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SGV Connect

SGV Connect is Streetsblog Los Angeles' podcast that explores the people, places, projects and events that make up the changing face of transportation in the San Gabriel Valley. SGV Connect is hosted by Damien Newton and Kris Fortin. This feed also hosts SGV Connect's predecessor podcast, #DamienTalks.
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Jun 27, 2024

This week's SGV Connect returns to our regular formula with a pair of interviews by Damien Newton and Chris Greenspon.

First, Chris interviews Melissa Mora Hidalgo, a queer entertainment writer living in Whittier. The interview goes back and forth between fun and serious, as the two discuss both her work and the performative allyship that occurs during Pride month. In short, Hidalgo would prefer a city that works to create safe environments for all its residents to one that puts up rainbow flags one month a year.

You can read a transcript of the interview here.

After that, Damien interviews Jonah Kanner, an advocate for safer streets with the Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition. Kanner recently authored a post for PCSC's blog entiteled, "Pasadena Is Almost a 15-Minute City." Kanner explains what a 15-minute city is, and what little things Pasadena can do to come ever-closer to joining the 15-minute club.

You can read a transcript of the interview here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Did we mention SGV Connect won a big award at the L.A. Press Club this week? Read all about it here.

Jun 14, 2024

This week Chris brings us a special feature interview with artist Isabel Pan. Pan is the artist in residence at C.A.S.A Zamora in El Monte. Her project has been a documentary-style, slice of life comic strip depicting the impact of sweatshop labor and refugee crises on the children of immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. 

Pan’s subject is the son of a sweat shop worker, Denny. His parents came to El Monte in the late 70’s, fleeing the Vietnam War. They endured the loss of family en route to America, and the struggle of working in the garment industry once here. Pan’s comic strip is titled Má, which is what Denny calls his mother.

Má explores the generation gap and communication breakdown that Denny experienced growing up with parents who were traumatized by their escape from Vietnam and exploited by employers in Southern California. Denny’s mother was a work-from-home seamstress, payed cents per piece, who provided a home for her children. 

Pan - raised in part by working class grandparents - talks frankly with SBLA about the physical and emotional burden of this labor,  as well as the beauty of sharing these experiences with other Monteros. Her comic can be found at Matilija Lending Library in El Monte.

Streetsblog’s San Gabriel Valley coverage is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays!

May 22, 2024

This week’s SGV Connect continues our theme of focusing in on various areas of the SGV for our podcast episodes by looking at the Greater Pasadena area.

First, Damien and Chris traveled to El Sereno to meet with some of the Reclaimers, unhoused residents of El Sereno who moved into Caltrans owned properties during the pandemic. Benito, Sandra and Fanny return to SGV Connect (their first appearance can be found here) to advocate for affordable housing and community spaces, discuss the ongoing eviction battle between Caltrans and the Reclaimers. Personal stories and experiences are shared, emphasizing the need for accountability and justice from those in power: especially Caltrans, the county’s homeless services provider, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin DeLeon. A transcript of their discussion can be found here.

This discussion references the Roberti Act, passed in the 1970’s to guide Caltrans on how to manage and eventually sell these properties. A good description of Roberti can be found in this article about the competing vision between the Reclaimers and DeLeon for El Sereno.

Rick Cole has been a regular commenter at Streetsblog and Santa Monica Next for years. After his election to the Pasadena City Council in March, we reached back out to him to discuss the need to improve Pasadena's transportation infrastructure and engage the community in a more inclusive and proactive approach to address gentrification. Cole emphasized the importance of prioritizing safety, affordability, and alternatives to car use, and the need for a more inclusive approach to urban planning, involving the public in decision-making processes. A transcript of their discussion can be found here.

 

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

May 10, 2024

This week's SGV Connect is focusing on the election to replace Councilmember and Vice-Mayor Sasha Renée Pérez of Alhambra. Pérez has given up her seat to run for the State Senate.

 
Chris interviews Nicolas Kiet Quach, the president of the Alhambra Library Board of Trustees. While only 18, Kiet Quach is no newcomer to politics having worked for and with Pérez. If you choose, you can read a transcript of the interview, here.
 
Next, Damien talks to Je-Show Yang, a community activist who has appeared a couple of times in Streetsblog articles about the Fremont Avenue exit ramps, Alhambra bicycle and pedestrian master plan and other stories. If you choose, you can read a transcript of the interview, here.
 
Normally, SGV Connect likes to provide a little more context in the text that accompanies the podcast, but since we're talking to a pair of political candidates and we're a federally recognized non-profit we're going to pass on anything that could be seen as editorializing. These are both exciting candidates and we hope you enjoy the podcast.
 

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Feb 27, 2024

We continue our tour through the San Gabriel Valley with an episode focused on the City of Glendora, known as the Heart of the Foothills.

It might surprise you if you're not familiar with what's going on at this small suburban community, but Glendora is working hard to build out a bike network, calm traffic on its streets, build up a downtown in its 'village' area and continue to plan for the coming A Line (Gold Line) Station. Our first interview is with Steve Mateer, who is responsible for executing the vision for a new and green Glendora. We talk about how the City Council is pushing a smart growth vision for the city and how their community outreach strategy has helped reach consensus instead of conflict on new projects such as bike lanes or parklets.

Second, Chris interviews Adam Cousins, the satirist behind the Memes of Glendora Instagram page. The social media site provides a tongue-in-cheek view of suburban life in the San Gabriel Valley.

The audio of our podcast can be found below. If you prefer the written word, you can find a transcript of our interview with Steve here and with Adam here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Feb 18, 2024

Welcome to the first SGV Connect podcast of 2024! We start our new year with the first in a new series that focuses on different regions and communities in the San Gabriel Valley and examines both the state of their mobility projects and cultural and community projects.

 

This week, both interviews were completed by Chris Greenspon. The first is with David Diaz, the executive director of Active SGV, where they discuss several projects going on in the area: a multimodal projects coming soon to the area, a linear park and greenway on Merced Avenue, the Rosemead Boulevard Complete Streets, and projects on Rush Street, Santa Anita, and Parkway Drive.

 

The second interview is with Pedro Gonzales, the librarian at Libros Monte, a lending library run by the South El Monte Arts Posse and staff member with Mt San Antonio College’s El Centro: Latinx Student Program. The conversation bounces back and forth between Libros Monte and El Centro at Mt SAC (and some soccer).

 

If you prefer reading rather than listening, you can read transcripts of the interview with David Diaz here or Pedro Gonzalez here.

 

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

 

Dec 12, 2023

Last Friday, Foothill Transit celebrated its 35th anniversary with a party in the parking lot of its West Covina headquarters. Joe Linton and Chris Greenspon were among those on-hand and they had a chance to catch up with a handful of people that helped shape Foothill Transit's past and will guide the agency into the future. Those short interviews are included in this podcast and include:

Congressmember Judy Chu

Foothill Transit Executive Director Doran Barnes

Former Duarte Mayor John Fasana

Former Glendora Councilmember Bob Kuhn

Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Foothill Transit, LaShawn King Gillespie

You can also read Linton's coverage of Friday's event here. A full transcript of the interview can be found below the podcast.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Chris Greenspon (in studio): Welcome to SGV Connect 121, this is a shorter episode, but it’s a special montage of interviews from the 35th anniversary celebration of Foothill Transit at their headquarters in West Covina. Joe and I heard from board members past and present, local legislators, and higher ups in the transit agency about its history and where it’s going. Before we listen to that, I’d just like to remind you that: Streetsblog’s San Gabriel Valley coverage is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit dot org…… “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.” Now let’s revisit the celebration that took place last Friday.
 
Judy Chu: Well, good afternoon. I'm Congress member Judy Chu. And I just had to be here to say congratulations to Foothill Transit on your 35th anniversary. I can't believe it's been 35 years but I can believe it because Foothill has made such an impact on the San Gabriel Valley. And I am a huge admirer of this agency. I'm especially thrilled because it's addressed an issue that Southern Californians have had to deal with, which is traffic and congestion on our roadways, carbon emissions and having better ways to get to work school and to other communities in the San Gabriel Valley. But Foothill Transit has been at the forefront of solving these problems and ensuring that communities in the San Gabriel Valley that are underserved by transit have a convenient, sustainable connection to the rest of the Los Angeles area. And I especially admire Foothill Transit because it's leading the way in terms of clean energy. You're the first transit agency in the world to deploy heavy duty, fast charge electric transit buses in service. How about that? And I always boast in Washington DC about the fact that Foothill Transit is pushing for a 100% clean fueled fleet, and they're well on their way to getting it. And just look at all the tremendous steps that happened this year alone. In June, we celebrated the grand opening of Foothill transits Mount SAC Transit Center, which provides on Campus Transit to thousands of students, staff and faculty members. And by implementing the new Foothill Transit Rose Bowl shuttle service thousands of people can get to and from Rose Bowl events without having to deal with the hassle of traffic and parking. So you are making public transit more accessible for everyone. You're reducing the number of cars on our overburdened roads, and you're helping to fight climate change and building a greener and healthier community. So congratulations Foothill Transit and everyone here on this wonderful milestone. Thank you for all the work that you're doing to serve our communities, improve our public transit, and protect our environment. And I'd like to present a certificate of congressional recognition to Foothill Transit for 35 great years...
 
CG: First of all, first name, last name, who you are, why do we care.
Doran Barnes: Hi, Doran Barnes, Chief Executive Officer here at Foothill Transit.
CG: So when/why/how was Foothill Transit founded?

DB: Well, Foothill Transit was created to be responsive to the communities that we serve, to really focus on the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, to be here to be located here, to really understand the conditions in the community and how we can best serve the community and its residents.

