Developers plan large skate park next to Watts Towers

Skate park developers plan large skate park next to Watts Towers from 89.3 KPCC on Vimeo.

Some residents question whether a proposed $350,000 skate park billed as a way to help keep kids out of gangs is the best use for a vacant lot that sits in the shadow of the historic Watts Towers. Professional skateboarders and skate park developers are working with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s office to build a large skate park. It’s a project that has a big fundraising campaign behind it; the Tony Hawk Foundation has already raised $80,000 to get the project off the ground.

But some Watts residents envision an outdoor green space, not a skate park.

“It’s not best use for that site,” said Janine Watkins, who owns a house next to the vacant lot and is also part of the Watts Towers Task Force, which helps conserve the towers and the area around it. “We already have so much concrete in Watts and they want to come and put more in.”

Courtesy California Skate Parks

Professional skateboarders and skate park developers are working with Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s office to build a large skate park in a vacant lot next to the Watts Towers. But supporters of the planned skate park believe the project could go a long way toward helping turn around a community with a history of violence.

“A park like this could have saved a lot of my friends’ lives,” said Terry Kennedy, an L.A.-based skater who grew up in Long Beach. “Because having somewhere to go and kick it, that’s the most important thing coming up in the inner city. If those kids don’t have something to grab their attention, then it’s on the streets.”

California Skateparks, out of Upland, envision an “artistic skateable environment” with mosaics, around three rings that mimic the design of the Watts Towers. Developers envision a place where kids can come to see demos and even participate in art clinics. If approved, it would be the first of its kind in the area.

Mark Hammond, a 21-year-old who skates in the area, thinks this would be a healthy activity.

“Skaters stay away from crime,” Hammond said. “It gives them an alternative to gang-banging.”

The Tony Hawk Foundation, an organization started by professional skater Tony Hawk, is trying to spread that message by helping cities build skate parks like the one proposed for Watts. Since the fall, Hawk’s foundation has raised $80,000 for the project. The Watts Tower skate park was the main recipient of its annual pledge drive, and Hawk also raised money through online campaigns.

There’s a lot of star power and heft behind the project. Supporters hope to raise the rest of the money for the project through outreach efforts from sports agent Circe Wallace, who also worked with Hahn’s office to build a similar skate park in San Pedro. Wallace represents pro skateboarders such as Kennedy and is approaching corporate sponsors and private donors.

But some residents don’t want a skate park near their homes. They want a conventional park.

“A lot of people in our neighborhood don’t have space to even put up a swing set on their yard,” said Jamika Graham, who lives a few blocks from the Watts Towers with her two children. “That space would be perfect for a regular park for everyone to use.”

The area around the Watts Towers is already a popular destination among local children and skateboarders.

Douglos Cisneros has worked as a security guard at the Watts Towers for six years. He says the neighborhood around the towers has gotten safer over the past five years. His biggest security threat, he says, is keeping the kids who do hang out there out of trouble.

“When the schools are on vacation there will be 20 or 25 kids hanging around, jumping on the fences,” Cisneros said. “I have to yell at them ‘Please get off. Please don’t do that.’”

Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, believes the spot which does see a lot of foot traffic, would be a perfect location for a skate park.

“Skate parks needs to be built somewhere out in the open,” Vuckovich said.

Janine Watkins says the neighbors who oppose the project are supportive of skate parks, just not next to the Watts Towers. She is working with her neighbors to convince the developers to build the park at the Jordan Downs housing project, located near David Starr Jordan High School.

“That’s not going to happen,” Wallace said. “The reality is that lot has been sitting vacant for 20 years. … What we want is a mixed use facility – grassy green zone, community areas, an environment that makes everyone feel engaged and doesn’t alienate anyone.”

Officials plan to hold community meetings about the proposal in the coming months.

“We don’t want to force anything upon the Watts neighborhood,” Wallace said.


This story is part of a collaboration between and Intersections: The South Los Angeles Report, a hyperlocal project from the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

South LA Podcast:  Police Chief Charlie Beck visits USC

On Thursday, March 5, 2010, Police Chief Charlie Beck visited the USC Galen Center to speak to an audience of students, professors, business owners and community residents. He spoke about his methods of improving public safety in the area and his specific goals for the Los Angeles Police Department. He also spoke about how to improve the relationship between the USC Department of Public Safety and the police department.

