Mexicano restaurant opens in South LA

Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo (from left to right) | Photo courtesy of Mexicano restaurant.

Chefs Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo (from left to right) | Photo courtesy of Mexicano restaurant.

With the opening of their new restaurant, Mexicano, located in Baldwin Hills, chefs Jaime Martin del Campo and Ramiro Arvizu hope to immerse customers in Mexican culture, one burst of flavor at a time. The eatery has been in its soft opening since Feb. 27.

Colorful Mexican floor tiles lead patrons to the restaurant’s focal point: the kitchen. There is no partition between the kitchen and the dining room, so diners can observe the preparation of authentic dishes while surrounded by décor from the Mexican state of Jalisco.

“With the kitchen open, you are in contact with customers and they become a part of the preparation experience,” Arvizu said. “We try to get their five senses going. The smell, the sight of the ingredients, the touch and hearing. All of these are incorporated and bring you closer to the meal.”

[Read more…]

Despite odds, a boost in heart health for South LA

By Belinda Cai, Diana Crandall, Bentley Curtis, Taylor Haney, Daniel Jimenez, Kevin Mallory, Ken Mashinchi, Jonathan Tolliver and Yingzhi Yang

Zumba class at the Baldwin Hills Mall. | Daniel Jimenez

Zumba class at the Baldwin Hills Mall. | Daniel Jimenez

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw community is changing shape.

The South L.A. neighborhood has received various grants within the past several years to start programs aimed at reducing its relatively high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity while improving access to nutrition and basic health services.

For many people, these efforts have worked. Take Debra Finley, who signed up for free Zumba classes through the BFit program at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

“I was 195 pounds,” said Finley. “Now I’m 145.”

It is still unclear whether overall health outcomes are improving in the area. Many of these programs are less than a decade old, and are being pushed into neighborhoods that remain swamped with fast food restaurants and liquor stores. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 8 percent of area food retailers in the area are considered healthy.

Yet, many positive trends are emerging. [Read more…]

Future of Crenshaw District’s Marlton Square still looks uncertain

An old mural stands out from the rest of Marlton Square. | Daniel Carr- Crawford

An old mural stands out at Marlton Square. See more photos on Flickr. | Daniel Carr-Crawford

Many driving through the Crenshaw district might head straight for the massive Baldwin Hills Mall — or simply pass through on their way to other parts of Los Angeles.

Few notice the massive, weed-filled lot that is Marlton Square, or know about its long history.

Learn more in an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

[Read more…]

South L.A. teenager finds home in poetry

On a chilly night in South L.A., over a hundred young people have packed into a small theatre for an open-mic poetry reading.

Kenzie Givens

Kenzie Givens, poet, and high school student.

Seventeen-year-old Kenzie Givens is an African American poet and tonight is her first time performing at the venue.

On stage, Givens looks tough. She’s dressed in a leather jacket, mini-skirt and combat boots and her hair is done up in dreads.

Despite her apparent confidence, Givens doesn’t always fit in with her peers. She writes poetry because she often can’t connect with students her age.

“When I’m at school, I’m usually pretty shy,” said Givens. “I have this little place where I sit off. It’s actually behind this little shrubbery thing, and that’s usually where I go and eat my lunch. If people are around me my head tends to be in a book.”

Givens lives in Baldwin Hills, but doesn’t go to school in the predominately African American neighborhood, which features signs reading “Black Owned” and “Support the Hood.”

In the third grade, her parents, Darren and Caroline, chose to send her to charter schools in mostly white, wealthy neighborhoods.

“As one of the only African American students, I definitely felt like an outsider. I tried to make friends with people and tried to ingratiate myself into different groups and stuff, but I found out that in order to do that I’d have to be someone that I was not, and that didn’t appeal to me. So I just kind of decided to be stubborn, and stick it out alone,” she said.

Her father felt it was important to raise his children close to their family roots.

“It was important for them to be in an environment where one, they would be safe, but they’d be around their own people as well, able to go outside and play, drive around, participate in the neighborhood, go to their own stores, and different things,” said Darren.

Kenzie Givens (right) and her father.

Kenzie Givens (right) and her father.

Givens’ mother is a teacher in South Central, and admits that it was important to send Kenzie to a school that would prepare her for university, even though it was difficult to send her away.

“I would have liked her to have more African American friends, which I think she doesn’t have as many. Does she have any? I don’t think she has any African American friends,” said Caroline.

