Urban Myth

Ξ April 26th, 2010 | → 1 Comments | ∇ 90041, 90042, Beyond Northeast, Highland Park, Press |

In honor of Ira Glass’ recent excoriation of Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, we’ve decided to address a couple of recent descriptions of our neighborhood that don’t sit well with us.  If you haven’t heard This American Life’s episode “True Urban Legend”, Poizner has some difficulty defending his depiction of his semester at San Jose’s Mt. Pleasant High School, which he generally portrayed as the opening scene from the Gangsta’s Paradise music video.  Likewise, we’d like to call to task two depictions of our neighborhoods that seem to stand more on urban myth than reality.

First, our local Northeast paper wrote what appeared to be a well-intentioned bucolic description of a neighborhood walk.  Just like the old Highlights Magazine covers, see if you can spot something incongruous:

Now I am in full view of the Eagle Rock.  She looks down over treetops.  I wonder will the trees soon block her from view?  I stop and look here, then there, all along the way to the post office and see everything, and everything is in bloom, everything is shining.  Even the homeless people near McDonald’s look shiny and new.  Legs aching, I wait for the Dash bus to bring me back home.  That was a good walk.

Now onto something that I can more effectively apply logic to, the travel website Wikitravel.org needs a geography lesson from the bloggers over at LAEastside.  Not only do they commit the cardinal sin in their entry on Los Angeles in defining the Eastside as “north of downtown and east of Hollywood”, but for some unknown reason, they locate Highland Park and Eagle Rock in East L.A.  Now, mistakenly placing Hollywood and Highland as the center of Los Angeles  has been debated ad-nauseum on the internet, and to be fair, at least Wikitravel didn’t place us “east of East L.A.”.  What bothers me is the warning to travellers that East L.A., which includes Eagle Rock and Highland Park, is “dangerous regardless of time of day and should be avoided altogether when walking if possible“.  I don’t for a moment delude myself into thinking that brochures for Northeast Los Angeles will begin disappearing from the shelves of travel agents in Buffalo, but one of the reasons we founded this website was to accurately craft an image of our neighborhood for friends who joked about bringing their passports to drive east of the 5.

Therefore, I’d like to see a concerted effort on all of our parts to correct the Wikitravel article.  Correctly defining Los Angeles’ Eastside isn’t my prerogative, but the article should at least properly define East L.A. and avoid characterizing it as somewhere to avoid at all costs.  I hope to see you on their discussion page.

 

Join the Debate

Ξ February 10th, 2010 | → 1 Comments | ∇ 90041, Drinks, Oxy |

A long dispute means both parties are wrong. – Voltaire

In case you don’t keep up on the comments section of the blog, we’ve entered into a spirited debate with Eagle Rock resident Mo Oxford over our Sunday article on the ongoing tensions between Occidental College students and their neighbors.  Too often, internet arguments digress into name calling, self-righteousness, and personal attacks.  It has been refreshing over the last twenty four hours to engage in a debate that actually became more civilized instead of less.  We edited some of Ms. Oxford’s comments, for reasons we explain below, but what we would most like to know is what do you think?

The “sinister innuendo” you talk about in reference to the tragic death of a student was neither sinister or innuendo.  It was fact.  The student needlessly died in a hazing incident.  Yes, it was a single car accident and no, at the time of the accident there was no alcohol involved.  Here’s what was involved:  [Removed by YORKBLVD - See Below] The activities were illegal, the fraternity was already on probation for a number of violations, and was forbidden from conducting pledge activities…and they did it anyway, and a young man died.  I do find that to be more than just a tragic accident.  And the true tragedy was that the members of the fraternity learned nothing from it, because they continued to conduct unapproved pledging and hazing activities, which is what ultimately caused them to be banned from the school and kicked out of the national.

While I think most of us living near the college expect, and are tolerant of, more noise than one would expect in a non-college area, asking us to put up with out of control parties and noise is unreasonable.  I don’t like cleaning up vomit in my yard, or repairing damages to my home, car or landscaping, or cleaning up the broken glass in the street or the sidewalk — or being kept up until three in the morning when I have to be at work in a few hours.  And I’ve done all of those things more times than I can count.

I do agree that those behaviors are a criminal nuisance.  And yes, it would have been easier to move — and our community has lost some good neighbors who did exactly that.  I just didn’t feel like giving in to being bullied out of my home by a bunch of young people who behaved badly.  And, thankfully, those students are the minority of the Oxy student population.

