New Agriculture Park MudTown Farms Breaks Ground in Watts!

The Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) is a non-profit organization in Watts with more than fifty years of helping improve lives through social services, housing, arts, and community development. Led by Timothy Watkins Sr., WLCAC has sought to tackle not only immediate survival challenges in Watts but also to dismantle deeper systemic roots to allow residents to thrive. The Watts neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles faces a health crisis with high rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and infant mortality, exacerbated by limited access to healthy food and green space. Timothy and his wife Janine live in the Watts neighborhood, raising six children and now grandchildren, and this stark reality hit home.

With a family history of farming, Janine conceived of a project that would heal the neighborhood by growing not only healthy food, but healthy families. Inspired, Mr. Watkins set out to develop and implement a solution that will educate, empower, and nourish residents locally while serving as a model example nationally for living healthier in park poor neighborhoods that are food deserts.

To form the vision for MudTown Farms, WLCAC sought input from experts across the country including Michael Ableman and Eugene Cook, ultimately leading WLCAC to purchase a 2.5 acre parcel of farm land in Watts in 2005. MudTown Farms is the original name for the segregated blacks-only neighborhood where the parcel rests at the intersection of 103rd and Grape Streets in Watts. For nearly a century, the land has been used for farming or community gardens by local residents. The planned project includes time-tested farming techniques and current innovation to maximize neighborhood impact.

MudTown Farms will be an agriculture park with open space for community gardens, orchards, exercise pathways, reading gardens, and more. The park will also include a community center for teaching, training and events.

In 2012, WLCAC won a $4.9 million competitive grant award from California State Parks to build the first phase of the park. The City of Los Angeles Prop K fund also awarded $208K for construction. MudTown Farms is spearheaded by Haleemah Henderson (MPL), who has worked with WLCAC for more than a decade. Working together with Claremont Environmental Design Group for design and development, a grand opening is expected in late 2018. On Wednesday  WLCAC will break ground on MudTown Farms, sowing the seed for a remarkable future in Watts.

Join us on Wednesday February 15th, 2017 at 2051 East 103rd Street Los Angeles CA 90002 at 12 noon!

www.wlcac.org

Sunrise at WLCAC

Sunrise at WLCAC

Sunrise at WLCAC


Move in to 2013 with purpose, clarity, definition and control over your life.

Begin by taking stock of the resources you have to effect change, the tools you’ve been given to achieve change, and how you are to meant use them.

Use those resources prudently. Apply and sharpen tools properly. Take meaningful action precisely.

Let your purpose be your guide, and do no harm in doing good.

WLCAC Wins $4.9 Million Prop 84 California State Parks Award!

WLCAC will build the first and only Urban Farm and community center in Watts history!

CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS AWARDS WLCAC $4.9 MILLION IN PROP 84 PARK GRANT FOR NEW URBAN FARM PARK AND COMMUNITY CENTER IN WATTS

WATTS, CA —Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) announces $4.9 million Proposition 84 Park Grant award to build the first and only Urban Farm and community center in Watts. [See more info at wlcac.org]

This is a dream realized for WLCAC and Watts residents, who have been working together for nearly a decade to build the project, which will provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy: Recreation, education, events, healthy produce and green space.  The project will include growing grounds, an orchard, fitness equipment, a community center, learning facilities and more.  The urban farm park will be named MudTown Farms.  MudTown was the historic name for the Watts neighborhood, which was renamed in 1900 after a local realtor, C.H. Watts.  This new farm and park space will bring hope, and with its new growth, a new meaning and honoring of Watts’ rich history. 

Nearly 500 applications were reviewed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and 62 were awarded.  “The outpouring of applications from the urban and rural communities involved in this competitive program clearly shows the extent of unmet recreation needs throughout California,” said Ruth Coleman, Director of California State Parks. “The benefits of these parks will be felt in the concrete-covered urban landscapes… Especially heartwarming about the applications was the participation of children, seniors and families in determining what they wanted in their local parks.”

WLCAC was one of only five private non-profits receiving nearly the maximum award amount of $5 million dollars.  “We are thrilled to see that California State Parks recognized the tremendous need in the area of Watts and saw fit to make this sizeable award,” said Tim Watkins, WLCAC President and CEO. “The beauty of the MudTown Farms project is that it will turn into much greater good for the community for a long, long time to come.”

WLCAC’s mission is to improve the quality of life for residents of Watts.  To achieve this mission WLCAC spurs community economic development; provides cultural programming and enrichment; and delivers social services to more than 30,000 residents annually.

For more information on WLCAC, please visit www.wlcac.org or contact us at 323.563.5639.

 

For a list of the selected projects for the first round of Prop 84 Park Grants visit www.parks.ca.gov/grants.

 

Toy Drive

Thanks to Via Trading for the wonderful story about our collaboration!