CG: But just for a little context, it wasn't the first agency serving this jurisdiction, right?
DB: It was not. Originally, this area was served by the Southern California Rapid Transit District. We were part of the county wide service that provided service here in the San Gabriel Valley. Our community leaders wanted to have that local control and that local responsiveness. So that's how we were founded.
 
CG (in studio): All right, now let's listen to some of those electeds for a more detailed picture of Foothill Transit's past.
 
John Fasana: John Fasana, I was a council member in Duarte for 33 years. I also was on the Foothill Transit executive board for a while and served on the Metro board for 27 years.
Joe Linton: The longest serving person on the Metro board.
JF: Yeah, I was. I was an original.
JL: So talk a little bit about what your role has been with Foothill Transit and maybe a story about what what Foothill Transit has done?
JF: Well, Foothill Transit, I think in the early days, what it came down to... the SCRTD was going to cance routes, they're having budget issues. And in the San Gabriel Valley, the were going to do substantial cancellations of routes. So in the early to mid 1980s, people like Supervisor Schabarum, and at the Transportation Commission, Sharon Neely and others were looking at strategies, "Well, rather than canceling lines, is there a way to get better efficiency in the lines or better performance?" And people like Bob Bartlett in Monrovia, Don McMillan, Judy Wright and Claremont, McMillan was in El Monte. They were coming together like, "Yeah, we don't want to lose all our routes. What can we do to still keep our routes and still provide the service that people need?" So they looked at forming this agency, it started off very small. They talked with  cities in the San Gabriel Valley. First they were going to do the entire valley. Then they scaled it to 20 cities, I believe, mostly in the eastern Valley. And it's been a success. I mean, over the years, they've done a lot of innovation. They've run a great service. They had clean buses at the time in the early 90s. And Metro buses had a lot of graffiti in them. So the Foothill buses were very popular, and the Metro I think, has improved their services and runs a good service. But cost wise, I think Foothill is still extremely efficient. And they continue to be the eyes and the ears of the San Gabriel Valley in terms of what's needed out here. They've been a key stakeholder in terms of also informing us about what some of the transportation needs, how do you keep that 10 busway moving for, for example, keep people moving and not having the busway gridlock. There's some of us I know that was formed as a bus way originally. And then there was a transit strike that after it sat empty, people couldn't deal with that so they let cars in. And it's been a good story. But Bob Kuhn out of Glendora, who was on the council back then, also would have a lot of that ancient history of how it started.
 
CG: Hi, Bob, what's your name? What's your claim to fame?
Bob Kuhn: Okay, I'm Bob Kuhn. I was on the Foothill Transit Board in the early years. I've been a city council member for the city of Glendora, former mayor. I currently serve on three different water boards right now. I don't know if that's a claim to fame, or just a fact.
CG: That seems more like a humble brag.
JL: So tell us tell us about this: Foothill has been around 35 years, when did you come into the picture? And what was it like then?
BK: I got into the picture on an early end of it. And that was from the standpoint of talking with Pete Schabarum and the fact that he wanted to bring an independent transit agency out into the San Gabriel Valley. He wanted to see cleaner buses, he wanted to see on-time production. And he also wanted to see some of the school districts served, that was really a big issue for him. At that time, Metro wasn't doing a particularly good job of servicing the school districts. And that was basically the ridership. And so he made a pitch to Glendora, which I had just gotten elected. It was my very first meeting as a city councilman. And my mistake for me personally, was calling the guy who made the presentation on Pete's behalf, it was a guy named Bill Forsyth. And I called Bill the next day. And I said, "Bill, I really do understand English, but I didn't understand a single word you said. You were talking in transit." He was involved in the 1984 Olympics and set up their transit system. So he was asked and tasked to set this up. And I didn't understand the routing. I didn't understand really what he was saying about about on time. Those were all issues that just didn't, didn't register with me. So he and I sat down for about two hours. And then he said at the end, he says, "I need an elected to go with me to some of the different city councils and make presentations." He said, "It's always good to have staff, and it always looks better when you're talking to electeds to have electeds there." And I said, "As long as I don't have to talk, I don't mind being there." And that's the way it worked out. I went with him. And toward the end, I was making the presentation and he was sitting there watching and it just came to be. It was just something that was destined at that time.
 
CG (in studio): Okay, let's bring it back to the present now.
 
LaShawn King Gillespie: I'm ready. I don't even have to take off my glasses because you don't have a camera. Isn't that great? Hi, I'm LaShawn King Gillespie and I serve as Deputy Chief Executive Officer here at Foothill Transit.
JL: And talk a little bit about what you do. What's your day to day job?
LKG: My day to day job is to support the team in both the operations, the planning, the day to day operations. I also work with our operations contractors at both locations, so that they can have what they need to provide the excellent service that we've committed to providing our customers.
JL: Great. And what's an accomplishment that you're proud of recently at Foothill? Or even in the past of Foothill, what are you proud of having done?
LKG: I think there's a few things that I'm super proud of. Of course, our commitment to technology and innovation, but our commitment to our community, both those who live here, who are educated here, those who play here, and making sure that we provide the highest level of service that we can, and what that looks like is clean buses, on-time performance, friendly operators/customer service representatives, and reliable service.
JL: Any any like stories like some time you were out on a bus or you were talking to a customer, if you've got a story, that'd be awesome to add. If you don't want to add, you're done.
CG: Her head jerked. That means yes.
LKG: I probably have more stories and you want to hear about. One of my favorite stories, and I think they talked about this during the presentation today is our Rose Bowl service. When I go out on January one, at eight o'clock in the morning, the parades going on, and I see 70 meticulously clean Foothill Transit buses, there, ready to provide service to the thousands of customers or 1thousands of people who are going into the Rose Bowl, and the service that we provide that community and the feedback that we get after doing that service. That is one of my favorite things ever. Just imagine 70 buses -- am I getting a little too excited -- 70 buses lined up along the parade route. You see the floats going by and the buses, and then we are ready to just get people from that parking lot out to the Rose Bowl, seeing that. So that's one of my favorite things. In some of my day to day service... I do take the service, because we need to know our product. I remember when I first started, I got lost, I got lost and I was stranded. And I'm like, "Oh my gosh," it was before a lot of the technology was available, but calling our customer service representatives and them helping me and guiding me on how to get from where I was back to the office. I was like, "Alright, this is a cool place to work because they care." They absolutely care.
 
CG (in studio): And let's close out once again with Foothill Transit CEO, Dorian Barnes.
 
CG: Okay, two questions about the future. How close are we to getting... well, we're looking at about an initial purchase of about, was it 30 Fuel Cell buses? Are they all in pocket now?
DB: Yeah, 33 Fuel Cell buses, they're here, they're operating so you can take a ride on those fuel cell buses today. They're out in the field, more to come. We're looking at additional zero emission technology, really looking at how that technology is evolving. And it's up to our policymakers to make those smart decisions about how fast we move.
CG: And Foothill Transit has service to like we already mentioned L.A. but also the fringes of Orange County and the Inland Empire right into them, not to the edge of them. Are there any future plans or hopes to bolster up these inter-regional connections?
DB: Well, we're really part of a mosaic of services throughout the region. So we do connect to Omnitrans at Montclair, we connect to OCTA in Brea. And then of course, connecting into downtown Los Angeles, where there lots and lots of different operators. We're constantly looking at those partnerships, looking at how do we not only serve our communities, but provide connectivity beyond our communities with our partners. So it's really an ongoing process looking at how do we make improvements.
CG: Okay, last question for you, Doran. I know your time is very valuable. So there's been some development from the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. They've been working on a transit study and Bus Rapid Transit plan, how hopeful and how aggressive might Foothill Transit be about pursuing service provision for that line?
DB: We've been very much involved with the creation of that study that's looking at additional lines in the region, BRT style lines. We're very hopeful that we'll be the operator of those services. As they're getting closer and closer to finalizing the preferred routes and the highest priority routes. We think there's some pieces that could fit really nicely into our network and further expand what we do for the communities we serve.
CG: Just as an addendum, why do you think Foothill is the strong agency to do that?
DB: Well, again, we're we're focused on the San Gabriel Valley. So blending those services into what we do makes it even more seamless for our customers. Certainly, whoever operates the lines, we'll want to make sure that we're interfacing very closely. But again, we think it fits into our network very nicely.
CG: All right, Doran, thanks so much, and enjoy the rest of the party.
DB: Thanks. I'm looking forward to it.
 
CG (in studio): To see photos of our coverage of the Foothill Transit 35th anniversary celebration, look at Joe’s most recent stories, linked in the text for this episode. We’ll be back with more SGV Connect after the winter holidays.
Nov 22, 2023

Jeanie Ward-Waller is not a household name in California, but until recently she may have had the most important job in the state as far as Streetsblog readers are concerned. Ward-Waller served as the Deputy Director of Planning and Multimodal Programs at Caltrans, where she not only oversaw many of the great programs that we regularly highlighted at Streetsblog; but also served as the internal whistleblower to make certain the agency was working to meet its own climate and equity goals.

 

While we were all surprised when Politico announced earlier this fall that she was fired/demoted, in retrospect maybe the surprise was that she lasted as long and accomplished as much as she did.

