Hermon Fights for Its Own Neighborhood Council

December 22, 2016 by · 2 Comments 

It’s the story of the little neighborhood that refused to give up.

After five years of fighting for a separate voice in Northeast Los Angeles, the small community of Hermon could soon have their very own neighborhood council.

Members of the Hermon Neighborhood Council Formation Committee submitted a subdivision application last week, which if approved would mean Hermon would separate from the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council. The committee has been hard at work over the last six weeks finalizing the application and bylaws they started four years ago. The group has attended dozens of city meetings, gathered signatures from residents on petitions and reorganized its members.

“This is an amazing historic moment for our community,” longtime Hermon resident and community activist Wendi Riser said in an email to members of the formation committee.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to characterize Hermon residents as fiercely proud and protective of the small town like community they’ve worked hard to cultivate near the Arroyo Seco Parkway, known to most people as the Pasadena Freeway. They love their open spaces and the neighborhood dog park that hosts regular “yappy hours” and where their four-legged friends parade in Halloween costumes, as well as their local businesses and schools.

When a medical marijuana dispensary operator tried to open shop in the neighborhood, the community quickly organized a public meeting in protest with help from District 14 councilman, Jose Huizar, bringing in representatives of the city attorney, State Board of Equalization, CD-14 staff and LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division – ultimately stopping the pot shop from ever opening its doors.

(Courtesy of Wendi Riser)

(Courtesy of Wendi Riser)

They tend to be wary of any changes in city policies and ordinances they fear will have a damaging effect on their way of life, and they don’t like having their needs dictated by people on the outside.

In addition to Hermon, the Arroyo Seco NC also represents Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mt. Washington and Sycamore Grove. The Arroyo Seco NC consists of two representatives from each of the five communities with the exception of Mt. Washington that has four. There are also 9 at-large members – representing the environment, health and safety, culture and arts – and one community interest representative on the board.

In Los Angeles, each neighborhood council yearly receives city funds to use on outreach, local improvements, special projects, programs or grants to engage residents. They are tasked with advising the L.A. City Council on local issues as well as the city budget and proposed laws, taxes and land use issues.

After more than a decade as part of the Arroyo Seco NC, Hermon residents felt their needs did not fall in line with those of many of their neighboring communities and a change was needed.

Hermon has too often witnessed its demands vetoed by the rest of the neighborhood council, says longtime community activist Joseph Riser, Wendi’s husband and president of the formation committee.

According to Hermon’s application, the proposed neighborhood council would have nine seats, with each member specializing in fields ranging from education to business.

When the neighborhood council system was first established the process for a community to separate from the neighborhood council it was affiliated with was difficult, if not nearly impossible. In 2012, Councilman Huizar, with help from the community, spearheaded an effort to streamline the process to allow neighborhoods councils to subdivide in cases where communities are separated from its neighbors by significant geographic features, such as the Arroyo Seco Parkway and the Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Hermon’s case. The new law also eliminates the so-called “Starbucks stakeholder,” referring to outsiders who seek to influence neighborhood council elections by virtue of their patronage of a local establishment.

“I want to thank leaders from the great community of Hermon for bringing this idea to me,” Huizar told EGP Monday. “The new system that I helped create makes it easier and is fair to both existing neighborhood councils, as well as any proposed NCs.”

Hermon is “different from many of the neighborhoods that make up Arroyo Seco,” points out Joseph Riser, explaining the need for change. “Our houses are different, we were established by different people.”

Quaint and quiet Hermon, called the “biggest small community in Los Angeles, was established in 1903 by a group of Protestants, eventually taking on a college town feel when the now closed Los Angeles Pacific College opened. Although primarily residential now, the neighborhood is home to a popular dog park, small business district, an elementary school, an alternative high school and charter school.

Hermon falls under a different precinct than its neighbors and is even served by a different councilmember than the rest of the Arroyo Seco.

“Over the years, some of the people on the neighborhood council couldn’t even tell you where Hermon was,” Joseph Riser said, only half-jokingly.

He told EGP the new neighborhood council would take a closer look at the types of developments, like “McMansions” and affordable housing, as well as new businesses coming into their neighborhood.

Before they can move forward, L.A.’s Department Neighborhood Empowerment (EmpowerLA) must first approve Hermon’s application. If that happens, a vote of all Arroyo Seco stakeholders will take place within 90 days to decide whether Hermon should be allowed to separate and form its own neighborhood council.

“This is where we will need every Hermon stakeholder to show up and vote for Hermon,” says Wendi Riser.

Despite rumors to the contrary, if the Hermon Neighborhood Council is approved the Arroyo Seco NC will not be decertified or lose any of its $37,000 annual allowance.