The Watts Life Lanes Project Hot Meal & Toy Drive

On Sunday December 18th, 2011, Via Trading had the honor of participating in a community event in our local area of Watts, to bring a hot meal and toys to the disadvantaged families of the area before the holidays. The event was held at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) center, a non-profit, community-based, human social services organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of South Central LA residents.

This event was put on by the kind people of the Watts Lane Life Project, a program created by the East Side Riders Bike Club (ESRBC) and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) in collaboration with the California Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department an LAPD, with the purpose of creating a Community Outreach program and a Bike Safety Project.

At 11:00 am, the event was kicked off by an impressive procession of motorcycles by the East Side Rider’s Bike Club, as throngs of leather-clad men and women arrived to help serve food and distribute toys.

Hundreds of families lined up outside the WLCAC’s facilities awaiting their pre-holiday meal and festivities.

Families were then invited into the auditorium where they were served a hot meal that they enjoyed at picnic tables inside and outside the auditorium. Children played as parents finished their meals, and the WLCAC regulars showed off their skateboarding skills at the Watts Community Skate Park within the WLCAC’s fences.

Once the meal was over, lines formed outside the main hall where thousands of toys were stacked up on tables, generous donations of nearby companies and local supporters including Via Trading.

Children were ushered to the tables that contained age-appropriate toys. Each child was able to pick a toy and a stuffed animal to take home.

Smiles abounded and the warmth that was felt by all those present – volunteers and guests alike – really made it feel like Christmas despite the sun shining in LA, like it often does over the holidays.

The Watts Life Lanes Project hosts several community events throughout the year, and Via Trading looks forward to participating in more events and supporting the program in their efforts. The spirit of this organization is warm, bright and inviting. We’re honored to have been a part of it.

 

To learn more about the WLCAC and how you can volunteer or donate, please visit their website.

A Report on Public Policy Issues in Watts by Timothy Watkins Sr.

A REPORT ON PUBLIC POLICY ISSUES IN WATTS

AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

By Watts Renaissance Planning Committee – Summer 2005

Reflecting on WLCAC’s forty years of experience, and after researching data on the subject of public policy in our community, statistics bolster my conclusions about life inWatts.  The institutional memory of WLCAC’s grappling with poverty concludes with observations that there is an aggregation of pressure derived from seven major public policy areas that suppress and undermine solutions to poverty.  Many would say that there are more but these seven impacts a much broader spectrum of quality of life issues.  They are:

  1. EDUCATION
  2. JUSTICE
  3. HEALTH
  4. EMPLOYMENT
  5. HOUSING
  6. ENVIRONMENTAL
  7. PLANNING

EDUCATION – According to law enforcement statistics, physical, psychological and philosophical abuse takes place within the confines of school campuses on a daily basis.  The abuses are bi-directional and often reciprocal between youth, teachers, parents, administrators, and organizations that include unions, legal teams, activists and advocates all purporting to operate in the best interest of the youth, yet routinely failing to find solutions that benefit the student first.

More often than not, the bottom line usually finds some form of improvement for everyone except the youth, as evidenced by the bleak contrast between life in schools and life in communities outside of the schools.  When is the last time that educators went on strike on behalf of student benefits?  In fact, many educators inWattsaccept “combat pay” as an incentive to teach in what they characterize as a “war torn” community.  I have to remind them that “The War” was supposed to eradicate poverty and that the “victims” were supposed to be “saved” with improvements to the administering of education, justice, health, employment, housing and a the overall environment.  I am left alone to ponder: How the hell does combat pay induce care and concern for children?  Does the extra money remove an educator’s perception of children living inWatts?  Does the money install a sense of care and concern for the child?

There is no point in this writing to even mention the dismal academic statistics, yet they should be noted among the poorest in the world of developed nations.  Youth are routinely punished for failing academically, yet encouraged to respond to a system of “negative re-enforcement” as an incentive to success and civil behavior.  I am amazed by the rules.  I call them “No Rules”.  They are “no running, no talking, no sagging, no restroom, no eating, no questioning, no fighting, no defiance, and no rebellion”.

Over and again, the youngster is reminded what cannot be done, without an offsetting balancing factor that reiterates what can be done. The objective is order, and while order is absolutely necessary, there is no balance to induce positive behavior among those that don’t seek to rebel or defy authority.  I call the lack of balance “No Resources” because there are no books, no copies, no music, no art, no counseling, no mentoring, no family, no job, no enrichment, no therapy, no care, and no concern.  No! No! No! No! No!

To find the offsetting balance, we simply need to reverse all of the negative reinforcement incentives and replace them with positive reinforcement incentives.  Call them “Yes Rules” and “Available Resources”.  Every day at WLCAC, we cast our buckets where we stand[i] using whatever available resources we can to ease pain and suffering.  There isn’t even enough time to publicize our work well enough to attract others that are looking for a conduit through which to do good.