Beck served as a police officer in South LA for many years and has served during the best and worst periods in the departments history. He recalled a time when the LAPD was known as an “occupying army” by many of the residents of South LA, but he also remembered the period of transition that improved the department’s standing within the community. During his speech, Beck addressed the LAPD’s past and present, but also explained what he hopes the future will bring.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson on youth violence

The fatal beating of 16-year-old Derrion Albert was caught on video. The videotape shocked the country, and President Obama sent Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago to discuss new policies to prevent youth violence. Annenberg Radio News reporter Timothy Beck Werth speaks with Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles author and civil rights activist.

Visit Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s blog at:

City Council approves ambitious anti-graffiti ordinance

The Los Angeles City Council tries again to cut down on graffiti. This time by passing an ordinance to foil taggers. Listen to an audio report by Timothy Beck Werth of Annenberg Radio News.

Families question Sheriff’s Department deadly shootings

Family members of three slain men gathered at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting on Tuesday, September 23, 2009 to call for an investigation into a string of deadly shootings by Sheriff Deputies.  Timothy Beck Werth of Annenberg Radio News was there. Listen to his report.


NEWS ANALYSIS: Proposed teacher layoffs signal deeper problems for troubled LAUSD

If the Los Angeles Unified School District had a motto, it might be: when it rains it pours.  The besieged school district has been locked in a bitter feud with United Teachers of Los Angeles, which represents district teachers, thousands of whom will lose their jobs when the 2009-10 school year begins in July.

On April 14, the school board voted to approve layoffs that affect thousands of union teachers and other district employees.  Even though their contract forbids them from striking, UTLA members voted to approve a work stoppage on May 15, a day of standardized testing for many students.

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles judge issued a restraining order against the organization, barring them from abandoning their classes on Friday.

“Gathering kids in an auditorium with little supervision is not a good thing,” said Superior Court Judge James Chalfant.  In addition to student health and safety concerns, the judge cited UTLA’s contract with the school board, which included an agreement to avoid work stoppages. 

Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines urged the union to come back to the table, and accept furloughs and pay cuts to avoid cutbacks. 

The teachers have few bargaining chips left, and may have to come to terms with the layoffs.  Teachers rallied outside schools on Friday morning, but returned to their classrooms by the time the first bell rang.  

Underachieving high schools in South Los Angeles will be hard hit by the layoffs, teacher to student rations will increase to 42 teachers per student.  Also lost are counselors and special programs that help prevent students from dropping out.

Photographs of Barack Obama are common fixtures in South Los Angeles schools, but students, parents and teachers are finding other signs of hope in LAUSD scarce.

The teacher strike is another sign of the growing divide between the community and the central LAUSD administration, which has a legacy of costly mismanagement.

The district faced a $596 million budget hole for the 2009-10 school year, and thousands of employees have been sacrificed to make the district solvent.   Depending on the results of the May 19th special election, even more money could be cut from the state education coffers. 

February 10: The UTLA announces it

will consider a vote to authorize

a teacher walkout, even though it

would violate their contract.

Superintendent Cortines originally came up with a motion in early March to address the looming crisis, and brought it to the school board.  That first plan called for layoffs of more than 8,000 employees, including thousands of teachers.

Teachers, students, and parents rallied outside schools before the first bell rang.  They swarmed school board meetings, chanting “Let us in!” and “Save our teachers! Save our schools!”  Some teachers said they were willing to be dragged away from the protest in handcuffs.

The school board was divided, and postponed its decision.  The meeting on March 24 was held in a private session, but the closed doors did not keep away protesters, many of whom rushed over after the school day ended.

March 24: Hundred of teachers,

parents and students gather

at the district headquarters

The mayor got involved, proposing employees accept a 3 percent reduction in salary, a solution similar to the one he proposed for saving city workers from layoffs.

Maywood Mayor pro tem, Ana Rizo, came to the April 14th school board meeting to appeal for teachers’ jobs.

“In my family, we were a very low income family, and I was probably with my teachers more than I was with my parents, because they had multiple jobs, she said.  “For teachers to be with our kids so much, it would really be like taking away another parent from them.”The board held several extra special sessions to discuss the motion with community members, but eventually Cortines threatened to resign from his post if a decision was not reached.

