NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS—Vernon--State environmental regulators issued guidelines Thursday that will allow expedited cleanups of high-risk homes near the shuttered Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon even before a full mitigation plan and environmental review are completed. 

The Department of Toxic Substances Control released a draft cleanup plan and environmental impact report for public review in December, with cleanup operations to mitigate lead-contaminated soil and properties near the plant anticipated to begin this summer. 

That schedule, however, sparked criticism from some residents and area officials who said some properties near the plant are at particularly high risk. 

DTSC officials said Thursday they will move forward with cleanups on a “case-by-case basis” at a limited number of properties “with high levels of lead in the soil and the greatest exposures to sensitive populations.” 

“We are utilizing all of the resources at our disposal to ensure that we are able to take action to protect the most sensitive populations impacted by the presence of lead in the soil from the Exide operations,” DTSC Director Barbara Lee said.

The agency plans to consider for expedited cleanup properties that have soil with lead levels of 1,000 parts per million or more. 

The agency will also consider cleanups at properties where a resident “has a blood-lead level at or above five micrograms per deciliter, which is the level used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify children with elevated blood-lead levels.” 

The Exide plant permanently closed in March 2015. When Exide agreed to close the lead-acid battery recycling plant, it committed to pay $50 million for cleanup of the site and surrounding neighborhoods. Of that amount, $26 million is meant to be set aside for residential cleanup. 

Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year signed legislation providing $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and cleanup work in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered plant. 

State officials said the funding would pay for testing of residential properties, schools, day care centers and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.

 

(This report originated at City New Service.)

NEIGHBORHOOD P­­OLITICS--ECHO PARK – A cluster of classic, Spanish-Revival style bungalows on Echo Park Avenue could be demolished to make way for as many as a dozen new homes, according to city records. 

An application filed by the developer with the Planning Department seeks permission to carve up the property at 1456 Echo Park Avenue to build up to 12 single-family homes under the city’s small-lot development ordinance, which allows for more dense development of single-family homes. The project, proposed by Bixel House LLC, would require the demolition of 7 apartments and the removal of nearly 4,000 cubic feet of earth. 

This project of 3-story homes would have a big impact on this section of the avenue, where most of the surrounding one- and two-story buildings date back to the 1920s or earlier and there has not been much in the way of new construction during the past 30 years. 

The request to subdivide the property would be subject to public hearings and additional reviews. Stay tuned. 

Update: In response to the developer’s application, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell issued the following response through his spokesman, Tony Arranaga: “This proposal flies in the face of historic preservation and the Councilmember’s efforts at revising the Small Lot Subdivision ordinance …. In addition, the proposal does not align with the Councilmember’s goals to maintain the historic character of our Echo Park neighborhood.”

 

(This report was first published at The Eastsider)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--According to Greg Monfette, of Tree Case Management, an arborist hired by the Larchmont Business Improvement District (BID), the ficus trees planted on Larchmont almost sixty years ago have outlived their welcome (photo above) on the street, and it’s time for them to be replaced through a process of rotational management.

The BID, a consortium of property owners on Larchmont, is trying to address the broken plumbing and sidewalks caused by the tree roots for several years. According to BID Co-spokesperson Rebecca Hutchinson, the BID needs to replace the ficus trees because it will lose its insurance if it gets sued one more time by someone who has been injured falling on a broken sidewalk. (Read the rest.

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Controversial plans to build a massive housing, hotel, and retail project with a skyscraper on a parking lot in South LA was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday. More than 1,400 apartments and condos will be built, but many will be unaffordable for South LA residents 

City leaders have said the development, called The Reef, has the potential to transform the neighborhood, which has been overlooked by developers until now. It may bring job opportunities and quality restaurants to a neglected area, but it has drawn fierce opposition over fears it will drive up living costs and displace thousands of residents. 

Streetsblog LA has followed the plans closely and offered this critique today: While it sounds like “livability wet dream” it “caters to a well-heeled clientele;” it is “situated on the edge of a neighborhood that is both one of the poorest in the city and the most overcrowded in the entire country.” 

Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price, who reps South LA, told the Los Angeles Times: “It is new … and we have not seen this in the 9th District or South Los Angeles and there’s certainly some uncertainty about it but definitely some excitement and enthusiasm.” 

With the city’s approval, physicians Avedis and Ara Tavitian will develop a parking lot and warehouse at South Broadway and Washington Boulevard with 1,444 condos and apartments, a grocery store, a gallery, a hotel with 208 rooms, outdoor plazas, and more than 67,000 square feet of shops and restaurants in buildings ranging in height from 77 to 420 feet. 

