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No Más Deaths!: Stakeholders Demand Curren Price Support a Bike Lane for Central Avenue ahead of Mobility Plan Hearing

Posters created by South L.A. community members adorn the walls outside of TRUST South L.A. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Posters demanding safe passage for cyclists on Central Avenue adorn the walls outside of TRUST South L.A. They were created by South L.A. community members. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Bottom line is, citizens want to be involved, they want to be engaged in the process of figuring out how we reprogram our streets, how we reprogram our communities, making it more livable, making it more desirable, making it safer.”

So said councilmember for the 9th District, Curren Price, when interviewed by KCET’s Nic Cha Kim at CicLAvia: South L.A. in December of 2014 (minute 4:20).

It is a perspective that many who live, work, play, and move along the Central Avenue corridor in historic South Central share.

Given that the corridor communities have a median income hovering around $30,000, an average household size between of 4 and 9 people, a median age of 23, and little opportunity for economic advancement thanks to limited access to higher education, area residents are very much at the mercy of their environment. Rapidly rising rents and the lack of affordable housing around the city make it nearly impossible for them to move anywhere else. And the high dependence of many families on transit, cycling, and walking to get back and forth to work and school means that just going about their daily lives entails constant flirtations with danger.

Central Avenue, boasting the highest number of cyclists anywhere in the city during peak hours (and a very steady stream in off-peak hours), has seen nearly 300 collisions between drivers and pedestrians or cyclists over the last decade.

That we know of, that is.

Many of those who have been hit by cars have never reported the incidents to authorities, either because they preferred to handle things informally with the driver, the injuries were minor, or the incident was a hit-and-run and they saw no point.

So, even though more than three-quarters of residents are renters, the vast majority would tell you they are deeply invested in the well-being of their neighborhoods and would like nothing better than to see them become safer and healthier places for all.

A father runs errands with his children along Central Avenue after picking them up from school. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A father runs errands with his children along Central Avenue after picking them up from school. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Thus far, however, efforts to get Councilmember Price to sit down and have that conversation with stakeholders about their needs and aspirations have proven futile.

Over the past year, the community has been shut out of discussions about Great Streets’ and the councilmember’s plans to remake Central Avenue in the image of Broadway (downtown) and to remove the Central Avenue bike lane planned to help bike commuters get safely between Watts, historic South Central, and jobs downtown from the Mobility Plan altogether.

The Great Streets plans for the street were only made available to the public after Streetsblog published an article complaining about the blatant steamrolling of the community. When local stakeholders tried to follow up by delivering letters to the councilmember’s office and approaching the members of the Business Improvement District, they were still not able to get any response from Price to their demands for a bike lane.

Fed up with failed attempts at peaceful engagement and concerned that Price would once again try to see Central Ave. removed from the Mobility Plan at tomorrow’s city planning commission hearing, residents took action. Gathering their signs, courage, a megaphone, and a banner to be hung on Price’s building, they stormed the councilmember’s constituent center at Vernon and Central yesterday.

Members of TRUST South L.A. hang a banner from Curren Price's constituent center. Photo: Ashley Hansack

Members of TRUST South L.A. hang a banner from Curren Price’s constituent center. Photo: Ashley Hansack

“We’re tired of coming to you!” said resident and safe streets advocate Samuel Bankhead.

“When are you going to come to our* office?” he continued. “I’m asking…when are you coming down to have a dialogue?…What solution do you have?” [*He was referring to the conference room at TRUST South L.A., where residents, volunteers, and stakeholders regularly meet, discuss community problems and potential solutions, and plan community engagements as part of a mobility advisory council.]

Residents and stakeholders in the South Central community ask District Director James Westbrooks to help make their community safer. Photo: Ashley Hansack

Residents and stakeholders in the South Central community ask District Director James Westbrooks to help make their community safer. Photo: Ashley Hansack

Staff on site were not able to offer much in the way of reassurances.

When District Director James Westbrooks was asked by Bankhead if he would be willing to tell the kids standing there — kids that are regularly transported back and forth to school by bike along Central Avenue — that “we’re not gonna have a bike lane,” there was not much Westbrooks could say.

Price made up his mind on the subject a long time ago.

Sadly, the logic used to reach that decision — detailed in a statement emailed in response to stakeholders’ action — seems rather questionable. Read more…

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Hide Your Wife! Hide Your Kids! Freeway Closure for the Demolition of the 6th St. Bridge is upon Us!

