Gate Swinging Shut on Ballona Creek Entrance

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The LAPD Testifies on the Gate Closure

Yesterday, the City Council Transportation Committee followed the advice of the LAPD and voted to approve a trial closure of one of the entrances to the Ballona Creek trail along Culver Drive between Purdue Avenue and Sawtelle Boulevard.  An amendment by Committee Chair Wendy Greuel requires that a detailed series of goal posts be put in place to measure the closure’s success before the resolution comes before the full Council.

After months of debate since this issue first appeared on the Transportation Committee Agenda in March, the local LAPD commander wrote a letter to the City Council urging them to “temporarily” close the gate for 90 days so that they could assess it’s impact on the community. 

But not providing any other alternatives other than a closure, the LAPD did the Council and local Councilman Bill Rosendahl a disservice; forcing a clash between trail users who view the gate as a safe entrance and exit from the trail and those living adjacent to the gate who view it as a hotbed of gang activity because it provides an extra escape route.

Much of the testimony from the bike community was similar to what’s been said before.  Concerns were raised about the safety of people on the trail, the potential crashes that would occur by forcing all those wishing to enter or exit the crash to do so off more heavily traveled roadways and even if the safety measure was needed at all.  Local bike advocate Howard Hackett pointed out that it had been more than 100 days since the Transportation Committee first addressed the potential closure and there had been no crime reported in the area.  How could a closed gate over a 90-day period improve on that record?

In response, the LAPD’s representatives admitted that crime in the area has gone down 46% in the first two months of 2008 compared to the same time period in 2007.  Statistics for crime for the bike trail weren’t available because the LAPD Crime Maps system has trouble keeping records for crimes without a street address.  Three years ago LAPD tried to get a list of crimes on the bike path, but LADOT could only provide statistics "for the area."

Oddly, in response to questions about why the gate closure would be a full-time closure and not just at night, the LAPD responded that crime in the area is a 24-hour problem and not just isolated to evening hours.  This is a direct contradiction to comments made by Lou Corbin, whose house is directly across the street and is a leading proponent of gate closure, at previous meetings where he stated that the problem is during the day when people aren’t home and their houses get vandalized and burglarized.  There was no effort to contradict Corbin at previous meetings when the debate was about whether or not increased lighting could improve the crime situation in the area.

The meeting also featured a sharp exchange between Councilman Richard Alarcon and Rosendahl over whether the community had done enough to warrant the city stepping in.  Alarcon fixated on the lack of a community watch program and forcefully argued that closing access to a public amenity before the community had tried policing itself was the wrong way to go about things.  Rosendahl noted that the police in his district get no funds from the city’s gang prevention program and we should support their request for a closure.

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Beliot Ave. Gate, Now Also Closed Because of Neighbors Concerns About Crime

Alarcon also asked the million-dollar question for which there is no reply, “If they don’t have trouble breaking into a house, how are they going to be stopped by a fence?”  Earlier, Alex Thompson testified to the ease of using bolt cutters to quickly making a hole in a chain link fence.  Other bike advocates wondered how difficult it would be to just jump or climb the four-foot obstacle to get to the trail.

Before ultimately voting to move the motion forward, Wendy Greuel commented on the incomplete nature of the LAPD’s proposal.  Greuel was concerned that if the evaluation was limited to asking the community if it “felt more safe” that the gate would remain closed forever regardless of its impact on safety.  Before a final vote the committee agreed that a detailed evaluation criteria would need to be in place before the council could give final approval.

One issue that remained unresolved was whether the closure could impact future funding of trail projects in the city.  This point was brought up multiple times during testimony; but when a Metro lobbyist was asked point blank if this were the case, he replied that he would have to look it up.

In the end, the Committee moved the proposal by a 4-1 vote, with Alarcon voting against.  Actually, I’m just assuming the vote was 4-1 and not 3-1-1 or 3-2.  Councilman Parks didn’t move for most of the debate and never spoke.  Some of those in the audience wondered whether or not the Councilman had fallen asleep.  Regardless, the full council will take up the issue later this summer.

First photo by Alex Thompson.

Second photo by Will Campbell.

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