Race and place names, in the news again

December 4, 2011 § 5 Comments

An article in today’s L.A. Times and a recent Daily Show episode, Amazing Racism, reminds us that we still have work to do as a nation in healing our history of racial discrimination, right down to what ends up on maps.

And lest we try to cloak ourselves in the notion that ugly place names pertain uniquely to the attitudes of far-away-others, we have our own local history of place name alienation attached to a street and a former LA-area waterbody.  A link to my previous piece on the N-word Slough turned up in the comments to the LA Times piece, and Joe noted it here.

Source: Cal State Dominguez Hills

I’ll write a little more about the wetland itself another time.  Today is for remembering the lives and courage of regular people, 19th Century African-Americans finding their way in the newly colonized, racially-charged Los Angeles.  Is there a way to honor the perseverence, while also genuinely balming the pain?

Levee alternatives study for Compton & Dominguez channels

April 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

County of LA review of channel flood capacity reveals that portions of Compton and Dominguez channels fail to meet flood standards, which if unaddressed will result in FEMA decertification and increases in flood insurance rates for property owners next to the channels.  And while the County’s engineers have been soberly preparing to address this through studies and planning, fear-driven spectres of disaster scenarios have also been hinted at by public authorities – forebodingly called “Katrina West” by some. 

Here’s the details on the meetings tonight and next week to give the County feedback on alternatives they can pursue to meet the flood standards.

Tonight, April 28, 6-8pm, Carson Community Center, 801 East Carson Street, Carson CA 90745

May 4, 6-8pm, Siverado Park, 1545 West 31st Street, Long Beach, CA 90810.

Thanks to James Alamillo at Heal the Bay for the heads-up about the meetings.

Now, about this “Katrina West” rhetoric. Dan Rosenfeld, a deputy for Mark Ridley-Thomas, gives us its meaning: “(o)ne of Los Angeles County’s biggest concerns is the adequacy of the levees downstream in minority communities – the Katrina West phenomenon. ”  « Read the rest of this entry »

Students Envision Landscaping along Dominguez Channel

March 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

Viviana Franco’s Spaces of Blight (SOB) project is turning its focus onto the Dominguez Channel in Hawthorne. Through the assistance of the Friends/Amigos of the Dominguez Watershed, From Lot to Spot/Spaces of Blight received a Wetlands Recovery Project grant to work with youth to assess a reach of the Dominguez Channel bike path, design native landscaping to abate erosion, treat runoff, and create beauty. Students and volunteers will be installing the plants over the coming months.

Check out photodocumentation of student analysis and design here.

The project complements a landscaping project underway by the County of Los Angeles along the Dominguez Channel.

News and Events – 8 January 2011

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Act now to save Arcadia's threatened oaks! Photo by ecotonestudios


> If you haven’t read Josh’s article yesterday about the urgency of action to prevent the county’s astonishingly wrong-headed plans for burying Arcadia’s oak woodlands – read it and take action! Demolition is scheduled to begin next week. Here’s a set of links of  yesterday’s blogger solidarity day post to save this irreplaceable site: Altadena Hiker, ArcadiaPatchBallona BlogBipedality, Breathing TreatmentChance of Rain, Echoes, Greensward CivitasL.A. Creek Freak, L.A. Eco-Village, L.A. ObservedPasadena AdjacentPasadena Daily Photo, Pasadena Real Estate with Brigham Yen, Slow Water!, The Sky is Big in Pasadena, Temple City Daily Photo and Weeding Wild Suburbia. Thanks also to Sierra Madre Tattler!

> Oiled Wildlife Care Network reports an oil spill in the Dominguez Channel on December 22nd 2010. Their team “recovered three oiled birds:  one Pied-billed grebe, which died, and two American Coots.”  As of January 4th, OWCN reports that  “no responsible party has been identified, and the source of the spill remains unknown.” Full story at link.

> ArroyoLover reports on the drawbacks (pun intended) of new archery range fencing proposed for Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park.

> L.A.’s Daily News reports a Shadow Hills incident where a “car raced downhill, bouncing over speed bumps before brushing by horse and rider, spooking them to the curb. [The horse was] injured [and ultimately perished] when she became trapped in a storm drain debris screen[…]. The driver did not stop.” Interestingly the article calls for changes to the storm drain trash grates, but seems to let the criminal speeding driver off the hook. Full story at link.

