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Finally Given a Platform, Boyle Heights Speaks Out on Metro’s Mariachi Plaza and Affordable Housing Plans

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irwin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Accused of smirking her way through Metro’s heated community meeting on the fate of Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights by an agitated attendee, a clearly flustered Jenna Hornstock (Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning) had had enough.

“It’s hard to stand up and say, ‘We screwed up!’” she said of feeling like she had been on an apology tour since last November, when Metro bypassed the community engagement process and announced they were seeking to grant Exclusive Negotiated Agreements (ENA) to proposals for Mariachi Plaza and affordable housing projects at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto.

Agreeing that the community had indeed been overlooked, Hornstock declared to the packed house at Puente Learning Center that she was not smirking. Rather, she was trying her best to absorb the pain and heartfelt concerns of residents who feared being displaced — both culturally and economically — from their community.

But as residents continued to hammer her about the fact that implementing federal housing guidelines — the calculation of rents using the Area Median Income of L.A. County ($81,500) and the use of federal funds to build the sites — would harm the community by both pricing out area residents and opening up the applicant pool to folks from outside the area, she couldn’t help but throw up her hands.

“I don’t know what we should be doing,” she said citing the very real economic dilemma affordable housing proponents and projects face. “If developers can’t fund projects, they won’t build them.”

That dilemma is precisely why people seemingly counterintuitively cry “gentrification” when told affordable transit-oriented housing projects are coming to their communities.

In the case of Boyle Heights, for example, the median income is $33,325 — far below L.A. County’s median. And because it is the median and not the average, the number of households earning less than $40,000 per year is nearly three times that of those above the threshold.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times' neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 homes are below $40,00 per year. Source L.A. Times.

Screen grab from the L.A. Times’ neighborhood guide indicating ~16,500 households in Boyle Heights earn below $40,000 per year. Source L.A. Times.

The majority of Boyle Heights residents would easily meet the first set of qualifications by falling below the maximum income limits set (calculated using percentages of the county AMI) on affordable units.

The problem is, as well over 9,000 households earn below $20,000 a year, a great many of them will struggle to the meet minimum income limits and the resulting rents developers may set for the apartments (see a sample set of requirements from the East L.A. Community Corporation below). Read more…

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Are You Supposed to be Here?: Officer Harasses Black Cyclists during MLK Day Parade

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Members of the Black Kids on Bikes and their supporters gather for a photo during the MLK Day Parade along King Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you supposed to be in the parade?”

Arms outstretched to halt the glacially-paced forward movement of the group, the LAPD officer stepped in front of long-time South L.A. Real Ryda and one of the area’s best-known cycling elders, William Holloway.

Stunned, we all looked at each other.

Is this man serious?

The Real Rydaz and some of the other low-rider clubs they teamed up with for South L.A.’s King Day parade yesterday specialize in parades. The great energy they bring by performing tricks with their intricately detailed bikes makes them crowd favorites around the city, but especially along King Blvd., where they have a long history with the community. It’s not unusual to hear people chant “Real Rydaz!” from the sidelines as they see the bikes approaching. Or to hear the entire crowd break into song, as they did yesterday, when Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday!” (written to celebrate Dr. King) blared from one of the Rydaz’ speakers.

“Sir, they ride in the parade every year,” I interjected. “Everybody knows them.”

Henry, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Henry III, Helen Myers, a Lady Rider, Shuntain Thomas, and others wait patiently for the parade to move forward. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Holloway then began to speak up, as did some of the others, asking what the problem was and declaring that they had been participants in the parade for years.

Now a little less sure of himself, the officer kept looking back and forth between me (the non-African-American) and the Rydaz, as if he wasn’t sure he could take their word for it and I might be the one to provide the real story of what was going on. Read more…

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Filed Under: Ugly Things You Find on the Interwebs

The cover photo from the offending FB page.