Opponents have speculated the city was swift in approving the project ahead of the implementation of a ballot measure approved by Los Angeles voters earlier this month that will require residential developers to make 20 percent of all condos and 11-25 percent of apartments in their buildings affordable. 

The Tavitian brothers agreed to designate just 5 percent of the 549 apartments for tenants earning very low incomes. (None of the condos will be designated affordable). But they did agree to pay the city $15 million for affordable housing off-site, but within Council District 9. 

But with The Reef, affordability isn’t the only concern. Streetsblog’s Sahra Sulaiman says residents fear gentrification in the neighborhood will make their lives more difficult in other ways. She quotes Alfredo Gama of the Central Alameda Neighborhood Council: “I get stopped by police going out to my car at two a.m. to get my books!” Then she writes, “How much more frequently would he and others like him be harassed once higher-income residents moved in and sought protection from their “suspicious-looking” lower-income neighbors?” Those types of tactics, she says, are not uncommon in gentrifying neighborhoods.

All images via Department of City Planning except photo of protesters - Credit: Angel Jennings / Los Angeles Times)

 

(Jenna Handler posts at Curbed LA ….where this commentary originated) Prepped for CityWatch by Dianne Lawrence.

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--LA City Council candidate Jesse Creed hosted a press conference to call for safety improvements on Westwood Boulevard. Creed is running for the Westside’s Council District Five. 

Creed declared that, due to more than 300 injury collisions over the past five years, Westwood Boulevard is “virtually a deathtrap.” According to Creed, despite Westwood being among the 15 mayoral Great Streets Initiative sites for the past two years, “virtually nothing” has changed. Due to high rates of collisions and death, Westwood Blvd. is part of the city’s Vision Zero High Injury Network, streets that experience more than their share of deadly crashes. Creed stressed that his priority is to “make Westwood Boulevard safe for everyone” and pledged that “one of his first actions as councilmember” will be to commission a safety study for Westwood. 

Creed was joined by Westwood residents, academics, and business leaders, all of whom called for greater safety features, including bike lanes, on Westwood Boulevard. Residents and business leaders criticized a lack of representation. UCLA professor Michael Jerrett, a bicycle commuter himself, criticized bike lane opponents as “putting peoples’ lives at risk.” Many speakers emphasized connections between UCLA, which is implementing a bike-share system this year, and Metro rail stations, including the existing Expo Line station and the future Purple Line subway station.

Creed is drawing a clear distinction between his platform and the record of Fifth District incumbent Councilmember Paul Koretz. Koretz quashed an earlier study of designated bike lanes for Westwood Boulevard,  and further undermined the city’s Mobility Plan by yanking Westwood from the city’s Bicycle Enhanced Network

(Joe Linton is the editor of StreetsblogLA ... where this perspective was first posted. He founded the LA River Ride, co-founded the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, worked in key early leadership roles at CicLAvia and C.I.C.L.E., served on the board of directors of Friends of the LA River, Southern California Streets Initiative, and LA Eco-Village.)

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NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--"Do you hear me ... Do you hear me now?" How many times did one hear the Verizon ad man ask that question in response to obtaining adequate service? The Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) is now asking this of Councilman Mike Bonin.

Projects affecting Venice are being approved by the City and they have never been thru the Venice Neighborhood Council. (Photo above: Ira Koslow, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.)

In August the VNC sent a letter to Councilman Mike Bonin asking him to present all current projects to the VNC rather than skirting the system. They did not receive an answer to the letter. In the December meeting, Matt Shaw presented a motion that all projects affecting Venice, in whatever state, be presented to the neighborhood council and "stop taking any actions until such time as our council and stakeholders have had a chance to voice our opinion on any and all proposals."

Councils Created to Provide Grassroots Input

The neighborhood councils were created by Charter amendment in 1999 to provide grassroots vetting and input to the governing bodies. "To promote public participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs by creating, nurturing, and supporting a citywide system of grass-roots, independent, and participatory neighborhood councils."

There are 96 councils and Venice, one of the first 4 or 5 to be certified, has outshone all councils with its professional participation and voting record at the polls. The VNC has the largest turnout of any neighborhood council each year.   Last year the governing body had to print extra ballots three times.  Other neighborhood councils visit the Venice council to see how it is done. Former Land Use and Planning committee (LUPC) Chair Challis Macpherson wrote the book on LUPC and taught other councils how it should be done.

The Board is Heavy with Talent

The people on the board are businessmen, attorneys, architects, professionals and some are retired professionals. They have all been trained to address a problem and provide solutions. Because of their broad backgrounds, many times the suggestions, solutions are varied prior to consensus. 

