“Transparency” Is Not “Invisibility”

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Tamika Butler recently met with Council District 1 representative Gil Cedillo, to discuss the Mobility Plan 2035, which includes Vision Zero, the effort to reduce traffic deaths to nil by 2025. You might have expected sparks to fly: Cedillo has cancelled plans for a road diet along five miles of North Figueroa (plans that were already finished, funded, and approved by the full City Council before Cedillo’s term), and only a few weeks ago he notoriously requested that all: plans for bicycle facilities in his district be cancelled outright. Suffocated in he crib!

Meanwhile, deaths and injuries caused by speeding drivers–most of them hit-and-run drivers as well–continue to coat the streets with blood in Northeast Los Angeles. So indeed, when Ms. Butler, a black queer woman not given to meekness, a public figure who has repeatedly stated her dedication to social equity, and who is executive director of the organization that positions itself as the representative of the county’s cyclists, met with Cedillo, sparks should have flown. And perhaps they did…but we’ll never know. Because both parties’ statements about the meeting relentlessly avoid specifics.

Ms. Butler’s letter, sent out to LACBC members and followers on October 15th, stated merely that she and Cedillo “talked about a number of things, including the recent tragic passing of Mrs. Lugo. We also discussed his policy around housing, homelessness, and active transportation. We talked about community engagement, where his office has fallen short, and where LACBC has fallen short. I will continue to engage him, and I will share what we’re hearing from our members, like you. I will do so with respect, but with a firm determination to ensure that he hears what is important to so many of us living in his district.” She added that she “also left that conversation with a renewed sense of how I must continue to listen.” and then she lobbed an easy pitch to Cedillo, stating that, “As Los Angeles aims toward zero traffic deaths in ten years, we are mindful that increased enforcement could perpetuate injustice without appropriate safeguards or proper prioritization of resources.”

This obviously refers to LAPD’s habit of profiling, but Cedillo jumped on it and transformed it with that old black magic of his, saying in his own letter summing up the meeting, “We had a very positive and productive discussion on shared concerns over public safety on our streets. We will continue to discuss our mutual concerns over Vision Zero and its implementation and the potential adverse social justice impacts.”

So now Vision Zero is tainted with the same brush as gentrification and racial profiling, as another way to oppress poor people? Because that’s what “adverse social justice impacts” generally means. But how would Vison Zero, which aims to eliminate the actual, physical, crushing, killing impact cars have on cyclists and pedestrians–many of whom in District 1 are poor–how does preventing speeding and opening up the streets to transport and access to commerce for all residents, not just speed-addled elitists in cars, how on earth does that constitute an “adverse social justice impact”?

It’s particularly galling to hear such words from Cedillo, over 85% of whose campaign contributions came from outside the district, and who counts a large number of realtors and real estate developers among his supporters. Indeed, my own suspicion is that Mr. Cedillo is prepping the district for a massive dose of gentrification. and social justice impacts be damned.

My Anonymous Contact in NELA, who has lived there since Cedillo was popping zits in the mirror, and who is deeply involved in community issues, including Complete Streets, put it this way: “Tamika tipped her hand with her prioritization of social justice, then expressed concern that a possible mitigation of justice could occur if increased enforcement was not kept in check. CD1 now has a new place to insert the thin end of their crowbar with which to take a stand against what the City Council has approved and everything we have been struggling to achieve for years. They have disregarded everything positive Tamika said about the project being good for justice and are running with the only thing she has any doubt about. Ridiculous.”

If Ms. Butler hasn’t signed an oath of secrecy, she should spell out in specifics what she and Cedillo discussed so productively at the meeting. Bland assurances that all will be well if we behave and just sit on our hands and wait…that won’t cut it any more. We’ve been waiting—and dying—for too long now. Decades of promises have gotten us nothing. It was only when the cycling community all over LA ran out of patience back in 2010 that anything actually happened—when frustrated constituents came together to push the Bicycle Master Plan through the phalanx of obstructionists of that time. That plan has now been subsumed into the Mobility Plan 2035 and Vision Zero, and we want both of those proposals to move forward‐precisely because they support social justice and transportation equity. We’re not going back to the smirking paternalism of the bad old days.

The time for safe streets is now.

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