By Tiffany Kinh Lam

Community Contributor

An ongoing discussion between city officials and Boyle Heights residents regarding the future development of a vacant lot on the Southeast corner of 1st Street and Boyle Avenue culminated on Mar. 16. A third and final community workshop was hosted that evening by Council District 14 and the City of Los Angeles’ Economic and Workforce Development Department.

Tables were set up in the Community Room of the Boyle Heights City Hall for residents to gather and discuss ideas in a workshop format. The goal of the evening was to further clarify the community’s needs and suggestions gathered from the previous two workshops, on Feb. 2, and Feb. 16.

Representatives for Councilmember José Huízar and Mayor Eric Garcetti were present to answer questions and facilitate discussion. Some community members who attended all three workshops, however, had concerns about the process.

Armando Vélez, a lifelong resident of Boyle Heights, said he only learned about the workshop when a reminder email was sent the day of the meeting and that he did not see any flyers about the event elsewhere.

“I had to rush here because I wasn’t informed earlier,” said Vélez.

Next Steps

It’s still unknown if the future of the 1st and Boyle lot will reflect the needs expressed by Boyle Heights community members. The process began in 2009 when Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) purchased the parcel across the street from Mariachi Plaza, where a gas station and a laundromat previously stood.

Courtesy of Council District 14 and the Economic and Workforce Development Department.

When the state dissolved all CRAs in 2012, the local agency was required to sell its properties. In late 2014 the city of Los Angeles entered into an option agreement on ten parcels, including the 1st and Boyle lot. Under the agreement, the lot can be sold at fair market value to a third party developer who will follow guidelines outlined in a Request for Proposal (RFP).

The community’s needs and suggestions –which include housing, retail, parking, a public park, and/or a community center– are to be included in the RFP, for which there is a tight deadline.

“The goal by January 2017 is to have finalized the RFP process and have selected a developer,” said Oscar Ixco, a project manager and legislative analyst for the City of Los Angeles. “Essentially, a fairly defined plan.”

According to Rocío Hernández, Boyle Heights Area Director for Councilmember Huízar’s office, a review panel made up of city officials and community residents will select the developer.

Affordable’ or Market Rate Housing?

Just like in the two previous workshops, many attendees at the March workshop favored housing with some level of affordability, but there was also interest in market rate homes and also in a range of affordability levels. The RFP will include the community recommendation that affordable housing proposals should include housing for extremely low, very low, low and moderate-income households.

A new addition to the RFP included the desire to maintain affordable housing into the future following state and federal guidelines for affordable housing. This means that a housing project on 1st and Boyle would remain affordable for at least 55 years.

Discussion remains on the estimated number of units that could be built on the lot, approximately between 25 and 50 depending on the number of bedrooms per unit.

Possible Retail

Regarding retail, two common themes among workshop discussions were that the business be locally owned and service-oriented, such as a replacement laundromat or a market.

One workshop attendee who works at a local insurance broker suggested she would like to see a grocery store that specializes in healthy and fresh foods and produce. “Let’s have a Sprouts,” she said. “People can go in and out for groceries or lunch and it would be a healthy option in Boyle Heights.”

The type of retail that could be built on the lot will be affected by the parking requirement. If parking is provided on the ground level, it will affect the depth of the retail spaces on 1st Street.

The Business of Parking on 1st Street

Many attendees were vocal about the need for public parking in the area, and they said the parking should be relatively inexpensive. Some workshop attendees expressed interest in public parking in addition to the parking that is required by the development on the lot.

Some residents say they would like to see the lot on 1st and Boyle be used for parking. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Carlos Ortez, the owner of Un Solo Sol, a popular Latin American restaurant near the lot, spoke about how the lack of parking has damaged businesses on First Street.

“Customers have talked to me directly about how they have come once but do not plan to come again because of the parking situation,” said Ortez, who said he is concerned about how long his restaurant will continue to stay open if the 1st and Boyle site does not include a plan for public parking as an option.

The city has already said that an underground parking structure at the lot may be prohibitively expensive. According to the Economic and Workforce Development Department of the City of Los Angeles, however, the concern is not necessarily the cost but that the site is relatively small and developers may not have enough space to construct a ramp to go down to the parking.

A Public Park

Adriana Burifica and her husband, Andre, just moved into Boyle Heights as homeowners within the last year. During the workshop, Adriana was vocal about the need for another skate park in Boyle Heights –aside from Hollenbeck Park or Hazard Park– after noticing the number of young skateboarders who skate on Mariachi Plaza or spend time at the nearby skate shop, The Garage Board Shop.

She repeated an idea popular among other workshop attendees, that she would like to see a green space that included a public park.

“We walk around the block and we see a lot of youngsters who skateboard [on Mariachi Plaza], Adriana said. “It would be nice to have a space for them.”

The likelihood of building a park on the vacant lot on 1st and Boyle is slim, as city officials say there is no pre-existing source of city financing for the purchase and development of a public park on or near the site, nor are there city funds to finance park improvements or maintenance if one is built.

Regarding the future of the lot, Andre complained: “There are good intentions to hear what the community has to say but it’s a long process and there will be a lot of people along the line who [still] won’t get heard.”

“Money will always speak louder than community voices,” added Adriana.

Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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