“I’m certain there’s someone at my school that I could have really great conversations with but I’m so focused on my books and exploring topics on my own, I never get to talk about it with anyone. Like, I’ve never had a boyfriend, or maybe my boyfriend is a book, I’m not sure,” said Givens.

While the final days of high school tick away, Givens has found a way to connect with other poets.

Recently, she started a poetry club at her high school. It isn’t popular, but the members are dedicated to their craft.

During a drizzly lunch period, four teenagers assembled in a classroom to read their poems. There were no notebooks or scribbled-in journals.

The students wrote and read their poems off their cell phones – their fingers scrolling over the words.

Poetry club members, Edwin, Sophie and Daniel, all agreed that poetry was misunderstood at their school.

“When you tell people you’re a poet, they think you’re all sad and depressed, when it really isn’t like that,” said Daniel.

For Givens, poetry is important.

“I write what feels most real at any moment. It can be any experience that is so moving that it demands to be written down. I think my biggest fear is probably a very common one, and that is of disappearing entirely. I‘d like to know that I mattered,” she said.

On the night of her first reading, Givens’ nervousness melted away. She appeared grounded and confident about her future.

Next year, she is heading to Reed College in Portland, where she secured an early admission and a scholarship. She is certain that the open environment at Reed will be accepting of her poetry and her identity.

Meanwhile, in the crowded South L.A. theatre full of poets and performing artists, she’s no outsider. As she reads her poem, the crowd snaps and applauds – expressing their approval.

On stage, Kenzie Givens is at home.

Listen to an audio version from Annenberg Radio News

Hidden gems in South LA for homebuyers

Everyone knows that real estate is expensive in Los Angeles.  And everyone knows how hard it is to get a home loan these days.  So you would think that real estate agents are sitting glumly at their desks waiting for phones to ring, drumming their fingers, watching their bank accounts dwindle.

imageNot in South Los Angeles, where property is selling in some areas.  Leimert Park-based real estate agent Heather Presha (pronounced Pre-shay) said that homes on the market in her neighborhood and neighboring areas of Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, View Park, Baldwin Village, Hyde Park, and Jefferson Park are getting 40 to 50 offers each.  Open houses are filled to capacity with prospective buyers.  “It’s so competitive now, I haven’t made an offer on a home in six months that hasn’t had multiple offers,” said Presha.

Reasons to buy in South LA
Real estate agent Natalie Neith, who specializes in historic homes in South L.A., echoed Presha’s take.  She said there are three main reason buyers are looking at South L.A.  Firstly, these neighborhoods have preserved a lot of older architecture.  Some of them need fixing up – Neith just sold an historic fixer-upper to a former writer/producer for the TV show “House” – but many are move-in-ready.

Population by ethnicity, 2010 Census (Source: Mapping LA, LA Times
Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw
Black 71.3% Latino 17.3% Asian 4.7% White 3.3%
Leimert Park
Black 46.8% Latino 44.9% Asian 2.9% White 2.7%
West Adams
Black 37.6% Latino 56.2% Asian 1.7% White 2.4%

Secondly, these neighborhoods are located in the center of Los Angeles.  The 110, 10, 405, and 105 freeways are roughly the eastern, northern, western, and southern boundaries, respectively, of South L.A.  Almost 1 million people use just the 10 and 405 freeways daily.  That central location starts to make a lot of sense if you’ve endured the clogged east-west and north-south commutes in L.A.
And finally, there is price.  Buyers who are finding themselves priced out of suburban neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley and other desirable areas of L.A. are finding they can get a lot of house for the same amount of money in parts of South L.A.  Or the same house for a lot cheaper.  For instance,  a home that would sell in Silverlake for around $750,000 might go for $337,000 in Leimert Park, according to Presha.
Prices are beginning to inch back up after the low prices of the last several years.  For example, as listed on the real-estate website Trulia, a small post-war courtyard bungalow in Village Green, an historic neighborhood in Baldwin Hills, sold for almost $400,000 at the height of the market in the late 1990s.  The list-price had fallen to $185,000 in April of this year.  The same bungalow sold for $195,000 this May.

Getting a loan

imageWith interest rates at historically low levels of 3% or less, it’s a good time to buy if you can get a loan.  Neith said if you’re buying an historic property – one that is in an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, or HPOZ, or one that is outside an HPOZ but designated historic – then you may qualify for significant property-tax reduction under the Mills Act.  The Mills Act allows tax reduction of 50 percent to 75 percent for ten years after purchase.  Owners can apply for renewal after the ten-year window.  However, all money saved under the act must be used for historical restoration.  The West Adams area alone has at least six HPOZs.

