A deal that would keep a struggling local nonprofit organization as the developer of an affordable housing and retail project at Mariachi Plaza is expected to be approved by Metro next week.
On Wednesday, the Metro Board’s Planning and Programming Committee gave its support to a one-year extension of an exclusive negotiating agreement with the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC). An original 18-month agreement to develop Metro-owned property behind the Mariachi Plaza station will expire on Sept. 20.
ELACC, which owns the historic, restored Boyle Hotel across the street from the Plaza, was chosen to develop the project in January of 2018.
ELACC is proposing to build a five-story, 60-unit complex with 6,340 square feet of ground-level retail space for “local-serving” businesses on a 0.62 acres lot behind Mariachi Plaza. (The parcel, on the Southwest corner of Bailey St. and Pennsylvania Ave., is currently occupied by a county COVID-19 testing site).
The Boyle Heights developer is also proposing to build a Mariachi cultural center as part of the complex, and a community garden at a 0.13 parcel on the Southeast corner of Bailey and Pennsylvania that is unoccupied).
In a presentation for the agreement extension, Metro says the project’s complexity has required extensive analysis, and that the project still needs to secure entitlements from the City of Los Angeles which may “require a zone change and General Plan amendment.”
The presentation also noted that ELACC is a community-based organization “undergoing organizational restructuring and may pursue additional partnerships to help deliver the project.”
Last May, ELACC revealed it had uncovered a “structural misalignment” that produced a financial shortfall and forced it to lay off 11 workers. The nonprofit said at the time that the shortfall would “not have any impact on our housing developments or their financing.”
On Thursday, ELACC President and CEO Manuel Bernal said that most of the delays with the Mariachi Plaza project were due to Metro’s own bureaucracy.
“The property is still owned by Metro, so the ability to entitle the property has been slowed down significantly, because we don’t control the entitlements submission process with the city,” Bernal said.
Bernal said ELACC’s housing team was not affected by the layoffs and that “the housing team had some [personnel] shortages that were not related to our financial concerns,” and that those positions have since been filled.
Metro’s plans for the Mariachi Plaza development have raised community concerns over the years. The agency scrapped original plans that called for the construction of an eight-floor medical tower along with a mixed-use commercial and housing project, because of community backlash. The idea for a Mariachi center came from community meetings held in 2016.
But Bernal said on Thursday he was unaware of any current opposition to ELACC’s proposal –some of which was expressed this week on social media.
Boyle Heights businesswoman Beatriz Zaragoza, a former member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said she fears the development will limit public access to the Plaza.
“I have a problem with [the project] encroaching on the Plaza,” said Zaragoza, who has produced a number of events that have occupied a large portion of the space in front of the Plaza’s small stage. Annual events, like the yearly Santa Cecillia celebration held by mariachis in November, would be affected.
“That would limit or eliminate our programming,” she said.
Zaragoza pointed to a rendering of the ELACC proposal that appears to show that the development stretches beyond the empty lot and into portions of the Plaza’s current open space.
“It would turn the Plaza into a sidewalk,” Zaragoza said.
But Bernal said that objections to the proposal are premature, since the development is still at an early stage of what may be a five-year process, and further community outreach will be held before a final plan is approved.
“We don’t have construction financing in place yet,” Bernal said. “We don’t have any commitments yet. So in the life of a development project, we’re really early.”
“There’s still plenty of time and room –and desire– to involve the community in this development design,” he stressed.
Bernal said that ELACC has signed a memorandum of understanding with some of the laid-off employees so that they can continue to do some of their community organizing work, but “under a different arrangement.”
“We’re going to get to the point soon where, with this project and other ones, we need to start our own community outreach,” he said. “And luckily, we’re in a much better position today than we were [in May], so we can go ahead and start engaging the community in the projects that we are considering.”
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This post was updated on Aug. 21 at 12:00 pm to correct date, add links.