Jackson Avenue residents deserve to be heard

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Dear Neighbors,

No matter where one stands on the Jackson Gate issue, the most dangerous and sad fact is that there has been a long history of lack of transparency on this issue and egregious lack of due process, and lack of democracy exhibited by most members of this council.

Instead of listening to us, instead of giving us research, studies and facts, instead of answering our questions, instead of inclusion, we have been ignored.  Worse still is that supporters of opening this gate, have on social media and at past BPAC meetings ironically have used tactics right out of a Demagogue’s playbook: ignore, spin, cherry pick, and use Ad Hominens.

We get called NIMBY fearmongering old fogies etc. in order to denigrate, dismiss, and deflect our perspectives and requests for studies, statistics and facts.  Instead of providing evidentially non-biased studies and addressing the facts and real world problems (i.e.BB gun shootings into residents yards that nearly miss hitting children and pets, late night screams, fires started along the path behind residents homes, illegal bolt cutting of the gates locks, narrow street, mail theft from mailboxes) that residents in this neighborhood already are experiencing, those voting to open this gate seem more interested using the Jackson Gate opening as the low hanging fruit to have the crowd pleasing photo-op that makes for great pomp but poor policy.

Many of us ride bikes, support cycling infrastructure, and appreciate the efforts to reduce auto use and green up our city. But we also live right up against the creek and best understand the nuances of this paths degraded condition and inability to adequately monitor its misuse, the fragility of its ecosystem if overused, and how the disruption of this symbiotic relationship with this venue can result in unintended and very negative consequences to the local residents and community living closest to it.

From 2016-2019 while this issue was being pushed by certain council members and their supporters there wasno outreach – none — to those individuals/families actually living on Jackson Avenue and the nearby neighboring Creekside streets despite the wording in the previous and then existing General Plan that there should be no access to the creek bike path through residential areas and that residents living along the creek in the Jackson Ave. and neighboring streets, must be directly engaged and included in any discussion about the Jackson gate or any access to the creek.

It was only in May of 2019 when those most affected accidentlyheard about a meeting/gathering in Carlson Park where we were basically told by city staff and attending council members that this was a “done deal” so get ready for it.  We were informed of a prior survey conducted without our knowledge or contact that supposedly supported opening the Gate. We asked to conduct our own survey, or barring that, toat least let us work with city staff to include questions concerning issues we felt relevant to such an impactful decision. Our request was ignored and not done. Instead, quite to the contrary, the city put out the same survey with exactly the same biased leaning questions,and did not include any questions related to our concerns.

We asked several council members that year (2019) to come out to Jackson Ave to see the difficulties and dangers that opening the gate would cause on Jackson — but only one member came — after numerous requests (Most recently again in 2021 we asked new and returning members to visit Jackson, but only one member (Albert Vera) came and the rest did not.) We asked city staff in 2019 for research, safety studies, police input etc., and again were ignored. Eventually, a letter from an attorney was sent in July of 2021 and met with a response from the city with just a few paltry documents sent just one day prior to a scheduled vote (on 8/9/21) that is rescheduled for 8/23/21) by council on this matter.

After the May 2019 meeting in Carlson Park, we realized we needed to get our voices heard and so we wrote a petition, and within 6 weeks — despite the July 4 holiday and summer out of town vacations, we had 320+ signatures opposing the opening of the gate — yet we were and have still been described by proponents wanting the gate opened as just “a handful” of residents holding Culver City “hostage.”  How does 320+ residents in our neighborhood equal “a handful”?  How does such inflammatory language substitute for fact based evidence, safety studies, due diligence and meaningful debate?

Ironically, it is the City’s own survey that disputes the BPAC claim that this is what a majority of Culver City residents want.  Yetsupporters of this survey who want the gate opened have made the claim –by cherry picking the surveys statistics — that about 55% of survey respondents stated they want the gate opened when it was actually 28.8 % who stated so, and only 30 out of the survey’s 385 respondents (that’s 7.89%) stated that they might use the Jackson gate access point daily.

