My name is Eric Brightwell. I was born in Iowa City but mostly grew up in the country, outside of Columbia, Missouri. I first visited Los Angeles in 1998, during a road trip across Western US. At the time “knowing” Los Angeles only through distorted media representations and tired stereotypes, I had almost no interest in visiting Los Angeles except to visit friends. To my relief and amazement, the Los Angeles I experienced bore almost no relationship to the Los Angeles of my expectations. I decided to move to Los Angeles the following year and moved to an apartment in Silver Lake where I’ve lived since.
However, what makes Los Angeles wonderful to me are the people and the place itself. The government, on the other hand, has never impressed me, filled as it has for decades been with grinning neo-Liberals who pay lip service to progressive values and trumpet their endless stream of historic firsts even as they cut funding to every part of the public sphere — except for the ridiculously militarized police force for whom the annual budget must increase year after year, despite Los Angeles’s violent crime rate falling below that of 31 other American cities.
In the world’s third-wealthiest city — one with a higher GDP than not just every city in the EU but all but four nations in it — every year somehow requires austerity and belt-tightening. There never seems to be sufficient money or political will to effectively end homelessness, provide first-rate mass transit, or fix our schools — even as many cities and countries show us over and over how it’s done. There is always money for another police helicopter, though. It’s enough to give one the impression that the city doesn’t actually want to solve its problems but would rather use military force to maintain a precarious status quo that greatly benefits a tiny elite.
It was also in 1999 that the Neighborhood Council system was launched. I’ve followed politics since my elementary school days but didn’t attend a Silver Lake Neighborhood Council meeting until 2011. I left it with a bad taste in my mouth, appalled by all who spoke and embarrassed for all who did not. Against my better judgment, I’ve engaged periodically with the council in the intervening decade and nearly always come away in disgust. I was commissioned to make a map for the Council of public stairways but they did nothing with it. I once told a former council-member that I was interested in getting involved with the Transportation & Safety Committee and he confided, with a wink and a grin, that its purpose was really “all about harassing the homeless.” I have often wondered whether or not the Neighborhood Council system isn’t actually meant to be a bridge between the government and the constituents than a barrier to protect politicians from their voters.
However, I’ve been inspired by the recent election of progressives to local office and the rise of grassroots activism and greater political engagement with local politics from the Left. And so, overcoming no small amount of reluctance and encouraged by others to do so, I begrudgingly decided to run for Neighborhood Council Region 6 Representative with the desire to transform that body into one that actually engages with the public in a manner that’s progressive rather than regressive and helpful rather than toxic.
As a member of the Neighborhood Council, I will use what influence my position affords, hopefully in coordination with other Neighborhood Council-members and members of the public, to push City Council-members to act in the interest of their constituents rather than the members of the donor class. These are a few of my interests and ideas that I will push for — but I will also make myself available to residents of Silver Lake and promise to listen to anything you might have to say, provided it’s expressed in good faith and communicated with at least a pretense of civility.
HOW TO GET A HOLD OF ME
When I’m appointed to Silver Lake Neighborhood Council, I believe I’ll be given an email account. Until then, you can leave comments here or contact me on social media, some sites of which I check more frequently than others. I’ll post my email when it’s assigned to me.
REFORM THE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL SYSTEM
The neighborhood council system was created 22 years ago in response to efforts by some San Fernando Valley residents to secede from Los Angeles. Although only 20% of eligible Angelenos cast a vote in the last mayoral and city council election, only about .1% of Angelenos cast votes in neighborhood council elections. If the neighborhood council system’s function is to build a bridge between the citizenry and city council, it’s hard to see it as a success. Most Angelenos don’t even know that it exists and a huge percentage of neighborhood council-members run unopposed, winning with a single vote cast for themselves. This is not what democracy looks like.
The city government needs to do more to raise awareness of the neighborhood council system and to streamline the election process. Instead of spreading 99 neighborhood elections across a six-month period and requiring voters to request a ballot online and then mail it in, why not allow anyone who wants to vote to do so online? With so little engagement, any fears of voter fraud would seem to be wholly unfounded. Another possibility would be holding neighborhood elections on the same date as other municipal elections and including neighborhood council information with sample ballots. The city’s website is poorly designed, counter-intuitive, and includes links to out-of-date information.
