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SGV Connect 118 Transcript : Joe Linton, Robert Gottlieb, Marcus Renner and Wes Reutimann

Joe Linton  0:00  

This is Joe Linton, editor of Streetsblog. I've got three guests who are going to come on slightly separately, and I'm going to have them introduce themselves. We're talking about Arroyofest. Let's start with two of the folks who 20 years ago opened up the freeway, the Pasadena freeway, to people on bike and on foot. I've got Professor Bob Gottlieb...I know Robert Gottlieb, and Marcus Renner. Marcus, why don't you tell your title just super briefly of who you are? And then Bob, you tell who you are, and then I'll start asking some questions.

Marcus Renner  0:42  

Well, 20 years ago, I was the Education Outreach Coordinator for the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, and kind of fell into the role of ArroyoFest coordinator. But now I'm a PhD candidate at the UC Davis geography program, and am spearheading an initiative called the Arroyo Seco Promisekeepers that in a lot of ways is kind of trying to pick up the mantle of ArroyoFest and what we were trying to accomplish.

Joe Linton  1:08  

Great. And  Bob, let's have you introduce yourself.

Robert Gottlieb  1:11  

Okay. I'm an emeritus Professor, I was the the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute and professor at Occidental College, and I've also written various publications and books, including one called Reinvented Los Angeles, which has a chapter called The Magic of ArroyoFest. And the cover has a photo that was taken by Marcus's mother, which shows people biking, skateboarding, and strolling on the Pasadena Freeway on June 5 2000.

Joe Linton  2:03  

We're getting pretty good audio from you, Bob. But if you can speak pretty close to your mic that'll help. So there's listeners who probably weren't born yet...there's folks who'd never heard of it. So what happened in 2003 ArroyoFest? Why don't you guys kind of both jump in and what what took place that day, 

Marcus Renner  2:26  

So what took place that day was really a silence kind of settled over the Arroyo Seco Canyon as our folks shut off traffic from  Avenue 26 or and the I-Five Interchange all the way up to Pasadena. And there was a fog that day in the morning, and suddenly all of these bicyclists appeared to get the chance to ride the freeway. Or the historical Arroyo Seco Parkway.

Joe Linton  2:59  

Hundreds or 1000s?

Marcus Renner  3:01  

We estimated about 3000, or 2000 cyclists and then about an hour later about 3000 walkers walked down from Glenarm and walked up from Avenue 26, and various points in between. And it really became a public space, a gathering space for community and the silence allowed people to see the canyon and see the Arroyo Seco in a whole new way.

Joe Linton  3:29  

Bob, do you want to add on to that a little?

Robert Gottlieb  3:31  

Well, it was an event that was more than two years in the making with significant resistance, initially from various transportation agencies that needed to sign off on it. So how many events took place was kind of a political miracle, if you will, that became actually not so miraculous, as people were able to participate. And for years, they've heard feedback, people who remembered the event as a magical moment.

Marcus Renner  4:18  

It was known in Highland Park, it became known as "the happening." People set up folding chairs just alongside the parkway and just to watch. We had collected 60 banners from various schools of kids talking about how much they love the Arroyo and we put those over the fences. So people really kind of took possession of the space. People were doing cartwheels. Tricycles were there. There was a bagpipe, or someone playing a bagpipe through the canyon.

Joe Linton  4:54  

And how did so how did the event get started? What was the genesis, what was the idea? How did it get? How did it lead to it?

Robert Gottlieb  5:13  

We had an event in 1999-2000, called Re-Envision of the LA River. And we had 40 different events, and one of them was conducting quarterly bike rides around the river...and also some walks around the river. And that was one of the inspirations. There were several different ones. But the idea of doing bike rides in different kinds of places would allow us to not only re envision at the time, but think differently about spaces and streets and where people could bike and walk to get places rather than rely just on their cars. We also have a history of people in the bike world who had talked about looking back in history, where there had been a cycleway proposed before there were cars for pretty much along the same stretch where ArroyoFest took place. But it was that idea of backing up a lot of people's heads saying, "Hey, can we do that again?" So that was another kind of inspiration. There were people involved in historic preservation issues, who knew some of the history of what was actually a parkway, rather than the freeway, that it became. There were people thinking about the Arroyo Garden, and a different type of way wanting ways to connect. So all ideas came together. And we started to see if we should create a coalition and go to the transportation agencies and say, "We want to shut down the freeway for a bike ride." We even have people involved in equestrian programs who thought they would ride their horses. That was maybe in the final rounds for the transportation agency. So we aren't able to get the horse  riders up on the freeway. But after two years with an inside /outside game: elected officials to support us. We did significant organizing within those communities in those constituencies. The transportation agencies finally started the process that led to the ArroyoFest.