The cover photo of a purported bike “thief” from the offending FB page. In reality, it is a photo of Bay Area cyclist and creative DAGHE taken by Pendarvis H., Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion.

“Wow… is all I can say,” wrote Veronica Davis, avid cyclist and member of Black Women Bike: D.C. under a photo on a facebook page entitled, “Black People with Bikes that Aren’t Theirs,” that insinuated she was riding a stolen bike.

“The ignorance of this page is astounding,” she continued. “Especially since this is a photo of me on a bike I didn’t steal.”

It’s true, the ignorance of the page was astounding (even featuring stock photos of black children on bikes and labeling them as thieves) as was its growing number of “likes” (3280 and counting since I first saw the page this morning).

I was tempted to brush it off as one of the many, many, many outrageously stupid, racist, ignorant things you can find on the interwebs with great ease. But it was tapping into something that seems to be up for national debate right now — the right of people of color to move through the public space free of suspicion — and using the photos of known African-American cyclists and livable streets advocates to make a case against their right to do so.

And while the owner of the page claimed it was harmless, stating, “This page started off as shits n gigs [sic] but for some reason people cant [sic] accept that. Im [sic] not purposely trying to be racist. All im [sic] trying to do is make people laugh,” it really isn’t.

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, John Crawford (killed in Walmart while carrying a toy gun sold by the store), 12-year-old Tamir Rice (killed for brandishing a toy gun and not given first aid because officers were busy tackling and handcuffing his 14-year-old sister when she tried to come to his aid), Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino, 34 (gunned down in Gardena by the very police he and his brother had called for help while looking for their stolen bike), and many others all offer powerful illustrations of how easily biases about the intentions of people of color can upend their fates.

And while these issues have finally become big news of late, it is not news to folks of color that they are often viewed with suspicion in the public space, particularly by law enforcement. Walking-while-black (or brown) offers its own unique set of challenges. But so does riding bikes. Read more…

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Calendar for Metro Outreach on Boyle Heights Projects and a Correction About Tonight’s Meeting

Earlier this week, we mistakenly posted that Primestor, the developer looking to overhaul the space around Mariachi Plaza, would be presenting at the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUC) meeting of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council tonight.

Instead, tonight’s meeting (see agenda) will focus on Abode Communities’ affordable housing plans for the site at Cesar Chavez/Soto. The Joint Development Agreement between Metro and Abode would result in 77 family-oriented units (54 2-bedroom/1-bath units and 23 3-bedroom/2-bath units) and 8000 sq. ft. of commercial space divvied up between two four-story buildings that will be connected by a skybridge. Another Metro-owned parcel across the street (in light yellow, at right) is slated to be the home to a new grocery store. (See more specifics here and here).

Abode's plans for the site at Cesar Chavez and Soto.

Abode’s plans for the site at Cesar Chavez and Soto.

The plans for this project will not be up for review at the meeting tonight, but Metro will be asking for the PLUC to recommend the project move forward with a the first phase of a phased exclusive negotiation agreement (ENA) between Metro and the recommended developer.

Typically, an ENA grants a developer the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents, free from competition from other developers. A phased or interim ENA of the kind Metro is proposing would allow for the community to have a window into the development of the plans and input on their refinement over a period of approximately three months. At the end of that period, Metro would be able to report back to the Board to seek the full ENA for the site.

The PLUC voted to recommend this approach with the 1st and Soto projects (below), to be built by Bridge Housing Corp. and ELACC, on December 11th (sending it to the larger BHNC for final approval), but rejected allowing the Mariachi Plaza project to move forward. Read more…

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ART CRASH –

For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/745207342241364/?ref=56&unit_ref=suggested_events

“Art is not what you see,
but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

Art takes on many forms. The asphalt we roll on is our canvas. Every ride on it is yet another brush stroke and on these streets we create a masterpiece. The cross roads of contemporary art and the performance art of LA street cycling intersect at “Art Crash”.

