Metro Postpones Approving ENA for Mariachi Plaza, Gets Blasted for Having it on Agenda in First Place

Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)
Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it’s a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

“Injustice. […] Lack of accountability. Lack of outreach in our community,” a frustrated Teresa Marquez, president of the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association, told the Metro Board of Directors this morning. “Nobody’s talking to us!”

She was right.

Metro had apparently reneged on promises in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for a project at Mariachi Plaza], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding the development site.

Instead, only a handful of people were made aware of the plans for an 8-story parking garage with medical offices and a 3-story retail and fitness center adjacent to the plaza, the motion before the Planning Committee last Tuesday to grant developer Primestor an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) for the site, or the motions to grant ENAs to two other affordable housing projects slated for Cesar Chavez/Soto and 1st/Soto.

The firestorm the Mariachi Plaza plans and the lack of community outreach ignited (not even the neighborhood councils had been advised of the plans) prompted the Board to pull the item and the two linked to affordable housing from the consent agenda. All three were postponed until February of 2015 in order to give the developers time to engage the community in the planning process. *(The extension of the ENA for the 1st/Lorena site, which some hoped to also see postponed, was granted to A Community of Friends.)

It was a move that Primestor CEO and Co-founder Arturo Sneider said he applauded.

During the public comment period, he spoke of Metro’s Request for Proposals (RFP) process as keeping them from being able to do extensive community engagement.

Although Metro had released the RFP almost a year ago, Primestor could do no outreach during the “blackout period” while its proposal was being considered. And since Metro had only conducted the final interviews in September and decided upon the winning proposals some time after that, there really had been no time for a community process. (The same had been true with the proposals for housing at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto)

Sneider reassured Metro that Primestor was committed to community engagement and local hiring, and was looking forward to beginning that process.

It was not enough to reassure those present to protest the project. While they were pleased that Metro had (finally) listened to the community, they were frustrated at their sense they were never seen as a partner in development and that their voices only tended to be heard when there was a massive outcry in the eleventh hour.

Many of the speakers wanted to make it clear that community engagement was not only important for a productive planning process, but also essential to ensure that current residents would be able to reap the benefits of any investments in the area.

One gentleman declared he was “appalled” at Metro’s failure to create an advisory committee for the project at Mariachi Plaza and its consistent shutting out of his community from discussions about “what [Boyle Heights] could become.” People were eager to be part of that conversation, he argued, and making them a part of it would result in a “win-win situation” for everybody.

When there is some mystery around development, agreed Boyle Heights Neighborhood Councilmember (BHNC) Mynor Godoy, it never ends well for the community.

Foregoing outreach and relying on data to make decisions about what Boyle Heights needed, concluded planning student Edber Macedo, would not work either. Planning needed to be inclusive and community-driven to be successful.

The belief that respect for the community and inclusivity were paramount underlay comments from a number of speakers that took the Board, Metro, and even Mayor Eric Garcetti to task for the costs they felt they had incurred when the Gold Line was pushed through.

A business owner from Chinatown spoke of how the train and the focus on large-scale transit-oriented development projects had hurt long-standing small businesses in his community. He warned those in Boyle Heights the same could happen to them and asked that Metro find ways to make development benefit the local entrepreneurs.

Railing against housing and a grocery store that had been demolished to make way for the train, resident Imelda Alvarez said in Spanish, You must return what you took [from us].

Carmen Fuentes agreed, saying, “[Housing and grocery markets] are the things that we need. Metro has a responsibility to bring those things back.”

What they did not need, Fuentes, Alvarez, and a chorus of residents that had come to support affordable housing and transit-oriented development believed, was for both Garcetti and Metro to “contradict [themselves]” and “go against your own transit goals” by potentially allowing for a retail and parking structure project — especially one that did not fit the community’s needs — to go forward.

If you were going to support parking, Alvarez asked, why did you build the train?

But perhaps the most poignant testimony came from Arturo Ramirez, head of the Organization of United Mariachis of Los Angeles, who feared mariachis would soon find themselves unwelcome at Mariachi Plaza.

Speaking in Spanish he said that, while stakeholders had been told Primestor had designed their project to both enhance the plaza and help the mariachis, We were not told how that was supposed to happen.

Demolishing the buildings hosting small businesses and important community murals, he felt, could not possibly result in anything other than the loss of what he called the “cultural beauty” of the area. And the time that it took complete construction could result in a significant loss of revenue for the mariachis, just as the construction of the Metro Line had.

Worse still, he worried, the new retailers might see the mariachis as a nuisance, resulting in their displacement from the very place that had long been defined by their presence.

“A change of that magnitude [at Mariachi Plaza],” concluded resident Leticia Andrade, following on Ramirez’ comments, “will change the community.”