Joe Linton  8:31  

Something you alluded to that I can mention is that 20 years ago, well before Streetsblog, I was involved in ArroyoFest. You guys did 99% of the work and I did a little part of that... 1%. So  I was there. I remember the quietness and sort of emptiness of just having bikes on the freeway. Marcus you refer to a little bit of this, but maybe either of you can jump in? What are things you remember about that day?

Marcus Renner  9:11  

I remember getting a call at 4:30 in the morning that nobody knew where any of the tents were supposed to go in the park for the festival. My day started about then and I rushed down to the park. Then it didn't stop. So I actually never...

Joe Linton  9:30  

This was Sycamore Park Sycamore Grove Park? 

Marcus Renner  9:32  

Yeah. You know, part of the story of this was just figuring out how this could happen. And early on. I went down with the head of the Highland Park Heritage Trust to try to figure out how we could get people into Sycamore Grove Park, which is a historic park and where a lot of events have happened throughout the history of Los Angeles. We wanted to end the walk and end the bike ride there. And I went down there with the head Nicole Posford, who was the head of Highland Park Heritage Trust, and, and we were like, "How is this going to work?" Because it's in between two exits. And we looked at the area and we saw a gap in the trees and we said, "why don't we cut the fence?" That really became a metaphor for me about what ArroyoFest was really about. It was really about just disrupting the status quo. And, what Bob likes to say is "power of the imagination." That is really what carried the event. And really allowed it to carry the day was that kind of vision. So, my day started at four in the morning trying to get things sorted out at the park and I actually never got onto the parkway, So I'm really looking forward to actually taking my bike out and getting the experience 20 years later.

Joe Linton  10:57  

And talk about that. So as a person who's done river activism, who, who actually cut the fence? Did Caltrans cut it? Did you guys cut it? 

Marcus Renner  11:09  

I think we hired a crew to cut it. And, you know, one of the key moments in the organizing was, I mean, we had I think a lot of the transportation agencies, they they were kind of bemused by it  and kind of said, "well, if you can get the insurance, if you can get the permits, if you can put together a traffic plan.." And they were skeptical that we were able to do this. Tenaciousness really paid off, we were able to do everything. And one of the key moments was, we connected with the folks who organized the LA Marathon. And were really known as event people across all of these agencies. And  that was a key moment. And they helped us quite a bit. And so they were the ones who hired the crew that cut the fence.

Joe Linton  12:00  

Great. Bob, did you want to talk about that day? Or do you want me to go into next questions?

Robert Gottlieb  12:09  

First, I want to go back to the cutting of the fence. It's another way of thinking about why ArroyoFest connected to what people were doing around the river and the Arroyo Seco stream Because a mountain and river advocacy was cutting a fence to get down to the river. So there were parallels there. One year to the day after ArroyoFest Akali Anastasia, who had done co-teaching with us and wonderful research on the problem of Pasadena Freeway and how it was constructed and made it the most dangerous freeway. She was driving down the 110 Freeway along the same route. And just around the area where the fences have been cut, there was a stoppage that lasted for many many minutes, and people got out of their cars and then some people came through the hole in the fence with their taco truck. Someone in the car started playing. People got out of their cars. They started celebrating. To me that was a wonderful moment. Thinking about what ArroyoFest also meant.