The bridge is closed at 6th Street. (looking east) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The bridge is closed at 6th Street. (looking east) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Hide your wife! Hide your kids! And try to hide the bitter tears the L.A. Times believes you will probably shed when you struggle to visit “downtown’s trendiest bars and pubs” this weekend because THE 101 FREEWAY IS CLOSING FOR 40 HOURS starting at 10 p.m. tonight!

Click to visit the 6th St. Viaduct project page with specific closure information.

Click image to visit the 6th St. Viaduct project page with specific closure information.

Between 10 p.m. Friday night and 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, a 2.5-mile section of the 101 freeway will be closed so that the section of the 6th Street bridge spanning the freeway can be demolished. That means that the 101 will be closed from the 10-101 split to the 5-10-101 interchange just south of downtown Los Angeles (see map above). Drivers traveling west from the Pomona area will not be able to access the 101 from the 60.

To soothe car-bound Angelenos’ soon-to-be frazzled nerves, the mayor released his version of a slow jam yesterday, with the help of members of Roosevelt High School’s talented jazz band.

Whether it is all one would hope for from a mayoral slow jam I am guessing is probably a matter of taste. But it does feature a very sultry come hither that Metro desperately needs to figure out how to work into its promotional materials more often: “If you’ve got to get out on the town… remember, Metro is there for you, all day and all night.”

While it is true that the closure of the freeway will likely cause some headaches, much like with the carmaggedons that have come before it, Angelenos will surely survive and possibly emerge better people for it.

More painful to most Angelenos — especially those that grew up around the bridge — will be the loss of such an iconic structure. Not just because of its storied place in cinema, but because of the escape it provided for so many.

It was a peaceful place where you could get up above the fray and get some perspective on yourself and your relationship to your community and your city. It was a place from which you could feel like you were watching over your neighborhood. And it welcomed you home with open arches.

The bridge and some good-bye graffiti. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The bridge and some good-bye graffiti. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

For many on the eastside, the bridge also marked a dividing line. The 3500 foot span between the city center and the community served as a sort of metaphor for how removed from each other two neighborhoods could be.

Read more…

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Proyecto Jardin Evicted from Community Garden at White Memorial; Protest Planned for Saturday

Dancers participate in a celebration of culture and healing at Proyecto Jardin. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dancers participate in a celebration of culture and healing at Proyecto Jardin. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

This Sunday, January 31st, the eviction of the community gardening collective known as Proyecto Jardin from the garden space behind White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights will mark a significant change for the neighborhood. In a community that has felt very much at the mercy of externally-driven change in recent years, many residents are determined not to let this shift go unchallenged.

They acknowledge that the land does indeed belong to White Memorial. The 1/3-acre lot was first transformed into a garden in 1999 at the behest of Dr. Robert Krochmol, a resident at White Memorial at the time. And they understand that the hospital does technically have the right to determine how its land will be used and hire whom they wish to administer operations there.

But they also believe that the community has some claim to it because the garden has functioned as a communally-structured community space for most of the last 17 years and because it was local volunteers, advocates, artists, educators, and students that worked to turn the former eyesore into a lush, green oasis of health, culture, creativity, and healing. The special symbolism that the garden holds as a safe and nurturing haven in the community’s collective imagination is tightly linked to all those folks that worked so hard to forge bonds between people and place over all those years. It can’t be easily replicated by moving the garden to a new site.

Under the leadership of Daisy Tonantzin in the early 2000s, the garden offered residents the opportunity to tap into traditional forms of healing tied to their heritage. In 2005, Tonantzin formalized her efforts to preserve traditional methods with the launch of Caracol Marketplace — a monthly gathering of artisans featuring food, handmade jewelry, healing herbs and products, art, dance, and music. Caracol Marketplace has since moved to Tropico de Nopal Art Space and Gallery, but its presence in the early days helped reinforce the sense that the garden space represented so much more than just a nice spot to grow vegetables.

Under the more recent administration of Irene Peña, activities at the garden have continued to be guided by the four pillars of community health — good food, physical activity, traditional healing arts, and community building — and adhered to a communal approach (families have plots in communal beds, help take care of each others’ plots, and share in the larger harvest). And it has served as a site for community celebrations, spiritual rituals and reconnections, youth engagement and mentoring, and the sharing of knowledge among the generations.

