Outrage

R.I.P. Yolanda

R.I.P. Yolanda

At 9:45pm on Friday, September 18th, pedestrian Yolanda Lugo, 51 was struck by a driver as she was walking in the crosswalk located at Figueroa and South Avenue 55 in Highland Park. The driver failed to yield, and fled the scene. After two days in intensive care, Yolanda Lugo lost her life on Sunday, September 20th.

According to the news media and witnesses, as drivers yielded in the other lanes, the driver of a white Mitsubishi Lancer traveling north in the number two northbound lane passed the car yielding in the number one northbound lane just as Yolanda Lugo stepped into his path. Her body was thrown 50 feet up Figueroa, landing near the parking lot of the Auto Zone parts store. The driver kept going; speeding away north on Figueroa until eventually stopping briefly in Garvanza near York Boulevard and Avenue 66 to remove his license plates before disappearing into the night. Police have since located the vehicle involved, and know the identity of the driver who remains at-large. Thanks to CD 15 council member, Joe Buscaino, as of April, the City of Los Angeles has a standing reward for all Hit and Runs, including $50,000 for the capture of Lugo’s killer. (This new law came in-part because constituents previously had to ask their council members to offer a city reward every time someone was killed in a hit and run collision. You may recall in September 2014, the Highland Park community had to practically beg Gil Cedillo for weeks before he would ask city council to support a city reward for the hit-and-run that killed 57-year-old, Gloria Ortiz on Avenue 50.)

 

Blood stains and the location where Yolanda's phone landed on Figueroa the morning after.

Bloodstains and the location where Yolanda’s phone landed on Figueroa.

 

Memorial to Yolanda Lugo at the crash site.

Memorial to Yolanda Lugo at the crash site, three days after her death.

By Monday after Lugo’s passing, a couple of prayer candles and some flowers could be seen at the crash site. Word started to get out about her death and her family, with the support of the Highland Park community, began planning a demonstration and vigil for Lugo at the deadly Figueroa crosswalk on Friday, exactly one week after she was fatally struck.

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On Friday, September 25th,  Fig For All joined the family and friends of Yolanda Lugo at Figueroa and Avenue 55 to vigil, demonstrate, and help raise funds to defray the cost of her medical bills and funeral.

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Friends and family of Yolanda Lugo shut down Figueroa Street in protest. (Photo via facebook.)

 

 

The night of the vigil and demonstration, a week after Lugo was struck and with the perpetrator on the run, Gil Cedillo had yet to acknowledge the event.  His Communications Deputy, Fredy Ceja only hinted at the road safety issue with a stop sign blurb in the unusually late publishing of the Cedillo Weekly. Two stop signs in all of Council District 1 were installed recently, both in Highland Park. One installed on Avenue 50 at Lincoln (thanks in large part to Team Huizar’s urging), and another at Marmion Way where it ends at Joy Street. (Yes, they took the opportunity to pat themselves on the back for getting a stop sign installed where a street ends.) It would not be until the next week before Cedillo would comment on the tragedy.

 

After calling on his office for eleven days, Cedillo finally made a public statement on this latest tragedy and uses the opportunity to scold safety advocates. While he was politically grandstanding, pacifying seniors, doing photo ops, making speeches, having to dinner with police, having dinner with business people, receiving rewards, and wishing his unqualified Planning Deputy a happy birthday, police and community members were lighting-up media outlets and the internet in an effort to get out the story about the hit-and-run and the vehicle involved. While Cedillo was accepting campaign contributions, the community was busy raising funds to defray Yolanda Lugo’s medical and funeral costs.  In the time it took for Cedillo to get around to mentioning the hit and run one block from his Highland Park field office, the suspect could have walked from Figueroa to Bahía de los Ángeles, Mexico. If Cedillo really cared he would have been reaching-out to the victims, the police, and the community if not the day after, at least by the Monday after. But no, it took him eleven days, and only after community and media attempts at reaching him.

When he does respond to this latest tragedy, he once again lashes-out at his critics for as he puts it, “Trying to turn this situation into a political opportunity.” Coincidentally, The Onion put out a story this week that works just as well for Cedillo’s scolding of safety advocates, “Man Can’t Believe Obama Would Use Tragedy To Push Anti-Tragedy Agenda.”  Yes, Cedillo. We are as you say, “Trying to turn this situation into a political opportunity.”  Yes, we will use this tragedy to push our anti-tragedy agenda. We want you to do the right thing, we want you to stop this ridiculous brinkmanship and allow LADOT to install safety enhancements.

