Wednesday, April 28, 2010

LAPD HQ - now serving cyclists!

It took six months but the Los Angeles Police Department finally added curbside bike parking and sent a clear message to the cycling community that they are welcome at the $500 million headquarters on 1st Street, just across from City Hall. Critics called foul at the ribbon cutting when they discovered that the LAPD bike parking was behind a tower, hidden by planters and trees, behind a wall, all in violation of the basic Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) standards.

The LAPD's failure prompted cyclists to appeal to the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (LABAC) who not only called on the City of LA to investigate the absence of appropriate bike parking at the LAPD monument to crime prevention, but the LABAC passed a motion declaring the Ronald F. Deaton Civic Auditorium off-limits for meetings until the situation had been corrected.

All of this was in stark contrast to the stated intentions of then-new LAPD Chief Charlie Beck who declared that one of his first priorities was to forge a strong working relationship with the cycling community and to work on developing policies to better establish, articulate, and enforce policy that protected the rights of cyclists. Unfortunately, when the rubber hits the road, or the bikes hit the racks, cyclists who attended meetings at the LAPD HQ were offered only inhospitable accommodations, even as the LAPD executed stings to catch bike thieves.

For all of the LAPD's good intentions, the simplest way to prevent bike thefts is to properly secure bikes where they are visible, something that wasn't possible at the LAPD HQ. At the last meeting of the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force, cyclists locked their bikes at the top of the courtyard, demonstrating that when it comes to bike security, location matters.

So it is that only six months after the doors opened on the LAPD HQ, the welcome mat finally goes out for the cyclists!

As for the racks, they are the larger "Bike" bike racks, 6' long and in the shape of a bike. They have the same two-bike capacity as the traditional inverted-U rack but with a clear cut message and a tad of flair. We should be pleased and I am. I'm very pleased and I'm encouraged by the message it sends.

At the same time, I think it's fair to evaluate the racks and to seize the opportunity to pursue excellence.

On that note:

1) Bike Racks traditionally run parallel with the curbline, not perpendicular. Granted, the sidewalk here is wide but there is so much real estate, why not establish a standard?

2) First Street is a "No Stopping" zone from Spring to Main so why squeeze the bikes together so tighly, why not spread out?

3) The City of LA had bike parking standards that specify a minimum distance of 48" between parallel racks and yet these four racks have distances of 48", 47", and 43". Why does the City of Los Angeles aim for the minimum requirement and then settle for falling short?

4) The bike racks are out in the open, that is certain, and pedestrians, cyclists and motorists can all see them clearly. This should discourage thieves. Yet the most important eyeline, from the front door of the buildings, is blocked. From the eastside entrance of Deaton Auditorium, none of the racks are visible. From the westside entrance of Deaton Auditorium, two of the racks are visible. From the front door of the LAPD HQ, the racks are obscured to the point that it's unreasonable to expect anyone in the lobby of HQ to notice anything out of the ordinary on the sidewalk in the distance.

Ultimately, it took some time, they might have been installed better, but the effort of the LAPD to respond to the cycling community speaks volumes and it is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hollywood Car Share Stalls, Electric Bikes Debut

CityWatch, Apr 27, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 33

Bechir Blagui's vision for an electric community car-share program on Hollywood Boulevard is unfulfilled but his commitment to providing a sustainable transportation solution for his neighborhood is as strong as ever. As he continues the grapple with LA's unique bureaucratic landscape, Blagui came up with an innovation that has locals and tourists alike slowing down and smiling, Hollywood's first electric bike rental program.

Blagui's ongoing efforts to deliver on his promise to place electric charging stations on Hollywood Boulevard have only resulted in a frustrating journey down a bureaucratic rabbit hole, taking him to the Mayor's office, to the City Council, to the DWP, the LADOT, the City Attorney's office and Assemblyman Mike Feuer's office, none of which took him any closer to his original goal, an electric community car share program.

Along the way, Blagui visited other cities to survey the best and worst of their car share programs and in cities both small and large he found curbside charging stations, car share companies operating freely in a competitive market, and a customer base that demanded a variety of options. Inspired by a recent tour that took him from San Francisco to San Jose to Philadelphia, he returned to LA and looked for a solution, coming up with a program that had no obstacles, an electric bike rental program.

LA's City Council Transportation Committee has a long history of sustainable transportation discussion, most of which go nowhere. Meanwhile, on the streets, it's a local business operator who delivers electric bike rentals to Hollywood.

This simple success story of a local business operator with a fleet of electric rental bikes is significant for two reasons:

1) Mayor Villaraigosa's State of the City address of last week again referred to his unfulfilled vision of becoming America's Greenest Big City, this time with his proclamation of "a plan that once and for all makes Los Angeles the undisputed national leader in green energy and green jobs."

Time after time the people of Los Angeles watch LA's leadership talk the talk but when it comes to implementing sustainable business plans, it turns out that LA is the land of obstacles, not solutions.

Small businesses are a major part of our economy. They innovate and they create new jobs at a faster rate than larger organizations. The real change on the horizon will come from the bottom up, not from the top down, and if the Mayor and the City Council are serious about a green economy, they'll look at the Hollywood Rent A Car experience and they'll get busy removing the obstacles that have kept LA from developing the sustainable transportation solutions that are common in other large cities.

2) LA's high-altitude approach to transportation solutions makes for great press but the simply reality on the streets is personal. Simply synchronizing the services that LA already provides so that our streets are efficiently maintained, repaired, patrolled and enhanced is not only good for cyclists, it's good for local businesses, pedestrians, mass transit passengers and motorists. In fact, what's good for cyclists is also good for the community.

The lesson learned at Hollywood Rent a Car is one the Mayor might consider: When approaching the problem, take a look at it from the cyclists' perspective. It worked for Bechir, it might work for LA.

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

Hey Dude! Where am I supposed to store my stuff?

The real conflict on the streets of Los Angeles isn't between people trying to get somewhere, it's between people who think their right to store private property on the streets of LA supersedes the rights of others to safely get to their destination.

Witness the brouhaha on Topanga Canyon Boulevard over the bike lanes that have been engineered and funded, only to get the veto from the local LADOT Traffic Engineer because he would rather use the curb lane for traffic during rush hour and then for parking during the off-hours. This is referred to as "peak-hour parking" and it is one of the most common excuses used by the LADOT when they argue against implementing bike lanes or sharrows. Curbside parking takes precedence over humans on their way to a destination.