Pauletta Pierce paints children's faces for Dia de los Muertos. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Pauletta Pierce paints children’s faces for Dia de los Muertos. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

But keeping the garden afloat hasn’t always been easy, Peña has acknowledged. Read more…

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Whittier Boulevard to See Up to $1 Million in Streetscape Improvements

Trash accumulates under an underpass along Whittier Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Trash and debris accumulates under the 60 Freeway along Whittier Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Complaints about the condition of Whittier Boulevard are common among youth that regularly walk from the southern end of Boyle Heights to Roosevelt High School and back. And they’re only one of several groups of schoolkids that must cross and/or move along Whittier on a daily basis — a handful of schools and recreational centers straddle the three-quarters of a mile between Lorena and Soto Streets.

The section of Whittier slated for improvements is in gray. (Google maps)

The section of Whittier slated for improvements is in gray. (Google maps)

The fast-moving and heavily trafficked boulevard serves as a cut-through connection for those commuting or transporting goods between East L.A., downtown, and beyond. So, crossing it on two feet can be hazardous. Drivers tend not to slow down for folks trying to use the crosswalk at Orme, for example, and can take corners quickly in their eagerness to get to the freeways.

The way in which the street alternates almost randomly between industrial, residential, commercial, and school zones can make things even more uncomfortable for pedestrians. Some sections of sidewalk are pleasant and active, while others are in poor condition, are poorly lit, and are strewn with debris and trash. Students who must walk the lengthy underpass where the 60 Freeway stretches diagonally over Whittier have reported being disconcerted by feeling so isolated, especially when they have been hassled by homeless folks struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

The street could use some help, in other words. And help appears to be on the way.

On January 20, the City Council approved Councilmember Jose Huizar’s motion to use up to $1 million in bond monies to launch a redesign of the corridor between Boyle Avenue and Indiana Street.

It’s an investment that is long overdue. Read more…

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South L.A. Art News: The Tenth Wonder of the World is No More

The Tenth Wonder of the World at 62nd and Budlong is no more. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Tenth Wonder of the World at 62nd and Budlong is no more. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

While South L.A. does have its share of incredible murals, it doesn’t have much in the way of public art, as a general rule.

This is beginning to change. Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently celebrated the installation of several new sculptures along 103rd St. recently. In the 8th district, Community Coalition’s Power Fest and artivist events regularly feature live painting and art-making around community justice themes. In the 10th district, Leimert Park Village stakeholders turned the plaza at 43rd Place into a work of art grounded in African principles and symbols and cemented its role as ground zero for creative expression of all forms. And in the historic 9th district, Councilmember Curren Price is hosting a meeting tonight (at 6 p.m. at his constituent center on Central Ave.) as part of an effort to put together a strategic art plan for the area.

Sadly, South L.A.’s art scene lost one of its more unusual staples as 2015 came to a close. The Tenth Wonder of the World, located at the corner of 62nd and Budlong, is no more.

I first stumbled across the marvelous hodgepodge of sculptures and structures a few years ago. Dianne and Lew Harris — brother and sister, curators and residents in the home — were sitting outside as they usually did, and invited me to check out the space.

Dianne and Lew Harris sit outside the Tenth Wonder of the World and engage passersby. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dianne and Lew Harris sit outside the Tenth Wonder of the World and engage passersby. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Read more…

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Hit-and-Run Claims Life of Beloved Nun. We Must Do Better, Los Angeles.

The success of Vision Zero hinges on us, as a society, pledging not to be the equivalent of this lady: someone who is too focused on her own needs (eating pizza) to care about the safety of others. Screenshot of video found at DNAinfo.com

The success of Vision Zero, while requiring better design and enforcement, also hinges on us, as a society, pledging not to be the equivalent of this pizza-eating New Yorker: too focused on our own needs to be concerned about the woman we saw crushed under an SUV (seen parked on the sidewalk at the top of the image). (Screenshot of video found at DNAinfo.com)

On Sunday, Raquel Diaz, a sister with the Los Angeles Archdiocese, succumbed to her injuries. She was seventy years old.

The beloved Boyle Heights nun was crossing Evergreen Avenue at Winter Street at 5:20 p.m. on December 13 when she was run down by a driver in a white, four-door Nissan or Toyota.

The loss of someone who had been such an integral member of the community for more than 30 years has devastated those who knew her.

But residents are angry, too.

The intersection where she was struck is one they have complained about for years. Drivers have long sped through that intersection, seemingly unconcerned that the street’s incline limits visibility precisely at Winter Street — a key crossing for families moving back and forth between the church and the school.