And the college has stepped up.  They are now imposing the student code of conduct on off-campus behaviors as well as on-campus conduct.  They are trying to have more parties on campus.  The biggest problem is that the college can’t break the law, either, by allowing the underage students to drink.  And, unfortunately, most of the student population is underage.

My article was not “somewhat accurate” — it was accurate.  Thanks, at least, for supporting the idea that people have a right to live in their homes without having to tolerate criminal nuisances.

[...]

And I forgot to mention…while I used to work at Oxy (and loved working there — it still feels like a second home!), I no longer work for Occidental College and haven’t for a few years.  Also, contrary to what someone posted here in response to an earlier blog, I also don’t live in college owned housing and never have.

Mo

Hi Ms. Oxford, Thank you for posting.  We’ve removed the specifics of the accident because this is a subject that is very sensitive to us.  I think we both can agree that the young man’s death was terrible.  However, we think that human life, and the others who were seriously injured in the accident, trump both your understandable anger at your neighbors, and our desire to write a blog article.  This is why I’ve decided to remove the specifics of the incident.  Fraternity “hazing” conjures images of forced binge drinking, which was not the issue on that night. While I’m sure all involved would certainly make different choices if they could turn back the clock, we’re uncomfortable with a dead young man being used to make a point about neighbor relations.

Nevertheless, my central argument here is that the more the school cracks down on alcohol consumption (which is really what’s at the heart of this rowdy behavior), the more it will inevitably be pushed off campus.  Maybe the school can push it away from your front yard, but it will simply end up in someone else’s.  I am arguing that the school should focus on providing an environment on campus that will allow students, whose drinking is inevitable, to be rowdy where neighbors don’t have to deal with screaming, vomit, and drunk driving.  Thanks for reading!

You are missing the point.  Why in the world would you classify the rowdyiness and vomiting, never mind the drunk driving, as “inevitable”?  When did it become not only acceptable, desirable, and “inevitable” that some students would have to drink to the point of extreme inebriation?  The idea is not to push the problem to someone else’s yard, it is to solve it. I’m a mother, and a grandmother, and I can assure you, neighborhood relations are not the only things that concern me — or many of my neighbors.  And for the very reasons you mention — people’s lives and safety. The solution is definitely not to provide a place at the school or anywhere else where the “inevitable” excessive drinking can take place.  It is to work towards changing the attitude that it IS acceptable — that there is anything desirable and wonderful about being so drunk that you are vomiting.  And hazing is hazing; it is illegal and in this case, while that night (emphasis on that night) there was no forced binge drinking, it was still hazing — illegal, and prohibited by the school and the national, and everyone involved was well aware of the prohibition.  If you know anything at all about that fraternity, and you apparently do, you and I both know that this was not an isolated or even, necessarily, typical hazing for the fraternity.  There were others that were much worse.

Mo Oxford

Ms. Oxford,  it seems that ultimately we both want the same thing: A safer environment for students and a quieter neighborhood for the surrounding community.  Where we seem to differ is in our opinion of what a realistic solution is to the problem.  We don’t think that any amount of complaining by the neighbors, or any tightening of restrictions by the college, will eliminate alcohol abuse among young people.  Simply look at the school’s drug policy for proof.  Drugs are just as readily available at Oxy as at any other college (and Eagle Rock in general) yet the campus obviously doesn’t allow it.  Why would cracking down on alcohol be more effective given it’s more readily available, cheaper, more socially acceptable, and legal by the time most students are Juniors?

Therefore we have to disagree with your assertion that we’re “missing the point” if the point is that enough punishment and regulation will eliminate a problem that has existed since Noah drank himself unconscious in Genesis 9.  Alcohol abuse and drinking are inevitable precisely because they’ve always been inevitable.  It’s not something to celebrate, but it seems at least to me, a foreseeable consequence of sharing the neighborhood with 1,800 young people hell-bent on blowing off steam every weekend.

We do seem to want the same things, and I appreciate your points and the thought and consideration you’ve obviously put into these issues. My last comments on this (here, anyway, :-): It’s a disservice to the majority of the Oxy students to claim inevitability of alcohol abuse (and/or drug use). The majority of the students are not drinking themselves into oblivion hell bent on blowing off steam every weekend. That truly is a minority of the students. The college, by law, has to agree to enforce the law if they want to get the federal aid that helps so many students attending college. The college can’t just turn a blind eye and allow underage drinking if they want the federal funds to keep flowing. Punishment and regulation alone aren’t enough, but combined with education, information and assistance where needed, the process can certainly make a dent in it. And, maybe, long term, impact enough young people to change the attitude that it is desirable and inevitable.

