Friday, January 29, 2010

CityWatchLA - Rosendahl: “The Culture of the Car Ends Now!”

CityWatch, Jan 29, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 8

Declaring "The culture of the car ends now!" City Councilman Bill Rosendahl invoked the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and took a giant leap at pursuing a city ordinance that would prohibit the harassment of cyclists. He drew applause from council chambers as he articulated several examples of the behavior that he wants to forbid on the streets of Los Angeles.
  1. Knowingly throwing a projectile or discharge at or in the direction of any person riding a bicycle;
  2. Threatening any person riding a bicycle verbally or by use of his/her vehicle for the purpose of injuring, frightening or disturbing the person riding the bicycle;
  3. Knowingly placing his/her vehicle within 3’ of a bicyclist while passing or following;
  4. Making physical contact with a bicyclist from a moving vehicle or the roadway either by physical person or use of an implement;
  5. Knowingly placing a person riding a bicycle in concern of immediate physical injury;
  6. Knowingly engaging in conduct that creates a risk of physical injury or death to the person riding a bicycle.
As cyclists offered testimony of their experience riding the streets of Los Angeles, they were echoed in their concerns by members of the City Council who agreed that the City needs to do more to support the cycling community.

Councilman Ed Reyes recounted his experience as a child getting hit by a motorist as he rode his bike.

Councilman Rosendahl reminded the council of the Mandeville Canyon Road-Rage incident that brought the issue of harassment of cyclists to the forefront.

Councilman Paul Koretz stood in support and declared "We need to send a clear message."

Rosendahl brought it home saying “We’re going to give cyclists the support they should have been getting.”

It seems simple, after all, who can stand in favor of harassment of any kind, but the devil is in the details.

The proposed "anti-harassment" motion, which simply directs the generation of reports on the development of an ordinance has made it through the Transportation Committee but hit a speed hump at the Public Safety Committee which recommended further study. The City Council voted to essentially direct the City Attorney and the LADOT to continue with the generation of reports.

As cyclists recounted their experiences turning to the LAPD for assistance when they experienced road-rage, aggression from motorists, threats, assaults and even hit-and-run collisions, Rosendahl responded by saying "The LAPD hasn't been part of the solution, but sometimes has been part of the problem." The LAPD had no response, they weren't there. Somehow the LAPD and the District Attorney were left out of the process, leaving the LADOT as the lead and the City Attorney deferring in the development of an anti-harassment ordinance that requires enforcement and prosecution support. Some might even suggest that it requires support from Sacramento.

The real value of this ordinance lies not in its chances of becoming law but in the fact that the harassment of cyclists is being discussed, prompting some to murmur "This is how it starts!"

Complementing the City Council's slow but steady pursuit of a more bikeable Los Angeles was the City's ongoing study of Bike Sharing, an endeavor that prompted Council President Eric Garcetti to refer to great bikeable cities such as East Hollywood, Paris and Long Beach. (Not often that those three are mentioned in the same breath!)

The bike sharing concept is an old one even in Los Angeles where college students can "rent" a bike for the quarter, studio employees can "share" a bike while on the lot, tourists can "borrow" a bike from some hotels, and bikes "for hire" exist in several locations.

None of these are as visible as the programs in Paris or Munich or Leon but perhaps that's the real opportunity for the City of LA, to support those small operators who are already in the bike share business with promotion and marketing support.
Capping off the "anything but the budget" day at City Hall was the Transportation Committee's showdown over the speed limit increases in the Valley. On the agenda were proposals to raise the speed limit on Riverside Drive (up to 45 mph) and Chandler Avenue (up to 50 mph) in an effort to certify the streets for radar/laser speed limit violation enforcement.

Cyclists were joined by members of the community, all braced with arguments against the City of LA's continued pursuit of increased speed limits as a tool for enforcement, but the debate faded at the request of Councilman Krekorian who wanted to pursue other options, such as his AB 766 Safe Streets bill which he introduced last year when he served as the Assistant Majority Leader in the State Assembly.

The bill did not make it to the finish line but the message was clear, the 50 year old speed trap law needed to be revised so that local authorities can set speed limits with greater sensitivity to the local community. Not all streets should be raceways, not all streets should be fast cut-throughs, not all streets should be hospitable for speeding motorists.

Councilmembers Krekorian and Koretz both asked the hard questions and seem to understand that there are methods for slowing traffic other than simply raising the speed limits and then relying on traffic officers with radar/laser enforcement.

Now is the time to pursue traffic calming methods, many of which represent funding opportunities such as Safe Routes to School, Highway Safety Improvement Program funding and Office of Traffic Safety grants.

Road diets, bulb-outs, speed tables, pedestrian enhancements and other innovations are not just tools for safety, they are also opportunities to put people to work, to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods and to bring funding into the city coffers.

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

NCs Continue Emergency Meetings on LA’s Financial Crisis; Expert on Pension Funding Featured Saturday

CityWatch, Jan 29, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 8

BudgetLA … the neighborhood council effort to ensure themselves a voice in the solutions dialogue … meets again this Saturday, January 30, at 10 a.m. - noon with Neighborhood Council representatives and Community leaders coming together to meet with the experts in a focused session that is designed to educate, to empower, and to continue delivering budget recommendations that come from a community-based commitment to working toward immediate, short-term and long-term solutions to LA's budget crisis. Open to all NCs and community leaders. (See BudgetLA NC leaders media conference and appearance at Monday’s City Council Budget Committee meeting.)

The "Budget Crisis - Next Steps #2" session will focus on answering the question ""Is Pension Reform the solution to LA's Budget Crisis?" and features Alexander Rubalcava, a recognized and respected expert on pension funding and venture capital investments. Rubalcava is the President and Founder of Rubalcava Capital Management.

This session is the follow-up to the powerful Budget Advisory Committee session that generated 15 "pension reform" actions that were presented to the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee this past Saturday at the Van Nuys City Hall.

It will include breakout sessions to provide attendees the opportunity to grapple with the issues and to work on specific recommendations, all of which will be integrated in the second round of community recommendations that the BudgetLA community will present to the neighborhood councils for endorsement and for implementation.

To that end, NC leaders will be conducting short presentations on how neighborhood councils can best evaluate the city's budget, how to best use Board resolutions, how to file Community Impact Statements that resonate, and how they can mobilize the community to engage the Mayor and the City Council.

The fundamental position of the BudgetLA movement is that "everything is on the table and must be considered as we work together to solve the budget crisis and that neighborhood councils and community groups must be at that table as partners in the process."

BudgetLA will be meeting three times in the upcoming days, starting with Saturday, January 30 at 10 a.m., then Saturday, February 13 at 10 am, then again on Saturday, February 27 at 10 am. All meetings will take place at the Hollywood City Hall, 6501 Fountain Ave., Hollywood 90028.

LA's Budget Crisis is of such epic proportions that City Council President Eric Garcetti has announced that beginning next week, the Council would devote two of their three meetings each week to the budget crisis and job creation.

The NC reps have taken a full-spectrum approach to the budget crisis and believe that it is essential that the community engage with our elected officials as well as city staff to pursue Revenue innovations along with Pension reform while maintaining prioritized delivery of City Services and the implementation of Organizational improvements, all of which work together to guarantee that Los Angeles take its place as a Great City.