The ride will encompass art openings at both Bergamot Station in Santa Monica and the Culver City Arts District. Bergamot Station will have seven simultaneous openings and Culver City will have fifteen. The meet point will be at the LACMA where a number works can be viewed for free prior to the rides commencement.

We’ll roll at a slow to medium pace and crash Bergamot Station first. There will be a half way stop on the way there at a market for snacks and refreshments. Because of the art opening time overlap, we will depart for the Culver City Arts District not a minute later than 6pm and catch the remaining time for viewing which terminates at 8pm. We roll back to the LACMA after our contemporary art experience is complete for the day.

Meeting Spot:
LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Urban Lights

When:
Saturday January 10th
Meet at 2pm and roll at 2:45 pm sharp.

Ride Length:
Approx. 24 miles over mostly flat terrain.

What to Bring:
A working bicycle, U-lock, spares, tools and a happy face.

What not to Bring:
A bad attitude, destructive behavior and or malicious intentions. The Art Police will not tolerate this kind of thing.

Disclaimer:
Bike riding has its inherent risks as do all modes of transportation including but not limited to travel by automobile, train, aircraft, watercraft, horseback, camelback or foot. This ride is open to the general public and those who choose to participate knowingly assume all personal liability in doing so.

More details at http://ckewer.com/ArtCrash.html

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Caribbean-Style Parades, Drum Processions, and Bike Rodeos, Oh My!: Here’s What’s on Tap at CicLAvia on Sunday

Ade Falade puts his bike up on the stand at the repair station outside the KAOS Network in Leimert Park as members of Black Kids on Bikes gather for their monthly ride. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ade Neff puts his bike up on the stand at the repair station near the Vision Theater in Leimert Park as members of Black Kids on Bikes gather for their monthly ride. BKoB members will be set up here to help repair bikes on Sundays. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Rain, rain stay away. Come again some other Sunday.

This Sunday, December 7, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., South L.A. will host its first CicLAvia and there is simply too much awesome stuff planned for the rain to make an appearance.

As you hopefully know by now, the route for this year’s event is anchored in two of South L.A.’s more historically significant and vibrant neighborhoods.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend's CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend’s CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

And while they are vastly different — Leimert Park is in the throes of an African-American-centric artistic and cultural renaissance while Central Ave., situated on the edge of Historic South Central proper, is now a majority-Latino community and is diligently moving forward on creating a Business Improvement District to spur economic growth along the corridor — both communities are taking the mission of helping residents and visitors alike see their neighborhoods with new eyes very seriously.

Both are also connected by Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. — which hosts the annual King Day parade every January and is flanked (on the Leimert end) by 40′ high pine trees, which were planted in honor of Dr. King.

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade last year. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Families along Martin Luther King Blvd. celebrate at the King Day parade last year. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s overview, because South L.A’s greatest assets are its people — their unique identities, heritage, experiences, cultures, artistry, and aspirations, the day is going to be about much more than riding bicycles. Consider the following list (and CicLAvia’s downloadable pocket version) your formal invitation to get off your bike at a hub and stay a while. Read more…

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Community Gets Ready for Sunday’s CicLAvia: “It’s Going to Be a Good Day for South L.A.”

The East Side Riders' Ride4Love has always been about family, community, and service. Here, ESRBC co-founder Tony August-Jones brings his sons along while nephew Joshua Jones ensures they stay in the carrier. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The East Side Riders have always been about family, community, and service. Here, ESRBC co-founder Tony August-Jones brings his sons along while nephew Joshua Jones helps ensure they stay in the carrier. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It was exciting, said Community Health Council’s (CHC) Andres Ramirez Huiztek, that South L.A. would finally have the opportunity to “show [people] what CicLAvia can be” this weekend.

If you’ve attended a CicLAvia event before — a festival that spans and connects communities by temporarily closing the streets to cars and opening them to people for recreation — you might be wondering, “Which people? What kind of CicLAvia? A car-free festival really isn’t that complicated, is it?”

In theory, no.

