Closure of Lincoln Heights Field Office Stings, Say Stakeholders
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
An office in Lincoln Heights that has served as the Council District 1 (CD-1) field office for nearly 25 years, despite turnovers in council representatives, has closed at the direction of newly installed Councilman Gil Cedillo.
The councilman has opted to move the field office to the historic Highland Park Masonic Building at 5577 N. Figueroa St., the same location where his election campaign was headquartered. The new location will still be easily accessible to Lincoln Heights residents, and be more convenient for people living in other parts of the district, Cedillo’s staff told EGP.
On Tuesday, members of the Lincoln Heights business community told EGP that while they don’t understand why the councilman decided to close the office that has served the community well for nearly a quarter of a century, they recognize Cedillo’s right to choose where his office is located. They emphasized, however, that the closure will leave a huge void in the community, and noted the office had been used by council members representing Lincoln Heights since 1989, when then-councilwoman, now-Supervisor Gloria Molina first opened it.
Vera Padilla, a member of both the Lincoln Heights Chamber and Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council, told EGP the office was in a great location and a resource in an area where many services are lacking.
“There was always an open door policy. We were so close to [former councilman] Ed Reyes’ office we could go in and out at any time with any problems that we had … Now we will have to travel to Glassell Park until the Highland Park field office is opened,” Padilla said.
Manny Rodriguez, a lifelong resident of Lincoln Heights, said the field office’s closure was a “bitter blow.”
“I wish we would have been consulted on that as well as his [Cedillo’s] choice for field representatives. Those are two decisions that are not easy to digest,” Rodriguez said.
Cedillo’s spokesperson Fredy Ceja told EGP poor accessibility and visibility were the reasons why the field office was being relocated.
“We understand that the Lincoln Heights office has physically been there for 25 years. We feel that the office was not in a visible or accessible location and was not inviting to community folks,” Ceja told EGP in a written statement.
“We felt that it was time for change. The Highland Park office will be easily accessible by bus, Metro rail, and has ample parking,” Ceja told EGP.
Some Lincoln Heights stakeholders, however, say they aren’t convinced.
Steven Kasten, of Steven Kasten Realty Inc. and president of the Lincoln Heights Chamber of Commerce, says the office was located on one of the most prominent corners of the North Broadway business corridor. It was across from Bank of America and an elevator made the second floor location easily accessible to the elderly and disabled, said Kasten, who happens to own the property where the office was located but says that’s not why he favored it remaining in Lincoln Heights.
Kasten pointed out that there are several city parking lots nearby and a bus stop right at the corner, giving the location “great accessibility to Lincoln Heights and all CD-1.”
Richard Macias, a Lincoln Height attorney and immediate past president of the chamber, is not as upset as some of his colleagues. He says the Lincoln Heights community was lucky to have the field office in their neighborhood for as long as they did, speculating that if the economy had been better, Reyes might have accepted the expense of moving to another part of the district.
Macias points out that Cedillo is not the only official in recent times to leave Lincoln Heights, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez moved his field office to Echo Park.
Kasten sees that as part of the larger problem of poor representation for Lincoln Heights over the years.
“People get elected here and then they do not open a field office, case in point, Jimmy Gomez and the new councilman. When Javier Becerra was first elected to Congress, he had a field office in Lincoln Heights and he chose to open his field office in Eagle Rock on Colorado Blvd, [and] on Sunset Blvd [in Echo Park],” Kasten said, adding they believe Becerra’s staff made that decision because they didn’t like the area.
He said Lincoln Height’s biggest problem is the erroneous image the area has had for decades. “… People think it’s a high-crime area, its unsafe” and then the elected officials won’t open a field office in the area, which he says makes it harder to attract businesses to the neighborhood just northeast of downtown Los Angeles. He said the image that area is overrun by “gangs and crime and unsafe” is far from the truth.
“We have the lowest crime rate in the City of Los Angeles and the Hollenbeck Division. Businesses do well here,” he said, noting that the area’s business improvement district sees to it that “graffiti is painted over immediately and streets are clean.” But “every time you have something negative it sets you back.”
Kasten said not having the field office of any elected officials hurts. “Now we have no one, there is not one representative with a field office in Lincoln Heights,” he laments.
Chamber’s secretary Vivian Villaseñor said when Reyes was first elected he may have acted vindictively toward the chamber because the president at the time had supported his opponent. She says she can’t help but wonder if Cedillo is doing the same thing.
While the chamber did not endorse a candidate, individuals members did and that may have contributed to the perception that the Lincoln Heights Chamber endorsed Cedillo’s opponent Jose Gardea, she said.
Maria Denis is with Sacred Heart High School and says her experience so far with Cedillo’s office has her worried. She says calls to his field office aren’t returned and he cancelled a luncheon speaking engagement. Now he’s moved his field office out of the community, she said.
Denis, however, still hopes Cedillo will meet with the chamber to discuss their concerns and reassure them that he does care about Lincoln Heights.
Villaseñor told EGP that while Highland Park has been undergoing gentrification and some see it as an up and coming or more desirable neighborhood, the area still has a lot of crime and vacant storefronts, specifically along North Figueroa near the post office, so she doesn’t understand why Cedillo would choose Highland Park over Lincoln Heights.
“I come from Highland Park, it is a rough area. You don’t walk around there at night because it’s not safe and yet the councilman chooses to be out there.” She said there are a lot of homeless in Highland Park, a lot of panhandlers,” adding she feels like he is pitting one neighborhood against the other.
Former Councilman Ed P. Reyes only had one field office, the now closed Lincoln Heights location at 163 S. Avenue 24. Cedillo plans to eventually have three, including the field office in Glassell Park that used to be the CD-13 field office for former councilman, now Mayor Eric Garcetti. The office was inherited through redistricting, according to Ceja, who notes that all of Glassell Park is now in CD-1. Cedillo hopes to open the third office in the Pico Union/Westlake area sometime in the future.
Cedillo’s move to Highland Park has not been without controversy in that neighborhood either. The opening has been delayed to next month, after it was discovered that windows in the historic building, located in a historic preservation zone, had been replaced without authorization. The building’s co-owner, Hector Cruz, says Cedillo is not to blame for the window controversy, and had nothing to do with them being replaced.
Cedillo’s spokesperson told EGP that the councilman’s office is working with the owner to resolve the issues. “We’re not in a rush to get in there. We want to respect the historic nature of the building,” Ceja said.
Cruz told EGP that the building has been a field or campaign office for several elected officials, including former councilwoman and assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, Sen. Kevin De Leon and former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Cruz declined to state the rental costs for the newly remodeled space.
Cedillo’s office said they don’t yet have the final cost for the Highland Park office, but “We will be more than happy to share that information with you once the project is completed,” Ceja told EGP. “That is public information and is available to the public at any time.”
The Lincoln Heights stakeholders said they are looking forward to Aug. 8 when Cedillo’s Listening Tour is scheduled to stop in Lincoln Heights.
The Lincoln Heights Chamber of Commerce will meet on Aug. 6, and the public is invited to attend. The Chamber office is located at 2716 N. Broadway, 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90031.
August 1, 2013 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.