Embracing Change and Progress at Wyvernwood

By Bedelid Guerrero and Miriam Balam

Dating back to 1938, the Wyvernwood housing complex in Boyle Heights is more than ready for a 21st-century upgrade. But as plans to dramatically improve the property soon make their way to the City Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council, project opponents – most of whom are not Wyvernwood residents – are having a field day hurling unfounded accusations and working overtime to try to turn residents from supporters to opponents.

Opponents are using brazen scare tactics, suggesting that residents will be forced out of Wyvernwood, never to return, and that the plan reduces housing options for low-income residents when in reality affordable housing opportunities will be greatly enhanced. They argue that emissions from construction equipment will cause serious health effects, and that open space will be reduced, when in fact neither claim is true. In fact, the Wyvernwood redevelopment will generate fewer pollutants than the recently approved Century Plaza, Century City mall, and Playa Vista developments, and will have ten and a half acres of improved public park space that will be maintained at no cost to the city.

The list of myths goes on. Most of the people fighting against the New Wyvernwood do not live at the property. The East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), one of the groups spearheading the misinformation campaign, is an interesting case in point. According to its own website, in the 18 years since its founding ELACC has built barely half the 660 designated low-income housing units that the New Wyvernwood will deliver on its own – despite the fact that providing affordable housing is a core part of ELACC’s mission. The Los Angeles Conservancy, another organization whose staff and board members do not live at Wyvernwood, argues that buildings on the property can be saved and renovated, when in truth preservation would not address the aging property’s most pressing needs. Even worse, the Conservancy’s approach would force Wyvernwood’s average rent to more than double, effectively displacing the many tenants who can’t afford the increase.

Lost in the onslaught of negativity is the core issue: the tug-of-war between residents aspiring for a better life and some longtime residents and outsiders who are hanging on to a glorified concept of the past.

Since when do you need pre-World War II-era buildings, three-bedroom units with only one bathroom, a dearth of usable open space and a lack of any retail conveniences to sustain a community culture? Will new, more spacious units with air conditioning, playgrounds for our children and additional affordable housing really cause a decline in our quality of life? Of course not. Will increased outdoor lighting, new plumbing, more parking, improved streets and new walking and bike paths make our community less safe and enjoyable? Absolutely not. In fact, these much-needed improvements are the best way to ensure that Wyvernwood and our community culture remain strong for future generations.

Unfortunately, opponent groups are using this project as a battleground for their own narrow issues. Lost in the debate are the aspirations of Wyvernwood’s 6,000-plus residents. While we were learning about the redevelopment project, many of us traveled across town to tour Playa Vista, a relatively new and thriving mixed-use community in West Los Angeles. It shares many of the same community development principles that are at the heart of the New Wyvernwood plan, with beautiful parks, retail areas and affordable housing. Visiting Playa Vista was like looking into the future of Wyvernwood, and left all of us excited. Boyle Heights and our fellow Wyvernwood residents should be able to enjoy the same lifestyle opportunities that residents are enjoying across town.

Some older Wyvernwood residents suggest that the $2 billion investment in our community will create “gentrification” and send all of us away. Actually, the plans as proposed will provide precedent-setting protections for current residents while creating exciting new housing options that allow young professionals who grew up in Boyle Heights to move back to our community. Fortunately, these dissenting voices are a small minority.

The Wyvernwood community is ready to embrace change. We’ve spent years working with the property owner to share our dreams for an improved new Wyvernwood, and to help design the new plan. That’s why such a large majority of our neighbors support this project.

We are confident that the new plans will enrich our community, provide quality housing for people of all incomes, and finally demonstrate that Boyle Heights is as worthy of progress and investment as any other part of Los Angeles. We aspire for a better life for our families, and so do thousands of our neighbors. That’s why we will continue to stand up for ourselves and fight for the New Wyvernwood.

Bedelid Guerrero and Miriam Balam are residents of Wyvernwood Apartments.

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May 2, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

7 Responses to “Embracing Change and Progress at Wyvernwood”

  1. Steven Keylon on May 2nd, 2013 12:55 pm

    As one of those off-site opponents to this project, I take issue with some of the points you are trying to make, and don’t believe our “accusations” are unfounded, and certainly not “brazen.” And yes, we are trying to turn opponents into supporters, isn’t that just what you’re trying to do with this article too?