Sunset Blvd. is a very popular route for cyclists and the bike lanes are a hotly contested real estate all the way through Hollywood, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Silver Lake and on into DTLA. For all of the traffic encountered on a ride from the westside to the bestside, the real conflict occurs as cyclists dodge the doors that open from parked vehicles, or the valets who put their signs and cones in the bike lanes or the armored car outside the Bank of America or the Bands' vans outside the Echo or the too-wide Catering trucks or the too narrow parking lane or the 18 wheelers outside the Olive Motel or any of the many other surprises that occur because the curb lane is not for travel but for the storage of private property.

No developer can make it through the community engagement process without promising and over-promising parking not just for those who live or work or shop at the development but for those who will be impacted by the project and simply consider parking as the currency of land-use negotiations.

Dr. Donald Shoup of UCLA has risen from academic obscurity to rock star status as a result of his work studying the economic impact of free parking on a community. Always guaranteed to both entertain and inform, Dr. Shoup is also capable of inflaming the sensitivities of those who feel the very fabric of all they hold near and dear threatened as Dr. Shoup extols the evils of free parking. His best selling book "The High Cost of Free Parking" challenges the notion that our streets are designed for the storage of private property. He is also responsible for California's oft neglected and poorly enforced parking buyout law, a scheme that requires employers who provide employees with free parking to consider it a perk, a benefit that has a cash value. Once that value is determined, the employee has the right to elect to take cash instead of the parking space.

We live in a society that tolerates homeless people but criminalizes homeless cars. The County of Los Angeles has seven parking spaces for every registered car, all on the off chance that you might want to shop at the Montclair Plaza on Christmas Eve and, heaven forbid, there better be a convenient parking space there for you! This commitment to stimulating the asphalt industry has resulted in an urban heat island effect that has seen the temperature in areas such as LA's West Valley increase over time as the streets widen, as the parking lots increase in size and as the continuing development of auto-centric infrastructure perpetuates the "Pave paradise, put up a parking lot!" mantra that positions the storage of personal property as one of the basic rights of a civilized country.

As communities evaluate the allocation of public space and discuss the purpose of streets and the impact of parking on their neighborhood, the real opportunity for conflict typically arises when curbside parking is discussed. Events such as Park[ing] Day LA have become popular challenges to the status quo, causing people to reconsider the primacy of curbside parking. Park(ing) Day is an annual event celebrated around the world that involves people of all walks taking curbside parking space and turning them into parks for the day, all in an effort to stimulate discussion on everything from urban planning to the environment to community to public space allocation to the need to make streets more people friendly.

Through it all, small battles get fought, little accommodations are made, and the status quo gets tested. Sometimes it's simply a matter of reclaiming words such as the phrase "closed streets" which the LADOT uses when referring to the restriction of motor vehicles. Community activists now call a street with no motor vehicle traffic an "open street" because it has been freed, the neighborhood is no longer under seige. A "closed street" is one full of motor vehicles and void of humanity.

Sometimes the small shift is in allocation of space. We live in a city where taxis, FedEx and UPS, tour buses, morticians, catering trucks, delivery trucks, school buses, and other special purpose vehicles all get special curbside accommodations, after all, they're key to the smooth operation of our city! But when a local merchant suggests taking a curbside parking space and using it exclusively for the storage of bicycles, we discover the proverbial line that dares to be crossed.

Known as a Bike Corral and consisting of a traditional curbside parking space filled with bike parking racks and surrounded by bollards to protect the bikes, Bike Corrals are popular land use solutions in many large cities such as San Francisco and New York City. Here in Los Angeles, the proposal to install a single Bike Corral in Northeast LA resulted in a hearing at the City Council's Transportation Committee where the critical implications of this assault on all that LA holds near and dear (curbside parking for motor vehicles!) were dissected and reviewed by our City Council leadership and LADOT elite.

The battle isn't over, the "camel's nose" proposal to convert a curbside parking space into bike parking must still go through the City Council and then it must be studied, reviewed, analyzed, and reported on, perhaps resulting in a permit for permanent residency on York Avenue. That's right, a permit!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chair of Metro Board says "I see bike racks!"

Ara Najarian, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Metro and the Mayor of Glendale, wrote a post for the Metro's blog, The Source, defending the Metro's Westlake/MacArthur Park Transit Oriented Development against claims that it failed to accommodate cyclists. First of all, I'm pleased that he is paying attention, I'm also pleased that he responded to the criticism of the Metro's most recent foray into the land of TOD. But I'm distressed that he took information from his staff at face value and that he failed to notice that it merely confirmed my charge, that the Metro's new transit-oriented development being built just west of downtown Los Angeles falls short of the LA Municipal Code minimums for bike parking. Regardless of the requirement, the Metro's "zero bike facilites" at the Phase I component is insufficient. It fails.

Metro's Westlake/MacArthur Park TOD Phase I, the initial phase of a two-phased development effort, will contain  90 units of affordable rental housing above approximately 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and residential, retail and commuter parking.  The commuter parking will consist of 100 spaces, partially funded by Metro, that are intended for use by Metro Rail commuters.  The total development costs for Phase I is approximately $45 million.  The second phase of the development will be constructed directly over the Metro Rail station entrance, and will be comprised of 82 affordable housing units, a retail component and associated parking.

Phase I will have a residential element, a retail component, and a full complement of commuter automobile parking but no bike racks, no bike lockers, no bike room. This is completely unacceptable. No matter how you spin it, this fails. Najarian explains, in his blog post, that for Metro commuters, the Phase I location is an inconvenient location for bike parking so the Metro plans to include it in the Phase 2 project. What about the people who live in Phase 1? What about the people who shop at the Phase 1 retail? Has nobody at the Metro ridden a bike? Cyclists should have bike parking available in all locations. There is commuter automobile parking in Phase 1, why not for cyclists?

Phase 2 will purportedly include the bike racks and lockers, but based on the Metro's most recent performance at the Eastside Extension and the Hollywood & Vine TOD, the public has little reason to expect anything other than bike parking as an after thought, if at all. The current Metro standard is to install bike parking where it fits, not where it belongs. That must change.

It is the ultimate demonstration of hubris that the Metro elects to pass on bike parking on Phase 1, instead postponing any accommodation in its declaration "Bicycle parking was chosen to be designed into the second phase of the project, which provides bicyclists with the same convenient access to the Westlake/MacArthur Park subway portal and multiple bus lines serving the station. Both bicycle lockers and racks will be placed in a visible location."