Here are the City’s survey facts:

The City’s survey — written without any Jackson community member input—had 385 respondents.  Of all of those 385 only 109 lived within a 3 block radius of Jackson (28.31%) and within that number only 24 lived on Jackson (that’s 10.23%), while 252 lived more than 3 blocks from Jackson (that’s 65.45%).  This means that means that over 65% respondents to the city survey lived either equidistant or closer to the already existing easily available entrances at Overland and Duquesne!

So, why open the Jackson Gate? Furthermore, regarding opening this gate only 30 out of the 385 respondents — that’s 7.89% — stated they might use the Jackson Gate daily, while 294 or 77.36% said they would either only use it a few times a month to never at all!

The BPAC claimed that 55% want the gate opened by twisting/cherry picking and misrepresenting the figures. There were 111 out of the 385 respondents who said they’d like the gate opened.  That is 28.8%. But since only 199 people even chose to answer this question out of the 385 survey participants, they chose to divide the 111 by 199 to come up with their 55% figure instead of dividing 111 by the 385 who participated in the survey. That massaging of numbers is misrepresentation, is misleading, and manipulative. Plus, 111 is only about 1/3 of the amount of neighborhood’s 325+ residents who are adamantly opposed to opening this gate.

Why then open the Jackson Gate?  Supporters of opening this gate state that this residential entrance is “safer” for children to access to go to school. We dispute that.

The extreme narrowness of this street and the position of several neighboring driveways that butt up against the gate —which are impossible to move — create several blind spots, and that poses a serious safety risk to all those who would use it as well as any nearby residents.  It will be impossible for residents living closest to the gate to see cyclists —especially younger ones—while exiting their own driveways, which creates a high risk for accidents.

The City states that they will install mirrors, but in reality, youngsters can get distracted and middle school through high school age who most likely will not be supervised — can act impulsively.  The City also says they can design the gate entrance in such a way that cyclists entering the bike path will be forced to completely stop in order to pass through the gate.

But that will not stop the cyclists already on the path who are pummeling at top speed around the curves from potentially hitting entrants entering from a dead stop! That is like entering the 405 freeway at Sunset without a ramp! There are long ramps at Overland and Duquesne and with clearer sightlines.

So, the possibility of minors and or less experienced riders or even pedestrians getting hurt, maimed, or even killed when the gate opens is a real possibility, and poses not just trauma for the individual and the community, but a serious fiscal liability for the city.

Furthermore, not only is council being advised by the BPAC to open the Jackson gate, but they are actually considering opening it 24/7.  Yet, the major reason being proposed is that school age children can use the gate to access school — which they can already do this via Overland and Duquesne.

Please tell me what kindergarteners through high schoolers go to school at midnight.  Another supposed reason is that it gives commuters greater access to businesses, errands and work. Really — at 2 a.m. in the morning?!

Supporters claim that opening up the gate promotes Route protection. Quite to the contrary:as already stated above, although it may be more convenient for busy parents to have their kids enter from a nearby residential street, it is actually again, not safer to enter from Jackson due to the lack of a ramp that might allow for safely gradually entering and exiting. Instead entering from a dead stop thrusts the rider or pedestrian directly in the path of oncoming cyclists.

Along Farragut — out in the open — minors can more easily be supervised and there are many more adults nearby to assist them if they fall or need help.

Some teens — who tend to be at that stage where they feel indestructible —are more likely to use or glance at their cell phones and be distracted, or use headphones when off by themselves on this secluded path rather than when out in the open on surface streets where there are other parents/adults to call them out.

Out on the surface streets, minors are more likely to keep their helmets on and stay alert. We have witnessed minors take off their helmets while riding on the bike path and tie them to their handlebars while often cycling 2-3 across rather than single file, even when pedestrian/cyclists approach from the opposite direction.

