Watt Way Blog examines urban reform in greater Los Angeles and is produced by USC Annenberg journalism students.

Does Los Angeles really need a new football stadium?

By Helen Jeong

farmersfield
(Credit: Farmersfield.com)

When the Anschutz Entertainment Group wished to improve the infrastructure and facilities near the aging Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made it known that he supported the five-year plan.

He wore a “Coliseum 2010” T-shirt and rallied for the entertainment giant — owners of the Staples Center and the adjoining LA Live entertainment complex –  to convince the Los Angeles City Council to approve a bill to spend $25 million on improvements around the venerable Coliseum, home of the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games.

Fast forward to 2011. The outgoing mayor is still on AEG’s side in an attempt to expand its empire and build a new football stadium across the street from Staples and the Los Angeles Convention Center.  The plan has triggered a debate over whether the city really needs a football stadium. Continue

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Posted in Education | 1 Comment

In down economy, Leimert Park urges residents to “Buy Black”

Colorful batik fabrics on display along Degnan Boulevard, where most of Leimert Park's traditional African and specialized stores are found.

By Laura J. Nelson

Obinne Onyeador remembers when the streets of Leimert Park were jumping all night.

Until 4 a.m. and later, the gallery owner would hear saxophones wail from inside Fifth Street Dick’s, where men and women from all over the world played chess, drank coffee and soaked in the culture of one of Los Angeles’s most dynamic arts neighborhoods.

Leimert Park Village still seems a black bohemia, where shopkeepers vend batik earrings, photos of the Obama family and books by black authors, where residents linger over rich coffee and sweet potato pie at the local jazz club. But business has changed. Continue

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Planned Parenthood again finds itself at center of maelstrom

By Helen Jeong

planned_parenthood_sign

When Laura Herrera graduated from college two years ago, finding a job was harder than expected. Soon after, she lost her student health insurance.  She was out of money and out of health insurance. “I had no one to turn to,” Herrera said. “But I still needed to receive basic health care.”

She said she turned to Planned Parenthood to receive basic women’s health care services.
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A $408 million deficit forces controversial LAUSD budget cuts

By Helen Jeong

Edna Corona is a busy mother of three. While attending to the needs of her family, she is also closely involved in parents’ groups at Toland Way Elementary School in Eagle Rock.

Despite her busy schedule, she made a rare trip to Downtown Los Angeles Tuesday and attended the weekly board meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District.  While firmly holding her three-year-old daughter, Corona shook her nerves and stood in front of the eight board members and John Deasy, the new district superintendent.

“I am here to ask for your consideration to save the School Readiness Language Development Program,” Corona began in a shaking voice, speaking against the LAUSD Board’s decision to eliminate the program because of a $408 million budget deficit.

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Posted in Education | 2 Comments

Jefferson Branch Library: Never judge a book by its cover

By Alex Abels

The third of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

The Jefferson Branch Library, open for nearly a century, is a building that has witnessed the changing landscape and make-up of the Jefferson Park community. It is one of the few buildings in the neighborhood placed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, recognizing its early 20th century Spanish-style architecture.

Over time, the functions of the American public library have changed, particularly found in urban communities. In some locations, patrons use the library’s computers to look for jobs. Homeless people use it as a respite from the elements. Some locations increasingly use it as a community center. Virtually all libraries have expanded their scope in one way or another, and the Jefferson Park branch is no exception.

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In Leimert Park, binding tradition with the new

By Elizabeth Warden

A stuffed animal or toy train may seem like the perfect pastime for a child here in Los Angeles. But in the Diouf household, playtime is anything but ordinary.

Two-year-old Ousmane Diouf’s daily amusement comes from a mini, beige, traditional Senegalese drum with his name painted across it. But even if he has a personalized drum, it doesn’t stop him from standing on his tippy-toes and trying to tap his father’s drum that is the same height as him. He’s attached to the drums that surround him like many other children need their blanket or pacifier.

It’s Tuesday afternoon after school and the Diouf’s gather to play. The child uses a stick and his tiny hand to keep a rhythm going; the rhythm is strong enough to make you tap your feet to the beat. He looks to his mother for approval.

“No, you’re doing it right,” his mother, Fatou Diouf, said to him. She smiled and watched her two youngest daughters, Arame, 5, and Mame Diara, 4, dance in-sync to the music. One-year-old Youssouf picks up a baby-sized drum, tries to bite it, then puts it back down.

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Libraries grapple with new issues in digital age

By Elizabeth Warden

With access to a library card, anybody in Los Angeles can visit a public library and surf the Web. Whatever is legal material is fair game.

That means some library patrons could be flocking to the library not to grab the newest novel to hit the book stacks, or for a quiet place to study, but instead to indulge in a guilty pleasure: To watch pornography.

A recent complaint from the Chinatown Los Angeles Public Library from parents brought this issue to the attention of Los Angeles City Council. On Tuesday, the council discussed options the city had about dealing with the issue but still protecting one’s First Amendment rights. Library officials have responded with strategies like the positioning of computers.

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Inglewood oil field controversy near an end

By Natalie Ragus

An end to the 2.5-year-long legal battle over the Inglewood Oil Field may be in sight.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant recently ordered the Culver City and other parties involved in a collection of lawsuits against Los Angeles County and the field’s operators, the Plains Exploration and Production Company, to settle by June 29 or go to trial this summer. Under Chalfant’s order, the trial— which records indicate the court delayed on at least four occasions to give the parties more time to reach a settlement—won’t be delayed any longer.

The cases center on whether the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District, or the rules that govern field operations, violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not going far enough in protecting the environment and the health of residents in surrounding neighborhoods.

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Posted in Urban Affairs and Neighborhoods | 1 Comment

A book store that offers more than books

By Anita Little

‘Eso won’ is Yoruba for ‘water over rocks’ and symbolizes the reservoir of knowledge that the Eso Won Bookstorein Los Angeles provides. However, lately it has come to represent the troubled waters that Eso Won and other black bookstores across the nation are facing.
“We’ve had a lack of sales and have been struggling for a number of years,” said James Fugate, the co-owner and founder of Eso Won Books, a staple of the black community in Los Angeles that has faced a decline in revenue.

The recent closure of Karibu Books was the death knell for black bookstores as it was the nation’s largest black bookstores chain with six locations in Maryland and Virginia. The untimely end of Karibu is a story being played out coast to coast as large mainstream chains and internet book selling take over.

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The colors of Vermont Avenue: A tribute to public murals

By Sophie Gosper

Vermont Avenue stretches from the Griffith Park hills to the Pacific Coast Highway. It flows through the bourgeois streets of Los Feliz, the bustling area of Koreatown, briefly passes the red brick walls of the University of Southern California and continues on deep into the concrete jungle of South Los Angeles. Its adjoining neighborhoods may be culturally and economically diverse, but all along its way the face of each community is portrayed through urban artistic expression; and you can find it on a brick wall.

The forgotten, or perhaps simply under appreciated, art of urban mural painting is scattered along Vermont Avenue like hidden treasures that appear around corners, down alleys and hanging over entrances. They express the vision, the hope and the loss of a community, often created by a group of people in the act of bringing a neighborhood closer together. Continue

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