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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Patience might finally pay off in more parkland *

About 18 acres of Elysian Heights hillside that sweeps from Landa Street down to Riverside Drive is moving closer to becoming public parkland. A community meeting tonight will update residents who have been working for about 20 years in transforming the site into an extension of nearby Elysian Park. After fighting off a proposal to build a warehouse complex on the site, members of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park lead the effort secure bond money to purchase the land and eventually build a park. That was back in the 1990s. Now, the city will review its most recent plans for the property.

The first phase calls for sports fields, game courts and picnic areas near the bottom at Riverside Drive and a scenic overlook at the top near Landa Street and Echo Park Avenue. The 18 acre parcel does not share a boundary with Elysian Park but some residents say it will help make Elysian Park more accessible to Elysian Valley and other nearby neighborhoods.

* Update: Julie Wong, spokeswoman for Councilman Eric Garcetti, provided a few more details about the 18 acres. The first phase of the project will cost about $1.65 million. But the site must compete for state bond funds that are slowly flowing to the city. If the park lands near the top of a citywide priority list, work on the first phase could begin as soon as the first quarter of next year and take about 10 months to complete, Wong said. "Council President Garcetti has been vocal about wanting this project to be a priority," she said.

The new parkland has been considered an expansion of Elysian Park but it's not clear if the 18 acres will bear the same name. "The city has a naming process that involves community members," Wong said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mt. Washington mobilizes against a freeway tunnel

The idea of digging a six-lane freeway tunnel that begins in El Sereno, loops around Mt. Washington and emerges in Glassell Park seems far fetched. The concept, one of many being considered to close the 710 Freeway gap, is for now the dream of Caltrans engineers with no money behind it. But the idea has many residents across Mt. Washington and Glassell Park terrified. On Monday night, Councilman Jose Huizar, in response to those fears and a well-organized anti-tunnel campaign, appeared before a meeting of the Mt. Washington Assn. to express his opposition to the construction of any tunnel through the area. "It does not make sense to me," said Huizar. It's what residents want to hear but many remained fearful of a Mt.Washington-Glassell Park version of Boston's Big Dig. "It's a good start," said Mt. Washington resident Nancy Campeau. "But there is [still] a tremendous threat."

* * *

Campeau is part of a small group of activists who have come together recently to put pressure on Huizar and other Los Angeles city officials to take a more public stand on the tunnel concept. In a short matter of time the Los Angeles activist have held meetings that have attracted hundreds of residents, collected petitions with more than 3,000 signatures, teamed up with freeway opponents in South Pasadena and have shown up at Los Angeles City Council meetings demanding action. On Mt. Washington, the movement gathered steam after local architect Frank Pasker wrote a story titled The 710 Freeway: It's Closer Than You Think! in the July issue of Mt. Washington Assn. newsletter. Divina Lombardo, who lives near Terrace 45 and Cleland Avenue, was shocked when a neighbor gave her a copy of the newsletter. "The entrance of the tunnel is supposed to be near my house," Lombardo said. "I got scared."

She also got organized. Divina and Campeau quickly held a neighborhood meeting in a room at a nearby church. So many people showed up that the meeting was moved into the main sanctuary of the Holy Virgin Mary Orthodox Coptic Church. The meeting soon found Mt. Washington residents teaming up with neighbors in Glassell Park, Highland Park and South Pasadena over the 710 tunnel issue.

But some other neighborhood activists and groups, however, have not seen the tunnel studies being conducted as an immediate threat. The Eagle Rock Assn. said in the group's August email newsletter that "those opposed to a local solution may be firing their cannons a little early." But tunnel opponents wanted to eliminate this threat before it picked up steam and funding. Many Mt. Washington residents were putting particular pressure on their council representative, Huizar, to take a stand against the tunnel. Not only does Huizar represent Mt. Washington and a large swath of Northeast Los Angeles, he also sits on the board of the powerful Metropolitan Transit Agency.