 

Below you can find the audio of a twenty minute chat we had last week, and then a stack of links about her time at Caltrans and Calbike before that and then a lightly edited transcript of the podcast.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller Streetsblog Highlights, going from most recent backwards:

 

Analysis of her reassignment

I Lost My Job at Caltrans for Speaking Out Against Highway Widening

2021 Interview About Her Work at Caltrans
On a panel about speeding up buses
On the challenges of incorporating equity:
JWW created new Walk and Bike Technical Advisory Committee at Caltrans, with wider representation
Hired at Caltrans
At CalBike advocating to get Caltrans to adopt a Complete Streets policy:
SBCA gave out very few "Streetsies" and this was the best one
Standing up to California Transportation Commission

 

Interview Transcript:

 

Damien Newton

So as mentioned in the intro, I'm here with Jeanne Ward-Waller, who recently was the Deputy Director of Planning and Multimodal Programs at Caltrans. We're talking today about some of the changes that have happened at Caltrans recently, including that she is no longer the Deputy Director of Planning and Multimodal Programs at Caltrans. 

 

For those of you that don't know, Jeanne has been a frequent guest on Streetsblog, California, or I shouldn't say guest frequent source person quoted in stories. Not just with Caltrans...but before that she was with Calbike. When she was first put in this position, we were all very excited. And I'll actually put some links to some of our old Streetsblog California stories in the text that accompanies this podcast if people are interested. But having said all that, welcome to our podcast, Jeannie.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Thank you. Thank you, man. That's great to see you. Great to be with you.

 

Damien Newton

Thank you. So I did mention that you have a much longer history than just working at Caltrans recently. So why don't we do a little bit of your biography to give some people that might not be as familiar with you an idea as to why there were so many people across the state really excited when you were originally tapped for this position to Caltrans.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Thank you. Yeah. I appreciate all those nice things. I am originally I don't know how far back you want me to go. But I'm a trained engineer. I did start my career as an engineer working in Boston. I transitioned into advocacy via a bike trip across the country, which was where I kind of cut my teeth on advocacy and fundraised for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. And just like very serendipitously, at the end of that trip, I met the founder of that organization, Deb Hubsmith, who hired me to move to California and start working in advocacy here in Sacramento. 

 

I consider myself so lucky, because I just absolutely...it was the career shift that I needed. I loved being in advocacy so much, and certainly have found my passion in the world of sustainable transportation. But I spent a couple of years working for Safe Routes to School, as you said, I then moved to the California Bicycle Coalition as a policy director there. And then found my way to Caltrans, about six years ago. I started at Caltrans as the Sustainability Program Manager, helping to build that program, which was really pretty new at the time, and had grown out of that Caltrans reform effort from about 10 years ago. 

 

And so I was really excited...I felt like if I was ever going to try to make change inside of government, that that was the place to do it. And that program was new, growing and really came out of the idea of how do we change. The Department of Transportation and make it more modern, more oriented towards schools of climate inequity and community quality of life, the things that we want to see in our transportation system today. After a few years in that program, I was  appreciated and recognized for my brand of change. 

 

I was promoted into the Deputy Director role over the planning and modal program, which is a pretty large portion of Caltrans, kind of the part of Caltrans is responsible for looking into the future and deciding how the policies and the work of the department need to shift. And that was my job. I took it very seriously because both as an advocate, and then as a civil servant, public servant, I felt like that work is really, really important.

 

Damien Newton

When people describe what these positions were, the shorthand is, "It's Jeanie's job to make sure that Caltrans is actually trying to meet the climate goals that the governor and the legislature have put out." But sometimes shorthand is inaccurate. Sometimes it doesn't go far enough. Sometimes it glosses over. Is that  accurate? Were you the internal person who was trying to make sure that Caltrans was helping them meet climate goals?

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

It is accurate, but I wasn't the only one. There is also a deputy director of sustainability, who is a governor appointee. That person's job is also oriented around our climate goals. But because I oversaw the planning program, and also the modal programs, multimodal programs, which included our rail and transit programs; I was more on the implementation side of how we get future projects to be better aligned with our climate goals. And thus reach the goals that we have set out in our statewide plans like the California Transportation Plan, which the  legislature requires  that document show the path to our 2050 Climate goal; which is an 80% reduction in GHG, which is massive. So that's a very ambitious plan. 

And somehow what we do today, and the projects that we're initiating, that are coming in the future; need to kind of put us on the path to those goals. So that was the work of the Planning Program, which was in my purview.

 

Damien Newton

What are some of the things that you were able to work on at Caltrans that were exciting to you, or particularly things that you can point out and be," Wow, the six years that we've spent there up to now we're really worthwhile looking at these great things."

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Oh, my gosh...so many things. And I'm incredibly proud of the time that I spent in Caltrans. 

 

And I also want to say, it's not just me. I don't want to take credit for all of the great things that were happening. I was in a leadership position, which is important to help set the course. But there are just so many good people at Caltrans, so many people that I worked with that were on my team. Some work in different parts of the department that are really responsible for making change happen. And so, it was really fun work, a lot of things that I'm really proud of. 

 

We were working on something called CSIS or the Caltrans System Investment Strategy. And that is a set of metrics that help us determine whether the projects that we're doing in the future are aligned with the goals that we have, not just climate, equity, safety; but multiple different policy priorities. And that, I think, is really fundamental to trying to make good decisions in the future. That's something that's still ongoing. It's not complete, it will be something that iterates over many years and gets better with time. But we've spent a huge amount of time on that. 

 

Now, the thing I take a lot of pride in is helping to really create the equity program. I founded a Caltrans office of race and equity and brought people together from different parts of the department that were working on Native American liaison issues and  community engagement issues, and we created a kind of cohesive unit in headquarters that was responsible for leading that work. And there have been policy policies that have grown out of that work, also something that we call the equity index, which is also telling us about where and what are the characteristics of communities where we're doing projects? And how do we make them better, from an equity perspective, reduce harm, improve benefits. 

 

So those are a couple of things. 

 

There were other things that were actively underway, like we were working on transit priority policies and projects, which I think Caltrans has a huge amount of opportunity to improve how transit flows, especially, not just on the state highway system that Caltrans owns, but also across the system, often on local streets. That's also still underway. It's to be seen, what comes of some of those efforts. Without me there, I think all those things need a really strong champion to to really be implemented and live up to the goals that we have.

 

Damien Newton

A lot of the headlines have used the word "fired," that you were fired, or let go from your position. But you were really internally reassigned, but the reassignment was done in such a way that it's just basically the same thing. Because you haven't left Caltrans, you're still there, but you're currently on family leave. Let's just untangle all of that at first so people can understand exactly what's going on. 

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Because I was in an executive role, it's a little bit of a unique state government position, where you can be terminated in an executive role. Because as I mentioned, before, I had come into Caltrans in a civil service classification as the sustainability program manager, I had return rights...legal rights to return to that classification. And based on the longevity I have at Caltrans actually one level above that level. The details are not that important, but functionally it is kind of a demotion, if I accept my rights of return, which I have I've done and at this point. I've been on family leave for the last month and a half, but I am still an employee of Caltrans. 

 

But I will not return to Caltrans in the role I was in before and it's not clear what my role will be when I return

 

Damien Newton

In the meantime your old position still exists. And hopefully, it's still working on some of these issues. It's been reported in a lot of the press, including Melanie and Streetsblog, California that the impetus for them making a change was really the opposition you were giving internally to a freeway project in the Sacramento region. I think a lot of us were sort of caught off guard when all this happened. I remember when we all read the Politico story,  at Streetsblog we're like, "wait, what's happening? Really? That doesn't make sense." Can you sort of explain what you think happened as best you can, without tripping on the legal case that you have against Caltrans? I mean, was this a surprise, or was it something you saw coming as you were expressing opposition to some programs, or some projects, that Caltrans was pushing that really weren't living up to the goals that the agency was publicly expressing?

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Short answer is that it was a total surprise to me. 

 

And I'll tell you, the reason that I was surprised by the change by the termination is that the questions that I was asking about this specific project in Sacramento are the kinds of questions I asked every day in my job at Caltrans: is this project aligned with our goals? Are we living up to the public benefits that we're claiming we will get from these projects? Those were the kinds of questions I asked every day as an employee of Caltrans. 

 

And frankly, I felt like that was my job. I was put in a job where I'm a change agent. It's part of my job description, to sort of look into the future and figure out how the department needs to change. And so it would be me not living up to my duties in that job, if I wasn't asking questions, like I was asking. Frankly, as a public servant, I take really seriously that we need to be telling the truth to the public, and we need to create the required opportunities to have public engagement and public input to our work. So that requires being transparent, and also requires being honest in our analysis. And I was concerned that wasn't happening on those two projects that are the exact same location. 

 

So it kind of functionally seemed like one project, but this location on I-80. I was very surprised by the termination. And the timing of it was right on the heels of me saying I was concerned about accountability. And not really seeing any response to those questions prompted me to say, "I really think this warrants an external audit, this is the kind of thing whistleblower opportunities exist for when you're asking questions, and they're not being answered, and nobody's taking it seriously. I just felt like I had an obligation to appeal to other forms of accountability and government. So again, none of that was different from what I had always done in my time at Caltrans. And so it was a big surprise. when the next thing to happen was that I was terminated in my role.

 

Damien Newton

I'm  down here in Greater Los Angeles. Caltrans has been getting beat up a lot recently in the past week...I mean by Streetsblog, always...but in the past week in the mainstream press because of what went on with the I-10 fire in East LA. When we were doing our pre interview you were talking about how the role of Caltrans keeps changing and expanding. And to be fair to people working at the agency, it's really hard to keep up with all of the "extra things." 20 years ago, it was "build the freeways" and maybe be a landlord for some random houses along the 710 corridor. 