* * * *

Following the meeting, a representative of Primestor let community members know that their outreach process around the Mariachi Plaza project would begin soon. Details on the meetings slated for that and the housing projects at 1st/Soto, 1st/Lorena, and Cesar Chavez/Soto will be posted as soon as they are available.

  • Brian hughes

    … Given the constant change this area has experienced (displacers become displacees), the thing I find most offensive is 8 floors of parking.

  • GlobalLA

    The 8-story parking is terrible and this development could be so much more. Throw in local resentment and this is another urban failure!

  • effron

    Classic Metro move. If the way they’ve handled the “improvements” of neighborhood streets around Expo Phase 2 is any indication the locals should be on thier guard for the worst.

  • Dwight Sturtevant

    Metro Has Nothing to do with The Streets around Expo Phase 2 that is the Expo Construction Authority take up your Beef with Expo Not Metro

  • Huh? This is the Gold Line, it has nothing to do with Expo.

  • mcas

    But… the LA Times just recently ‘explained’ that lack of (free) parking was the biggest hinderance to riding the train. So Metro’s plan is essentially: “All of the people who live near Mariachi Plaza should suck it up and deal with all the people who live outside their neighborhood driving in and parking in this shiny new parking lot. And all the people who live in Mariachi Plaza will have to go drive out of their neighborhood to go shopping since their stores were torn down.” I mean — what could go wrong…?

  • Marquizzo

    You didn’t read the article, did you?

  • Dwight Sturtevant

    Metro Has Nothing to do with The Streets around Expo Phase 2 that is the
    Expo Construction Authority take up your Beef with Expo Not Metro

  • effron

    If Metro accepts and approves the work then then Metro is equally to blame for the work as executed.

  • Mmh

    The fact the Primestor had no room to do community outreach is a LIE. Numerous other proposals for the Mariachi Plaza plan did in fact reach out to other community members and boards to work with them to develop their plans. In fact at the Metro Board meeting community members even mentioned that. Further, Primestor “reached” out enough to one community member (Anita Costellanos) to get her in with their plan to sell her shops on Mariachi Plaza so that the place could have new retail. Rather, one of Primestor’s directors is good friends of Molina, and I think they thought they had it in the bag and could do whatever they wanted to proposed a project to make money!

  • sahra

    Prior to submitting their proposal last spring, yes, that is true. But Metro promised the community that there would be meetings at which the community could review proposals before they were submitted for the ENA process. And that did not happen — Metro decided on the winners and almost immediately put them on the calendar for approval, with no time made for community engagement.

  • David

    As one of the growing number of white residents of East L.A. I say just build the project. Any improvements will only make the neighborhood better. The poor Latino residents of this neighborhood will be gone inside of 10 years so their input is not needed or wanted. This area is ripe for gentrification since it is only 2 miles from downtown. Since I moved here 5 years ago I have seen rents in City Terrace double and renters thrown out of their homes as they are bought up by investors and renovated. East LA is the last area close to downtown where housing is still affordable to middle class working professionals. The house flippers have invaded this area like an advancing army. So lets stop with the delays and all of this cultural sensitivity nonsense. Most of the people complaining about this project will not even be here in a few years. They will all be living in the high desert.

  • sahra

    Yikes… classism, a healthy dose of insensitivity, and a sizable splash of ignorance about what constitutes an “improvement” are never a winning combination.

  • David

    Improvement for East LA would be more middle and upper class white people who work and pay taxes and fewer and fewer poor Latinos who do nothing but cause trouble and contribute to urban blight. In 10 years or so i would like to see Ceasar Chavez’s name removed from Brooklyn Ave. Most young Latinos do not even know who he is

  • sahra

    I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so thanks for clarifying that you are indeed speaking both as a racist and a classist… And, just fyi, it’s “Cesar.”

  • David

    Racist? I probably am. I have lived in East LA for 5 years now and you really start to hate these people after a while. Luckily more whites and Asians are moving in and that will improve the entire area. When I first moved I was the only white resident on my street. Now there are 6 of us and 2 Asian familes have moved in. As housing prices and rents continue to rise Latinos in East LA will continue to be displaced and the ones that are left will have to live by a new set of rules starting with no loud parties and having fewer pets.

  • Andrea

    What are you doing living there if you have so much to complain about? Why don’t you just move?

  • Andrea

    Because *surely* as a white male you have *much* better neighborhoods to grace with your “holier-than-thou” presence….

  • Andrea

    Who are you to speak for young Latinos? You’re talking about how most of them don’t know who Cesar E. Chavez is. How wrong and ignorant you are. With the attitude you have, I’m glad you got priced out at whatever pompous part of the city you came from.