So, getting Huizar to publicly say he opposed the tunnel options through Mt. Washington and Glassell Park was considered a victory. Huizar also said that he and fellow councilmen Eric Garcetti and Ed Reyes, both of who represent adjacent neighborhoods, were working on a council motion to deal with concerns dealing with any proposed freeway tunnel. In response to a question from an audience member Monday night, Huizar said he would as a transit agency board member support looking at non-freeway alternatives to reducing traffic congestion.

But Huizar said he has not determined whether or not he will support the building of a freeway tunnel under El Sereno, which he also represents. It's also not clear how effective Huizar and his fellow councilmen will be in influencing the direction of the 710 freeway tunnel, which is a state and federal project. Now, many Mt. Washington residents said their next task is to make sure the Los Angeles City Council passes a resolution against the freeway tunnel.

"I can't sleep yet .... until the whole City Council passes that legislation," said Lombardo.

Image from No on 710 Freeway Tunnel on Facebook

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cypress Park seniors grow older waiting for a center of their own

When work began on the new Cypress Park branch library in 2001, many expected that the old library on Pepper Street would be transformed into a senior center. The new library did open but the old Pepper Street branch, a 1927 building that resembles a New England Colonial -style church has remained empty. Cypress Park seniors have not given up on the idea and seem to be making some progress on transforming the shuttered library into an active community center, according to a story in the EGP News.

Renovating the old library and making it accessible to the disabled, however, will require about $2 million, which might be hard to come by given the economy and the city's budget crises. Randy Muñoz, Executive Director Latino Diabetes Association, told EGP News that Cypress Park seniors are being overlooked:

“There’s not a lot for them to do here," he said.

Photo by laavocado via Flickr

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Who will be counting cigarette butts at this year's Echo Park Coastal Clean up?

Last year Echo Park volunteers collected 5,017 cigarette butts as part of Coastal Clean Up Day. A recent walk down Echo Park Avenue indicates that volunteers might collect more butts this Saturday during this year's Coastal Clean Up event at Echo Park Lake.

How does sweeping up cigarette butts from Echo Park Avenue help clean coastal waters? The goal is to pick up the trash from Echo Park streets and sidewalks before it falls into storm drains that feed directly in the lake. The waters from the lake eventually flow through other storm drains into the ocean

"Much of the trash found on beaches and marine environment comes from an inland source," said Ida Talalla, who is organizing the Echo Park clean up in partnership with Central City Action Committee. "Last year over 160 volunteers collected over 1,000 pounds of trash and 5,017 cigarette butts. Keeping trash out of storm drains is essential as all area storm drains exit into
Echo Lake."

The clean up begins at 9 am when volunteers gather at the northwest corner of the lake near Glendale Boulevard and Park Avenue. Registration begins at 8 am or you can register online and download a required waiver.

Photo by Louisa_Catlover via Flickr

Friday, September 11, 2009

The significant impacts of the Barlow Hospital development

The proposal to build a 1.2 million-square-foot development on the grounds of Barlow Hospital next to Elysian Park would most likely have significant impacts on everything from scenic views and air quality to historic structures and traffic congestion. It also might be smelly. Those findings come from an initial study into the potential environmental impacts created by a proposal to build 888 units of housing, a new hospital and shops on the hospital's approximately 25-acre property.


The leaders of the 107-year-old hospital said the property, which now consists primarily of one and two story cottages and buildings, needs to be developed so they can raise enough money to build a new hospital that meets state safety standards.

The initial study, which is still being modified, will act as a guide for a full environmental impact report that is not expected to be completed until next year. Echo Park residents and others have until Sept. 23 to submit comment on the project and the initial study. A meeting was held last Tuesday night as part of the process to gather comments on the project and the environmental review process.