 

But now there's all these different things they have to take into account. So I guess what I'm trying to ask is, how fair is it to just level  some of these larger accusations at the agency? How difficult is it to sort of be at Caltrans these day. You're someone who is got a few things to say about the agency, but you also bring a different perspective than I think your average person that just exists in California or even your Streetsblog editor.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

I think it's incredibly hard, especially at the leadership level trying to make decisions about priorities. I think the job of Caltrans today is so much more complicated than it was, as you said, even 20 years ago. The crises of the past that Caltrans has dealt with and responded  incredibly well to are things like earthquakes and  damage to the system...mudslides. We see a lot of these emergencies, crises, where the system gets impacted severely, and Caltrans can respond in an incredible fashion, and usually does and I think will to this fire and the damage that was done to the 10 freeway. That is really the bread and butter and what Caltrans does really well. 

 

And building and maintaining the highway system is what this agency was established to do and has done through its whole history. The "new stuff" is complete streets, and how do we deal with these other users that aren't in a car that maybe want to be in a bus or train or have options, or, maybe don't want to travel want to have like, options to not have to travel as much or as far. Those are like way more complicated problems that interact with air quality land use, community opinions, and all of this other complicated stuff. 

 

Certainly being landlords of folks who are unhoused in particular is just such an intractable difficult issue and to think about engineers who are trying to build highways, suddenly having to figure out how to, like, take care of people. It's just...it's not what people came to Caltrans thinking that they would be doing. And so I do think that the agency's job has become incredibly complicated, and I'm very sympathetic to that. I think we need to appreciate what Caltrans does well, and keeping the roads open and keeping them working pretty well  is impressive. The other things are very hard. And there, it's gonna take a lot of time and a really strong push. 

 

You need people like me, right? You need people to push for change to actually change an organization like that. And sometimes it takes a generation. You need to bring in all new people with all new ideas, trying to think about problems differently, before you really get true change in an agency.

 

Damien Newton

All right, well, we are hitting our artificially created time limit of 20 minutes, but you know, it's the internet. So it's not like it's a hard and fast rule. I always like to close with the assumption that maybe there's something I missed or a question I didn't ask. So if there's a question I didn't ask that you really want to answer; feel free to ask it now. If not, I think maybe just take a short look into the future and tell us what should advocates who are interested in working on issues with Caltrans...what should we be looking for in 2024 and beyond. You can just answer your own question or mine or do both in either order.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

That's a really good question. Maybe I'll at least partly answer it, because I don't have a magic looking glass. So I don't know exactly what's going to come in the future. But I do think that there's so much more work to do with Caltrans and with all of Caltrans partners. Down in your neck of the woods, obviously, LA Metro is working hand in glove with Caltrans. So there's a lot of kind of accountability and influence and engagement to do with all of the folks that are making these decisions. But it's so important...I would just say there's more money in transportation now than there ever has been. 

 

Caltrans' budget is bigger than it's ever been. And that's because there's both more state money as well as more federal money flowing into transportation right now. And so the decisions that get made in the next five to 10 years are going to create the system and the communities of the future. And so I just think  it's such an important time to be engaged and to be doing this work, and to be paying close attention to asking the hard questions for what Caltrans and other agencies are doing. So I really appreciate the work of advocates. I talk to advocates all the time. A lot of them are my good friends. 

 

I think it's important that we all be honest with each other both about what we're doing well, and what we need to improve. So I just want to leave with maybe some appreciation. 

 

Damien Newton

All right, well, hey, thank you so much for your time. Again, there's some links and some of Jeanie's story that go back to... I don't know if we have  one's back to your Safe Routes days. I'm sure if I look hard enough, we can find some quotes or two.I often say the the people that do open streets and the people that do Safe Routes to School don't know how lucky they have it, because the opposition to taking kids to school safely or to doing an open street event is so much less than the opposition to so many of the other issues we work on. 

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

It's like mom and apple pie! And biking across the country....that was part of why I picked it as an organization to focus on biking across the country. We were biking through the south and all across the country everybody cares about their communities being safe for kids to be able to walk and bike to school. So I agree with you. It's an issue that goes to my heart, and always will be.

 

Damien Newton

Thank you so much for your time today. And again, there's some links to some old Jeanie Ward-Waller stories on Streetsblog, California that are included with the text that accompanies this podcast and we will keep in touch and keep an eye on what's going on.

 

Jeanie Ward-Waller

Thank you so much, Damien. This is fun.

 

 

 

Nov 3, 2023

This week's SGV Connect podcast is a special episode where the Streetsblog San Gabriel Valley team, Chris Greenspon, Joe Linton and Damien Newton, sit down and discuss the great success that was ArroyoFest 2023. All three were at the event but experienced it differently with Linton and his family biking the route, Newton completing the "Run the 110" 10k race and Greenspon walking along the 110 later in the morning.

Of course, this is Streetsblog so we also discuss what the success of the event could mean for future open streets and open freeway events in the region and Newton even dreams of permanent freeway closures and replacements.

A lightly edited transcript of the podcast appears after audio links. There's also one correction that's noted in the transcript but not the audio. At one point Newton states there were 1,700 people that completed the race. The number is actually over 4,000.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

Transcript:

(Note: Text in italics is audio that was taken during ArroyoFest itself.)

Chris Greenspon  0:09  
Hi, it's Chris Greenspon You're listening to SGV Connect #120, our ArroyoFest after special. We're going to take you through our experience. We all did a different mode of transportation there. And we all recorded some on site narration of the things we were experiencing, seeing and hearing. You're gonna hear that kind of audio laced into the episode throughout. So anyway, Damian hit us with that ad copy.

Damien Newton  0:34  
Oh, right. Well, this and every episode of SGV Connect is sponsored by Foothill Transit. Offering car free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to go Gold Line Stations across the Foothill and the Silver Streak into downtown Los Angeles. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit at Foothill transit.org Foothill Transit! Going good places.

Joe Linton  0:53  
This is Streetsblog editor Joe Linton, reporting from the off ramp to the Avenue 60. On the 110 freeway on the morning of ArroyoFest. My daughter and I are here got up at the crack of dawn. It's colder than I thought it'd be but it's warming up, I can see the sun arriving. And it's not quite crowded yet with cyclists but there are definitely 10s...probably hundreds of cyclists.

Damien Newton  1:26  
Alright, so I am near the starting line now. And there are 1000s of people in front of me and we are 18 minutes away from the start. So this is going to be a pretty pretty big race, maybe the biggest 10k I've done attendance wise. I do look forward to seeing the final numbers for this, this is going to be a big, well attended race.

Chris Greenspon  1:53  
I'm walking towards the 110 on Orange Grove Avenue just past the cover band and a row of porta potties. Both are always an encouraging sight and sound at these open streets events. We're about to get on the 110. And now let's talk about what we and so many other people have glowingly said about ArroyoFest, Joe.

Joe Linton  2:19  
Yeah, I think I mean, this is some people have been saying this online, but I think it really had some of the energy of the of the very first open streets event in Southern California. I mean, actually ArroyoFest 2003 is sometimes as good as that. But CicLAvia itself started in 2010. And people didn't know what to expect. And just you know, 10s of 1000s of people, more than 50,000 people showed up and it was downright crowded. With bicycles, the walk side, you guys can probably speak to that but wasn't wasn't quite as crowded early on. It wasn't quite as crowded. But it really got to a point on the freeway, you know, where three lanes of three car lanes wasn't enough to hold lots of cyclist wishing by so there was a lot of slowing down and, y navigating space with other human beings, the things people do in cities around the world every day.

Chris Greenspon  3:16  
Yeah, it's almost like it should have been widened. Damien, what did you make of the vibe out there? And that was in jest, SGV Connect devotees? Please, Damien, and take over.

Damien Newton  3:27  
Yeah, thank you. Thank you, Chris, almost giving me a heart attack before you put the microphone out. Maybe if we had extended it instead of widening it. <Laughs> Anyway, usually when I do these types of events, I'm doing that with my family who is completely bored of hearing me drone on and on about the benefits for open streets events, or I'm doing them with other activists. So this was new for me, because I'm doing it with running groups, not just like my friends that run but like surrounded by people, and it was a different discussion. No one was talking about the broader impacts it was more "oh, it's gonna be cool, we get to run on the freeway." It was pretty much a vibe. But then when we were actually out there running there were "Oh, this is cool." There were people way more people stopping to take selfies, and I was...depending how you view it...I was either at the back of the fast group or the front of the middle group timewise. And so I was around people that were serious runners, and they were stopping and taking pictures. They were talking about how cool it was they were they were doing this race. This is not normal conversation for a race unless you're in like a themed race like a Disney Race or a Rose Bowl Race or something like that, where you're in a unique environment. And that's what it was. It was a unique environment. And if you're not a runner, most five and 10 k's are on streets that are closed. That's just that's how they do them. You're in downtown or you're in the west side or your wherever it is a lot of it's on the road...but on the freeway had a very different feel for people and you saw I see way more pictures from other runners than I'm used to for these types of events. Usually pictures are at the start of the end with your friends. They're not in the middle of the race.

Joe Linton  4:55  
Damien, can you can you talk about a little bit about like so what was the route? Also, I think something that's unusual on runs to is that they gave people tap cards right and forced you guys onto the train. So talk about like, where it started and where it ended and how it basically worked.

Damien Newton  5:13  
Well, it started. I'm about 200 yards away from the South Pasadena station and we ran onto the freeway. We actually ran north for a little bit just so that we could I guess, be at exactly 10k..runners don't want a 9.8k medal. So then we turned around and ran basically south to the end. And it ended at the activity center at the south end of the route.

Joe Linton  5:32  
Yeah, which is in the Lincoln Heights right? Cypress Park, close to Dodger Stadium.