Further opportunities for participation: The City Council's Budget and Finance Committee has committed to holding four community budget meetings around the city in preparation of the 2010-2011 Budget. The first meeting took place this past Monday and the next meeting is on Monday, February 22nd at 6:00 pm at Hamilton High School, 955 South Robertson Boulevard, Los Angeles 90034.

(Stephen Box is a community advocate and an Internet communications expert. He writes for CityWatch and can be reached at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CityWatchLA - City Hall Rock Stars and NCs have Priorities Screwed Up

CityWatch, Jan 26, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 7

Neighborhood Councils have a charming tradition of deference at their meetings that allows elected officials, their representatives, and city staff to move to the front of the agenda for their comments and presentations. After all, "They're very busy, with places to go, with things to do, with many responsibilities!"

As for the riff-raff, the stakeholders who simply volunteer their time and talent and energy to improving the quality of life in their communities, apparently our existence is of lesser value in the grand scale of things, and typically the people who most need to hear what we have to say are long gone by the time we get to speak.

Along comes the City of LA's Budget crisis, a financial emergency of epic proportions, and the handwriting is on the wall: "The City of Los Angeles must act decisively, it must act effectively, and it must act quickly if it is to survive the current financial crisis. This means a real evaluation of LA's Bankruptcy options, a real review of LA's Pension scheme, and a real analysis to LA's commitment to the delivery of services and a systemic reorganization that ensures that LA has a future as a Great City."

It should also mean that all neighborhood council meetings start off with "The Budget" as the first item on the agenda, after all, advising the Mayor and City Council on the City Budget is one of the neighborhood council's most basic responsibilities.

In many cases, neighborhood councils have risen to the occasion, most recently when reps from over 40 councils gathered for a one-topic session where they took on the City Budget and confronted the possibility of bankruptcy, the significant impact of LA's pension obligations, and the impending threat to the continued delivery of services to the people of Los Angeles.

In that meeting it became apparent that the Budget Crisis demanded more study but the reps voted to start by taking a stand in opposition to the sale of revenue producing capital assets (specifically LA's parking meters and parking structures) as a short-term revenue gap solution.

It was hoped that the reps in attendance would take the proposed motion to the community and come back with support. In some cases, such as Sunland Tujunga and Greater Wilshire, motions were passed within days, but that was the exception, not the rule.

The Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils (VANC) met four days after the "Emergency Budget Meeting" and on the agenda was a discussion of LA's Budget Crisis and a motion to "stand in opposition to the sale of revenue producing capital assets (specifically LA's parking meters and parking structures) as a short-term revenue gap solution."

Wendy Greuel, the City Controller of Los Angeles, the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world, showed up and became the dominant player in a passionate and emotional discussion of her recent audit of the neighborhood council funding system.

This discussion became the substance of the evening and the subject of LA's Budget Crisis was simply overshadowed by Greuel's presentation of her audit.

In her cover letter introducing the audit, Greuel says:

"At the request of DONE, my office recently conducted an audit which examined how the department oversees neighborhood council expenditures,” Greuel wrote. “The findings showed that, while engagement and activism have grown, there has been a systematic failure of accounting and fiscal oversight of the neighborhood councils by DONE.”

Somehow our elected officials have become the equivalent of "local royalty" and an appearance by Wendy or Eric or Tony is certain to draw a crowd, a deferential crowd that is pleased to share an evening of scripted and managed political "handling," steering clear of information and controversy and accountability and responsibility. This takes place because we allow it to take place. It's our fault for allowing it to happen and it needs to change.

Most importantly, our elected officials need to get their priorities straight and if LA's City Controller thinks that an audit of neighborhood council funding is of greater importance than LA's Budget Crisis, then the City of LA is in big trouble. Of course, we already knew that and the evidence supports our conclusion.

Imagine if VANC had waited until Greuel showed up and then engaged in a discussion of LA's budget crisis and a call to action on the proposed motion. Imagine if that discussion and proposal had taken place with the participation of LA's City Controller. That would have been a powerful experience and an informed process and a dramatic opportunity to take action and to immediately put it in the hands of the City Controller.

The next day, City Controller Wendy Greuel could have released a letter saying "At the request of VANC, my office is conducting an audit which will examine how the City of Los Angeles oversees its budget. The findings will show how we got into this Budget Crisis and will lay down specific recommendations for addressing the threat of Bankruptcy, for confronting the Pension crisis, for ensuring the delivery of services to the people of Los Angeles and for reorganizing the City of Los Angeles so that we can function in the style worthy of a Great City!"

But that didn't happen. Instead, Greuel engaged in a robust discussion that included the intricacies and complexities of providing sandwiches for a neighborhood council meeting and the importance of getting a good sign-in sheet so that the number of sandwiches can be matched to the number of attendees. No mention was made of a policy on "seconds" or on "extra cheese" requests. Whew! This LA City Controller business must be exhausting stuff!

The City Charter says very specifically, in Sec. 909., "Annual City Budget Priorities." Each neighborhood council may present to the Mayor and Council an annual list of priorities."

This is a very good time for the neighborhood councils of Los Angeles to seize this opportunity and to get busy preparing this list of priorities.

Now is the time to offer advice on REVENUE to ask the hard questions such as "Why do the cities surrounding Los Angeles come home with higher per-capita transportation and safety and stimulus funding? Is Los Angeles looking outside Los Angeles for an increase in revenue or is it simply looking for more resident pockets to pick?

Now is the time to offer advice on BANKRUPTCY and to ask the hard questions such as "Is it possible?" and "Is it an opportunity to improve our position or would it have a negative impact?" and "What is the timeline for a decision and an action or is it simply something that happens to us rather than with us?"

Now is the time to offer advice on LA's PENSION obligations and to ask the hard questions such as "Can LA's budget be balanced under the current obligations?" and "Can the current pension obligations be renegotiated?" and "Is the City of Los Angeles obligated to continue with current commitments or are there other options?"

Now is the time to offer advice on the DELIVERY OF SERVICES and to ask the hard questions such as "Can the budget be balanced by reducing the delivery of services and if not, why is it the priority discussion?" and "Are there existing department priorities and objectives and how can the community participate in them?" and "Are city departments evaluated and held responsible according to their objectives, their priorities and their performance?"

The City Charter also says, again very specifically, in Sec. 910, "Monitoring of City Services." Neighborhood councils shall monitor the delivery of City services in their respective areas and have periodic meetings with responsible officials of City departments, subject to their reasonable availability."

Good Advice and Honest Communication fall under the category of "City Services" and the neighborhood councils need to meet with the people who have the information that we need if we are to work together to navigate this LA's Budget Crisis.

Neighborhood councils must meet with Miguel Santana. Neighborhood councils must meet with Sally Choi. Neighborhood councils must have real conversations with the people who are in charge and with the people who are advising them.

I want the people who occupy elected positions, their representative, and the people who work for the City of Los Angeles to move to the back of the agenda and I want them to sit through the meeting, I want them to listen to the stakeholders discuss the "delivery of services" in their community and I want them to come to our neighborhood meetings prepared to engage the public and to inform and advise us on LA's Budget Crisis and I want them to work with us so that the neighborhood councils can advise the Mayor and Council on the City budget. I want us to work together.

And yet, has one neighborhood council presented a "list of priorities for the City budget?"