As if this isn’t already discouraging enough, youth and their families are being driven by racially discriminatory policies within LAUSD that discourage some students while encouraging others.  I believe that this is what causes and exacerbates tension on campuses between students that are otherwise friends and neighbors.  LAUSD statistics reveal startling trends:

OPPORTUNITYTRANSFERS – this “incentive” is offered to youth that would prefer to attend a different school than the one they’ve been assigned to.  In the South Central Los Angeles area, Black students are reacting to the rapidly increasing growth of the Latino population within the schools by using opportunity transfers in a quest for a more demographically balanced school experience.    

EXPULSION RATES – Black students find themselves being expelled at twice the rate compared to Latino students.

FAILURE RATES – Black students are failing at a greater rate than Latino students.

TRUANCY – Black students are cited for truancy more often than Latino students even though Latino students constitute the overwhelming majority of the school population.

When these trends are set against the backdrop that Latino students constitute the overwhelming majority of school site population, it is no wonder that Black/Brown tensions exist.  In this case it seems that poor policy has driven a perception that privilege and favor is being distributed unequally along racial lines.

These suspicions are made worse by news organizations that “fan the flames” of tension by misreporting events that might be characterized as domestic disputes between students, as racial rioting.  It is saddening to see children being interviewed that don’t have a clue about where the tensions are rooted, while at the same time participating in a news report to discuss the problem.  By now, we should know that reaction to suspicion often prompts a rush to judgment.  Kids that are friends outside of school cannot be friends in school because the perception of racial tension exists.  In situations where our children are involved shouldn’t news organizations simply report the news without adding the “fan” of opinion to the “flames” of tension?  To make matters still worse, for those students that live in public housing projects, poor policy has contributed to the wholesale eviction of some families under a “one strike” rule that in many cases seems to be unevenly applied.  Is it possible that the problem in our schools is rooted in poor policy?

The LAUSD system was created in 1856 at a time when slavery was still in effect inAmerica.  It was based on Average Daily Attendance and according to its first annual report; it was populated by 1,350 whites, 7Negrosand 1 Indian.  The system was governed by a Board at Large and touted itself as one of the best in the country.  Today, the world around the system has changed tremendously, while the system itself struggles to find its way.

About 25 years ago, the Board at Large aspect was changed to the current central authority model.  It is difficult to convey ideas or register protest through a process that allows 2 minutes at a microphone in front of a group of board members that are often times distracted or otherwise unimpressed.

I remember taking off from work to support a community group that had been struggling for years to turn the Ambassador Hotel into a school that honors the ideals of Robert Kennedy, the slain presidential nominee.   I watched as board members casually patiently listened to dozens and dozens of individual presenters…..one at a time for two minutes each.  While the pleas for accountability from the members went on and on, it was the powerful group of conservationists that seemed to prevail when they demanded that their concerns for the building be treated as more important than those of the residents at a cost of millions and millions of dollars.  This was another blatant example of community interests being compromised by the power of a special interest group using influence and the threat of litigation to have its way.

In looking at the humble community group of men and women in attendance, I paid particular attention to their hands and feet.  They were the hands of hard working people, calloused and scarred by manual labor and their feet were covered in worn shoes… rounded at the edges and scuffed here and there, yet apparently their Sunday’s best for this important occasion.  I looked at LAUSD Board members and staff at the meeting and thought about how soft they looked.  I was struck by the irony of how the people begging to have their community based concerns addressed, actually work in large part to pay the taxes that fund the system represented by the group before them.

In a meeting that I once had with the superintendent, I was informed that “the community doesn’t play a role in my decision-making process”.  I was shocked and dismayed at his response to my suggestion that more direct community involvement in the decision-making process when result in a greater sense of ownership in communities and therefore greater accountability.

It is within this system of miss-education that poor policy forces even more pressure on an already unbearable situation. 

Recommendation:  I think that a local accountability model is what is needed in every district of the system.  This could be achieved by taking the elected official for each district and designating them as the chair of a local board that would include the local superintendent along with representatives from the schools and the community.  On the school side would sit teachers, administrators, union reps and the councilperson.  On the community side would sit businesses, students, parents and others.  This revision would reinstitute the at-large quality of a board and provide local accountability between educators, students and all other concerned members of the community.  Also, under this system it would be nearly impossible for an abusive or otherwise irresponsible educator to remain in the community without being held accountable while at the same time, families and students would be held accountable for their behavior and cooperation with the schools.

 

JUSTICE – With great pain, we absorb the noise of violence.  Gunshots, helicopters, sirens, screams in the middle of the night, and the quiet, slow, parade of statistics that are drilled into our minds and drummed into our psyches.  The quotes are familiar: “One out of every four black men will be fallen by…..