Damien Newton  5:38  
It was. One of the theories that I had as to why...there was a lot of discussion online that we'll get into is...why are we doing this only until 11. I was like, well, when they were planning this, they didn't know if the Dodgers were going to be in the World Series. And that was probably part of it. I mean, it'd be really hard to have a Dodgers World Series game and have a chunk of the 110 close until just a couple hours before the game starts. I was thinking that that might have played into that decision making but yeah, it was right there. And a lot of runners got on the Gold Line to get there because between the heavily heavily heavily advertised lack of parking...I probably got an email from the Ron the 110 every day in the week before telling me not to bother to drive and park. Between that and the free tap cards not just free. tab cards unique tab cards, all I can show mine off to the people in the room with me. I would guess almost everybody that ran took Metro to get there.

Joe Linton  6:29  
And what was the run? Like? Was it quiet? Was it loud? Was it fast? What's what was what was actually being out there running on a freeway? What was your experience?

Chris Greenspon  6:39  
And downhill at that?

Damien Newton  6:40  
Well, I was gonna mention the downhill because I've well stated on this podcast and elsewhere, I was in a Halloween costume. And I was not expecting to have my strongest race day. But I did really well in large part because it was downhill. Also, I ran into one of my run partners who's in a lot better shape than me and she dragged me along with her. So that helps too. But yeah, it was a lot of it was downhill. There was more talking than usual on the race. But I mean, other than that, it was quiet. And I think the talking was people going "oh, wow, this is cool." Which I actually said a few times out loud to the people I was running with. My friend Juanna who I was out with, we talked about how this was like a really cool race. And she's the type of person that does like 40 mile races and stuff like that, like, you know, my marathons are wimpy. And she was like, "No, this race is fantastic. This is one I'm gonna remember."

Joe Linton  7:31  
The freeway is so crowded. Lots and lots, hundreds 1000s of bikes, people on bikes, escapes, wheelchairs, scooters, more people arriving by the minute.

Chris Greenspon  7:46  
Now this is a sight, we're finally coming down into the much more green area of the 110 just got under a bridge then of course, down straight away in the distance. You see Mount Washington, people waving

Joe Linton  8:03  
People getting lost people find each other. And it's it's I think it's one of the most crowded open streets events I've ever seen. And the walk side is just as crowded as the bike side.

Damien Newton  8:14  
Okay, so I am done the race. I have done the festival I have seen there were 1741 people registered for the 10k. (Note, this is wrong, there were 1741 people that had finnished the race when I checked my times on the app. There were actually over 4,000 people that ran the race). Of course, we saw plenty of people running along the route that were not signed up, which is great. You know, I wanted my fancy medal but not everybody does. And it was a it was a great time. It really was a unique experience. Got a lot of great pictures. A lot of fond memories. Hope I get to do this again before I'm 65. Now I'm gonna go back out and walk the route a little bit.

Chris Greenspon  8:48  
Okay, so now do you want to go into the wrinkles? of the show of the whole event?

Joe Linton  8:54  
Yeah, just some of the buzz online. A concern raised by some cyclist was...advocates...on you're not some cyclists called it a shitshow some some called the dangerous. There were a lot of crashes of cyclists here and there. I mean, and when I say a lot, it's probably, you know, 50,000 cyclists and you know, two dozen of them maybe fell or something. I should say 50,000 participants probably. That's a guess. But certainly 10s of 1000s of folks participating in any event and I'd say more than half of those. probably more than two thirds of those, would be bicyclists. So probably 30-40-50,000 bicyclists. I think that we we don't share space that well in Southern California and that's drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, people taking transit. We're not used to these spaces where there's lots of people, and everyone's moving, and we need to really look out for each other. I talked to my daughter, "You need to know who's behind you and who's in front of you." You know? Every day on Southern California freeway's one or more people die. The freeway was safer than you know, every day in Southern California. But  I think there were a lot of small scale crashes and probably a few broken bones. And anybody else want to touch on that?

Chris Greenspon  10:35  
I would say? One thing that maybe should have been a hard rule would have been none of the three wheeled scooters with the two in front. maybe I'm misunderstanding physics here, but it seems like those were easier to tip forward. I saw at least three or four kids fall straight forward onto the freeway. With those again, the the really flimsy three wheeled scooters, as opposed to like some of the more modern razors that look like they're set up pretty stable. What about you, Damien, did you observe any precociousness or precariousness?

Speaker 2  11:10  
Well, again, I was in a really different situation, almost a controlled environment as you're gonna get in that sort of event where you know, everybody was running. So there wasn't a lot.. I mean, we did see a person trip. But like, that's not unusual. I will say when, in the early morning when you're running, even if you're running fast on the southbound side, you're watching the bicyclists zip pass on the northbound side, some of them pretty fast. It wasn't very crowded yet. We were very happy for that separation. And I know some of the people that ran back the other way that I talked to afterwards said the same thing like that separation was great. As far as the people on two feet instead of two wheels were concerned...you two wheeled menaces you. So it was great. As far as we thought on foot. We didn't have the "Oh no, we're too crowded." It was like up there they are over there going much faster than we are.

Chris Greenspon  12:01  
Towards the end, I did see a few bikes on the walking side.

Joe Linton  12:05  
Yeah, I wondered that too:the speed differential. And so you had, four year olds on bikes with training wheels, and what they call MAMILS, middle aged men in lycra, fancy road bikes trying to get their miles in. And I think that there probably could have been some notice to...I hate to second guess the organizers did an awesome job...and this is sort of reaching for criticism, but  it's sort of slow cyclists on one side. If you're going less than eight miles an hour or something, you're welcome to be on the walk side. If you're willing to be really chill. It's kind of like bicycling on a sidewalk in LA. It's often a good choice, if you're willing to slow down. And if, if you want to go fast, it doesn't really make sense. Anyway, I hate to dwell on the small number of crashes with the so many people and so many smiles and people what was fun as event got going. So there's a concrete barrier that's maybe three, two or three feet wide at the top.

And a lot of people were climbing up on the barrier and shooting selfies and getting the pictures of the freeway signs, Downtown to your right or whatever. It was really was a great vibe. It was it was fun to be in that space. And it's something where I think, "every CicLAvia is fun for me." And it's sort of like church. I had my great Sunday's whatever. And yet, there was a feeling at ArroyoFest, sort of like the first CicLAvia, that this was something big and new, and actually media wise, that has borne out. Open streets now under especially funded under Metro, there's maybe a dozen a year. Not quite one a month, but they rarely make the news. And this one, we got front page coverage in the LA Times lots of gorgeous photos. And TV news covered it. And how was your feed? Every other thing on my Instagram and Facebook was people's people's photos at this event. So it felt like it felt like a real happening and a real newsworthy thing. And not just another sequel?.

Chris Greenspon  14:36  
I think considering that. It was the first time that probably almost anybody...the majority of the people who participated ever got to do a thing like that go hang out on the freeway. The turnout scale was bound to be legendary. And with that considered, I think safety wise, it actually went pretty well. And honestly It was kind of nice that despite the like you said, the proliferation of media coverage, it was nice to go do something like this. And I didn't see a single TV camera the whole time. And I guess it feels like you can be more yourself. Maybe that was what I liked most about it. The sense of isolation, even though obviously, there was 10s of 1000s of people. It felt like being in another place in another world at times.

Joe Linton  15:28  
Yeah, it does. I mean, the quiet in the middle of the city in a space like that, it did feel kind of uncanny in some way. So let's talk about the future. I'm going to preface this with in 2009, everybody was like "CicLAvia will never work in Los Angeles" In 2010, we did it! I was one of the people who was working on the first one, although there were a lot of people doing it. I'm not the author. But I'm one of the one of the folks. And I think there was a sense after CicLAvia that, "This changes everything. We've demonstrated that if you build it, they will come." And yet, here we are, you know, a decade later. And I think less has changed than I would have hoped for at the time. So what's the implications for the future for this event?

Chris Greenspon  16:18  
So I think this, without a doubt has to raise Active SGV's credibility with the entire San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments Consortium. I mean, they're already very well regarded. But in the towns where they haven't really done much yet. I think this gives them if not a blank check, a very, very, very strong resume point. I mean, being having a successful event on the cover of the LA Times makes me wonder whether we might see an event on on Temple, in La Puente,, in Baldwin Park over to Walnut. That's something I would enjoy personally. But I can't imagine that we will not be seeing more Active SGV open streets events, especially along the L line as those continued to complete in the coming years.

Joe Linton  17:06  
So I do think that yes, it will make Active SGV, who did a phenomenal job, getting all the permits and organizing them in and bringing it all together. I think it'll make them more in demand for doing 66 Golden Streets. Communities can see this, the success and the happiness of stuff like this and ask for more open streets.

But I also wonder, going beyond events to permanent treatments of public space. I think that car free space is at such a premium in Los Angeles. And people go to malls and the beach and stuff like that. And they have this experience of sharing space. And I think we need to look at our downtowns, Los Angeles, of course, but Pasadena and all the you know, these A Line stations. You guys call it the L Line, I call it the A Line or the Gold Line. I think we do need to look at instead of, you know, widening streets and building massive parking structures around our transit stations, to look at where can we do Paseos and bike facilities and shared space that we keep cars out of that people can come together in? That's what I hope grows out of it. 

I think we've accepted, "we" being Southern California, we've accepted that we can come together for CicLAvia you know, for 626 Golden Streets, for ArroyoFest, once a month, twice a month, but I think we do need to look to can we do this, if not 24/7, even weekends. 

