Los Angeles city and law enforcement officials are looking to examine the potential impacts of an access point to the Ballona Creek Bicycle Path in Del Rey on crime in the surrounding neighborhood.
Residents who live near the bike path’s entrance on Culver Drive between Purdue Avenue and Sawtelle Boulevard, near the Culver City border, claim that the site has been a loitering point for alleged gang and other criminal activity. The entrance, which has a lockable gate, has been the site of drug deals, fights and attacks on residents, including the son of one neighbor, and nearby homes have been burglarized, neighbors claim.
While the Class 1 path is popular among cyclists, some residents who live near the Purdue Avenue entrance say the path also has its advantages for those committing crimes in the area, providing them an easy getaway route.
“The reality is that we are on the front line of this mess,” said resident Lou Corbin, who lives near the entrance and spoke before the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee July 9th about crime occurring near the path.
“That gate is a problem and the LAPD [Los Angeles Police Department] does not have the resources to patrol it on a regular basis.”
Residents who are determined to rid their neighborhood of criminal activity they claim originates near the bike path have called for the entrance at Culver Drive to be closed. But cyclists who regularly use the path as an escape from congested roadways and to access the beach path argue that closing the gate is not the way to fix the problem, saying that other solutions should first be considered.
“I’m not certain that this is any kind of answer,” said Jay Slater, an avid cyclist who argued that those committing crimes would find another way to access the path. “I can’t imagine that closing the gate is going to stop them.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the Del Rey community and is a member of the City Council Transportation Committee, admitted that finding a solution to the issue is difficult, saying that there are “many elements to be considered.” Rosendahl said he understands the concerns of cyclists with closing the gate, but he has also met with neighbors of the path who feel threatened by crime in the area.
“The folks who live in the cul- de-sac area feel extremely vulnerable,” the councilman said. “The strategy is to get all the parties together and see how to mitigate this.”
As a way to examine the possible connection between the Culver Drive access point and crime incidents in the neighborhood, police have recommended a temporary closure of the gate for 90 days.
“This will allow us to look at what the effect of the closure is,” LAPD Pacific Capt. Joseph Hiltner told the Transportation Committee.
“The police department’s perspective on this is that we’re trying to balance the desires of the immediate community with their concerns of crime […] and the bicycle riding community that wants to use [the path] as a thoroughfare.”
In a letter to transportation officials last year, police gave statistics of serious crimes occurring within a quarter mile radius of the path entrance over 18 months, including one murder, assaults, robberies and burglaries. Four of the incidents occurred on the Ballona bike path and police believe the suspects used the Culver gate to both enter and leave the area, the letter states.
After police suggested a temporary gate closure to assess the impact on crime, the Transportation Committee voted July 9th to recommend that the entrance be closed for a 90-day trial period. The closure is subject to City Council approval.
Rosendahl said he took the recommendation by police at “face value,” as it is their job to address public safety.
“It’s a situation where safety is our number-one concern and when police say they want to close it for 90 days, I have to support that,” Rosendahl said.
But some cyclists who attended the Transportation Committee meeting expressed their disappointment with the vote to seal off the gate.
“We really thought the committee would not approve it,” dedicated cyclist and Del Rey resident Howard Hackett said of the closure. “This is the only east-west trail on the Westside and now people will be reluctant to go over there.”
Slater told the committee prior to the vote, “It’s vital that we work toward a meaningful solution and not take the course of least resistance by closing the gate, which is an idea that officers said with great candor they can’t be certain will have a mitigating effect.”
Some cyclists who have rejected the closure proposal argue that it would not prevent people from continuing to access the path and could pose a safety issue for riders if there is an emergency.
Michelle Mowery, a bicycle coordinator with the city Department of Transportation, noted that department officials were concerned with possibly “locking bicyclists and pedestrians into the path.” The closest entrance to the west of the Culver Drive access is 375 yards away and 557 yards to the east, she said.
While cyclists have expressed frustration with having one less access point, residents such as Corbin argue that the riders don’t live in the neighborhood and don’t have to deal with the crime.
But regular path users say that other solutions should be considered, including installing security cameras, increasing police bike patrol and instituting a Neighborhood Watch program. Slater also noted that the Del Rey Neighborhood Council has voted against the closure.
Mark Redick, Del Rey Neighborhood Council president, questioned how officials will determine the effect of closing the gate.
“How are they going to measure the success of this thing on a trial period?” asked Redick, who added that closing the gate would deny a community resource to many users.
Rosendahl noted that city officials plan to review findings gathered by both the City Attorney’s Office and LAPD before coming to a final decision on the issue.