Gonzalo Ceja, 23, describes his Olympic aspirations and asks for greater investment in the park so other neighborhood “diamonds” can shine. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Taking a deep breath as he looked out over the crowd that had gathered in the gymnasium of Hazard Park to discuss USC’s planned expansion on its Health Sciences Campus, the lanky and earnest youth with the air filtration mask dangling from his belt made an appeal to the hearts of the USC representatives.
“There’s a lot of diamonds out here,” 23-year old Gonzalo Ceja said of the youth in the Boyle Heights neighborhoods surrounding the area.
“All they need is polishing.”
By “polishing,” he was referring to his desire to see a new track and improved athletic and recreational facilities at the park, situated next door to the County-USC medical complex. He had grown up and still lived within spitting distance of the park, and wanted youth like himself — a top-ranked track star at East L.A. Community College with Olympic aspirations — to be able to stretch their legs, their lungs, and their horizons.
Decades younger than most of the hearing’s attendees, he seemed to be symbolic of the future that many said they were seeking to protect.
While they had responded enthusiastically to a number of the commenters speaking in opposition to USC’s plans or demanding a more meaningful partnership, Ceja’s plea seemed to have struck a real chord with attendees. They cheered him loudly and some approached him afterwards to encourage him to continue to follow his dreams.
It dawned on me that if anyone were to have just dropped into the meeting at that moment — or at any other time during the workshop and public comment period, really — they would have had been very confused as to what the purpose of the event was.
Hazard Park sits in the bottom left of the image. The blue line extending from the set of two boxes and the small baseball diamond (the gym and other facilities) towards Soto St. is the length of the proposed extension of Norfolk St. (Source: USC)
To USC, this was a (largely) straightforward public hearing to inform the community about a set of changes that would be coming to the area.
Planned improvements included the construction of a new clinic building, student housing, and a hotel and the extension of Norfolk St. to Soto St. The buildings would be built on land USC already owned while the new roadway would be built on land the city had long-ago designated for the roadway and that was not technically a part of Hazard Park. In exchange, residents would get new handball courts and some improvements in the form of an exercise circuit.
Anticipating some pushback from the community, particularly on the street construction, Craig Keys (Associate Senior Vice President, Civic Engagement at USC) walked me out the back end of the gym to show me the cones indicating where the extension of Norfolk street would go.
He told me I would hear a lot of things said that night, but that it was important to understand that the Norfolk extension would not fall on park land. Yes, there was a handball court straddling some of the land that would need to be removed and rebuilt, but it had been put on the city land by mistake — USC was not taking anything from the community. Read more…