Years ago, 56% of the neighborhood councils responded to the Mayor with their priorities for the City budget but as of last count, the number of councils who have taken an official position on the City budget and submitted it to the Mayor and the City Council is reported by the Mayor's office to be "zero." Perhaps they are wrong, it would be great to hear from the neighborhood council(s) that have reviewed the budget and agendized and discussed and taken a formal position on the budget priorities and delivered it to the Mayor and the City Council. Until then, the count is zero.

Perhaps it's time to look for the people who aren't involved in city politics and to engage the experts who surround us.

Dr. Donald Shoup of UCLA is currently in New York City presenting his "High Cost of Free Parking" book to an audience that refers to him as a "Parking Rock Star" and who go standing-room-only to get his advice. How about Los Angeles?

Allison Yoh, also of UCLA and formerly of the Metro Board, was on the Rand Corp team that developed "Moving Los Angeles: Short-Term Policy Options for Improving Transportation" which included many traffic congestion relief proposals that are also revenue generators. Why isn't Los Angeles looking to the transportation and funding "Rock Stars" for advice?

Surely there are additional "Rock Stars" out there who can offer counsel and advice to the City of Los Angeles and who can help us navigate the treacherous journey ahead. Who knows, they might even already be involved in the neighborhood council system. Of course, our elected officials will have to stay for the entire meeting if they want to hear from them.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots democracy advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

CityWatchLA - LADOT Puts the Pedal to the Metal on Speed Limits Increases

CityWatch, Jan 26, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 7

As the City of Los Angeles grapples with a financial crisis of epic proportions and the Departments within the city struggle with the triage that results from the impending induced exodus of approximately 3000 employees, the Department of Transportation gallantly marches forward, continuing the good work of raising speed limits and removing crosswalks, all in an effort to make our streets safer and more effective for motorists. It's been a while since the last flurry of speed limit increases made their way through the City Hall meat grinder that regularly sees speed limit increase proposals head from the Department of Transportation to the LAPD to the local Councilmembers to the City Attorney to the Transportation Commission to the Transportation Committee and then to the City Council where the rubber stamping concludes with an ordinance proposal that raises the speed limit on a local street, all in an effort to maintain the right to use radar/laser speed limit violation enforcement on the streets of Los Angeles.

On Wednesday the City Council's Transportation Committee will consider speed limit increase proposals on Riverside Drive (up to 40 mph) and on Chandler Boulevard (up to 45 mph.)

These speed limit increase proposals are for streets that fall partially in Council District 2, newly minted City Councilman Paul Krekorian's district. Krekorian is the author of AB766, the Safe Streets bill that he took to the State Assembly last year when he served as Assemblyman for the 43rd District and in his role as the Assistant Majority Floor Leader for the State Assembly. Krekorian's Safe Streets bill saw the support of both Glendale and Burbank and also enjoyed the support of local community members, neighborhood councils and the cycling community.

Essentially, Krekorian argued that local communities should have more authority over the establishment of speed limits.

The City of Los Angeles gave quiet support to the Safe Streets Bill but when it came up in the State Assembly's Transportation Committee, the City of LA's LADOT representative in the room sat silent, as did the City of LA's legislative representative.

Their silence spoke volumes and served as a powerful contradiction to the LA City Council resolution passed in support of AB766.

As for the upcoming speed limit increase proposals, one of them is for a street that runs alongside the bike lanes that are part of the beginning of the Orange Line, a cycling commuter route from the Red Line station in NoHo that runs across the valley.

One would think that a major transit hub would be a great place to encourage alternative modes of transportation. But such is not the case.

The streets get wider, the speeds get faster, the environment gets more hospitable for motor vehicles and downright hostile for anybody who dares to walk, ride a bike or take mass transit.

As for the Transportation Committee, Chairman Bill Rosendahl has an opportunity to demonstrate that his stated commitment to making Los Angeles a more walkable and bikeable city is a real commitment that comes with action, not just talk.

It'll also be interesting to see what influence Councilman Paul Koretz of CD5 will have over the process, especially in light of his stated support for a robust Bike Plan that lays down a real vision for a bikeable city.

Will Koretz suggest that the Bike Plan be consulted and used as a guide for evaluating speed limits and street designations?

Inevitably, when the subject of speed limit increases come up, somebody launches into a long discussion of California Vehicle Code Section 40802(b) and the need to raise speed limits in order to justify enforcement of the speed limit by radar.

This tired monologue concludes with the explanation "Our hands are tied, we've got to raise the speed limits if we want to enforce the speed limit!"

I don't know when the largest city in the most populated state in the most powerful country in the world rolled over and became so helpless but I'm not buying it. I believe that there are many things Los Angeles could be doing to control speeding motorists and to making our streets safer for everybody.

It's at this point in the repetitious debate over speed limits that I'm challenged to offer other solutions. I typically start by saying "Bulb-outs, speed tables and road diets!" and the resulting confused look on the faces of those I'm talking with tells me that the transportation experts who are in charge of our streets have one tool in the toolbox and it is 50 years old.

Our City is in the middle of a budget crisis. Why don't we put this energy into pursuing funding sources that would allow us to improve the quality of life on our streets, that would allow us to put people to work, that would allow us to work together to make Los Angeles a walkable, rideable, livable city that works for everybody. It's time to put down the old paradigm and to work together to make people a priority.

On Wednesday, tune in to City Phone at 2:00 pm (213-621-2489) and listen along to see if Transportation Chair Bill Rosendahl will take the lead in rejecting the proposed speed limits and if Councilman Paul Koretz will support him.

Councilman Richard Alarcon has already voiced his support for Krekorian's Safe Streets bill so it will be interesting to see if that translates into a "no" vote on the proposed speed limit increase.

Maybe Krekorian will show up to argue for Safe Streets.

Who knows, the LAPD might even show up to explain how public safety is one of their basic commitments and how increasing speed limits doesn't increase safety or save lives.

"See you on the Streets!"

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Friday, January 22, 2010

CityWatchLA - Westwood NC Certified: Becomes LA’s 90th

CityWatch, Jan 22, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 6

When the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners convenes a neighborhood council certification hearing and hundreds of passionate community leaders show up in a standing room only crowd, there is only one course of action and that is to certify the NC and to give them the full support of the city family.

It took five and half hours of presentations, debate and public comment but in the end the Commission agreed, voting unanimously to certify the Westwood Neighborhood Council, making them the 90th active neighborhood council in the city of Los Angeles.

The evening wasn't without controversy and the opponents to the certification were vocal, well-organized, articulate and well-reasoned. But for all of the debate over procedural errors, organizational missteps, and outreach shortcomings, the one simple point they couldn't drive home was why the naysayers had the right to prevent community stakeholders from organizing a neighborhood council and volunteering their time to improve the quality of life in their community.

Ultimately, the simple right to be represented in the neighborhood council system held firm and the applicants prevailed.

Councilman Koretz kicked the proceedings off (Video) by stating that he supports neighborhood councils but then proceeded to qualify that support by calling for community consensus as the necessary foundation for a newly formed neighborhood council.

He referred to the significant polarization in the community as evidence that they weren't ready for a certified neighborhood council, arguing that mediation was required and that the formation of the WWNC should be the conclusion of the consensus building process.

I disagreed and argued that the formation of the Westwood Neighborhood Council is the appropriate beginning of the journey, not the end, and that the process of involving the community, of engaging the many voices and the different perspectives is best facilitated within the structure of a neighborhood council, not as a prerequisite for formation. Apparently BONC agreed.

