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The de León Circus Continues with New Skid Row Video

Scenes from Kevin de León’s new video celebrating the Active Transportation grant awarded to his district.

Last night, disgraced councilmember Kevin de León tweeted out a video celebrating the $38.6 million state Active Transportation grant that, together with nearly $9 million in local matching funds, will bring a total of $47.5 million in bike and pedestrian infrastructure to his district via the Skid Row Connectivity and Safety Project.

Over a schmaltzy score, de León can be heard proudly expounding upon the "unprecedented" and "historic" investment in the Skid Row community and reiterating his commitment to working with area constituents to get things done.

Viewers are then treated to confusing scenes of him walking around by himself in areas outside Skid Row - pointing at a telephone pole here, pretending to identify the ideal location for a crosswalk or curb cuts there, and being dwarfed by a giant Floss Silk tree while surrounded by a sea of rocks meant to keep unhoused people and other pedestrians from enjoying the space (above).

He speaks only to the camera. Not to the folks in the tents he walks by. Not to the people trying to take refuge under the meager shade of the silk tree's bare branches. Not even to the two Black people featured in the brief snippet meant to represent the hands-on engagement he implies he did with stakeholders during the proposal-writing process.

Many of the more ambitious project amenities, while welcome, are not actually sited in Skid Row, like the expansion of the rocky tree triangle at 8th and San Pedro into a new public plaza for the Flower District.

De León also does not mention that the funding application deadline was in June, meaning that the work on the proposal was complete well before the leaked recording surfaced in October.

Instead, the video seems intended to convey that he has been hard at work while his critics - or the "peanut gallery," as he calls them - have been busy decrying his racism and his refusal to resign. Ever defiant, he also makes a point of highlighting the role discretionary funds played in his ability to put the project proposal together. It's both a thumb of his nose at council, which is currently exploring the possibility of imposing penalties on censured councilmembers (including limiting their access to discretionary funds), and a reminder to his supporters to keep protesting on his behalf.

Needless to say, the video did not go over well.

The replies on the tweet were turned off, likely in anticipation of the massive dragging such a transparent attempt to rehabilitate his image would inspire. But the QTs - now numbering over 500 640 - still delivered.

Detractors were particularly appalled by seeing de León tout the benefits of bike infrastructure against a backdrop of tents when the project did nothing to move folks into housing.

Others were angered by his having tried to position himself as a champion of Skid Row while misrepresenting the project as the "single largest infrastructure investment in the history of this [Skid Row] community." The project is likely named "Skid Row Connectivity" because anchoring it in a disadvantaged community gives it a leg up with regard to funding criteria. But the surrounding areas will benefit just as much, if not more. The reconstructed sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, and street trees will be implemented throughout the project zone, for example, but San Pedro - which passes through just a few blocks of Skid Row (below) - will get the bulk of the infrastructure, including 2.4 miles of protected bike lanes and intersection improvements (curb ramps, curb extensions, and enhanced crosswalks). The Flower District - not Skid Row - will get a new public plaza with benches, lighting, hydration stations, and bike share stations at 8th St/San Pedro. And the Piñata District will get wider sidewalks and crosswalks with flashing beacons. [See the full run-down of amenities here or here.]

The 2.4 miles of new bike infrastructure planned as part of the Skid Row Connectivity and Safety Project will improve conditions for folks moving along San Pedro Street and enhance connectivity by complementing some of the existing/pending bike infrastructure in Skid Row. But some of the most significant pedestrian improvements will be in the Piñata and Flower Districts. Pedestrian lighting in the Skid Row area is a benefit, but unfortunately also has the potential to be used as a crime suppression tool.

Author Roxane Gay simply told de León to resign.

Jorts the Cat asked if de León was the same guy who choked a protester out while wearing a Santa hat.

And the Skid Row-based Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) called out de León for centering himself while ignoring some of the negative impacts of "beautification" projects.

The last two times Skid Row was promised things like curb cuts, trees, lighting, and ADA compliant amenities, a follow-up tweet explained, it resulted in more citations, harassment, and abuse of the unhoused population.

And, as noted in their video below, even when Skid Row residents made demands for bike lanes, it took years for them to get the infrastructure they deserved in the way that they needed it, making de León's effort to claim credit for a foundation laid by the community - a community that is also disproportionately Black - all the more insulting.

Weird optics aside, one of the more notable things about de León's announcement is the timing.

As reported by Streetsblog California, the California Transportation Commission - not Caltrans, as de León says in his video - gave its final approval on the projects two weeks ago, on December 7. The next day, December 8, LADOT put out a press release celebrating Los Angeles' windfall: the city received six separate grants for a total of over $200 million. Most of the grant amounts were similar in size to the one awarded to the Skid Row Connectivity project (the Osborne Street project in Pacoima was actually larger, clocking in at $42.3 million).

De León's office did not send out a press release at that time. He must have known his return to council the following day, December 9, would cause an uproar and overshadow any good news his office put out. Which it absolutely did. Then, just a few hours later, de León physically assaulted protester Jason Reedy at a community holiday event while wearing a Santa hat, forcing his team to focus on doing yet more damage control.

That did not go well either.

A statement accusing Reedy of "launch[ing] a pelvic thrust" was roundly ridiculed. And his testy appearance on CNN - where he claimed that his racist statements weren't racist in context - made him a national laughing stock.

With council on holiday recess and there being fewer opportunities for physical fracases, de León may have figured this was the right moment to spring some positivity on the populace.

But the shaky smile he offers as he encourages folks to visit the link in his bio suggests even he doesn't believe he is pulling this off.

The entire project is not expected to be completed until 2030.


For more on the events surrounding KDL's return to city council chambers last week, see our coverage here.

Need more context on the Leaked Recording that Roiled L.A.? Find: the full recording, first posted by KNOCK-LA here; An annotated transcript by the L.A. Times here; This reporter’s deep dive into the recording, the redistricting politics behind it, and the backroom deal made to install a new councilmember in the vacant CD10 seat here (if that’s TL;DR, find this reporter’s twitter thread breaking down key parts of the recording here); Former councilmember Mike Bonin’s twitter thread on the roadblocks Martinez, Cedillo, and de León created to good policy in council here; This reporter’s live-tweeting of de León’s chaotic return to council on 12/13 here.

Find me on twitter at @sahrasulaiman.

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