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Filed Under: Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

The entrance to the 4th Ave. pedestrian bridge from the north side and what remains of the landscaping, post-plant heist. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A few days ago a sad message popped in my inbox.

It was from a West Adams neighbor decrying the heist of approximately $300 worth of plants that members of the community had lovingly put in at the entrance to the 4th Ave. pedestrian bridge spanning the 10 freeway just last month.

The landscaping effort -- carried out by volunteers one fine Saturday morning -- had been intended to send a signal that the community both cares about the bridge and is mindful of what goes on there.

The neighbors had come together because homeowners living near the bridge have long-complained that the bridge attracts all sorts of unsavory activities. Some have claimed it is a haven for prostitution, dangerous drug use, gang activity, and those seeking escape routes after committing crimes, as cars can't follow.

Although crime data does not seem to bear that out -- there was only one recorded petty theft and one vehicle break-in on the south side of the bridge and no incidents on the north side in the last 6 months -- it is also true that numerous neighbors have long-reported being frustrated that police are slow in responding to their complaints.

Some of the plants put in last month. Photo: Yvonne Ellett, ECWA Recording Secretary

Late night parking restrictions had originally been instituted to deal with some of the issues the police seemed slow to address, but neighbors still complain of having to shame folks into leaving the area or of finding evidence of late-night encounters in the morning (i.e. beer bottles, condoms, empty prescription weed containers, Rollin' 20s graffiti, and most commonly, human feces).

At a meeting at Herb Wesson's council office earlier this summer, those that had had enough were vociferous in their demands for the closure of the bridge. Seeing that as the last resort, however, Wesson's office offered a compromise in the form of the installation of cameras and improved lighting. Other neighbors suggested the institution of volunteer clean-ups and the possibility of late-night walking patrols.

Although the meeting was quite contentious at times, it was exciting to see that neighbors were willing to take ownership of the bridge and build connections with other residents in order to make their own neighborhood a better place. Most recognized the bridge as an asset, one heavily used by kids going back and forth to school or the park around the corner on 2nd Ave., and they were willing to put even more time and energy (some had already been active in keeping it clean for some time) to ensuring it remained a safe and clean place.

Which is why it was so disheartening to see that it only took a few weeks for someone to squash community spirit by ripping out the landscaping.

More of the plants that were stolen. Photo: Yvonne Ellett, ECWA Recording Secretary

It must have taken a while -- they didn't take just one plant. And the heist probably required some tools, either to dig the plants up or to cart them off. So, it took a bit of planning, too.

I could be wrong, but I'm guessing it wasn't because the plant heister was feeling the need to spruce up his or her own garden. And it probably wasn't a gang-banger who hated plants. It feels more like a deliberate slap in the face to the community for trying to make the bridge more welcoming.

Which makes the whole thing all the more confusing and sad.

It also raises questions about the limits of the ownership communities can take of their streets.

So many community members have been active in picking up trash, removing waste, calling the city when crap is dumped there, chasing away riff-raff, and making the area safe for kids. You probably couldn't ask for a more active and committed community. But they're residents -- they aren't law enforcement and they aren't CalTrans (who is supposed to maintain the chainlink canopy), BSS or LADOT. They can't do it on their own. At some point, they need the city and law enforcement to take them seriously and meet them halfway. Getting the lights and cameras installed as soon as possible would be a good start.

If nothing more, that might make the fellow that left a tremendous turd nestled in the mulch and adorned with used napkins at the south end of the bridge think twice before lowering his pants. And we'd all be thankful for that.

Neighbors spent a Saturday cleaning, planting, and painting the bridge.

For more photos/information on the clean-up day at the bridge, see the Empowerment Congress West's FB page, here.

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