A 20th Century Neighborhood Tackles Issues for the 21st Century
Mar Vista is an economically diverse Westside neighborhood of apartment buildings and single-family residences built during the mid-twentieth century. Recently, the community decided to add real 21st century amenities to the neighborhood when it decided to take part in a project whose goal is to bring free high-speed Internet access to all Mar Vista residents and businesses as well as support local eco-friendly water conservation efforts.
The Mar Vista Community Council was instrumental to the “Open Mar Vista” initiative through the installation of city-owned community wireless (WiFi) antennas along Venice Boulevard. “Affordable, high-speed Internet access is important for all residents of this community,” said Rob Kadota, past Chair of the Mar Vista Community Council. “Children need high-speed access for their homework, and people need high-speed connections if they want to participate in online learning or training programs. High-speed Internet access also enables people to work from home or start home-based businesses. In sum, free Wi-Fi improves quality of life and economic development opportunities in our neighborhood.”
John Ayers, owner of a local business agrees on the importance of free Wi-Fi for business. “These days free Wi-Fi is an amenity that people are looking for when they select a coffee house,” he explains. “Free Wi-Fi makes the Coffee Connection more competitive with national chains like Starbucks.”
Open Mar Vista is based on a successful model used in San Francisco. The initiative creates a neighborhood Wi-Fi network using next-generation wireless 'mesh' networking technology. Open Mar Vista works by encouraging the neighborhood to join together in connecting via Wi-Fi to create a powerful wireless network with a strong signal within their homes and businesses.
In another community effort, the Mar Vista Garden Showcase event was staged by the Green Committee of the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council. The event featured gardens showcasing water conservation efforts and provided public information on how to reduce water usage while maintaining a beautiful landscape. Participation from like-minded organizations within and outside of the community contributed to a rich and meaningful program. In concert with the event, a Website and blog was created to connect community expertise, link people to resources, and share knowledge. The blog had thousands of visitors leading up to the event. The tour will now be an annual event and the web site will remain up. The Website will be used to link the community with information and resources to further the energy and water conservation effort, and because of the Open Mar Vista initiative, the site will in the near future be accessible to all members of the Mar Vista community.
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Combating Gang Influences for Kids
Harbor Gateway is one of the most densely populated areas of the City of Los Angeles. According to the 2000 Census, there were approximately 8,000 people per square mile. The area is home to White, Latino, and African American populations. Unfortunately, racial tensions and gang violence are not strangers to Harbor Gateway. A few years ago, a young girl was killed by a gang simply because she was African American.
Shortly afterward, the community came together and began working on the neighborhood’s gang problem. The Harbor Gateway South Neighborhood Council (HGSNC) began holding summer programs for children in the area to keep them busy and away from gangs. The program is currently in its third year. The first year the Neighborhood Council ran the program in conjunction with the LAPD Cal Pal program. The second year, the Boys and Girls Clubs and Cal Pal joined forces. This year, the Boys and Girls Club will take over the program. On what was formerly a dirt lot, the location will now have paving, plumbing and electricity. It will also be the site of a City-donated mobile unit, and the Neighborhood Council will purchase the computers, sports equipment, and other items needed to bring summer fun to the community.
“We are bringing the different races together in our Neighborhood Council by helping to erase the face of fear,” says George Partida, President of the HGSNC. “We’ve spent $35,000 over the last three years on this program and we consider it extremely worthwhile for our funds. We’re now branching out to help the Normandie Recreation Center with similar programs as there is another gang in that part of our area.”
The program began with just thirty children and now enjoys participation by over 100 at-risk kids.
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A League of Their Own for the Skid-Row Community
For the homeless men on Downtown’s Skid Row, playing basketball is more than just a half-hour distraction from the weight of hunger, violence, and lack of shelter. It is a motivational tool for getting the men of the community to believe in themselves and their power to create something that is all their own.
For the last two years, the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council (DLANC) has recognized that the Skidrow 3-on-3 Streetball League has been making a difference in the lives of men and women and contributing to the betterment of the community through the creation and organization of a basketball league at Gladys Park. For the last two years, the DLANC has been instrumental in supporting the League through basketball equipment and uniforms. After a recent donation of shoes by Nike, DLANC member General Jeff said, “Unlike some benefactors who come to Skid Row briefly, touch the community and leave, we wanted to make sure that continued support was part of the overall project so that the community could see and feel that Corporate America does in fact care about us. This would help to build confidence and boost self-esteem in an area where not a lot of positivity exists."
The Skidrow 3-on-3 Streetball League has been so successful in creating a viable basketball season at Gladys Park that a new Skid Row community formed around the concept of “Teamwork” and was honored by the Los Angeles City Council in 2008 for outstanding community work. The League has also recently expanded to include a successful and growing women’s division.
The Downtown Neighborhood Council’s support for the League is a common topic for discussion at the Council’s Education Committee Meetings. The Council also provides opportunities for Downtown neighborhood stakeholders to get involved in a wide variety of issues that are important to them including the arts, economic development, parks, recreation and open space, public health, affordable housing, and more.
“Redevelopment has changed Downtown over the last five years. The issues that are important to the people who live, work, and play here have changed as well. The Downtown Neighborhood Council is a forum for people to air their issues and get the ear of City government,” says Russell Brown, President of the DLANC.
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Taking Care of the Children of Pico Union
Pico-Union is a severely underserved neighborhood in Los Angeles. Pico Union is primarily populated by first-generation Latino immigrants, particularly Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and Hondurans, and a number of Korean businesses, priced out of Koreatown, who have also established themselves in the area. Neighborhood residents recognize the need to safeguard the health and well-being of the children of Pico-Union.