  1. Gang Violence
  2. Incarceration
  3. Disease
  4. Addiction

I used to argue in disbelief against the validity of these statistics.  After all, it appears that four out of four Black men are doomed.   Still, I thought; “I survived and my friends and neighbors are surviving”.  Or are they?  I am 52 years of age.  When I talk to others I am surprised to have the truth revealed.  It is nearly impossible to stand in Wattswith four black men and disprove the stats.  Furthermore, I went on line and googled the queries:

  • One out of four Black …
  • One out of four African American …
  • One out of four Latino …
  • One out of four Hispanic …

This exercise validated my suspicions, for there was a stark contrast in the ‘quality of concern’ indicated by the many pages that unfolded across my monitor screen.  Study upon study has been conducted on the subject of African American vulnerabilities.  Then my curiosity kicked in and I started wondering what the Latinos studies would show.  My curiosity turned to amazement as I read the results of my Hispo-Latino queries where it appears that invulnerability is the primary concern.  This was expressed through a series of studies or observations either for or against the rising tide of the Hispo-Latino population.

It is in this comparative contextual relationship that it becomes painfully clear that Black and Brown communities are invariably placed in competition.  Pitted against each other in a strange ballet, dancing to music conducted by others….the strained symphonic noise of violence.

Interestingly, the City ofL.A.is operating under a Federal Consent Decree while it is issuing it’s own set of injunctions against various street gangs.  When I read the injunction for the Grape Street Crips that was distributed in its draft form throughout the Jordan Downs Housing Project, I was shocked.  The latitude it provides is so broad that it seems to resemble an apartheid model.   I was profoundly saddened to read the draft and realize that several injunctions, all within the one mile square thatWattsoccupies, are already in place and being enforced.   In spite of the injunctions, and while declining crime statistics were being reported elsewhere throughout the city, there were over a dozen shootings in the two weeks following the distribution of the draft injunction.

All of this is brewing in a cauldron of injustice.  InWatts, the violation of civil rights by law enforcement officers occurs as a routine contradiction of protection and service.  Young people are dropped off in strange neighborhoods by law officers, only to find themselves fighting for their lives to get out.  Evidence is planted…or lost depending on circumstances….and families are being evicted without due process. Defianceand rebellion among our young, black and brown, is being nurtured and punished at the same time by an age-old enforcement technique characterized as the “suppression and containment” model.  It has utterly failed to protect and serve.  Rather, it has succeeded overwhelmingly in keeping “the problem of violence” confined to relatively localized neighborhoods.

Although the effort to confine the problem is supported by more resources than all other public service efforts, it appears as though the foxes are watching the hen houses.  While injunctions are being served on known gang members throughoutWatts, there is one very important group that is being completely overlooked.   It is the group that includes known “rogue” cops that continue to operate inWattsdespite numerous complaints and my own efforts to have them removed.

The presence of law enforcement officers that intimidate, threaten, and carry out malicious acts against the citizens of Watts are leading us straight down the paths of ’65, ’92 and ’05 (when the combination of the Stanley Miller flashlight beating, Devon Brown shooting, and other egregious acts of excessive force threatened to engulf the city in chaos,   This aggregation of pressure is being heaped on a place that is already suffering the ravages of poor policy.  WLCAC has been asked again and again by law enforcement officials from the local commanding officers to the Inspector General, “what do you think can be done to make things better between officers and the community?”.  I never fail to answer “There must be balance in the relationship in order to build the kind of fragile trust allows cooperation.”

I have given examples over and again, both publicly and privately that could get the ball rolling, but it must start with balance.  How can the community be expected to walk a straight line when certain officers routinely zigzag?  It is one thing for routine arrests and investigations to be conducted within the policies of police work.  It is another when the policies are ignored for the purpose of “cutting to the chase”.  When an officer approaches a civilian with conclusions already drawn, it is often in the rush to judgment that erodes confidence in law enforcement policies in places likeWatts.  This opinion is formed from my first hand experiences inWatts:

1.)          Too many times, in rain or shine, day and night, I have seen grown men of all kinds, against the wall, over the trunk of a car, or sitting on the curb, handcuffed and subdued.  No resistance, just appearing to be waiting for the inconvenience of the stop to be over with.  I have seen it all over a span of 40 years now.

2.)         I have seen guns drawn and batons raised as a reminder that force is always an option for officers to use at the drop of a hat….or the glimmer of “what looked like a gun” before felling a victim that was simply holding a set of keys as he exited the vehicle.

