Eagle Rock’s Freeway Revolt

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Looking West on Las Flores Drive from Ellenwood Drive.

Las Flores Drive is about 20 feet wide, curb-to-curb. It is one of the narrowest streets to run contiguously for as long as it does, and to also feature sidewalks on both sides of the street. It’s no surprise people sometimes mistake it for an alley, it really is a quaint street. However, without community engagement, there is a good chance the street would not exist in its tranquil state, if at all.

134 Freeway Plans Take Shape

In the 1950s, plans to complete the 134 Freeway (then referred to as the Colorado Boulevard Freeway) started to take shape. At this point, the freeway already ran through Burbank and Pasadena, but it did not yet go through Glendale or Eagle Rock[i]. Initially, there were a few routing configurations being considered for the portion through Eagle Rock. One proposal had the freeway running south of Colorado Boulevard along Chickasaw Avenue, while the other two placed the freeway north of the boulevard, with one along Las Flores Drive and the other on Hill Drive.

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The grey thick lines show the proposed Las Flores and Chickasaw freeway routes. Image credit: Eagle Rock by Eric Warren

These routes were immediately opposed by a substantial portion of the neighborhood, including local elected officials  and the Chamber of Commerce. Hundreds of people attended meetings lasting several hours. In 1959, Eagle Rock’s Assembly Representative, John Collier, boldly proclaimed that a freeway through Eagle Rock “brings no benefits” to anyone [ii]. Eagle Rock residents protested on the behalf of the numerous residents that would be displaced by the freeway routing with one local at the time stating:

“A freeway that would cut Eagle Rock in two would kill this community as a lovely residential suburb.” [iii]

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A Subtle Benefit of Street Trees

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Trees shade sidewalk (and curbside parking) on Yosemite Drive.

There are lots of reasons to like street trees. The most obvious benefit, especially as the days are getting warmer, is that they provide shade. Trees can also be majestic in appearance if they are permitted to large, aesthetically pleasing, calming, and have been known to raise property values. But none of those reasons are the focus of this post. Street trees can also obscure the ugly– specifically, utility and telephone poles.

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Telephone poles on Avenue 51.

Telephone and utility poles are necessary infrastructure but can be a little unsightly if they dominate a streetscape. However, street trees, in addition to their numerous well-known benefits, can also function to obscure the presence of this bare infrastructure. For example, take a look at the situation across the street from the picture above…

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Jose Huizar for City Council

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Vote Jose Huizar for City Council on March 3, 2015.

On Tuesday, March 3, Eagle Rock residents will cast their vote for who they want to represent the neighborhood on the city council. On one end, the incumbent, Jose Huizar, and on the other those looking to unseat him, most notably Gloria Molina and Nadine Diaz. While many have already decided who they will vote for, there are some that remain undecided. For those falling into the latter category, this post urges a vote for Jose Huizar.

Any politician can promise to trim trees or to repair sidewalks. Indeed, all candidates say this is a priority. However, as councilmember, Huizar has demonstrated this quite successfully through actions. He sets aside discretionary funding to fix sidewalks during a time when the full city council merely discusses the idea of fixing some sidewalks in front of city-owned property. Prominent locations where sidewalks have been repaired in and around Eagle Rock thanks to Councilmember Huizar include: Eagle Rock Library, the westbound bus stop at Colorado Blvd/Mount Royal, Women’s 20th Century Club, York Boulevard, and the Highland Park Senior Center.

All these sidewalk repairs have come as part of a broader initiative Councilmember Huizar introduced called “Clean Communities Initiative.” The initiative has provided the kinds of services people expect, but have been neglected too long on a citywide basis. Under the initiative, Huizar has organized community clean-ups, repaired sidewalks, removed graffiti, and trimmed trees. And all this has been performed at a pace, scale, and quality unparalleled in any other district. For example, the City sometimes hacks tree free of any leaves in an attempt to reduce maintenance costs while Huizar’s tree trimmings are done with care to keep the trees looking beautiful and functional in providing shade. Such subtle details should not go unnoticed.

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Quality tree-trimming, courtesy of Councilmember Huizar’s “Clean Communities Initiative.” (Photo via: Facebook)

Councilmember Huizar also has among the most responsive and personable staff who take all constituent concerns seriously. Anyone who visits one of Huizar’s district offices quickly learns that his staff members love their jobs and know the neighborhoods they represent very well. This undoubtedly explains why Huizar and his staff respond to constituents on social media as well, off the clock and during weekends too. The council office also has good relationships with community organizations and city departments, which always helps in getting things accomplished.

However, a councilmember is more than a point of contact to city departments and a representative that maintains a quality of life. We elect council members because of their vision. A good councilmember does not just think about the present, they think about the future too, and in this regard there is nobody quite like Jose Huizar.