April 14: After months of

demonstrations, the board

approves the layoffs

 On April 14, after months of debate and debacle, Cortines called for another vote.  The board voted 4-3 to authorize the layoffs of 5,000 employees.  That includes teachers, counselors, janitors and other positions.

Most of the lost educators are young teachers who have not yet received job tenure.  The superintendent has said he will continue to work with schools to find ways to bring back teachers.

One of the plans involves early retirement.  The district is offering senior employees early retirement for the first time in 17 years.  The deadline for applying for early retirement was extended until May 8th so that more employees will sign up.  So far thousands of teachers have volunteered, which will allow the district to rescind layoff notices to some of its younger teachers whose jobs are on the line.

Casualties included newest teachers

Araceli Castro, a fifth grade teacher at Hoover Elementary school, is one of the new teachers affected by the layoffs.  “After receiving my bachelors, multiple subject teaching credentials, and a masters, I decided to take my newly learned skills back to the community I grew up in,” she told the board members.  “You have put thousands of teachers like me on the back burner, if I am let go, there is no guarantee that I will ever return.

“I’ve always begun my first day of class telling my students I was once in your seat, I grew up in your community and…I fear they will be afraid to aspire to their own dreams because they see how quickly everything can be taken away from them.  All teachers are important whether its their first year or their retirement year, our profession thrives on new ideas and energy that fresh minds bring into our schools.”

Partly because of intense pressure from teachers, the board delayed making a decision for more than a month.  In that time, a plan was made to rescind the layoff notices of about 2,000 elementary school teachers using funds from Obama’s stimulus package.  At the April 14th school board meeting, school board officials praised the governor for his

quick action to secure stimulus funds, which saved thousands of jobs. 

UTLA members hope to see that number go up as the continue to lobby the district.  Their May, 15 work stoppage is intended to turn the heat up on the central administration. Eighty three percent, or $160 million,of the state’s stabilization funding from the stimulus bill are being used in the upcoming school year to save 2,600 jobs.

Parents and teachers appealed to the board to use more funds to save more jobs, but Cortines refused.  Rumors circulated that the district would receive more than enough money to hire back every teacher from the stimulus funds.  Cortines quickly shot down those hopes, calling the rumor “an insidious lie.” By spending the funds over two years, instead of one, Cortines said ultimately more jobs will be saved.

“If LAUSD uses all of the stimulus money for 2009-2010, we would have to

lay off twice as many employees in the following year,” the superintendent said.

The UTLA disagreed, and pressed the district to immediately use all available funds to prevent layoffs.  If money from the Economic Stability and Recovery Act are insufficient to save all their teacher’s jobs, UTLA recommended that the district trim the fat within its own offices to prevent adverse effects on classroom size and student performance.

Cortines insisted he had already taken steps to reduce the size of the central administration at the request of the community.

“I have been asked to reduced the central administration, I have reduced the central administration, there were 4,000, I cut a quarter,” he said at a school board meeting. 

May 15: citing student safety, a judge

issues a restraining order

against UTLA and ends the walkout


Extra funds will be needed in the 2010-2011 school year as well.  The school district has been operating with a deficit for about 14 months.  The state budget problems caused that figure to balloon, and the district was faced with a mid year 140 million deficit.   To avoid teacher layoffs, the district cut 82 million in arts classes, after-school programs, music, and other special programs.  The district also lost 535 administrative positions, but managed to avoid losing teachers.

“We chose not to layoff probationary teachers in the middle of the current 2008-2009

school year days before the second semester began.  We did not want to disrupt

classrooms and schools,” the superintendent said in a statement.

The solutions to the mid-year deficit were one time fixes.  They did not address the projected deficits, more than $100 million, the district faces in the next three years.  And the pressure from state law mandates that the district demonstrate its ability to balance its budget for the next three financial years.  By June, the district has to come up with the funds to solve the crisis, and the layoffs make up most of the deficit.  In July, they will take affect.


City makes intersection near Normandie Elementary School safer for students


It took years after the death of a kindergartner for parents to see improvements at a dangerous intersection near Normandie Elementary School. Now, the city has installed a crosswalk to protect the youngsters that cross through the intersection daily. This story originally aired on Annenberg Radio News; click below to listen.

LA receives $73 million in U.S. aid as South LA homelessness deepens

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the greater Los Angeles area $73 million in grants to help the homeless, but it won’t be enough to solve the crisis.  Homeless service organizations are reporting an increase in homeless families, and are struggling to make do with limited resources.  Parts of this story were featured on Annenberg Radio News; click below to listen.