3.)         My wife has been stopped in front of our place of work (the main building on a seven acre fenced compound onCentral AvenueinWatts) along with her children for unknown reasons.  The children were forced to sit on a curb while she was told to place her hands on the hot hood of a police car with the motor running.  Despite complaining about the blistering heat of the surface, she was told….with numerous shotguns pointing at her, “to keep your hands on the hood!!”  She did, and suffered as a result.  Oops, wrong suspect…in fact no suspect, for she’d done nothing wrong.  The officers were looking for someone, or something else.  hot were forced to

4.)         My wife and I stopped by officers in front of our place of work late one evening as we returned from watching movies inCenturyCity.  We were approached by officers with guns drawn and told to “unbuckle your seat belts and exit the vehicle!”.  Upon asking what we were being stopped for, the order was repeated.  I unbuckled my seatbelt and exited the car.  My wife did the same.  After being separated and questioned, my wife laughed in what seemed to be dismay.  She asked me “Do you know why they are stopping us Tim?”  She went on to tell me that they were asking questions about why she, with her brown skin, was with me with my white skin.  She was asked if she was “working”.  Her response was “Yes.  I’m working!  This is my office and we were returning to take care of some unfinished business.  Is there any crime in that?”  Ironically, I was issued a citation for failing to wear a seat belt and the officers left without further incident.  It was eleven o’clock in the evening.

5.)         Too many times to count, an unregistered vehicle has been pulled over on Central Avenue and with several patrol units standing by for sometimes upwards of an hour, the vehicle is confiscated and towed away.  Nothing is more saddening than to see a young family walking away crying and huddled in what may be a strange community to them in the evening hour with no way to get home.  I’ve seen this many times, and availed myself to them by giving them a lift home in a gesture of care and concern.

6.)         Too many times to count, an accident has occurred and even though there may have been injuries, it has seemed next to impossible to get officers on the scene.  Numerous times as well, the driver that has caused the accident, has no ID, no license or registration, yet, is allowed to leave the scene by the officer in charge.  Upon requesting information about the “other” driver, our employee has been told “a police report will be made available in X days or weeks.”  Our driver is left only with the name of the other driver on an accident report card.

7.)         Too many times to count, employees or participants of WLCAC have been jailed for reasons of not possessing adequate ID.  From time to time, they are held for days due to reasons of computer systems being “down” or other glitches in the law enforcement system.

8.)         Too many times to count, I am contacted by someone from the community pleading for assistance to help address what he or she considers to have been abusive behavior by law officers.

As a man of 52 years of age, I carry no resentment for the concept of “law and

order”.   I only regret that perhaps 5% of officers commit 95% of the violations of people’s rights with flagrant disregard.  I have witnessed harsh treatment and the cavalier, callous attitude of police and sheriff officers when they are questioned about their behavior. When this is added to the national news making incidents involving officer involved shootings, it leaves less room for trust, than for fear.

Recently, a group of officers fired over one hundred rounds at a car passing through a residential neighborhood inCompton.  Although it was video taped and quickly brought to public consciousness, how often do these travesties occur wherein egregious acts of violence are perpetrated by a single or group of officers?   At times it seems that there are so many officers in different agency vehicles that it feels like a police state.  The sheer number of agencies that patrol the streets ofWattsis mind boggling.  Remember thatWattsis only one mile square.  Patrolling its streets are:

1)     Los AngelesCityPolice

2)     Los AngelesCountySheriff

3)     Los AngelesCountyPolice

4)      Housing Authority Police

5)      School Police

6)      Park Police

7)      Metro Police

8)      Highway Patrol

9)      State Police

10)  Various Enforcement Task Forces

11)  Independent Security Agencies

In 2004, a suppression effort was launched against scores of families who were summarily evicted fromWattsarea housing projects under the infamous “one-strike rule”.  This is the lowest cost housing in the state being snatched away by law enforcement officers in the service of “justice”.  Where did those families go?  What did they do to find shelter?  In one mass eviction case, 44 of those families became homeless…some for a short period, others for much longer.

Hunger commences immediately once the body has completed a digestive cycle.  It takes days and weeks to gain assistance for newly enrolled members of the homeless population.  On any given night, upwards of 70,000 human beings are homeless and worse, bedless so it begs the question:  How do families that are summarily evicted from the lowest cost housing in the city survive?

It is within this system of injustice that poor policy forces more pressure on an already unbearable situation.

Recommendation:  I think that a contract between LAPD, County Sheriff, and local community groups throughout the city and county would provide the opportunity for their to be greater cooperation and local accountability for the pro-active work that needs to be done to prevent tensions and conflicts from rising to the boiling point.  By forging community alliances, law enforcement agencies could participate more meaningfully in the creation of solutions to neighborhood issues.  WLCAC has offered an MOU to police and sheriff representatives that would allow ground level dialogue to open between officers and WLCAC staff that interact with youth on a daily basis….Not for the purposes of solving crimes, only for the purposes of improving relations.  Preliminary suggestions for means by which relations could be improved include:

1)                  Create bicycle restoration project utilizing the many bicycles that are confiscated by officers during their investigations of crime.  The bicycles could be repaired, painted and made available to the many kids in the community that have trouble getting back and forth between home and youth centers, schools, and other destinations.  The officers would actually be encouraged to join in the restoration process, thereby establishing the ground for relationship building between officers and youth.

