Youth Rise Above Heckling to Win Concession for Community on Metro Projects at Neighborhood Council Meeting
“They’re not even from Boyle Heights!” heckled an agitated Teresa Marquez before the handful of youth from YouthBuild Boyle Heights that had nervously stepped up to speak at the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) regarding the fate of Metro-owned properties Wednesday night had even had a chance to make their comments.
Another woman, Yolanda Gonzalez, also jumped up to argue against listening to the youth, proclaiming angrily that they were too busy with ethnic studies to know anything about civic processes or economic development.
The women — both property owners known for being vocal in community politics (Marquez is also a member of Metro’s Design Review Advisory Committee for the Boyle Heights sites currently slated for development) — couldn’t have been more wrong.
When I spoke in Genaro Francisco Ulloa’s economics classes at YouthBuild last week, I found a group of young people who were highly engaged in questions of how economic development and public policy intersect in lower-income communities like theirs. Some even mustered up the courage to take a stab at speaking out at the January 22nd Metro-run meeting. Their discussion of how the social fabric of the area could be undermined by the erasure of important cultural markers and the displacement of existing residents and businesses was some of the most poignant testimony of the night.
Since that meeting on the 22nd, the youth had been working with their teachers and Joel Garcia and Cesia Domingo Lunez of the Boyle Heights Youth & Arts Stakeholders Committee to come up with a set of testimonies and concrete demands to present to representatives of the BHNC, Metro, and developers regarding the plans for the Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights.
It was crucial to speak up Wednesday night, they felt, because the BHNC was about to vote on whether to recommend Metro grant a “phased” or “interim” ENA (Exclusive Negotiated Agreement) to the developers looking to build affordable housing at 1st and Soto and Cesar Chavez and Soto.
They recognized that the phased-ENA approach — a new effort by Metro that would set aside a 3-month window for intensive community outreach and the incorporation of feedback into site plans before the full ENA is granted — was a step in the right direction. But they didn’t think it went far enough, given how outreach around plans for Mariachi Plaza — one of the most important sites in the community — had been completely neglected.
To that end, they had a few demands. They asked that Metro both extend the “interim” phase of the ENA to 6 months and revamp its current advisory committee process, which tends to rely heavily on the usual suspects and is not particularly transparent. They also asked that part of that revamping include hiring a local community group to do outreach to ensure that all sectors of the community — especially youth — were represented as well as “afforded the time needed to understand how these projects will impact their lives.” [The full list can be found here.] Read more…