Voting is expected to take place in March 2017. If passed, the Hermon Neighborhood Council could hold its first meeting as early as July.

 

Drivers Have A Role In Arroyo Seco Parkway Safety

February 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Arroyo Seco Parkway or State Route 110 is hailed as the first freeway of the west and a vital artery that connects Los Angeles to Pasadena. Despite being seen as an engineering feat in the 1940’s, today its design is considered outdated, and to many, a winding series of safety hazards.
“We have to understand that when it was built, cars were not going that fast. Old Model T’s would usually get up to 30 mph at the max,” said Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents some of the communities adjacent to Arroyo Seco Parkway.

The safety concerns experienced today can be seen at hairpin exits like the one at Avenue 43, which inspired a group of local residents to start a petition drive in December 2014 to urge Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leòn to secure state funding for Caltrans — the state agency charged with maintaining freeways and highways — to make improvements and add more exits to the parkway to make it safer.

“I know there are concerns about it and heard about it at different meetings,” acknowledges Cedillo, who adds that management of the parkway is not the city of Los Angeles’ responsibility, but the state’s.

“I’ve taken these concerns to the  senator [Kevin de Leon] who is very powerful and can have an impact and influence on those matters.” Cedillo told EGP.

There has been some action by Caltrans to make the Arroyo Seco Parkway a safer place to drive. In 2012, Caltrans released the Arroyo Seco Corridor Partnership Plan, which among other things included the goal of preserving the parkway’s historical value and usefulness to the surrounding communities while making it safer.

Four years later, safety issues remain, prompting Cedillo to say more needs to be done to figure out “what mitigations can be implemented” to improve safety, and “how it relates to the important arteries that bring people into the city.”

He points out, however, that design changes alone to make the Arroyo Seco Parkway more suited to handle modern day traffic will not make the parkway accident free; motorists also need to take it upon themselves to be safe.

“Driving a two-ton vehicle is inherently dangerous. That’s why there’s rules and regulations like seatbelts and not driving under the influence,” Cedillo said.

“We have a very skilled department of transportation that works with Caltrans and the LAPD, but so much of the safety is dependent on the people. We can make all the rules and regulations, but if people don’t comply, particularly when it’s raining and people don’t pay attention to what they’re doing, that’s where accidents happen.”

“I was talking about this with the LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department],” he said, “when people use their cellphones it takes their focus away from the road.”

The councilman recommends people try to drive less in rainy weather and not rely so heavily on cellphone and navigation apps to get them where they are going.

“We have bad cultural practices in our community that makes us lazier and we need to exercise more self help and responsibility,” he said. He noted that many accidents can be attributed to “poor decision making” by motorists and pedestrians, and cited crossing the street in the middle of the block instead of at a crosswalk that might just be a few feet away, or texting or talking on a cellphone while driving as examples of bad behavior.

So while many of the problems experienced on the Arroyo Seco Parkway can be blamed on its outdated design, which many residents argue must change, the effort to make the Arroyo Seco Parkway a safer place for everyone will require cooperation from both residents, the city, and the state to make a real difference.

Martin Baeza is a senior at Academia Avance Charter School in Highland Park, He is interning at Eastern Group Publications as part of the school’s “Work Educational Experience Project.”

Homeless Dwellings Removed from Arroyo Seco Channel

June 4, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

Struggling to push the bicycle loaded with his belongings along the bumpy path carved out of the brush next to the Arroyo Seco channel in Highland Park last week, a homeless man grumbled he was being forced to leave the encampment that was his home.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do! I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he said as he pushed his bike through a hole cut in the wire-mesh fencing next to the Avenue 57 exit on the Arroyo Seco Parkway-110 Pasadena Freeway.

Lea este artículo en Español: Indigentes Son Removidos del Canal de Arroyo Seco

He was one of more than two-dozen homeless people removed from illegal encampments located between Avenues 52 and 57; invisible to many of the drivers on the freeway.

But to residents living nearby, the network of knotted tarps, tents, clothes hanging from the bushes and fencing and growing piles of trash are not only an eyesore, they’re a public safety issue.

They demanded that the city clean up the area and move the homeless out.

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

(EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

In response, on May 25, as required by law, the city posted signs notifying encampment dwellers that they had three days to leave and remove their belongings before the city starts clearing the area on May 28.

The city’s departments of public works, parks and recreation, officers from the Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions and the of Councilman Gil Cedillo (CD1), coordinated the cleanup.

County mental health workers and employees with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) were also called in to assist anyone wanting help: there were no takers.

“CD1 takes these complaints seriously,” Cedillo told EGP in an email. “The intent was not only to ensure the safety and livability for the surrounding community, but to also offer homeless services to the individuals living in the encampments and to get them connected with valuable social services,” he said.

