Urban farm bill could help transform South LA’s empty lots


A patch of dirt and weeds in an empty lot in South L.A. | Jordyn Holman

More farms might begin cropping up around South Los Angeles thanks to a proposed bill by the Los Angeles City Council.

Council members Curren Price and Felipe Fuentes recently introduced a motion to provide a property tax adjustment for private landowners who convert their vacant plots into “urban farms,” which the city council defines as commercial ventures that sell food.

The authors of the bill, entitled the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, said they see the property tax adjustment as a way to encourage landowners who are not using their property. Parcels of land between 0.10 and 3 acres in size would be eligible for the tax breaks.

The Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which has supported previous green initiatives taking place in South L.A., estimates 8,600 parcels in the city could be eligible. To get the tax adjustment, the land must be used for agriculture and educational purposes.

See also: Green alleys to take root in South LA

[Read more…]

#TBT South LA: The Shrine Auditorium

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

Even as University of Southern California students bike past the Shrine Auditorium and Angelenos attend the venue for its frequent raves and award shows, many are not aware of the long history of this distinctive building.

The Shrine Auditorium was first built in its location off of Jefferson and Figueroa in 1906 as a civic center. The Al Malaikah Shriners, a fraternal organization founded in 1871 that contributes to the community with hospitals and other charities, intended the auditorium to be used as a temple and meeting place for the organization. [Read more…]

#TBT South LA: Church mothers, circa 1960

"Church Mothers" stand outside the First AME Church in South LA, circa 1960. | USC Digital Library

“Church Mothers” stand outside the First AME Church in South LA, circa 1960. | USC Digital Library

For many generations, churches have been integral to the character of South Los Angeles. The First African Methodist Episcopal stands as an example.

Dressed in “Sunday best” attire, the 16 women are pictured standing in front of the First AME, or simply “FAME.” The photograph is from the 1960s.

Founded in 1872, FAME is the city’s oldest African-American church. Before the 1970s, the church had a population of 250 congregants. It now boasts a congregation of about 19,000 members and is considered a mega-church with task forces for health, substance abuse and homelessness issues. [Read more…]

City Council favors raising minimum wage for hotel workers

The vote tally -- three people dissenting. | LAANE Facebook

The vote tally — three people dissenting. | Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy/ Facebook

South L.A. residents working in the hotel industry might see their hourly wages rise by just over a half beginning next summer.

The Los Angeles City Council took a vote on the issue Wednesday, with 12 out of 15 council members agreeing to raise the minimum wage to $15.37 per hour for workers employed in the city’s largest hotels. The minimum wage is currently $9 per hour.

Council members Bernard Parks, Mitchell Englander and Paul Krekorian dissented. Because the city council did not reach a unanimous decision, it will revisit the issue next week for a final vote. The city council must reach a unanimous decision during next week’s vote for the higher minimum wage to take effect. [Read more…]

Plaza aims to boost Leimert Park community

South Los Angeles residents, vendors and artists come together near the iconic white fountain in Leimert Park Village a place of commerce and community. | Jordyn Holman

South Los Angeles residents, vendors and artists come together near the iconic white fountain in Leimert Park Village, a place of commerce and community. | Jordyn Holman

When Magic Johnson helped lead the Lakers to victory over the Boston Celtics in the NBA championship of 1987, South L.A.’s Leimert Park Village burst into festivities that ran late into the night. Jerri Wingo remembers residents breaking into joyous cries and blasting R&B music on boom-boxes, while restaurateurs cooked enough food to fill Wingo and her friends for days to come. Wingo also remembers that it was this moment that made her feel welcome in Leimert Park after moving to L.A. from a small town in Michigan.

Every weekend for nearly three decades, Wingo has set up shop in the grassy park that anchors the neighborhood. With a stand next to the iconic white fountain, she sells wide-framed sunglasses and Afro-centric pins along with handcrafted beaded necklaces and wooden earrings. Although she lives in Ladera Heights a few miles away, Wingo said events like the monthly Art Walk draw her back into the area for art, music and shopping.