Lack of children’s health insurance is prevalent in low-income communities and among Latino and Spanish-speaking populations, according to “California Report Card: the State of the State’s Children for 2008” published by Children Now. A recent survey, “Work and Health in the Immigrant Enclave” by the Koreatown Immigrant Worker Enclave revealed that the majority of low-wage Korean immigrant workers (76%) report having no health insurance for themselves or their families.
In recognition of this, the Pico-Union Neighborhood Council has created the Pico-Union Neighborhood Community Health Fair. The Fair provides free health services and public health information to all residents (in English, Spanish and Korean)…regardless of their health insurance status. Free health services included: blood pressure screening, diabetes screening, dental exams, eye exams, cholesterol tests, body fat analysis, mammography, acupuncture and more.
“Several thousand stakeholders attended the 2009 Health Fair,” says Mark Lee, President of the Pico-Union Neighborhood Council. “In addition to the health information and services provided, we had live entertainment from various ethnic and cultural groups.”
The Neighborhood Council has also secured the participation of several area hospitals including White Memorial Medical Center, St. Vincent Medical Center, and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center “500 blood pressure screenings alone were performed at the Fair,” says Pastor Salvador Garcia, an active member of the Council.
“This has been a truly a cooperative venture for our community,” says Pastor Oh of the Korean Spanish Central 7th day Adventist Church. Doctors from our church are committed to providing services and both the Central Korean and Central Spanish 7th Day Adventist Churches are supporting the event with a large donation. We also expect several hundred volunteers from these churches, as well. Still other volunteers went door to door to inform people in the community that it was happening.”
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Wilmington: A City More Beautiful
Primarily an industrial area known for providing Los Angeles’ first railroad and serving the nearby Port of Los Angeles, Wilmington was annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1909. Over time, the character and desirability of this Harbor community has been eroded by aesthetic encroachments, leading the residents of the Wilmington Neighborhood to recognize the need to do something about it.
In 2004, the Gateway Beautification Project was born and supported by the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. The Council provided over $27,000 from their budget to support the initial Study Project identifying and prioritizing Wilmington locations for potential improvement. Ten intersections were ultimately selected for beautification.
“We are proud to have brought Wilmington stakeholders together and raised approximately $250,000 from local business and the Neighborhood Council budget to revitalize the gateways into the Wilmington community,” says Cecilia Moreno, Chair of the Wilmington Neighborhood Council. “As a result of the Gateway Beautification Program, major arteries leading through the community have been significantly improved, “says Jack Babbitt, Chair of the Gateway & Beautification Committee. “That’s good for business and good for the community.”
The project has inspired other pending beautification projects in the area, including the Wilmington Marinas Parkway improvement project which will provide a buffer and open space between the Wilmington Marinas and nearby storage site, allow the community to begin accessing and enjoying the area, and help shield adjacent residents from wind-blown contaminated soil.
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A Summer’s Reading in Harbor City
Harbor City is one of many diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles. According to the 2000 Census, over half the resident population is Latino, with significant African-American and White populations. The area is diverse in other ways as well. Even within the boundaries of Harbor City, the area has several distinct neighborhoods: Green Meadows, Green Meadows SW, Narbonne, Central, Old Towne, PCH, and the Pines.
At a recent Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Neighborhood Council meeting, local residents expressed concerns about such varied issues as trash on Sepulveda and Western, drug trafficking in the Narbonne area, repaving in the Pines, and several other local concerns including the creation of safe spaces for children.
In response, the Harbor City Neighborhood Council voted to fund the local LAPL branch public library‘s Children’s Summer Reading Program. The Program provides funds for books and guest speakers for children aged 2-18 years of age. Examples of components of the reading program are the following: book discussions, creative writing workshops like “Keyboard Secrets, & “Typing Challenge” and more. The meetings opened with book talks and the number of children reading has seen an increase since the program’s inception.
“Now that children are out of school, they need a safe and cool place to spend time. What better place than the local library?” says Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Neighborhood Council President, Tom Houston. “I’ve taken my (son/daughter) to the summer programs and they have been wonderful,” says a parent and resident of the neighborhood of Harbor City. “With recent cutbacks in summer school and other programs, these types of events are more important than ever.”
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Raising the Bar on Quality of Life
The community of Sun Valley lies at the north end of the San Fernando Valley. Most of the stone, gravel, and sand used in construction in Los Angeles between the 1920s and the 1970s came from quarries in Sun Valley, and although the quarries are mostly closed, many of them have become landfills. As with most areas of Los Angeles, residential development dots the Verdugo Hills around Sun Valley, and the policies and procedures of companies operating the landfills affects the quality of life for local residents.
Over several months, the Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council (SVANC) has been opening a dialogue between local residents and Waste Management, a multi-national waste management conglomerate, on making community concerns known and reviewing potential responsive actions. Among the issues raised by neighborhood stakeholders were air quality impacts from diesel-powered trucks visiting the site, litter along truck access routes, and local traffic concerns from the large vehicles.
Solutions discussed have included the contribution of a significant “Host Fee” to Sun Valley, the gradual exchange of trash truck fleet vehicles for clean air vehicles, and the provision of a traffic director to reduce congestion.
The residents of Sun Valley are largely working-class Latinos. To encourage the engagement of all neighborhood residents, the SVANC provides meeting notices and other important information in Spanish, including verbal interpretation at regular meetings.
“The Neighborhood Council provides an important forum for individuals in the community to have their voices heard,” says Mary Benson. “Few people would have the time or the access to make their concerns known to a large, multi-national company like Waste Management. This is important to the residents of Sun Valley. Our Neighborhood Council makes a difference in our community.”