The Neighborhood Council could and need to more to raise awareness of itself if they hope to become effective. A yard sign, paid for with Neighborhood Council funding, imploring motorists to “slow down” expresses a nice sentiment but is a complete waste of money. I doubt even a single reckless driver has ever seen one of those signs and then decided, afterward, to become a good driver (or better yet, sell their car and use the proceeds to load up a TAP card). Signs advertising neighborhood councils, though, would at least raise awareness of their existence. They could and should also focus on reaching residents who primarily speak a language other than English. Ours is a multi-cultural nation without an official language. Most Angelenos speak a language other than English as a primary language.
Climate change is the most serious issue confronting humankind. Private automobiles are one of the biggest contributors to the pollution of air, land, and water. Their production, operation, storage, and demolition all contribute huge amounts of pollution. They demand more space than more efficient means of transit and deform cities by creating sprawl. Although the phenomenon of induced demand has been demonstrated, documented, and understood for nearly a century, Los Angeles continues to pursue a backward approach to mobility that involves road-widening and prioritizing private automobiles over all other means of transit. Rather than invest meaningfully in mass transit, our city leaders place their faith in the techno solutions promised by in many cases unprofitable for-profit private companies that, year after year, are somehow seemingly always just “five years away.” Mark my words, self-piloted, flying Ubers and Tesla tunnels will never fix our city.
There is good news, though. We already know what works — what’s sustainable and efficient — and we already have it. Mass transit (e.g. buses and trains) and active transit (e.g. walking and cycling). We also live in a city in which most residents say they’d like not to drive so much. Angelenos don’t drive, in other words, because they have a “love affair with the car,” they drive because they feel as though it’s unsafe to bike, impractical to walk, and unreliable to rely on buses and trains — and they’re not wrong. Any city in which people drive as a first resort rather than last has failed its citizenry. At the same time, only in a city where mass and active transit options are improved can reliance is it reasonable to expect reduced car dependency.
- While recognizing that it’s not practical for traveling long distances nor an accessible option for every Angeleno; the greenest, cheapest, and most rewarding way of getting anywhere in a city is by walking. Yes, Los Angeles is too spread out to walk across but about half of all trips are under three miles and there’s no reason most able bodied people would need to get their car to drive to the next block — something I’ve witnessed many of my roommates and neighbors do numerous times.
- In order to support a walkable city, every street of sufficient size and need should have well-maintained sidewalks shaded by a canopy of street trees that support wildlife, lower temperatures, combat pollution, and even slow down drivers.Trees even release chemicals that induce the production in our brains of serotonin and dopamine.
- On small streets, if there is insufficient space for both sidewalks and street parking, it’s the street parking that should be sacrificed, not the existence of sidewalks. Every house has a garage. Every apartment, a parking lot. The city does not owe car-owners the right to indefinitely store their private property (so long as it’s an empty car) in public space but the city cannot take away from motorists without providing other options and we have to induce demand for mass and active transit.
- Beg buttons should be banned and removed from every crosswalk. Many illnesses are spread through contact transmission and beg buttons are breeding grounds for bacteria that serve no purpose except to discourage walking. Pedestrians should not have to beg for their turn to cross a street. Beg buttons seem never to have been adopted by other countries not because people don’t walk in other countries but because they are terrible.
- Streets around schools should be designated car-free zones, at the very least, at the beginning and end of school days to encourage walking and bicycling as well as to provide protection from cars.
- All sidewalks should comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). In Silver Lake, the most egregious examples of missing or un-navigable sidewalks are the curb-width sidewalks along the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge (aka Victory Memorial Bridge) and the gap in the sidewalk along Glendale Boulevard between the intersection of Glendale Boulevard, Fletcher Drive, and Silver Ridge Avenue and a point 190 meters south. The widespread adoption of outdoor dining is long overdue and its insane that it took a pandemic to make it commonplace. However, outdoor dining spaces should be moved from narrow, crowded sidewalks to parklets and parking lots so that walkers and wheelchair users are not unduly inconvenienced.
