ALPERN AT LARGE--I can't say "no" to gallows humor, but I can say "no" to bigots and bullies.
Laughing about a lot of things makes sense, either because it's truly funny or because it helps a person cope with a very stressful situation. Sometimes we laugh because we really want to cry, but can't.
And sometimes we laugh if we're downright mean and sneaky.
The Great Streets reconfiguration of Venice Blvd. is certainly no laughing matter, and neither is the extraordinary political pressure put on the Mar Vista Community Council Board of Directors to vote for, and to continue to reaffirm, the reconfiguration that has clogged adjacent residential streets, prevented fire trucks from accessing emergencies, and divided Mar Vista like never before.
But if the unusual political pressure placed on the MVCC Board (something I never, ever experienced during the Bill Rosendahl era) to pass and promote the Venice Blvd. road diet isn't funny, then neither was the awful bout of laughter during a critical July meeting when a bicyclist testified he'd lost his leg to a motorist, and who emphasized the need for a protected bicycle lane.
That bout of laughter, which I was told was (supposedly) due to nervousness on the part of an audience member, was a moment that virtually made certain that the untested, almost-certainly dangerous Venice Blvd. reconfiguration to which most of the Westside now suffers, would become reality for a year (if not forever).
If any on the MVCC Board of Directors were wavering on whether or not to vote for the Venice Blvd. reconfiguration, that entirely-inappropriate bout of laughter in response to the bicyclist who lost his leg made it infinitely easier to vote against what appeared to be a sentiment of contempt against all bicyclists.
That outrageous bout of laughter reminds me of the contempt I experienced when fighting for transit riders (and for all of us) by creating an Expo Light Rail Line, and for buses to have bicycle storage facilities, and for a connecting network of bicycle paths and lanes along our rivers and flood control channels to facilitate bicycle access throughout the City of the Angels.
I experienced a lot of mocking laughter then, too--and not just from one rude, inappropriate person.
Protected bicycle lanes, and protected pedestrian crossings, are some of the most venerable goals of the Vision Zero program, the Great Streets program, and anything associated with common sense or common decency:
1) Having grown up in Long Beach, where bicycle paths and rights were the norm, and having gone to college at UC San Diego, where a bicycle was all that I (and most students) ever needed to get around, bicyclist rights are a given, made it easier to be "pro-bicycle".
2) And having gone to medical school in Galveston (still standing after two devastating hurricanes in the last decade), where there were no bicycle lanes on the main drag, and only about six inches of room for me to maneuver next to angry motorists, I know how frightening and dangerous it can be to navigate in a "car-only" zone with only a bicycle.
3) Improving bicycle lanes for the Westside is a goal I've fought for, and will continue to fight for, even on Venice Boulevard.
Yet injured bicyclists or pedestrians or motorists BECAUSE of the Venice Blvd. reconfiguration?
Political pressure for a "road diet" that most Mar Vista residents do not want (but who DO want better bicycle lanes and pedestrian crossings), and which is thrashing Metro attempts to connect buses and "micro transit" vans to the Expo Line, thereby crippling the "Expo Line to the Ocean" transit route considered as a major alternative to the current Expo Line right-of-way routing?
Throwing away fifteen years of planning to create a Downtown Mar Vista to benefit the locals and the region, and throwing away plans developed in six years of outreach in the Great Streets project just to hastily construct the current reconfiguration under a bait-and-switch and entirely-misrepresented "Vision Zero" initiative?
Using the honorable desire to promote walkability and livability as a way to ram through a sudden, unvetted (and probably illegal) plan that had little to NO input from governmental ADA agencies, the LAPD, the LAUSD, and the LAFD?
Ignoring the majority of businesses and residents of Mar Vista screaming for comprehensive and transparent data, as they were promised, and pressuring police and fire officials to keep quiet as first-responder access on a key corridor for the Westside (a former state highway) is hamstrung?
The inevitable lawsuits to the City from direct accidents or from delayed police/fire access to health and criminal incidents that inevitably occur from a Venice Blvd. reconfiguration that had no EIR, and would almost certainly not pass legal muster if taken to court?
No good humor to be found there, either.
But do you know what is really, really, REEEEEEEALLY not funny?
When a sneaky "friendly amendment" to a motion to call for a working group based on scientific data--promoted by an engineer/Boardmember and supported/written by the stakeholders--was accepted for discussion and then suddenly noted as an "amendment" that was not friendly, and which turned the "no road diet" motion into a "yes road diet" motion with no scientific data to be accepted.
And which was rammed through by a politically-pressured MVCC Board of Directors against the protests of the person introducing the motion, and despite the horrified outrage and cries of the overwhelming majority of the stakeholders in the room.
Of course, it's easy to ask: who was laughing now?
Well, perhaps the person introducing the "friendly ... wait, not friendly ... amendment" approximately an hour before the Board meeting, and who was overheard after the meeting laughing how the Department of Neighborhood Empower (DONE) prevented those outraged and misrepresented stakeholders from voting for new MVCC Boardmembers until 2019.
Maybe laughing at those demanding a recall (which, if it were possible, would almost certainly happen) of those who've made an oath to represent them isn't so funny--particularly when it was done with contempt.
Really a hoot and a holler laughing and mocking those who feel betrayed, and who certainly WILL continue to fight and do what it takes to preserve the rights of ALL living and working in Mar Vista, huh?
Personally, I don't see the humor--only tragedy for all sides--because a small cadre of politically-motivated activists have taken over a MVCC which once had a reputation for compromise that pleased and represented all parties, and fought like hell to avoid creating "winners" and "losers".
I don't find the abuse and demeaning of MVCC stakeholders to be any more funny than a MVCC bicycling stakeholder who lost his leg because of an inattentive motorist.
And I don't find bullies and bigots to be any funnier when they're doing social engineering than when I saw bullies and bigots fight against the rights of "those people" to access the Westside with an Expo Light Rail Line.
For now, I will be open to privately paying for a "Forum of What You're For" to figure out how to reconfigure Venice Blvd. and create the Downtown Mar Vista I've fought for over the last 15 years, just as I was open to privately paying for an "Expo Expo" in Santa Monica to get the Expo Line politically moving when it was on hold in the early 2000's.
Because bullies and bigots probably don't think of themselves as such ... even when they are.
And because their humor, or what they find funny, isn't really funny at all.
And because stepping on the neck of constituents is just ... NOT ... funny!
(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud father and husband to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at email@example.com. He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.) Photo credit: LA Streetsblog.