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Controversial Reef Project Approved via Consent Calendar; Residents Denied Opportunity to Engage Councilmembers

The massive billion-plus-dollar luxury housing and hotel project The Reef has planned for the corner of Washington and Broadway has the potential to anchor a major transformation of Historic South Central Los Angeles. Source: The Reef

The massive billion-plus-dollar luxury housing and hotel project The Reef has planned for the corner of Washington and Broadway has the potential to anchor a major transformation of Historic South Central Los Angeles. Source: The Reef

Putting on Your “Big Boy Pants” v. Putting Together a Good Project

“Let me take a minute to applaud Mr. Price for this incredible project,” First District Councilmember Gil Cedillo said as the Planning and Land-Use Management Committee (PLUM) began deliberations on the fate of the billion-dollar luxury residential and hotel project planned for 1933 S. Broadway in Historic South Central on Tuesday, November 1. “Because this is what real progressive change looks like!” [PLUM audio, agenda can be found here.]

As boos erupted from some in the crowd, Cedillo took aim at the residents who had stepped forward to testify about their fears of being displaced, “This is real! This is not a demand, or a slogan, or a chant,” he said dismissively.

“We can complain about” the fact that “this project doesn’t…cure cancer,” he continued sarcastically, but “five percent affordable [housing] where nothing exists? We’re told [this] is somehow a bad thing. I don’t see it that way.”

By his calculations, he said, The Reef’s $15 million contribution to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) would allow the city to extend affordability covenants on as many as 500 existing units at-risk of being converted to market-rate housing. Together with the City Planning Commission’s recommendation that there be approximately 26 on-site affordable units, he argued, that “represented a 37 percent affordability on this project” and made Ninth District Councilmember Curren Price someone who, “in [his] brilliance, in [his] leadership, in [his] genius,” had managed to “put on his big boy pants.”

This “vision of shared prosperity, not shared poverty” that Price had cobbled together, Cedillo concluded, had established a model process by which a developer and the community could work together to ensure “the rising tide will lift all boats.”

It was a shameful soliloquy of ignorance from a member of a committee tasked with making at least a minimum effort to assess the extent to which the benefits of a proposed project outweighed its potential harms.

It was also unsurprising.

On paper, The Reef sounds like a livability wet dream. The project proposes to transform two surface parking lots near the convergence of two rail lines into 1,444 units (549 of which would be for rent, including 21 live-work lofts), a 208-room hotel, ground floor restaurants activating the sidewalks, a grocery store, pharmacy, gallery, and fitness center in a community that has so few, a public bike hub (with showers) and improvements to the DASH service, an open plaza with gardens and outdoor performance spaces, and micro-enterprise spaces reserved for small businesses and entrepreneurs from the community. In a town where the housing crunch is so dire that the mayor has prioritized seeing 100,000 units permitted by 2021 and regularly sends out press releases tracking his progress on that front – what’s not to love?

Add to all this a Development Agreement (DA) and community benefits package featuring $15 million in contributions to the AHTF, 5 percent on-site affordable units, $3 million to fund health, safety, education, job training, and recreational programming in the community, street trees, a community garden, a local hire agreement, as well as (added in at the PLUM hearing) a community relations ombudsman, quarterly reporting on hiring and procurement to ensure accountability, and the promise the project won’t be flipped without permission from the city and payment of all community benefits first.

Then consider that few developers have been willing to take a chance on investing in South Los Angeles. And that even the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) once thought that the best South L.A. might hope for on those lots was a big box store and a surface parking lot, according to Reef attorney (and, conveniently, co-chair of the effort to revise the city’s outdated zoning code) Edgar Khalatian of Mayer Brown LLP.

If you knew only these things, you, too, might conclude that the councilmember and The Reef had taken a uniquely community-oriented approach to development.

A deeper probe into the way these agreements came together and the extent to which area residents are actually likely to benefit from these concessions, however, elicits a somewhat different set of conclusions.

The thoroughly cynical way in which both the developers and Price leveraged community benefits to play divisive racial and socio-economic politics, downplayed the magnitude, complexity, and urgency of the housing crisis in Historic South Central, and oversold the extent to which city’s affordable housing tools can actually address the needs of those most likely to be impacted by this project is profoundly troubling.