- All public stairways. stair streets, and walk streets — legally considered public streets — should be opened to the public, including the three (Fargo Stairs, Garcia Walk, Parkman-Westerly Stairs). In 1994, in Citizens Against Gated Enclaves v. Whitley Heights Civic Assn., a California court of appeal ruled that gating streets — including public stairways — to prevent some members of the public from accessing them whilst allowing other access is unlawful. Nevertheless, many of these gated stair-streets have remained “temporarily” closed using “irrevocable permits” for roughly 30 years.
- The Sunset Triangle Plaza, created in 2012, was Los Angeles’s first street-to-plaza conversion. At the time, some wailed against the removal of some nine parking spots but, in the decade since, its popular farmers market and outdoor film-screening (and the fact that the sky didn’t fall) have proven that there are better uses for streets than storing empty cars It should not be the last street-to-plaza conversion. In fact, it should be expanded to Edgecliffe, which is regularly closed and has maybe three parking spots. Maybe then the plaza could get a public restroom so that visitors would no longer have to go business-to-business begging for permission to use employee restrooms.
- Silver Lake is home to at least two other ostensible plazas, Joseph Gatto Memorial Square and Landon Dorris Square, although neither will be squares except in name for as long as cars pass through them. We should also create a memorial square at the intersection of Monon Street and Hyperion Avenue, to honor Melyda Corado, who was killed there by Los Angeles Police Department officers in 2018.
- Cyclist organizations should be commended for having driven many of Los Angeles street improvements for over a century. It was cyclists who successfully lobbied the city into paving many formerly dirt roads throughout the city. Before the Arroyo Seco Parkway was built, that right-of-way was used by the California Cycleway. Bicycling should also be encouraged as a green, quiet, and healthy means of navigating the city that have a negligible negative impact on traffic congestion or street condition. Unlike cars, deadly collisions caused by cyclists are incredibly uncommon. On the other hand, cycling reduces instances of coronary heart disease — the main cause of death for Angelenos.
- Every street of sufficient size and need should have protected bicycle lanes. We should never waste another penny “studying” them and hoping to find a reason to get rid of them. If they’re underused, it’s because there are not enough and a comprehensive network is required to make them truly useful.
- In addition to committing to Vision Zero, the neighborhood council should push for the accelerated implementation of the city’s Mobility Plan 2035, which would create a network of bus and bike lanes throughout the city and which there’s no conceivable reason to wait another fourteen years for.
- We should lobby for tax credits to be extended not just for the purchase of electric and hybrid cars but for electric, hybrid, and traditional bicycles.
Mass transit should be celebrated. Silver Lake, like so many suburbs of its era, was built around streetcars and interurban rail. The Los Angeles Ostrich Farm Railway Company carried curious onlookers from Downtown through Silver Lake to gawk at the flightless birds at a farm in what’s now Griffith Park. Pacific-Electric‘s (PE) Glendale-Burbank Line was in operation from 1925-1955 — its trestle footings still dot the hillside behind the Arco gas station on Fletcher. The historic Sunset Junction is named after a PE railroad junction, used by the world’s largest-ever electric interurban rail network until the mid-1950s. Just as some streets are hung with signs advertising their having once been part of “Historic Route 66,” Silver Lake’s should be celebrated for having been historic passenger rail lines.
- Every street of sufficient size and need should have dedicated bus-only lanes. Certainly every bus route served by a rapid bus should have a dedicated bus lane for its entire length.
- Silver Lake currently has no train stations but there should be Metro or LADOT buses to convey Silver Lake residents to the nearest train stations in East Hollywood, Koreatown, Glendale, and the border of Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights.
- Safety is one of the most cited concerns regarding to mass transit and yet riders are divided over the presence of armed LAPD on buses and trains — whose presence, it’s worth noting, costs almost as much as the fare revenue they spend most of their time ticketing riders for not having paid. A better solution would be the presence of unarmed Metro security who address actual safety concerns instead of harassing fare evaders.
- Every bus stop along Metro’s Silver Lake lines (2/302, 4, 2, 96, 175, 201, 603, and 704) should have — at the very least — a bus shelter with a bench and lighting, a waste bin, and system and route maps. The stops with the greatest use should also have public restrooms, charging stations, WiFi, and, ideally, some aesthetic design aspects to elevate them.