I stand by my original charge, that the Metro's Westlake/MacArthur Park Transit Oriented Development fails to accommodate cyclists. All promises of any pie in the sky schemes must be tempered by reality. Are they on paper or are they vague verbal commitments? Does the Metro have any Bike Parking standards that the public can rely on or are we limited to  vague verbal commitments? Does the Metro include any reference to bike parking in its real estate contracts with its development and operational partners or does it rely on vague verbal commitments.

The bottom line is this, the Metro considers bike parking as an afterthought, not as an intregal element that gets positioned in the early stages of planning. That must change.

"Hit & Run" vs "Fleeing the Scene"

A cyclist riding west in the Sunset Blvd. bike lane hits his brakes hard to take evasive action to avoid being hit by a motorist who races out of a strip mall parking lot and acroos the bike lane, causing the cyclist to flip and land hard, injuring his shoulder. The cyclist is dazed and still on the ground, the motorist continues down Sunset Blvd.

21804. (a) The driver of any vehicle about to enter or cross a highway from any public or private property, or from an alley, shall yield the right-of-way to all traffic, as defined in Section 620, approaching on the highway close enough to constitute an immediate hazard, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that traffic until he or she can proceed with reasonable safety.

There are two separate witnesses to the incident and they both get the motorist's license plate. One by writing it down and the other by chasing the motorist on a bicycle and photographing the license, the motorist, and the passenger.

The cyclist who pursued the motorist told the motorist to return to the scene of the incident, the motorist and her passenger vehemently deny responsibility, pointing out that they didn't hit the cyclist.

An LAPD patrol car cruises by, the cyclist yells for help, the LAPD continue on their way. Another LAPD patrol car cruises by, this one stops and gets the information, returning to the scene of the incident.

Ultimately, the motorist returns to the scene but the LAPD decide "no report, no crime."

This is where the real "incident" begins. The LAPD failed the injured cyclist.

1) The motorist violated the cyclist's right of way.

2) The violation of the cyclist's right of way caused the cyclist to take evasive action resulting in injury.

3) The motorist left the scene of an "incident" that was her responsibility.

"Hit & Run" is a bit of a misnomer. The actual violation (CVC 20001 "Duty to Stop at Scene of Accident") doesn't refer to contact but merely states responsibilities. Cause and responsibility get determined by investigation but the basic obligation is to stop, not flee.

I hate the term "Accident" and prefer the more neutral "Incident" but nevertheless, the term used is not collision. It does not require contact but merely refers to causality. The person causing an "Accident" is not free to simply leave the scene because there was no contact. They are required to stay and exchange information and/or render aid.

20001. (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury to a person, other than himself or herself, or in the death of a person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and shall fulfill the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004.

So it was that the cyclists of Los Angeles spent another Sunday afternoon tweeting each other for advice and beseeching the LAPD to step up and to protect the cyclists on the streets of Los Angeles by enforcing the law. Of course, this requires the LAPD to know the law.

On Sunday, two LAPD officers on the street refused to act in support of the downed cyclist. The Watch Commander of the Northeast Division supported the position of the LAPD officers on the Street. He also called the Watch Commander of Central Traffic and was again supported in the "no report, no crime" position of the LAPD.

To make things worse, the two officers on the street informed the protesting witness "This really isn't any of your business." The witness insisted that it was his business. The LAPD responded "It's not a hit and run. We're not going to do a report."

At the first meeting of the Cyclists/LAPD Task Force, one of the recommendations presented to the LAPD was that they approach "cyclist down" scenes as potential crime scenes. Too often, cyclists on the losing end of an encounter with an inattentive or aggressive motorist are left with less than sympathetic investigators, such as the officers, the supervisors and the Watch Commanders who err in favor of the primacy of the motorist on the streets of Los Angeles.

That needs to change.

The Cyclists' Bill of Rights holds that:

3) Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement.

4) 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.

Friday, April 23, 2010

CityWatchLA - Villaraigosa: Buck Does Not Stop Here

CityWatch, Apr 23, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 32

Mayor Villaraigosa's State of the City address on Tuesday was light on details and thin on vision, failing to qualify as either a battle cry worthy of the city's budget crisis or a call to action worthy of a vision for saving the city. Instead, the crowd of friendlies assembled at LAPD's Deaton Hall were treated to a carefully seeded oratorical journey that absolved our leadership of any responsibility and concluded with the tepid admonishment "We can do better."

Gone was any pretense of surveying the landscape and evaluating our position as a world class city, after all, it would have been the same as last year's State of the City address with a slight adjustment in the figures to account for any slippage. Instead, Villaraigosa jumped right in and sidestepped the traditional State of the City review of "all things we’ve accomplished and all the things we intend to do" and committed to taking on "our city budget and what we must do to solve our deficit and hone our mission of the Angels."

Villaraigosa then embarked on a meandering narrative that left a trail of carefully crafted messages:

1) It's not our fault!

Villaraigosa opened hard with a reference to the Dow, then followed with a story of his Grandfather during the Great Depression, concluding with an appraisal of the current Recession, positioning Los Angeles as the victim of these mean times, not as a city in control of its destiny. This abdication of responsibility fell far short of any "Buck stops here!" leadership and instead positioned LA as a ship adrift, a metaphor that was supported by Villaraigosa's claim that "we aren’t going to get blown off course by this economic storm."

2) Don't touch the LAPD!

The State of the City address was delivered across the street from City Hall at LAPD HQ's Deaton Hall. Board of Police Commissioners President John W. Mack introduced Villaraigosa who was interrupted by applause only once and that was when he slipped in the claim that "Our neighborhoods are the safest they have been since the Eisenhower administration." This followed an acknowledgment the LAPD is the largest that it has ever been but no mention was made of the impact to the city's budget.

3) Prepare to pay more!

Somehow the focus on the City's Budget included a journey down memory lane starting with the 2006 trash collection fee increase, the 2007 telephone users tax, and the 2008 Measure R. "Time and again, the citizens of Los Angeles have proven that they are willing to invest when we explain the challenges accurately and present the options honestly." This is the compliment that will come back soon with a price tag.

4) Plan ahead for a plan!

Villaraigosa both acknowledged the obtuse and complicated nature of the DWP and yet positioned it as the vessel that would deliver us to our destination as "the undisputed national leader in green energy and green jobs." Promising a plan for transparency and efficiency in the next few months, this element of the "Budget Report" was vague enough to leave the audience wondering how this related to the budget crisis unless...gasp...the DWP would be a key element in balancing the budget, but only if the public contributed more in rates, all in the best interest of developing a green economy.