Joe Linton  14:02  

Yeah, so let's talk about that. So within a decade, LA and other cities and our guest later Wes from Active SGV played a big role in this. In 2010, the city of LA hosted the first CicLAvia open streets event. The Metro Board cancels the northern part of the 710 freeway. I like to say it wasn't out of the goodness of Metro's heart, it was out of community resistance. Metro goes on to cancel widening on the lower 710 that would tear down lots of homes and businesses. So I feel in some ways I like to think CicLAvia and ArroyoFest were heralds of new Los Angeles coming into being, or a new Southern California. And yet  I worry that in some ways we've got pretty much the same car centric crap that we had 20 years ago. What's your sense of what came out of ArroyoFest?  How did it affect LA?

Robert Gottlieb  15:27  

Where there were some specific things. Starting with CicLAvia was one of the folks who brought the idea to other advocates, got the idea from ArroyoFest, one of one of the sources of her ideas, and...

Joe Linton  15:52  

 Adonia Lugo? 

Robert Gottlieb  15:54  

Yeah...There was a fall gathering that you recall that you were very much part of Joe...called the First Bike Summit and a subsequent event called The Street Summit. And CicLAvia was one of the ideas that was going around at that event, which was a direct follow. So there were several small and larger examples of the ways in which ArroyoFest, even though it didn't  continue, as an annual event, it's still sparked both imagination and practical effort, do something very differently about the idea of a car-centric city becoming one that was really amenable to people and bicycles and walkers, and other ways of getting around. And I want to say something about the theory of change that ties in their specific examples that you mentioned, both in terms of change happening as well as the resistance to change. And that's the idea. Sometimes you make a change. Or you're thinking about policy change or bring about the ways in which changes in culture, changes in the language we use, that might not seem by itself, all that fancy. But within, it has the sense that there will be a more radical change, then you have the possibility of seeing a huge transformation. I don't think we've seen that transformation. But we've seen a lot of incremental changes that have capacity. Whether it's caused by climate change, or pandemic, or political upheavals, bring in relief, the idea that much worse, national and transformative change. Yeah,

Marcus Renner  18:36  

I would add that one of the, one of the legacies of ArroyoFest was of getting everyone in the Arroyo to think about what they can accomplish by working together. The Arroyo is, like a lot of places in Los Angeles, segregated and kind of balkanized. And what we were able to do is bring activists down from Lincoln Heights and Cypress Park together with folks from Altadena and Pasadena and South Pasadena; and get everybody at the same table and let each have their interests. Some were interested in heritage and arts, others in transportation, others with a kind of watershed restoration in the stream and parks and open space. And we were able to bring those people together and show what they can accomplish. Crystallize that within this one short four hour period of really changing... breaking through the current car culture idea. Shortly afterwards, there was a lot of work done by some environmental groups, northeast trees and Arroyo Seco Foundation to create a watershed feasibility restoration study. And shortly after that, after ArroyoFest, a lot of the same players came together and formed the Council Arroyo Seco organizations, which was a networking group that got together and started to give Arroyo Verde awards for folks who were really thinking about the entire Arroyo, thinking about Los Angeles as dividing it up by watersheds instead of by jurisdictions. That carries forward to this day. The Council Arroyo Seco agencies are still talking about watershed restoration and taking out the flood control channel, and joining folks from the confluence all the way up to the mountains and thinking about this as a place as defined by the landscape, rather than different issues or different political jurisdictions. So I think that's, that's part of the legacy of ArroyoFest as well

Joe Linton  20:37  

Talk a little bit about your academic project of sort of creative placemaking and ArroyoFest.

Marcus Renner  20:44  

ArroyoFest was really ahead of its time in something called Creative Placemaking, which has really taken off for the last 10 or 15 years. I call it creative placekeeping. It's the idea of using arts and culture and events like this to really spearhead discussion and organizing around community issues. And so out of ArroyoFest or through the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, we create a policy agenda that outlines how we can advance housing, transportation, watershed restoration, arts and culture. And so ArroyoFest was able to be the platform for that. And what I'm doing is I'm piloting a project called the Arroyo Seco Placekeepers, which is really kind of going in depth and storytelling in the Arroyo, and figuring out how that can lead and guide our organizing strategies. And one of the things we've come out with is two ideas. One is disruptive invitations. How do you disrupt the status quo, but also provide an invitation to imaginative creative participation? And then the other is convivial common ground. How can we create physical spaces where people can come together and interact and feel a sense of fellowship. And ArroyoFest is a perfect example of both those things of creating a disruptive invitation, and then  creating on the parkway on the freeway, convivial common ground. And those are two things that are really important for creative placemaking. And ArroyoFest is really ahead of its time. And now it's very hard to get funding in the arts and culture sector, unless you're doing some kind of public community engagement as we did with ArroyoFest.