Why don't we close a few blocks of a street in historic downtown area in Arcadia for example. But why don't we do that, you know, every weekend for two months during the summer or something like that. So why don't we make this space proliferate? And if it's too hard to close the street permanently? Can we do it all weekend? Can we do it for a season? Can we do it for four Sundays in a month or something like that? So I think there's kind of so I'm talking about there's kind of two ends of the open street spectrum: one is massive event like Heart of LA orArroyoFest, you know, close and iconic area, bring lots and lots of people. But I think the other end is important too. It's a little bit more like a farmers market. Can we take an area and actually I mean, the folks you've written about...the Complete Streets plan in El Monte... and looking at revitalizing some of the downtown areas that are having trouble drawing in customers. Activate that space by keeping cars out of it, and bringing music and vendors and people into it. And I don't know I say all this and I'm not, I don't want to be naive that that's an easy task. That's against the grain of what of what we do in Southern California. But these carfree spaces are really are important, are precious, and are perhaps the future of bringing people together. 

Chris Greenspon  20:37  
What I want to go out on is...nonstop we were hearing leading up to this, you know, in our previous interview with Marcus and Robert, about the history of ArroyoFest and people were saying, you know, just regular everyday people were saying, "Oh, who knows this isn't going to happen again, for 20 years." That joke certainly got beaten to death. But I'm wondering in your seasoned opinions. Do you think that within a more reasonable timeframe, we can do an open freeway event again, maybe not on the 110? And if so, where would you suggest but do you think it's within grasp?

Joe Linton  21:16  
Yeah, I mean, I think the wild rousing success of ArroyoFest says there's an appetite for this, that this is a fun thing, and that Angelenos will show up. I think you need to pick a freeway that's close to transit. A lot of freeways are really boring spaces that I think the Arroyo Seco Parkway, the 110 Freeway between downtown and Pasadena is probably head and shoulders, the most picturesque freeway on the west coast...maybe not the west coast, but certainly in Southern California. But I think you have to pick it well. I think you can't just say, "Hey, we're gonna close the, the 405 in Westwood, everybody show up." There's folks thinking about this at Active SGV at CicLAvia that could probably figure out where, where it makes sense to do it. But it is very difficult to work with Caltrans to repurpose Caltrans space for anything other than lots and lots of cars all the time. And I think there there are glimmers of change at that. But when you do a bike path project, and it takes three inches of Caltrans space away, it takes decades to get that project approved. And I think some of that's changing, but I mean, hopefully the success of a royal fast helps pull Caltrans into a more multimodal acceptance of this sorts of shared space. But I've perhaps been in the trenches too long to expect that we'll see ArroyoFest three anytime soon, and that we'll see other open streets events on freeways soon, but I hope I'm wrong.

Damien Newton  23:03  
Well, and there's the holy grail to have a freeway closure. I mean, on the west side, we had the 90 freeway debate briefly. We talked about possibly doing a study and the local advocacy group Streets for All was his was trying to get a federal grant to do a study and everyone seemed on board with it. And then a couple of neighborhood councils found out about it and flipped out because that's the role of our neighborhood council system to flip out and stop good things from happening. And they were successful. The mayor was, I believe one person said it might have been Ted Rogers, that she was "for it before she was against it." And she came out against it. And these freeway closures, though that I mean...that's after CicLAvia for a couple of years, we had pretty good momentum and building bike infrastructure. And as far as I mean, some of it was Sharrows. But 2010 We were happy just to get Sharrows some places. You know, Villaraigosa had, Mayor Villaraigosa the mayor of LA, had a goal for 200 miles of bike infrastructure year, including those dastardly sharrows. But still, it was happening and there was momentum and for whatever reason, maybe it's Villaraigosa got rid of the low hanging fruit. Maybe it's because Garcetti was too tactical, but that momentum really stalled and fizzled during the Garcetti years. So is the momentum here to do another ArroyoFest? Or is the momentum to go that big next step and look at the freeways that aren't seeing huge volumes of traffic, aren't seeing a regular influx of cars and say, "do we need this or can we do something else with this land?" The 90 may be off the table now, thanks to some crazy angry people. But they've been entirely...

Joe Linton  24:36  
...It does look like it lost a lot of momentum. But I don't think it's a shut book just yet. 

Speaker 2  24:42  
That's exciting for me. But, you know, the battle over the 710 extension was was decades and I think that ArroyoFest shows that maybe we don't need those freeways, especially the ones that aren't your commuter freeways. And that's a lot of land to do something else with. They always say, "we're not growing more land or making more land," but we kind of can if we repurpose land that's not being utilized to the best extent that it is.

Chris Greenspon  25:06  
Well, that's a fabulous note to go out on.

Joe Linton  25:09  
Well, actually one one more closing note.  I heard at least a few folks showed up at a row fest that was their first open streets event. So there are regular open streets events, and the next one coming up is in South LA on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the date is December.

Damien Newton  25:30  
I think it's the 3rd but I'm looking at I think it's December 3, but I'm just double checking it, but it's definitely the first Sunday in December.

Joe Linton  25:36  
Yes, the first time in December. We think it's December 3 on Martin Luther King Boulevard in South LA. So check them out there. They're always a treat. And I think they do give you a sense of what NLA that's less totally festooned with cars might look like.

Chris Greenspon  25:54  
All right, well, that wraps us up for SGV Connect 120. In the meantime, listen to these sounds of ArroyoFest.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Oct 24, 2023

This week’s SGV Connect Podcast looks backward at the first year of the GoSGV Bike Share program and looks forward to Halloween and ArroyoFest.

First, we speak with Jose Jimenez, the education director for Active SGV about the GoSGV’s first year, celebrated earlier this month. There are over 100 bikes being rented monthly at the moment and over 400 people took part in the program in its first year. There will be a demonstration zone for the rental e-bikes at ArroyoFest this Sunday near the South Pasadena HUB.

You can get more information about GoSGV at their website, Arroyofest at the 626 Golden Streets Website, or read a transcript of our interview. Of course, if you’d like to enjoy more previews for ArroyoFest you can listen to our previous podcast about the history of this event or this piece by Joe Linton.

A quick note, in the interview we discuss the possibility of renting an e-bike from GoSGV just for the event this Sunday. But between when we conducted the interview and today, they have sold out of bikes for the event.

Our second interview is a horror story of the two-wheeled variety. Local writer Carribean Fragoza read us a nonfiction piece about riding alone and underprepared on the industrial Rush Street. Fragoza is an up and coming author who’s made the LA Times Best of lists with her gothic chicana prose and poetry.

The non-fiction piece she read for us today is named for and based on a lonely industrial corridor in South El Monte called Rush Street.

You can read the excerpt she reads for us at Tropics of Meta, or order the book she co-edited where it was first published, East of East the Making of Greater El Monte.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

 

 

 

 

Oct 5, 2023

This week's SGV Connect breaks our regular mold as Streetsblog L.A. editor Joe Linton conducts both interviews on the past and future of ArroyoFest which returns at the end of this month, on Sunday October 29th when a portion of the I-110 will be closed to cars and open to other uses in the morning.

First, Linton interviews Robert Gottlieb and Marcus Renner some of the leaders that brought Southern California the first ArroyoFest in 2003. Seven years before the first CicLAvia, ArroyoFest changed the conversation around transportation in the region. While we haven't seen the seismic change away from cars in the past two decades that some might have hoped for, the steps towards regional bike networks and an expanded transit system might not have been possible without ArroyoFest.

Linton then moves into an interview with Wes Reutimann with ActiveSGV who has been leading efforts for the 10/29 ArroyoFest. Reutimann goes over the schedule for the day that begins with a 10k run at 6:00 a.m. After Arroyofest ends at 11, there are local parties and cultural events planned for just off the route.

For more information on ArroyoFest 2023, visit their website.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.

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Sep 26, 2023

This week's SGV Connect features a pair of interviews that will change and improve the lives of residents of the San Gabriel Valley.

First, we talk with Alhambra Councilmember Adele Andrade-Stadler. Andrade-Stadler is the winner of this year's Elected Official of the Year award given by ActiveSGV at their Noche de las Luminarias. You can read more about her award and her relationship with ActiveSGV at their ActiveBlog

At the end of the interview, we discuss the upcoming Sustainability Plan for Alhambra that should be released for public review later this month. Read a transcript of the interview, here.

The second interview is with Steve Farley. While Farley is a long-time Streetsblogger, he drops a reference to Aaron Naperstek who founded Streetsblog in 2006, and a former State Senator in Arizona, it's his art we're interested in. Farley is the artist in charge of the public art that will be part of the future Gold Line Station in Pomona. Read a transcript of the interview, here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

 

 

Aug 29, 2023

This week's SGV Connect focuses on two different parking programs in Pasadena.

As the city closes in on approving its Strategic Parking Plan, we welcome retired UCLA economics professor and parking pricing guru Donald Shoup. Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking which is still considered essential reading for urban planners decades after its original publication. He was also involved when Pasadena first considered variable parking prices for its Playhouse District.

As you can imagine, he has a lot to say.

Our second interview is with Tashera Taylor, Melody McNulty, and Catherine Cheung of Foothill Unity Center. Foothill Unity is currently piloting a safe parking program in a church lot in Pasadena. For those of you that don't know, safe parking is a program where people who are living in their car can apply for space to park every night in a safe environment where they have access to running water, food and social services. The trio outlines Foothill's program, how they plan to grow, and the important social program and relief that has developed for parkers taking part in their program.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

 

 

Jul 24, 2023

This week’s SGV Connect Podcast is the second part of a two part series on housing and tenants issues in the San Gabriel Valley and features Connie Tamkin, the president of the San Gabriel Valley Community Land Trust. If you missed part one of the series with Allison Henry, one of the leaders of the San Gabriel Valley Tenants Council, you can find the audio and transcript here.

As with the first podcast, Damien and Chris were on-site for the interview, which covered the history of the new community land trust, some of the projects it's working on and how to effectively advocate for marginalized communities as an organization when many of the board members and volunteers are white collar professionals. 