But even with good interest rates, Presha warned, it’s still a seller’s market.  Buyers need to be prepared to provide a deposit of at least 3% of the final price, and sellers aren’t likely to cover fees or closing costs.  But Presha also cautioned against being too pessimistic about one’s hopes of getting a home loan.  She said prospective buyers, many of whom are single women and young professionals, who have enough money to put down for deposit often significantly underrate their chances of being approved for a loan. 

Are these neighborhoods safe?

Conventional wisdom says that neighborhoods in South L.A. are unsafe.  And there’s no doubt that these areas suffer their share of crime.  LAPD Southwest Station Senior Lead Officer and community liaison Sunny Sasajima says it depends on how you look at the numbers.  (Southwest Station patrols the neighborhoods of Adams-Normandie, Baldwin Hills, Baldwin Village, Baldwin Vista, Crenshaw, Exposition Park, Jefferson Park, Leimert Park, Union Square, University Park, Village Green, and West Adams.)
According to the L.A. Times’ “Mapping L.A.” project, over the week from July 4 – 10, 2012, Leimert Park – Officer Sasajima’s beat – saw eighteen crimes:  sixteen property crimes (including burglary) and two violent crimes (robbery and aggravated assault).  Leimert Park had a population of approximately 12,000 as of 2008 (the figures used by “Mapping L.A.”).  According to “Mapping L.A,.” that gives a ratio of 14.6 crimes per 10,000 people.  Leimert Park “averaged 3.5 violent crimes and 16.5 property crimes per week” over the last three months.
But compare that to Koreatown, an area that has a slightly safer reputation.  Situated just a few miles to the northeast of Leimert Park, Koreatown is much more densely populated, with a 2008 population of approximately 100,000.  During the same week, Koreatown’s crime ratio was much lower:  2.9 crimes per 10,000 people.  But there were thirty-six actual crimes that week:  twenty-eight property crimes and eight violent crimes (robberies, aggravated assaults, and rape).  According to “Mapping L.A.,” Koreatown “averaged 10.5 violent crimes and 36.8 property crimes per week” over the last three months.  Regardless of ratio to population, that’s a lot of crime in one week.
When asked about the issue of crime, Neith said, “It doesn’t make sense for me to sell unsafe neighborhoods.”  Her business depends on word-of mouth referrals and repeat customers, both buyers and sellers.  And that goes for Presha, too.
Both Neith and Presha stressed the importance of block-councils and neighborhood cooperation to the sense of community that prevails in West Adams and Leimert Park, their respective home neighborhoods.  “[West Adams] is like a small town in a big city,” Neith said.

On the upswing

imageRecent improvements in South L.A. have made it a much more attractive prospect for homebuyers.  The recently-contructed light rail Expo Line, which follows an old rail-line cut, is part of what Neith said is an overall feeling of good things happening in the neighborhoods along it.  Even those who don’t use it think it’s “part and parcel of progressive improvement in Los Angeles.” 
The second phase of the Expo Line will extend it out to the Veterans’ Administration Hospital on the Westside.  As well, a line is planned to run north-south from Exposition and Crenshaw to the Green Line station at Aviation/LAX.  The Crenshaw Line is not expected to open until late 2018, but Sasajima says he’s already hearing a lot of interest in the community about the project. 

An unexpected and early side-effect is that Sasajima is losing leverage to get commercial property owners to make crime-fighting improvements to their properties, such as installing more lighting and cutting back trees.  “Property owners are sitting on their hands, waiting for Metro to buy them out and begin construction,” he said.
imageOne business that thinks South L.A. is a good investment is the top-rated restaurant Post and Beam, which opened near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in 2011.  With a star chef who also happens to be a local boy made good—Chef Govind Armstrong grew up in Inglewood—Post and Beam serves a locally-sourced menu driven by ingredients, many of which are raised in the restaurant’s own organic garden.  It would be perfectly at home in the moneyed environs of the Westside.  Yet it’s filled to capacity weekly by Baldwin Hills locals hungry for quality food and quality places nearby to spend their money in.  Real estate agent Presha said, “It’s what we deserved.”
The long-awaited Marlton Square project, which has been in planning stages for almost thirty years, is also finally underway.  Demolition of the ramshackle buildings which had been on the site for decades has been completed.  In June, Kaiser Permanente announced that it would be the anchor tenant of the project, bringing in much-needed medical services and economic stimulus to the area.  The project will also include entertainment and retail businesses. 
Other improvements in the Leimert Park-Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw-West Adams areas include the arrival of grocery chain Fresh & Easy at Crenshaw and 52nd Street and major renovations at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping mall.
There’s a sense of gathering momentum in these parts of South L.A.  Will they bring gentrification?  Some worry about being priced out, but real estate agent Presha said, “Everybody wants the basics of a good life”— more and better shops, more accessibility, more options.