5) Partner with the private sector!

City-owned parking garages, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Convetion Center, the municipal golf courses and LA's parking meters were all mentioned as opportunities to create revenue, albeit on the condition that the city services "be delivered to the public at the same, or greater level of quality." It was apparent that this transition is well underway and it came with the promise that "This is new revenue that can only be found through these partnerships and it is revenue that the city sorely needs."

6) Criticize at your own peril!

The Mayor dismisses those who would debate or criticize as "pundits" and "cynics" who are responsible for the erosion of LA's civic unity. At the same time he acknowledges stepping on a few rakes in his handling of recent DWP issues and positions himself as critical of his own budget claiming "We can do better." This is hardly the battle cry of a leader who is about to ask the city staff to share in his sacrifice. This is hardly the vision of a leader who is about to ask the public to invest in the future of Los Angeles. This is far from the beginning negotiating position of a leader who is about to engage in a fire-sale of the city's assets. Villaraigosa was right about one thing, Los Angeles can do better!

I attended the Mayor's State of the City address as one of the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates. There came a moment when the personalities of those present faded into the background and I became aware of the fact that Deaton Hall was filled with LA's elected leadership including the City Council, Judges, the School Board, the City Attorney, the City Controller, the Chiefs of the LAPD and the LAFD, Consuls General and the City's Managers and Commissioners. I was proud to be counted as one of the "Fellow Angelenos" and when we stood to acknowledge the Mayor's entrance, it was because he is the leader of the Greatest City in the World.

There were some keywords in the State of the City address that leave me wondering if some of the work done in the community has resonated and percolated and made its way into the Mayor's vision, such as it is. For example, when he referred to the Private-Public Partnership, he acknowledged the need for guiding principles, a recommendation made to the Mayor by the NCs' Budget Advocates a couple of weeks ago. When I heard him refer to Safe Streets, I could only hope that it was as a result of the community support for then-Assemblyman Paul Krekorian's AB766 "Safe Streets Bill" of last year. Most of all, when I heard him talk of the backbone of our transportation infrastructure, I knew that the Backbone Bikeway Network was on its way to becoming a reality.

That being said, the pressure is on and this State of the City address is far from Villaraigosa's best effort. It falls far short of qualifying as a resounding call to action or a reasonable presentation of a plan that the people of Los Angeles can rally around. Those days lie ahead and, unfortunately for the Mayor, it's evident that the responsibility lies on the people of Los Angeles, not on the leadership. This one is on us!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Here come the cyclists - "Call for Backup!"

If you ever find yourself craving a lecture on private property, a charge of trespassing, a threat of physical force, a claim to your property, and a complete insult to your intelligence, hop on a bicycle and ride over to the Museum Square building on Wilshire Blvd. Enter the parking lot on the west side of the property and try to lock up your bike. For some reason, the simple sight of a cyclist at this "professionally" managed building is enough to inflame the sensibilities of those in charge, sending the property manager and security guards into combat mode, calling for reinforcements and applying the "bicycle boot" to the offending bikes.

To be fair, this behavior is hardly unique to the Museum Square property, and is actually so prevalent that it leaves one wondering if the first day of Security 101 training consists of "Whatever you do, make sure you harass the cyclists. If you don't, they might feel welcome and then they'll come back. That will be the beginning of the end."

Our most significant "standoffs" with security have occurred when we arrived on bikes at the Harmony Gold Theater, the Arco Plaza, the Dorothy Chandler, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, Raleigh Studios, the City of LA's Marvin Braude Constituent Services Center, locations where the bike racks were either full, insufficient or broken, or simply non-existent. The "standoff" typically results when uniformed (tempted to write uninformed but that would more appropriately apply to the property manager) security forces anticipate our desire to secure our bikes in a safe location and block our efforts with threat of seizure.


At Harmony we brokered a truce, at Arco we acquiesced, at the Dorothy Chandler we simply ignored, at the Academy we folded, at Raleigh we cooperated, at Braude we prevailed. At the Museum Square, they have twice applied the "bicycle boot" requiring an appeal to the management for the release of the offending bicycle. (This "punishment" is also reported at Hollywood & Highland and at Westfield - Fashion Square)

Through it all, we discovered that a follow-up call to those who have a financial stake in the operation of the building or facility typically prompts an apology and an acknowledgement that their in-security forces were inappropriately zealous. This "reversal" usually follows the discovery that their staff are threatening to seize personal property and that the City of Los Angeles actually has a Municipal Code that dictates the minimum amount, the structural type, and the location of mandatory bike parking. It at this point in the conversation that some crafty property managers point out that their building is of such age that surely the muni code wouldn't apply. (Mr. John Cotter of Museum Square smugly applied this exemption) Of course, the recent building permits for the recent remodels/improvements require them to bring the facility up to code and this leaves their Certificate of Occupancy in jeopardy, a condition that does not bode well for their job security.

1) Safe, secure, and effective bike parking is simply smart. It efficiently reduces the need to accommodate motor vehicles. A simple bike corral (convert a car parking space into a protected bike parking space) will hold a dozen bikes, easily a wise trade-off and yet somehow unfathomable to those who sit and stare at parking facilities and ponder "How can I squeeze another motor vehicle into this vast wasteland of car parking?" Are the people who hassle cyclists aware that many of these facilities are also engaged in Transportation Demand Management strategies that will reduce the number of vehicle trips generated and purportedly encourage pedestrians, cyclists, mass transit passengers? Effective Bike Parking is the simple beginning of a TDM program. Aggressive and threatening behavior is the best way to kill a TDM program.

Property Managers - encourage cyclists by installing and maintaining effective bike parking.

2) There are standards for bike parking. First, "Location, Location, Location!" Second, visibility and space. Third, bike rack design. All three count, two out of three results in stolen bikes. It is imperative that the property managers engage professionals and demonstrate a simple commitment to excellence. Treat your guests and employees and patrons with a little respect, the same respect that your guards demand, and install bike parking that works. It's cheaper to do it correctly and it's so easy to demonstrate your professionalism by hiring professionals.

Property Managers - respect cyclists by providing quality bike racks in an appropriate location.