> If you think L.A.’s La Niña rains were bad, read Circle of Blue‘s reports on disastrous El Niño rains in Colombia and Venezuela.

> The Los Angeles Times has an impressive photo of water churning through the San Gabriel Dam during recent tests. Also at L.A. Times: environmentalists file suit to block Newhall Ranch development imperiling the Santa Clara River. And, further afield, plans for the future health of the Klamath River.

> The Project For Public Spaces has an extensive conference proceedings document that serves as a sort of handbook for waterfront design/place-making. Their top recommendations (as distilled by me) are: multiple destinations, connected by trails for walking and bicycling.

Drastic Declines in World Fisheries - New York Times via Cyborg Vegan Cannibals

>Cyborg Vegan Cannibals has two scary graphs on the precipitous decline of world fisheries. One above and the other at the link. Maybe it’s time to watch Dan Barber’s Ted.com video again. (Thanks to TrueLoveHealth for sharing the CVC link!)


> The city of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation hosts a Low Impact Development update on Thursday January 20th 2011 at 1pm at their Media Center Offices. Details at L.A. Stormwater Blog.

Preliminary maps of the Dominguez Watershed

October 2, 2009 § 1 Comment

For your perusal and comment.

Dominguez watershed with detail from 1896-1902 USGS overlaid.

Dominguez watershed with detail from 1896-1902 USGS overlaid.

Here’s some preliminary maps of the Dominguez Watershed, in LA’s South Bay, that I’m working on for Friends/Amigos of the Dominguez Watershed. It’s a work in progress, so I’ll walk you through some of the details.

First of all, the watershed boundary is based on the contemporary watershed, as you can see in the old maps, today’s boundary would also include portions of Compton Creek, for example.  As the streams were straightened and culverted or channelized, subdrainage areas were also reconfigured – hence the change.

Dominguez watershed overlaid with detail from 1920s-30s USGS maps. Map is a work in progress.

Dominguez watershed overlaid with detail from 1920s-30s USGS maps. Map is a work in progress.

The next big difference (to me) is that the 1920s-30s era map has so much more detail than the 18906-1902 map.  That’s because the later map was drawn at a more refined scale.  So we see streams and sumps that I’m classifying as wetlands/vernal pools(in green) that don’t read in the earlier map – but we can bet they were there, research and oral histories indicates it is so.  Another big change is that the large Dominguez Slough converted in a mere 30 years to being mostly open water to mostly wetland or sump or wet meadow (see large blue and green areas on the maps).  This is the result of deliberate draining of the wetland, today’s Dominguez Channel being the descendant of that earlier effort.

Dominguez watershed today - with some info missing, this is a work in progress.

Dominguez watershed today – with some info missing, this is a work in progress.

So in less than 100 years, this has become quite the desiccated little watershed (the white and orange line are the stormdrains, almost no blue anymore, green is a missing layer to be added, but will be small) – to say nothing of polluted.  Not covered by these maps is the shift in land use.  Wetlands, often being considered a waste (once the hunt clubs have had their fill of the game I guess), get drained for agriculture, and then, being still floodprone, tend to get pretty undesirable zoning – our Dominguez Slough was no different:  chemical and petroleum industries set up shop over much of the wetland and today some areas are Superfund sites.

Searching for Tom-or Joshua-down in Dominguez

December 20, 2008 § 33 Comments

OK.  I need to begin by telling you that there is an offensive and insensitive word in this post, one that I regret being here, but that is also the genesis of my search.  I apologize for its presence.

Some of you have also been looking for it.  We can see search terms that lead you to the LA Creekfreak.  And ever since that map exhibit at the Public Library, we’ve been seeing those two words, one of which is really ugly.  I bet you have wanted to know how the hell a waterbody ends up with a name like that on a federal map.  In any era.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the image below contains racist language, in a shockingly banal context.




USGS map, circa 1900.

USGS map, circa 1900.

Clearly a loaded topic, and one which links our environmental history to our racial (and racist) history, something which has been lurking in the background in a number of our posts on historical LA and its waterbodies, and which I also feel as an angelena is often not readily acknowledged.  

