Follow Up on the NELA Meeting with Tamika
Dear NELA Stakeholder,
This is a little longer than usual, but we packed a lot into our meeting and I promised a thorough recap, so please hang in there and read it to the end. Last night at 6:30 p.m. we met at the Arroyo Seco Library in Highland Park. We had a productive conversation. It wasn’t a conversation that was always easy, but it was a conversation that was deeply helpful to me. I know it was also a conversation that the LACBC team, as a whole, saw as a chance at a new beginning as we work towards reaching a place of understanding around how we can better serve our members in Northeast Los Angeles.
The most important thing we need to say in this recap is thank you. We really appreciate everyone who took the time to come to the meeting and those who helped make the meeting happen. We know that you do this work because you care, thanks for giving your time.
LACBC was represented by Planning & Policy Director Bryan Moller, Planning & Policy Coordinator Hyeran Lee, and me, Executive Director Tamika Butler. It was amazing to see so much diverse NELA representation at the meeting with folks from Lincoln Heights, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, Glassell Park, and Montecito Heights. Community members who were present had been living in the area for as short as a few months, to some who have been there for over a decade and even their whole lives. This won’t be the last NELA meeting for the LACBC team or for me. Something we did agree on at the meeting is that for us to continue working together and to get to a joint vision of Fig—even if we use different tactics to get there—we have to keep listening to each other, we have to stay open to one another, and we have to do so as partners with equal respect and empathetic understanding for one another.
The meeting started with me giving a brief 10-minute summary of my understanding of how we got to where we are. Community members worked hard to put together the Fig4All coalition. At some point, LACBC believed that we could work with the council member’s office to move forward on realizing a more complete vision of Fig and asked the coalition to take a step back. This turned out to be a miscalculation, and we regret that it didn’t work out. Fig4All also made some strategic decisions about how to move the council member’s office toward a more complete vision of Fig. Many of those actions also have not worked out. While both groups have made mistakes that might have hurt one another, I expressed that I understand why Fig4All members are frustrated. It’s warranted. It’s real. I also expressed that I don’t always agree with everything LACBC has done, but as someone who wasn’t part of the decisions, all I can do is try to understand them and acknowledge that we also can’t change them. What we can do is move forward together, and we want to do that.
Community members present at the meeting chimed in about this and expressed that we can’t change the elected officials as people, but we can appreciate who they are and figure out ways to work constructively with them or pursue other options without them.
We then moved to open discussion and continued to have a robust conversation right until 8:00 p.m.—when we only ended because the library closed. The questions ranged from asking LACBC to explain what we can and can’t do as a 501(c)(3), to asking LACBC what we did with signatures gathered by Fig4All, to asking LACBC what our current plan is regarding Fig. We were able to explain that as a 501(c)(3), we can under no circumstances endorse candidates. We also explained that even when we do lobby, we have to report every minute of lobbying we do and that there are restrictions on how much we can lobby. We also described how there are different types of organizations that can lobby, and outlined the differences in those organizations. Here is a good summary what different organizations can and cannot do.
While this gave us an effective base to begin the conversation, there were still many questions about where the plan for Fig currently stands and how LACBC has been working on Fig.
Here’s what we made clear:
While LACBC could be better at communicating about the work we’re doing, we’ve never stopped working on issues in NELA or CD1 as a whole.
We listen to local residents, and following the lead of many local residents and the neighborhood councils, we were able to have productive conversations with the council member’s office around the Mobility Plan. Unlike some streets in that plan from other districts, we feel like community concerns were heard, we organized letter writing, and we were in a number of meetings speaking about what NELA needed to see in the Mobility Plan. And we won. The Mobility Plan is an example of a clear success for both the community’s work and LACBC’s work in NELA.
Through our membership in the Vision Zero Alliance, we promoted that most recent Great Streets event on Fig. We were able to get people who care about biking, walking, and safe streets to attend the event and express their vision for Fig. This event resulted in a commitment from LADOT to make improvements to Fig. This project is currently reflected on the LADOT Active Transportation Project List – FY16/17.