There’s also a lot of information about the various land trust models and their place in advocating for and providing housing options in a supply-restricted market. So if you’re looking for a great primer for someone not well-versed in this issue; this podcast is a great place for them to start.

If you prefer the typed word, you can read a transcript of the interview here

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

 

Jul 17, 2023

This week’s podcast is the first in a two-podcast mini-series looking at housing issues in the San Gabriel Valley. In this podcast, Damien and Chris talk to Allison Henry, an SGV housing justice organizer with LA Forward and co-founder of the San Gabriel Valley Tenants Alliance.

In the podcast, we discuss the recent and long-term history of the battle for housing justice in the SGV and how local politics can lead to very different policies in cities that are just next to each other. While it’s no surprise that the cost of housing is high in Southern California, Henry argues that the policies in many cities don’t meet the needs of renters, even in cities that have large populations that aren’t homeowners.

“I think people would be really shocked at not just how many cities are renter majority cities, but some of the percentages of those cities, it's not 50/50,” Henry says of how many renters are in these cities.

You can listen in on our podcast below, or if you prefer to read a transcript, you can find it here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

 

Jun 22, 2023

On Saturday, the Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority is hosting a ceremony to commemorate the completion of the light rail track system for the 9.1-mile, four-station Foothill Gold Line light rail project from Glendora to Pomona. The ceremony is taking place this Saturday, June 24, 2023, at 9:30 a.m., at the D Street railroad crossing (north of Arrow Highway) in the city of La Verne.

During the event, the last of 230,630 rail clips will be driven into place (rail clips permanently attach the steel rail to the concrete ties), marking the completion of the new light rail tracks.

This week's first interview features Habib Balian, the executive director for the construction authority. Balian discusses what's next for the project and the importance of this milestone to the Gold Line and our regional rail network.

Speaking of our regional rail network, our second interview features Joe Linton and was recorded the day that the Regional Connector opened in Downtown Los Angeles. Linton discusses how the newly opened 2 mile rail connector is a key part of connecting L.A. County with rail.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

Jun 15, 2023

In our first interview this week, Chris Greenspon interviews Nathan Allen, the owner of Underdog Bookstore in downtown Monrovia. In Nathan's own words, "Underdog Bookstore, targets specifically books by and about authors of color, as well as LGBT authors, who we consider underdogs, as well as local vendors." Allen explains the need to create safe spaces for youth, especially people of color and LGBTQ+, and provides an overview of life underdogs throughout the SGV.

To read a transcript of the interview, click here.

In our second interview, frequent SGV Connect guest (and Streetsblog LA Editor) Joe Linton takes a turn on the other end of the microphone. Linton interviews Stans Bike Shop owner Carlos Morales who has been advising state regulators about possible rules regarding e-bikes.

To read a transcript of the interview, click here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

Jun 1, 2023

This week’s SGV Connect is the second in our “Reclaimers” series, focusing on the efforts of a group of formerly homeless activists in the El Sereno to be housed in formerly unoccupied homes owned by Caltrans.

The first interview featured six Reclaimers who shared their personal stories on how they fell into homelessness, strived to be rehoused, and then life as a Reclaimer. The stories are powerful and raw. You can hear the podcast here, and read the transcript here.

Today’s podcast is the follow-up to that one. We are joined by Timothy Ivison with the United Caltrans Tenants Union and Kristina Meshelski, a leader with the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and a philosophy professor at Cal State Northridge. This pair of activists have worked with and adjacent to the Reclaimer movement.

A full transcript of this interview can be found here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of Downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit foothilltransit.org. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.
May 4, 2023

We are Reclaimers because we have to because of desperation. - Benito, one of the Reclaimers living in El Sereno.

SGV Connect is sponsored by Foothill Transit. Foothill Transit was not consulted about the content of this podcast and the views expressed are those of the participants and interviewer and may or may not be representative of the views of Foothill Transit, its board, or its staff.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a chance to interview four of the El Sereno Caltrans Home Reclaimers: Benito, Marta, Ruby and Sandra. They were joined by two supporters, Roberto Flores and Franny Martinez. I thought the interview would be a standard SGV Connect, updating listeners to the status of the reclaimer movement and their own lives since our last update over a year ago. What happened instead was an hour and ten minute emotional discussion of their lives both as Reclaimers and previously as people experiencing homelessness, why they chose to occupy unoccupied Caltrans-owned properties, their current legal status, and what will happen if courts uphold an eviction notice they received last month.

So we’re doing things a little differently this time. We’re skipping our regular introduction, and going right into the interview in the podcast. Below the embed, instead of the usual ad text is a story and summary of the interview which might be a little easier for folks to follow than the transcript (which you can read here if you choose.)

On the night of March 14, 2020, the world was in crisis. The COVID-19 shutdowns were just starting to roll across California, and the long- and short-term future was looking cloudy. That evening a group of people experiencing homelessness, with the support of a team of activists and community members broke into unoccupied Caltrans-owned houses and (re)claimed them as a place to live for themselves and their families. Caltrans owns houses along the 710-corridor as part of their now-abandoned efforts to extend the 710 Freeway north from its current terminus.

“I am from El Sereno. I saw these homes empty. And I always thought, ‘How come nobody does anything?’, recounted Sandra. “I never connected the way how these homes were hoarded and how other people are homeless in their tents. But when somebody mentioned that we're going to squat in them, it totally makes sense….why hasn’t somebody done this sooner?”

At the time, nobody was exactly sure what would happen. Would the state police, LAPD or the Sheriffs show up and forcibly remove them? Would the chaos of the moment allow them to slip by unnoticed for a period of time? The initial reclaiming of the houses was meant as a statement about how unjust it was for so many houses to be unsettled when the homeless crisis locally, regionally and nationally was so large; but what would happen to the Reclaimers who were in the houses themselves?

In the end, the Reclaimers were either allowed to stay or moved to different short-term housing while they awaited a chance to move into permanent housing.

“The state and the whole world was in chaos,” recounts Marta of the day she moved in to her reclaimed home. “So they didn't take us out. Governor Newsom told the CHP to stand down and not do anything when we reclaimed. But then with that process came also an offer to HACLA [Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles] and PATH [People Assisting the Homeless] agency here in Los Angeles, to give us temporary housing.”

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. 

For over three years, the Reclaimers have signed leases with Caltrans, and had them expire without permanent housing offers.

They created the El Sereno Community Land Trust to purchase as many of the homes as it could to offer to Reclaimers and others experiencing homelessness; but they found the Trust excluded from local planning by disgraced racist Councilmember Kevin DeLeon and state legislation by Senator María Elena Durazo.

They have put in roots in the community, or deeper roots for those with a previous connection; but still received eviction notices for their temporary housing last month. Instead of a move into permanent housing, they find themselves fighting in court for the right to stay where they are.

But while working with, or trying to work with, the government has proven difficult and frustrating, the Reclaimers have been buoyed by the support of a progressive community in Los Angeles, and with some education found that their physical neighbors would come to appreciate and welcome them as well.

“It was a lot of misinformation,” recounts Marta of her first interactions with her new neighbors. “They were saying that the Reclaimers were not from El Sereno. The majority of the Reclaimers are actually from this community, from El Sereno…Another thing that they said [was that] there was a lot of other services, or other things, that the city provides…as Sandra said that she wasn't offered any.”

Over time, things began to change. 

“In getting to know the neighbors and also talking to them about this misinformation; some of them did change their minds, not all of them. And my experience with my current neighbors is really good,” she continued. “Soon as I moved in, they offered material help. I am a single mother of two daughters, and so they also offered, you know, just to keep an eye out and keep me and my daughter safe, which I totally am grateful for.”

Which isn’t to say it has been all smooth sailing in the interactions with the previously housed community. Benito is older, and his English isn’t as smooth as the other Reclaimers in the interview. He contrasts his experiences with the community broadly with that of his physical neighbors.

“I have one very good neighbor. And I have two neighbors who actually don't talk to me. I think they're confused. Because they are confused about the idea of ‘law and order.’ …They are really good people. So they said they understand the homeless, but this is not a way to take the…to go in the house illegally.” Benito says.

“Some neighbors are angry, but there are more neighbors on our side. Who opened the house for us? The neighbors. Who was bringing us food? The neighbors. Who was keeping guard in the street to keep us safe? The neighbors. The people.”

Benito, like the other Reclaimers on the call, recounts the differences between life as an unhoused person on the street and life as a Reclaimer. In response to a question of, “Why?” His answer is simple. 

“​​We are reclaimer because we have to…because of desperation,” he said.

And part of that desperation, as Marta mentions above, is that the services offered by the city and county aren’t sufficient to meet the needs of the mammoth unhoused population. Sandra and her family lived in a park as part of a large encampment near the Eastside Café where she, Marta, Franny and Roberto met to take part in the interview. The encampment was well known in the neighborhood and was politically controversial. In her months living in the encampment, she said she could not remember a time when social services reached out to offer help. 

“Not one time. Not one time did someone come to offer me services,” Sandra recounted of her time in the park. But once the Reclaimers were in the house and the Governor ordered CHP to stand down, things changed. “I remember people were getting placed in hotels. But before that, they didn't even want to do a homeless count.”

Which isn’t to say the relationship between the Reclaimers and government agencies has been smooth. From basic annoyances - Ruby recounting how she often would have to “tell her life story” to multiple people from the same department over the course of a week - to larger ones; the first leases Reclaimers signed were described as “carceral” by the people who signed them. The road has been bumpy. Offers for more stable housing are often far away from where the Reclaimers currently live, which would take them away from support networks, medical care and jobs.

“The houses are there.” Is a refrain you can hear repeatedly throughout the interview as the Reclaimers wonder why agencies seem intent on moving them away from the neighborhood they live in, and in many cases grew up in, instead of finding ways for them to stay where they are.