  • David

    I used to live in Silverlake but I am now one of the pioneer white homeowners in East LA . I am watching as Latinos get shoved out and more of us move in.

  • David

    No. I am here to stay. I like watching the area transform before my eyes. It is happening so fast. By the end of this decade East LA will probably be 15 to 20% non Latino. My house that I paid 250K for will be worth 2 or 3X as much and the neighborhood will be much more desirable.

  • David

    I am not really complaining that much. Most of the problems that were here when I moved in are gone. I reported the lady who lives down the street from me to animal control and they took her 7 yappy dogs. I reported 3 homes that were living in packed conditions. All of those tenants have been evicted. My new white neighbors down the street will not tolerate any of those loud parties these people like to have and constantly call the police. The result is that we have not had one of those parties on my street in about 6 months. I really like my new neighbors. 4 people on my street have been evicted from their homes after investors bought the places and are currently undergoing renovation. These homes I am told will rent for at least 2000 a month so I can expect more non Latino neighbors.

  • Jim Sarratori

    As one of those residents I can say you are dead wrong. And this remark is so shockingly cliche I wouldn’t doubt if it was….fabricated

  • David

    You are a student which means you live off other people and do not own anything yet. I paid 250K for my house and I expect a return on my investment. The gentrification of East LA is part of that plan and it seems to be happening just as my real estate agent predicted when she convinced me to buy here. My remark may be a bit cliche but stopping a couple of projects from being built is not going to stop the inevitable. Already in the hills of City Terrace there are new homes being built for the new white and Asian residents who are going to be taking over this area in a few years. Homes are being bought up and older residents who have rented cheaply for decades are being evicted. The house next door to me was bought by an investor and the old couple that had lived there for nearly 30 years were told to leave. They were paying 900 a month for that house. Some Chinese guy bought it and fixed it up and the house just rented to some college students for 2200 a month. I see the same thing happening here as in Echo Park. I bought a run down 3 unit building 18 years ago. I spent 1 year fixing it and finally got it rented. Luckily for me the building was built in 1980 so that means no rent control. Until last year my 3 tenants were paying 875 for a 1000 sq ft 1br apartment and I was happy with that since I did not pay very much for the building and due to Prop 13 my property taxes are pretty stable. One of my tenants died and I put the apartment up for rent and 20 people showed up for the open house. I was asking $1000 a month. A bidding war erupted and the apartment ended up renting for $1450 a a month. I served my other 2 tenants notice that since this is not a rent controlled building that their rent would be going to $1400 in 60 days. They could not pay it but those white hipsters who are now living there are happy to pay it. The same thing is starting to happen here in East Los Angeles. I am seeing the very beginnings of the same trend. Rents have doubled here in City Terrace in the last 5 years since I have lived here and housing values have gone up 40%. You cannot stop what is about to happen here in East LA. It is one of the last places in the city where housing is still somewhat affordable for middle class people but it will not be for long.

  • CityEye

    SOME of David’s opinion are the same of many of the Mexican American homeowners in Boyle Heights. Just drive around and see the deterioration because of influx of foreigners. Huizar has ignored Boyle Heights and home values have gone way down. Because he doesn’t mind living in filth he doesn’t take care of his own community. But go downtown and it is thriving with rich people and money. Many of Huizar’s campaign donors are those very rich developers.

  • sahra

    I do agree that the contrast between the level of investment in Broadway vs. that
    along 1st St. or Cesar Chavez or other areas of the community, for example, is striking. But I continue to be flummoxed at the latent racism that just comes crawling out of the woodwork here and on other posts when topics like community transformation come up. The “deterioration” you speak of is not due to the “influx of foreigners” but because of deliberate efforts to devalue and isolate particular groups of people and communities from the rest of the city. And even though those policies fell away over the years, institutionalized neglect and structural (and often overt) racism remained intact and have continued to impact interactions and interventions in those communities. Undoing the damage they have wreaked is no easy task, and it is made all the more challenging by a city that has a poor track record of genuine engagement with those on the margins and the fact that you have an immigrant community who has been taught that the state/government cannot be trusted. It is not because of an “influx of foreigners.” Sheesh.

  • nelaboy

    I am calling bullshit on you “David”. You are so clearly pretending to be an “evil white male” that it is actually kinda funny.

  • David

    No not pretending. I have lived in East LA for the past 5 years. I was priced out of Silverlake in 2009 where I had lived for 13 years. I was going to move into one of my units in Echo Park but I needed something bigger so my real estate agent suggested East LA. She told me I could get in on the ground floor of the gentrification that was starting to happen and she was right. I have seen the value of my house go up around 50% since I bought it.

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