More troubling still is the precedent that such a project sets.

A massive luxury development catering to a well-heeled clientele doesn’t constitute a “win” for housing when it is situated on the edge of a neighborhood that is both one of the poorest in the city and the most overcrowded in the entire country. Nor it is a win when the developer’s “generosity” is not only an overt bid to avoid having onsite affordable housing but it also leaves a community bitter, divided, and more vulnerable than it was before. It is most certainly not a win when the entire reason such a massive project is viable is because of the extent to which decades of disinvestment and disenfranchisement of the community have depressed land values and stripped the community of political power. And it is absolutely not a win when such a project promises to not only change the character and composition of a historically marginalized community forever, but opens the door for other projects to do the same in similarly distressed communities in the name of revitalization.

With a City Council vote on the project hurriedly scheduled for today (Tuesday) (possibly to exempt the project from any conditions proposition JJJ might impose), it is imperative that the councilmembers fully understand what a vote in favor for this project means for the community and why.

With the City Council moving the project to the consent calendar this afternoon [and later approving it, when Paul Koretz arrived]* residents were essentially denied one last opportunity to engage elected officials on what a vote in favor of this project means for the community and why.

Read more…


Election Reflections: “Law-and-Order,” the Resilience of White Supremacy, and You

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

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

“Where do things stand now?” I asked Adonia Lugo as we organized potential discussion themes ahead of this Sunday’s Untokening event.

Election results were just starting to roll in from the East Coast, she replied, and they weren’t looking good for Hillary.

Perhaps we should relabel the event ‘The UnTrumpening,’ I mused.

We were already planning to raise the question of policing in communities of color as part of a larger discussion on street safety. But the potential election of a self-proclaimed “law-and-order” president suddenly gave that question a much greater urgency.

As a candidate, Donald Trump regularly described “the African-Americans” and Latinos as living in “hell,” promoted the (erroneous and harmful) idea that black-on-black crime is a thing, suggested Black Lives Matter advocates were troublemakers who help instigate acts of violence against officers, and sung the praises of “law-and-order” practices like stop-and-frisk. He even went so far as to deny that stop-and-frisk was in any way problematic, charging that the issue was not the policy itself (which disproportionately subjected black and Latino pedestrians and cyclists to opportunistic, invasive, and forceful stops, despite whites being more likely to be found with weapons or contraband), but that the woman who ruled it unconstitutional in New York was a “very against-police judge.”

The problem in our minority communities is not that there is too much police,” he said in August to an overwhelmingly white crowd of suburban supporters outside Milwaukee, a city whose poorest zip code is also the nation’s most incarcerated. “[It’s] that there is not enough police!”

Stop-and-frisk, he said on another occasion, “worked incredibly well” and was a solution he’d like to see deployed in cities across the country.

To many of those taken aback by the unrest seen in their urban cores and feeling threatened by black and brown voices and bodies pushing for change, this approach to governance is reassuring.

To many of the rest of us, it is terrifying. Read more…

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Transit Vote 2016: Atlanta May Finally Expand MARTA and Beef Up Bus Service

Atlanta's MARTA rail (left) hasn't expanded much since the 1980s. On the right, D.C.'s Metrorail, which has grown substantially. Credit: Greater Greater Washington

Atlanta’s MARTA rail (left) hasn’t expanded much since the 1980s. On the right, D.C.’s Metrorail, which has grown substantially. Credit: MARTA, Greater Greater Washington

We continue our overview of what’s at stake in the big transit ballot initiatives this November with a look at Atlanta. Previous installments in this series examined Indianapolis, Seattle, and Detroit.

Back in the 1970s, both Atlanta and Washington, D.C., received federal grants to build rail networks. After finishing the first wave of Metro construction, D.C. continued to invest, creating one of the country’s best high-capacity urban transit networks. But in Atlanta, MARTA’s rail lines pretty much cover the same ground as in the 1980s.

Unreliable bus service is a huge problem too. The FX show “Atlanta,” as Grist pointed out this week, depicts the struggles facing Atlantans who rely on transit, especially in suburban areas where trains don’t reach.