3) Bad bike racks encourage crime. The "broken windows" theory of crime prevention holds that simple and small signs send a message to criminals that an environment is either a good target or a bad target for crime. Broken bike racks, stripped bikes, racks in bad locations, seclusion and isolation are all salt licks for criminals. The Arco Towers were recently in the news as the location of a serial bike thief who spent several days stealing bikes from the same location. The bike racks are isolated, they are wheel-bender racks, they are poorly located. Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the property manager of the Arco Towers has known since last year that there was a problem but it just wasn't a priority.

Property Managers - protect cyclists by discouraging criminal activity on your property.

4) Community Policing is everybody's responsibility. Criminals look for soft targets and crime in LA is down in most categories but bike thefts are up 29% in LA, 57% in the Downtown area. Why? Because it's so easy. Because the bikes are a commodity. Because stolen bikes translate into quick cash and there is little risk of getting challenged or caught. LAPD Senior Lead Officers typically make the rounds of homeowner associations, community groups and neighborhood councils, maintaining relationships, giving updates, encouraging community policing and offering advice. Invariably, the SLO will advise the audience to remove valuables and lock their cars, depriving potential thieves of any target. Never have I heard them give any advice on how or where to lock a bike. Yet, this is the crime that is skyrocketing in Los Angeles.

Property Managers -partner with cyclists and make safety and security a priority.

Most of all, consider this; what's good for cyclists is good for the community. Improve the quality of life in your neighborhood by installing a decent bike rack and by treating cyclists with respect. Everybody benefits!


From the Los Angeles Municipal Code: (LAMC 12.21-A. 16)

16. Bicycle Parking and Shower Facilities. (Added by Ord. No. 167,409, Eff. 12/19/91.) Off-street parking spaces for bicycles and facilities for employee showers and lockers shall be provided as follows:

(a) In the C and M zones, for any building, portion thereof or addition thereto used for non-residential purposes which contains a floor area in excess of 10,000 square feet, bicycle parking spaces shall be provided at the rate of two percent of the number of automobile parking spaces required by this section for such non-residential uses; provided, however, that at least one bicycle parking space shall be provided for any such building having a floor area in excess of 10,000 square feet of non-residential use. If the calculation of the number of required spaces under this paragraph results in a number including a fraction, the next highest whole number shall be the number of spaces required.

(b) The bicycle parking space requirements in Paragraph (a) shall also apply to any building, regardless of zone, owned by the City of Los Angeles and used by the City for government purposes which contains a floor area in excess of 10,000 square feet.

(c) All bicycle parking spaces required by this Subdivision shall include a stationary parking device which adequately supports the bicycle. In addition, at least half of the bicycle parking spaces shall include a stationary parking device which securely locks the bicycle without the use of a user-supplied cable or chain. Devices which hold the bicycle upright by wheel contact must hold at least 180 degrees of wheel arc.

(d) Each bicycle parking space shall be a minimum of two feet in width and six feet in length and shall have a minimum of six feet of overhead clearance.

(e) Bicycle parking spaces shall be located no farther than the distance from a main entrance of the building to the nearest off-street automobile parking space.

(f) Bicycle parking spaces shall be separated from automobile parking spaces or aisles by a wall, fence, or curb or by at least five feet of open space marked to prohibit parking.

(g) Aisles providing access to bicycle parking spaces shall be at least five feet in width.

(h) Signage which is clearly legible upon approach to every automobile entrance to the parking facility shall be displayed indicating the availability and location of bicycle parking.

(i) Showers and lockers shall be provided as required by Section 91.6307 of this Code. (Amended by Ord. No. 177,103, Eff. 12/18/05.)

Metro repeats the TOD mistakes of the past

LA's cyclists just got snubbed by the Metro again, this time at the Metro's Westlake/MacArthur Park Transit Oriented Development (TOD) which broke ground on Monday, promising safe and affordable housing, economic development, improvements to the subway station and nearby streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters, street trees and underground utilities. Whew! Where will all of this goodness end?

Missing from the long list of elements, including 172 units of housing and 30,000 sq. feet of retail is any hint of accommodation for cyclists. No Bike-Room, no Bike-Repair, no Bike-Share, no Bike-Shop, no Bike-Lockers, no ride-your-bike-home if you live here, ride-your-bike-to-the-station if you take the Metro, no ride-your-bike-to-the-stores if you shop here, nothing.

The basic tenets of TOD projects are simple. 1) Accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians. 2) Connectivity and traffic calming. 3) Balanced mix of housing, shops, schools, public services. 4) Parking Management strategies to reduce land allocation to automobile parking. 5)  An environment that is convenient, comfortable, and secure with features including common space, washrooms, vendors and Wayfinding and multi-modal navigational tools.

It's very simple.  With a budget of $45 million there is no excuse for the Metro to fall so short and yet, once again, it does. Phase I of the MacArthur Park Metro Apartments project promises 100 automobile parking spaces for the Metro passengers alone. This in addition to the parking provided for the tenants and the merchants and the shoppers. Yet, nothing for the cyclists?

This significant failure is disturbing for several reasons:

1) It furthers demonstrates the need to overhaul the Metro, to engage in a bit of silo-shaking and to get the Metro's Real Property Management, Operations, Planning and Executive Departments in sync. The Real Estate department repeatedly enters into uninspired relationships and leaves it to Operations to make it happen, a scenario that recently failed miserably at the Metro's Hollywood & Vine project. The Metro's Bike Manager is in the Planning Department but based on the implementation of bike facilities Hollywood & Western or on the Eastside Extension, it's evident that Planning is far from relevant. Through it all, the Executive Department rides herd on departments who love press conferences and ribbon cuttings but who play hot-potato with the street level responsibilities and accountability.

Metro: Bike Parking is the standard. Put out a new press release, this time replacing "100 parking spaces for Metro customers" with "Secure Bike Parking for 100 Cyclists!"

2) It demonstrates the need for the Metro to get in touch with the community. This neighborhood, as much if not more than others, needs safe and secure bike parking. To fail to recognize the demographics of MacArthur Park is downright cavalier. To fail to understand the needs of the neighborhood is simply irresponsible. Dan Koeppel, in his insightful Bicycling Magazine "Invisible Riders" article, takes the reader on a journey into the lives of cyclists who simply ride to stay alive, to earn money, and to support their families. These days we call them the Workforce Cyclists. Koeppel visited with them in MacArthur Park as he researched his article. They die on the streets in numbers greater than any other demographic. They ride bikes that are the key to their economic survival. They need safe and secure bike parking.

Metro: Know your neighborhood. Revise those Phase I plans and make sure there is a home for cyclists at the Westlake/MacArthur TOD, both casual and membership.