About 30 people were living in the 17 encampments along the Arroyo, according to public works spokesman Jimmy Tokeshi. He said it took a day and a half to clear the 18 tons of trash and debris removed from the third-of-a-mile stretch along the freeway.

How to best deal with Los Angeles’ homeless population has sparked increased debate in recent months, from calls for more police enforcement to building more affordable housing.

Residents watching the cleanup such as Wendy Riser, said they’ve heard that some of the homeless in those encampments at some point were residents of Highland Park, but ended up on the streets because of different situations such as loosing their jobs, increase of rent, mental illness or drugs.

Several homeless in Northeast L.A. neighborhoods like Highland Park, Montecito Heights, Eagle Rock and Cypress Park have ties to the community, including family and friends who live nearby.

That was the case last week when a young woman, seeing the clearing underway, ran to the encampment in search of her mother who she told police had been living there with a boyfriend.

She wanted to know if her mother was ok, explained LAPD Officer Oscar Cassini. It’s not uncommon for relatives to know that a loved one is living at one of the homeless encampments, to keep track of them there, he said.

Some people might find that shocking, but there are lots of reasons why someone can’t take in the homeless person, Cassini said, referring to cases of mental illness or heavy drug use.

The number of people in Los Angeles living in “tents, makeshift shelters, and vehicles increased by 85% from 2013” when the number was 5,335,to 9,535 today, according to the recently released results of LAHSA’s 2015 Homeless Countdown.

Skyrocketing housing costs are a big part of the problem, claim affordable housing advocates.

According to LAHSA’s report, California’s lowest-income households spend about two-thirds of their income on housing.

The 2014 USC Casden Forecast reported that as of December 2014, the average monthly rent in the Los Angeles region was $1,716, making L.A. one of the top 10 most expensive places to rent in the U.S.

Outreach staff sent to last week’s encampment clearing spoke with 18 men and 7 women but were unable to get them to accept services, LAHSA Spokesperson Eileen Bryson told EGP by email. “Most of the encamped homeless dwellers were preoccupied with managing their personal items during the clean up,” she said.

According to Officer Cassini, many refuse offers to be placed in a shelter because they don’t like to “follow the rules.”

“Some of them do drugs and in the shelters you can’t do that,” he said, moments after taking one of the homeless men into custody on an outstanding warrant.

Bryson said crews removed a large number of illegal and dangerous items such as 117 hypodermic needles, 50 aerosol cans and 17 propane tanks.

Animal Control Services remove three chickens and a cat, she said.

Caltrans had to disconnect power lines illegally connected to light poles along the 110 Freeway, providing electricity to 6 of the encampments, Bryson said.

A passerby walking his dog found the removal activity troubling. Moving the homeless will not solve the problem, it’s “just a band aid,” said Christopher. There must be a better solution.

Cleanup of other encampments between Via Marisol and Bridewell Street along the Arroyo Seco channel started this week should be finished today, according to Tokeshi.

Crews will remove “trash and bulky items, and when appropriate store property found in the cleanup area within the framework of the court decisions aimed at protecting individual rights,” he said.

The 2015 Homeless Count report from LAHSA found that there are 25,686 people in the City of Los Angeles with no homes. In CD1 there are nearly 2,000.

—-
Twitter @jackieguzman
jgarcia@egpnews.com

Addressing Homeless Problems in Northeast L.A.

February 26, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

Representatives of various city and county housing and mental health agencies, elected officials, law enforcement, nonprofit groups, residents and the homeless gathered Tuesday night for a town hall meeting on issues of homelessness in Northeast Los Angeles. While some complained about trash, illegal camping and public safety, others defended the rights of the homeless and called for policies that go beyond “sweeping the problem away.”

The meeting was held at Ramona Hall, a parks and recreation facility adjacent to Sycamore Grove Park on Figueroa Street.

There’s been an ongoing problem with litter and illegal dumping in the area. Residents and a local school have repeatedly complained sidewalks are being taken over by the homeless and their possessions. They fear using the park for recreational activities, despite the city on more than one occasion sending in crews to clean up the area.

Much of the discussion focused on the rights of the homeless and the need for more services to help them. Panelists answered questions about what can be done to lessen the impact on local neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Montecito Heights and Cypress Park.

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

A representative of a housing complex demands more housing for homeless people and more efficient application process. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)

They were asked about the process for dealing with the seemingly ever-growing number of homeless encampments along the Arroyo Seco Parkway and in public spaces like the 200-acre Debs Park in Montecito Heights; panelists repeatedly responded that the homeless have rights too and need more services to assist them. “When you move them from one corner, they just wind up on another corner,” pointed out one of the speakers. That’s not the solution.