Leimert Park, West Adams, Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw.  Don’t believe the negative hype.  Things are happening, and these neighborhoods are ready.  Home buyers are taking note.

BHCP Live! Looking Forward to Summer

By Tiffany Taylor

imageSummer may still be a few months away, but plans are already underway to continue a free concert series in Baldwin Hills, part of an ongoing effort to nurture community redevelopment in the area.

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza’s BHCP Live! Concert series is looking forward to its third year as a free concert series featuring A-level artists. The success of last year’s concert series has organizers and community members excited about gaining momentum this coming summer.

“One of the good things about the concert series is that it’s grown really well through word of mouth,” said Jason Lombard, the Community Outreach Director for the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. “In the first few concerts there were a couple hundred people.”

The highest attendance at any concert in the series in 2011 was that of R&B singer Stephanie Mills, with around 4,500 people filling the promenade space at the plaza in front of the Rave Movie Theater.

imageMills was the favorite of Robert Cole, President of the Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowner Association, who attended three of the series’ four concerts last summer.

“The turn out for Stephanie Mills was phenomenal. People were hanging in the parking lot and looking over the balcony,” Cole said. “I was surprised because there wasn’t a lot of publicity but somehow people heard about it and they turned out.”

“I like to say that I hear the grass roots comments, and we went from conversations at the beginning about the redevelopment and what was going to happen starting out with a lot of doubt,” Lombard said. “I think that comes from things that have been over-promised and under-delivered.”

As the Community Outreach Director, Lombard’s mission is to spread the word about the remodeling of the plaza and upcoming events. He does so by attending meetings of community organizations and homeowners associations.

“It went from me attending community meetings and people not being familiar with the concert series asking normal questions, but then it turned to at least one person in each meeting saying that I went to the last concert and telling others to be sure that they go,” Lombard said.

imageThe concert series aims to showcase the renovations and changes going on at the plaza to the community, as well as provide entertainment and bring the community together.

“It’s an opportunity for people to see artists for free within walking distance of their homes that they wouldn’t normally be able to see,” Lombard said, “It’s a great opportunity, not only for people to meet their neighbors, but to meet people that they otherwise would not have and just be able to come down and enjoy the plaza and see the great things that are happening.”

With two successful concert series under their belt, the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is starting to ready themselves for this summer’s concert series. While they have not yet begun reaching out to artists, some artists are already reaching out to them.

“There are a lot of artist management teams that are talking about it,” Lombard said, “It’s been interesting to see, we actually went from having to reach out to artists to having them come to us and say, ‘Hey, we heard you guys are doing some great things and we’d love to be considered for this series.’ I think that speaks for the success of the series.”

In the meantime, the plaza has been hosting other events. Rave Cinemas recently hosted the 20th Annual Pan African Film Festival at the plaza.

“We are planning an event that will celebrate the mall’s transformation and welcome those highly anticipated retailers expected to open this year. We are also planning events geared towards our Spanish-speaking customers this year, in addition to our steadfast events such as BHCP Live concerts,” said Cheryl Roberts, Marketing Director of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza looks forward to continuing to grow in 2012. Events such as the 20121 BHCP Live! Concert series will only help the plaza gain more community support.

“There’s a lot of things that are going on and there’s a lot of things have happened already and we have more to come,” Lombard said.

For more information, including upcoming events, click here.

Face lift intended to do more than refurbish Baldwin Hills mall

By Samantha Hermann

When Vince St. Thomas showed up at the food court of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall to do a crossword puzzle he was taken aback by what he found. The center of the food court had been blocked off leaving only the seats around the perimeter available for patrons.

“I have no idea what they are doing.” said St. Thomas, who shopped at the mall on a recent Sunday. “I see all this stuff going on and every time I come by for the last two or three months or so I have been surprised.”

What they are doing is completing an extensive renovation of the mall, which first opened as the Broadway-Crenshaw Center in 1947, and is among the oldest regional shopping centers in the country. The mall saw its last major overhaul in the late 1980’s and has long been considered an economic and cultural hub in South Los Angeles.

But, without any significant renovation in more than 20 years, it was sorely in need of a facelift.

