Will Metro’s TOD Projects Gentrify Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles?

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Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

In December of 2013, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) issued separate Request for Proposals (RFPs) for three Metro-owned sites in Boyle Heights. Since then, Metro has announced several transit-oriented development projects by the Gold Line stations. Specifically, these are the Mariachi Plaza Commercial Development, The Santa Cecilia Apartments, Las Mariposas Apartments, Los Tulipanes Apartments, and the Chavez/Soto Mixed-Use project, all of which are near the Mariachi Plaza or Soto stations. This means new space for retail, medical offices, affordable housing, and parking in the area.

The Mariachi Plaza Commercial Development is one of the projects that Metro hopes will attract more riders to the area. This proposed $49-million project will consist of two structures:

  • A three-story building with a gym, restaurants, and shops;
  • An eight-story building with six levels of parking and two floors of medical offices

The proposed development would result in the demolition of several small businesses, such as J&F Ice Cream, Santa Cecilia Restaurant, and Libros Schimbros. Furthermore, it already presents a dramatic transformation of Mariachi Plaza, a public space that has served as a gathering place for musicians since the 1930s and is considered a cultural icon by many of its residents.

In response, the community of Boyle Heights has expressed their discontent and disappointment at the lack of inclusion in the planning process. They have vocalized that as proposed, this project is not taking account their needs, culture, and current socio-economic situation. Many residents fear that said construction will only lead to higher rents and consequently displace those who cannot afford to pay said increases. In fact, some have already stated that rents are going up in Boyle Heights.

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Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, California

In addition to holding community meetings, Metro could also do the following to gain the trust of local residents and come to a compromise that would benefit all of those involved:

  • Form partnerships with local community-based organizations to participate in the planning process of the proposed project and form a community advisory board.
  • Schedule charrettes meetings in which municipal officials, developers, community-based organizations, and residents participate and partake in the creation of joint solutions to the proposed project.
  • A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to address any remaining differences between the residents and developer.

Back in February [2015], Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning, Jenna Hornstock, acknowledged at a community meeting that the agency had made a mistake by excluding the residents of Boyle Heights from the planning process. She stated that it would start over, request new development proposals, and make the process more inclusive. However, it is uncertain if Metro will achieve this when there is great discontent among the residents and concerned that their neighborhood may become gentrified.

Are there any indicators that gentrification is taking place in your neighborhood? How has your community’s capacity to organize benefited the sustainable development of your community? 

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in July 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Is Inglewood, California the Next City to Have a New NFL Stadium?

 

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Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California

The last time Los Angeles had a football team was in 1994, when both the Raiders and Rams called it their home. Since then, proposals for a team have come and gone. One of the key factors for alluring a professional team is the venue. Recent proposals for the construction of a new stadium have included the locations of downtown Los Angeles, Inglewood, and Carson. At the time of this writing, the proposed stadium project, Farmers Field, in downtown Los Angeles will not be moving forward, thereby making the proposed projects in Inglewood and Carson the most promising options.

Dubbed as the “City Champions Revitalization Project,” Stan Kroenke’s proposed Inglewood complex includes an 80,000-seat stadium with 9,000 parking spaces. After purchasing the sixty acres last year, Kroenke envisions the project to be “the world’s most interactive and integrated football stadium, a futuristic, $1.86-billion, privately financed venue proposed for the Hollywood Park site in Inglewood.” What distinguishes this project from the rest is its place in a heavy retail-entertainment redevelopment that would include an additional performance venue along with retail, office, hotel, and residential space. Thus far, Kroenke’s proposed project seems very promising, as it already has a committed team (St. Louis Rams), it has managed to bypass a lengthy environmental review and possible legal challenges, and it was approved back in February 2015 by the Inglewood City Council with a 5-0 vote. If the proposed project continues as planned, it is anticipated that the stadium will be completed by 2018.

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Inglewood Forum in Inglewood, California

Design features of the proposed stadium include:

  • A huge, snail-shaped clear roof that can be used “to create the world’s biggest billboard,” visible to the millions of travelers flying in and out of Los Angeles annually.
  • Built to accommodate two teams, the stadium will have two home locker rooms, identical sets of office space, and two owners’ suites.
  • Four-sided design allows the venue to be accessed by the public from 360 degrees.
  • Built below ground level to comply with height restrictions imposed on buildings within LAX flight path.

Supporters of the project argue that this will generate more than 10,000 jobs and new tax revenue to the city. However, there is concern from union labor leaders who are worried that developers will not keep their promise of bringing “good jobs” to Inglewood, as the latter has so far refused to officially commit to hiring union workers to build and operate the stadium. In response, unions have been quietly gathering petition signatures in Inglewood that could lead to a local vote on the plan, which could potentially override the City Council’s vote and delay the construction of the proposed project. Alternatively, this point of contention may be addressed through the creation of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which will serve as a tool that would contribute to the improvement of the sustainable economic development of Inglewood.

What types of public-private partnerships arrangements and/or agreements have proved beneficial to the sustainable economic development of your community? How has the public sector attracted private investment in your community? 

