Friday, March 21, 2008

Setting the Grassroots on Fire

By Doug Epperhart

Confronted by the reality that their lives will be changed by politicians’ actions, most people merely shrug and say, “There’s nothing we can do about it.” Or, even worse, they buy the lies dropped in mailboxes by campaign consultants at election time and vote against their own interests.

These are the times I want to scream, “What’s wrong with you people?”

Lately, though, things have changed. It’s as if the civic Rip van Winkles awakened from their 20-year naps and realized the world is a different place.

Everywhere in Los Angeles, residents are seeing the heavy hand of developers pulling the strings in a city administration bent on “Manhattanizing” L.A.

A backlash is rising from the neighborhoods.

In San Pedro, our wakeup call was a developer’s desire to build 2,300 condos on Western Avenue.

Despite Ponte Vista’s ongoing campaign to divide and conquer our town, thousands have endorsed the RNeighborhoodsAre1 effort to prevent overdevelopment. Petitions, letters, calls, emails, yard signs and bumper stickers persuaded Councilwoman Janice Hahn to get on board and support her town’s call to keep the single-family zoning.

Faced with the prospect of condos at 20th Street and Walker Avenue, where McCowan’s once stood, neighbors rallied to tell Hahn that such a multi-unit building was out of character for the neighborhood. The councilwoman got the message and immediately set in motion the machinery to allow only single-family homes to be built.

What is happening in San Pedro echoes what is happening elsewhere. Sunland-Tujunga activists fought Home Depot and won before the city council.

(This one is a twisted political soap opera in which City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has pulled the rug out from under the community by cooking up a deal to placate Home Depot, which had sued in an attempt to get its way.)

Just this week, the city council voted 10-5 to stop construction of 5,500 homes along the 5 Freeway near Santa Clarita. The developer was demanding annexation to the city of Los Angeles and, of course, will likely sue the city.

On the west side, tempers are flaring and lawsuits are being filed over the city’s plan to ban parking and alter traffic patterns on Pico and Olympic Boulevards. Community groups are going to court to stop the city from implementing this plan.

If you think people are mad as hell and they’re not going to take this anymore, you’re right.

They’re mad because government pushes people out of the process and leaves them no choice but to oppose everything.

The latest example: LAUSD wants to build a high school at Angels Gate. The district does what is minimally necessary to comply with environmental law. Bureaucrats hold hearings to tell us what they intend to do. They take public comment and ignore it.

Meanwhile, a plan for Angels Gate Park has been developed with constant and extensive community input.

Upgrading the park would obviously affect the adjacent school district property. Accordingly, LAUSD was invited to be part of the process. They never showed up.

Maybe it’s because a memorandum of understanding (MOU) will be negotiated between the Department of Recreation and Parks and LAUSD. The MOU will determine things like whether the district can have access to Gaffey Street and the public can use facilities at the school.

I’m urging that the community be part of the MOU negotiation process, but I bet it’s not going to happen. I’m guessing we’ll be left with government’s standard “take it or leave it” offer.

There’s a small window of opportunity for LAUSD to talk to the community about the high school, seriously. If district officials do the right thing, the neighbors will do the smart thing.

Doug Epperhart is a member of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council governing board. He can be reached at

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