CITYWATCH VOX POP-Cheering for an end to overdevelopment and new hope for community empowerment, activists from Venice to NoHo to the Wilshire District rallied in Frogtown on Wednesday to kick off signature-gathering for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, a citizen measure aiming for the March 2017 ballot.
The diverse crowd shouted “No More!” just outside the planned “Bimbo Bakery” luxury complex, which will dwarf the Latino enclave of Elysian Valley — and which sets a disturbing precedent for devoting much of the river to “waterfront” homes for households of $500,000 to $750,000 and up.
Residents of Frogtown, or Elysian Valley, spoke out side by side with residents from the Westside, Hollywood, Wilshire District and Valley.
Melissa Arechiga, an Elysian Valley resident whose parents were among the last families to be evicted during the infamous destruction of Chavez Ravine to make room for Dodger Stadium, told reporters, “We want to make sure that what happened at Chavez Ravine doesn’t happen again.”
Arechiga worries that the box-like, 117-unit luxury project along Blake Avenue, just a few miles from Chavez Ravine said the so-called Blake Avenue Riverfront Project will destroy the character of the neighborhood and price out its working-class residents.
Robert Leyland, an elected member of the Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council, told the crowd in Frogtown that the “out-of-scale” Riverfront project was a hot topic during the recent ouster of Neighborhood Council members who worked closely with numerous developers who see Elysian Valley as hot.
“The pro-development candidates lost, and the neighbors won” key seats in the Neighborhood Council elections, Leyland reported, to the cheers of activists from across LA.
Jill Stewart, campaign director of the Coalition to Preserve LA, which is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, said the 2017 measure, which needs about 65,000 signatures to make the ballot, is “hotly opposed by developers and City Hall politicians who have accepted millions of dollars from developers since 2000.”
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative requires the City Council to create a General Plan for LA's aging infrastructure and to plan out the city's future based on real, not exaggerated, population projections.
The City Council has shirked this core duty for more than a decade, leaving a Wild West system driven by wealthy, and often foreign, developers and their bankers. Current infrastructure plans at City Hall, for example, date from the 1950s.
Stewart dispelled a key falsehood being publicly repeated by City Council members — “their lie that the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative halts most development for two years.” In fact, the narrowly crafted two-year timeout affects “3% to 5% of projects in Los Angeles — those so far out of character for the community and its infrastructure that these projects require a full legislative exemption vote from the City Council,” Stewart said.
She explained, to applause from supporters, that the vast majority of Los Angeles development plays by the rules. Nor will the measure slow down construction of 100 percent affordable housing, which is exempted from the timeout aimed at City Council mischief.
What will face a tough time when the initiative is approved, Stewart said, are the kinds of giant, rule-bending projects that are now recklessly swamping entire neighborhoods with their impacts.
Instead, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative brings in the community, forcing the City Council to work with the community, at meetings held only at night and on weekends, to update the 35 Community Plans — reforms that could protect the Los Angeles River, for example, from luxury condos now being planned behind closed doors.
From Koreatown, attorney Grace Yoo gave a dramatic example of City Hall's secretive dealings: the proposed 27-story luxury Catalina Avenue skyscraper in a two-story neighborhood on a tiny street about the width of the one in Frogtown. Her group NAME TK and the Coalition to Preserve LA recently sued to halt the project, which has already destroyed affordable housing — and will mean the destruction of even more.
“Enough is enough,” said Yoo. “The City Council needs to respect the community.”
Stewart said the location for the rally was chosen because the luxury project approved on the river, a citywide resource, exemplified what’s wrong with City Hall’s out of date, developer-oriented General Plan and Community Plans.
The geographic and ethnic diversity represented by community leaders at Wednesday’s kickoff showed the Coalition to Preserve LA campaign is reaching neighborhoods in all corners of LA. “This is a city-wide movement,” Stewart said. “That’s got to frighten our opponents — developers and City Hall.”
Mannie Flores of the Pico-Union Westlake community said he was supporting the initiative because it will give greater control to a community fighting an uphill battle against displacement and gentrification. Even with the LA Unified School District on its side, his area is fighting hard to prevent an influx of restaurant-nightclubs, and drinking drivers, near community schools.
Community plans, as sought by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative and heavily influenced by residents, not by developers, could restrict locations of alcohol-serving businesses.
Sylvie Shain, a community organizer, told initiative supporters the story of her fights to obtain justice for tenants, including a Vietnam War veteran, evicted from their homes on Cherokee Avenue in Hollywood because the new owners want to turn rent-controlled apartment into haute hotel rooms.
Echo Park artist Anne Hars caused a sensation when she shared with the crowd a flyer she designed on the spur of the moment to capture her views of the disruption caused by the overweening influence of developers.
The flyer shows a developer directing a bulldozer to knock down a house as the family/tenants run for their lives. The flyer’s inscription says: “Welcome to Garcettiville.” (Photo above.) Hars is well-known for putting up balloons around homes that are slated to be bulldozed to make way for developers’ projects.
Equally popular were the petitions that need to be circulated and signed by registered voters to get the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 2017 ballot.
Questions and answers were also shared at the event. One question: can a petition circulator obtain signatures from folks who live outside their immediate neighborhoods? Answer: Absolutely. The only issue is making sure the signer is a registered voter and resident of Los Angeles.
Another question: can my neighborhood council endorse the initiative? Answer: Absolutely. A Neighborhood Council may vote to endorse a ballot measure. But councils are barred from endorsing individual political candidates.
(John Schwada is a former investigative reporter for Fox 11 in Los Angeles, the LA Times and the late Herald Examiner and is the Communications Director for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. He is a contributor to CityWatch. His consulting firm is MediaFix Associates.)