- Cars will, for many years, no doubt have their place. However, scooter-shares, bike-shares, car-shares, and rental cars can replace private automobiles for many trips. Increased reliance on delivery can also reduce the need for private automobile trips. Taxis, ride-hails, and micro-transit all reduce the need for private automobiles. Access to the curb needs to change reflect these changing needs, otherwise curbside parking will continue to filled with empty, private automobiles whilst ride-hail and delivery drivers will have no practical alternative but to turn on their hazards and impede traffic — including treating bicycle lanes like loading zones. Portions of commercial street curb should be reserved for bike and scooter corrals to keep them from being discarded on sidewalks.
- 20 is plenty. Speed limits should be lowered on most streets to 20 miles per hour. Someone struck by a car traveling 20 mph has a 93% chance of surviving the collision. Someone struck by a car traveling 30 mph has an 80% chance of surviving. Someone struck by a car traveling 40 mph has only a 45% chance of surviving. Cars driven at lower speeds also create less noise pollution, air pollution, soil pollution, and water pollution.
- No amount of enforcement will ever be as effective for making streets safe as good design and engineering. We need more speed humps, curb extensions, road diets, street trees, medians, one way streets, and car-free streets — and not more traffic police.
- End parking minimums. We have surrendered 14% of county land to their storage, there are 3.3 parking spots for every car, and yet more is never enough. By contrast, only about 8% of Los Angeles land is devoted to park space. Parking is another piece of the induced demand equation and more Angelenos live within walking distance of a car than they do a park. The high cost of parking is why residential developers almost exclusively build luxury housing.
- We need to encourage the planting of more trees and shrubs on road verges, medians, and in parks. Creating the Urban Forestry Division was a start. It should be expanded and partnered with Neighborhood Councils, which can organize groups of volunteers to plant street trees in neighborhoods across the city.
- When possible, native plants should be prioritized over non-natives because, while many non-natives are drought-tolerant, they have not evolved to be compatible with our native fauna and fungi, which form complex symbiotic ecological associations with native trees but are in many cases “picky eaters,” or in other words incompatible with flora that evolved elsewhere.
- Los Angeles needs to get away from taking water from the Owens Valley and move toward capturing rainwater and recycling our own. Toward that end, we should also create bioswales, greenways, rain gardens, daylight urban streams, and pave streets and sidewalks with permeable pavement in order to facilitate the recharging our groundwater while at the same time beautifying our cityscape.
- NIMBYism and YIMBYism is a false dichotomy. Few self-identified YIMBYs would advocated for the construction of an interstate freeway or oil refinery next to their home. Few self-described NIMBYs, on the other hand, would fight against the replacement of a surface parking lot with a pocket park (although I’m sure there are some). Almost all of us recognize that global warming is real and that construction is a major contributor. For that reason (and others), we should incentivize preservation and adaptive reuse over destruction and construction. For that reason, we should get rid of parking minimums and instead demand the inclusion of gray water systems, green roofs, and solar panels.
- Enforce the ban on leaf blowers. Not only are they noisy, smelly, and unnecessary, they are massively destructive. A gas-powered leaf blower produces more carbon emissions in half an hour than a pick-up truck driven 3,887 miles. Gas-powered leaf blowers produce massive amounts of carcinogenic particulates and deafening levels of noise for their users. Even electric leaf blowers stir up noxious clouds of brake dust, heavy metals, fungal spores, pathogens, and other pollutants and irritants. Underpaid and overworked gardeners contract lung cancer and other diseases for the fleeting and hollow victory of a temporarily leaf-free, fallow lawn. Leaves on the ground are arguably as pretty as non-native grass turf and are additionally beneficial to native wildlife and soil quality. When leaves remain on the ground, they provide important cover, nesting material, and food for native wildlife and fungi. When leaves decay, they return nutrients to the soil, improving its health increasing its ability to store carbon and fight global warming.
