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Mount Washington Residents Ask 'Where's the Water?'

Neighbors near the Oneonta-Olancha stairs are pressuring a local city council representative to activate a water sprinkler that will help beautify the area.

Albert Winn just wants a little water from the City of Los Angeles.

On Friday, the Mount Washington resident and his fellow activist Cheri Uno met with Kai Newkirk, Councilman Jose Huizar’s Field Deputy for Mount Washington and Eagle Rock, in hopes of getting it.

Stairs and the City

Winn lives near the Oneonta-Olancha stairway, located in the neighborhood’s northeastern area.  For the past few years, Winn and neighbors like Paula Sirola and Eliot Sekuler have used out-of-pocket funds, including donations from neighborhood associations and nearby residents, to maintain the stairway, which is an easement owned by the City of Los Angeles.  

Winn and other locals pick up trash, hire day labor for big projects, and with the help of 311, which has been “fantastic” and “instantly responsive” according to Winn, remove graffiti from the murals painted by local artist Mike Schelly on the landings of the stairway.

Who’s Responsible

However, local efforts to beautify the heavily trafficked stairway with drought tolerant, fire retardant, California native plants have been all but doomed.  The water line that runs down the hill next to the stairway was turned off a few years ago and no one can tell Winn or his neighbors who is responsible for turning it on again.

“We just want someone to take ownership of the water line”, said Winn, who has been shuffled around from the DWP to the Streets Department to other city departments.

Fire and water

Years ago, the original wooden Oneonta-Olancha stairs--built so that hill residents could have easier access to public transportation--burned in a fire.  Jackie Goldberg, then-representative for the district, was able to secure funds to reconstruct the stairway in concrete and brick with metal railings.  Plants bordered the stairway and a sprinkler system was installed.

Then, a subsequent blaze--Winn said an arsonist set fire to an abandoned house next to the stairs--damaged the sprinkler system.  The water remained on for two years until it was abruptly and inexplicably turned off.  No one has subsequently been able to find out how to get it turned back on.

Volunteer efforts

Since the turn off, Sekuler donates the water and Winn personally hauls the hose from Sekuler’s nearby residence up and down the flight of 113 stairs to water the sage, the California fuschias and the California live oaks that border the heavily trafficked stairway.  This system “relies on one individual [Sekular] to do more than necessary,” said Winn of Sekular’s efforts.  

According to Winn and Uno, who wrote the beautification grant for the stairway’s murals, the residents have raised enough money to install a “rudimentary system” involving “sprinkler heads…and soaker hoses."  The stair activists told Newkirk that they would also need the City’s help connecting the new sprinkler system to the old because of incompatible pipe sizes.

“We’d have to get somebody out here for that,” agreed Newkirk who listened, took notes and snapped photos of the sprinkler system and the stairs.  “We’ll see what the story is and find out who is responsible for turning on the water,” added Newkirk, who also definitively confirmed that what the residents needed was assistance not cash.

“We’re not asking the city to spend any money,” confirmed Winn.  “We just want them to turn the water on.”

Gma August 01, 2011 at 06:12 PM
turn on the water yourself.
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson August 01, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Mr. Winn can provide a more accurate answer, Shawn, but I think it was two years ago. I'll attest to the fact that the plants looked pretty crispy!
Shawn Richardson August 01, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Dig around, stupid autocorrect
cheri uno August 03, 2011 at 03:15 AM
Kai Newkirk, field rep for CD14, Mount Washington area has already arranged meetings at the location for tomorrow with DWP and possibly street services. We will get some information from them so that our water problems can be resolved at the location. It isn't just a knob that can be turned on or off. The city has removed the access to the valves. We will put in new irrigation systems if the DWP can make the connection to water. We are hoping that after a couple of years the drought tolerant plants will be established enough where water is not needed. However, we have found that the area is so exposed that at least for the first year they need some water to get started. I would like to thank Kai Newkirk from CD14 for his prompt response and help with this issue.
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson August 03, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Great news, Cheri, and thanks for the update. Hurray for Kai Newkirk! The staircase and Mr. Schelly's murals are beautiful; it will be great to see Oneonta-Olancha stairs "green" again.

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