Janelle Burdett is 64 and homeless for the first time. After 15 years working as a nurse’s assistant, she was laid off in December.  “Because I had lost my job and I didn’t have any money to pay my rent I got evicted," Burdett said while waiting to apply for senior housing. "I have always worked. I raised my son, I’ve always worked, this has never, this has never happened to me."

Burdett waits to see if she is eligible for senior housing aid.

Help is on the way for people like Burdett. The city of Los Angeles was awarded $73 million in grants to help the homeless from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the largest sum ever awarded to the greater Los Angeles region.   The grants will be awarded for the 2009-2010 fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1, and represents an increase of $1.3 million more than the current fiscal year. 

However, the extra money will not be enough. Already there is mounting evidence in Los Angeles that the number of people rendered homeless by the current economic slump is growing. Further, because of the city’s initiative to make the Downtown area safer with heightened police patrols, more homeless people are being pushed into South Los Angeles neighborhoods, where there is a scarcity of shelters. 

Current homeless counts are not yet available — the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority is conducting a homeless census, but it will not be finished until summer – but the South L.A. area lacks both shelters and low-income housing units; the few that exist are already overwhelmed by the area’s chronic homeless problem.

The new HUD grant will help fund shelters and supportive housing, but does little to address the new causes of an ongoing crisis. One of the programs receiving money from the new round of funding is Beyond Shelter, which operates two neighborhood resource centers in South Los Angeles. Burdett takes the bus to one of these centers, at 79th and Broadway, where she hopes to get the support she needs to get out of a shelter. 

Right now she is praying she will find affordable housing. Before she can think about getting a new job, she needs a place to call her own. In the shelter, she has met women who have been living on the streets for decades, and she fears she could share their fate.

More Money, More Problems  

Programs in South L.A. receiving funding


39 West Apartments

Funding: $175,000.00

Run by: A Community of Friends


Figueroa Apartments

Funding: $210,433.00

Run by: A Community of Friends


Pearl Center, The

Funding: $246,780.00

Run by: His Sheltering Arms


Ready, Willing and Able Program

2008-09 Funding: $93,310.00

Run by: Project New Hope


Saraii Village

2008-09 Funding: $90,395.00

Run by: The Shields for Families


South Central Drop-In Center

2008-09 Funding: $387,743.00

Run by: Special Services for Groups


TCLC Training Center & Child Care Programs

2008-09 Funding: $157,436.00

Run by: Testimonial Community Love Center


Women and Children First

2008-09 Funding: $136,216.00

Run by: California Council for Veterans Affairs

Several more shelters and resource centers in South Los Angeles will receive money from the new HUD grants. The South Central Access Center run by the Watts Labor Community Action Committee will get more than $250,000. Beyond Shelterwill collect more than $300,000. 

These centers do more than help homeless individuals and families find shelter, they also give support to people on the brink of homelessness. They provide outreach work, looking for homeless people that will not or cannot actively seek assistance. The new grants will help them improve access to the area’s limited resources.

Affordable housing and shelter space are always in high demand in South L.A. The surge in foreclosures coupled with the economic crisis has created a new generation of homeless, at risk of becoming chronically homeless, permanently stuck in a shelter or on the streets.

“We’ve been seeing an increase over the past 18 months or so, most recently new homeless, families that were in the middle class that are now sliding into homelessness," said Tanya Tull, a national expert on homelessness and founder of Beyond Shelter. "The only difference is we have more interest in the problem, and new exposure of the problem, because it’s beginning to affect the middle class."

The widening mortgage crisis affected low-income neighborhoods long before the economic repercussions hit Wall Street and the middle class. Between April and June 2007, there was an 800 percent increase in foreclosed homes in South L.A., compared with the same three-month period a year earlier, according to Special Services For Groups, an organization that monitors homelessness in South LA and operates several resource centers.

Low-income apartment buildings also had a high rate of foreclosure during this time. Low-rent buildings bought by speculators with bad loans began going into foreclosure, sending dozens of families packing at once. Tull said she worked with residents who could not even get their security deposit back after suddenly being evicted, pushing them deeper into economic calamity.    The scarcity of low-income housing options ensured that many of these people would have no place to go. 