3) It demonstrates the need for the Metro to develop standards. Somehow, real estate deals get brokered, developers partner up, plans get drawn, contractors get hired, materials get purchased, projects get built and somewhere long after the ribbon cutting, the Metro's Bike Planning department comes wandering along asking "Is there any room left for the cyclists?" First and foremost, any Metro projects need to include cyclists and pedestrians as the premiere user groups, not motorists. From the beginning, there must be standards for accommodations that specify ingress, egress, storage for casual, membership, and long-term bike parking, and security standards that include basic Crime Prevention Trough Environmental Design (CPTED) standards.

Metro: Develop and Implement design standards. Lose the ineffective one-sheet and develop robust design standards and requirements that apply to all Metro projects.

4) It demonstrates a need for the Metro to account for its choice of partners. MacArthur Park Metro Apartments is a joint venture between Metro, McCormack Baron Salazar, Los Angeles Housing Partnership and Polis Builders. McCormack Baron Salazar also developed the Hollywood & Western TOD project with the Metro, a project that still has 50% vacancy on the ground floor five years after completion. The recent brouhaha over the homeless encampment, the lack of supervision and maintenance, the empty Metro Bike facility and the missing bicycle racks leave one wondering "What does it take to ruin a relationship with the Metro?" Perhaps its not the choice of partners but instead the lack of oversight, either way, surely the hope of the future is not more of the same.

Metro: Develop and Implement oversight standards for property management. Real Estate to Planning to Operations to Partners to Executive, there must be some accountability.

5) It demonstrates clearly the need for the Metro to take responsibility for its impact on our communities. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is responsible for much, much more that transportation. The Metro's every move sends a ripple through our communities with tremendous land use impact. It is imperative that the Metro accept this huge responsibility and use its financial gravitational pull to draw the many agencies, authorities, departments, developers, and constituent groups into its sphere of influence so that we collectively work together to not only move people but to add character and substance and value to the places we enjoy at the ends of our journeys.

Metro: Be a good Steward! You own the land, you move the people, you control the money, and you have the authority. With all of this power comes equal, if not greater, responsibility.

This is an incredible opportunity for the Metro to establish a commitment to greatness, to pause and to reevaluate the Westlake/MacArthur TOD, and to reconsider the omission of cyclists in the planning mix. It's a small but significant adjustment that sets the tone for the future. Opportunity taken, we're established a standard for excellence; opportunity passed, we've cast the die for mediocrity.

It's up to the Metro.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hollywood’s W Hotel Ushers in the Golden Age of TOD … Deception

CityWatch, Apr 13, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 29

The W Hollywood Hotel & Residences is finally open, bringing over a decade of architectural and political alchemy to a conclusion, resulting in LA's largest inhabitable mixed-use Billboard Development, also referred to as a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) or as they say in Hollywood, Transit Disoriented Development (TDD).

Blessing the corner of Hollywood and Vine and perched neatly atop the Metro's Hollywood & Vine Red Line Station, the W Hollywood celebrated its long awaited arrival with a  ribbon cutting ceremony that featured some of LA's finest spokesmodels, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Ryan Seacrest, most of whom arrived in motor vehicles and availed themselves of the TOD-obligatory valet parking. (Two locations - Hollywood Boulevard or Argyle Avenue!) Since then, the valets have maintained their presence, standing like little soldiers outside Delphine and at the W Hotel front door, inside the Motor Court.

Mixed-Use and TOD projects such as the "W" are considered a blessing by the New Urbanists who subscribe to the mythology of LA's unique style of TOD but a curse by the detractors who have failed to drink the TOD Kool-Aid which is quite tasty at first but typically comes with a 99-year long bitter aftertaste that lingers well after the developer has left town.

Theoretically, this TOD project brings human density and robust economic activity along with lifestyle choices that will concentrate activity in the Hollywood and Vine hub while allowing people to avail themselves of the rich mass transit and people powered transportation opportunities, reducing the need for single occupant motor vehicles and the corresponding vast amounts of vehicle parking.

Then again, there's reality.

In fact, much of the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences journey has been one of "the theoretical vs. the reality" and while it remains to be seen whether the reality is of greater positive impact than the theoretical, it doesn't look good. In fact, it looks bleak. Based on results, often harsh but always fair, the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences does little to encourage any of the purported benefits of TOD projects and instead encourages the very behavior and negative impacts that TOD proponents fight to discourage.

It's been months since I stood on the sidewalk with Marty Collins, the CEO of Gatehouse Capital, the developer (along with Legacy Partners) of the project and the guy who brought in the W Hollywood as the anchor tenant. He purportedly owns a condo just above the Walk of Fame where we stood discussing bike parking and the W's community benefit. As we chatted, he took a long drag on his cigarette and then flipped the butt on the sidewalk, in front of what is now Delphine. The cigarette butt rolled across the Walk of Fame star of Charles Coburn, one of the few Hollywood stars who actually lived on Hollywood Blvd., and landed in the gutter. (the butt, not Coburn)

I regret to this day that I remained silent.

Coburn isn't here to feel slighted but the people of Hollywood are. That simple moment of contempt and arrogance is a clear indicator of Collins' commitment to any "community benefit" that was part of the City of LA, CRA, Metro, Gatehouse deal.

Nevertheless, the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences is upon us, a Transit Oriented Development of such significant size that it has its own gravitational pull, both politically and architecturally.

"This isn't Hollywood the movie. This isn't Hollywood the ride," Collins declared as the W Hollywood opened its doors. "This is the real Hollywood." What's not clear is if Collins was referring to W Hollywood's record billboard entitlement or its auto-centric design. In either case, he is correct, this is Hollywood and any promises to promote a pedestrian environment, to support cycling access to the Red Line, to encourage mass transit passengers, to create an environment that "connects" with the street, all fell by the wayside in the time it took to hire the valet and tell the public "This door isn't for the public but if you walk around the block and through the Auto Court you can come in the back way."

LA Time Architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne gently reviews the W Hollywood, noting the lack of architectural coherence as well as the lack of clarity that is demonstrated by the contrast in the stated TOD commitment to vertical density which is then contradicted by the obligatory homage to Hollywood's "love affair with the car and the glossier, more exclusive corners of celebrity culture." Christopher concludes his insightful review of the W Hollywood's fabrics, textures, and color schemes by offering up this soft dismissal; "the W Hollywood isn't just an urban-planning experiment for Los Angeles. It's something of a sociological one too."