    I won’t speak to your claims about pollution (which I don’t agree with), nor your criticisms about ELACC (check into Fifteen Groups track record first). But I will speak to your claim that the LA Conservancy’s argument that the property can (and should) be saved and renovated is not sound. Which of the “aging property’s most pressing needs” would not be met by a preservation alternative, with rehabilitation of property, structures and grounds? The preservation alternatives would replace aging plumbing, sewers, wiring etc. They would rehabilitate the acres and acres of shared, open green space. Playgrounds and other community recreational amenities could be provided, offering things like community gardens.

    With preservation incentives like the Mills Act, the owners of Wyvernwood could offset the costs of many of these improvements, and the work could be phased over a decade or more. Saying that rents would more than double, “effectively displacing the many tenants who can’t afford the increase” sounds like one of the “brazen “ scare tactics you are accusing your opponents of. Where is your data coming from, hopefully not the inflated numbers in the EIR?

    While I may not live at Wyvernwood, I have met so many wonderful people who do live at Wyvernwood. I don’t see people “hanging on to a glorified concept of the past.” I see people who feel passionately about belonging to a real community, something which is lacking in most Los Angeles neighborhoods, and something which would be erased if the Fifteen Group plan goes forward. That is what they are fighting for. The Wyvernwood residents that I have gotten to know do want a better life, and to move…

  2. Christian on May 2nd, 2013 12:58 pm

    I wonder how much time the people over at Fifteen Group put into this propaganda.

  3. Steven Keylon on May 2nd, 2013 1:50 pm

    As one of those off-site opponents to this project, I take issue with some of the points you are trying to make, and don’t believe our “accusations” are unfounded, and certainly not “brazen.” And yes, we are trying to turn opponents into supporters, isn’t that just what you’re trying to do with this article too?
    I won’t speak to your claims about pollution (which I don’t agree with), nor your criticisms about ELACC (check into Fifteen Groups track record first). But I will speak to your claim that the LA Conservancy’s argument that the property can (and should) be saved and renovated is not sound. Which of the “aging property’s most pressing needs” would not be met by a preservation alternative, with rehabilitation of property, structures and grounds? The preservation alternatives would replace aging plumbing, sewers, wiring etc. They would rehabilitate the acres and acres of shared, open green space. Playgrounds and other community recreational amenities could be provided, offering things like community gardens.
    With preservation incentives like the Mills Act, the owners of Wyvernwood could offset the costs of many of these improvements, and the work could be phased over a decade or more. Saying that rents would more than double, “effectively displacing the many tenants who can’t afford the increase” sounds like one of the “brazen “ scare tactics you are accusing your opponents of. Where is your data coming from, hopefully not the inflated numbers in the EIR?
    While I may not live at Wyvernwood, I have met so many wonderful people who do live at Wyvernwood. I don’t see people “hanging on to a glorified concept of the past.” I see people who feel passionately about belonging to a real community, something which is lacking in most Los Angeles neighborhoods, and something which would be erased if the Fifteen Group plan goes forward. That is what they are fighting for. The Wyvernwood residents that I have gotten to know do want a better life, and to move into the…

  4. Steven Keylon on May 2nd, 2013 4:50 pm

    The first comment was cut off… trying again.

    While I may not live at Wyvernwood, I have met so many wonderful people who do live at Wyvernwood. I don’t see people “hanging on to a glorified concept of the past.” I see people who feel passionately about belonging to a real community, something which is lacking in most Los Angeles neighborhoods, and something which would be erased if the Fifteen Group plan goes forward. That is what they are fighting for. The Wyvernwood residents that I have gotten to know do want a better life, and to move into the 21st Century, but they want to do it in the community they have grown to love over generations. They do want homes that actually function. They do want an owner who will act as a responsible steward to this Nationally recognized historic community. That doesn’t mean the entire community has to be obliterated first. Lighting can be added, circulation can be improved, but this can be achieved with the existing Wyvernwood community. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your strong “community culture” will be transported to the proposed New Wyvernwood. The existing Wyvernwood was carefully engineered by visionary planners to foster community. Even in its current neglected state, that deliberate part of the plan is still very strong.

    You talk about a field trip to Playa Vista, to see first-hand a thriving mixed-use community. I would also encourage you to visit us at Village Green, a sister community to Wyvernwood. Like Wyvernwood, we are a nearly 70 acre Garden Apartment community built just prior to World War II. Like Wyvernwood, we have a thriving community, acres and acres of shared, open green space. And like Wyvernwood, until recently our buildings suffered from backed up sewers, plumbing that didn’t work, and dozens of other signs of decades of deferred maintenance.