I have been avoiding writing about this slough in part out of the theory that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie. We have a lot of trauma in the city caused by racism, we are still living out the effects of this trauma, and unfortunately there are those creating new traumas.  All the time.  And I don’t want to re-traumatize our African-American neighbors by reviving this horrible name.  But I have also regretted that the story behind the name can’t be turned on its head, and wondered if there was a way to elevate the story to help unwind history a little.

And so this is my attempt, and an incomplete one at that.  

There has been quite a bit of speculation as to the origin of this former place name, later renamed the Dominguez Slough, and today the Dominguez Channel (the slough being all but gone).  Some have asserted that its desultory name came from the black mud that surrounded the area, but I don’t buy it.  The 1914 Reagan papers have repeated references to this Slough, one of which added the name Tom:

“The water was pouring through the bridge that caused our wreck and was running into the Nigger Tom slough…” Mr. A. C. Cook, 1914, in Reagan.

Who was this man Tom, if this name refers to an actual person?  Rudy Mattoni and Travis Longcore, in their 1997 publication, The Los Angeles Coastal Prairie, A Vanished Community, provide the following comment in a footnote: “The wetland was reportedly named after the freemen who farmed near it and the name appears on historic maps of the area (Nelson 1919).”  To further complicate matters, I went over to the CSU Dominguez Hills archives to see what information they had.  In 1977, a student researcher, Bonita Lucille Braddock Miramontes, pulled together archival resources to what she could piece together.  She had met with Bill Mason, then of the Natural History Museum (I don’t know if he’s still there), who shared the view that our  mystery man was believed to be a hog farmer who lived on the old Rancho Dominguez lands, near the slough, in the 1870s.  Bonita then tracked down Robert C. Gillingham, who wrote a history of the Rancho San Pedro.  Gillingham elaborated that he had heard this story from an old caretaker and Dominguez-Carson family members, who in turn heard it from old Mexican farmhands.  He also noted that our mystery man arrived sometime after the Civil War, but that by the 1880s there were no blacks living in the vicinity of the slough.  He also mentioned that “one conjecture is that” the hogfarmer “may have been a descendant of one of the pioneer settlers who founded Los Angeles in 1871, which included a number of negroes.” Bonita went further with her research, locating the name of a black man, Joshua William Smart, who owned property near the slough, in the Assessment Book for LA County, 1870-71.  So…Joshua or Tom?  Or someone else?or all of them?  How did they come to live there, and why did they leave?  How did the slough affect their lives and livelihoods?  How were the neighbors?

Clearly more research is needed.  Bonita listed newspapers that could be consulted, including the California Eagle, a black LA newspaper that began publishing in 1879.  There are other historical society archives to visit, and perhaps even descendants of early settlers.  I haven’t given up this thread just yet.  You see, I can’t help but think of how courageous and resilient he or they would have been, and I think his or their presence lends yet more richness to the diversity that was early Los Angeles.    

If only the County could have been as aggressive in erasing housing covenants and other forms of discrimination as it was in erasing this glaringly embarrassing and insulting name from the maps.  If only they didn’t have to erase the history of Tom/Joshua when they did this.  

I will write more about the slough and its story another time.  For now, I’d just like to point out to you that it was so large as to extend from Carson (think Victoria Golf Course) to Torrance (Madrona Marsh), Gardena, and parts of Compton, with fingerlets in Hawthorne and West Athens(fragments still remain at the Devil’s Dip/Chester Washington Golf Course).  Other bits of remaining marshland include the Gardena Willows near Vermont and Artesia, and what’s called Albertoni Farms in Carson, a bit of slough in the middle of a trailer park.  

I think it would be pretty cool if one day,  a park or greenway or remnant wetland was properly named after Tom X, or Joshua Smart, or whoever our mystery man is.  Smart Creek has a nice ring to it.

Creekfreak’s agenda for Mark Ridley-Thomas, part I

November 19, 2008 § 3 Comments

“…it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader. All else might be lost; but when the soul dies, the connection to earth, to peoples, to animals, to rivers, to mountain ranges, purple and majestic, also dies.” – from Alice Walker’s Open Letter to Barack Obama

Mark Ridley-Thomas

Welcome to your new job, Mark Ridley-Thomas!

Congratulations Supervisor-Elect Mark Ridley Thomas!