It's an experiment?

Perhaps in funding and gullibility and so far it has demonstrated that there is no limit to either.

Legacy Partners, co-developer of the W Hollywood qualified for $10.2 million in ARRA funding. The W Hollywood has had tremendous support from the leadership of Los Angeles which translates into big bucks. From the CRA to City Council Eric Garcetti to the Mayor himself, this project had some heat. When the Metro's meager parcel of land was insufficient for the fortress sized plan of Gatehouse/Legacy, the CRA and the City of Los Angeles stepped in and offered up their eminent domain support, seizing adjacent properties and explaining that the support of the W Hollywood was for the Greater Good! WooHoo! (Of course by Greater Good, the doorman explained that the public will need to walk back to the street, east on Hollywood Boulevard, south on Argyle Street and then through the Motor Court in order to partake in the public's portion of the Greater Good!)

Of two recent travel reviews, both authors arrived by car, demonstrating quite conclusively that even those who are out to immerse themselves in the W Hollywood's unique brand of TOD environment know enough to steer clear of the transit and to err in favor of the automobile. Of the two, one used the motor court and opened the review with "Welcome to Hollywood!" The other used a taxi and attempted to enter the W Hotel from the public plaza but somehow got lost. "Geez! If we have to tell you where we are, perhaps you're not supposed to be here!"

One can only imagine the experience of the travel writer who actually arrives on mass transit, exits the Red Line station and depends on the Metro and the W for any wayfinding help. There's a curbside sign announcing the discontinuation of the DASH bus stop. There's a sign advertising available retail space. There's a sign directing cyclists to non-existent bike racks. But there's nothing that says "Welcome to the W Hollywood, you transit riding, TOD superstar! Turn to your right, walk toward the smell of urine but don't actually enter the elevator area, instead turn right and walk down the hallway toward the velvet ropes. They'll ask for your room key, you'll explain that you don't have one because you just arrived, they'll look at each other with puzzled looks and mild confusion will break out! All the while, they will size you up to see if you really are a potential guest or simply one of the many glitz-free locals who wants to turn the W Living Room into a real living room!”

It appears that the W Hollywood is many things but it is not a Transit Oriented Development, at least by any accepted planning standards. As for Collin's Castle, the Fortress of Fortune, LA's largest inhabitable Billboard Complex, it's here and the opportunities for the W Hotel to improve the quality of life in the surrounding community remain untapped.

Next week, I'll detail the W Hollywood's shortcomings based on Transit Oriented Development standards and will offer recommendations for amends, starting with a butt can on the off-chance that Collins should return to the scene of the crime.

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

Friday, April 09, 2010

CityWatchLA - Hollywood: Protecting the Brand

Villaraigosa, Garcetti, LaBonge 
get lost on the way to Hollywood

CityWatch, Apr 9, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 28

One reason crime statistics are continually on the decline in Hollywood is because it's no longer necessary to steal things of value, one simply waits for the City's leadership to give them away.

Consider, for example, the priceless Hollywood brand.

Anywhere else on earth, those in power would protect a valuable asset like the Hollywood name and, if they had any business sense, they would cultivate it and maximize its revenue potential while investing in the stability and preservation of the brand.

Then there's Los Angeles. This past week, LA's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti, and Councilman Tom LaBonge joined forces to announce the unveiling of the Visit Hollywood 2010 campaign at a press conference they held in Universal City in a clear demonstration of disconnect.

This misplaced photo-op and tepid demonstration of a commitment to Hollywood was supported by a website (built by Universal Studios?) that includes in the list of "Hollywood hot spots" attractions such as Universal Studios, Universal City CityWalk, Burbank's Warner Studios, Culver City's Sony Studios, Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive, Mid City's Farmers Market, Anaheim's Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, San Diego's Sea World, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Hollywood is recognized around the world as a tourist destination and it is imperative that Hollywood's leadership do two things if Hollywood is to capitalize on the 25 million annual visitors who make their way to Los Angeles and who spend approximately $14 million during their visits.

1) Help the tourists get to Hollywood. Get a FlyAway service from the airport to Hollywood & Highland and get LA's visitors to Hollywood. Make it easy for them to find accommodations in Hollywood, keeping in mind that anyone staying at the W Hotel won't need your assistance but that the average family will.

First and foremost in any vacation planning is to establish the destination and then to find accommodations. Put a roster of hotels and motels on the website, not just a list of the Chamber of Commerce members.

It's evident that those in charge can't relate to the real-world experience of the average tourist who spends hours scouring the Internet for information on hotels, wifi connections, coffee shops, restaurants, clubs, and other quotidien necessities of travel.

Not everything is a "CityPass" ticket to TouristLand. Much of the travel experience is simply soaking up local flavor but that is hardly possible if tourists to Hollywood are promptly shuttled to Universal City where they can wander Lankershim Blvd. looking for life after CityWalk.

These are the elements of the travel experience that help a tourist select a destination, along with transportation options and walkability.

2) Help the tourists stay in Hollywood. There is no reason to encourage a tourist to leave Hollywood. In fact it should be the basic mandate of those in charge to do whatever it takes to make the Hollywood experience a full vacation experience. Yet on the website and on the streets, Hollywood does little to embrace the tourist and to encourage a longer relationship.

It's evident that those in charge haven't walked Hollywood Boulevard sans entourage or they would be clear on how confusing and downright disappointing it can be for the wandering tourist.

My wife and I frequently encounter "lost tourists" who are easily identifiable. Sunburned, carrying a thick guidebook upside down, wandering in the wrong direction, they murmur amongst themselves and stop frequently to look for wayfinding.

I confess to feeling a sense of pride because these people have come from all over the world to see my neighborhood. I also feel a sense of responsibility and take it upon myself to not only help them navigate the immediate obstacle to their experience, but I typically offer additional observations and suggestions, things only a local would know, often visible from where we stand.

I've steered lost Architectural students to some of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings, I've helped confused gourmands locate the best Thai Restaurants, I've translated the six-panel Metro maps to lost tourists, and I've explained to theatre fans that in addition to the Pantages, there a HUNDRED local theaters, all within walking distance of Hollywood & Vine. Through it all, I am reminded that Hollywood is truly the center of the universe!

The sign of a Great City is the hospitality it offers to its visitors. Los Angeles is not a Great City.