Although the Clean Communities Initiative is about restoring basic services, it also acknowledges the importance of quality. Unlike most sidewalk repairs performed in the City that are fixed with asphalt because it is cheap, Huizar sets aside money for sidewalks to repaired with concrete because it lasts longer and looks better– a more cost effective solution in the long-term that does not impact aesthetics with a black asphalt patch.

Huizar also recognizes the importance of streets that are business-friendly and accommodating to ALL travel modes. In addition to sidewalk repairs, Huizar has championed crosswalks and bike lanes. In Eagle Rock, Huizar collaborated with various neighborhood organizations to implement two new crosswalks and buffered bike lanes on Colorado Boulevard.

Colorado Blvd/Glen Iris Crosswalk

Councilmember Huizar’s office fought on the behalf of the community to get the Department of Transportation to install this crosswalk at the intersection of Glen Iris Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Before (above) and after (below).

Councilmember Huizar also helped get parking hours extended along Colorado Boulevard. This encourages people to park once, and take their time when they visit local businesses. Most might not notice this, or have attributed it to Huizar, but it was his doing and just another example of the small-scale but effective interventions he has introduced to his district.

Additionally, Huizar has initiated an update of Eagle Rock’s Colorado Boulevard Specific Plan to remove an out-dated restriction on operating hours imposed on new businesses. The restriction should formally be removed by next year and then locals will not have to drive to Glendale, Pasadena, or Highland Park for evening plans, they will be able to walk to more destinations along our main boulevard.

In Highland Park, Huizar helped the neighborhood craft the York Boulevard Vision Plan, a community-drive document that lays out plans to make the street more vibrant and friendly. Changes that have been introduced along the street as a result include: the City’s first bike corral, the City’s first parklet, and the implementation of bike lanes extending from Eagle Rock Boulevard to South Pasadena. But perhaps the most significant change on the boulevard has been the addition of a public park on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 50. Getting the park was not easy, and make no mistake, it took a lot of work and simply would not have happened without the support and dedication of Councilmember Jose Huizar.

And there is so much more. Jose Huizar has:

  • Secured funding to restore historic Eagle Rock City Hall and replace the exterior lawn with drought-tolerant landscaping.
  • Held several community building events annually, such as July 4th fireworks displays, that bring people together.
  • Alerted Eagle Rock to Glendale’s plans to expand the Scholl Canyon Landfill, formally shared his opposition to landfill expansion during the Draft Environmental Impact Review (DEIR) period and encouraged residents to speak out against it too.
  • Opposed any extension of the 710 Freeway, which for a long time was proposed to cut through Northeast Los Angeles. In fact, he authored a motion for the City to formally oppose the project, which was approved. Instead, Huizar favors investment in light-rail because he understands the concept of “induced demand” (if you build a freeway it will only temporarily relieve congestion before filling up with cars) and realizes Angelenos need alternatives to driving to create a more sustainable city.
  • Protected local hillsides from development to preserve them as open-space
  • Funded the planting of nearly 300 street trees in Eagle Rock and Highland Park (the largest tree planting in 50 years).
  • Installed trash cans along Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard.
  • Implemented a crosswalk at Townsend Avenue (pictured below), improving the safety of children as they walk to Eagle Rock High School, and upgraded crosswalks by Delevan Elementary.
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Students use a crosswalk on Townsend Avenue where one did not exist before. The Department of Transportation installed this crosswalk at the request of Councilmember Jose Huizar.

The changes that have occurred under Councilmember Jose Huizar’s two terms reflect true leadership. He has worked tirelessly to not only maintain, but actually enhance the neighborhood and make Eagle Rock a safer and more sustainable place for generations. He has successfully collaborated with neighborhood organizations to bring long-sought improvements to reality. He has delivered basic services as well as bold vision.

If elected to a third term, there is so much more we have to look forward to. Among other things, Councilmember Huizar hopes to: revitalize Eagle Rock Boulevard to be more vibrant like Colorado Boulevard through making it a more pedestrian friendly boulevard; see further streetscape improvements to Colorado Boulevard; and bring the neighborhood a much needed dog park. Vote Jose Huizar for city council on March 3rd, he has been great to Eagle Rock and has the right vision to make it an even better place to live.

EL Mercado and York Park Grand Opening

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Folks had a rare opportunity to enjoy strolling York Boulevard free of cars during the York Park grand opening.

Yesterday Highland Park enjoyed a very special event, the grand opening of the long anticipated York Park, located on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 50. Planned in conjunction with what has great potential to be a recurring street fair on York Boulevard between Avenue 50 and Avenue 52, El Mercado, it was a memorable day for all in attendance.

