Accounts of How 'Ghosttown' in Wilmington 'Got Clean'

When a long-time friend visited me in this part of Wilmington, he noticed that there were so many dogs in the neighborhood. Aggressive dogs held back only by sometimes very low fences, likely remnants of a past riddled with violence and the threat thereof.

For a little over 6 months, I've been a frequent visitor in a part of Wilmington that up until 2007 was full of drug-dealing.  A few times I've left valuable items in the car for a weekend and my car and its contents would remain untouched.  I've heard shootings at least twice, once at a school fair that I was actually at and saw someone react to, and once in some apartment. 

A lifelong resident commented, "you shouldn't be scared to live in your own neighborhood."

She talked about growing up in the West Side of Wilmington near what was known as the "PJs."  Also bad.  How during school, a helicopter would fly overheard during a shooting and tell everyone to run.  She talks about how girls would mess with her and her sisters, despite being out of the loop.

When I talked to a few other people who've lived there, they make it clear that being scared was exactly the situation residents faced.  That was the way of life there.  The accepted reality.

Another lady had a few gangster brothers who would claim streets.  She thought it was stupid because they'd never lived on a certain street they claimed. 

In broad daylight, drug dealers once snuck into their house.  Luckily they didn't steal anything noticeable or valuable.

The same lady talked about how for months she kept calling the police station or letting other people know otherwise what she had been seeing. A couple of neighborhood watch volunteers were actively monitoring the situation;  the lady kept asking them advice of how to handle the situation.  One volunteer said, "just keep calling the station and complaining."  So the lady pressed on.

One time this lady's neighbors had been making so much noise.  There was a lot of ruckus from people coming in and out.  She called the station.  No response.

She asked the volunteer, "why her complaints were not going through."

The volunteer assured her, "they're working on something big, so just be patient."

Weeks later, in the morning, the police had shut down the street she was on.  In sync, an army of police went in raided certain complexes.  Undercover cops as well as FBI agents had been on the case for months buying drugs and mounting evidence against them.  Those doing the deals were then evicted from the houses, the houses were sold quickly, and then "flipped."

"The neighborhood's been pretty relaxed since," said one guy.  "But it's a cycle.  There were periods when it was clean, and periods when it wasn't."

Running the Parks

As I've made my way up and down parks owned by the City of Los Angeles from the South Bay to the Valley, the one thing I like to do in all of them:  run.

Maybe it was Forrest Gump, maybe it's just habit, maybe it's the easiest way (for me) to feel like an athlete, but whatever it is, that's what I do when I'm not supposed to be writing a proposal, article, or thesis/dissertation.

When I lived in Silver Lake, I would lap Bellevue Park's dirt track over and over.

When I moved with my folks to the Valley, I would run the concrete perimeter sidewalk surrounding Panorama City Recreation Center.

Nowadays, you can find me every other day running either the perimeter or the grass at Banning Park in Wilmington.

But none of them compare to the one park I like in particular for running: the Sherman Oaks park.


Because of its sign and map indicating the distance of each running trail.

That's it.

I do use gmap-pedometer to see how much each of my runs (and bikes) are, but having the sign affirming the distance would be a permanent symbol for everyone to know how much is enough for them.

I think something as easy as that signage would create a lot more motivation, and make people perceive a space as "runnable."  You'd probably see a spike of more people outside running, which I wish I could confirm and observe, but at the moment can only propose, till a person or group of people with more clout than me make it happen.

Central Long Beach and those interested in "Building Healthy Communities", perhaps that's something to think about.

Conversation with a Man I Never Met

Rest peacefully, Mr. Willis Veluz-Abraham.

All I knew about you was that you were a bicyclist, UCLA grad, father, and husband to one of my undergrad advisors, Melissa, who served as a reference for me when I got out of UCLA. 

She was and probably still is a bomb advisor, a person in power that I always thought I related to best.  She was always trying to get me to join Kaymanan Ng Lahi.

I'd never met you, but I'd seen you existing in Melissa's picture frames, along with your children.  I looked at you guys and wondered, dang, what race is he?  Arabic?  Black?  Interracial mixing?  Cool!

I was happy for her and trusted her judgment that you were a good man.  I gave an awkward congratulations for your first kid to her over e-mail, and I didn't know you just had your second.

If you can, from wherever you are, I hope you can give Melissa, your kids, your other family members, and commuting and recreational bicyclists the strength to keep keeping on.


Brian J. Delas Armas

The Direction and Trajectory of Long Beach Biking

Went to an update of Long Beach's bike plan yesterday.  Last time it was updated:  the year 2000, 12 years ago.

Obviously, they're moving forward on projects and making a lot of changes in a few areas.

Most of the meeting consisted of the meeting facilitator, Allan Crawford, asking meeting attendees to introduce themselves and why they came to the meeting.  He would then try to tie in whatever people would say to some kind of new innovation.

I was surprised to get a bit of a history lesson.  According to Allan bicyclists were amongst the first advocates for roads in the 1900s.  They apparently didn't want to ride on mud and dirt.  So essentially, our roads were built for bikes. 

The 21st century Southern California finds most of its residents highly dependent on the automobile.  Now, more than ever, according to UCLA Transportation studies.  Over the last 15 years, there has no increase in overall population, but there are increases in overall traffic.  People are deeply immersed, enraptured if not having naturalized the automobile as the only feasible mode of transport

I found it interesting that in the federal budget, bicycling infrastructure received 1% of the funding, but apparently accounted for 12% of all trips.

When Allan stopped talking about history, he was talking about improvements in the physical as well as the social bike infrastructure:
  1. bike sharrows implemented in Belmont Shores, built along with bikeshare to increase the number of trips taken by bike
  2. the separated lanes in downtown Long Beach
  3. bicycling advocacy's apparent partnership with business districts
  4. bike education programs
Additionally, a powerpoint of the Direction of Long Beach biking was printed out.  There are 8 bike infrastructure projects:
  1. Pacific-San Antonio Corridor
  2. Daisy-Myrtle Blvd
  3. 15th Bike Blvd
  4. 6th Bike Blvd
  5. 3rd & Broadway finalization
  6. Bellflower/Clark/Broadway/Del Amo
  7. Queens Way Water Front Path
  8. GD Bridge

What I thought was missing in the described "Direction of Long Beach biking":
  • Not a fan of bike route signage or sharrows.  From an applied design, and real-time user experience, bike sharrows and class 2 "Bike Route" signage, in my humble opinion, do very little to inform drivers that they need to expect bicyclists on a road.  I know because I was one of those drivers who didn't know what the "Bike Route" signs meant till I actually got into bicycle advocacy.  No need for further proof of the ineffectiveness of Bike Route, Class 2 signage than one school weekday riding Pacific Coast Highway from the Blue Line to Cal State Long Beach.
  • The geographical areas gaining these improvements are two rich people areas;  I hardly ever venture in either direction;  unless I'm missing something West Long Beach, an industrial area with plenty of what I will call invisibilized, if not "persistent, resilient" riders who appear to haul a fair amount of goods for exchange, be it used cans or a freezer.
  • Bicycling advocacy's partnership with business districts is good; except for the part where the businesses get mad at the people biking on the sidewalks.  It's neglecting the reality that it's still too damn dangerous to ride the actual streets.
  • Bicycle education is necessary, but I think simple signage directing riders would be even better. 
More to come with each monthly meeting.  September 5, October 3, November 7, and December 5 are the meeting dates.