The answer is simple. The city and county have designs for the “Caltrans homes” in El Sereno. DeLeon was a de facto spokesperson for the program but has shrunk to the background following the release of his racist diatribe in the “fed tapes” and his efforts to use redistricting to marginalize historically black communities. Streetsblog broke down the differences between DeLeon’s plans and those offered by the community in an article last year. However, just because DeLeon is in the background doesn’t mean the plans have changed.

“Kevin De Leon's plans didn't go by the wayside,” explains Flores. “What happened is that HACLA is substituting in for Kevin de Leon and trying to legitimize the proposal.”

The DeLeon/HACLA proposal has greater power behind it because of S.B. 51, authored by Senator Maria Elena Durazo, and signed into law last year. Among other things, the legislation disallows the selling of Caltrans housing to a co-op in El Sereno. Curiously, this provision of the legislation does not apply to properties in Pasadena and South Pasadena that are also owned by Caltrans and are part of the I-710 Corridor.

“I'm really irritated with Maria Elena Durazo,” begins Ruby. “She's the image of, of what I once looked up to as an activist…somebody that was standing up for the marginalized, the unhoused, the immigrant, the hungry.”

But after S.B. 51, that image changed.  “For what? For her to acquire this, this position in the state and all of a sudden to decide that that's not what El Sereno needs?.... By creating a bill that was going to leave Pasadena and Alhambra, good and allow them purchase the houses in their hood. But not El Sereno? Because we're Brown, we can't buy the houses?”

While the Reclaimers have lived stressful lives, the urgency moved back into desperation when eviction notices arrived last month giving them three days to vacate their properties. The Reclaimers immediately took legal action to vacate the notice, but they face a dark short-term future should they fail in court. While there may not be a “Plan B” if they lose in court, going back to the streets is not an option.

“You're going to have to take me out in handcuffs,” says Ruby.

“But we're definitely not going to go back to the streets. I do not plan to go back to my car,” adds Sandra.

“There is only ‘Plan A.’ And that’s to fight, fight, fight, fight,” finishes Benito.

And if there’s one message the Reclaimers would like to leave, it’s that this movement isn’t just about them. Their story, their struggle, will hopefully end with them permanently housed. But they also hope they are part of a larger struggle to improve conditions for unhoused people throughout the world by showing what is possible if governments’ efforts are to truly help the unhoused become housed again.

“We're not here to just occupy space, we want to create justice for not only for El Sereno, but I think for housing in general,” says Ruby. “This is a global epidemic at this point.” And the solution is for the government to work with the unhoused, and work with the Reclaimers instead of working around or even against them.

“We want to see the government sitting down and negotiating with the Reclaimers,” concludes Fanny. “They should create a pathway in housing homeless people instead of criminalizing them. Because as we see, the homeless encampments are being gated. And that's a loud and clear response from the government saying, ‘We don't want you in the streets’…They need to sit down and negotiate with the Reclaimers and create a pathway with the Reclaimers to house homeless folks. Because who else better than the homeless people who reclaim these homes and make it into a house for themselves and their families and their kids?”

Apr 6, 2023

This week's SGV Connect features a pair of interviews with former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole and San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps (SGVCC). Director Norma Quinones.

In our first interview, Damien talks with Cole ostensibly about the dozen opinion pieces Cole has written in 2023 about how Pasadena can grow as a city in the future. In the interview Cole laments how Pasadena has changed in the two decades since he was mayor and hopes the city will recommit itself to its progressive routes in coming years.

In the second half of the interview, Cole discusses his current job working with L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia and what political leaders can learn from Mejia's unconventional style. You can find Cole's articles (and a few other ones that have nothing to do with him), by clicking here.

For a transcript of the interview, click here.

In the second interview, Quinones explains what the SGVCC does: hiring youth in need of job training, and enrolling them in high school if necessary. The job sites they learn on include greening the region's streets with native plants, repainting the Puente Valley's county walls in a continuation of the area's iconic but sometimes fading vine murals, and pulling out deadwood and invasive species in the San Gabriel Mountains. Quinones, from Baldwin Park, says these young people come directly from the communities where they work. 

For a transcript of the interview, click here.

 

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of Downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit foothilltransit.org. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.

Mar 15, 2023

Damien Newton and Chris Greenspon catch up with Alhambra Councilmember and State Senate candidate Sasha Renée Pérez on the state of her candidacty and what is going on in Alhambra. The interview, the first in a series on the election, pings back and forth between her work in Alhambra and her vision for Senate District 25

This is Pérez's third time on SGV Connect. To listen to the other podcasts, click here. To read a transcript of the interview, click here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of Downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit foothilltransit.org. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.

Feb 16, 2023

 This week's SGV Connect is a special episode celebrating the centennial for West Covina. Chris Greenspon interviews local historian John Garside about the city's history, covering topics ranging from how the city hall got its name (from a stagecoach company) to lamenting some businesses that closed in recent years. You can read a transcript of the interview, here.

West Covina is holding a festival this weekend to celebrate 100 years of being incorporated. You can get all the details at the city's special events page

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of Downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit foothilltransit.org. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.

Feb 1, 2023

Welcome to SGV Connect episode 106, the first episode of 2023. This episode is nearly an hour long with a pair of great, but very different, interviews.

First, Chris Greenspon interviews Steve Valenzuela, El Monte poet and writer in residence for the new Zamora Art House in El Monte. The interview touches on Valenzuela’s poetry, his work as a school teacher and how his life experiences influence his poetry, teaching and advocacy. The interview touches on his collaborations with the South El Monte Art Posse, who have been a fixture in our coverage going back to SGV Connect #4. For a written transcript of today’s interview, click here.

In our second interview, Damien interviews the team at Studio-MLA and LA County Parks that is working on the Puente Hills Landfill Park project.The team decided on an innovative outreach plan for the park that includes bike rides and hiking tours of the park area in addition to more traditional outreach. As one might expect, different outreach has led to some surprising conversations. Back in July, Chris interviewed Supervisor Hilda Solis after the LA County Board of Supervisors announced funding for the park in July. For a written transcript of today’s interview, click here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of Downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit foothilltransit.org. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.

Dec 15, 2022

It's mid-December, and that means it's time for our annual end-of-the-year SGV Connect Podcast featuring not just Damien Newton and Chris Greenspon, but also Streetsblog LA Editor Joe Linton and Streetsblog California Editor Melanie Curry. After that, we have one last interview by Chris with John Axtell published a literary zine this year about the landscape and culture of the SGV. John and Chris talk quite a bit about open spaces, and rebuilding the industrial wastelands around the 605.

But first, Curry kicks off the podcast with a review of the legislation and other decisions made in Sacramento that have and will impact how the San Gabriel Valley grows and changes in the coming decades. In October she wrote an overview of some of the biggest pieces of legislation that the Governor signed (or didn't sign) and earlier this week she wrote a very early review of what could happen in the legislature in 2023.

Next, Joe Linton discussed some of the changes that will be happening with the L.A. County Government and with Metro. The agency celebrated the restoration of service to pre-pandemic levels in the last month. New County Supervisors, and a new L.A. Mayor, signal that some other changes could be coming to the agency soon.

Closing out the first portion of the podcast, Chris updates on the two biggest stories covered after he took over the beat from Kris Fortin: The Bus Rapid Transit concepts
from the SGV Transit Feasibility Study
and when County supervisors tossed out an activist appeal to slow construction on 85 condo units on a decommissioned school site in Hacienda Heights.

To read a transcript of the interview beteen Chris and John Axtell, click here. To read a transcript of the discussion between the Streetsblog team, click here.

Before we close out SGV Connect for the year, we wanted to remind everyone that Streetsblog L.A. is a non-profit and relies on reader donations to continue publishing. Even though our SGV regional coverage is sponsored, we need reader donations to maintain our story budgets and independent voice. Please consider making a tax-free donation today. Get started by clicking here.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunesGoogle Play, or Overcast.

Nov 18, 2022

This week’s SGV Connect features an over forty minute interview by Chris Greenspon with author and history professor James Zarsadiaz about his recent book, Resisting Change in Suburbia: Asian Immigrants and Frontier Nostalgia in L.A. (Buy it from University of California Press, here.)

Zarsadiaz’s book focuses on six communities, five in the San Gabriel Valley (Walnut, Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, and Heights, and a community within the city of Pomona known as Phillips Ranch) and Chino Hills in San Bernardino. The six communities have a similar development pattern and history where a large incoming community of immigrants from Asia changed neighborhoods and created discomfort for their existing, mostly white, new neighbors.

And so I talked a great length about the ways in which there was peacemaking. But of course, there was still a bit of hurt feelings from both sides. And a lot of the criticism was generated around concerns and of immigrants and nativism; but some of it also was based on just kind of discomfort with change,” Zarsadiaz says in the interview. 

“Broadly speaking, I think for a lot of white residents, who were critical believed that it wasn’t necessarily always rooted in nativism or xenophobia. For them, it was just kind of seeing their world  changed before their eyes and trying to grapple with that change.”

To read the rest of the interview, click here or listen in at SGV Connect, below.

SGV Connect is supported by Foothill Transit, offering car-free travel throughout the San Gabriel Valley with connections to the new Gold Line Stations across the Foothills and Commuter Express lines traveling into the heart of downtown L.A. To plan your trip, visit Foothill Transit. “Foothill Transit. Going Good Places.”

Sign-up for our SGV Connect Newsletter, coming to your inbox on Fridays, and catch past episodes of SGV Connect and #DamienTalks on LibSyn, iTunes, Google Play, or Overcast.

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