LA Creekfreak is happy that you won!  You were endorsed by many environmentalists including the LALCV and river advocates like Creekfreak Joe Linton, Martin Schlageter and Lewis MacAdams.  We contributed modestly of our time to help your phone-banking.  We were inspired to hear Cornell West rally your supporters.  We felt excited on election night to hear that you and many other inspired leaders would represent us in the years ahead.

Now that you are set to occupy one of the County’s most powerful positions, we at the LA Creekfreak would like to load you up with good ideas on how to steer a new era of environmental stewardship in Los Angeles County’s Second District (map) and the County as a whole. We support your future efforts to ensure proper air quality, public transit and bike/ped improvements, public safety, functional hospitals and youth and social programs. But our focus is the water and things related to it.  The future of the greater LA area depends upon our ability to really address our human needs in an integrated fashion, building a strong societal fabric that rests on the tableau of a healthy and vibrant environment.  We know you’ve got many significant social and environmental problems to address, and we feel that our ideas can help you out with some of them.  We’ll present our wish list to you in two parts.  Today’s post focuses on opportunities within the Second District.  Our coming post looks at County-wide issues.

-Joe Linton & Jessica Hall

Stepping Outside

The Second District’s natural environment has been highly degraded and poses great challenges for revitalization, yet enthusiasts carry the torch for restoration and increased open space for our youth, health, water management, and wildlife & habitat.  

Here’s our list of some favorites, with descriptions in case you’re not familiar with them, to run with:


A Ballona Greenway.  Ballona Creek, once a perennially verdant, meandering stream with willows, wetland plants, birds, amphibians, and fish, is today soul-wrenchingly lost, dwarfing humans and animals alike in massive expanses of concrete, which makes for an excellent graffiti gallery and large-item dumping depot.  Yet despite this grim situation, endangered steelhead trout have been spotted in the channel, and shorebirds can be seen gorging themselves on…well, something.  The Ballona Creek Watershed Task Force, Mid-City Neighborhood Council, Culver City, Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority and Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, are among the many groups and agencies trying to humanize this big beast.  Projects have included creating new access points, native plantings, and trails & fencing.  We even talk about studying ways to partially naturalize it within the right-of-way.  But our ability to act is limited without the County – we NEED a County champion.  Help us Obe-Won Kenobe, you’re our only hope. (JH)

Ballona Wetlands Restoration.  Part of the wetlands appear to fall within your District.  The Coastal Conservancy, CA Fish & Game and the State Lands Conservancy have been working diligently, with the support of many other agencies, including the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project, and Army Corps of Engineers, and many NGOs and citizens in developing restoration alternatives for these parcels.  Alternatives 4 & 5 have floated to the top as favorites, although not without controversy.  We at Creekfreak support Alternative 5, as the restoration approach that restores the greatest amount of natural function – what is a coastal wetland without the stream or river dropping its sediment and mixing its freshwater with the tides?  Given that wetlands occur in very special places and ways, we also see this as a rare opportunity to bring these habitats back.  We recognize that there are legitimate concerns with the disturbance of the species that have adapted to the site in its current degraded state – many of the animals there now prefer grasslands or coastal sage scrub, and we encourage that adjacent open spaces be aggressively revegetated with these plant species so that the wildlife can migrate to other areas. Your political support for this project can help it move forward – tied with a Ballona Greenway and Baldwin Hills State Park improvements, it can be a real centerpiece within the District.  (JH)

A Dominguez Greenway. Like Ballona Creek above, without the stakeholders or the steelhead. And with probably twice the level of need in terms of population and access to open space.  As the channel leads to El Camino Community College, it could become a nice alternative transportation route for students, with opportunities for commercial/open space joint ventures. You also have a few fragments of the old slough that remain, at the Gardena Willows, the Devil’s Dip(below), Albertoni Farms, and Madrona Marsh(in neighboring Knabe’s District).  The Victoria Golf Course also has a small stream that was part of the big system – unfortunately the stream is flanked by Superfund sites.  Another note the old Slough’s original name referred (very crudely) to the early freeman settler of the region – the erasure of the offensive name by calling it Dominguez Slough is understandable, but in the process, we lose the cultural memory of the man, family, or group of free blacks who settled in early Los Angeles.  If we can find his actual name, perhaps we could dignify his courage and history with a proper re-naming. I am working on tracking down the story on this individual or group and will post details as they come to me. (JH)

Daylighting Concept for the Devil's Dip, 2004.