Ira Koslow, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, says "I have been on the board a long time before becoming president. These people who have never served before just do not understand the lack of cooperation from the CD11 council office," he said. "I don't understand it."

Koslow, now retired, is no lightweight in the field of accomplishments. He worked 25 years in the music business as a talent manager with Peter Asher management. Before that he was an associate professor at California State University, Long Beach for four years. His last job was with the LAUSD where he was a math teacher for 10 years and taught economics for 12 and for five years was Dean of Discipline.

Examples of No Vetting

Koslow started reciting in rapid fashion the latest instances he could remember regarding the preempting of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

"Bonin brought an "ice rink" to be put at the park on Windward to the neighborhood council," he said. "No one wanted it. Then he wanted to bring it back thru the Venice council again. Normally, we do not hear a case twice but he said he had altered the plans enough for it all to be considered new. The Venice council voted it down again. Bonin then went over the Venice council to the California Coastal Commission and got it approved in spite of the Venice council members testifying against the project at the Commission hearing. Whatever happened to the project after that, we do not know.

"The three homeless projects--Westminster Senior Center, Venice Median, and Thatcher Yard have never been thru the Venice Neighborhood Council. Bonin claims that he had a town hall and that was sufficient. Hardly. Telling Venetians what he plans to do is not vetting a case.

"The Business Investment District (BID) that was so controversial and had to be redone, It never went thru the Venice council. Had Bonin not thrown in 25 percent of the city land, it would never have passed. Now the City has to pay $480,000 in fees.

"Lava Mae, the mobile shower service, was new to us. It was mentioned as a project but never presented with details until our December meeting when everything was a fait accompli. There are Board members who live on Third who could have given valuable input at some point.

"This is why we are here."

(Reta Moser writes for Venice Update] … where this perspective was first posted.) Photo credit: Yolanda Gonzalez.

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GUEST COMMENTARY--It’s hard to overestimate the enormous implications of the City’s total failure on New Year’s in Hollywoodland. The last remaining thread of trust in the City has finally been cut for most of us who live here. We have communicated to the City on numerous occasions about the lax (a very generous word) enforcement on top of Mt. Lee. Its response is always the same: we are wrong and they have it secured. Still, we thought that, at least on New Year's Eve, when the entire world increases enforcement and is on alert, extra care would be taken in our neighborhood. 

Instead, not only was there nothing extra -- there was nothing! How long does it take for someone to change the Hollywood Sign? Certainly longer than I imagine it would take to leave bombs there. And after an initial blast, a subsequent fire could have devastating consequences. The whole world would have seen what a farce the City enforcement is.

Since 9/11, it’s no longer a prank to change the sign. It’s a serious breach of security that threatens our lives and homes. 

Our previous councilmember, on his own, went against decades of precedent (when the top of Mt. Lee was off limits to the public for good reasons) and without studies, hearings or process, recently opened it up and created a new activity of "walking to the Sign,” inviting tens of millions of people to come up here. The present Councilmember has continued and thereby supports these policies. 

Anyone can come up here carrying anything -- huge backpacks used for weeks of camping, metal suitcases and various equipment. We've seen it. Everything is allowed. Nothing is checked. The lack of security takes one's breath away.

And what is atop of Mt. Lee? There are multiple terrorist targets and any one of them should the sound alarm:

  • The famous Hollywood Sign known worldwide as a symbol of Western Culture, one of the biggest tourist magnets in Southern California.
  • The emergency communication tower for first responders in the entire City of Los Angeles. 
  • 8000 gallons of stored fuel.
  • Hundreds of nearby homes built on narrow, winding substandard streets (so narrow that a resident died in a house fire because a fire truck could not get up the narrow street.) It’s a fragile neighborhood placed in a bottle neck surrounded on three sides by Griffith Park. 
  • All of this in a very high fire hazard zone in the midst of a drought. 

These are incredibly easy, vulnerable targets -- all in one location. And the probability of hundreds or thousands of residents and visitors being stuck on gridlocked streets as they try to evacuate could be turned into a certainty by the placing of just a few vehicles at key locations.

At this point it has gone beyond ignorance, incompetency or neglect. Over and over again, the City has chosen to disregard our warnings. Over and over again, the City has shown that safety is not its top priority. It scrambles to react rather than to prevent. Such conditions would be unacceptable anywhere else. 

We need and are entitled to protection. The City failed us on New Year’s Eve and we greatly fear what the next failure will bring.

(Sarajane Schwartz is a 40-year resident of Hollywoodland, a founder of Homeowners on Beachwood Drive United, and a former president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association.

Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.)

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