Nearly 100 residents from Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, Ramona Gardens, and other surrounding communities gathered last week at the Hazard Park gymnasium to voice their concerns about the plan to expand USC’s Health Sciences Campus.
The project includes the construction of a 200 bed hotel with retail and dining facilities, as well as a 450-bed student housing building located on the northeast corner of San Pablo and Alcazar Streets. The 25-year master plan also includes the construction of the 114,000 sq. ft. Norris Healthcare Consultation Center behind Keck Hospital.
Major concerns voiced by attendees included the loss of park space, relocation of the handball courts, environmental issues, jobs, street parking and the loss of identity and historical significance of the park to community members.
The comments centered around the Norfolk St. extension portion of the project, which will take park land in order to connect Norfolk with Soto St. That portion of the park includes the handball courts.
Life-long, Boyle Heights resident Larry Martinez, 53, says the plan will take away from, and not add to the community. “It won’t improve the neighborhood. They want to tear down a park that has served this community for years and years,” said Martinez.
Albert Hernandez, 48, agrees with Martinez. Hernandez grew up playing at Hazard Park in the ‘60s and does not want to see the park altered. He doesn’t believe that the current plan represents what will ultimately happen.
“It’s too narrow,” Hernandez says. “USC will want to make it wider which means they will take more park land. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”
In order to address community concerns, USC officials set up workshop-style stations so that residents can ask questions about specific issues.
USC’s Associate Senior Vice President for Civic Engagement Craig Keys, said he welcomed the community feedback and wanted residents to pose tough questions to USC officials.
“We want to get a consensus from the community to help us sort out all of the problems,” said Keys. Keys went on to say projects of this magnitude are very complex and community involvement is essential for its successful completion.
In response to the concern about tearing down handball courts, Keys said USC plans to build new courts before the old courts are destroyed, so that there would be no interruption for residents.
He also said USC is simply carrying-out existing city plans to extend Norfolk St.
Other issues at the forefront of discussion included environmental concerns and the creation of jobs.
Martinez pointed-out that a “100-year-old tree” which stands directly in the path of the proposed extension and that cutting it down “would be a shame.” A natural flow of water also exists near Soto St. which creates a natural wildlife habitat on the southeast end of the park.
Laurie Stone, USC’s Executive Director, Land Use and Planning, said the school plans to create a culvert beneath the street extension to ensure the continued flow of the stream.
Keys said, “I don’t have numbers for job projections yet,” as the project is in too early a stage to project estimates, but that USC plans to create job opportunities for the community.
Some residents are calling for a compromise in order to best realize the project.
Community activist and longtime Hazard Park area resident, Ray Rios, opposes the project but also knows it will take concessions on both sides to best deal with the issues.
“I think equal compensation is best. They’re taking park land, let them compensate the community in a beneficial way to balance-out the taking of the land,” said Rios.
Along with the planned construction, USC also plans to provide better access from the campus to residential neighborhoods and parks. This includes safer pedestrian walkways and sidewalks, wider streets and walking paths from Hazard Park through the campus to Lincoln Park.