2)                  The continuation of the Saturday Morning Ready Readers Club, a literacy program aimed at kids between the ages of 7 and 12.  A new element of the program would invite the wives of officers who would like to participate as volunteers.  Some would join mothers of the children in the preparation of breakfast, while others participate in literacy exercises with the children.  The morning would conclude with outdoor activities including games and other recreation.  This program would offer another perspective into the lives ofWattsarea residents and would generate friendships through care and concern for the children.  Interaction between the wives of officers and the youth and their mothers, would bring about greater human awareness and understanding of the challenges of living in a poor place.  It would also lead to greater appreciation of the human side of who officers actually are, particularly if this activity is taking place at the same time that older children are engaged in the bicycle program.  Ostensibly, officers and their wives would arrive together, out of uniform as potential allies in the effort to improve community relations.

3)                  Vida!  This is the name of a program that Sheriff Baca offered to bring to WLCAC inWatts.  The program involves a Saturday morning boot camp involving youngsters that seem to be destined for trouble.  The camp is conducted by officers and involves strong personal commitment.  Following the Saturday camp, the officers and the youth continue to interact throughout the following week with officers talking to teachers, parents, guardians and counselors in an effort to address the systemic needs or challenges of the participant.  The program has realized great success, however the challenge of operating a County Sheriff program within City Police boundaries has proven to be an unresolved obstacle to launching the program.

4)                  Academy experiences that allow:

a)                  Residential envoys to visit thePoliceAcademyto witness police training in progress

b)                  Residential envoys that visit the Police Public Relations Department to witness how information about incidents are managed and reported to the public

c)                  Residential envoys that visit the 911 center to observe the challenge of managing the volume of incoming calls and distributing them to the appropriate responders

d)                 Simulator experiences in the community that place civilians in the officer’s shoes in order to test human responses to perceived threats of violence.

e)                  The development of simulated experiences that allow officers to see themselves through the lens of a community that fears, distrusts and is intimidated by law enforcement officers.

f)                   Town Hall meetings between human beings that include officers and residents in casual attire sitting in the round to discuss solutions to the challenge of enforcing law while reducing fear of authority and the perception of “Bad Cops” in our community.

None of this can happen without a formal understanding of the absolute intent of

the engagement.  In other words, WLCAC cannot afford to present itself as a willing participant in the process to improve relations without guaranteeing a totally transparent process….no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives.  The agreement would have to be written in plain speak so that a kid, or his caretaker, could read and understand that there is no cheerleading going on, except for among the participants that enjoy the results.  WLCAC has developed a great sense of trust throughout the community and will not violate that trust under any circumstances.

Finally, many resources that are needed to address quality-of-life issues could become more readily available through entities that participate in the development of common-ground solutions.  Perhaps the many groups providing law enforcement inWattscould participate in planning the formation of a national model for consolidation of resources to eliminate the redundancy model that is currently in place.  Consolidation could save millions by bringing command, base and shop operations under fewer umbrellas, perhaps one for the County and one for the City.

HEALTH – Now is a time that findsWatts joining communities across the nation as we approach the fortieth year following the riots of the sixties.  Ever since “the long hot summer” of 1965, a quiet question has continued to burn.  It is about the most fundamental quality of life element.  It is the quality of health in our communities.  It is the quality that “other” communities enjoy and routinely take for granted.

The community of Watts suffers un-paralleled levels of poor health concerns.  Obesity, high blood pressure, complications from violence related wounds, and most silently destructive: the impacts of poor policy on the collective psyche of the community.  Our youth witness murder and violence without ever receiving therapeutic treatment.  They are challenged to choose between the danger of joining a gang, and declining to join.  They are undernourished, under cared for, and under acknowledged as indispensable members of American society.

The youth of Watts are charged with responsibility for their own condition as in:

  1. “Stay in school”
  2. “Get a job”
  3. “Stay out of gangs”
  4. “Just say no”

Is any of this advice truly meaningful in the cauldron of poor policy stew?  My contention is that current social policy is to return responsibility for the withering effects of poverty back to the victims.  I would expect the categorical response to the above to be:

  1. “It’s hurting me!!!”
  2. “What job?”
  3. “What’s my alternative?”
  4. “Are you crazy?”

Our youth are supposed to make their way through life as though everything is normal.  Never mind the dead neighbor that you saw lying on the ground near your back door on the way to school.  Never mind the guy that you saw shoot someone in the face, and then only moments later, in your face asking “WHAT DID YOU JUST SEE???” with a gun pointed in your face.  This is the situation that my little seven year old buddy experienced.  This is also what my twenty year old “buddies” have witnessed.  They are witnessing the most horrific crimes up front and personally.  No counseling, no relief… just behave normally and you can make it in this world….along with all of your scarred and distressed neighbors.

All of this happens against a backdrop of the closure of the King/Drew Trauma Center, along with many of the other services formerly provided by the hospital that grew out of need identified in the aftermath of the 1965 riots.  This all happens in a community where over 300,000 cases of diabetes and related diseases are going untreated.