IMG_1944Before the ceremonial ribbon cutting for the York Park, Councilmember Jose Huizar detailed the hard work it took to get to this day. The park’s grand opening reflects years of meetings and dedicated community engagement. Huizar also took the opportunity to share how proud he is of improvements that have been made over the years in the district, including the development the neighborhood’s bicycle network and piloting of small-scale innovations for more walkable streets (now formally adopted in the city’s People Street program).

Senator De Leon spoke of the park’s importance as a symbol of environmental justice. He noted that some westside neighborhoods have front yards larger many homes in the area and that every neighborhood deserves access to parks, particularly so that children have a safe spaces to play and grow.

Congressmember Becerra, aware that children were very eager to start enjoying the park, was brief in his remarks but recounted his advocacy for the community on the federal level to help secure funds for civic improvements such as the York Park.

Assemblymember Gomez, who walked to the event from his Eagle Rock home, said he is proud to live in a walkable neighborhood and frequents the bustling York Boulevard corridor often to patronize local businesses. He said he is pushing for further improvements to make the district he represents more livable, with a focus on Los Angeles River revitalization and improved bicycle infrastructure connecting to the River.

While most attention was rightfully dedicated to the York Park opening, here are some additional highlights from the event looking at the street fair along the two block stretch of York Boulevard:

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York Boulevard was truly a street for people.

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Colorful sidewalk chalking .

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Some of the businesses open during the event benefitted from the additional foot traffic.

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This was the scene at the edge of the street fair. Traffic was re-routed onto Meridian Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, streets paralleling York Boulevard.

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York Boulevard felt more like space for neighbors to gather than an thoroughfare to rush through.

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Crowd gathers around the park as it finally opens. Note the amusing sign overhead.

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The city’s first bike corral was filled beyond capacity. Many other parked bikes dotted the street fair.

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One of the delightful sights during the event was seeing bikes with child-seats.

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The focus may have been on the children, but the day was truly for everyone. Here an elderly couple takes a pause and does some people watching, utilizing the city’s first public parklet

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Old roadway marking visible in the center of the street (the dark grey lines in the middle) reminds us of a time not long ago when York Boulevard was two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane at intersections. That York Boulevard would be populated with people like this would be unimaginable just ten years ago.

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The intersection of York Boulevard and Avenue 51 became a communal outdoor seating area reminiscent of Downtown’s Bring Back Broadway initiative.

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By all accounts, the celebratory day was a huge success. A question many had before the day was over was “when can this happen again?”

A big thank you to all who made the day possible!

(ps. No pictures of the park in this post but some great pictures can be found on twitter, including this one, taken from the roof of the building across the street. Also, see The Eastsider LA’s coverage for some additional pictures of the park.)

York Boulevard Park Nears Completion

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In 20 days, this lot on the corner of Avenue 50 and York Boulevard will be a public park.

On Saturaday, February 21, a long anticipated park on the corner of Avenue 50 and York Boulevard, currently under construction, will finally open. The day will be celebrated with a ribbon cutting and a street fair as the most ambitious part of the York Boulevard Vision Plan, a comprehensive and community-driven plan for improvements along the boulevard, comes to life. However, as we count down the days to what is now an inevitability, it is important to remember that four years ago the park was just an idea and its location an empty, privately-owned lot.

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Learning From A State Route

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Colorado Boulevard’s crosswalks were upgraded to high-visibility “continental crosswalks” last year. More commonly known as “zebra crosswalks,” this simple change to the boulevard has made crossing the street safer for pedestrians.

There is broad consensus in Eagle Rock that the neighborhood’s main commercial streets, Colorado Boulevard and Eagle Rock Boulevard, should be more pedestrian friendly to encourage greater levels of foot traffic and local shopping. While some segments of these boulevards are quite pleasant to be on, there are other portions that can be rather unfriendly for people on foot. What Eagle Rock needs are boulevards that are pleasant and provide a nice shopping experience throughout.

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Eagle Rock Walking Tour on November 23

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On Sunday, November 23, Walk Eagle Rock will be hosting a walking tour around the neighborhood to explore the town’s history on foot. The family-friendly 5 mile route will be a shorter (and slightly modified) version of the walk led two months ago in August.

Below are the details, and feel free to RSVP to the event on Facebook:

Community and Civic Engagement in Eagle Rock

  • Date: Sunday, November 23, 2014
  • Time: 10:00AM-12:00PM
  • Location: 2035 Colorado Blvd (Eagle Rock City Hall)
  • Walking Tour Length: 5 miles
  • Event is free and open to the public. Restrooms/water fountains will be available at mile 1 and 3.
  • Attendees are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and bring cash for lunch after the walk.
  • Questions? Email us at walkeaglerock@gmail.com

We hope to see you there and stay tuned for additional walking tours exploring different parts of the neighborhood in 2015!