Someone in the audience asked why the city isn’t looking into designating campgrounds where they can live in Northeast L.A..

Senior lead officers from the LAPD’S Hollenbeck and Northeast police divisions said their goal is to not to arrest unless there is a real danger, but to try to encourage the homeless to get services; an approach shared by neighborhood prosecutors for Hollenbeck and Northeast who said they try to deescalate situations rather than prosecute the homeless.

Several panelists pointed out that many of the homeless have deep roots and ties to the neighborhoods.

“They are locals, moving out of the area is not an option for them,” said John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Alliance.

There are not enough beds, transitional housing or wrap-around services available in the northeast area and they do not want to go to shelters in Skid Row or El Monte, speakers said. They’d rather live on the street, it’s a lifestyle said one of the speakers.

Everybody would like an apartment, countered Rebecca Prine with the Homeless Coalition and Recycled Resources, which does outreach to and collects data on the homeless in Northeast L.A.

They feel safe living along the Arroyo because at some point they were residents somewhere nearby, she said. Some of her clients have families in the area, she said.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) estimated there are 68,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Out of those, more than 31,000 suffer of a physical or mental illness such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, psychotic disorder, anxiety, etc. Today, there are an estimated 44,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County.

Urquiza said that Highland Park has become one of the most expensive areas to live, with rent averaging $1,800 a month. “Nobody talks about housing, they all talk about revitalization,” he said.

First District Councilman Gil Cedillo’s Field Deputy Sylvia Robledo told the audience her boss has made affordable housing one of his top priorities and on Wednesday would introduce a motion calling on the city administrator to comprehensively study how the city is using it’s $9 billion in federal funds to provide transitional housing.

The issue is complex, there is not one single solution, said Martin Schlagetev, Councilman Jose Huizar’s aid in charge of homeless issues. He discussed how the councilman’s office is working comprehensively on the issue, from cleaning streets to bringing in county social workers to work with the homeless simultaneously.

Ron is homeless and attended Tuesday’s town hall. He said the homeless feel harassed by the police and park rangers. He accused them of pushing him out of his camp and to the riverbed.

He said there are too many rules and it takes too long to get services. “Go get a TB check, go fill out a survey, do something” and you’re still waiting six months later.

Richard Renteria counsels the homeless and said most of those he’s interviewed are afraid to  live in Skid Row shelters.

“The majority of people here are one check away from being homeless and if I became homeless, I’d rather live here in the Arroyo than in the shelters that I serve,” he said.

For nearly two hours, several residents sat quietly waiting for a chance to discuss their concerns, growing increasingly frustrated, and in some cases angry, that nothing was being said about their right to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

Minutes before the meeting was to end, Edward Carreon finally had a chance to speak. He said he understands homelessness cannot be addressed in one day, that more affordable housing and services for the homeless are needed, but he wants the city and police to do something to protect his and his family’s rights.

“Not all the homeless are good people like it’s been said here,” he said. A lot of them are really bad characters. They are selling and shooting up heroine, and there’s a chop shop where they sell stolen bikes. You come across them having sex in the bushes at Debbs Park, Carreon said. “I can’t even take my daughter out anymore, I don’t feel safe.”

The city needs to step up police patrols to protect residents in the area, he said, before being cut off by the meeting moderator who said they were out of time and had to adjourn.

Immediately following the meeting, several residents said they attended the meeting because they were worried about the growing number of homeless in their neighborhoods and how aggressive some have become.

Kim Hepner has lived in Montecito Heights since 2002 and said she was frustrated that people like her who had followed the rules and waited quietly to ask questions were never given a chance to speak. The meeting was all about the rights of he homeless, she said.

“What about those of us who want to use the park to exercise? There’s a big problem with obesity in this area and people need the park,” she said. “People are afraid, I can’t even walk my dog in the park anymore, she said.

“We used to have gang problems” when I first moved to Montecito Heights, but that got better. Now it’s the homeless and it’s “very unsafe out there,” she told EGP.

She said thanks to the Next Door mobile app she is able to discuss the issues with people living in her neighborhood.

“There are a lot of us on there and we talk about how we can protect each other,” she said. “We watch out for each other” and talk about the illegal homeless encampments, dumping and other illegal activities in the park, Hepner said.

Speaking after the meeting, the residents said they understand the frustration of the homeless, but someone needs to understand them and their safety concerns.

Officer Craig Orange with the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast division told the audience that it is not a crime to be homeless, but more resources are needed to address the issue. “We can’t assume that just clean ups are the solution, or mental health help or housing, it is a combination of all” these things, he said.

 

EGP Editor Gloria Alvarez contributed to this story.

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