Friday, December 17, 2010

CityWatchLA - Los Angeles: A Crisis-Driven City

CityWatch, Dec 17, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 100

If those who run City Hall were to spend more time in the garden, they'd know that it's extremely dangerous to eat the seed corn, something the City of LA is attempting to do in LA's Community Gardens, in Hollywood's Farmers Market, and with the City's Parking Structures.

This past Tuesday, City Hall was inundated with gardeners, farmers, vendors, residents, and business leaders who all came together to demonstrate the delicate balance of connectivity found in our neighborhoods.

LA's Community Gardeners trekked to City Hall to urge the City Council's Arts, Parks, Health & Aging (APHA) Committee to rescind the impending City of LA community garden plot fee rental increase.

Department of Recreation and Parks management was on hand to offer their "turnip squeezing" theory for balancing the budget, one that consists of implementing "full cost recovery" fees without actually knowing the real costs, if any.

The gardeners countered that a simple cost/benefit audit would reveal that community gardens are responsible for many positive impacts that actually reduce expenses for the City of LA. In addition to serving as caretakers for the Wattles Orchards, the Wattles Farmers are responsible for reducing crime in the area. Solano Canyon Garden had a water reclamation impact on an eroding hill. Sepulveda Gardens has an educational component. Ocean View accepts waste product and returns compost to the neighborhood.

Gardeners charge that the Rec & Parks process was flawed, that the plan violates existing land deeds, and that charging fees that exceed costs is an act that is beyond the authority of the Department.

The public left the APHA Committee with this request, that the City of LA rescind the impending fees, impose a moratorium until July 1, 2011 on any fee or permit increases, conduct an evaluation of actual costs and benefits, and embrace community gardens as an asset, not a liability.

At the same time, farmers, vendors, and customers from the Hollywood Farmers Market rallied on the steps of City Hall and then took their case to the City Council, fighting for the survival of LA's oldest and biggest Farmers Market.

The Hollywood Farmers Market has grown over the last two decades, now drawing 10,000 customers each week. Its success allows the non-profit operator of the market to support other less profitable markets in neighborhoods such as Atwater Village, Canoga Park, Echo Park, East Hollywood, Central LA, Crenshaw, and Watts.

Also growing in success is neighboring Los Angeles Film School which now opposes the renewal of a street closure permit for Selma and Ivar Avenues because the market blocks one of the school's parking ramps for several hours every Sunday.

The tremendous irony here is that the Los Angeles Film School sells parking to the customers of the Hollywood Farmers Market, setting in motion a circular battle of dueling successes. The more customers there are at the Market, the greater the value of the LA Film School parking, resulting in a parking lot version of "The Scorpion and the Frog."

The farmers, vendors, and customers who spoke in favor of the Hollywood Farmers Market asked LA's City Council to look at the market as an asset, one that should be protected as the "front porch" for an intricate ecosystem of farmers, employees, and communities that includes the community gardeners at North Hollywood High School.

LA's City Council is faced with a crisis, one that didn't arrive unannounced or without warning. It was simply allowed to fester until it reached the point that 50 farmers and 120 employees approach the holidays not knowing if they would be working in Hollywood in 2011. All because of a debate over parking.

Joining in on the debate over parking, residents and business representatives from LA's Civic Centers stood in solidarity in Council Chambers, challenging the City Council to protect the City's parking assets as a vital component of a vibrant community. Business Associations, Chambers, Neighborhood Councils and Homeowners Groups all railed on the City of LA for its proposed "Parking Asset Restructuring" that would result in the type of conflict that is already jeopardizing the Hollywood Farmers Market.

The proposed "Parking Asset Restructuring" is a City of LA scheme to generate at least $53 million for the General Fund by selling off approximately 9,000 revenue producing parking spaces for the next 50 years.

The City of LA would then enter into a "no-compete" agreement that would prevent the City of LA from providing parking to those same communities. One of the impacted parking facilities is the Arclight, located on Sunset Blvd., just across the street from the LA Film School.

Two things became clear on Tuesday.

First, it's all connected, from Master Gardeners teaching senior citizens to grow fava beans, to high school students learning business in a pumpkin patch, to market vendors bringing life to the streets of a neighborhood, to city assets that support a vibrant economic environment.

Second, as the City of LA squeezes the turnips in LA's Community Gardens, prunes the roots in Hollywood's Farmers Market, and eats the seed corn in LA's Parking Structures, City Hall is demonstrating a short-sighted commitment to revenue at the expense of LA's future.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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