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Morning Brief: The History Behind LA's Pedestrian Tunnels, LA City Council Races, And The City's New Chief Heat Officer

A composite image shows a fenced off pedestrian tunnel on the left and a car rolling through a crosswalk on the right, with the center of the image replaced by a black and white 1928 photo of children climbing the steps of the tunnel, set at the same angle as the newer photo.
A pedestrian tunnel under Western Avenue in South Los Angeles in 2022 — and in 1928.
(1928 image courtesy courtesy Auto Club of Southern California archives; present-day photo by Ryan Fonseca; treatment by Dan Carino
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Good morning, L.A. It’s June 1.

I cannot believe we are almost halfway through this year, my friends. Not only is summer around the corner, but we have Pride, Juneteenth, Father’s Day and so much more all happening this month. And don’t forget the primary on June 7!

Okay, so we all know how notoriously BAD Los Angeles is when it comes to traffic — and traffic collisions. I’ve talked to so many people on the streets about what they love and hate about L.A., and traffic safety is a top issue of concern for folks. It’s so bad that between 2015 and 2021, traffic deaths rose 58%, and about half of those killed were pedestrians. Even though Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the Vision Zero program in 2015 to reduce such fatalities, the streets remain deadly for people walking, biking, or scooting.

The crazy thing I just learned is that this has ALWAYS been a problem in L.A. — ever since cars showed up on the roads. About 100 years ago, L.A. tried to solve its traffic death issue with underground pedestrian tunnels. Imagine…little kids walking to school through scary, dark and dank passages just to avoid getting hit by fast-moving cars. I’m sure you’ve seen at least one pedestrian tunnel around the city, right? Did you know that at one point, L.A. used to have more than 200 pedestrian tunnels that were built in the 1920s and 30s? My colleague Ryan Fonseca took a deep dive into the underground with his latest story.

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As Ryan writes, drivers were killing a lot of people in the early 1900s, many of them children. So the city had a choice: they could cater to pedestrians’ needs or put the desires of automakers and their supporters first. (Spoiler alert: They put the desires of automakers first.)

What Jessica Meaney, a mobility activist, said in Ryan’s story was specifically poignant to me. She thinks that the creation of tunnels made pedestrians lose valuable public space.

“If we give up on our sidewalks,” she said, “and the only way we think things are going to be safe is if our kids go in these underground tunnels and avoid a vibrant street life…and all of the things that the sidewalk and our public space of Los Angeles can give us, I think that’s a mistake.”

Now to that primary I was talking about earlier… I’ll let my colleague Brianna Lee take it away. If you live in the city of L.A., so much of your daily life is affected by decisions made by the L.A. City Council. The 15-member board passes laws that govern the entire city. Think of them as the legislature for L.A.

That power has led to laws like a $15/hour minimum wage, the implementation — and later removal — of vaccine mandates for anyone entering indoor restaurants or gyms, and the anti-camping ordinance that prohibits people from sitting or sleeping near public areas like parks and schools.

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But individual councilmembers also have a lot of say in how strongly to enforce certain laws or how to prioritize funds for their specific district. That’s why you might have an easier time getting traffic improvements in one district versus another, or why someone living in a tent might be subject to sweeps more often in one neighborhood but not in the district next door.

This is why it’s worth paying attention to the eight L.A. City Council races on the primary ballot.

Four of these races — District 1, 3, 7 and 9 — will produce outright winners on June 7 because they each only have two candidates; city election laws say that a candidate wins in the primary if they get more than 50% of the vote. Two races — District 11 and 15 — are open seats with no incumbent running for reelection.

If you’ve got a City Council seat on your ballot this year, check out our full rundown of the races and candidates in our Voter Game Plan guide. Not sure what district you’re in? It will say on your ballot. You can also type your address into Voter’s Edge.

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Happy voting!

As always, stay happy and healthy, folks. There’s more news below the fold.

What Else You Need To Know Today

Before You Go... In California's Inland Empire, Medi-Cal Delivers Healthy Meals To Patients

A woman stands over a plate of food at her dining table.
Frances De Los Santos of Victorville, California, receives medically tailored meals delivered to her home as part of a new Medi-Cal program to improve the health of its sickest patients.
(Heidi de Marco/KHN
Courtesy of California Healthline)

There’s a health crisis in the Inland Empire. According to Heidi de Marco and Angela Hart of California Healthline, more than half of adults have diabetes, or are on track for developing the disease. Now state officials are trying to combat health issues by bringing medically-tailored meals to some of the sickest people.

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