Still vacant lots cleared for the construction of the Eastside Gold Line Extension, a light rail line opened three years ago, were the main topic of a town hall meeting held last week in Boyle Heights.
The “Take Back Boyle Heights” meeting was put on by the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, ELACC, which has undertaken a campaign to influence developments in the low-income and working class community.
During the town hall, several residents served as panelists, sitting in seats where photos of some of Metro’s key decision makers, like County Supervisor Gloria Molina, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Metro CEO Art Leahy, had been taped to the chairs.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Comunidad Quiere Influir el Uso de Terrenos Propiedad de Metro en Boyle Heights 
Blanca Espinoza was one of the first to speak: “The plots belong to them but we are the ones who live here,” she responded when asked why Metro should form a community advisory committee.
Panelists, responding to questions, emphasized the need for a grocery store, affordable housing, and construction jobs for residents of Boyle Heights. They also said greater participation from the community is needed if they hope to achieve these development goals.
“We cannot be without a grocery store,” panelist Delia Castillo said.
Eight plots located primarily along First Street in Boyle Heights are slated for development, and all but two already have developers lined up, according to Reina Fukuda, ELACC community organizer.
Earlier this summer, one of the development was singled out for opposition: a residential and commercial building planned for a two-acre plot of land owned by Metro, located near King Taco on the southeast corner of Soto and Cesar E. Chavez.
In June, residents affiliated with ELACC protested the project. They said they want a grocery store and affordable housing, not another national retail pharmacy and condominiums. A Walgreens had just opened a few blocks away on Cesar Chavez Avenue. It replaced Big Buy, the only grocery store in that part of Boyle Heights.
In a letter to Metro Board of Directors Chairman Michael Antonovich, ELACC and others said the proposed development would be a wasted use of scarce vacant land; threatens two long-time family owned pharmacies; promotes car use with its excessive surface parking, and lacks a feasible affordable housing component.
They also said the development would disrupt pedestrian traffic and transit use along the Cesar Chavez corridor. If approved, the community would be denied the opportunity to restore lost assets, like a supermarket and affordable housing, they wrote.
ELACC Associate Director Isela Gracian and the leadership of several organizations, including Legacy LA, InnerCity Struggle, Union de Vecinos, and a staff attorney for Public Counsel, signed the letter. Developer JSM Capital, LLC could not be reached for comment.
During the town hall meeting, a representative from developer “A Community of Friends” presented preliminary plan for a mixed-use development at 1st Street and Lorena. The development is still in the very early planning stages, the audience was told.
For the most part, residents liked the presentation, though they did tell the developer that they want current Boyle Heights residents to have first option on the housing to be built. The developer explained that the proposed facility is being built to house people who are homeless, and that fair housing laws require housing be made available to all qualified applicants.
Audience members Juaquin Castellanos and Rosalie Gurrola expressed concerns that A Community of Friends’s proposal could create a homeless problem where previously there wasn’t one.
“We know that Community of Friends has a place next to the Police Station and it has [caused] many problems,” Castellanos told EGP in an email following the meeting.
“We use to have meetings at the place for years,” but we were kicked out because we made a lot of complaints to them about their tenants, he said, adding that he and others intend to oppose the project should planning go forward.
“ELACC is supporting it because Maria Cabildo is part of the Board of Directors of ACOF, and Jose Huizar is part of the MTA board and a past board member of ELACC. A lot of personal interest in it.”
But other residents just wanted to know how they could apply for one of the units at the proposed development.
The desire for a grocery store was repeatedly emphasized. Castellanos said he would like to see a Fresh & Easy or Vallarta grocery store open in this part of Boyle Heights. Other residents said they want another Big Buy, or a Food-4-Less.
Boyle Heights business representative Christina Ramos said she disagreed with some of ELACC and the resident’s demands, but agreed that a Residents’ Advisory Council could prove beneficial in voicing the community’s interests.
The plots of land cleared for the Gold Line extension displaced 250 families, and the lots have been vacant for more than six years, according to ELACC, which called Metro’s development practices “irresponsible.”
The purpose of the town hall meeting was to create a dialogue between residents and developers, according to organizers. ELACC distributed two-part pledge cards at the meeting. One side of the card was a “letter” with a space for a signature, asking the Metro Board to stop the contract for the Soto/Chavez development, renew and reissue the Request for Proposal for that site with new community driven development guidelines, and to establish a resident advisory committee made up of low-income and transit dependent residents. The other side was a pledge to “support community demands.”
The other Metro-owned plots to be developed in Boyle Heights are located at: 1st & Lorena streets; 1st & Soto streets (southwest & southeast corners); 1st Street & Boyle Avenue, (northeast corner); Soto & Cesar E. Chavez (southeast corner, near King Taco); 1st & Boyle Avenue (southwest corner); and Mathews & Ficket (on Cesar Chavez Blvd).
A march and rally “to force the MTA to create community-driven development” is being planned for Sept. 13. For more information visit www.la-urban-congress.org