The idea that civic engagement is dependent on consensus is a flawed paradigm for public participation and denies the true value to be found in spirited discourse in the open marketplace of ideas.

If nothing else, the neighborhood council system is to be credited with stirring period debates over the tyranny of the majority vs. the veto power of the minority.

The public wins in discussions that educate, engage, and ultimately empower the community and it was refreshing to see hundreds of people engaged in a debate over their right to volunteer their time, to organize, and to work together to improve the quality of life in their community.

Speaking in support of the Westwood NC were community leaders from all over the city, demonstrating that as much as each community is unique, they all have a lot in common including the need to work together in order to truly represent the people of Los Angeles.

To this end, seasoned veterans of the NC system from Sunland Tujunga to Coastal San Pedro offered their support as mentors to the Westwood Neighborhood Council.

The Board of Neighborhood Commissioners are to be credited for their stamina and their wisdom and especially for creating an environment that played host to passionate emotions, enthusiastic opinions, and spirited debate.

Board President Michele Siqueiros raised the bar on effective public hearings and proved that, in spite of a lack of consensus, the community can come together and take care of business fairly, diplomatically and effectively.

(Stephen Box is a well known and long-time grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at )

Double Standards for Law Enforcement in Beverly Hills

If the Police Department came across somebody lying on the street with a gunshot wound, they would immediately secure the area as a potential crime scene, they would collect evidence and they would look for the person responsible for the crime. If a witness came forward and said "He went that way." they would pursue. If they found somebody holding a gun, they would detain the person and even protect the person's hands in order to examine for evidence of recent gunfire. The gun would be collected as evidence and tests would be run to determine if the bullet in the victim came from the gun and if so, the person holding the gun would be hard pressed to prove that they were not responsible for the gunshot victim's injuries.

Yet, if the Police Department came across a cyclist lying on the street with injuries that indicate some form of collision, they would look around at the debris, the skid marks, the damage to the bike and they would have the victim transported to the hospital while they filled out hit-and-run paperwork. If a witness came forward and said "He went that way." they would ask for a description of the vehicle and they would make a note on the report. If they found the vehicle that was involved in the hit-and-run collision, they would ask the owner if they knew anything about the hit-and-run collision and if the owner of the vehicle said "no!" they would leave the motor vehicle and the owner behind and return to the witness and the victim.

In the first scenario, they would confiscate the gun as a weapon, as evidence, as a clue that would be used to determine the identity of the criminal responsible for the crime.

In the second scenario, they would allow the owner of the vehicle to maintain possession of the weapon, they would accept the owner's denial of responsibility and they would file a report.

Imagine if the owner of the gun said "I put my gun on the coffee table, I went to sleep, and when I awoke, the gun was gone. I later found the gun and was holding it when the police approached but I am not responsible for the crime that took place. I know nothing." The Police Department would not allow the entire case to hinge on the victim's ability to identify the shooter. There would be other evidence that could be collected. The gun, the plausibility of the gun owner's story, the gun owner's record, the gun owner's alibi, etc.

Yet when a motorist's car is involved in a hit-and-run crime, invariably the case rests on the ability of the witness and/or victim to identify the person responsible for the crime.

Why is the vehicle (weapon) not collected as evidence of a crime? Why is the owner of the vehicle (weapon) not investigated and obligated to offer a plausible and verifiable explanation for who was operating the vehicle (weapon) when the crime was committed? Why isn't the owner of the motor vehicle (weapon) not responsible for offering an alibi that would confirm that the vehicle (weapon) owner could not have been behind the wheel? Why is the owner of the vehicle (weapon) not responsible for producing cell phone records and text message records that would indicate location and journey and intentions and serve as evidence that could be used to analyze the truthfulness of the vehicle (weapon) owner's story.

The simple answer is this:

If you use a gun to kill somebody, you're a criminal. If you use a motor vehicle to kill somebody, you're traffic. That standard must change.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that four times as many people die from motor vehicle collisions than from war and conflict.

In Beverly Hills, hardly a war zone but definitely the location for conflict, a cyclist was recently hit by a motorist and knocked to the ground. (early December '09) It was a hit-and-run crime. A witness in another vehicle chased the motorist and returned with the license plate information which was presented to the Beverly Hills Police Department. The BHPD investigated the incident, taking the post-it with the license plate information from the victim, never to return it, going so far as to say they couldn't release the license information or the vehicle owner's information to the victim. The post-it and the license information were in the victim's possession until the Beverly Hills Police Department collected it for their report.

Five weeks after the hit-and-run crime, the Beverly Hills Police Department invited the victim to the police station to identify the suspected hit-and-run criminal. The victim looked at photos of six people and he indicated that they "all looked similar."

Since the victim was busy getting knocked to the ground and then was busy trying to deal with the shock and the fact that his bike was under the motorist's car and that the motorist then backed up and took off, all as he dragged himself and the bike to the curb, it makes sense that he didn't get a good look at the motorist, a look that would linger in his consciousness for five weeks waiting for the opportunity to identify the perpetrator of the crime from a half dozen lookalikes. On top of that, who looks like their photos?

But the police had the license plate and they had a witness and they had two merchants who saw the vehicle back up and drive away leaving the victim on the street.

What the Beverly Hills Police Department doesn't have is the moral conviction that when a person hits another human with a motor vehicle and then leaves them lying in the street, that a serious crime has been committed, that a weapon has been used in a violent assault on another human being, one that warrants a full investigation and that treats the incident as a crime, a real crime with a real victim and a real criminal.

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights states "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

The Beverly Hills Police Department has failed the victim in this incident and in doing so, they have failed the community as a whole.

For more information on the Cyclists' Bill of Rights visit

To contact the Beverly Hills City Manager, Jeff Kolin, call 310-285-1012

To contact the Beverly Hills Police Chief, David L. Snowden, call 310-285-2100 or 310-285-2125

To visit the City Council, consider riding as a group on Tuesday February 16, 2010 to the 7:00 pm City Council meeting.

"See you on the Streets!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

LAPD Chief Bonding with LA’s Cyclists

Photo courtesy by Eric Richardson

CityWatch, Jan 19, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 5

LAPD's Charlie Beck, barely into his third month as Chief, is off to a great start in his promise to forge a strong working relationship with the cycling community. Shortly after his nomination he was working the neighborhood council circuit, introducing himself to community leaders and promising to make "good policing and civil rights" the foundation of his LAPD legacy. It was at the Citywide Alliance of NCs that he was presented with the Cyclists' Bill of Rights and a challenge to put his leadership team to work making Los Angeles a great place for cyclists to ride.

Since then, Commander David Doan and his team have formed the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force which met in a marathon session to initiate a comprehensive survey of the cycling conditions from all perspectives, not just from the patrol car.

Representatives from the Bike Writers Collective, illuminateLA, Sustainable Streets, Bikeside, the Bike Working Group, the Voice, and the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee were all present and offered up insight from different perspectives, all united in a desire to see the LAPD embrace cycling as a transportation solution, not simply as interruption in the smooth flow of motor vehicle traffic.

Cmdr. Doan convened the meeting saying "The LAPD is committed to making our roadways safer for all commuters with an emphasis on our most vulnerable commuters, cyclists. We are committed to working with the cycling community to improve police cyclist interactions and to find ways to make our streets safer for everyone."

