Miracle Mile Residential Association Hosts 35th Annual Meeting

MMRA Neighborhood Watch coordinator Kari Garcia and MMRA President James O’Sullivan, during a discussion of the Neighborhood Watch program at Saturday’s meeting

The Miracle Mile Residential Association, representing residents of the Miracle Mile neighborhood since 1983, hosted its 35th annual meeting on Saturday, March 24, at the Korean Cultural Center on Wilshire Blvd.  And if the standing-room-only crowd was any indication, the association is still going strong.

The meeting was divided into three major parts:

  • An introduction and pitch to join the new Neighborhood Watch program being organized in repsponse to the recent uptick in property crimes in the area
  • An address (with questions and answers afterward) by City Council Member David Ryu
  • A brief discussion of SB 827, the proposed state legislation that could override local zoning restrictions and significanty increase housing density in the city.

Neighborhood Watch

Miracle Mile Neighborhood Watch organizer Kari Garcia

After prowlers entered Miracle Mile resident Kari Garcia’s property for the third time last year, she got mad…and then channeled that anger into a proactive involvement with local police and the MMRA, where she has organized a new Neighborhood Watch program.  Garcia is now signing up block captains for each of the neighborhood’s 51 blocks, and will soon hold training sessions for the block captains and teach them how to organize and then train the neighbors on their own blocks.

Before Saturday’s meeting, Garcia had 27 block captains in place, and she used her time at the meeting to recruit more and to discuss the benefits of the block captain program.  First and foremost, Garcia said, neighbors should know that “you are not an island,” and that when people come together in a Neighborhood Watch, they will get to know each other, build a sense of community, have better, more reliable information, and – yes – actually help prevent crime.

Garcia said her one-hour workshop for block captains will teach people how to educate their neighbors, how to work with the LAPD and private security firms to secure property and “harden the target,” and how to look out for each other and everyone’s homes.

Aliza Durand, another neighbor whose home was broken into 10 years ago, said that after that incident, she went door to door on her block and learned that almost every neighbor had also suffered a break-in of some sort in the previous five years.  She said she started a Neighborhood Watch on her block at that time, and since then, she has gotten to know all of her neighbors (including children and pets), and people  watch out for each other — not just looking for suspicous activity, but also in much more neighborly ways, such as putting neighbors’ trash cans out (and bringing them in again) when they’re on vacation.  That kind of community, she says, has benefits beyond crime prevention.  “People live longer when they live in a community,” she said.

Representatives of ACS Security and ADT Security, both of which offer alarm and patrol services in the Miracle Mile area, gave brief presentations about their services, and Garcia displayed a map from the Los Feliz area, showing how areas within that neighborhood patrolled by private companies have had far fewer break-ins.  Eino Hill, from ACS, noted that his company has had a full-time patrol car in Miracle Mile for eight hours a day since last October…and hopes to get enough subscribers to have a car there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, within the next three months.

Map showing difference in Los Feliz neighborhood crime during the last six months in areas with private patrol services (left two outlined areas) vs. those without (rectangle at right).

City Council Member David Ryu

City Council Member David Ryu addressing Saturday’s meeting

When City Council Member David Ryu took the stage, following Garcia and Durand’s presentations, he praised Garcia’s efforts, saying there are “two kinds of people in the world” – those who see a piece of trash on the ground and complain to the city about its lack of services…and those who pick up the trash and throw it away themselves…and Garcia is definitely the latter.  Ryu said he first met Garcia when she came to his office angry about the break-ins at her home last year…but instead of complaining, she asked him “What can I do?” and he urged her to start organizing the neighbors.

Ryu said the Neighborhood Watch effort has his “complete, full support,” and that “public safety is the most important thing,” because nothing else matters if people don’t feel safe in their own homes.

Ryu noted that despite the rise in property crimes recently, there have been some positive anti-crime developments in the city since he took office almost three years ago. A big one is the addition of more paperwork-handling staff at police stations, so LAPD officers now spend less time in the office and more tie out on the street, responding to calls.  Also, Ryu said, nine additional officers have been added to LAPD’s Wilshire Division, which is the equivalent of two new Basic Car areas.

Ryu said neighborhood organization is especially valuable for effective communications and accurate information.  Social media, like the popular NextDoor.com service, he said, are good for immediacy, but emotions and misinformation can also often run high in such spaces. Also, while city officials can post one-way messages to residents via NextDoor, they cannot read the posts of community members, so can’t really monitor discussions for accuracy or chime in, when necessary, with corrected information.  With a well-organized Neighborhood Watch, however, said Ryu, residents can bring information to their block captains, who then share it with the local Watch leaders, and they, in turn, can share and discuss it with LAPD and other officials, and then bring accurate information and advice back to their neighbors.