    Unlike Wyvernwood, however, we have acted to repair or replace these things, and are working to rehabilitate our entire community, all while we…

  5. Isela Gracian, ELACC VP of Operations on May 2nd, 2013 5:38 pm

    East LA Community Corporation is an economic and social justice organization with a place based approach to community transformation. One of our principles is for community-driven development which fits in the context and fabric of the neighborhoods we build in. In our early years we brought together residents to do sweat equity beautification projects, peace posadas, and renovated one house at a time to sell to first time homebuyers. We now strengthen the leadership of community residents, have accountable development campaigns, do multi and single family housing and provide a variety of wealth building programs from free tax preparation to first-time homebuyer education and provide monthly food pantry. From our beginning to our current programs and activities we believe that uplifting a community from the bottom up is the best approach to improving the overall health and well-being of our neighbors versus just importing higher income people and families.

    We embrace development and community transformation that will have a direct benefit to the people who have invested their lives here when private and public investment ignored our neighborhoods. Boyle Heights has been rampaged in the name of “progress” for the region with a variety of projects. A particularly significant one is the East LA interchange which physically divided the neighborhood, destroyed significant amount of housing, and has contributed to pollution and poor health for residents. The tenants in the Wyvernwood Apartments will be the first to be the most affected by the proposed project and maybe eligible for relocation money. This development proposes over 3,000 market-rate for sale condominiums for people earning $90,000 or more, and ONLY 660 rental units with restricted affordability for 30 years. Is it progress to support a development which continues our society on a path where generations after us will not be able to afford a place to live for themselves or their families? The fight to…

  6. Isela Gracian, ELACC VP of Operations on May 2nd, 2013 6:07 pm

    ELACC is a place based social and economic justice organization. In our early years we brought together residents to do sweat equity beautification projects, peace posadas, and renovated one house at a time for first time homebuyers. Today, we strengthen the leadership of community residents, have accountable development campaigns, do multi and single family housing, provide a variety of wealth building programs from free tax preparation to first-time homebuyer education and provide a monthly food pantry. From our humble beginnings we’ve embraced development and community transformation that will have a direct benefit to the people who have invested their lives here when private and public investment ignored our neighborhoods.

    Boyle Heights has been ravaged in the name of “progress” with a variety of projects. A significant one is the freeways which physically divided the neighborhood, destroyed housing, and contribute to pollution and poor health for residents. The tenants in Wyvernwood will be the first to be the most affected by the project through a lofty retention plan whose ultimate goal is to remove residents to make way for demolition. This project will impact neighbors well beyond the boundaries of Wyvernwood without any opportunity for relocation monies, for this reason tenants and neighbors deserve a voice at the table.

    The Wyvernwood project includes over 3,000 for sale condos for people earning $90,000 or more, and ONLY 660 affordable rental units for 30 years. Is it progress to support a development which continues our society on a path where generations will not be able to afford a place for their families to live? The fight to Save Wyvernwood is about having the City of Los Angeles and all development work towards a future where all Angelenos can have a healthy affordable place to live regardless of their socio-economic status.

  7. BH home owner on May 15th, 2013 2:08 pm

    @ isela gracian
    “Boyle Heights has been ravaged in the name of “progress” with a variety of projects”…”The tenants in Wyvernwood will be the first to be the most affected by the project through a lofty retention plan whose ultimate goal is to remove residents to make way for demolition”

    Wouldn’t you know first hand about this? Mariachi Hotel was in the name of progress and you guys screwed all the previous residents. Promised them $600 rent to get them out and when they tried to come back, oops we messed up the calculation, it’s going to cost $1000. No shops on the first floor are occupied because the rent is too high.

    “The Wyvernwood project includes over 3,000 for sale condos for people earning $90,000 or more..”

    With out having the units up for sale how can you make this claim? There is no single property in BH that is at the price for $90,000 annual income or more. This statements has no fact behind it and your just trying to scare the poor residents by insinuating that they’d be priced out.

    Notice that all the replies against this are from people not within our community. Or organizations that have ignored or profited from it.

    LA Conservation why have you not tried to preserve any other properties in BH, there are Victorians and craftsmans all over the area. A couple of years ago there was a neighborhood survey to identify historic structure, you guys didn’t try to protect anything but the breed street shul. The LA conservancy has never tried to get an HPOZ in any part of boyle heights. BH is one of LA’s oldest areas with historically significant homes but LA Conservancy hasn’t batted an eye when those were destroyed or converted to apartments. But now all of a sudden you have interest in preserving the areas largest ghetto? You ignor the Victorians and craftsmans but want to preserve the projects. It seems to me like your trying to keep BH’s a ghetto instead of helping us move forward.

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