As the City of Los Angeles wallows in the midst of a budget crisis of unprecedented proportions, one might wonder why the LAPD would put valuable resources on such a niche constituent group but this is exactly the model for community policing that is essential, not just as a public safety solution but as an example of how community leaders can partner with city leadership to make the most of our valuable resources.

A strong working relationship with the cycling community allows the LAPD to draw on the insight and experience of cyclists who experience the gritty details of the streets of LA up close and personal. Something the LAPD won't experience from a patrol car that is racing from one high priority call to the next.

As for the cycling community, the issues that were presented included:

1) Education - It is imperative that we work together to educate the LAPD officers who patrol the streets and the City Family as a whole on the rights of cyclists on streets of Los Angeles. Last year a DWP contractor ran over and killed a cyclist in the crosswalk of a quiet residential street in the Valley.

Last year a LADOT contractor ran over and killed a pedestrian in the crosswalk of 5th and Flower. There's no doubt that our streets are congested and contested, but it is imperative that we move past debates over rights and into a campaign to make our streets safer.

2) Cyclists Count - It is important that the LAPD has good accident data so that the allocation of resources can be most effective yet cyclists are uncounted as a user group, uncounted in accident surveys and uncounted in crime reports.

In spite of the forms that are used on the streets, the databases that collect the information don't capture the cyclist as a unique travel mode. The result is that simple questions of public safety, conflict hot spots, areas that need additional enforcement and simple reviews of performance are unanswerable because, at present, cyclists don't count.

3) Crime Scenes - When a motorist "asserts" himself against a cyclist, it is not a simple traffic violation or traffic collision, it is a crime. Crimes against cyclists need to be treated as real crimes, not as simple infractions that are simply part of everyday traffic in Los Angeles. A hit-and-run motorist that leaves a cyclist behind needs to be pursued and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The recent Mandeville Canyon road rage incident that resulted in several felony convictions for Dr. Christopher Thompson wasn't the first reported incident for the Dr., it was the third, and it wasn't investigated as a crime until it got political. That must change!

4) Civil Rights - Cyclists riding alone and late at night sometimes find themselves in handcuffs while the LAPD checks their information. LAPD officers report that this "immobilization" is simply for the safety of the officers but critics call it "bias based policing" or "profiling" and that riding a bike should not be a cue for handcuffs.

The cyclists who stand the greater chance of ending up in cuffs are the "workforce" cyclists who ride for economic reasons, may not have lights and who may ride on the sidewalks late at night. The opportunity here would be to have the LAPD pass out blinkies and a copy of the Cyclists' Rules of the Road rather than to assume that late-night cyclists are "capering."

5) Bike Safety - Cycling advocates hold that in spite of all the well-intentioned advice for cyclists, real public safety on the streets of Los Angeles starts with a focus on Motor Vehicle Safety.

Motorists will cause approximately 40,000 deaths this year in the United States. It's no secret that our streets are filled with high-performance vehicles operated by low-performance motorists. The distractions are many and GPS units, cell phones, entertainment equipment, in-car dining, behind-the-wheel grooming, road rage, speeding and simple contempt for others on the road all contribute to an unsafe environment. The place to start is with the operator that is able to do the most damage, the motorist.

6) Road Rage - Cyclists talk of their journeys on the streets of Los Angeles as if they were campaigns in a war-torn third world country. Motorists who race up from behind, lay on the horn and threaten death turn out to be soccer moms. Bus Operators "asserting" themselves across bike lanes, vehicle passengers who throw things, "right-hooks" and "left-hooks" and "doorings" all add up to a simple journey across town.

Through it all is the common thread, simple road rage. Yet reporting these incidents to the LAPD reveals that we don't have strong investigation or enforcement policies in place. That has to change!

7) Hot Spots - Cyclists are just like anybody else on the road, they expect to make safe and effective progress toward destinations that include homes, places of employment, schools, cultural and social destinations, shops and parks. Cyclists also recognize that route selection is an essential element of safe and effective cycling. There is a real opportunity for the cycling community and the LAPD to work together to identify "hot spots" that could use enhanced LAPD patrols and enforcement, perhaps even LAPD Bike Stings.

8) Bicycle Network - The LA Bike Working Group (BWG) is developing "LA's Best Bike Plan" and a key element is the Backbone Network, a series of streets that stretch from Downtown to the Westside, from Downtown to the Harbor, from East to West across the Valley and from Downtown to the Eastside. In other words, a Backbone Network that connects the city of Los Angeles and really gets cyclists from one side to the other.

The current LADOT inspired bikeways network consists of bits and pieces of bikeway scattered "where it fits" instead of "where it's needed." LA's Best Bike Plan is the Bike Plan with a Backbone and it doesn't require millions of dollars in infrastructure funding to put an enforcement and maintenance focus on the streets that are vital to cyclists who simply want to get across town safely and effectively.

9) Speed Limits - Last year the LADOT peppered the Transportation Commission and the Transportation Committee with speed limit increase proposals throughout the city. While surrounding communities such as Glendale and Burbank supported then-Assemblyman (now Councilman) Krekorian's AB766 "Safe Streets" bill that would allow local communities to have more control over the establishment of speed limits, the LAPD lobbied neighborhood councils, the Commission and the Transportation Committee in support of speed limit increases.

All this was in an effort to maintain speed limit surveys that would allow the LAPD to continue to use radar/laser speed limit violation enforcement. The times are changing and we should work together to change the speed trap law. We should also work together to implement traffic calming techniques such as speed tables, bulb-outs and road diets, all of which slow traffic without requiring the presence of a law enforcement officer.

10) Training - The LAPD has a Traffic Division commitment to providing officers with roll call training on bicycle safety but it is imperative that the training start with an Education Module at the Academy and that it is supported by significant ongoing education that reflects the changes that are taking place on our streets, in the traffic mix, in the legislature and in the courts.

11) Crime Reports - When a motorist has their car stolen, it's investigated by Traffic Investigators. When a cyclist has their bike stolen, should they walk to the nearest Police Station to give a report that is then investigated as a property crime? Can a cyclist give a "stolen bike" report over the telephone? What are the LAPD policies for crime reporting when it comes to cyclists? Road Rage reports, hit-and-run crimes, jurisdictional confusion, CVC interpretation that varies from the CHP to the Sheriffs to the LAPD, all on the same street in Los Angeles.

Good policing depends on good data which results from good crime reporting which is in need of some significant departmental policy and education, internally and externally. Cyclists contend that many crimes go unreported because the "hassle" factor exceeds the "impact" factor.

12) Bike Plan - The City of Los Angeles is in the process of updating the Bike Plan, which is a component of the Transportation Plan which is an element of the city's state-mandated General Plan. The LADOT and City Planning have spent two years and $450,000 on the Draft Bike Plan and yet they somehow forgot to involve the LAPD policy makers who might find the Bike Plan to be a useful tool for funding, for synchronizing with the City Family, for addressing priorities, for working with the other departments who have authority over the streets of LA, and most of all for making sure that the streets of Los Angeles are safe for everybody. Somehow this is simply unacceptable and the LAPD must be involved in the bike Plan update process.