Proposed rail transit expansions for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

Proposed rail expansions and infill stations for Atlanta. Map: MARTA

The Atlanta region has had some opportunities to improve transit recently, but the political stars never aligned. That could change next month, when city voters weigh in on two issues:

  • A MARTA expansion, funded by a half-cent sales tax increase that will raise $2.5 billion over 40 years.
  • A “TSPLOST” measure that would raise the sales tax by .4 percent for five years, generating $300 million for complete streets and the “Beltline” — the rail-plus-trail project that encircles the city’s central neighborhoods.

The MARTA measure would pay for major bus service upgrades and up to 30 miles of light rail expansion. The City Council has selected a menu of transit improvements that will be eligible for funds, but the tax revenue won’t be able to pay for all of them.

One improvement that will certainly receive funding involves double service frequency on major bus routes from every 30 minutes to every 15.

Also eligible for funds: building light rail along the Beltline; seven miles of bus rapid transit with exclusive lanes, level boarding, and off-board fare collection; five enhanced bus routes with 10-minute headways and limited stops; and up to 17 infill rail stations.

Read more…


Equity 101: Bikes v. Bodies on Bikes

Ceebo Tha Rapper shoots a video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police, answering critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Ceebo Tha Rapper (at right) shoots a rap video near 65th and Broadway, where 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by the police. The video was to answer critics that thought his first video called for violence against the police. Ceebo (DaMonte Shipp) was arrested later that summer on a burglary charged and sentenced to 17 years.  Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“You’ve Been Whitesplained!”

“Maybe you didn’t catch that you jumped into a convo specifically about transportation/police issues?” the self-described “police/community relations specialist” and bike advocate tweeted at me.

“You’ve been whitesplained!” announced the cheery AOL-style voice in my head.

It’s the voice I hear every time I am told by a white person that race and class have no bearing on a conversation. Which happens way more often than you probably think, by the way.

But to answer her query, I was very much aware that I had jumped into the #moveequity conversation to engage the prompt, “How can community groups and residents partner with law enforcement to build trust and create safer, fairer communities?”

I did so specifically because the thread, part of a national Twitter chat hosted by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership last week, was quickly racking up semi-vague statements about the importance of building relationships.

The vagueness, to be fair, was partially due to the fact that the medium was Twitter, and you can only go so deep in 140 characters. Also to be fair, none of the suggestions offered up were necessarily wrong. Stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they police must absolutely be forged if the country is to heal and move toward a more just state.

But in a week when we had all watched yet two more Black men die in a hail of bullets on our screens, the absence of depth, urgency, and specifics in the conversation felt jarring.

So, when I spotted the tweet arguing the best way forward was to “Develop trust and engagement via long-term relationships based on mutual respect. Can’t just make demands,” I decided to ask the most logical and pressing question: How do we do that?

In communities where there has never been any sort of trust, where the relationship is so toxic and so suppressive that residents speak of law enforcement as the equivalent of an occupying force monitoring any and all movement through the public space, and where young men join gangs because they feel so vulnerable and unprotected in the streets, how do you begin to undo that harm?

We had to go beyond bike corral projects and barbecues with officers and collaborate with city agencies to transform the culture of policing from the top down, I argued. Preventive police work and meaningful community engagement had to be valued over the number of drug or gun busts. And any and all work had to be grounded in the understanding that the deep distrust stemmed from the suspicion and brutality with which African American and Latino people were regularly treated in the public space, not the fact that they were on bikes when they were mistreated.

“Please go troll someone else,” came the reply. “I work every day to make my city better for Everyone. Peace out.”

Bikes v. Bodies
That I would essentially be #AllLivesMatter-ed and subsequently blocked by a bike advocate in a conversation specifically dedicated to transportation and policing was somewhat strange, but not surprising.

There exists a pretty significant chasm within the mobility advocacy community when it comes to issues of equity and justice. At the heart of it lies the question of where one anchors the frameworks that guide their thinking: on the bicycle or on the body moving through space on those two wheels. Read more…


City Council Approves Controversial Westside Transit Oriented Development

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the largest transit-oriented development near a new Expo Line Station in Los Angeles’ Westside. The development, located at the 4.7 acre site owned by the Martin Automotive group sits at corner of Olympic Boulevard and Bundy Drive. The project is mixed use, with significant housing, 150,000 feet of neighborhood-serving retail, genuine transit-integrating features, and shared public spaces.