The physical condition of the bike path itself — including uneven shoulders, lack of fencing, broken fencing, wire fencing that is so widely spaced that even if not broken a young child could still easily slip through — is a big concern. These conditions present dangers of youngsters slipping and falling down the steep and rock side of the creek pathway. We have actually witnessed more than one near disaster.

Indeed, it is important to note that there are several Culver City areas near Jackson where the bike path barely meets the width requirements that Cal Trans strongly recommends for a two way pedestrian/bike path along a waterway (8-10 ft. across not including even & well maintained 2ft. shoulders on each side, that is moderately used, AND if there is significant use and/or use by children or inexperienced riders, then the width “shall” be 10-12 feet across not including the shoulders.

The lack of signage and lack of enforcement of existing regulations along this path — skateboarders crowding the area, motorbikes illegally using the path, pedestrians walking their dog(s) — with tangled leashes or worse yet (we’ve seen) dogs being walked unleashed — already imposes risks, and all whilethere is no authorized entity to stop them or impose warnings or consequences that might deter risky behaviors.  Now, add heavier traffic and inexperienced riders to this mix. No, we sincerely believe there is a better safer way.

The first adage in being of service is:“First do no harm”.  Please do not experiment with our neighborhood, our residents, and children.We all support less pollution, equitable access, and encourage those who are able to bike and walk to do so.  Keeping the Jackson Gate closed does not impede this path’s usage when Duquesne and Overland are wide, monitored, nearby, always open (except in in extreme rainstorms or maintenance upkeep), and easily available.

To further improve safety on local nearby and school adjacent streets for all in our community, the city would be better served by having more crossing guards, installing more crosswalks, PLUS adding blinking lights along the crosswalks when in use — just as they have done in Santa Monica — that both visually alerts drivers that someone is about to step or cycle off the curb and that drivers must slowdown in order to provide cyclists and pedestrians of any age or ability a meaningful degree of greater safety.  This seems to work well in Santa Monica, which has a population even larger than our own.

The claim has been made that opening up the Jackson Gate will relieve congestion on Overland, Washington, Braddock, Culver, and Farragut. Wow, that is a tall order!

To make the claim that opening up this tiny street and its maintenance gate will tremendously reduce enough traffic in other areas to dramatically reduce street side congestion and pollution, implies that there will be a huge amount of increased usage along the Culver city portion of this bike path and a great deal of congestion on Jackson Avenue. That is, again, dangerous due to subpar conditions of the path in this area and the already mentioned narrowness in width at several points.

In addition, such an increase would negatively affect the creek.  We need to recognize that this area is fragile, and such an amount of use will increase wear and tear and trash upon this vulnerable ecosystem. Plus, to conclude that this gate — located in a totally small residential area -provides greater access to businesses, errands, or work simply does not make sense.

Except for the Jackson Market near Culver, there are no businesses/commercial operations large employers in this neighborhood.  But, there certainly are several areas of commerce, work, recreation, post office, banking etc. at the wide Duquesne and Overland access points that already adequately exist — and these points are less than a five minute bicycle ride between them.  Of course, if the increase of travel afforded by the gates opening is not substantial, then the reduction in traffic and pollution on the surface streets will not be significant—and then why do it in the first place?  you cannot have it both ways!

Furthermore, does it really make ecological sense to tear out a significant amount of foliage around and below the gate when greenery is what we need? And what about the Rain Garden at the end of Jackson Avenue? Will this expensive and worthy garden be disrupted or dismantled in order to accommodate convenience for a few dozen residents? Has anyone inquired about this?

There is also the claim that the Jackson Gate presents another access point for emergency personnel.  Jackson is just seven blocks East of Overland and six blocks west of Duquesne.  The appropriate Culver City law enforcement and emergency and fire personnel should have keys or the combination of or for any lock on the gate and should have backup bolt cutters as part of the tools they normally carry.