13) Cyclists' Bill of Rights - LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has the Cyclists' Bill of Rights in his hands and it is up to him and his LAPD leadership team to support the cyclists of Los Angeles by establishing Equality as the foundation upon which we will work together to make Los Angeles a great place to ride.

Commander Doan of the LAPD's Operations Department is supported on the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force by Lt. Torsney, Sgt. Graham and Sgt. Krumer. They will be at the next meeting of the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee on Tuesday, February 2, 2010 at 7 pm. The LABAC meets at Parker Center, 150 Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

(Stephen Box is a cycling advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Thursday, January 14, 2010

CityWatchLA - Selective LAPD Law Enforcement: Some Victims Count Less

CityWatch, Jan 15, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 4

Last week, Ed Magos got up early, just as he does every weekday morning, had breakfast with his wife and children and then hopped on his bike to ride to City Hall where he works for the ITA Department. He didn't make it. As he rode down 2nd street, he was hit from behind by a motorist who didn't honk or hit the brakes. She simply drove her Porche Cayenne sports car into the back of Magos, propelling him and his bike through the air. He landed on the ground and lay still, conscious that any movement might cause further injury.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the woman walk toward him. He yelled "I can't move! Call 911!"

He remained motionless and continued to call for help, then heard the sound of car door closing, then the sound of an engine starting. He craned his head and caught the license plate number of the woman's car as she made a u-turn and drove off in the opposite direction. He immediately began repeating the license information out loud until a woman approached and assured him that she had written it down and that she had called 911.

Paramedics arrived, immobilized Magos on a gurney and transported him to Good Samaritan. (Good Sam is a great hospital, run by cyclists, host of the Annual Blessing of the Cyclists and all too often a refuge for those who hit the ground hard while trying to ride the streets of LA)

The good news is that Magos was released from the hospital and he is at home with his family, slowly mending and preparing for rehab.

He is a member of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council where … ironically … he chairs the Public Safety Committee. The EHNC was the first NC to endorse the Cyclists' Bill of Rights which holds that "Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure or kill cyclists be dealt with to the full extent of the law."

He not only voted to support the CBR at East Hollywood but he rode to other Neighborhood Councils to promote the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, his experience demonstrates the need for the CBR.

1) The motorist who hit Magos turned herself in but she wasn't arrested. She hit another human being with her car and then looked at him and made the decision to leave him lying on the street while she hopped in her car and left the scene of the collision.

She failed to identify herself, she failed to exchange information, and most importantly, she failed to offer aid or call for help. I'd think that would justify her arrest as a criminal. Apparently not in LA.

As Magos lay in the hospital, talking to the Detectives, they received a phone call indicating that she had turned herself in at the Rampart Station saying "I think I hit something. I'm not sure what."

She filled out some paper work and left. She is still driving, she still has a license and she still has her car.

Detective Padilla indicates that the LAPD looks at three factors when they consider whether they should take someone into custody. a) The severity of the injuries (over the counter determination?); b) The history of the motorist (over the counter background check?); c) The risk of flight (the motorist has already demonstrated a proclivity for evading responsibility!) Nevertheless, this motorist was back on the street before Ed's family and friends had located him at Good Sam's.

2) The motorist committed a crime, an act that should turn the location into a crime scene, which in turn might have evidence that may aid in the arrest and conviction of the person who committed the criminal act. Yet the LAPD left Magos’ bike, complete with the telltale damage that might have paint exchange, damage that could be used to indicate speed of travel or direction of travel or even simply to corroborate the motorist's version of the incident. But Ed's bike was not collected as evidence. It was collected as debris.

LAPD's Brian Humphreys located the bike at Fire Station #3 where Magos’ wife was able to collect it. The "evidence" now resides in his garage, not the LAPD's evidence locker. (How great would it be if the LAPD simply collected the hit-and-run motorists' vehicles as evidence!)

3) Within an hour of the hit-and-run crime that left Ed lying on the street, the LAPD's Central Traffic Watch Commander referred to the incident as a "Traffic Accident."

This simple slip of the tongue is professionally irresponsible and demonstrates the desensitization that is so pervasive in our culture.

On what evidence did a Watch Commander determine that it was an accident, especially as he professed that he had not spoken to the investigators nor did he have any information on the incident.

"Traffic Accident" is not the default term for the epidemic of motor vehicle collisions that take place on the streets of Los Angeles. A crime was committed and the default position should be to treat the incident as a criminal act until the evidence proves otherwise.

4) The motorist who hit Magos and left him lying on the street stands accused of committing a misdemeanor crime. She committed a shockingly inhumane crime against another human being. But the crime of "hit-and-run" will not be a felony unless it results in "permanent, serious injury" which is defined as the loss or permanent impairment of function of a bodily member or organ.

The Detectives who are preparing this case look for broken bones and blood as the indicators of "permanent, serious injury." Major organs can suffer damage that will not turn up in the immediate hours after the collision, yet this motorist was not held on felony charges, she walked.

The motivation to "hit-and-run" is great if the penalty is so slight. It is imperative that the default charge for "hit-and-run" assumes the same penalty as all of the motivations for running. (drugs, warrants, alcohol, stolen car, etc.) The LAPD is dealing with "hit-and-run" incidents so frequently that if it were a virus, we'd call this an epidemic. Instead, we simply call it traffic.

5) The "hit-and-run" incident took place last week. Since then the LAPD investigators prepared a file and it was vetted and a press release went out. It contained misinformation. It was then lost and the LAPD's media department was unable to retrieve the information for the press.

In light of the fact that the cycling community was Tweeting the motorist's license plate info within minutes of the collision and that the local blogs were humming within the hour of the incident, how does the LAPD take a week to fumble with the report and then lose the press release?

It's 2010 and it's time for the LAPD to put down the pencil and paper and to embrace the digital era.

Too many professions are able to gather information digitally, disseminate information digitally, process and file information digitally, yet the LAPD still invests in pencil sharpeners!

This exercise in indifference begs the obvious question: Would LAPD be this complacent if the victim had been one of their own cyclist officers?

LAPD Investigators explain that the cases that advance to the City Attorney and the District Attorney are cases that have a chance of succeeding. If it's the law that must change in order for the victims of "hit-and-run" collisions to get justice, it's time for the City and District Attorneys to take responsibility for communicating clearly the obstacles that they encounter and for calling on the public, the Mayor, the City Council and our State Legislators to join them in fighting for laws with teeth that will give them the tools for making our streets safer for everybody.

Mayor Villaraigosa refers to Public Safety as his number one "Issue" and he has yet to pass up an opportunity to stand at a press conference surrounded by LAPD uniforms as he touts the "new and improved" crime stats. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is two months into his new post, and he also stands on the public safety pedestal, claiming that LA is the 2nd safest Big City, after New York.

As long as we refer to the mayhem on the streets as "accidents" Villaraigosa will be allowed to continue the charade but the reality is this, the streets of Los Angeles are a Public Safety nightmare and the people of LA stand a greater chance of being killed by a motorist than by a gangbanger.

Police Officers stand a greater change of dying in a car crash than in a fight with a criminal.

As LA celebrates its "2nd safest Big City" status, it's important to acknowledge that Los Angeles is also a national leader in hit-and-run crimes.

Los Angeles is a City under Hit and Run Seige. The Mayor needs to get out of the Yukon and onto a Schwinn if he wants to truly impress on the people of Los Angeles that we are a city that puts a premium on Public Safety. Public Safety that is for everyone including LA’s growing cyclist community.