We have to understand that for many residents of NELA, bike lanes and transportation generally are just a few of the items on a list of many concerns. Other concerns include uncertainty about the new national landscape and many fears around this uncertainty. For many people, the council member is a champion leading on issues like protecting the City’s immigrant population—many of them are our neighbors, friends, and family. We can’t ignore that understanding these other issues and what struggles others face will be important as we look to build coalitions, better understand the council office, and effectuate any change in the community.
LACBC has not met often with the council member’s office as a sole organization. Rather, we have formed deep partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) across the district from Pico to Chinatown to Elysian Valley. We have personal relationships with the members and leaders of these organizations, we work together with them on paid and unpaid projects, throughout the district, and we’re approaching connectivity from a district-wide perspective and working from the ground-up to change hearts, minds, roads, and policies throughout the district.
We’ve also shifted our focus to working with partners through a Vision Zero lens and developing a deep working relationship with LADOT and the Vision Zero team there. Through the CBO-led Vision Zero Alliance, we are partnering with several local groups and all talking about how to make streets safer. This relationship allows us to work with LADOT, but also to push them when we want to see more. When LADOT releases their strategic plan for Vision Zero, we know that Fig will be on the High Injury Network and we plan to continue pushing to see permanent changes made to the street. We are leading with Vision Zero messaging to ensure that we always keep people at the center of making Fig safe, not politics.
We can do better in NELA. One comment that really stuck with me is that we haven’t always been good at working with the community, we haven’t always worked the best with what and who we have, and we haven’t always been as bottom up as we could be. We hear you. We want to do better. We will do better.
As we all rushed out of the library to avoid being locked in for the night, one attendee shared stories about two of the horrible tragedies we all know about on Fig. I then shared about one of the tragedies where I was literally feet away when it happened. We were both emotional. We both expressed in our own ways that enough was enough and that we know a change must happen because even one death is one too many. LACBC talked about plans for a potential candidate forum and focus on the upcoming election and/or about going back to focusing on grassroots organizing with an emphasis on Vision Zero and LADOT’s Vision Zero work. Based on comments from many community members present, it was clear that there was a desire to use LACBC’s time and capacity to focus on Vision Zero and let the campaign work happen on individuals’ personal time.
One of the last comments was from another community member who outlined a few things that came up over the course of the night that we should all acknowledge as we think about what we could pursue as a coalition if we can give one another a chance to try again:
Establish alliances with groups and people who are focused on other issues that matter to CD1 residents like fear of displacement, affordable housing, and immigrants’ rights, to help re-frame the conversation about bike infrastructure and safe streets in CD1.
Demand that the dangerous condition of Figueroa be addressed by LADOT under Vision Zero and as part of the High Injury Network (HIN):
LACBC will continue to organize within the Vision Zero Alliance for action on the HIN.
Community members, with support from LACBC could start a Neighborhood Council campaign beginning with HHPNC to put pressure on LADOT to follow through on the plan it presented at FigJam.
With the sad reality that severe injuries and deaths will continue to occur on Figueroa until changes are made, LACBC will maintain contact with Fig4All advocates and be ready with the following when the next tragedy strikes:
Establish shared method to connect with the community who can organize a meeting/vigil/demonstration as appropriate for healing and a call for action.
Readiness to quickly reach out to the NELA mailing list to inform community members of any events.
Readiness to quickly reach out to contacts at media outlets, especially those who have covered Figueroa previously.
Other takeaways from the night include:
Realize that, for whatever reason, protests and demonstrations haven’t impacted the council office.
Use your personal time to do whatever you can around the election.
Stop focusing on the past and what we’ve each done wrong, but focus on the future and what we can accomplish together.
This was insightful, helpful, and a great way to focus on moving forward. I’d like to take the first step. LACBC wants to commit to another community meeting before the end of January. We hope everyone who was there last night comes back. We hope to see some new faces. We’ll commit to moving forward. We’ll keep coming back and we’ll get to know each other better, we’ll come with true inclusive ideas on how to engage with the community and how to use our skillset to lead with true direction from the people who know Fig best—all of you. Let’s achieve Vision Zero on Fig. We’re in this until we see a new Fig. We can’t do it alone, we never have been able to. We need community members like you. We’ll be back in NELA in January 2017. We hope to see you there.