Exide’s many air quality standards violations over the years and watched family members and friends suffer from the kinds of issues that run rampant in environmental justice (EJ) communities — asthma, cancer, developmental delays, etc. — residents were frustrated. Even as they celebrated the pending closure and dismantling of the battery recycler that they had battled for so long, they were still looking for definitive answers about what Exide had done to their community while it operated for 15 years under a temporary permit and with minimal oversight.

But the science doesn’t always comply with people’s wishes.

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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The 710 and Measure R2: Can Los Angeles Build Transit and Beat Its Addiction to Asphalt?

Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses attendees at the MoveLA Conference at Union Station. Photo: Roger Rudick.

Mayor Eric Garcetti addresses attendees at the MoveLA Conference at Union Station. Photo: Roger Rudick.

“We have to build an army of people who are willing to say ‘enough is enough,’” said Mayor Eric Garcetti at Wednesday’s MoveLA conference at Union Station, speaking of the region’s traffic and pollution problems.

He was there, along with hundreds of other county and city leaders, drumming up support for Measure R2, a proposed sales tax measure to raise more money for transit.

A recurring theme at the conference was the need to reduce the number of cars.

“We must address CO2 emissions,” said Dr. Manuel Pastor, a director at USC’s Center for Sustainable Cities. “One way to do that is to reduce vehicle miles driven.”

Which made me wonder how R2’s successful predecessor, Measure R, ended up funding projects that will do exactly the opposite, such as double-decking the 710.

In 2008, voters approved R’s half-cent Los Angeles County sales tax for a slew of transportation projects. It raises about $40 billion over 30 years. Denny Zane, former mayor of Santa Monica, founded MoveLA to push for this initiative. It grew out of a need to fund the Wilshire subway extension; Downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, Century City, Beverly Hills, Westwood, Santa Monica — the “core” of Los Angeles stretches down the length of Wilshire Boulevard. Without a heavy rail “spine” connecting the region’s densest area, the entire transit network is handicapped.

Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

But how do you convince someone in Encino or Alhambra to vote for a subway under Wilshire? 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…

Via Streetsblog California
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Republican’s Attempt to Undermine High Speed Rail on Hold…for Now

The Assembly Transportation Committee said “thanks, but no thanks” to A.B. 6, legislation by a Santa Clarita Republican that would give voters the chance to overturn $8 billion in bonds meant to fund California High Speed Rail. A.B. 6 was defeated by an unofficial vote of 7-4 (which will likely be 11-5 when the official tally is released.)

Assemblymember Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) introduced the legislation in hopes of rerouting the funding approved by voters in 2008 for high-speed rail to schools instead. The wastefulness of spending on high-speed rail has been an article of faith for Republicans, with governors in Wisconsin and Florida actually returning federal funding for bullet train projects.

With Governor Jerry Brown championing the project, conservatives have taken to mocking the “Browndoggle” even though campaigning against high-speed rail has not proven to be an electoral winner in the Golden State.

So rather than just attacking high speed rail, Wilk’s argument wasn’t just that high-speed rail is a waste, but that the money could be better spent on schools. Wilk made that argument this weekend in the Sacramento Bee.

I believe there is a better use of the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail. California is in dire need of school facility funding. The last statewide school bond was passed in 2006; only $187 million remains and of that, $142 million is earmarked for seismic repair.

According to the Office of Public School Construction, future need for K-12 new construction and modernization is estimated at more than $16 billion. These bond funds not only are critical to schools, they are beneficial to the economy and will generate thousands of construction-related jobs.

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…

Via Streetsblog California
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Legislative Update: Raise the Gas Tax? Cap and Trade, HOT Lanes

bikeatCapitollabel2Bills have started moving through committees in both houses of the California legislature as the hearing season starts.

For those of you just joining us, we try to provide a regular roundup of legislation of interest to livable streets advocates. Highlights from the current session are included the bills below. Let us know if we missed anything in the comments.

Mandatory Helmet Law Dropped: As we wrote about last week, Senator Carol Liu rewrote her S.B. 192 to ask for a study of helmet use and helmet laws, instead of requiring all bike riders to wear helmets and high-visibility clothing. The new bill is currently set for a hearing in the Transportation and Housing Committee in two weeks.

Proposal to Raise the Gas Tax: Brave Senator Jim Beall finally broached the Subject That Will Not Be Read more…

Via Streetsblog California
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“Level of Service” Planning Is Not Dead Yet

To see a higher-res version of the image, click ##http://www.ci.santa-ana.ca.us/pwa/WarnerAveImprovements.asp##here.##

To see a higher-res version of the image, click here.

This is what happens when transportation planning focuses on moving cars instead of creating spaces for people.

At the same time that California is aggressively moving to ditch the Level of Service standard that has forced transportation and planning projects to measure and mitigate their impact on car traffic, some projects evaluated under that car-centric system still lumber on at the city and municipality level.

This explains how the City of Santa Ana in Orange County is one step away from approving a massive road widening project on one mile of Warner Avenue through the heart of the city. The plan would widen the already four-lane surface street to six lanes, add planted medians and bicycle lanes, and add ADA accessible street crossings.

The project is being completed to “improve traffic flow and improve safety,” according to the city. Worst of all, it is presented as a solution  based on complete streets principles. Again, this is what happens when even well-intentioned cities make transportation decisions based first on how it will impact car traffic.

While it is encouraging that the city is committed to increasing its downtown bike network, there is an inherent contradiction between improving traffic flow, i.e. increasing the speed of traffic, and making the street safer for people who walk or bicycle. Speed is a contributing factor in one-third of fatal traffic crashes nationwide. Fast-moving cars on a six-lane street make a daunting obstacle for pedestrians to cross, no matter how nice the planted median is.

The cost of the project is a cool $55 million, 20 percent of which the city already has in hand. Some of that money comes from Orange County’s transportation bond, Measure M, which handcuffs how municipalities can spend the money.

For the 37 families that will be displaced by the widening, the cost is much higher. Danny Cortes’ family lives at one of the homes Santa Ana plans to purchase for the project. When Cortes learned about the project at community meetings in 2012, his house wasn’t on the list of properties that would be purchased for the project. Only after checking the city’s website in January did he learn that his family would likely be evicted from the place they have called home for over a decade, when the homeowner cashes out.

“It is hard to just leave the place because you have to, when there’s no other option,” Cortes said.

Cortes has been working with Santa Ana Active Streets (SAAS)**, a nonprofit coalition of advocacy groups who push for complete street and smart growth solutions for regional transportation problems. In a document submitted to the city as public testimony, SAAS notes that despite the addition of a bike lane and ADA-compliant street crossings, this plan is not one that will make life safer for street users.

While the proposed bike lane is a much needed asset to create a comprehensive bicycle network in the City, adding bike lanes doesn’t mean the streets will be safer for bicyclists. At Santa Ana Active Streets’ Active Transportation Leadership Program workshop on February 21, 2015, Alta Planning + Design’s Senior Planner Bryan Jones said: “The mere act of adding bike lanes and sidewalks does not make a roadway safe; it has to do with the greater design.”

Santa Ana is not a city of people who are opposed to progressive transportation or have a knee jerk reaction to fighting non-automobile transportation options.  Read more…