(Stephen Box is a cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lessons from New York - LA Needs a Quitter!

Desperate times call for desperate measures and when New York City's Bicycle Program Director found himself alone, without support from his administration or his department, he did something brave, something heroic, something that may have been the catalyst for the change that is now the envy of the cycling world; he quit.

Andrew Vesselinovitch was the Bicycle Program Director for the City of New York, a position he found frustrating because of the failure of the City to engage in the business of supporting cyclists. He quit, offering up the specifics of his frustration and his charge that it was the city that failed the cycling community. Since then much has changed. Mayor Bloomberg now loves cyclists, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Jhan is a rock star, and Transportation Alternatives has become the model for activists.

Was Andrew Vesselinovitch's departure the tipping point? Who knows. It certainly was a display of integrity and a call for action. Here is Andrew's resignation letter.

Sent: Friday, July 07, 2006 6:05 PM
Subject: Leaving DOT

Dear All:

As many of you know, today is my last day at DOT. As many of you also know, I am leaving to pursue a wonderful opportunity to study architecture, a lifelong interest. I want to thank all of you for having made my five years at DOT and seven years in city government productive and exciting.

I would also like to add that the motivation for my seeking to leave is not so happy for me or for the city. There is much more that the bicycle program could have done than it was allowed to do. The bicycle program, for example, could have produced plans for 40-50 miles of workable bicycle lanes each year. Instead, DOT installed little more than 15 miles, total, in the last two years. We could have saved the city settlements for lawsuits (and residents injuries) resulting from the puzzling addition of unusually high expansion joint covers on the Williamsburg Bridge. I brought this to bridge's attention in 2003 and was told by Michael Primeggia butt out.

I waited for a long time for the direction from the commissioner's office to change, or for the commissioner to be changed. I hope that you won't have to wait much longer.

Thank you and good luck,

Andrew Vesselinovitch
Bicycle Program Director
40 Worth Street, Room 1035
New York, New York 10013

As for Los Angeles, we find ourselves in the midst of a budget crisis of historic magnitude. City Hall is inducing a staff exodus, offering golden parachutes so bountiful the Early Retirement Incentive Program was oversubscribed by 25%. All in an effort to lighten the City's financial obligations and to stave off financial collapse.

As City Hall engages in the re-org, City Planning and the LADOT have acknowledged that over the last 13 years, the City of Los Angeles Bikeways Department has spent $65 million, resulting in 13 miles of Bike Paths, 55 miles of Bike Lanes, and 6 miles of Bike Routes. Not much for a city with 485 square miles of land and 6500 miles of streets.

Through it all, LA Bikeways Coordinator Michelle Mowery has worked the Powerpoint circuit, delivering the infamous "Why you can't have what you want!" presentation that details 1) The lack of room for cyclists 2) The lack of political will 3) The lack of resources 4) The lack of LADOT support for Bikeways.

It may be true that LA is thin on support and resources but it is a fundamental responsibility of any professional to identify barriers to implementing initiatives and strategies for overcoming the barriers that make a job difficult. Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the Michelle Mowery does not have much to show for her 15 years of Bikeways Coordinating.

Perhaps it's time for Michelle, LA's passive Bikeways Coordinator, to do what's best for Los Angeles, to pull a "Vesselinovitch" and to turn in that scathing resignation letter calling out Mayor Villaraigosa and the City Council and the LADOT for their collective failure to perform.

I think it's worth a try!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Words Matter!

"It is language that provides the key tool for communicating prejudice." *Language and Stereotyping*

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow heralded the new year and the laws that went into effect on January 1, 2010 by announcing “The new laws are designed to make our roadways a safe place for motorists," and in doing so, gave witness to the subtle and insidious culture of auto-centric bias that cyclists claim is top-down and rotten to the core. Did he slip by saying "a safe place for motorists" or did he offer a truthful bias by ignoring pedestrians and cyclists, both of whom also deserve to use our streets with the support of the law and a top-down commitment to make them safer for all modes.

Transportation professionals at all levels and in all expressions can recite the "same rules, same rights" mantra in meetings and in speeches and in seminars and in classes but when the rubber meets the road, for all of the talk, the real truth is that our leadership echoes the sentiments of those who dominate the streets of our communities, "Streets are for motorists!

The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right name. Chinese Proverb

The California Peace Officers Legal Sourcebook, which is produced by the CA Attorney General's office, has a statement from the Attorney General in the introduction that demonstrates a simple yet common mistake, and conveniently ignores pedestrians and cyclists. "California has one of the world's most complex driving environments. The state's 16 million drivers and 20 million vehicles far exceed the total of any other state and most nations. Most traffic law is contained in the Vehicle Code, an accumulation of laws, first enacted in 1905, regulating the use of motor vehicles." A subtle mistake, but a mistake nonetheless, and one that perpetuates the auto-centric paradigm.

As long as the CA Attorney General makes the mistake of equating "traffic" law with law that regulates "motor vehicles," cyclists and pedestrians will have an uphill battle as they attack the mythology that denies cyclists and pedestrians their place in the "traffic" on the streets of our communities.

"Changing how the public labels categories changes the associations those labels invoke in people's minds, which in turn changes their affective attitudes toward what is being described." David Green, Hofstra University

Two recent hit-and-run incidents in our community stirred immediate responses from the community, both of them demonstrating a desensitized bias to the number one threat to public safety in Los Angeles, the motorist.

A few days after Christmas, a driver struck 14-year-old Flor Portillo and her 3-year-old niece as they crossed Main Street near 43rd Street, throwing them about 40 feet. The motorist, described onaly as a woman, did not stop to help the girls, who were both seriously hurt and were rushed to the hospital. Both girls survived the accident.

The incident, horrific and supported by a surveillance video that shows the two girls crossing the street, hit by the car and left where they landed, was referred to by ABC7 as an "accident" and this is the soft desensitization process that allows us as a community to accept unacceptable behavior. Who at ABC7 is able to perform forensic research and make the determination that the collision was an accident. It may have very well been an accident, but that is a determination for professionals. As for the news gatherers, it was a crime scene and it should not be dismissed as an "accident." (Twitter -

Last week, a driver struck Ed Magos as he rode his bike to work in downtown Los Angeles. Ed was in the #2 lane and was hit at significant speed with no warning such as squealing brakes or horn, just suddenly hit from behind and thrown through the air. The motorist stopped, Ed called for help saying "Call 911, I can't move!" The motorist got back in her Porche, made a u-turn and left the scene. She later turned herself in to the LAPD at the Rampart Station.

The incident, again horrific and supported by a picture of Ed immobilized on a gurney being transported by paramedics to the hospital, was all the more shocking because of the callous and inhumane behavior of the motorist. What kind of human hits another human and leaves them lying on the street crying for help? Even more shocking is the fact that Sgt. Sandor of Central Traffic referred to the incident as a "traffic accident" long before the motorist had turned herself in and long before he had any information at all on the hit-and-run collision. Adding insult to injury, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition sent out their regular email bulletin with "Hit and Run Accident" in the headline. Accident? Says who?

Words Matter!