For this reason, Wingo said she hopes Los Angeles City Council approves a proposal to permanently close off part of the street to create a pedestrian plaza, which she thinks would enhance the feeling of community. [Read more…]

South LA corner stores turn full-service

Nelson Garcia welcomes visitors into his "converted" corner store. | Sinduja Rangarajan

Nelson Garcia welcomes visitors into his “converted” corner store. | Sinduja Rangarajan

When more than 100 children, teenagers and adults gathered on the corner of Vermont and 60th streets last March to enjoy a four-hour block party complete with face painting, booths offering food coupons and a live disc jockey encouraging people of all ages to dance by blasting R&B, rap and Latino music, onlookers may have assumed the occasion was a national holiday or neighborhood fundraiser. Instead, the festivities were meant to mark the re-opening of Alba Snacks & Services, one of South L.A.’s few grocery stores.

The approximately 51 square mile area of South Los Angeles is largely considered a “food desert” — a space where finding food that is both affordable and high-quality is difficult.

See also on Intersections: South LA creates healthy food options

The Alba re-opening was part of the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network and the Community Market Conversion Program, an initiative run by Los Angeles’s Food Policy Council, an independent multi-stakeholder entity of the Mayor’s Office. These dual programs, said Director of Policy and Innovation Clare Fox, aim to transform convenience stores in neighborhoods with limited food access to full-service grocery stores. [Read more…]

Will South LA benefit from SAT upgrades?

Changes to the SAT, which will be implemented in Spring 2016, claim to make the test more accessible and might bring more to highly-ranked universities, such as USC. | Jordyn Holman

Changes to the SAT, which will be implemented in Spring 2016, claim to make the test more accessible and might bring more to highly-ranked universities, such as USC. | Jordyn Holman

Whenever the SAT gets revised, controversy trails close behind, especially regarding fairness across the board for test-takers from all backgrounds. Many educators have criticized the newest iteration of the test College Board announced this month, which is set to go into effect in two years. But some veteran educators are saying the revamped version holds promise.

Jennifer Hollie, who runs the college prep program for the Challengers Boys and Girls Club in South Los Angeles, feels optimistic about what the new format portends for students from disadvantaged communities.

“For [the College Board] to change the way the SAT is being written is a positive change,” said Hollie, who assists high school students from underserved communities with the college admission process by involving them in comprehensive programs.

“Even with my master’s degree I don’t always understand the words that they’re giving,” she said.

The revisions to the SAT include the elimination of obscure vocabulary words and the penalty for guessing wrong. It will also adapt the essay, which became mandatory in 2005, so that it is an optional test component, according to a College Board press release. The new SAT will have three sections, including reading and writing, math and the optional essay. It will be scored out of 1600 instead of 2400 points.  [Read more…]

Green alleys to take root in South LA

Walk down an alley in South Los Angeles and you can expect to see old furniture and scattered trash piled on cracked pavement. You’ll hear dogs barking incessantly and smell standing water. And you’ll rarely come across a fellow pedestrian. An environmental initiative currently in the works, however, seeks to change this reality by turning those neglected alleys into clean walkways sprouting with native plants.

“If residents see that their city is investing in them, we can really build a better quality neighborhood all around,” said Connie Llanos, spokeswoman for councilman Curren Price of the 9th District.

The Green Alley Program, slated to break ground late this year, will transform alleys of blight into welcoming open spaces. The Bureau of Sanitation partnered with city districts within South L.A. and the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit that develops parks throughout the nation, to spearhead the program.

Los Angeles is one of the most park-poor cities in the nation, says a study by the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, with only 7.8 percent of the city devoted to open spaces. In other major cities like Chicago, according to the City of Chicago Green Alley Program website, 8.5 percent of land is devoted to park space. In low-income communities like South L.A.’s 9th District, the number of parks is significantly fewer, while the rate of poverty is among the highest in the city.

Meanwhile, South L.A. is home to the greatest percentage of the city’s alleys — nearly one third. That’s because South L.A. is one of the oldest parts of the city. At one time, alleys were used for garbage collection and goods deliveries as a way to reduce traffic on the main streets in the year’s following World War II. Today, because of the high poverty rate and the lack of a functional use for them, the alleys have become a place for drug dealing and other crimes, said Llanos.