The road diet the street has had for some time (north of Cesar Chavez) seems to have done little to slow it down. Evergreen is one of the few streets that offers drivers a straight shot between Wabash and 4th Street, allowing them to connect more easily with City Terrace or the southern end of Boyle Heights. So, drivers of delivery trucks and private vehicles alike tend to run it like it is a gauntlet, doing their best to avoid having to stop for the lone stoplight at Malabar (halfway between Wabash and Cesar Chavez).

As one of the few connective streets on the eastern side of Boyle Heights, traffic along Evergreen can move quite fast. (Google maps)

As one of the few connective streets on the eastern side of Boyle Heights, traffic along Evergreen can move quite fast despite being rather narrow. (Google maps)

Potential fixes?

Street design and other amenities surely have a role to play in making this street safer. Pedestrian lighting would do much to improve visibility at night. Stop signs interspersed between Wabash and 4th would help slow the street down. So would flashing lights at Winter, Blanchard, and Boulder — three intersections with crosswalks linking pedestrians to a school, a church, and a local market. Flashing lights would be especially helpful at Winter, as the yellow crosswalk there is both awkwardly located (thanks to the hill) and harder to see at night than a white crosswalk.

Councilmember Jose Huizar issued a statement Monday afternoon that also suggested more lighting and better visibility could improve conditions at Winter, and stated that he would “advocate that those improvements be implemented as soon as possible.”

His support for such fixes is vital; without it, the likelihood of improvements coming to the street any time soon is probably not great. Read more…

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Your Friday Video of Zen: DTLA Street Futures (Featuring CicLAvia)

What will the future streets of Los Angeles look like? And what sorts of innovations, interventions, infrastructure, interconnections, and events will help us get there? And can we get there in a way that is sustainable, grounded in community experiences, and does not displace residents of communities that have experienced historical disinvestment?

Digital artist, filmmaker, and Ph.D. candidate at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts Karl Baumann raises many of these questions using lovely drone footage of CicLAvia: Heart of L.A. and the voices of a handful of younger planners and advocates who ponder a future where “experience [is] driven by two wheels rather than four” and “design [is] driven by real issues of sustainability, livability, and affordability.”

“With the passing of LA’s Mobility Plan 2035,” Baumann believes, “we’re seeing the bright glimpses of a new paradigm shift for the city. The future of LA will be about local placemaking, pedestrian culture, and sustainability. The emphasis on private cars speeding from one neighborhood to another will become a thing of the past. It’ll become a fading dream of an old utopian impulse, laid out by GM’s ‘Futurama’ exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair.”

Any paradigm shift, he acknowledges, always comes with a backlash. And L.A.’s experience has been no different. Behind Fix the City’s lawsuit and bizarre characterization of bike- and transit-dependent folks as seeking to “steal” lanes from beleaguered drivers and the concerns of more moderate opponents who fear transit will never be able to meet their needs is a common desire to defend and only lightly amend the known evil, Baumann says, rather than “rally around a not-yet-built imagined infrastructure.”

Events like CicLAvia, Baumann argues, give us a common point of reference from which to begin to rethink how our city should be designed. Experiencing safe, car-free streets firsthand, he says, can help skeptics imagine a more bike-centric future. Rubbing shoulders with the diverse mix of Angelenos seen at CicLAvia can also help to dispel the myth that cycling is the purview of well-to-do hipsters. And seeing the extent to which cyclists at open streets events outnumber those commuting on a daily basis might make it easier for skeptics to understand the role protective bike infrastructure can play in emboldening those who are currently too afraid to cycle L.A.’s mean streets.

The video focuses on Downtown, Baumann says, because it has become a vital test lab and potential crystal ball for the redesigning of the city. And also because, he adds, the development there also hints at the “dark side of our bright future.” Read more…

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O Come All Ye Donors…

A man waits for a bus in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. There tends to be fewer shelters and less shade available to those who are most heavily dependent on transit. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A man waits for a bus in the shade of a telephone pole on Figueroa Ave., just north of 85th St. There tend to be fewer shelters and less shade available to those who are most heavily dependent on transit. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

You love us.

You really, really love us.

Or, at least, we like to think you do. How else could Streetsblog Los Angeles founding editor Damien Newton have expanded his west coast publishing empire to cover Long Beach, Santa Monica, San Francisco, the Central Valley, Sacramento, and beyond if you didn’t? Especially at a time when other news outlets find themselves continuing to cut back on coverage? It must be love.

For this, we are truly and eternally grateful.

