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Community Collides With Traffic Engineers

Byline: Rebecca Rona-Tuttle

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Isn’t that what they say? I haven’t heard that expression in years, yet its message of perseverance is embodied in all the community organizing Liberty Hill supports.

That phrase came to mind when I heard about the tremendous effort of East LA residents and East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice--just to get a few, but terribly important, traffic safety devices for their community.

The Union Pacific neighborhood in East Los Angeles has suffered from far more than its fair share of traffic accidents. In fact, Esperanza Gutierrez, the respected and beloved 79-year-old elder known community-wide for organizing events at her church, was struck down and killed while crossing the street on her way to church. Later, a serious though not fatal collision occurred right in front of startled families trying to enjoy their Fourth of July celebrations. These are only two of the many accidents that have occurred in this area, where an elementary school, childcare centers and a church share space with two freeways, industrial warehouses and a rail yard, and where large trucks barrel down residential streets.

It’s been hard work to bring a measure of safety to their community. With the assistance of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, a Liberty Hill grantee, community members have been organizing their neighbors for months. Neighbors asked for four-way traffic signs, traffic signals and speed bumps—the very things that residents in other neighborhoods have received upon request. But county traffic engineers turned them down.

East Yard got involved, helping to facilitate meetings and working with residents to create campaign strategy, including an agenda for change. They helped the residents conduct research around other traffic safety campaigns.  East Yard reached out for assistance to Supervisor Gloria Molina, who advised them to appeal the decision to the Los Angeles County High Safety Commission. And East Yard helped residents practice their public speaking skills in preparation for the appeal.

A reporter shares details of the hazards posed in this neighborhood, the diligent work of troubled residents  and the involvement of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in an article published in EGP News (the largest chain of Hispanic Owned Bilingual Newspapers in the US.)

A couple of days after this article was published, residents returned to the County Highway Safety Commission to appeal the original decision.

The results of the appeal were mixed. On the one hand, the safety commission wasn’t ready to OK the community's requests and ordered that a more comprehensive study be conducted. On the other hand, due to the efforts of residents and East Yard, the commission finally acknowledged that the community does indeed have a traffic safety problem. And best of all, when the improvements finally are incorporated--and they will be--they will be made throughout a one-square-mile area, an area much larger than the original, which consisted of only a  few streets.

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