Just three weeks before Lugo was fatally struck on Figueroa, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed his Executive Directive making Vision Zero city policy. North Figueroa, the Deadliest Street in Northeast L.A., is well on its way to becoming the test-case for the city’s goal of reducing traffic deaths to zero by 2025. That aspect is explored in this story by Meghan McCarty at KPCC. At the same time as Los Angeles is trying to achieve Vision Zero, the State of California is trying to bring an end to its rampant hit-and-run epidemic.  On October 2nd, both Eastern Group Publications, and La Opinión cover the Lugo tragedy with an emphasis on Assemblyman Mike Gatto‘s new law to create a Hit and Run Yellow Alert system for California.

Meanwhile, still backpedaling driving in reverse, Team Cedillo miraculously “Secures” funding left over from the Reyes administration to install crosswalk signals on Figueroa.

Highland Park Field Deputy, Malinda Alatorre's tired picture of a beg button from back in May highlights the "Safety Updates" in the latest Cedillo Weekly. It is amazing how quickly they "Find Money" to do safety improvements every time someone gets killed by motorists around here.

Highland Park CD1 Field Deputy, Malinda Alatorre’s tired picture of a beg button from back in May highlights the “Safety Updates” in the Cedillo Weekly e-Newsletter.  Amazing how quickly they “Find funding” to do safety improvements AFTER someone gets killed by motorists around here.

Remember, when they say, “In the pipeline” that means don’t expect anything to be done anytime soon. (At least not before the 2017 re-election campaign.)  If you recall the, “No-I-Will-Not-Make-Figueroa-Safer-Because-Safety” letter from last July, he promised alternative roadway safety enhancements. None of which have been implemented.

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Reconfiguration, beacons, ramps, blah, blah, blah… Words are cheap aren’t they?

 

No story in the Boulevard Sentinel, just Cedillo's letter.

Boulevard Sentinel proves again to be just a mouthpiece for Cedillo. No story, just his letter.

For years, Northeast Los Angeles has suffered from a pathetic lack of reliable news coverage. If there is fire, flood or blood in Northeast L.A., we might get coverage.  (As of this post, TV news outlets that first reported the Hit and Run have not updated their stories from nearly a month ago.)  The one local “Newspaper” we have isn’t even a newspaper, it’s a propaganda rag.  Now-retired publisher, Tom Topping started the monthly publication over 18 years ago in an effort to save automotive businesses on Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock.  New publisher, Colorado Boulevard hardware store owner, Tim Tritch seems to be keeping that same propaganda spirit.  Instead of reporting the Hit and Run story and vigil, he just reprinted Gil Cedillo’s letter word for word. What’s worse is, Tim Tritch seems to like Cedillo even more than Tom Topping did.  Even the local Arts newspaper, does a better job at reporting local news.

See, this is news. Local news. But in an arts paper, because that is how desperate we are for news coverage.

 

On Tuesday, October 6th, the family of Yolanda Lugo once again attempted to meet with the Cedillo staff at his Highland Park field office located on Figueroa, one block from the deadly crosswalk. Team Cedillo was gracious enough to meet them outside on the sidewalk.  While District Director, Conrado Terrazas seem to take the family’s concerns more seriously, repeating the crossing lights promise, Chief of Staff, and Cedillo’s BFF, Arturo Chavez seemed to consider a family that just lost their sister / their aunt / their mother coming to ask for help A BIG JOKE.

Going to Cedillo’s office, asking for help, and getting the run-around has become de rigueur for Highland Park residents and businesses. Their staff consists of interns, political supporters, and family friends of Cedillo. The hiring process isn’t so much what you know, but who you know, as in, “Do you know Gil?”  Qualifying professional degrees and certification seems to be a rarity with them. This has led to a level of mind-numbing ineptitude that is outstanding even by Los Angeles standards. Their administration of CD1 after two years is one of reactionary responses. Never proactive, always trying to shift the blame and make up for their mistakes.

There is some truth to a guy on twitter noting, “If it was a white girl who got ran over the entire nation would be on the hunt, no love no justice for Latinos in Highland Park.”

A similar situation happened on Rowena Avenue in the more affluent neighborhood of Silver Lake in 2012. 24-year-old Ashley Sandau, was killed by a driver while using the crosswalk on what was then, a four-lane Rowena. The driver did the honorable thing and did not try to flee, so no manhunt was needed. Sandau’s death lead to CD4 council member, Tom LaBonge to order a road diet on Rowena that reduced the road from four multi-use travel lanes to two multi-use travel lanes, one turning lane, and made room to include two bicycle lanes. Pedestrians on Rowena Avenue no longer have to cross in front of four lanes of motor traffic and hope that every driver in every lane sees them. As much as impatient drivers complain, the road diet has made the road safer, and more pleasant for those who live, walk, and bike there.

The problem is we live in Council District 1. We don’t deserve nice things. We don’t deserve the services, the infrastructure, the public safety, or responsiveness that other Los Angeles City Council Districts get. Our Council District 1 council member, Gil Cedillo is a career politician who has thrived on the poverty and desperation of his constituents that kept him in office. That has been his playbook since 1998.  Team Cedillo thinks that they can outrun the criticism, that they can say, “We are working on it.” And the public will forget, stop asking and be distracted TV give-a-ways, or another one of his Latin Jazz festivals.

