Neighborhood Council Fails to Act on Wyvernwood, Amid Intimidation Claims
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
A group, whose purpose is to make government more accountable to residents and increase civic participation, has declined to take a stand on a mammoth development project in the eastside community of Boyle Heights.
Citing threats and contentious divisions in the community on the issue, the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) last week decided to indefinitely postpone an advisory vote on the $2 billion Wyvernwood redevelopment that proposes over the next 10 years to replace housing now at the site with a high-rise mixed-used community surrounded by spacious green lawns.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Concejo Vecinal No Votará Acerca de Proyecto de Wyvernwood
The redevelopment plan has pitted residents and members of the surrounding community, as well as a number of outside groups against one another, with each side claiming their position will make for a better quality of life in Boyle Heights. Emotions are running high, as are the accusations and claims of ulterior motives and conflicts of interest.
The privately owned 70-acre community currently has less than half the number of housing units being proposed. Local and national groups, including the LA Conservancy, the local authority on historic preservation, are encouraging Wyvernwood’s preservation.
Supporters of The New Wyvernwood, as the redevelopment project is being called, include several non-profit and labor groups that have expressed support for the owner’s, Fifteen Group’s, Boyle Heights Jobs Collaborative, which calls for hiring local residents to work on the project. Other backers of the development say they want the modern facilities and amenities proposed in the development plans.
Opponents contend the Fifteen Group’s proposal will destroy the community by bringing too much density, and eliminating valuable green space and affordable housing that opponents say are in short supply.
One of the primary functions of Los Angeles’ neighborhood council system is to review land use issues in their jurisdictions, and to make recommendations on behalf of local stakeholders.
BHNC President Edward Padilla told EGP however, that board members thought it would be difficult for the neighborhood council to accurately reflect the feelings of the community at large on the Wyvernwood issue, so they don’t plan to vote on the matter.
Padilla also noted that members of the council have reported “verbal attacks” by both supporters and opponents of the project. Board members were instructed to report the harassment to Empower LA, which oversees neighborhood councils, he said.
“I personally have received numerous calls and emails on this… at least one board member believes damage was caused to their personal vehicle in relation to this. This is still under investigation, however,” he said.
Padilla said the neighborhood council is not shirking its duties by not taking a position on the biggest development in the area in years, and still serves as a valuable link between the city and residents. He said the neighborhood council is promoting a “more vibrant community” through its relationship with city officials.
“The BHNC is providing an open line of communication for the community with government by having regular meetings where important issues like this can be heard, and feedback coming from these meetings goes directly to the respective government agencies that need to know the community’s position,” Padilla said.
He also noted that City Councilman José Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, has already held a forum where members of the community were able to express their views.
“The BHNC taking a position vote on this now would have essentially been advisory, but the outcome of a vote from BHNC would not necessarily make for a ‘more vibrant’ community given that the community itself is so divided on the issue,” Padilla said.
He encouraged local stakeholders to submit their comments directly to Councilman Huizar, who has long expressed opposition to the project.
Over 200 signatures were submitted on the Internet site Change.org in favor of “saving” Wyvernwood from the proposed development that will take a decade to complete.
On the other hand, many Boyle Heights residents have expressed “how important the proposed project is to improving decaying properties while creating jobs,” Padilla said.
El Comité de la Esperanza, and groups like the LA Conservancy and the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, opposes the redevelopment project, and says they are happy that the neighborhood council will for now not be taking a stand on the project
Leonardo Lopez, El Comité president, called the council’s decision not to vote a victory. He said he was not opposed to them taking a vote at their last meeting, but did not press the issue since the group had previously voted to support the project. That vote was nullified on the grounds that proper notification had not been provided to the public.
Both sides have expressed concerns over the credibility of the vote, should the council take one in the future.
“Fifteen 15 Group’s Steven Fink said since several board member’s have been accused of having conflicts of interest on the issue, taking a vote (with those accused) would discredit the BHNC in the community,” Padilla said.
The BHNC does not have jurisdiction, nor is it privy to conflicts of interest, Padilla said. Board members are supposed to recuse themselves from votes where they have a conflict.
Only one BHNC board member recused himself from the Wyvernwood issue after Fifteen Group “sent a letter to his employer which either threatened or initiated legal action for events unrelated to any BHNC work,” Padilla told EGP.
Randy James, a spokesperson for Fifteen Group, told EGP the Jan. 31 letter in question made no reference to the BHNC board member employed by the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, instead it accused the organization of spreading “inflammatory” and “untrue” information regarding the development.
BHNC Secretary Margarita Amador has also been accused of being an employee of Fifteen Group, but according to an email to EGP from James, “She has had no financial connection, or any other formal connection, to Fifteen Group since leaving the company in early February of 2011.”
Former BHNC member and Fifteen Group employee Courtney Jacobs relocated out of state last year and is no longer a member of the neighborhood council, James told EGP about another of the persons accused of a having a conflict of interest.
“There are no employees of Fifteen Group on the BHNC,” James said.
It was the BHNC decision not to hold a second vote on the Wyvernwood project, James said.
For updates visit BHNC.net
Empower LA and Margarita Amador did not respond to requests for interviews by time of publication.
April 4, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.