“Martin Expo Town Center includes a higher percentage of affordable housing than any project of this kind in the history of Los Angeles, it features neighborhood-serving retail and an exceptional pedestrian plaza, it will create thousands of permanent jobs, and it offers needed additional parking for the nearby Expo/Bundy station that will help connect more people with mass transit,” writes L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin who represents the district where the project is located.

The development will have over 516 housing units, 20 percent of which will be affordable housing and five percent of which will go to house the recently homeless. The original proposal did not have an affordable housing component.

Naturally, the project is not universally popular. The Coalition to Preserve L.A. mailed a full-color glossy brochure to Westside residents this summer encouraging them to fight the project. The coalition was working with a who’s-who of Westside residents’ and homeowners groups including West of Westwood Homeowners Association, West L.A.-Sawtelle Neighborhood Council, Brentwood Homeowners Association and Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Association.  Read more…


Justice-Oriented Mobility Advocates to “Untokenize” Active Transportation Movement at November Convening

spicy shoes

In lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, cycling is largely a matter of necessity, not choice.

The Token One
He was so glad I had “talked about people of color committing violence against other people of color,” he gushed, shaking my hand.

My eyebrows shot up.

The focus of my talk at last October’s CalBike’s annual summit had been the extent to which the socio-economic and cultural landscapes of a community are inextricably intertwined with the physical one. Using the installation of amenities in a historically disenfranchised lower-income community of color as an example, I had explained how decades of disinvestment, discriminatory planning, suppressive policing, and denial of opportunity had generated chronic insecurity in the public space. And how, as a result, many residents were still unable to access these “improvements.” Our stories about mobility, I concluded, must therefore also engage questions of access, equity, justice, and a wider range of historical and contemporary barriers in order to be truly inclusive.

At no point did I ever offer support for the artificial and highly problematic construct of “black-on-black violence.”

And yet, here was this white gentleman in front of me, congratulating me for having done so.

The advocates of color I spoke with afterwards had understood exactly what I was going for. They got the placement of mobility in a community context. And they got the call to think beyond bicycles to the constraints contexts imposed on the actual bodies moving through space on those two wheels. These were frameworks they understood intuitively.

But much like the guy shaking my hand, many of the white advocates in the room had filtered the presentation through their own experiences. And what they had come away with was very different.

A few said they had never considered the idea that certain streets might not be accessible to some people for reasons that had nothing to do with cars. Was this really true? Others seemed to think certain communities were unapproachable. How would one even begin to engage people in such a community? How would you know who to talk to? some asked. It seemed so dangerous to some, but also kind of edgy and exciting to others. Are you giving tours?

I wasn’t sure I could have expected better.

Despite being spot-on-topic at the “Equity in Motion”-themed summit, my presentation had been a major outlier.

The panel had been focused on how to pitch stories about the positive aspects of cycling – the joy, sense of well-being, freedom, and links to community it can bring. But as a reporter whose beat is specifically tied to two transit-dependent and historically disenfranchised lower-income communities of color in Los Angeles, mobility meant something different to me.

And given the theme, I had argued to the panel organizer, it seemed appropriate to explore the extent to which a choice framework both excluded those who cycle out of need – largely lower-income people of color – and rendered important questions of accessibility to the margins.

The organizer and the other panelists were enthusiastic about including an equity perspective. But in the weeks leading up to the event, it was clear that being open to including equity and actually creating the space for that topic to be properly explored are two very different things. And the more I tried to explain my critical approach to the organizer, the longer and more involved my emails became, and the more consternation I felt I was causing.

People don’t like to be told what isn’t working, I was admonished at one point.

But I didn’t see where I had a choice.

I have to speak to current frameworks to be heard. And I have to spend most of my time deconstructing said frameworks just to explain why I should not be dismissed out of hand. And every single time I have to proceed this way – every time I post another 3,000 – 5,000 word story trying to justify the incorporation of marginalized voices and realities, compose yet another lengthy explanatory email, or look around the room where I am speaking – I wonder if this will be the last time I will be invited to opine on this topic.