It won’t stop us from asking you to spare a few dollars for us this holiday season, of course. But that does not diminish how appreciative we are of what you have helped us accomplish thus far.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 12.22.46 PM

With your help, not only have we been able to cover the range of issues that typically fall within a livable streets scope, but we’ve been able to expand discussions of livability, mobility, equity, health, inclusivity, and justice to be more reflective of the wider range of realities lived across Los Angeles.

In doing so, we have explored how issues of national significance like gentrification, access to affordable housing, and law enforcement-community relations manifest in the lower-income communities of South Los Angeles and Boyle Heights as well as their implications for local planners and policy makers. We have also been able to elevate the voices of residents from these neighborhoods seeking to present their own visions of “community” and of what it means to be “livable.”

Our commitment to listening to historically marginalized communities has helped us to raise questions about what it means to really engage a wide range of stakeholders, make the case for why communication and trust-building with residents is of the essence, and explain how and why the unique contexts of these communities matters for outcomes. It has also helped us articulate why mobility cannot be spoken of as independent from access to affordable housing, economic or educational opportunities, or security in the public space for so many of those struggling to get by in our fair city.

As investment continues to flow into areas that have long suffered from neglect and disenfranchisement, these insights will be invaluable in the pursuit of infrastructure and policy solutions that both meet those communities’ mobility needs and discourage displacement. A more interconnected city in which everyone is able to participate is a healthier, more accessible, and more livable city for all.

Please help us continue to stay at the forefront of discussions on equity, mobility, gentrification, affordability, and livability as we move into the new year by making a tax-deductible donation to Streetsblog. You’ll be in the running to win a bike while you are at it: every time you make a donation, you are entered into our nationwide raffle to win a Tern Folding Bike.

Did we mention you can win a Tern Folding bike? Every time you make a donation, you are entered into our nationwide raffle. Click on the image to go to our donation page.

Thanks for your support! Best wishes for a happy, safe, and healthy holiday season!

 

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Today in Exide: DTSC Begins 2nd Phase of Residential Clean-up; Releases DEIR and Draft Closure Plan for Vernon Facility

The Expanded Assessment Areas where DTSC conducted testing to determine the extent of lead contamination from the Exide facility in Vernon. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Source: DTSC

The Expanded Assessment Areas where DTSC conducted testing to determine the extent of lead contamination from the Exide facility in Vernon. As many as 10,000 homes may have been affected within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant. Source: DTSC

Last week, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) began a second round of clean-ups of lead-contaminated soil in the residential areas around Exide Technologies’ now-shuttered lead-acid battery recycling facility. The Vernon plant and serial violator of environmental regulations cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in March, 2015, to close up shop in exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution. As part of the closure process, Exide must clean up toxic waste at its former facility as well as lead-contaminated soil at residences, schools, and parks surrounding the plant.

Begun last year, the first round of residential clean-ups targeted the 219 properties found within the original Northern and Southern Assessment Areas — areas straddling Boyle Heights, East L.A., and Maywood that air modeling determined would be most likely affected by Exide’s lead emissions (outlined in light blue, above). More than 10,000 tons of contaminated soil was ultimately removed from a total of 186 properties.

Challenges in Cleaning up Residential Properties

While last week’s launch of the second round of clean-ups does mark an important milestone, it is only the beginning of the potentially massive project that lies ahead. This past August, the preliminary results of soil testing in expanded areas to the north and south of the plant suggested that Exide’s emissions may have deposited lead dust over as many as 10,000 homes within a 1.3 to 1.7-mile radius of the facility (above map).

Only 146 properties in the Expanded Assessment Areas have been tested thus far, with 50 being prioritized for immediate clean-up. And while 2,800 letters have been sent out to residences within the expanded areas, it is not clear what the timeline will be for following up on those letters and getting properties tested and/or cleaned. Nor is it clear when DTSC will have sufficient funds to perform a wider clean-up.

Per an order, Exide is on the hook for cleaning up any home where lead levels exceed 400 parts per million and homes with bare soil where levels exceed 80 parts per million (the level at which the state recommends further health screenings). But the settlement reached last November initially set aside just $9 million for residential clean-ups. As clean-ups cost about $40,000 per property, those funds only cover approximately 225 sites. And, as of the end of October, DTSC had already used up $8 million of those funds. DTSC was able to secure an additional $5 million from Exide earlier this spring and $7 million in emergency funds from the state in August. But those funds are nowhere near enough to cover testing and clean-ups in the much wider range of territory Exide is thought to have contaminated.