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in July 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Re:Code LA Provides the First Update to Los Angeles’ Zoning Code in Sixty Years

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Los Angeles, California

The last time the City of Los Angeles updated its zoning code was in 1946, when it was first adopted. This was more than sixty years ago. Since then, the zoning code has grown from an 84-page pamphlet to a book that is more than 600 pages long. The amendments, conditions, and overlays that have been added throughout the years have made it a burdensome, unclear, and complicated document for the present day development of the City of Los Angeles.

But what is a zoning code? Put simply, a zoning code is a set of rules that regulate what can be built, where it can be built, and how it is used. For example, it specifies how tall a building can be, what industries are allowed in what areas of a community, and how much parking is required in an apartment complex.

Aware of this reality, the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning has undertaken the cumbersome task of updating the zoning code. Known as re:code LA, the project seeks to do a comprehensive revision of a code that is considered to be inadequate to fulfill a 21st century vision of a better Los Angeles for all of residents. The re:code LA project began in 2013 and it is expected to be completed in 2017. It is estimated that the five year project will cost $5 million. Some of the features of re:code LA include:

  • Dynamic Web-Based Zoning Code: A clear and predictable Code that better meets the needs of the City of Los Angeles, while also providing an interactive online experience.
  • Guide to Zoning: An easy to read guide to the new Code’s land use and development regulations.
  • Unified Downtown Development Code: New zoning tools customized for Downtown Los Angeles.
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Los Angeles, California

The revision to the City of Los Angeles code is necessary in a city that is 469 square miles and is inhabited by 3.8 million people, making it the second largest city in the United States. This metropolis is comprised of a variety of neighborhood and landscape types that include dense urban areas, such as Koreatown, and suburban single family neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley.

Re-code LA seeks to achieve the following goals with this update to the zoning code:

  • It will be easier to understand by everyone;
  • It will be more business friendly;
  • Streamline and in some cases speed up the review process; and
  • Consolidate as many uses as possible into more comprehensive categories of use.

However, the current update to the zoning code should not be confused with a change of policy. For example, if you work in a commercial area, re:code LA will not change it into a residential area. To achieve a change in zoning policy in the City of Los Angeles, one would have to undergo a separate process, which begins by filing a zone change application.

What measures is your local government taking to address current and future development in your community? What zoning code regulations have you found beneficial in the sustainable development of your community? 

Credits: Image #1 linked to source; Image #2 by Audelia Maciel.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in June 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Los Angeles’ Health Atlas Spurs General Plans’ Adoption of Health & Wellness

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Harbor City, Los Angeles, California

In June of 2013, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa released the Health Atlas for the City of Los Angeles. The document was the first step to better understanding the areas within the City of Los Angeles that are currently burdened with the most adverse health-related conditions. The Health Atlas analyses how demographic conditions, social and economic factors, the physical environment, access to health care, and health behavior play a role in the health of city residents. Specifically, more than 100 health indicators were studied within Los Angeles neighborhoods. Such indicators include asthma, coronary disease and obesity. Some of the key findings in the Health Atlas include:

  • Geographic location is a very important indicator that a resident born and raised in Brentwood can expect to live 12 years longer than a resident who is born and raised in Watts.
  • Over 90% of adults in several Westside neighborhoods have a high school diploma, compared to less than 50% in neighborhoods such as Boyle Heights, South Los Angeles, and ArletaPacoima.
  • Over 30% of children in South Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, Boyle Heights, and in neighborhoods near the Port of Los Angeles (i.e. Harbor City, San Pedro, and Wilmington) are obese, compared to less than 12% of children in Bel Air-Beverly Crest and Brentwood-Pacific Palisades.
  • Residents in Westlake and Southeast Los Angeles have less than half an acre of park space available per 1,000 residents.

In response to the Health Atlas, in March of 2015, Los Angeles lawmakers adopted the Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles (The Plan). The approval from Council marks the end of a two year planning process that involved community advocates, government leaders, public health experts and thousands of Angelenos. This new element—known as the “Health and Wellness Element”—will be incorporated into the City of Los Angeles General Plan, which is a document that serves as a blueprint for the growth and development of a city and is often referred to as the city’s planning constitution.

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Banning Park and Recreation Center in Wilmington, Los Angeles, California

The new health plan is a joint effort between the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning and the California Endowment, with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Plan seeks to elevate health as a priority in the city’s future sustainable growth and development. It includes a series of policies and programs that will help guide the city toward a healthier and sustainable future which are not currently addressed by the General Plan. These include:

  • Increasing access to health-promoting goods and services, such as affordable and healthy food, by incentivizing economic development in underserved communities in the city.
  • Ensuring that Angelenos have equitable access to parks and open space.
  • Encouraging innovative solutions to improve food access, including the promotion of urban agriculture and increasing the number of healthy food vendors.

However, it should be noted that no additional money has been allocated to achieve the goals established in The Plan. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the various goals included in The Plan will be financed.

Is your community considered to be burdened with adverse health-related conditions? How are local city officials addressing such conditions? 