We're people. We're not cars, we're not bikes and we're not shoes. We're people. Motorists and cyclists and pedestrians must be addressed as people with rights and responsibilities and at all turns, we must keep in mind, we're people. When motorists run over other people, it is a tragedy. Dismissing it as an "accident" without any information demonstrates a willingness to desensitize tragedy. Absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable, especially from professionals.

The reporters at ABC7, the advocates at the LACBC, and the men and women of the LAPD all need to pay close attention to the words they use. They affect people and they matter.

Friday, January 08, 2010

CityWatchLA - Crossing The Digital Divide

CityWatch, Jan 8, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 2

The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council has just taken a leap across the Digital Divide and is engaging in a relationship with Everyone Counts in an effort to implement a "digital voting" pilot project for neighborhood council elections. The program would allow stakeholders to use telephones and computers to both "opt-in" or register as well as to vote and the SLNC has set aside $5000 as seed money for the effort which now needs the blessing of the City Clerk, the City Attorney, and the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. The recent brouhaha over neighborhood council elections conducted by the City Clerk has stirred up complaints and it was in this discussion over financial limitations, operating restrictions, standardization and outreach that the question of digital innovations came up.

Everyone Counts is a San Diego based company that has conducted elections for groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the Honolulu neighborhood board elections. Their proposal essentially consists of tailoring software to the needs of the neighborhood councils and then licensing it so that it is paid for once and can then be used for multiple elections. The pricing would theoretically be based on the number of registered voters in the City of Los Angeles and would include 24/7 tech support as well as server redundancy as guarantees of service.

As the City enters into the era of "Increase Revenue or Increase Efficiency" and all aspects of City functions are open to inspection and review, it seems reasonable to ask the simple questions such as "Can the City Clerk conduct elections for less money and with greater efficiency?" One of the first places to start would be by determining the real costs of registering candidates, registering voters, polling voters and tabulating results. In addition, what is the real cost to the city, regardless of what department does the work, of conducting NC election outreach.

A couple of things that should be considered in this proposal are the opportunities to open up the scope of influence that the leap over the Digital Divide presents to the City of Los Angeles.

1) Could this system be used to create a citywide digital Stakeholder Community that allows NC's and stakeholders to interact and communicate, long after the election is over?

2) Could this process be structured so that stakeholders could register as candidates without having to navigate so much paper and process?

3) Could this NC Election proposal lay the foundation for a new style of communication, one that allows innovations such as texting and GPS tagging so that everything from potholes to traffic collisions can be more efficiently reported?

4) Would this new style of "Connectivity" provide the City of Los Angeles with more effective and more inexpensive tools for communicating with the community in times of emergency?

As with any new proposal, there were some concerns, this time over accessibility and security. The current NC election process allows for six hours of polling at a single location. The proposal allows people to access the polling system from their own location over a period of time that can stretch for weeks if desired.

The current NC election process varies stakeholder verification standards from NC to NC but the proposed system can also be tailored to allow for pre-registration and certification to opt-in to personal ID verification to PIN numbers.

At the end of the day, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and Everyone Counts are standing by and ready to engage in a pilot project during the upcoming 2010 Board Elections, complementing the City clerk run election with the digital element and all they need is permission.

Is the Los Angeles ready to explore innovations in cost-cutting and improvements to efficiency or will we continue to embrace the status quo?

(Stephen Box has administered numerous neighborhood council elections, is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.netThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it )

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

CityWatchLA - LA's Best Bike Plan - "Bringing home the bacon!"

CityWatch, Jan 5, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 1

Anyone who cares about the quality of life on the streets of Los Angeles, whether they ride a bike or not, has a vested interest in the development of LA's Bike Plan. More importantly, anyone who cares about LA's budget crisis, whether they care about the streets or not, has a vested interest in the development of a powerful visionary Bike Plan for Los Angeles. Any bike related funding requests made at the Federal, State or County levels are immediately challenged by the simple hurdle "Is this proposed project part of a City Council approved Bicycle Transportation Plan?" If the answer is no, the project is summarily disqualified for funding and Los Angeles then watches the money go to other cities that have laid down a bold vision for their community, that have written powerful proposals for transportation and that have made a commitment to going after the funding and bringing it home to make their streets safer and more effective for everybody.

LA's current Bike Plan was developed in 1996 and is part of the Transportation Element of the City's General Plan, a state mandated document that directs the growth and development of the City of Los Angeles. The Bike Plan was updated and re-approved by City Council twice and is current through 2012. In a rare demonstration of enthusiasm, the LADOT's Capital Funding Department initiated a Bike Plan update process a couple of years ago, secured funding, hired a consultant, and partnered with the Planning Department on the development of the Draft Bike Plan.

This is in stark contrast with the LADOT's enthusiasm for actual Bikeways projects and over the last 13 years, the City of LA has picked up about $65 million in Bikeways funding which has resulted in 13 miles of Bike Paths and 55 miles of Bike Lanes. Critics charge that this demonstrates a complete lack of commitment to developing a "bikeable LA."

LA is nothing if not the City of "Big Plans" which include the General Plan, the 35 Community Plans, the Master Plans, the Specific Plans, and many Vision Plans. In this environment, the Bike Plan is a small and obscure document, a funding document, yet it contains within it the potential power to provide connectivity, not just to the cyclists who want to ride the streets of Los Angeles, but to the many plans that sometimes overlap, contradict, overrule or simply fall short. In other words, the Draft Bike Plan is the missing link.

The public comment period for the $450,000 Draft Bike Plan closes this Friday, and the consultants, the LADOT and City Planning will then go to work, reviewing and considering your comments for inclusion the Draft Bike Plan that will then be presented to the Planning Commission. Of course, that is contingent on them receiving your comments by this Friday.

Critics of the Draft Bike Plan claim that the document "aims low and still falls short" and charge that, if nothing else, the $450,000 Draft should at least be an improvement over the old plan. While it's easy to find people who agree that the new Bike Plan should be an improvement over the old Bike Plan, it's hard to find people who will wade through the 563-page document.

Of those who have read the Bike Plan, the response has been consistently negative, varying only in intensity. Among the harshest critics was the "LA Bike Working Group" and which conducted four public workshops to engage the public and to develop "LA's Best Bike Plan," resulting in 35 significant recommendations that were pared down to the following 12 principles.

If these sound reasonable, please go to and send them in as your recommendations for LA's Draft Bike Plan. If not, I would love to hear your opinion. Either way, I hope you'll take a moment to give your opinion.

The 12 PRINCIPLES of "LA's Best Bike Plan"

1. Genesis:
Every street is a street that cyclists will ride.

2. All City:
A Backbone Bikeway network will be the engineering focus in the immediate future

3. Action
LA must commit to the implementation of key measures within 2 years

4. Transformation
Neighborhood pilots projects to create pockets of ultra bike friendliness, including bike boulevards

5. Strength
Any new plan should go through a full programmatic EIR

6. Intelligence
Evaluate success by measuring progress against goals, timelines, bike counts, and collision data

7. One Generation
Get em' young - building a car-free army from LA's youngest generation - beginning at the school level

8. Justice
LAPD will undergo mandatory 8 hour training in cyclists' rights and laws concerning cyclists, and practical bike training.

9. Execution
Move Bikeways out of LADOT

10. Democracy
Have the plan voted on by cyclists, or the NCs

11. Complete
The six Es - Equality, Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation - are the structure for the plan.

12. Equality
The Cyclists' Bill of Rights is the foundation for the plan

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at