The More Things Change, the More They Really Don’t
It’s an odd thing to observe that the more popular the topic of equity has become over the last few years, the less genuine space there is to truly address it in a meaningful way.

Read more…

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Scoping Meeting to Explore Impacts of Update to Boyle Heights Community Plan to be Held Tuesday

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Multi-modal Boyle Heights: A family rides bikes, boys skateboard, and car commuters make their way home. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tuesday night, from 6 – 8:30 p.m., the Department of City Planning will be holding a Scoping Meeting to gather feedback from the community regarding the potential impacts the policies and goals contained within Boyle Heights Community Plan might have on the area’s environment, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The meeting will not be, as I am guessing some in the community might be hoping, a genuine opportunity to directly address gentrification concerns. The Environmental Impact Report planners will be drafting focuses on categories that focus on the impact of physical infrastructure on things like aesthetics, air quality, noise, transportation/circulation, and greenhouse gas emissions (see full list here, p. 3). To the extent that it can address population/housing/employment or cultural resources questions, it is more in terms of whether a policy or program will have a direct impact on an existing entity (e.g. direct displacement of people or cultural structures to make way for something new).

Which means that if you do have concerns about the kinds of changes slated for the community, you will have to approach them through some of the goals and policies planners are drafting to guide development.

The Boyle Heights Community Plan (BHCP) has been in the works for ten years now. It is one of 35 Community Plans contained within the Land Use Element of the City’s General Plan. And it is intended to serve as a blueprint for growth and development in the area by delineating goals, policies, and specific development standards for the residential, commercial, and industrial zones within the community for the next 20 to 25 years. It was last updated in 1998 and was intended to govern growth and change in Boyle Heights through 2010.

Outreach efforts begun back in 2006 worked to nail down the community’s larger vision and goals for the area that planners would then try to build into the policies established for the plan. The planning process unfortunately had to be put on hold in 2009, and was not picked up again until 2012.

At an open house in 2014, planners presented attending community members with the following draft vision statement:

This community is built on generations of immigrants and prides itself in their hard work ethic, rich cultural identities, and community activism. Boyle Heights is a historical and cultural treasure with a diverse local economy that has a potential to continue prospering. Building upon its pedestrian-oriented and unique neighborhood character, this community envisions policy programs that are supportive of environmental quality, economic vitality, and urban design that promotes safe and walkable neighborhoods.

The community’s responses to the above statement and a variety of themes including affordable housing, employment, preserving and enhancing the social, artistic, cultural, and historic characteristics of the community, and, interestingly, strengthening the community’s connection to the L.A. River, among many other things (see the full list here) were supposed to give planners a better sense of how to formulate their goals and policies.

One only need take a look at the input received on a variety of land-use topics at prior sessions to see that

Proposed zoning for Boyle Heights. Click to enlarge. Source: Dept. of City Planning

Proposed zoning for Boyle Heights. Click to enlarge. Source: Dept. of City Planning

that was likely not always an easy task. Parking seemed to be one of the few things that united everyone – all could agree there was not enough of it. Otherwise, clear divides seemed to run between renters and homeowners: Bring in businesses like Target and Trader Joe’s! Don’t allow big box stores that will displace local businesses! Tienditas (small corner markets often embedded within residential areas) are a great resource and could, with aid, be able to provide locals with access to healthier food! Tienditas are the devil and a gateway to substance abuse! Build more housing! Preserve neighborhood character and height! (see the full list here and feedback from focus groups over the years, here.)

The policies and protections many in the community would like to see put in place to limit the dismantling and displacement of the human infrastructure that makes the community so unique don’t fit easily into a planning framework designed to address questions of physical infrastructure.

Policies could, for example, require that commercial districts reflect a particular architectural history and support street vending, as explained here. But there are fewer safeguards available to support the existing businesses occupying those locations or ensure that it is the long-time paletero who is ultimately able to vend there, not Paleta People. Read more…


Metro Explores Alternative Rail-to-River Routes Through Southeast Cities

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east just took another step forward. Source: Metro

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the Blue Line to the east, along with the four options that could eventually connect the path with (or very close to) the L.A. River. Source: Metro

In thinking about the potential routes the eastern segment (B) of the Rail-to-River (R2R) active transportation corridor might take, stressed Mark Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, it was important that the needs of workers, youth, and community members of the Southeast Cities be put front and center. Connectivity to job centers and schools should therefore be the first priority.