- Los Angeles launched the Cash for Grass Turf Replacement program in 2014 to mitigate the effects of prolonged drought. It returned in 2019. It should be made permanent but with caveats. Ripping out grass and replacing it with gravel actually raises temperatures. Raising grass with astroturf increases the demand for petrochemicals (and is ugly, to boot). The program should require homeowners to replace removed lawn with certified Native Landscaping. What’s more, builders who remove green cover on the ground should be required to replace the lost area with green roofing, using native plants like dudleyas, agave, and sedum.
- Make composting easier. Provide free compost bins to any who request them. Los Angeles currently operates the US’s largest curbside recycling program and, although far from perfect, it is largely a success. Our composting program is decidedly less so. At businesses and apartments, there should be green dumpsters for compostable material next to the now ubiquitous blue and black bins for recycling and trash. Green bins are currently designated only for yard waste and food waste is prohibited. This is nonsensical. If an orange falls from a tree, it’s considered yard waste. If an orange falls from a plate, it’s food waste.
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS
The crisis in homelessness is the most glaringly obvious indication of failure by local government. There are currently more than 66,000 unhoused Angelenos. There are, in other words, more people without housing than there are residents of entire cities like Redondo Beach, Pico Rivera, Montebello, and Gardena. An average of four unhoused Angelenos die every day — about twice as many as are killed in homicides and car crashes, combined. The good news is that decades of criminalization of poverty, down-zoning, lack of affordable housing, and hostile architecture have definitely proven what solutions don’t work in combating homelessness.
If we, as a nation, can find the money to house and feed 2.3 million convicts, we can surely find the money to house and feed those not even charged with a crime. As long as we as a city can demand that every development includes “housing” for empty cars, we can demand that developers create more affordable housing for people. As long as we can complain about “Manhattanization” whilst thinking nothing of storing our junk in century-old public storage “skyscrapers,” pave neighborhood size parking lots, and allow the city to remain carved by cancerous interstate freeways, we can surely find the space for housing without worrying about the loss of “neighborhood integrity.”
- The only real solution to homelessness is to provide housing. We should house the unhoused in hotels and motels, create safe parking for the 16,000 Angelenos living in cars, construct public/social housing, and demand more affordable units in exchange for abolishing parking minimums.
- Most homeless people end up homeless because the cost of living outpaced the amount of their incomes. The unhoused are twice as likely as the housed in a neighborhood to have been born in it.
- The city leaders down-zoned Los Angeles in 1960 to reduce its population capacity from 10 million to 4 million. We need to end single-family housing, a tool of economic segregation which worsens the housing crisis for the sake of preserving “neighborhood character.” There’s no reason an attractive four-plex has any less “character” than a single-family McMansion surrounded by tents.
- There’s a myth that it widely promoted despite having basis in neither common sense nor even internal logic. The myth contends that homeless people don’t want to live in homes. The myth contends that homeless people like being homeless. The myth contends that thee homeless are service-resistant — and yet the myth also contends that if we offer too many services, we will make homelessness attractive and people will flock to an area in search of the services that they also supposedly don’t’ want.
- Another myth is that homeless people are homeless because they’ve made bad decisions. Not being able to afford rent is not a bad decision except on the part of the city — which doesn’t allow for enough affordable housing. The second largest percentage of homeless are fleeing domestic violence — again, a bad decision only on the part of the city, which doesn’t provide a better solution for most victims of violence than life on the street.
- We need to build social housing. In the seventeen years between 1938-1955, Los Angeles constructed sixteen public housing projects for military veterans and their families, the poor, and the elderly. Then, in the 1950s, Red Scare right-wingers pushed the idea that slums and homelessness were more American. They knew that jailing the homeless for nuisance crimes and treading health crises in emergency rooms would cost the taxpayer more… but at least it wasn’t Socialist!
- All of us generate a tremendous amount of waste and yet the city has successfully convinced many Angelenos that homelessness is primarily an issue of sanitation. Imagine the situation at your home if you were locked out of your restroom and no one collected your trash. The city should, therefore, immediately place dumpsters at every established homeless encampment — not to mention build, maintain, and keep open at all hours more public restrooms in parks and train stations.
- Empty apartment units, motel, and hotel rooms should be used to house the unhoused or pay a vacancy tax. Rents should be frozen when a tenant vacates a unit for any reason.