It is within this system of poor health care that poor policy forces more pressure on an already unbearable situation.

Recommendation:  It is imperative that policy and decision-making processes that are funded by taxpayer dollars include community oversight and input during times of crisis.  Day to day operations deserve to be supervised and managed by elected and appointed officials, however when they fail to carry out their responsibilities successfully, the communities that they serve should not have to wait for the next election to cause change to take place.  There ought to be a method that allows for real and immediate participation in critical decision-making through a pre-determined, community-based process that allows taxpayers to deliberate over recommendations and choose best options.

EMPLOYMENT – As a Watts area job developer for more than 39 years, WLCAC knows that nothing cures poverty like a job.  What we’ve also learned though, is that not just any job will do.  Long term unemployed, and first time employed people need what every working class person needs: a job that they enjoy.  A job that they feel a sense of ownership in.  And a job that pays better than welfare level compensation.

Not long ago, WLCAC conducted a study to analyze the value of welfare benefits with all the bells and whistles.  The outcome was the revelation that welfare benefits in most cases rise to the level of $12 to $14 dollars per hour in value.  This is an impossible situation for job developers to address.  With the living wage (which is two dollars higher than the minimum wage) at less than a welfare income, how and why do we expect long term welfare recipients (or their neighbors for that matter) to migrate to “a job with dignity” that carries major quality of life impacts.

Certainly, the inevitable is that with reform, and the Workforce Investment Act, welfare as we know it will cease to exist.  The problem is, without meaningful job opportunities, and all of the other failures that poor policy causes in places likeWatts, our people are hard pressed to succeed in advancing themselves through the current set of resources available to them.  The truth is, ill paying, niche oriented job opportunities are essential to the devolvement of crime, homelessness and hunger in our community.

Once again, it is within this system of employment development strategies that poor policy forces pressure on an already unbearable situation.

 

Recommendation: Watts needs to own jobs.  In other words, we need to create jobs through industries that supply the many commercial transportation interests that negatively impactWatts.  Other communities enjoy mitigating measures that offset environmental impacts. Watts needs a comprehensive Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) to determine how it is impacted by:

  1. Air Traffic
  2. Rail Ways
    1. Union Pacific
    2. Southern Pacific
    3. Santa Fe
    4. Metro
    5. AlamedaCorridor
  3. Freeways
    1. I-110
    2. I-105
    3. I-710
    4. I-91
  4. Highways
    1. Imperial
    2. Alameda
  5. Vehicular
  6. Pipelines
    1. General Oil
    2. Pacific Oil
    3. Proprietary

The fees generated by the management of right-of-ways provide more than enough resources to make a community likeWattswhole.  In the San Pedro area ofL.A., a study was conducted to determine how much revenue is yielded by the right of way passing through that community.  I was amazed to hear that is raised annually.

Wattsought to be enabled with similar resources to create opportunities for self-sufficiency through the creation of low-impact assemblage and light manufacturing operations in the old industrial area west ofCentral Avenue.  The kinds of operations that WLCAC would like to see in place would produce:

  • Photovoltaic (sun-powered) devices
  • Electric or Hybrid Cars for local transportation/short trips
  • Energy conserving materials such as insulation and water conservation devices
  • Tourism and Souvenir products
  • Food stuff to include poultry, produce and baked goods products

Since Watts will forever be impacted by its commercial transportation neighbors, there should be opportunities to mitigate the impact through supply to the airport, the harbors, municipalities and other operators of the systems that perhaps unintentionally, yet negatively impact the quality of the environment in Watts.

HOUSING – In 1926, houses inWatts were selling for $700.00.  The lots were very small with little alleyways to the rear.  In most cases there ire no sidewalks nor curbs, and in many places paved streets were not installed until the 1930’s.  In 1926, after a series of failed attempts, a local group of Ku Klux Klansmen organized an election for the annexation of Watts toLos Angeles.  The election campaign centered around the perception that Watts did not possess the capacity to develop itself and therefore neededL.A. in order to become a better planned and regulated community.

Wattsremained a humble, yet stable community of homeowners until the advent of World War II and the ensuing flow of returning veterans.  Housing projects sprung up where farming had once been and all of a sudden,Nickerson Gardens,JordanDowns, Imperial Courts, andHaciendaVillagelow income housing provided opportunity for those that could not afford to live elsewhere.

Following the riots of 1965, there was an exodus of business and homeowners that wanted to get as far away fromWattsas possible.  The Watts Labor Community Action Committee, having borrowed money from the United Auto Workers Pension Fund, purchased as much vacant property as possible.  It would not be long before LAX and the Century Freeway Project caused many homes from the Westchester area all the way out toParamount, to be slated for demolition.  WLCAC saw the opportunity to move the homes rather than see them destroyed.  TRI House Movers was formed as a subsidiary corporation of WLCAC and eventually moved nearly one thousand units of housing.