Among some of the potentially significant issues that would require further study: the risk of landslides caused by hillside development; destruction of habitat for sensitive wildlife and plant species; and new or intensified "objectionable odors" created by intensified housing and hospital development.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eric Garcetti to mix El Grito with electronica

Councilman Eric Garcetti is known for embracing the new, from the minimalist lines of his Echo Park home to his frequent Twitter and Facebook posts. So, it may not be too surprising that Garcetti's council office wanted to update the city's traditional Mexican Independence Day celebration known as El Grito to appeal to the iPod generation. Of course the September 15 event will include mariachis, the ringing of the "rebellion bell" as well as the traditional VIP reception with the council members and mayor. But the El Grito celebration that Garcetti and council member Jan Perry are sponsoring will also feature the electronic rhythms of the Tijuana-based Nortec Collective (shown in the video above) and the sounds of Chicano rock band Quetzal, according to a press release issued by the council offices:

"This year, Los Angeles’s event will celebrate tradition while embracing a new urban approach to the traditional festivities. The hip, experimental sounds of Nortec Collective and local favorite Quetzal will blend with the traditional, vibrant sounds of Mariachi Reina de Los Angeles and the energetic sounds of K-Paz de la Sierra, lending a new twist to an event that has become a tradition for Los Angelenos."

Julie Wong, Garcetti's press secretary, said the injection of some modern music was a collaborative effort that involved the two council offices and El Grito's event organizer. "Council members Garcetti and Perry wanted to include some fresh music to attract a broader audience to the event (while still maintaining the traditional components of the event)," Wong said in an email. "Our offices worked together (along with our event producers) to select the musical groups and reach out to them to see who was available."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Echo Park residents scope out proposed Barlow Hospital development

Williams Hall at Barlow Hospital was packed tonight with residents, as well as a class of urban planning students, to review information about a proposal to transform the park-like hospital grounds into a giant housing development. Many residents who attended the so-called "scoping meeting" organized by the city's Planning Department said they had expected more details about the project, which includes nearly 900 units of housing, a new hospital and shops.

Residents will have until September 23 to submit comments about what should be reviewed in an upcoming environmental impact report. More details about the proposed project are included in a PDF document.

City staff, consultants and hospital officials were spread out in Williams Hall to handle individual questions about the project as well as the environmental review process. But many residents expressed frustration that there was no presentation summarizing the project and would have preferred to see more details plans, which are still in the early, conceptual stage. "It's just very vague," said Estefan Blanco, who, has lived on a hill overlooking Barlow for more than 40 years. "They are trying to see if it's a hostile vibe."

Blanco and his mother, Echo Park resident Ann Robinson, said hey were mostly concerned about noise generated by roof-top air conditioners as well as traffic coursing through Stadium Way. "Traffic is bad enough with Dodger Stadium" nearby, said Robinson.

Synthetic soccer field to debut in Boyle Heights *

Soccer fans and political leaders will gather this afternoon at the Boyle Heights Sports Center for the grand opening of new soccer and playing fields made from artificial grass. Funding for the playing fields, part of $2.2 million worth of improvements at the park, became tied up for as part of the state's budget crunch, according to a press release issued by the office of Councilman Jose Huizar. But the city tapped its own funds to complete the fields.

Huizar's office said this is the city's first synthetic soccer field east of the Los Angeles River.

* Update: This story has been updated with a photo of the grand opening provided by Council District 14

Eagle Rock prepares to celebrate it centennial

The City of Eagle Rock existed for little more than a decade before its residents abandoned independence to become a neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles in 1923 (regrets, anyone?). But Eagle Rock has retained a strong identity, even it's former City Hall, over the decades. Now, residents are taking the first steps to plan a 2011 celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation. Councilman Jose Huizar's office is holding a meeting tonight to discuss potential ideas, including a parade or the revival of Dahlia Days:

"A number of things have been suggested such as a parade which would celebrate our early history when Eagle Rock participated in Pasadena’s Rose Parade. Other ideas include something like the old “Dahlia Days” which is no longer held here, or something like back in 1997 when we celebrated the official dedication of the great rock for which Eagle Rock is named."