SILVER LAKE’S UNIQUE CULTURE
I’d like to see more cultural programming and promotion that recognizes and celebrates Silver Lake’s uniquely diverse culture. I’d also like to see more done to protect the small businesses whose decades of existence reflect and defined the neighborhood’s character and at the same time are to be credited with making the Silver Lake neighborhood so attractive to new residents.
- Silver Lake is famously Los Angeles’s historic gayborhood — although that history is vanishing from view. It was in Silver Lake that the Mattachine Society was founded in 1950. It was in Silver Lake that the first organized gay rights protest took place, the Black Cat Protest. It was in Silver Lake that The Advocate was launched in 1967. Sunset, Hyperion, and other streets were once lined with gay bars, a gay bookstore, and gay businesses, nearly all of which have vanished in recent years. Legacy businesses of all sorts should be recognized and honored for their continued existence and protected against landlords who can raise their rents, literally, at will, to cater to the typical toff tastes of the newly-arrived gentry. I know as for two years I ran a gentleman’s store until the landlord decided that Silver Lake was so hip that she should double the rent I was paying in her 60% empty building.
- Silver Lake’s Latino history is underrecognized. In the 1950s, Latinos began to move to the neighborhood in significant numbers and have for decades formed the largest demographic of the neighborhood. Los Globos was formerly part of a lively network of salsa clubs that stretched along Sunset Boulevard from East Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles‘s doorstep. For decades, Silver Lake’s queer and Latino cultures intersected in Silver Lake at organizations like VIVA! (1987-2000); at bars like Le Bar, Le Barcito, and Rodolpho’s; and the Sunset Junction Street Fair (2001-2010). Those culture continue to intersect at venues the Silver Lake Lounge (one of the oldest bars in the neighborhood), El Cid, and Casita del Campo (the neighborhood’s fourth-oldest restaurant) — both of which have been hit very hard by COVID-19 pandemic.
- Silver Lake’s unique Asian culture and history have, for the most part, been embarrassingly overlooked. Filipinos are the second-most numerous ethnicity in Silver Lake and the Philippines are the second-most common country of origin for the neighborhood’s roughly 14,000 foreign-born residents. Japanese flower farms in nearby Los Feliz and the now-closed Tokio Florist serve as reminders that, until the passage of Asian-exclusion acts and World War II internment, Los Angeles was home to the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan. After the supreme court ruled against the constitutionality of the neighborhood’s Racially Restrictive Covenants, Asian American architects like David Hyun, Eugene Choy, Gilbert Leong, Hai Chuen Tan, Joseph Takahashi, and Schwen Wei Ma designed numerous mid-20th-century homes for their families and clients that the neighborhood is celebrated for. In 1965, East West Players, the nation’s oldest Asian American theater company, was founded in a Silver Lake church before moving out of the neighborhood in the 1970s.
- And finally, Silver Lake has long been known for its artists but sometimes the neighborhood council has actively suppressed efforts to celebrate its artistic history and culture. When Angels Walk LA published its city-funded self-guided walking tour of Silver Lake, the former neighborhood council decided that they’d rather not have stanchions celebrating the neighborhood’s history and character — something, as far as I know, that hasn’t happened in any other neighborhood in the organization’s 25-year existence. Before the rise of Hollywood, the Edendale community, which straddled Silver Lake and Echo Park, was the center of American film production. Actress Mabel Normand owned her own film studio in Silver Lake, although the current owners have erased her legacy by naming it after a director whose actual studio was located elsewhere. El Cid was founded in 1962 by dancers Margarita Cordova and Juan Talavera, and Cordova’s husband, musician Clark Allen — and was for years a popular venue for a variety of international styles of music and dance. Today, however, Silver Lake’s artists are being priced out, murals like Ernesto de la Loza‘s famous Under the Bridge are being whitewashed, events like the Silver Lake Jubilee are long gone, and organizations like the Silverlake Conservatory of Music have left the neighborhood in its residents behind in search of affordable digs. Since the closure of SLAG (Silver Lake Art Gallery), there’s only been one art gallery remaining in the Ivanhoe section of the neighborhood, GALARARASL (The Gallery at the Laundry room at Rowena at Silver Lake).