Through that lens, Lopez said, the bike path project could offer momentum for the creation of other potential “job trails” EYCEJ had already been thinking about, including connections to Vernon, and Commerce, a path along Slauson that would facilitate connections across the L.A. River and the 710 Freeway to the Bell Cheli Industrial area, and routes enhancing greater access to the river and green spaces like Riverfront Park.

A snapshot of Randolph street from above (center, running left to right). The ROW runs down the middle of the street, and could be made into a protected bikeway and pedestrian path. Source: Google maps.

A rail right-of-way runs down the middle of Randolph Street and could be made into a protected bikeway and pedestrian path. Source: Google maps. Click to enlarge.

I had reached out to Lopez for feedback after attending Metro’s mid-afternoon session on the R2R project held last Wednesday in Huntington Park. The R2R project – a dedicated bike and pedestrian path that will stretch between the Crenshaw and Blue Lines, and to (or through) the Southeast cities to the east – is much-needed in the park-poor and truck-dominated corridors of the communities of South Central and Southeast Los Angeles.

Class i bike facilities. Source: Feasibility Study

Class I bike facilities separate and protect cyclists from cars. Source: Feasibility Study

But many of the participants, I realized as we gathered around the tables to decide how to serve Southeast residents’ needs best, were not from the area and/or not very familiar with where people worked or how they got there. All of which made speaking to Metro’s purpose for the meeting – discussing and ranking the four alternatives for Segment B of the active transportation corridor – somewhat difficult.

Metro’s own 2014 feasibility study had determined that the Randolph Street option should be prioritized. It would not necessarily be the easiest choice – the rail right-of-way (ROW) is owned by Union Pacific, meaning that the cost of acquisition could be quite high and the negotiations involved in acquiring the ROW could take some time. But factors in its favor included the length the route would cover (4.34 miles), user experience, connectivity, safety, transit connections, ease of implementation (see p. 76), and the fact that it would allow cyclists to continue on a dedicated Class I bike path (a separated and protected path, at right). And because the ROW is as wide as 60′ in some sections, it would allow for the inclusion of many or more of the amenities present on the western and central segments of the path.

Users would not have to move back and forth between busy streets and dedicated Class I facilities or lose the bike and pedestrian paths altogether, as they would with the Utility Corridor or Slauson routes. It would also offer users a safe, protected, and lengthy east-west connection through a densely populated and semi-industrial section of Los Angeles usually dominated by heavy traffic and large trucks.

Although, like Randolph Street, the Malabar route would be able to provide users with a dedicated and protected path, it narrows considerably (which would push pedestrians aside) as it makes its way north toward Washington Blvd. It would also move users through less secure industrial areas with fewer connections to transit, residential neighborhoods, commercial corridors, or educational centers. Also, as in the case of Randolph Street, the use of the Malabar Yards ROW would require negotiations with BNSF to get it to abandon its rights to the ROW east of Santa Fe Ave.

The Malabar route would move users north toward (but not reaching) the river through Vernon. Source: Feasibility Study

The Malabar route would move users north toward (but not reaching) the river through Vernon. Source: Feasibility Study

All that said, it was still not 100 per cent clear to me which route would better connect residents with their jobs. Read more…


Vision Zero: LADOT, Focus Group Have Same Goals, Different Ideas About How to Reach Them

Detail of Vision Zero High Injury Network as it overlaps with equity indicators. Many of the streets highlighted in South L.A. are prioritized for potential safety interventions. Source: Vision Zero

Detail of Vision Zero High Injury Network as it overlaps with equity indicators. Many of the streets highlighted in South L.A. are prioritized for potential safety interventions. Source: Vision Zero

“Remember, the end goal is to get to 20% reduction [in traffic-related deaths] by next year, and then zero by 2025,” said MIG Consultant Esmeralda Garcia of the city’s effort to put together an action plan to implement Vision Zero.

