Five People Making L.A. a Better Place
This year's People issue celebrates the 56 Angelenos we find most intriguing. But some of the people in this year's issue aren't just interesting -- they're downright inspiring!
From Dr. Coley King, who's working to treat Venice's homeless community, to Armando Gonzalez, who's keeping at-risk kids out of gangs and on skateboards, we've highlighted the five people who are doing what they can to improve this city. From East L.A. to Venice, they're making L.A. a better place.
1. Coley King
It was Dr. Coley King's wife, a pediatrician, who persuaded him to take a job right in their neighborhood at Venice Family Center, a Rose Avenue clinic that treats homeless, low-income and uninsured patients.
Six months after his hire, the clinic launched a street medicine program, visiting local homeless people in a van one morning each week. King was on board immediately: "It sounded crazy, and I'm the likely one to do something crazy around the clinic."
Nine years later, one morning a week has become three. (King also treats the homeless at a Santa Monica drop-in center two afternoons a week.) He praises his colleague in the street medicine program, Dr. Theresa Brehove, as "very patient" but says, "I'm a little more of a bulldog. 'Hey, we need to see a psychiatrist, man.' Or, 'Do what you can to drink, instead of a bottle of vodka, half a bottle of vodka.' It's all about harm reduction."
His patients can be wary. "They're streetwise. 'Who's going to take advantage of me?' They're very tough characters." But he's persistent: "If they trust me, I can help them."
For more, see Sarah Fenske's profile of Coley King
2. Jennifer Klausner
Jennifer Klausner, a West L.A. native, became executive director of the L.A. Bicycle Coalition in 2007. Ever since, politicians, city planners and community leaders all over the county have learned that it's not advisable to tell her what she can't do. The coalition has grown into a savvy advocacy group, with 1,500 dues-paying members and a staff of 11. Its biggest event, the annual Los Angeles River Ride (on June 9 this year), now attracts more than 2,000 cyclists.
Thanks in large part to Klausner's efforts, Los Angeles has a highly ambitious plan for encouraging bicycle use, with a long-term goal of adding more than 1,300 new miles of bikeways by 2045. When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced the plan in 2011, Klausner was at his side, her hair dyed traffic-light green and a twinkle in her eye that said, "You watch me."
For more, see Andy Hermann's profile of Jennifer Klausner
3. Pablo Alvarado
Pablo Alvarado is director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a coalition of nearly 50 day-laborer organizations nationwide that fight to protect the civil, labor and human rights of workers. Among numerous successes, it has created 70 centers where workers can safely solicit jobs, and has advocates for their right to do so in any public space. It has recovered "millions" in unpaid wages, Alvarado says, and represents day laborers' interests in the immigration-reform debate.
Although some day laborers are American-born, most are undocumented and mainly from Mexico and Central America. They endure discrimination, dangerous working conditions and often low wages — or none at all. Many live in fear of deportation.
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Alvarado believes that the arts, especially music, can be an important force to inspire worker empowerment and dignity. In 1996 he helped found the band Los Jornaleros del Norte (The Day Laborers of the North), which has produced three albums of salsas, cumbias and ballads that express the day laborer's trials and triumphs.
As for the future? One of Alvarado's next challenges is to create a network of allies — clergy, immigrant-rights activists, labor unions, neighborhood organizations and others — to further his organization's mission.
4. Margot Ocañas
Margot Ocañas is the city's first "pedestrian coordinator," riding a national wave of pedestrian awareness, orchestrating nothing less than a culture change for a city where 80 percent of all trips are made by automobile.
Ocañas persuaded city managers that 53 intersections with high rates of vehicle-versus-pedestrian accidents needed to be upgraded to high-visibility crossings. Now, all 53 are complete, and she's proposing more. She's angling for safer routes to schools and transit stops because that's where people walk the most. She's also trying to carve out pedestrian spaces, such as four "parklets" that sprang up this past winter.
For the first time, Ocañas is bringing together engineers at city agencies, including the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Bureau of Street Services and the broader regional authority, Metro, producing results that provoke discussion and grab attention.
For more, see Alissa Walker's profile of Margot Ocañas
5. Armando Gonzalez
After graduating from Cal State Los Angeles and working as a field representative for city Councilman Jose Huizar, Armando Gonzalez quit his day job and opened his own skate shop, Soul Skating L.A. It is more than just a place to sell decks and wheels; it is, he says, "a movement."
The idea is to find neighborhood kids and give them an option that doesn't require banging, being a coward or becoming a nerd. In other words: skateboarding. The shop offers free introductory skate lessons and sponsors a Zephyr-like team of up-and-coming street rippers ages 17 to 19.
The location is close enough to Hollenbeck Skate Park, just up the short block, that kids can go from ollieing local curbs to catching full-on ramp air at the park.
Inner-city skating is hot. Gonzalez, who bought a house in Boyle Heights with his wife eight years ago, says that even some gang members have taken up skating. But his kids learn that the motto is no longer "skate and destroy," the way it was in the '80s. "The skateboarding world is so essential to inner-city neighborhoods," he says. "Our motto is 'live, skate, create.' "
For more, see Dennis Romero's profile of Armando Gonzalez
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