Joe Linton

So it's 20 years later. We're going to shift to the present day. People have taken up the mantle of ArroyoFest. ActiveSGV, which runs the 626 Golden Streets events...ArroyoFest is returning due to a lot of work on their part. I have Wes, and I'm worried about pronouncing his last name badly, but Wes Reutimann of Active SGV, who's going to talk a little bit about what's coming up. Wes, why don't you introduce yourself and then I'll ask you a couple of questions?

Wes Reutimann  23:18  

I've spent most of my life living actually in the Arroyo Seco area. So it's been a very exciting event and project to work on.

Joe Linton  23:32  

It's coming up. The date is Sunday, October 29. What can people expect? What's new at the next ArroyoFest?

Wes Reutimann  23:44  

It's a 20 year anniversary event. And the idea is really to bring back an event that almost everyone we've connected with and talked about and who was there that day, it left a very lasting impression on them and a really positive impression. I think there are very few events I talked about, especially here in LA County. There are million things going on, where people have such fond positive memories. It really sticks out so much. The organizing team that's working on the event for Sunday, October 29...None of us were at the original event. We heard about it. We've seen that in these amazing photos of that day and had the opportunity to talk to people like Bob and Marcus about what transpired. So you know, our intent is really to bring it back as well as to add a couple additional elements. In 2003, there wasn't a Metro open streets program. So the project is made possible or the restaging is being funded primarily by Metro. So from 7am to 11am, the parkway will be opened for the public to walk, bike, skate...

Joe Linton  24:51  

and the Parkway, because not a lot of people call it the parkway, the parkway is the 110 freeway, from where to where?

Wes Reutimann  24:56  

Yeah, the same segment as in 2003, so from Avenue 26 to Glenarm in Pasadena. It's about six miles.

Joe Linton  25:05  

So  from Cypress Park, Lincoln Heights area, all the way up to South Pasadena?

Wes Reutimann  25:13  

So for those that use Metro, familiar with the A line, the Cypress Park/Lincoln Heights station, there'll be an activity hub right there. That's one end of the route, the southern end of the route. If you move up, then it's Sycamore Grove will be the second activity hub. And the folks at the Lemon Stay Festival, the organizers, are coordinating with us. So they're going to be hosting their event this year on the same day as ArroyoFest from 10am to 3pm. So folks will be able to enjoy the parkway from seven to 11. And then check out a whole array of arts and visual and performing groups as well as a number of community organizations. Then moving up into South Pasadena. This is a new element. So last time ArroyoFest was hosted it was exclusively on the freeway. This time, there'll be one mile of local streets as well. So in South Pasadena, cutting down from the Orange Grove on-off ramps, you'll be able to bike ride down to Mission Street, and then head down Mission a mile to Garfield Park. So there'll be a large activity hub at the South Pasadena A Line station, right in the historic downtown district on Mission Street. And there will also be, you know, a wide range of community groups, booths, food, activities, games for kids, live local performing artists, etc.

Joe Linton  26:40  

And I think I heard there's a fun run sort of component you want you want to pitch that?

Wes Reutimann  26:48  

That also is a newer element. We know runners like getting up at the crack of dawn . Due to the permitting process, we had to do the event early in the morning on a Sunday to limit the amount of impact to vehicle congestion. So to help ensure we have lots of folks out right at 7am we said, "why don't we coordinate a run?" So there'll be a point to point 10k Run starting in South Pasadena, just next to the hub, adjacent to the Gold Line station or A Line station. Then heading onto the parkway and straight all the way down to Lincoln Heights in the finish line we'll be right by the Lincoln Heights station. So anyone who signs up and registers for that will get a TAP card, a commemorative rub t-shirt etc. And that does require registration. However, you know, folks are welcome to just come out and run on their own. 

