Safe Streets Runs Into Unsafe Council Members

by Alejandro Magallanes

The Safe Streets Committee held their monthly meeting this last Saturday to discuss the next “E” in the Vision Zero plan: Education. Safe Streets has been allocated funds to begin outreach on traffic safety within our community. Our own committee member, Lori Apthorp, has lent her talents to create Safe Street banners, bus bench ads and logos. We are hoping her work — along with the Vision Zero campaign ads — will be seen around town in the next month.

The Safe Streets Committee also had a visit from a speeding advocate. Aaron Schwartzbart, President of Motor Gospel Ministries, is a former illegal street racer who as a youth endangered his life and the lives of others. That all changed the day he was born again in Christ. He now dedicates his life to racing on the track and teaching our youths how to be responsible behind the wheel.

“Most of these street racers don’t even know what they’re doing,” Aaron explained. “Just like I didn’t. So we invite them out to the track and humiliate them. They learn pretty fast that there’s a lot that goes into racing.”

Aaron works with LAPD to get racers off the streets and onto the track before they fall into trouble with the law. He has also reached out to car dealerships like Galpin Ford and Rydell Dodge to encourage racing on the track.

“Dodge is a big promoter of the Fast and the Furious movies, so I thought, why can’t they promote racing for us.” The dealerships agreed. With the sale of a 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat, Rydell Dodge gives an invite to a local track, where they can race Motor Gospel Ministry drivers and learn about how to manage their speed on the streets.

Aaron also contributed to our Safe Streets education campaign at this meeting, explaining his view on how to deliver traffic education to a community of arrogant street racers. He believes it’s a difficult thing to do, but there are still ways to reach out to them. We were grateful to see that even a former street racer could share a vision of hope in traffic safety.

Lastly, committee chair Eve Sinclair brought up an issue with which the Safe Streets committee might be able to help. She mentioned the James Dean mural on the side of Wreck & Mended Auto Body in Tujunga. The artist/shop owner is having a problem with locals who reported his mural to city officials that are now claiming his mural hinges on being an advertisement because there is a painting of a car in the mural and his business is auto body repair shop. It was never meant to be an advertisement. The car pictured is a painting of the car in which James Dean crashed and died. The shop owner now plans on adding the words “Speed Kills” to the mural in order to maintain accord with all authorities involved.

Eve brought up the idea that we as a committee could write a letter to the city authorities in support of the mural adjustment. It was at this time that a woman in attendance, Cindy Cleghorn, warned Mrs. Sinclair that she was meddling in issues with which she had no concern. “It’s not your purview,” Cleghorn said.

The committee and attendees dug deeper into the matter, recognizing that this committee is about street safety and the artist’s message is also about street safety. Cleghorn said that the issue of the mural had nothing to do with this committee, or even Foothill Boulevard for that matter. Sinclair reminded Cleghorn that the auto body shop is in fact on Foothill Boulevard, our High Injury Network street, and the message the artist is sending complements the message we are trying to project with our education campaign. “So, in fact, it is our purview,” Eve replied. “No. It is not,” again said Cleghorn.

I think that a James Dean mural reading “Speed Kills” on the side of a Foothill Boulevard business in Tujunga and which overlooks the results of traffic collisions every day is not hard to pair with the Safe Streets Committee. But even after explaining how similar our purpose is and how we could work together to support one another, we were met with a warning and hostility from a former councilmember.

It is becoming easier to see that there are some people in our community who want to restrict progress for their own means. What their means and desires are, we have no idea. I can only guess that if their desires were progressive, they wouldn’t have to behave so deviously

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