With reporting by Jonathan Olivares
Colorful strips of paper tied to a chain link fence Friday afternoon spelled out community members’ wishes for an impending development surrounding Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.
The strips read: ART PARK, PLANNED PARENTHOOD, LOW-INCOME HOUSING, FITNESS CENTERS.
The demonstration, led by residents and local activists from the Coalition to Save Mariachi Plaza, was aimed at putting pressure on Metro for more community outreach in its projects.
The coalition says outreach has been slim for a project slated to begin construction late this month, calling for its developers and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who owns the land, to listen to their concerns.
The development, named the Santa Cecilia Apartments, is a four-story, 80-unit affordable housing situated at the southwest corner of First Street and Boyle Avenue. Developer McCormack Baron Salazar has conducted only three community meetings for the development since 2009.
“Metro hasn’t taken responsibility for community outreach for many years,” stated Boyle Heights resident Fanny Ortiz in a press release. “Metro is telling us it’s up to the developer once they have a contract. But, we believe Metro needs to play a bigger role in ensuring these projects are successful for Boyle Heights residents.”
The rally follows widespread controversy for another plan to dramatically transform Mariachi Plaza, halted after community residents shared strong opposition. That plan included an 8-story building, six levels of parking, medical offices and retail space on Metro-owned land and private land.
But while Metro admits their misstep in lack of community outreach, and has agreed to start over in the development process of Mariachi Plaza, it says the First and Boyle-Santa Cecilia Apartments has had all the approvals needed to break ground, including entitlements, financing and building permits.
“You have to respect the process that existed and those who followed the rules,” says Vivian Rescalvo, Metro’s director of countywide planning, real estate/joint development.
Metro says even though this development is moving forward, the agency will help facilitate a dialogue between the developer and the community about what goes into the ground floor, which totals more than 3,550 square feet.
More involvement is exactly what Eric Aguayo, a student at YouthBuild Boyle Heights (CALO) Charter School is demanding. “[Metro] should not be doing things behind our back. We should come together as a community and create change.”
That request was made loud and clear at a January meeting where more than 200 people gathered to share their concerns and wishes for the proposed $49 million development at Mariachi Plaza.
But Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer for Countywide Planning Jenna Hornstock says the agency is modifying its process in order to ensure more community involvement going forward.
“There should have been more updates,” says Hornstock about the recently halted Mariachi Plaza proposal. “It’s not how we’re doing business anymore.”
Hornstock says Metro has now created a design review advisory committee, built a comprehensive stakeholder database, a project web page, developed design guidelines, and is now sending e-blasts regarding projects and meetings.
Any development planning at Mariachi Plaza has been put on hold for at least six months, while Metro concentrates on sites at First and Soto Streets and Soto and Cesar Chavez.
Those sites are both slated for affordable housing and headed for review by the Metro Board later this month. Metro has also agreed to enter into a six-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with the sites’ developers Abode Communities and ELACC/Bridge Housing for the Cesar Chavez/Soto and 1st/Soto sites, respectively.
The agreement will focus solely on the implementation of outreach and community input. In addition to large community meetings, Metro says the developers will hold small focus groups.
Hornstock says they will then take what is learned and apply that to future Mariachi Plaza planning. She says Metro is also looking into hiring an urban design/architecture firm who will take the lead in design review of all three sites, including Mariachi Plaza, and involve the community in the design process.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 2 p.m.
Planning and Programming Committee ”“ Any recommendations to move forward with phased ENAs for the 1st-Soto and Cesar Chavez-Soto joint development projects will be presented to the Committee. Metro Board Room, 3rd Floor, One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Thursday, March 26, 2015, 9 a.m.
Metro Board of Directors ”“ To ask Board to consider entering into phased ENAs for 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto sites, if supported by the community. Metro Board Room, 3rd Floor, One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012