Joe Linton

And the main event is free, right?  And people can start wherever they want and wherever they want. And they can ride their bikes, they can scooter, they can skate, they can run on the freeway until how late?

Wes Reutimann 27:57

Until 11am. 

Joe Linton  27:58  

Until 11am 

Wes Reutimann  27:59  

So yeah set you folks often set their alarm clocks, it is an earlier start than most CicLAvias. Our events generally start at 9am but you'll want to get out there early, explore the parkway for a couple hours and then check out you know  one of the activities hubs or the festival

Joe Linton  28:16  

If folks are interested in more information on the event or actually  volunteer.. Are you looking for volunteers? How do people get involved or get more info? ,

Wes Reutimann  28:26  

We cannot do the event without several hundred volunteers and we're about two thirds of our way to the goal of reaching the number of volunteers we need. Please come spend part of the day, you can still enjoy the event. Come do a two hour shift and then enjoy the rest of the event on your own and help make it possible. And in exchange we've got a lot of really nice goodies such as a special ArroyoFest t-shirt, a TAP card that's a custom ArroyoFest TAP card that only volunteers will receive. You can't buy these things. Got a volunteer you know of course food and refreshments we do a special volunteer raffle with some cool prizes and

Joe Linton  29:12  

How do people get info about the event? Where should people go?

Wes Reutimann  29:17  

The website has all the information, you can sign up to volunteer and the last real nice thing if you volunteer is our friend Gabe the Sasquatch always goes to the post party after any of our open streets events. That's only for volunteers. So if you want to spend some time with Gabe then it's a great way to do it.

Joe Linton  29:39  

Great. So we're gonna wind down. I want to give each of my guests a chance to just have a last word if you want. Feel free to, to not if you don't. Wes is anything you want to add?

Wes Reutimann  29:54  

I would just say you know, if at all possible, come out and enjoy the event. It may be 20 years until it's happened again. I probably won't be the one organizing it. So we'll be looking to hand off the torch. But yeah, so if you missed the first one, definitely try to make it this time.

Joe Linton  30:12  

Great. And then, Bob, do you want any kind of closing statement here?

Robert Gottlieb  30:18  

Yeah, I think ArroyoFest and all these other events that we've been talking about have actually deep cultural significance and lead to ways of thinking about the significant changes in the way we do actually pertain to other kinds of changes that we need in daily life. One example would be to shift away from car culture. We can move towards a 30 hour work without loss of pay, in a wayCicLAvia suggests, we need to imagine a way as well as practically have those kinds of changes.

Joe Linton  31:12  

Great, thank you. And Marcus,

Marcus Renner  31:14  

 I would just echo that, that. There are a lot of fences to be cut. There's a lot of concrete to be taken up all over Los Angeles. And a lot of that is how we think about living together and sharing space, not just with people but with, with wildlife and with plants. And hopefully, on ArroyoFest this time, folks can think about that it was always meant to be a prelude, a taste of what a better  Los Angeles could be. So I hope that folks, not only have fun, but also think about some of those larger connections and think about and just ask the question, what if, because that's what we did 20 years ago.

Joe Linton  32:03  

And I think if I can have a point of privilege of just spouting a little bit, not as not as the interviewer, but as an interviewee, sort of. I did a lot of LA River work. I wrote a blog called LA Creek Freak and was involved in ArroyoFest and Arroyo activism. And I've had a long history of bike activism and work for transit and walking and stuff, too. And I think a lot of folks who listen to this are more on the transportation side. And I think as transportation activists, we fight against the engineers who look at a street and say, "there's only one thing we can do on a street and that's cars." And similarly, Arroyo Creek activists fight against a sort of single purpose engineering that looks at a river and says, "Oh, the only thing we can do is concrete and flood control." And I think that as we move toward the future of Los Angeles, if we're going to survive climate change, and I don't know if we are,, we really do need to sort of break open these paradigms that look at real single purpose things and really break those open to look at multiple modes, sharing multiple different different people, different income different purposes and how to come together in cities and go across multiple purposes. And I think the ArroyoFest 20 years ago did that and the ArroyoFest next month is doing that. I'm excited my daughter and I'll be out there and thanks, everyone for listening and thanks, guys for being part of the interview.

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