Daylighting Concept for the Devil's Dip

Daylighting the Devil’s Dip creek.  This one’s very special to the LA Creekfreak, as one of us (JH) grew up near there, and has been involved in past efforts on this creek.  The Devil’s Dip, also called Anderson Wash, was a tributary to the Dominguez Slough, and persisted in a natural condition until the 1970s or so, when the construction of Southwest College affected some of it.  But the 105 Freeway is what really took it down.  It is a wonderful thing to wander into West Athens, to utter the words Devil’s Dip, and be regaled with great tales of boyhood adventures in the old creek, pre-105. Today we are left with a few small reaches in the Chester Washington Golf Course, on El Segundo and Western.  North East Trees worked with Restoration Design Group and a golf course architect to daylight the creek at the Golf Course, but the project did not proceed.  This restoration would enhance the golf course, increase habitat, and give the gents in the neighborhood a vehicle for more great storytelling. (JH)

Compton Creek Restoration.  OK, we confess to a slight conflict of interest here.  Mia Lehrer & Associates and Restoration Design Group is helping the Watershed Council assess the feasibility of restoring Compton Creek through its soft-bottom reach, from the Crystal Park Casino to its confluence with the LA River.  The birds here are amazing to watch, yet it is possible to allow even more habitat in this reach of Compton Creek, and just think how cool it would be if the Blue Line stop at the Crystal Park Casino had great pedestrian access to the creek and the commercial complex at the old Autoplaza site!  But we need political will to make it happen. (JH)

Lafayette Park expansion. You can refer to an earlier post about this site.  Briefly, this is a highly impacted park, with great population density and not much space to play.  It also has a buried stream, Arroyo de la Brea, flowing through the site.  An undeveloped lot is used for parking and could be acquired (not cheap – it is on Wilshire), increasing park acreage, enabling a little breathing room between activities, possibly allowing the stream to be daylighted.  Act now while the economy is down! (JH)

Baldwin Hills.  Issues abound at the Baldwin Hills, and we know your assistance has been called upon already.  Ultimately, we want to see the Big Park come together!  In the meantime, how can the community obtain greater benefits from the existing public lands?  And can habitat be protected within the oil lands?  We defer to the Baldwin Hills Conservancy as the go-to team for priorities here.  (JH)

From Lot to Spot.  Here we had a great opportunity to create parkland that can help kids while helping to deal with our stormwater.  This Creekfreak positively seethes at the collective inability of multiple agencies – but especially the City of Hawthorne’s (speaking as one who grew up there) – inability to stand up for our children! Hijole, it makes me sick. So Supervisor, let’s not let the well being of our communities depend upon others, let’s snapple up vacant lots, especially in neighborhoods with mid-to-high densities and large concentrations of children, and create pockets of livability, even if other elected officials are only thinking of commercial development. (BTW, we’re not against commercial development – but not at the expense of the needs of our people or habitat). 

And while we’re at it, let’s engage the kids!  You could host an annual Service competition among all the High Schools for their aggregate social and environmental service.  Get the kids in the District excited about how they can participate in creating a more livable community for themselves.  (JH)

Green Streets.  Green Streets help redirect stormwater into streetside basins and swales, preventing runoff, reducing peak flows into our channels, recharging our groundwater, and filtering contaminants.  Sounds like a good deal, eh?  And it can be done SO simply – imagine a glorified parkway, depressed a few inches, with curb cuts, and sidewalks sloped to drain into the parkways.  Combined with urban forestry, you have street beautification! And that’s just the Hyundai version – the Cadillac version comes with permeable paving, subsurface infiltration gizmos, the works!  Some cities integrate these features with traffic calming, which residential areas like.  There’s really no reason every street in the district doesn’t work like this – it can still overflow into the stormdrain in really big rains.  But you know, we’re asking for it all – so while we’re at it, let’s work with those cities in the District who think it’s bad not to have a lawn, or that cite residents who plant natives for keeping weeds.  It’s time for a new ethic in LA County, and we encourage you to take leadership in working with your partner cities to embrace change. (JH)

Hope you feel more energized than exhausted by these possibilities!  


From the peanut gallery, with affection,

LA CreekFreak

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