Los Angeles Councilman Ed Reyes has represented the First Council District for three terms, but at the end of this week term limits will force him to leave office after 12 years serving L.A.’s geographically smallest, but most densely populated district.
Reyes has been recognized by his colleagues on the city council and by the County Board of Supervisors as well as several local community groups in the days leading up to his departure, but for Reyes, the accolades, while sweet, are not just an acknowledgement of his accomplishments, but a reminder that there is still work left to be done on some of his projects.
The Ed P. Reyes Riverway — a small park under construction in Lincoln Heights that was recently named in his honor — is perhaps the most visible, and literal sign that he has left his mark on the city, but Reyes, who has a background in Urban Planning, was also the lead on several infrastructure projects that helped transform some local neighborhoods and laid the foundation for other projects still unfolding.
Reyes, 54, was elected to the city council in 2001, following a decade on the staff of his predecessor, Mike Hernandez. He was twice reelected and endorsed as his successor his chief of staff, José Gardea, who lost his bid for office last month to veteran legislator Gil Cedillo.
“It’s a 24/7 job that allows you to be a public servant if you believe in that philosophy as opposed to being a politician,” Reyes told EGP, reflecting on his time in office.
His office packed up, boxes neatly piled, Reyes told EGP that he has been feeling a bit nostalgic looking over old documents: One of the concept designs printed on a large board and used at public hearings years ago that shows the Chinatown Metro Gold Line Station as it was conceived— represents one of numerous large-scale projects built during his tenure.
“I didn’t hold a lot of press conferences, I didn’t do a lot of celebrating. I felt like the less I talked about it, the more we would get done. and that’s what ended up happening,” he said. That philosophy, however, has left some unaware of the totality of changes that have taken place during his time in office, and others have complained that too much of his time has been spent on big projects rather than the day-to-day issues like street cleaning.
The Los Angeles River, a central and ongoing focus of Reyes’ office, is an example of one of those big projects.
In 2001 he established and served as chair of the Los Angeles River Ad Hoc Committee, which later led to the city’s adoption of the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan that is now the lifeblood of efforts to convert the river from a concrete eyesore to a thriving ecological environment and recreational destination, and to revitalize river adjacent communities.
“The water is what brought the river to life as we started as a pueblo, but as time passed it became a dump site, a place people move away from,” Reyes told EGP, explaining he saw the opportunity to reassess how the space was being used, which has led some of his supporters to call him a “visionary” who saw the possibilities that had escaped other elected officials.
Other large-scale infrastructure projects during his tenure include the building of two police stations, Olympic and Rampart, libraries in Cypress Park, Chinatown, Highland Park and Pico-Union, and the $160 million Northeast Interceptor Sewer tunnel to prevent sewage overflow and protect the health of families and children.
For his entire 12 years in office he has been a member of or chaired the PLUM (Planning, Land Use Management) Committee, which put him in a position to influence land use issues not only in his district but across the city.
A long time proponent of mixed-use, mixed-income housing developments, Reyes told EGP several years ago that not only are those projects an effective way to meet multiple needs and reduce traffic in highly dense neighborhoods, they are also a viable way to helps decrease economic and ethnic segregation and the negative stereotypes and attitudes they produce. Since being elected, 27 mixed-use housing projects have been built in the district, some adjacent to local transportation hubs, including the Gold Line station in Lincoln Heights.
Two parks, the Los Angeles State Historic Park (also known as The Cornfields) next door to Chinatown and the Rio de Los Angeles State Park in Cypress Park, added 80 acres of open space to his district.
During his 10 years on the Public Safety Committee he helped start safe route to school maps, secured funds for LAPD units and technology, led neighborhood clean-ups and supported gang prevention programs, in particular the clean up of MacArthur Park.
Today, Reyes laments that he’s run out of time to oversee the completion of several projects, including the Riverside Bridge construction now underway, but adds the project was delayed for good reason, to add a bike plan.
The sale and purchases of a couple of lots in the district—one which in recent days has involved a controversial dispute between the incoming Cedillo and a dealership—were also issues Reyes was pushing to the last moment this week.
The construction of the Highland Park Transit Village, implementation of the Corn Field Specific Plan, “there’s a whole list of things I wish I could see to fruition,” says Reyes.
His plans for the future are still uncertain but he told EGP he’s looking for a vehicle that would allow him to continue the work he has started. Reyes said he has worked closely with Mayor-Elect Erik Garcetti, who he shared a district border with, and would welcome a chance to join his administration.
Implementing the LA River Master Plan, teaching up and coming professionals who want to learn community development, are also among his job interests, he said.
Reyes is most proud of the maturation of community leaders and networks in his district since taking office. He cites as an example residents in the Pico Union area who he helped learn about the civic process and who later came back to hold him accountable for his decisions.
“I don’t mean to sound corny, but in the eyes of these people, I see the eyes of my parents: Immigrants, hardworking individuals who leave the comfort of their own country,” in search of a better life, Reyes said.
His failure to convince eight other council members that CD-1 needed more funding for maintenance crews because of its density, which made it hard to keep trash under control, still bothers him. They saw it as resources being taken away from their district, he said.
He says his only regret is not doing a better job of protecting his family from the hostility that sometimes comes with public office.
“Individuals think its okay to go after your family. [My children] were very little when they [the harassers] started. When I supported The Walls Las Memorials, people would bang on my wife’s car and scare my kids,” he said, referring to the conservatives who objected to his support of the AIDS/HIV awareness monument in Lincoln Park.
Asked if he had any advise for his successor, Reyes said only that he needs to “forgive and forget” those who did not support his election.
“He [Cedillo] has to make decisions based on his priorities. In the campaigning, I’m not sure how much he values planning and development work and the concept of community development—just based on what he has said in the past—but there has to be the realization that it is not about him or me, it’s about the community.”
Time is precious and the four-year term will go by fast, he warned.
“I hope that he [Cedillo] sees the advantage of continuing programs” that will in the long run, Reyes said. “I hope the best for him because if he succeeds, the community succeeds.”
As a parting thought, Reyes told EGP he has to thank all the volunteers in the district who have labored to stimulate change. Without them, it would not have been possible.