Sides Agree Wyvernwood Living Conditions Intolerable, Divided on “Right” Solution

Speakers line up to comment during a public hearing about the proposed Wyverwood mixed use project. More than 300 people were in a attendance, with a majority making up supporters for the project. Kris Fortin/LAStreetsblog

Maria Mendez, a Wyvernwood resident, has asked for improvements at the Wyvernwood Apartments, saying she takes the bus to wash her clothes instead of using the washrooms at the complex.

“I’ve asked for things to be renovated, I have not received a response,” said Mendez in Spanish through a translator. Fed up with the conditions, she said she decided to support the $2 billion Wyvernwood mixed-use redevelopment project because it would give her family “a better living.”

The poor living conditions and the lack of response from the landowner, 15 Group, was the singular commonality at the contentious Wyvernwood public hearing for the release of the final environmental impact report. Yet, choosing between redevelopment or preservation and renovation has caused the greatest division. Some are wary 15 Group won’t keep it’s word when it redevelops and will displace its residents, while others trust that they will get the better quality housing that is being promised to them.

“The idea and the vision for Wyvernwood is that the folks that live there today, will live there tomorrow as well,” said Mark Sanders, principal and cofounder of 15 group. 15 group is also the developer for the redevelopment project.

Opponents and supporters at last week’s public hearing flooded City Hall’s 10th floor. More than 300 residents, advocates, and city officials filled the main room, three overflow rooms and into the hallways.

The meeting followed similar themes as in past meetings, except the support in favor of the development was in greater numbers.  The main room where the panel was located was filled with a sea of yellow shirts that supported the redevelopment. Representatives from community groups including Homeboy Industries, Jovenes Inc, Resurrection Church, and national organizations such as the Congress for New Urbanism came to give their endorsement to the project.

The 69 acres up for grabs that has been vehemently contested took another step toward a decision by the City Planning Commission, before a final vote by the City Council. The proposed project would include up to 4,400 residential units with at least 1,200 rental units, 3,200 condominium units, and 325,000 square feet of neighborhood-serving retail, office, and civic uses.

15 Group’s resident retention plan would give current residents priority to buy or rent from the 660 affordable housing units, or keep the rent they paid from the apartments. The Boyle Heights Jobs Collaborative, a partnership with community groups and 15 Group, would have hiring for the project be done in Boyle Heights, Sanders said.  Last Monday, 15 group signed a project labor agreement with the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, which has 140,000 members from 52 unions.

“We want to ensure that no injustice is done to that community there, and we feel that the only way to do that is to be a part of the new Wyvernwood project and be in support of it, and be a part of the jobs collaborative,” said Jose Osuna, director of employment services for Homeboy Industries.

Osuna acknowledged that the change from the development seemed inevitable, and didn’t want the neighborhood residents to feel helpless in negotiating local jobs when shovel met the dirt on the development.

The redevelopment would also change the street network, creating a connection from north to south on multiple points, as apposed to the limited connections to main streets. A north-south connection existed before Wyvernwood Apartments were built into a garden-style complex, Sanders said, so all the developer is doing is going back to an even older street design.

The opposition argues that Wyvernwood should be rehabilitated and maintains its rent-restricted housing, said Jose Fernandez, East Los Angeles Community Corporation organizer and a 22-year Wyvernwood resident.

“(It’s) being presented as new urbanism, but the reality is new urbanism puts low income, working class people of color at a disadvantage, and that makes up a majority of the Boyle Heights community,” said Ferndandez.

According to the Final EIR, rehabilitation, whether full or partial, is infeasible because it would drive up rents to at least $2,700.

ELACC, which presented its recommendations to the Deputy Advisory Agency / Zoning Administrator committee calls for a complete rejection of the current project proposal.

“It’s been really strange like living here my whole life and watching the weird division between the people that are for and against it,” said 21-year-old Wendy Puquirre, a Wyvernwood resident and Comite de Esperanza supporter.

Puquirre says that it was true to say that the current apartments don’t accommodate modern needs, but 15 Group hasn’t aided tenants with the problems that they have asked them to solve.

“As tenants we expect them to serve us. If we have a need they don’t help us,” said Puquirre.

“They are cornering us into this very suffocating living environment.”

(Click here for 15 Group’s presentation to the committee last week)

(Click here for ELACC’s statement of opposition and recommendations for the site)