Funding issues aside, the actual clean-up process itself has also had some challenges. Residents have complained that parkways adjacent to contaminated yards were not cleaned and are concerned that, should the contractors have to return to clean the parkways at some point, the dust kicked up could contaminate the yards that had just been cleaned. Advocates have also argued that DTSC is not doing enough to inform residents about the option of having the interiors of their homes cleaned, that it is doing a poor job of letting people know of the extent to which they are at risk from harmful toxins, and that the process is not moving nearly fast enough, given the potential harm. And officials from Commerce — frustrated that they had been overlooked despite their location just to the east of the plant — suggested they may conduct their own testing rather than wait for DTSC.

In an effort to allay some of these fears and promote greater transparency, DTSC has drafted a community engagement plan and meets regularly with an advisory group comprised of community members and advocates and representatives of elected officials and relevant government agencies. It also released the Interim Remedial Measures Work Plan, which offers a detailed discussion of how contaminated soil from the 50 yards prioritized for clean-ups will be safely removed and trucked to distant landfills over the next six months.

Cleaning up Exide’s 15-acre Site in Vernon

Other new documents released and up for comment include Exide’s Draft Closure Plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) (full DEIR, here).

The 264-page Closure Plan  — needed to ensure health and safety will be protected before the dismantling and decontamination can begin at the 15-acre site — is a very long time coming. [See the Executive Summary, here, appendices, here.] Read more…

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Well-Intended Proposal to Shame “Johns” Using License Plate Readers Could End up Shaming Entire Communities in South L.A., Valley

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. A woman watching the scene with me said she believed the girl was underage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. A woman watching the scene with me said she believed the girl was underage. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

In the excitement of seeing the City Council rescind its vote on an amended Mobility Plan 2035 and re-adopt the plan in its draft form just before Thanksgiving, I managed to miss another item on the Council agenda from Councilmember Nury Martinez: a motion requesting that “the City Attorney report on issuing John Letters to the registered owners of vehicles that are seen driving around in high-prostitution areas in the City.”

As I write this, I realize you might be asking yourself why an effort to shame vehicle owners by notifying them that their cars were spotted in areas where prostitution was rampant and that they might be at risk for contracting a sexually-transmitted disease is a livability issue.

Quite simply, prostitution has a significant impact on the walkability and livability of neighborhoods.

If you are a female of any age in an area where sex workers regularly walk the streets, then it is likely that you or someone you know has been solicited on more than one occasion. And I can assure you that it generally is a less-than-pleasant experience. When it happens to me, it might be guys rolling up and making obscene gestures in lieu of verbal requests. Or it might entail being followed. If it’s my lucky day, I get both. The seekers of my imagined services range from delivery guys, to guys walking or biking along the street, to professional-looking guys in expensive SUVs. I’ve even been harassed by a pimp who thought I was an undercover cop — an experience that was actually more unsettling than being solicited.

Not only am I solicited every single time I either walk or bike through a known “stroll,” I find some men there are more likely to assume I am a service-provider, regardless of whether they are interested in my presumed skills at the moment. My mere presence on the street is enough for some to link me to the trade.

I am old enough to handle it, gross as it may be. But if you imagine me instead as a middle-school-aged girl living in the area who gets harassed by johns or a young boy who sees women and girls treated this way every day, you begin to get a sense of how treacherous and unfriendly the public space can be.

Families that live in these often-densely residential areas find themselves regularly waking up to condoms littered in the street in front of their homes, having transactions go down within view or earshot at all hours of the day, having johns cruising back and forth in front of their homes, fearing retaliation from pimps for calling the police, having to wait for a bus on the same bench that a sex worker is sitting waiting for customers, and watching (often very young) women parade up and down their block.

These are all things that can keep residents from feeling free to walk up the block to frequent a local business, catch a bus, or take the kids back and forth to school. It can also hurt the larger sense of community in an area — neighbors and shop owners may be more likely to keep to themselves, not wanting to cause trouble with the pimps (or, in some cases, gangs) that control the trade in their neighborhood. And the level of neglect by the city needed to create the conditions in which prostitution can occur so openly means that prostitution isn’t happening in isolation. Illegal dumping, gang violence and the associated trauma, the selling of drugs and substance abuse, domestic violence, lack of access to a viable education or work opportunities, and disinvestment feed off each other and conspire to keep a community locked in an unhealthy holding pattern.

Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Dumping is a common occurrence along Western Ave. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Read more…