Also, Ryu noted, Neighborhood Watch leaders and volunteers can also become first responders and the first line of communications when disasters other than crime strike, especially in the case of serious emergencies like a major earthquake, when other communications paths may be down, and city services may not be able to get to the area immediately.

During the question and answer period following Ryu’s remarks, he fielded questions on a number of other topics.  Among them:

Truancy and the failure of schools to engage and serve students, which can lead to misbehavior and crime – Ryu said this is a “passion topic” for him, and that underfunding of schools is a serious national problem that gets worse with each round of federal budget cuts. He said one way he’s working to address this locally is with support for after-school programs, to help keep kids engaged and out of trouble during non-school hours…and with a motion he introduced to establish college savings accounts for every LAUSD student, so that even low-income families will start seeing college as a realistic possibility and start having that discussion with their kids from an early age.

The need for more community input on Transit-Oriented-Community development projects – Ryu said that even though the TOC guidelines (which give builders relief from some kinds of density limits and other zoning restrictions in exchange for including a certain number of low-income units in projects near major transit lines) make more projects “by right” and exempt them from community approval, there are other opportunities for neighbors to weigh in.  These include cases where the neighborhood is covered by special design review rules, or when something like a liquor permit is involved. (Those things still require community review before approval.) Ryu said he also personally encourages developers to talk with neighbors about their projects before bringing them to him, and that “good” developers, who want to come back with more projects in the future, do that.

Services and housing options to serve homeless individuals in the area – Although Ryu said “nothing fixes homelessness like a home,” he also acknowledged that providing shelter for homeless individuals is not an easy task, for several reasons.  First, he said, he has learned by working with LAPD’s Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (HOPE) teams that although most people on the streets do want assistance, they often don’t trust those who offer help, and it can take up to 10 approaches to build a relationship with someone and get them to trust the service provider enough to accept help.  Also, Ryu said, there is the problem of supply – there are not nearly enough supportive housing units available for all the people who need them, and when one does open up, it may not be nearby and people would rather stay in their own neighborhood (yes, most of the homeless in our area are actually from the area originally).  And as for buildig new supportive housing units, Ryu said many residents do not want to house the homeless in their neighborhoods…but the city is looking at options to use city-owned property for that purpose. He also noted that each city council member has now committed to providing 222 units of supporting housing in his or her district, and while that won’t solve the problem, “it’s about stemming this tide.”

SB 827

After Ryu’s remarks, MMRA President James O’Sullivan gave a brief talk about SB 827, the state senate bill introduced by Bay-area representative Scott Wiener to promote increases in housing density across the state.  The bill would eliminate most local zoning regulations, including restrictions in historic neighborhoods, and allow construction of 5-10 story buildings in almost any location within half a mile of a major bus or train line…a definition that would include most of urban Los Angeles, including current single-family and low-density multi-family neighborhoods.

While some housing advocates say such drastic action is necessary to help California cities keep up with long-ignored population increases, and to help lower housing costs by dramatically increasing supply, others argue that completely doing away with local zoning controls would be disastrous for individual cities and their individual planning processes.

The topic was also raised briefly during Ryu’s remarks, and he spoke out against the bill, saying that while we do have a “serious housing crisis,” and he supports “appropriate, responsible development,” SB 827 would be like “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” He said it would render all of Los Angeles’ current zoning “obsolete” and “you could just get rid of the Planning Department.” “I completely, fundamentally disagree with that,” Ryu said. “I don’t want the state telling us what do do with our neighborhoods.”

O’Sullivan said the SB 827 campaign is funded mostly by what former LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has called “WIMBY” (Wall Street in my back yard) interests, representing developers and large tech companies looking to house their upscale workers…but it does nothing to encourage the kinds of low-income and workforce housing that the city so desperately needs.  Low-income units, O’Sullivan said, are currently encouraged by various density bonus programs, but would not be part of new projects built under SB827, which would only further encourage gentrification and homelessness.

Also, like Ryu, O’Sullivan said he believes that SB 827 would make local planning rules and departments obsolete, and would take away local communities’ and neighbors’ voice in the planning process – something he said the MMRA has worked hard for many years to maintain, especially in discussions with the developers of nearly 2,500 housing units in built recently in the area.

Finally, O’Sullivan thanked Ryu for introducing a motion (seconded by City Council President Herb Wesson) asking the Council to formally oppose SB 827. [Note: The full Council will vote on that motion today – Tuesday, March 27.  The Buzz will report on the vote tomorrow.] And, finally, O’Sulivan also urged neighbors to sign an online petition opposing SB 827.

MMRA President James O’Sullivan, with a rendering showing the kind of new development that could be allowed in what are now single-family neighborhoods under SB 827.
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