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Ron Kaye: A few people can change a lot in a community

January 18, 2013

The radical community organizer Saul Alinsky, whose insights are used today as much by those on the right as on the left, once wrote:

“If people don't think they have the power to solve their problems, they won't even think about how to solve them.”

At a time when apathy and defeatism seem so rampant, when the antics of Kim Kardashian, the staged dramas of unreality TV and the tarnishing of our heroes are the center of public attention, what has happened in West Pasadena in the last year shows what can happen when a few people change their minds and think they do have the power to solve problems.

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It started with the closure of the lone fire station in the affluent San Rafael neighborhood, tucked in the southwest corner of town adjacent to Northeast Los Angeles, when some residents of Glen Summer Road decided to fight back.

Instead of just grumbling, they went to work organizing their neighborhood. Like town criers of yore, they sounded the alarm in person and on the Internet and created enough of an uproar that the city stationed an ambulance on their street and agreed to build a new earthquake-safe fire station.

Then, last spring, there was the announcement that their local elementary school would be closed because it sits atop a seismic fault and more people starting thinking they could do something about it and got involved.

A month later, the community learned authorities wanted to extend the Long Beach (710) Freeway with a tunnel under their homes or maybe right down the middle of the street that runs through the Arroyo Seco, so they linked up with neighborhood groups from Garvanza, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, South Pasadena and north to La Canada-Flintridge.

Now it’s the Rose Bowl going professional with the city looking to lease the historic stadium to the National Football League if a team moves to the L.A. region, more than doubling the number of dates that massive crowds and traffic would descend on the area.

“It all starts when you see numerous times of injustice and you finally just have to speak up,” says Dr. Ron Paler, a founder of the San Rafael Neighborhood Assn. and a moving force in bringing together communities that cut across city boundaries as well as economic and cultural differences.

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