A local city councilman Monday answered questions from constituents during what was billed as a first of its kind social media dialogue.
At the invitation of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar responded to inquiries posted on the popular web-based social media platform Facebook.
For nearly an hour, Huizar replied to a wide range of questions and comments posted on his Facebook page, creating the feeling of a live dialogue.
Several of the 40 or so questions posted focused on issues garnering lots of attention in the northeast L.A. neighborhood: gentrification, education, transportation, safety, homelessness and projects specific to Highland Park.
Irving Grey Angeles asked Huizar: “How can we preserve the Latino culture when money seems to be the deciding factor in every development?”
There’s a need to continue to support more affordable housing and developments for mixed income levels, Huizar replied.
“And the community’s voice must be heard when taking on these projects. I would venture to guess that there [has] been more affordable housing built in CD14 than anywhere else in the city, since I’ve been Councilmember.” Huizar said. “We as a City have to do more to increase affordable housing options … we need to protect rent-controlled units.”
Despite the 19 “Likes” her question generated, Huizar did not respond to Jo Nañez who asked what he is doing about people being displaced in Highland Park.
He also did not respond to questions posted from other areas of his district, such as El Sereno and Eagle Rock. Instead, those constituents were referred to the councilman’s local field office, because according to Huizar spokesman Rick Coca, the session was being held at the invitation of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council.
“It was the first time any Neighborhood Council has done a Facebook Q & A with any elected [official],” Coca explained. “He would absolutely consider an invite from other neighborhood councils to do the same.”
HHPNC President Monica Alcaraz told EGP that the social media exchange was the idea of the neighborhood council’s digital and social media committee which had been tasked with the job of finding new and innovative ways to engage the community and bring local government closer to stakeholders.
Resident Suzanne Smith asked Huizar if it’s possible to a services access center or at least an emergency winter shelter for the homeless in Highland Park.
“After decades of concentrating homeless services in Skid Row, there are very few resources to serve our homeless neighbors in other parts of the City,” answered Huizar. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to find a space that works for temporary shelter before El Nino hits, but we are working on it,” he added.
Gabriela Vazquez wanted to know “How many liquor licenses do we have/have been approved in the past 3 years for York Blvd?”
The councilman said there are approximately 30 licenses at grocery stores, restaurants, bars and small markets along York Boulevard, between Eagle Rock Boulevard and the 110 Freeway.
“In the past three years, my office and the neighborhood council have reviewed about 10 applications and have denied 4,” he said. “In each instance, my office relies heavily on the input from the Highland Park Neighborhood Council and LAPD Vice Units in Northeast LA.”
Veteran Ivan Gutierrez told Huizar he has asked several times for a missing ADA (wheelchair) ramp by York Park to be installed but no one has done anything.
“As a community member I’ve asked you to have it built. As a Combat Veteran I demand you build it. It would pain me to see a fellow veteran struggle if they were bound to a wheelchair,” he said.
Huizar said he has asked the Bureau of Lighting and Department of Water and Power several times to build the ramp. “The issue is there is a gas line at the corner and utility poles that must be relocated, so the design is challenging. Safety is our first concern,” he said. “Believe me- I’m pushing them as hard as I can!”
Not all the posts were questions or criticisms. Several people used the session to post comments cheering his work.
Several people called on the councilman to do more for Highland Park, such as installing street and traffic lights, crosswalks and stop signs, and safety transportation measures for bikes. There was even a call to update textbooks at Franklin High School.
“Did you know that a lot of the books used are from the early 2000’s?” asked Eunisses Hernandez.
Huizar explained textbooks are under the jurisdiction of the local LAUSD board member, Ref Rodriguez, but his office is willing to assist any similar effort if needed.
Huizar told the Facebook community that a new traffic light will soon be installed on York Boulevard and Avenue 63.
Huizar told EGP via email that he regularly communicates with constituents on Facebook and Twitter and views it as his social media office hours. It’s unclear how many people were actually engaged Monday.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” he said. “There were a lot of thoughtful questions and comments, which shows Highland Park residents and stakeholders are very much engaged in their neighborhood’s well being.”
“I look forward to more in the future,” he concluded.