Yolanda Lugo was struck in the crosswalk exactly where a north-bound buffered bike lane was supposed to be installed last year. It is very likely, she would have been in the buffered or bike lane area outside the travel lane where the hit-and-run driver was driving.  Figueroa is a wrong-sized and unnecessarily-wide roadway that divides the walking and transit-oriented neighborhoods it passes through.  Figueroa needs to be narrowed just as the Department of Transportation has planned. Crossing distances for pedestrians need to be reduced. Visibility for all road users needs be increased. Until Figueroa is fixed, more people will continue to be injured and killed. The question is what number of deaths is Cedillo willing to accept?

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Moot

The Hart D. Fisher show. (Photo via FlyingPigeonLA)

The Hart D. Fisher show. (Photo via FlyingPigeonLA)

As expected, Tuesday evening’s Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council’s Sycamore Grove Local Issues Committee Special Meeting turned out to be a farce in every sense of the word. This special meeting was demanded by the very vocal bike lane Opposition. But as the old adage goes: “Give someone enough rope and they will hang themselves.”

The meeting was hosted by Sycamore Grove Chair, Sergio Vidal-Echeverria and Sycamore Grove representative, Joseph Riser. The two-hour event consisted of quick one minute general comments from local stakeholders (residents, business owners, students, shoppers, vested interests) who spoke in favor or against the LADOT Bike Plan for North Figueroa Street. The comments were vastly in favor of bike lanes on Figueroa for safety, traffic calming, traffic relief, commuting, health, recreation, pleasure, building community, and the children who live here.

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“A cyclist cut me off while driving my car, delaying me five seconds, and although I had a few beers, I was able to text my scorn about it…”

The second portion of the meeting was dedicated to giving Hart D. Fisher 15 minutes to rant against bike lanes. (Yes, the Sycamore Grove Local Issues Committee held this meeting at Fisher’s demand to show a 15 minutes video presentation against bike lanes.) The starved-for-fame, Fisher ironically did not get his entire 15 minutes of fame in this case. A good portion of his allotment was wasted by botching the video presentation. When he did get the video working it was just a re-hashing of the exact same tired and false claims that the opponents said during the comment period. (e.g., “The bike lanes will block emergency vehicles…” “The bike lanes will take away hundreds of parking spaces…”) Veteran ASNC member, Joe Riser mercifully cut Fisher short, explaining that he was misled to believe that this would be an alternative route presentation, not a editorialization of the Opposition’s viewpoint. The always volatile Fisher eventually had to be ejected from the room for violating California Penal Code § 403 (Disrupting a public meeting).

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The lonely 16 opposition voters. (Of particular interest: Lummis House director on the right didn’t vote against bike lanes this time, and poor anti-bike Jack Goldhammer seen in orange, does not seem to know what’s going on.)

After the Opposition’s fail-tastic portion died a quick and painful death, it was time for an actual real-life professional who is paid by us stakeholders to manage theses actual real-life city plans. David Somers from the City of Los Angeles Department of CITY PLANNING was kind enough to attend and answer a few questions. His portion was brief and without any LADOT staff in attendance, he could only speak about the bike plan from his department’s perspective. The most important take-away from Somers is that North Figueroa bike lanes could be installed by August. (That is a slight setback considering previous statements indicated a late June installation.)

At the end of the meeting, the Sycamore Grove Local Issues Committee took a show-of-hands poll that resulted in 41 In Favor of bike lanes on Figueroa, and 16 Against. This vote, the previous Montecito Heights vote, along with the letters, and online ASNC Bike Lane Survey will be presented to the full ASNC Board on June 24th.

The bike lane opposition is dwindling. Only 16 people voted against bike lanes, and this was supposed to be their meeting! At this point, there only seems to be three men dedicated to opposing safer streets and new bike lanes on Figueroa: Tom Topping, Publisher of the Blvd Sentinel, John Nese from Galco’s, and Hart D. Fisher from 911 N Avenue 57. Alternative Bike Plan map maker, Charles Fisher has not even attended the last two meetings. (Hope he is O.K.)

The North Figueroa bike lanes were approved with the city-wide 2010 Bike Plan that our elected City Council voted in favor of. Furthermore, the plan has been signed-off for installation this summer by LADOT General Manager, Jamie de la Vega and City Planning Director, Michael Logrande. These Neighborhood Council meetings are for all intents and purposes, just for the record and have very little bearing on the outcome. If anything, the Opposition has worked to undermine the validity of Neighborhood Empowerment by demanding endless hearings at the neighborhood council’s expense.

Come this August, with all likelihood, there will be buffered bike lanes on North Figueroa Street despite the fear-mongers efforts. It will be wonderful and look nothing like this.