“Right now [the alleys] are a tremendous eyesore,” Llanos said. “But we can utilize them and clean them up when we use them as a place for families to congregate and play.”

Two alleys have already been identified for transformation under the project. One is sandwiched between 53rd and 54th Streets in between San Pedro and Main streets. The other snakes between 51st and 52nd Streets between Towne and Avalon boulevards.

The alley between 53rd and 54th streets at San Pedro and Main streets is slated for transformation into a green space for residents to walk and play. | Jordyn Holman

The alley between 53rd and 54th streets at San Pedro and Main streets is slated for transformation into a green space for residents to walk and play. | Jordyn Holman

According to TPL, these alleys will be more ecologically friendly. Their new paving will allow rainwater to infiltrate the ground, preventing standing water. The permeable paving will also help nourish the fruit trees and native species that will be planted along the alleys, creating mini-parks. Streetlights and crosswalks will be added to ensure safe passage for pedestrians.

Planners hope the beautification improvements will encourage locals to get out of doors. Currently, several neighborhood organizations, like Challengers Boys and Girls Club of America, run their programs indoors because of safety concerns.

Challengers offers athletic programs and academic support to children in South L.A. The group’s building and its amenities give children a place to play that’s safer than they could find outdoors, said Diane Jones, director of development.

“Everything else is gloom and doom,” Jones said, referring to the surrounding community of Jefferson Park and West Adams. “The community needs someplace where [people] can walk and feel safe.” As it is, she said, “No one is going to go outside and take a walk.”

Jones said the plan for more green spaces within South Los Angeles would enhance the wellbeing of the residents, particularly children.

“People need fresh air because it’s healthier — mentally, physically and emotionally,” Jones said.

The Green Alley Program is not the first ecologically friendly project to take root in the area. The program joins a growing list of more than 14 green initiatives aimed at improving residents’ quality of life. L.A. Audubon’s Baldwin Hills Program, which educates South Los Angeles teenagers about the local environment, is among them. Stacey Vigallon, program director, said exposure to healthy outdoor environments within the city limits is crucial.

“Green space and open space, especially in the city, is essential to physical fitness,” said Vigallon. “Plus, it also makes people more accountable to their community.”

Though green alleys may benefit the environment, many stakeholders believe the ultimate accomplishment will be increased interaction amongst neighbors. In order to maintain the alleys, Kjer said, residents will form “green teams,” which will be responsible, along with the city, for the upkeep of their nearby alleys.

Kjer believes this element will be crucial in building stronger community ties.

“People who might not have talked to one another or paid attention to their community before are now active and paying attention to cleanup and taking ownership of their community into their own hands,” Kjer said.

Though TPL and the city are currently focused on rolling out the program solely in South L.A., planners believe the impact of the green alleys will extend far beyond the area. The Trust for Public Land said that, although not all of L.A.’s alleys will get a full renovation, many will be improved in some way.

“There are 900 miles of alleys in Los Angeles,” Kjer said. “Green alleys should become the standard.”

One of the alleys slated for greening:

Challengers Boys and Girls Club: 

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Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX line brings promise of jobs, revitalization to South LA

Metro's Expo Line | Intersections

The new Crenshaw/LAX line will connect to the existing Expo line | Intersections

Raymond Castro, a 44-year-old unemployed worker, is woefully familiar with Los Angeles’ infamous traffic snarls. Castro has been working construction for more than 30 years and has spent a considerable amount of time — sometimes more than two hours — commuting to various work sites. Now, a hiring provision recently implemented by Metro could make it possible for Castro to stay in his South Los Angeles neighborhood for work.

Castro said he hopes the Project Labor Agreement “opens up opportunities for myself and others” living in the community.

The 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, approved for construction in 2012, promised to connect the Crenshaw Corridor to other parts of the city, such as the South Bay and the Los Angeles International Airport. And in 2011 when Metro passed the Project Labor Agreement, a measure aimed to designate a percentage of the construction jobs to local residents, residents presumed the line construction meant an opportunity for employment. [Read more…]