El Sereno Group Seeks to Renovate Caltrans Bungalows

Group recently launched online fundraising campaign.

By Ileana Najarro, EGP Staff Writer

For more than 40 years, eight bungalows located behind a community arts space in El Sereno have stood abandoned by Caltrans, the owner of the property.

Over time, neglect of the bungalows has fostered illegal activities, including drug use and gang violence, endangering the neighborhood, says El Sereno native Iris De Anda.

Now, the El Sereno Bungalow Collective, an offshoot of the adjacent Eastside Café, a volunteer organization hoping to become a co-op, plans to remedy the situation by raising funds to convert the empty buildings into a larger arts space for local residents.

“We have to reclaim them as if they were ours already,” Angela Flores, a spokesperson for the collective told EGP.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Colectiva en El Sereno Desea Renovar Casitas Abandonadas

The collective has spent the last six years organizing volunteers and trying to raise the funds needed to renovate the bungalows. But before the group could apply for grant funding, they had to first get permission from Caltrans, said Hector Flores, a collective member. To prepare for those conversations, the group, assisted by students from California State University, Los Angeles, spent three years gathering feedback from the local community. According to Flores, they presented over 500 surveys to Caltrans, which he said show that residents overwhelmingly want a safe after-school space for their children.

Eastside Café hopes to renovate the 8 abandoned bungalows behind it, owned by Caltrans, into a community arts space. EGP photo by Ileana Najarro

Flores told EGP that Caltrans ultimately supported the group’s efforts on two conditions: “it’s not used as a residential space and [Caltrans] could not provide any money.”

However, on the heels of a report published Monday by the California Bureau of State Audits on the status of the Caltrans properties running along the proposed extension routes, the agency was unwilling to confirm their support for the bungalow project.

According to the report, Caltrans “passed up roughly $22 million in rental income for these properties between July 1, 2007, and December 31, 2011, because of poor management.”

“Caltrans understands that its management of the ‘710 properties’ has been poor and unacceptable,” Matt Rocco, a Caltrans spokesperson wrote to EGP in an email. “To improve our stewardship of these properties, Caltrans is taking immediate corrective actions in line with the State Auditor’s report.”

The collective has received an $8,500 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation last year. They are required to raise a matching amount. If raised, the money will be used for historic reports on the bungalows, architectural blueprints, and future community planning sessions, the group said.

The matching portion of the grant is the incentive behind a fundraising campaign launched Monday on Indiegogo, an online fundraising site, collective member Joe Parker told EGP.

“One of the strengths of the Zapatista movement, which we’re known by, is to use the Internet to grow support, large networks of support,” Parker said.

The group hopes to raise $10,000 by Sept. 20 through local, national and international donations made online — making the bungalow project one of the largest endeavors undertaken by the Eastside Café, Angela said, which currently does not have nonprofit status.

This boarded up house on Alomita St. is currently in discussion between Caltrans and Eastside Café for community use. EGP photo by Ileana Najarro

To increase their chances of meeting the goal, Angela coordinated a short film for the group’s campaign page in which the collective explains its mission and provides background on the Eastside Café. As explained in the film, the group hopes to convert each bungalow into community art spaces, which could include a film production room, a multi-purpose performing arts room and a kitchen to teach sustainable cooking classes.

The group’s main concern, however, continues to be with the proposed 710 freeway extension project.

According to Hector and Parker, a Caltrans representative a few months ago told them that the transportation agency hopes to complete the environmental impact report on the underground alternative route in a year or so: the results of the EIR could impact any future development of the bungalows, they said. Hector, however, added that “Caltrans must adhere to the Roberti Bill” which states that if the property isn’t used as initially intended, then it must be sold at a reduced price. The bill may not apply, however, should the freeway project see completion, and Caltrans uses the bungalows for something else.

Caltrans tried to demolish the bungalows in the 1990s with support from some local residents, according to Parker. However, a greater majority of locals filed for a court injunction to keep the bungalows standing, he said.

De Anda, also a collective member, said that the community in El Sereno, including around the Eastside Café, does not approve of any extension project that threatens the bungalows’ future.

“Since it’s a low-income community, I think they think it’s easy to try and squeeze it by us, but there are a lot of residents that are very vigilant and have a lot of love for this place, and they’re the ones that stand up in making sure that the 710 doesn’t proceed,” De Anda said.

Angela says Caltrans’ has a responsibility to support the collective’s efforts: “They have to consider [a renovation] because they’ve left it abandoned for so many years and they need to listen to the community.”

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August 23, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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