But, in practice — particularly in the planning of the expansion to new communities — it can be.

As CicLAvia organizers and volunteers have learned while putting together events in Boyle Heights/East L.A. and South L.A., communities that have long been marginalized by the city often have different relationships with their streets and different ideas about what it means to be “livable.” And as these communities often consider their people — their unique identities, heritage, shared experiences, cultures, and aspirations — to be their greatest assets, they are adamant that they be seen as more than just a space people will move through. They want to be respected as partners in the planning of how their streets will be re-purposed for the day. And they want to see themselves reflected in the framing of the event and the messaging around it, both so the event feels welcoming to community members unfamiliar with it and to ensure the community is adequately and accurately represented to potential visitors.

In this way, CicLAvia seems to be transitioning from being an “open streets” event to a kind of “open communities” festival. And while that process is not without its growing pains, the unique opportunity it affords neighborhoods to re-introduce themselves to Angelenos on their own terms may help bridge some of the deep divides that mark what can be a surprisingly segregated city.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend's CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

Map of the South L.A. route for this weekend’s CicLAvia. The 6-mile route runs largely along King Blvd. and has hubs in the historic arts communities of Leimert Park and the Central Ave. Jazz Corridor.

At least, I hope so.

For South L.A., that means a chance to counter persistent negative stereotypes by introducing people to the diversity and vibrancy of the neighborhoods that comprise the area, showcasing their powerful artistic heritage and the artists carrying those (and new) legacies forward, and shining a light on those community heroes who have tirelessly worked to strengthen their communities from within.

For South L.A. native and advocate-extraordinaire Tafarai Bayne, this day has been a long time coming. Read more…

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Beyond the Gates: USC Planning Students Build Ties with Communities through Tours

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Planning students from USC’s Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles listen to Frederick Buggs, Sr., of the East Side Riders BC discuss some of the history of Pancho’s Bakery and what it meant to him as a kid growing up in the area. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A few weeks ago, I got a phone call asking me to help someone interested in journalism put together a tour in South L.A.

I immediately found myself getting anxious. Tours into lower-income areas can be a touchy thing, depending on who wants to do the tour, what their intentions and expectations are, who leads it, what the focus is, who the group connects with, how interactions are handled, and so forth.

So, when people ask me about getting to know an area, I usually prefer to steer them towards jumping in feet first and doing volunteer work in schools, participating in community events, or just spending time there.

But it doesn’t mean that tours can’t have value, especially if their objective is to make people comfortable enough to begin to build a longer-term relationship with a community.

That seems to be the idea behind the Beyond the Gates program launched in this past spring by Alison Spindler, then-president of the Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles (PELA), a student organization at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

The PELA students feared that the gates erected around the perimeter of USC following the horrific killing of two international students in April of 2012 would deepen the physical and social disconnect between the university and the surrounding community. Given that that divide was emblematic of the very barriers to equity and social justice they hoped to dismantle through their work in planning, policy, and development, they felt they would have to be the ones to take the first steps toward closing that gap.

Read more…

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Dupont-Walker, Community Press Metro on Surprising Changes Slated for Mariachi Plaza, Demand More Outreach

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But, according to Metro, it’s a rendering of what Mariachi Plaza could look like a few short years from now. (Source: Metro)

How can we ensure stakeholder input has value and is incorporated into planning? And, in so doing, help the community feel comfortable in trusting Metro to make sure that happens?

The queries, posed by Metro Board Member Jacqueline Dupont-Walker to Metro CEO Art Leahy during Tuesday’s Planning Committee meeting were in response to Boyle Heights residents’ complaints that Metro had failed to seek adequate community input on a potential development at Mariachi Plaza that would fundamentally transform the area.

She was right to ask.

Despite promises made in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for projects at Mariachi Plaza and other area sites], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding th[ese] development site[s],” no notice seems to have been given — either to the community or the advisory committee for the Eastside Access project — about Tuesday’s motion to allow Metro to enter into an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) with Primestor Development.