Gesturing toward another consultant and Brian Oh of the L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT), she told the ten attendees (myself included) at the South Los Angeles focus group meeting last Thursday, “Anything that will help [us] to get to that goal – that’s why we need to hear from you. That’s why this conversation is important.”

The statement made me feel very important indeed.

Then I remembered that I had not been invited to attend this gathering.

As Joe Linton noted in his coverage of Vision Zero’s first real stab at community engagement, the fact that it all seems to be happening rather quietly and out of public view is both odd and very much by design. Focus group attendees were nominated by a process that still remains somewhat shrouded in smoggy mystery. And the Vision Zero Alliance (LA0) – a diverse coalition of organizations explicitly formed to partner with the city on shaping policy and communications around safe and equitable streets – appears not to have been brought on early enough in the process to play a significant role in setting up the meetings.

LADOT will likely dispute this last point, having reassured me that all proper protocols were followed with partners. Still, I think we can all agree that there are more efficient ways for the city to get feedback from its partners besides having them show up to focus group meetings at random locations around town. If only because when half of the attendees at a meeting are tied to the LA0 organizations already said to be in regular communication with LADOT, then LADOT is wasting its time getting redundant feedback while also not hearing from the wider community it is purporting to engage.

These concerns aside, the questions I found myself pondering had more to do with the purpose of the meeting and how any feedback gathered might actually be used.

To the best of my understanding, the purpose of the meeting was to support LADOT in its effort to develop an action plan governing the drive to reduce traffic-related deaths by 20 percent in the next year and a half. KPCC called the approach a “fine-tuning” of a plan that should be finished by September.

Except we were not presented with a formal plan.

Instead, we got: a) a good overview of what the crash data told the Vision Zero team; b) a look at the issues being considered and where those issues intersected with the many prioritized corridors in South Los Angeles; and c) suggestions regarding potential solutions to reduce fatalities using engineering, education, and enforcement.

Then, after each topic, we were asked for feedback: Did we get the data right? What are the highest priority traffic safety issues in your community? Will the sample solutions work in your community? What might be more effective? And, finally, how can the city “make it easier for you to engage on traffic safety?” and how can non-profits and individuals promote safety?

Those talk-back periods were where it became clear (to me, at least) that, while the city and the attendees were ultimately focused on the same outcome, they sometimes appeared to be envisioning deeply divergent ways to get there. Read more…


Proyecto Pastoral Crowdfunds for Pico-Aliso Neighborhood Project

The residents living in the Pico Aliso neighborhood are squeezed in between busy corridors, freeways, the river, and now a growing series of art higher-end galleries. They are hoping to make the streets safer for the many families that walk there. (Google maps)

The advocates from Proyecto Pastoral living in the Pico-Aliso neighborhood are squeezed in between busy corridors, freeways, the river, and now a growing series of art higher-end galleries. They are hoping to make the streets safer for the many families that walk there. (Google maps)

Squeezed in between the major thoroughfares connecting Boyle Heights to downtown, the Pico-Aliso community has long been treated by the city as an area to be passed through, and as quickly as possible, at that.

With the demolition of the 6th Street Viaduct and the subsequent increase in commuter vehicle traffic during peak hours along 4th and 1st Streets, safety for lower-income families who must cross those thoroughfares to get to transit stops, school, or recreational opportunities has become even more of a concern.

This past January, a new stoplight was installed at 4th and Pecan Streets after the youth from the Boyle Heights Technical Center conducted a study that demonstrated the clear need for traffic calming there. And a new signal is planned for 4th and Clarence Streets (where one person was killed when a car slammed into a taco stand, recently) along with improvements to sidewalks and pedestrian lighting that will help Pico Gardens’ residents access the new park planned for underneath the 6th Street Viaduct (thanks to $5 million in funds secured in the second cycle of Active Transportation Program funding).

But members of Proyecto Pastoral’s Comunidad en Movimiento (CEM) seem to believe there is more to be done. And they would know best – volunteers from the group have been helping children navigate busy corridors as part of their Safe Passage/Camino Seguro program for almost 20 years now. The program began in 1999 as a way to help children move unscathed through a public space that was heavily impacted by gang activity.

The drop in violence in the neighborhood, thanks in part to their efforts, has allowed them the space to turn their attention to traffic safety over the last several years. Read more…