Read more…

The fight for Fresh & Easy in South Los Angeles goes to City Hall

South L.A. residents may agree that more fresh food grocery stores are needed in the area, but some are concerned that a proposed Fresh & Easy on Crenshaw Boulevard and 52nd Street is defying the rules.

Winnifred Jackson, President of Hyde Park Organizational Partnership for Empowerment (HOPE), says the proposed Fresh & Easy is flagrantly ignoring the requirements of the Crenshaw Corridor Specific Plan. The plan came into effect in November 2004 as a way of ensuring “a balance of commercial land uses,” and cohesion between residential and commercial space. In an open letter to City Watch, Jackson explained the resistance to the proposed Fresh & Easy:

“Fresh & Easy has refused to comply with the pedestrian oriented design standards of our Crenshaw Corridor Specific Plan, as they would be required to do in any Westside community,” wrote Jackson.
“Instead of respecting our Crenshaw community’s Specific Plan and treating us like equals, Fresh & Easy has sought to divide our community, mischaracterize HOPE’s position, and make residents fear standing by our community’s basic planning standards.”

On Wednesday morning City Hall will host a hearing to address the proposed Fresh & Easy on Crenshaw Boulevard and 52nd Street, following an appeal against the development plans submitted by HOPE.

City Council Hearing on Fresh & Easy’s Proposal for a Neighborhood Market in South LA
Wednesday, December 8th 2010, 10:00 AM
Council Chambers City Hall Room #340
200 N. Spring Street, Los Angeles 90012

Residents who support the Fresh & Easy proposal as it stands can join the Community Health Councils counter-appeal. A bus service will be offered from CHC headquarters to City Hall and Back on Wednesday morning. RSVP to Tanishia Wright with Community Health Councils at tanishia[at] or 323.295.9372 x225.

Cool down with a smoothie from Dyna’s

imageThis unassuming little cafe, tucked behind the Steak and Fries in Baldwin Hills Shopping Center, offers a broad range of delights: including breakfast specials, pastries rotisserie chicken, Mexican food and Asian entrees. On one side, a coffee shop with giant muffins tantalizingly on display; on the other, a few tables allow room for a quick bite and a sampling of the free WiFi.

The menu is a little eccentric, ranging from breakfasts ($3.95 to $6.95) to burritos ($4.25 to $5.45) to teriyaki bowls ($5.95).

But on a hot afternoon in Los Angeles, the range of smoothies and milkshakes seem the most appealing. For $3.95 plus tax, these freshly made delights are cool and flavorful. For ice cream lovers, the “Banana Nut” offers a delicious mix of bananas, vanilla ice cream, peanut butter and apple juice. For a thirst-quenching, dairy-free option, try the “Mango Strawberry,” with mango, strawberries and a mix of apple and orange juice. The smoothies come out thick and cold: perfect for an L.A. heat wave.

A big plus to Dyna’s is that the cafe/restaurant seems to be pretty quiet in the afternoons, leaving plenty of room for weary wanderers to take refuge and refuel.

3745 S. La Brea Ave., Unit D, Los Angeles CA 90016.
Hours: Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm; Saturday from 8am to 6pm; Closed Sunday
Phone: (323) 292-9262
Free WiFi for customers.
Open lot parking.

Menu Sampler:
Good morning! Dyna’s Morning Special: two eggs, two bacon or sausages, potatoes with bell peppers and onions, toast and a small coffee or tea = $6.95
Good afternoon! 1/4 Chicken Combo with two sides = $5.45
Good evening! Steak burrito = $5.45
Specials: Whole Rotisserie Chicken = $6.95

State Senator Wright enters plea on indictment

State Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday morning to plead not guilty to charges of voter fraud and perjury. Prosecutors charge that Wright lives in Baldwin Hills, which is not in the 25th District that he represents. The 25th District includes Inglewood, Compton, Gardena, Hawthorn, Long Beach, San Pedro, Watts and Westchester. Wright claims he lives on Glenway Drive in Inglewood.

Wright was indicted September 13, 2010 on five counts of voter fraud, two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy. Wright was elected to the State Senate in November 2008. The investigation began a month earlier when prosecutors say they received a complaint that he lived outside the 25th District. Investigators determined that Wright has lived in a home in Baldwin Hills, in the 26th state Senate district, since 2000. Before he was elected to the senate, Wright served three terms in the California State Assembly representing the 48th Assembly District.

Wright’s attorney, Winston Kevin McKesson, said he expects the state senator to be “full exonerated.”

If convicted, Wright faces up to eight years and four months in prison, and he would be banned from every holding public office again. He will be back in court on October 8.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons