The final of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.
At 1 p.m. on a Thursday in April, four-year-old Tony Williams appears to be living every kid’s dream – whizzing down the slide at the Leslie N. Shaw Park with a goofy smile plastered on his face. Most kids stuck in a classroom would envy Tony on this warm afternoon in Jefferson Park. Unfortunately, Tony is actually the envious one – he wants to go to preschool but can’t.
Tony’s father, Paul, who was recently laid off, thought he had explored all of his preschool options in the Jefferson Park area. He could find nothing in his price range or with an open seat for his child. “There’s only so much I can do,” says Williams. “He should be at school learning to read and count and making friends.”
This is a common problem, not only for residents of Jefferson Park, but for all of Los Angeles. Preschools, especially quality preschools, are out of reach for about half of all four-year-olds in Los Angeles County, mainly due to lack of availability. With 10 million residents, LA County is one of the most heavily populated in America. There are currently more than 155,000 four-year-olds living in Los Angeles, but only about 70,000 licensed spaces exist for them in preschools.
Jefferson Park faces these problems and is even worse off than the average neighborhood in LA. The proportion of residents under the age of 10 – almost 20 percent – is among the county’s highest, according to census data. So with a multitude of children ready for preschool and severe lack of facilities, residents of Jefferson Park have a dilemma.
Angeleno’s seldom wake up to a day where they can see the mountains, let alone spend an evening staring at the stars. In a city of nearly 10 million people, the smog settles thickly over a world of traffic jams and bustling streets. But amid the pollution, tucked behind Vermont Avenue in the heart of Koreatown, lies the Los Angeles eco-village, a haven for those who wish to live an eco-friendly, self-sustaining lifestyle in one of the dirtiest cities in America.
The two double-story buildings hide behind thickets of edible brush, wrought-iron fences and scattered patches of mulch-garden inhabited by miniature Buddha statues. Upon the entrance is a sign that reads “Cookie party, upstairs. All welcome!” and beyond that an old, white, crusty-looking building with a foyer featuring an array of worn furniture. Forty of the residents within these adjoining buildings are devoted to the eco-village way of life. That is, by their definition, they are trying to set up a lifestyle that is both sustainable and harmlessly integrates human life with nature.
Upward Bound, a USC partnership with South Los Angeles schools founded in 1977, has been making college a reality for low-income high school students and giving disadvantaged youth the skills they need to survive college. Upward Bound has always committed itself to the higher education of underprivileged students and since its founding has expanded from just three local high schools to nine high schools including Crenshaw High School, Dorsey High School, Manual Arts High School, Washington Preparatory and Jordan High School.
Over 90 percent of the graduating seniors in the program enrolled in college this year, according to Michael Santos, Upward Bound program manager. Upward Bound started with just 60 youths participating and now has more than 150 youths, with a budget of more than $1 million.
The partnership may never be more important than it is today.
In their mad rush hour frenzy to get to work on time, commuters will often pass a unique building as they merge onto the 110 enroute to Hollywood. This special building with its sloping chrome walls, its crazily winding buttresses and its cone-shaped parapets often leave people at a loss when they try to describe it. The structure has been likened by some to a futuristic spaceship. The “futuristic” is right.
“It’s providing high quality education to a neighborhood that hasn’t had that and is raising the bar for other LAUSD schools,” says Katherine Harrison, the executive director of the new high school. “We’re shifting the thinking in this area and trying to engage the community in education.
In the opening scene of the film Crash, one of the characters laments on how there is “no sense of touch” in Los Angeles. “In L.A. nobody touches you, we’re always behind this metal and this glass.”
The prevalence of driving in Los Angeles is one of its most identifying characteristics. Everyone here drives and in order to survive in the City of Angels, you need wheels to be your wings.
However, some low-income and minority segments of Los Angeles do not own cars. For decades, this has denied them access to goods and employment in other parts of the city. City planners and urban advocates have pushed for the development of more viable mass transit in Los Angeles and with the building of the Crenshaw Light Rail, disenfranchised communities are now on the verge of greater mobility and, perhaps, an enhanced quality of life.
At a relatively short 8.5 miles, each one of the route’s miles carries high expectations that go beyond simply providing people transit options.
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.
John C. Fremont High School, located in South Los Angeles, recently underwent reconstruction, a process that allows the Los Angeles Unified School District to make teachers at low performing schools, evaluated by a consecutive high dropout rates and low standardized test scores, reapply for their jobs. Some Fremont High teachers, at the time, decided not to reapply for their jobs as a symbol of opposition to the school district.
“It definitely [does not have] a community in mind,” said Joel Vaca, a 10-year Fremont High veteran during an interview in spring 2010 after the school district had approved the reconstruction process in Dec. 2009.
“Every other neighborhood in LA had a voice in their opinion: East LA had a choice with the public school choice initiative, the beach harbor area had a voice when their schools went up for vote, and it’s the disenfranchisement of South Central and neglect of what happens here in South Central,” he said.
Fremont’s reconstruction and the maelstrom that ensued speaks to the politics of culture and change that often make school and community reform exceedingly difficult.
In years past, the space in and around Olvera Street –including the main plaza, the Pico House and the old Plaza church– have been the go-to spot for Angelenos looking to celebrate Cinco de Mayo commemorating the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Or for a small sect of misguided, drink-happy people, the place where they go to celebrate what they incorrectly believe to be Mexican Independence Day.
This year, a new participant in the May 5 festivities was the recently opened Plaza de Cultura y Artes. Housed in the historic Vickrey-Brunswig Building and Plaza House on North Main Street, the new museum was promoted as “the nation’s premier center of Mexican American culture,” with President and CEO Michael Angel Corzo offering the mission statement: “”We are committed to celebrate and cultivate an appreciation for the enduring and evolving nature of the Mexican and Mexican American culture here in Los Angeles and beyond.”
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, LA Plaza offered free admission for the afternoon and organized an outdoor concert that featured everything from traditional Mexican to traditional French music. With my mother on my arm, I made my way downtown on May 5th to take in the sites and sounds of Cinco de Mayo.
The gravelly squeak of a shopping cart’s wheels against the cracked sidewalks of Skid Row pierces the hot silence of a March day in Los Angeles. In the middle of the handful of streets called the epicenter of the Los Angeles homelessness epidemic, only a handful of cars pass by, and no pedestrians.
Inside the Center for Harm Reduction a block away, it’s even quieter. Continue →
The first of a two-part series on the services provided by Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles.
The sign outside the Beverly Boulevard location of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles.
The clients who walk through the doors of Homeless Healthcare Los Angeles share many of the same stories: homeless, jobless, struggling with addictions, estranged from family or friends who could support them through addictions and medical crises.
They’ve come on court orders or hospital referrals or their own will power, hoping one of the city’s most unique homeless support programs can give them what they need. Continue →