An ENA grants Primestor — one of four applicants who submitted proposals for Metro’s RFP to develop the Mariachi Plaza parcels — the space to further develop their plans, work out the terms of a Joint Development Agreement (JDA), work out ground leases with Metro, and pull together the appropriate construction documents.

According to Metro, Primestor won out over the other applicants because of their track record with financing, commitment to job creation, “well-conceived proposal,” “attractive, transit-oriented design,” and expanded development footprint, made possible by their decision to “partner” with a neighboring property owner.

The new footprint of the plaza project. The green represents private property Primestor would acquire. Source: Metro

The expanded footprint of the plaza project. The green represents private property Primestor would acquire. Source: Metro

Specifically, that means that the buildings now housing J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia restaurant, and Libros Schmibros (in green, above) will be turned into “retail and commercial office space that could provide a combination of food and beverage retail opportunities [and] a fitness center.”

The vacant lot at Bailey (the grey square below, at right) will be converted into an 8-story office building with 6 floors (528 spaces) of parking and 2 floors of medical offices, helping address the spillover demand for medical services from White Memorial Hospital (which sits across the street from the lot).

Together, the two buildings would provide 120,570 square feet of commercial space and be called “La Plaza del Mariachi.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 2.29.19 AM

Mariachi Plaza, is that you? An 8-story structure at Bailey (the grey square) will boast 6 floors of parking and 2 of medical offices. A 3-story fitness center and retail space could crowd the western end of the plaza. (Source: Metro presentation)

If that design comes as a surprise to you, either because of the notion that six stories’ worth of parking falls under the definition of “transit-oriented design,” because retail space appears to be built on the plaza itself, or because the murals that speak to the culture and history of the area and help define the space would be forever lost, you are not alone. Read more…

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More Housing, Less Sprawl: Tackling Los Angeles’ Affordable Housing Crisis through Smart Growth

It is no secret that Southern California is currently facing one of the worst housing crises it has faced in more than half a century.

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:##http://endinggridlock.org/blog/congratulations-to-las-next-mayor-eric-garcetti##Angelenos Against Gridlock##

Eric Garcetti is a long-time believer in density built around transit. Photo:Angelenos Against Gridlock

That’s the point Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti drove home Wednesday at the Los Angeles Business Council’s annual Mayoral Housing, Transportation, and Jobs summit.

While it isn’t a revelation to most that it’s getting harder and harder to be poor or even middle class and afford to live in Los Angeles County – especially in westside cities like Santa Monica – it was refreshing to hear Garcetti address the root cause of this crisis: a lack of new housing being built.

But even more refreshing was to hear Garcetti, who currently chairs Metro’s Board of Directors, talk about making sure new housing – especially units affordable to low and middle-income residents – gets built next to the region’s expanding transit system.

At the summit, Garcetti announced his plan to increase L.A.’s housing stock by 100,000 new units by 2021. At the same time, he announced his intention to bring a motion before the Metro board to “analyze affordable housing preservation and construction around our transit system, from using MTA-owned land and targeting transit-pass programs.”

Does that mean we may see some of those sprawling surface parking lots redeveloped into places where middle- and low-income residents – many of whom rely on public transit for their daily commute – can live?

Studies have shown that lower-income residents will leave their cars at home 50 percent more often than wealthier residents if they live within a quarter mile of reliable public transit.

Placing affordable housing near transit is a major tool in combating these issues, which is one reason why State Senator Darryl Steinberg fought for a generous portion of the California’s cap-and-trade money to be used to subsidize transit-oriented development.

The reality is, Garcetti said, that without growth, especially near transit, the region’s problems will only get worse. While the housing crisis may be evocative of the post-war era, regional leaders seem to realize that sprawl – the answer to our mid-century housing crisis – is not the answer today. (In case you didn’t already realize it, sprawl is really bad for people, the environment, and the economy.) Read more…