The new HUD funding will provide 191 new units for the homeless. But these new spaces will be spread out across the county, and will barely impact the number of unsheltered homeless. 

The grant has two main components: $37 million for supportive housing, which will provide permanent housing for homeless individuals and families, and an additional $32 million will help pay for shelters, housing vouchers and supportive services. Another $4 million — the balance of the $73 million grant from HUD — will be used to fund emergency shelters only open during the winter months.

HUD grants are typically augmented with city, county, state and private funds. The new state budget already cut programs that help the homeless, like the Emergency Housing Assistance Program. With the city and state facing critical budget gaps, homeless service organizations must do their best with limited resources.  

Too many to count

Shelters are so crowded families must share a single room. Shondra Turnbough’s children are too young to be in school, so she has to bring them with her to apply for hotel vouchers at Beyond Shelter’s neighborhood center.

Turnbough waits with her daughters

“I got laid off, right before I had my baby. Right now I’m in a shelter," Turnbough said.

There she shares a room with a mother of two, like herself. She has been looking for housing for over a year now, and fatigue is written into the lines of her face.

Not all homeless families are in the shelter system, and some that are will never get out.   There is not enough shelter space to house even half of South L.A.’s unsheltered homeless, according to data from the last homeless census conducted in 2007.

In order to be eligible for HUD funds, the city must conduct a homeless count. This is a difficult task in a large city like Los Angeles, where many homeless are outside the shelter system. The street portion of the count was finished in January, and required more than 3,000 volunteers. 

“Because Los Angeles is such a sprawling metropolis, homelessness can look different in different places,” said Fran Hutchins, a policy and planning analyst at Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. LAHSA is a joint city and county agency and conducted the last count in 2007. That census showed a significant reduction in the homeless population since 2005.

It found that on any given night more than 11,000 people are homeless in South L.A, but only about a thousand are in shelters. Seventeen percent of homeless families were in South Los Angeles, but the area had less than seven percent of permanent shelter space.

South Los Angeles has the densest population of homeless people outside downtown, which has many shelters and service centers. Skid Row, an area in east downtown, is a historic dead end; it was the end of the line for trains heading into Los Angeles in the 19th century. It became known for its hordes of vagabonds and cheap hotels, until it dissolved into poverty. 

South Los Angeles has no such history; there just are not enough resources to provide for the thousands of unsheltered homeless.

“If a room for a family opens up at a shelter, 10 agencies might call for that space, but it was promised to one. Now you have nine families and nowhere to go,” said Tull.

Shelters for families have waiting lists that can take months, and others refuse to keep waiting lists at all.

Because of the lack of shelter space and support services in South Los Angeles, homeless people would often end up going downtown and end up on Skid Row. That may have changed since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa started the Safer City Initiative in 2006, which increased police presence Downtown. 

"They don’t allow people to stay in the same place and that makes it a little harder for people to get by, so we know people have been moving out of that area," said David Howard, a policy associate at Special Services for Groups. 

"Based on the experience of our own service providers we know some of those people are going to South Los Angeles."

Until the new homeless count is finished at the end of the summer, there is no way to know just how many homeless people there are, but one thing is certain: South LA’s services for the chronically and recently homeless are stretched thin.          


Homelessness in Los Angeles

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the greater Los Angeles area $73 million in grants, but it won’t be enough to solve the crisis.  Homeless service organizations are reporting an increase in homeless families, and are struggling to make do with limited resources.  Parts of this story were featured on Annenberg Radio News; click below to listen.

Additional information:

Programs in South L.A. receiving funding


Programs in South L.A. receiving funding

from the new HUD grants:


39 West Apartments

Funding: $175,000.00

Run by: A Community of Friends


Figueroa Apartments

Funding: $210,433.00

Run by: A Community of Friends


Pearl Center, The

Funding: $246,780.00

Run by: His Sheltering Arms


Ready, Willing and Able Program (a)

2008-09 Funding: $93,310.00

Run by: Project New Hope


Saraii Village

2008-09 Funding: $90,395.00

Run by: The Shields for Families


South Central Drop-In Center

2008-09 Funding: $387,743.00

Run by: Special Services for Groups



TCLC Training Center & Child Care Programs

2008-09 Funding: $157,436.00

Run by: Testimonial Community Love Center


Women and Children First

2008-09 Funding: $136,216.00

Run by: California Council for Veterans Affairs