Mo Oxford

Ultimately, we’ll leave this with one last point as our significant others would find it out of character if we didn’t insist on having the last word.  Of course the majority of students at Occidental aren’t drinking themselves silly every weekend.  Still, even if its only 10%, that equates to 180 students concentrated in a small area who can cause serious problems for neighbors.  Education is a wonderful route to take in theory, but the current generation of students has been educated since grade school (who remembers D.A.R.E.?) on the health effects of drinking and substance abuse, and still they choose to experiment.  Until Occidental accepts the reality of alcohol consumption among its student body, no amount of disciplinary hearings or guest speakers will solve a problem that is prevalent not only at almost every university across the nation, but in every neighborhood where you have a high concentration of young people.  Youth may be wasted on the young, but sometimes experience is the only way to educate someone.

 

Occidental’s Noble Experiment

Ξ February 7th, 2010 | → 13 Comments | ∇ 90041, Oxy |

This post has been marinating for a while.   I want to strike a respectful tone and be mindful of those who have a different but legitimate perspective.  Still, I can’t help but feel a segment of our Northeast community is trying to have their cake and eat it too.  Here it is: Why would you move within blocks of a college, and then be upset that you have to deal with the antics of college students?

A recent Boulevard Sentinel article penned by Oxy neighbor and employee Mo Oxford got me thinking.  In the piece, Ms. Oxford recaps a somewhat accurate history of the last decade of living next to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house on Alumni Ave.  Some of her claims are exaggerated or loaded with sinister innuendo (the hazing death she mentions occurred because of a car accident with no alcohol involved), but generally, Ms. Oxford accurately recounts all the reasons people don’t like living next to fraternities: noise in the late hours, alcohol abuse, and pretty much the living conditions you would expect from a house full of 19 year-old boys.  Ms. Oxford is far from alone in her frustration with Oxy students.  A few months ago, a commenter to our site who identified himself only as “E” complained of drunk screaming in the wee hours, bemoaning a sense of entitlement, and calling Oxy students “the worst”.

So, to circle back on my original rhetorical question: “Why live next to a college if you don’t like college students?”  After all, wouldn’t Isla Vista just be a nice quiet seaside community if it wasn’t for UCSB?  Now if only I could stop with my sense of Oxy alumnus self-righteousness.  The problem with the behavior these neighbors are complaining about is that it’s a criminal nuisance. I don’t like graffiti, but am I not making the neighborhood better by calling 311 and having it painted out?  Similarly, are Ms. Oxford and “E” whiners for having run out of patience with underage drinking and behavior that prevents them from sleeping?

The problem with living near a college is that while the individual students grow up, (I’d like to believe I’m an example of this) the student body never does.  Your neighbors are doomed to be a constant cycle of 18 to 23 year-olds who are independent for the first time in their lives.  Still, living next to a college isn’t all bad.  Oxy has a beautiful campus that is open to the public, provides 1,800 customers for the local businesses we love so much, and brings some of the brightest minds in the nation to Eagle Rock. (I speak of the faculty; Oxy’s students are smart, but not that smart.)  Oxy has existed in our neighborhood for over 100 years and for better or for worse, it’s part of the community that isn’t going anywhere.

My solution then is that Oxy should liberalize their drinking policies.  Oxy parties are terrible.  In my time there, the school would typically buy one keg of beer for the entire student body, quarantine the drinkers in a roped-off pen, and generally, the alcohol was gone by 11.  It’s not responsible behavior, but students hell bent on drinking in a social environment would then move off campus.  The reality is that 18-23 year olds are going to drink, and the Oxyadministration has left students two options: 1. Engage in solitary drinking in a dorm room until Campus Safety arrives. 2. Go off campus and upset the neighbors.  Remember, the local bars are usually too expensive for college students and even worse, some require driving.

This isn’t news to the school’s administration.  Former interim college president Robert Skotheim acknowledged as much in publicly arguing for lowering the national drinking age. Don’t expect the school to assume the liability headache that would ensue from making drinking on campus more appealing to students however.  Oxy may present itself as being sympathetic to the neighbors’ complaints, but its alcohol policies are designed specifically to push students off campus to become the surrounding community’s problem.  Instead of vilifying students for behaving like students (albeit obnoxious ones), the community should look to the administration to assume its fair share of the responsibility to be a good neighbor.  For most us, this means an phone call to campus safety at (323) 259-2599; for Ms. Oxford, she can simply walk down the hall.

 

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