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.