As a matter of fact, it is quite easy with the proper tools to break the gate lock open.  Just ask the person who at 3 a.m. in the morning this past July who — using a tool to quickly break the Jackson gate open and quickly disappeared back on to the creek path when nearly confronted by the pajama attired Jackson Avenue homeowner living next door to the gate.

The claim that opening this gate provides a more “Equitable” access to those challenged and disabled.We disagree. Many of us are seniors and several are partially disabled and with disabled members of our families.  We strongly dispute this for reasons aforementioned — no ramp at Jackson, no sightlines for residents next to the gate to clearly see entrants when backing out of driveways, heavier usage compounds danger of narrow width areas, cyclists’ history of racing through blind curves etc. etc.

It is safer to enter and exit via Overland or Duquesne where there are wider entrances, long ramps, people on walkways to assist, and where — on Duquesne — there is the police department right there if needed and in case of an emergency.  With the additional suggestions of blinking like crosswalks and stop lights, these larger venues will be even more accommodating.

Proponents of opening the Jackson gate also claim that that this access will foster more “visibility” along the creek pathway in general.  This is very questionable given the small number (30 out of 384 or 7.98%) in the city’s own survey who stated that they would use the Jackson entrance “daily.”

But even if true, this is a double edged sword.  The Jackson Gate entrance is at the end of an extremely narrow quiet street.  The amount of usage that would put “more eyes” on the path would not necessarily create more visibility at all hours that might lead to safety, but it would certainly create unsafe congestion at the entry/exit point for the reason already outlined.

So perhaps you get more “visibility” (but for those who have no authority at enforcement), but at the expense of much greater “vulnerability” for all of those residents on and surrounding Jackson Avenue.

The BPAC is also trying to misrepresent information on : “In fact, there are currently five comparable bike path entrances in Culver city into residential neighborhoods on Fay, Cattaraugus, Caroline, Helms Avenues, and Sherbourne Drive also next to the EXPO line Railway which have Proven to be successful in their use since 2016 without the substantial problems anticipated by some of the Jackson neighbors.”

That is not a fact, and it is a false analogy! The streets that they are referring to have no gates and no direct access to the Creek Bike Path.  Most dead end at National and have a wide and long pathway secured with a tall solid wall barrier along National, that then feeds into the very long ramp from Syd Kronenthal Park where the actual access to the creek path emanates.

These residential streets do not at all butt up against the creek, nor do any of the homes have driveways next to the creek. The creek pathway actually veers away from these streets and crosses the SE side of the Syd Kronenthal Park where it winds around the industrial area on the other side of National and the Hayden tract area.  This area has totally different zoning that includes commercial, light industrial, studio, and high density residential dwellings.

It is a gross misrepresentation to state that these streets access and proximity is comparable to Jackson Avenue –nor are these streets comparable the streets neighboring Jackson. This is like comparing apples and bananas: Both are fruits but very different.

We anticipate that the BPAC and most city staff and council will cry “foul” and state that we are just afraid of “change”, and that there has been notices about their discussion of the Jackson gate with residents alerted via city emails sent out under the guise of “Traffic & Mobility” and the BPAC meetings.

We are not fearful of change that is beneficial, collaborative, balanced and democratic in its process, rather than “change” that results from a lack of inclusion, raises one group up by putting another down, and is polarizing.

But holding virtual meetings and having people speak in 1-3 minute snippets is not the same thing as listening, taking concerns seriously, reaching out and investigating what the people who know their neighborhood best are experiencing, nor has such exchanges resulted in the repeatedly requested studies and scientific method based evidence being put forth.

The council needs to give us an opportunity to sit with them and have a dialogue and be heard.  They need to do their research due diligence and present evidentiary facts.

It is important in life’s endeavors to understand that it is not enough to know how things do or might work, but also know or anticipate how things don’t work.

For these reasons,the vote on this issue needs to be postponed until there is the due diligence, equal representation of arguments, and the due process residents have requested and deserve.

Sincerely,

Creekside Neighborhood Residents

Jackson Avenue residents deserve to be heard