The average tourist is ... average. They won't be staying at the W and they won't be using the concierge service. They'll spend too much time looking for Hollywood and not enough time experiencing it. It's up to us to put a polish on Hollywood and to present it to the world as a complete vacation experience, not just as a Hollywood Sign photo op on Bronson Ave. before hopping on the freeway and heading off to friendlier pastures.

From Rome to Barcelona to Munich to Budapest to Sydney, I've traveled through Great Cities and enjoyed wayfinding that makes it difficult to get lost yet pleasant when it happens.

The arrogance of LA's wayfinding is simply astounding. The Metro's map at the new Hollywood & Vine station is misoriented and out of date, it doesn't have the W Hotel on it but it has the Department of Motor Vehicles? Just in case our visitors from Fez decide to register their motor vehicles?

In Seville, I hopped on a bus that took a big lap of the city so that I understood the lay of the land and from there I planned my vacation experience.

In Melbourne there is a bus just for tourists that simply takes a big loop around the city and points out the highlights to that the City makes sense and guests can plan their visit with a sense of perspective.

In Hollywood, a tourist arriving at the Hollywood & Vine Metro Station (imagine that they took the Flyaway from the airport to Union Station and then figured out how to navigate the tunnel to the Red Line and then got off at the Metro's Flagship station) will encounter no signage to indicate that they have arrived in Hollywood. No "Welcome to Hollywood!" sign, no "Walk this Way!" directions, no "You are our Guest!" sign. Nothing. Zip.

Correction, there are a couple of "No spitting, chewing gum, eating, drinking, loud music..." signs to let our guests know that we have standards, very high standards.

Hollywood is a great community and a little leadership would see Hollywood become an inspired and informed vacation destination, not simply a launching pad that sends tourists over the hill to Universal City before losing them completely to Orange County.

The photo-op declaration is the easy start but now the work begins. The simple call to action is for the people of Hollywood to treat our guests the way we expect to be treated when we visit Great Cities.

There isn't much evidence that Villaraigosa, Garcetti, and LaBonge are engaged in guarding the Hollywood brand or in maximizing Hollywood's potential as a complete vacation experience.

That means that it is up to the people of Hollywood to seize the reins and to make Hollywood a Great Host and Los Angeles a Great City.

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

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

CityWatchLA - Sun Sets on Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service: Public Getting Priced Out of Own Property

Vol 8 Issue 27
Pub: Apr 6, 2010

In a sign of the times and victim of the economy, a 90 year-old Hollywood tradition falls in the cultural forest and nobody is there to hear it hit the ground.

The Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service is, or was, a tradition that predated the Hollywood Bowl itself. It was 1919 when the Hollywood Community Sing organized an Easter Sunrise Service on a residential street in the hills off Franklin Avenue. The event was such a great success that the next year the Sunrise Service was held on Olive Hill in Barnsdall Park and LA's Philharmonic Orchestra performed for an overflow crowd of thousands that prompted organizers to look for a larger venue.

In 1921, the Sunrise Service was held in the Daisy Dell on land owned by a group of local art patrons, including Charles E. Toberman, the "Father of Hollywood." Hugo Kirchhoffer, director of the Community Sing, remarked that the acoustics were naturally good because it was shaped like a “huge bowl.”

That inaugural Sunrise Service and that simple comment were the simple seeds that resulted in the transformation of a rickety stage in a field of weeds and grass on a rocky hillside into a cultural icon that is world renowned and is part of LA's cultural heritage.

The success of the first Sunrise Service led to a series of summer concerts at the Bowl, creating the Symphonies Under the Stars program.

Along the way, some of the most famous architects have contributed to the Bowl's legacy, starting with Lloyd Wright who built the Bowl's first band shell out of left-over lumber from a production of "Robin Hood" and the second band shell with movable panels allowing the shell to be "tuned." More recently, Frank Gehry contributed to the perpetual pursuit of the original perfect acoustics with his fiberglass spheres design.

The Hollywood Bowl exists today because of the contributions of many, including Otto K. Olesen, inventor of the Klieg light system, and George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, but most of all, because of the many people who gathered in the Daisy Dell on an Easter Sunday morning at dawn and participated in a simple Sunrise Service that was open and non-denominational and free of charge, simply a celebration of Easter.

There are three things that are alarming about the cancellation of the 2010 Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service:

1) It happened without so much as a whimper. "There, but for the Grace of God, go I!" should be the warning to the people of Los Angeles County.

What next? Will Galleries close with little more than an obituary to announce the passing?

Will Theaters close without so much as a Swan Song performance?

Will Museums cease to engage the public and simply serve as monuments to their benefactors? Will Libraries close and serve out their days as cultural warehouses?

Will access to our Parks and our Community Centers become a thing of the past?

How does the 90 year-old, non-denominational, open and free to the public, Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service simply fade into nothingness without an alarm from the community?

Purportedly, the non-profit organization that hosts the Sunrise Service was unable to come up with the funds to host the event. Typically, up-front funds secure the Bowl and attendees contribute everything from the Cala Lilies that decorate the stage to the staff who facilitate the event to the financial support that pays the bills. This year they simply didn't have the up-front money to secure the Bowl.

2) It happened because volunteerism is actually a profession.

As heady as those days of Daisy Dell must have been, since then the organization of public events has become such a bureaucratic nightmare that the days of "Let's put on a show!" are long gone and community leaders find themselves simply outgunned and understaffed in today's byzantine morass of red-tape.

For over two decades, Norma Foster has been the champion of the Sunrise Service, serving as President and Producer through the highs and the lows, but she suffered a massive stroke just days before last year's Service and her absence left a huge hole that simply didn't get filled.

Well meaning folks are learning the hard way that volunteerism requires training and expertise that is on the same caliber with the professionals who compete with the public for the same space and the same funding.

If "Volunteerism" is to flourish, it will be because our leadership invests in the community and offers training in fundraising, in planning, in administration, and in grass-roots organization. If it's left to "the volunteers" to provide these services to "the volunteers" then we will discover where the true leadership exists.

3) It happened because the public is getting priced out of its own property.

The Bowl belongs to the County of Los Angeles. In other words, it belongs to the people. Just like the Zoo, the Museums, the Galleries, the Parks, the Music Center, Olive Hill, the Libraries, and all of the wonderful programs and assets that we take for granted, simply because they've always been there. It's not likely to continue.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the people of Los Angeles look around and consider that the streets they travel on, the sidewalks they walk on, the public space they enjoy, are all in jeopardy of being restricted and that the public is in danger of engaging "the highest bidder" in a competition for the simple elements that make up a Great City.

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