In 2004, a suppression effort was launched against scores of families who were summarily evicted fromWattsarea housing projects under the infamous “one-strike rule”.  This is the lowest cost housing in the state being snatched away by law enforcement officers in the service of “justice”.  Where did those families go?  What did they do to find shelter?  In one mass eviction case, 44 of those families became homeless…some for a short period, others for much longer.

ENVIRONMENT – Watts has become one of the busiest thoroughfares inSouthern California with a greater convergence of commercial transportation modes than any other community in the region.  In fact, by 1908,Watts was nicknamed “The Hub of the Universe” by the Chamber of Commerce.   Nevertheless, this busy little community has remained a place where working class people are able to “get by”.

For many years, covenant restrictions and other discriminatory practices kept Black people from living amongst the residents ofWattsproper.  It wasn’t until the 1930s that the community began to reflect the presence of the thousands of Black families that joined the Great Migration to leave the bitter, oppressive ways of the South.  Those families were anxious to make their way west to the land of “golden opportunity”.   It is no wonder that nearly eighty years later, parts ofWattsstill suffer inadequate curbside improvements.

The priorities of commercial transportation concerns are the most influential politically, environmentally, economically, and commercially.  In fact, today, the priorities of the railway operators inWattsroutinely rise to the exclusion of homeowners complaints against blight, noise, inconvenience and most importantly, “what’s in the dirt?”.   Little boys that walk home from school, play in the railroad right of way every day.  Once, I witnessed a couple of them covered from head to toe in some kind of white powder that had been illegally dumped.

There have been efforts to cause the rail operators to account for their responsibility to manage and maintain the right of ways in better condition, however to no avail.  The routine response from rail operators is that they are doing all they can and that communities should do a better job of policing themselves.  When the community has attempted to sue the rail operators, their lawyers negotiate for minimalist settlements, yet when the community offers to purchase blighted excess rail properties, the rail operators demand as much as the market will bear.

Watts is trapped in an environmental hot-zone caused by the:

(NORTH)        LAX air traffic corridor

DWP Electricity Transmission right of ways

(EAST)            Alameda Corridor rail traffic

Alameda Highwayrubber-tire traffic

Blue Line Metro Rail traffic

Santa Ferail traffic

I-710 Freeway traffic

(SOUTH)        Imperial Highway rubber tire traffic

Southern and Union Pacific rail traffic

Pacific Pipe Line oil transport

General Pipe Line oil transport

Green Line Metro Rail traffic

I-105 Freeway traffic

(WEST)           DWP Electricity transmission right of ways

Abandoned/active oil pipelines alongCentral Avenue

I-110 Freeway traffic

The suffocating impact of this massive concentration of environmental impacts causes one of the highest concentrations of carbon monoxide inSouthern California.  It is obvious that other communities have benefited from the demand for careful planning and mitigation to the impacts that might otherwise make life unbearable. Wattsdeserves no less.  It can and must command equity in the prosecution of right-of-way violators as well as greater access to the resources that generate from the unmatched convergence of commercial transportation systems that traverse Watts territory.

Copyright 2005, All rights reserved.


[i] Reference to the fable about the ship and crew that was stranded off shore in an inlet.  Not knowing that the water beneath them was in fact fresh, they were suffering dehydration and begging for someone on shore to send fresh water.  The response from the onshore native was to “cast your buckets where you stand” meaning that the help they needed was within their reach.

Unsung Heroes Award, by Tina Watkins

WLCAC is so very proud of our fearless, tireless and inspiring leader Timothy Watkins Sr. for the honor of receiving an Unsung Heroes Award tonight at LACMA. 

Tim Watkins, WLCAC President and CEO

The Unsung Heroes of Los Angeles Awards are given by the California Community Foundation every two years to celebrate and encourage philanthropy in Los AngelesCounty.

Awards are presented to individuals for inspiring and extraordinary charity towards others, and with little to no attention for themselves.

Awards are also presented to nonprofit organizations for outstanding contributions to the community in the major areas of concentration for the community foundation (arts, civic engagement, education, health care, housing and neighborhoods, human development).

The 2011 Unsung Heroes of Los Angeles Awards ceremony is special because in addition to recognizing three (3) individuals and six (6) nonprofits:

U.S.military veterans ofIraqandAfghanistaninLos Angelesare being honored for service to their country.

David and Monica Gelbaum, founders of theIraqand Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund (IADIF) at CCF, are being recognized.

The 2011 Unsung Heroes of Los Angeles Awards are presented by the California Community Foundation, and co-sponsored by The Eisner Foundation, with media partner KPCC 89.3.  Celebrity presenters included Eva Longoria, Chandra Wilson, Maulik Pancholy and Patt Morrison.

More details here: http://my.calfund.org/unsung-heroes/

Posted by Tina Watkins, Development Team