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in May 2015. H/T The Global Grid

A Closer Look at Why South Los Angeles Did Not Become a Promise Zone

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South Los Angeles, California

Update: On June 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that South Los Angeles would be designated as a Promise Zone during the third round designations. This designation will bring greater access to federal grants and other resources to members of the community. It also makes Los Angeles, the only city in the nation with two designation within its boundaries.

When one hears or reads the words, “South Los Angeles,” more often than not, a negative stigma is associated with this geographical location. Drugs, high crime rates, and poverty almost immediately come to mind. While there is truth to this, we often fail to question why the area is affected by these negative vices.

To formulate an answer, one would have to look back at the history of South Los Angeles, one that includes segregation, redlining, riots, a crack epidemic, and racially restrictive housing covenants. These events, as well as different policies that were put in place, help explain the existent economic situation of the community and its current social fabric.

Renewed hope was given in 2013, when President Obama announced the Promise Zones initiativePromise Zones seek to partner with high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities to create jobs, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, leverage private investment, and reduce violent crime.

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South Los Angeles, California

On January 9th 2014, President Obama announced the first round of designates. Los Angeles, as one of the chosen cities, was subsequently awarded $36 million in federal grants. These social and education services were to stretch across the neighborhoods of Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Pico Union, and Westlake.

Given its need, why did South Los Angeles not become a Promise Zone? The following criteria may be key in the exclusion of this community:

  • Promise Zones boundaries must encompass a population of at least 10,000 but no more than 200,000 residents;
  • An existing boundary of a current Promise Neighborhoods or Choice Neighborhoods Implementation grant or Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant must be encompassed within the proposed Promise Zone boundaries, and;
  • A current Choice Neighborhoods or Promise Neighborhoods implementation grant, or a Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant, must be active within the Promise Zone, and the grantees/partners for the Promise Zone application.

As written, this criteria automatically disqualified South Los Angeles from the first round (South Los Angeles did not apply), and may have played a role in not being selected during the second round. Third round designations will be announced later this year.

Today, South Los Angeles has experienced a shift in demographics. It transitioned from a predominantly African-American community to one inhabited primarily by Latinos. However, the same cannot be said about the neighborhood’s poverty and high unemployment rates, which continue to exist and negatively impact community members. The perpetual poverty endured by the residents of South Los Angeles is a result of the neglect from both public and private sectors that have failed to implement policies and projects that would promote the sustainable economic development of the community.

Is your community considered to be one in need? What policies and/or initiatives have you found beneficial to sustainable economic development your community?

Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Audelia Maciel. Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in May 2015. H/T The Global Grid

Restoring Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park Into an Ecological Oasis

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Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, Harbor City, Los Angeles, California

Growing up in the housing projects of Harbor City, California, several of my childhood memories take place in the Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park—or as my parents would call it el parque de los patos (the park of the ducks). This 231 acre park was the ideal setting for the many morning walks with my father, riding my bicycle and playing on the swings with my sister, feeding the ducks with my mother, and countless birthday celebrations that would bring family members and friends together. It was also one of the very few spaces that existed near my home where I could actually freely be a child. Unfortunately playing outside of my home was often difficult; as it was common to see drugs, gangs, and violence there. This park offered everything I needed: green space in which to play, walking and cycling trails, and a beautiful lake where I could watch and feed the ducks.

However, the last time that I visited this park—about three years ago—it had greatly deteriorated. The grass was no longer green and the little water that still remained in the lake had lost its once crystalline appearance. It seemed that this one apparent ecological oasis had been forgotten and hidden in weeds, trash, and contaminated water.

Today, this park located in between Harbor College, a golf course, and a refinery is closed. It is being restored thanks to a $111-million Lake Machado ecosystem rehabilitation project. Funding for the park’s rehabilitation is possible through Proposition O, a park bond initiative that was approved by voters back in November of 2004. So why did it take so long to begin the restoration process? Some contribute the delay to municipal neglect in a community that has a predominantly low-income, non-voting constituency.

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Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park, Harbor City, Los Angeles, California

The rehabilitation process will consist of the following procedures:

  • Dredging six zones separately to remove the toxic sediments;
  • Increasing the depth of the lake by a few feet to make it harder for non-native species to multiply;
  • Capping the bottom of the lake with an AquaBlock bio-layer and an oxygenation system to improve the circulation of water;
  • Removing invasive plants and vegetation and replacing them with native species; and
  • Plans for park landscaping and irrigation.

Work on this park is expected to end in spring 2017 and most areas will remain closed until its completion. However, the closure is worthwhile when one considers that these kinds of sustainable restorations promote the physical and psychological well-being of oneself through the built environment, especially in communities like Harbor City and Wilmington that currently lack green space.

Is there an open space in your community that is in need of rehabilitation or currently undergoing rehabilitation? How are local authorities responding to make sure that such spaces do not become deteriorated and neglected?

Credits: Images by Marisol Maciel-Cervantes.  Data linked to sources.

*This blog was originally posted in April 2015. H/T The Global Grid