Boyle Heights Community Plan Aims to Guard Against Displacement, Still Lacks Teeth

The draft zoning for Boyle Heights (at right) calls for greater density and transit-orientation along Soto, sets pedestrian-oriented guidelines, and looks to see the river district become a hub for biotech and green industries. Source: Department of City Planning
The draft zoning for Boyle Heights (at right) calls for greater density and transit-orientation along Soto, sets pedestrian-oriented guidelines, and looks to see the river district become a hub for biotech and green industries. Source: Department of City Planning

This Saturday, city planning will be hosting an open house at Boyle Heights City Hall offering residents updates on the Boyle Heights Community Plan.

The Boyle Heights plan, one of 35 community plans that make up the city’s General Plan Land Use Element, is meant to lay out the goals reflecting the vision for the community, the policies that will guide land usage and development in line with those goals. During the battle over Measure S, a faster and more responsive community plan process was often cited as a tool by which communities could take back some control over the kinds of development their neighborhoods would see.

That intention is apparent in the Boyle Heights plan – there is a decided effort to make clear that the community prioritizes the building and preservation of affordable housing, ensuring the local community benefits from job creation and transit-oriented development, accommodating and celebrating smaller, local entrepreneurs and businesses as part of community growth, and mindfulness of the history and culture of the community and the preservation of its physical character and artistic heritage.

To that end, affordable housing gets top billing. It is the subject of the first three goals, each of which elaborates on the importance of preserving existing affordable housing and making sure new developments both be oriented toward multigenerational families and include housing accessible to those that are low-, very low-, and extremely low-income. In requiring that any redevelopment of “garden apartments” replace affordable units on a one-to-one basis, the plan also acknowledges fears that the redevelopment of Wyvernwood (and possibly that of Ramona Gardens, at some point) would result both in massive displacement and wholesale gentrification of the area.

Where the plan touts the potential for the river district to be “a desirable place for innovative industries to locate,” including biotech, hydroponic farming, and big and small clean and green businesses, the plan encourages the cultivation of a local workforce via partnerships with schools and job training programs so that gains accrue to existing residents.

Blue represents areas designated for industrial land uses, with lighter blue areas seen as ideal for lighter industry, biotech, and smaller green businesses. Source: Department of City Planning
Blue represents areas designated for industrial land uses, with lighter blue areas seen as ideal for lighter industry, biotech, and smaller green businesses. Source: Department of City Planning

 

Transit-oriented development, including greater housing density, is encouraged along key commercial and transit corridors. And where transit-oriented development or new construction results in the creation of ground-floor commercial spaces, the plan encourages developers to build smaller retail spaces that would be cheaper and more accessible to small local businesses and local entrepreneurs.

The plan singles out Soto at 1st Street as having the potential to evolve into a key community center, supporting greater concentrations of retail and housing. The affordable housing projects slated for several of the lots there (both at 1st and a block up, at Cesar Chavez) will bring greater foot traffic to the area that should help support local businesses and community-serving spaces. The plan also seeks to ensure that buildings along important corridors like Cesar Chavez retain their historic character and pedestrian orientation.

Key transit and commercial corridors are expected to feature taller buildings and be pedestrian-oriented. Source: Department of City Planning
Key transit and commercial corridors are expected to feature taller buildings and be pedestrian-oriented. Source: Department of City Planning

Well-intended as they are, the goals and policies of the plan also underscore how little control the community may ultimately have over how the neighborhood changes in the next several years.

Notably, in citing Boyle Heights’ history as a “destination” for a diverse set of immigrants, the draft plan fails to note that that was not really by choice, thanks to redlining, and that, in subsequent years, the community would be denied resources, see freeways built adjacent to or on top of its few open spaces, and, as the community became more Latino, continue to be denied access to power.

Making official note of the efforts to segregate and isolate the community and the power dynamics that were and continue to be in play even now matters. Without acknowledging them, it’s hard to give the policies outlined in the plan the teeth they need to truly protect and support the residents who are most vulnerable to displacement.

Where the plan points out the importance of preserving the community’s murals (most of which depict the history of struggle) and in using local artists to help maintain them or produce new art, for example, there is no similar effort to retain the artists themselves.

Meanwhile, mariachis living at the newly rebranded “Mariachi Crossing” at 1815 E. 2nd Street continue to fight exorbitant rent increases imposed by new owner Frank “B.J.” Turner that threaten to price them out of the building he named after them. Mariachis living in boarding-style situations so they can be close to Mariachi Plaza have been threatened with eviction. Still others have been priced out by gradual rent increases over time as the market has heated up. And others found themselves priced out a few years back, when the Boyle Hotel (where many had boarded in rather awful conditions) was converted to affordable housing and too many couldn’t afford the new rent.

Local Latinx and Chicanx artists are facing a similar struggle. As fine artists with greater resource bases and patronage move into gallery spaces along the river, investors are able to brand the area as “edgy,” “artsy,” and “up and coming” and market it to well-to-do folks getting priced out of already gentrified neighborhoods. And the kinds of riverfront amenities the plan calls for – including a network of pocket parks, promenades, and bike paths – will likely boost rents, making it even harder for those who already struggle to retain their footing in the community to practice the arts Boyle Heights is celebrated for.

Finally, even well-intended efforts to ensure smaller businesses won’t be pushed aside have the potential to make it that much easier for gentrifying businesses to move in. As it is, many of the smaller businesses in Boyle Heights don’t have their books completely in order, don’t have proper leases, or operate on such thin margins that they would be unlikely to be able to access the financing they would need to grow their businesses or move into to a new site. Which opens the door for higher-end coffee shops like Weird Wave or utter nonsense like La Gracia Frutería, a “Mexican-inspired” cafe that a self-described barefoot bohemian was looking to open in “up and coming” historic Barrio Logan in San Diego (*until social media disabused her of the wisdom of that notion).

Which is not to argue that a community plan can necessarily be so specific as to prohibit such egregious whitewashery.

But it is to suggest that, in acknowledging past discrimination, a plan would be more free to strategize ways to better address the needs of the groups that had been harmed and fill in the cracks they might be likely to fall through as the community grows.

The People’s Plan laid out by the UNIDAD Coalition from South L.A. points to some of the ways that community plans can be adjusted to address some of those shortcomings: the inclusion of higher percentages of affordable housing in new construction; a commitment of resources to businesses that might not be credit-ready, guaranteed reduced rents for community businesses; a right of return for tenants (going beyond one-for-one replacement of affordable units) and a no-net loss policy for affordable housing; or referral, procurement, and other services to ensure new jobs and opportunities were actually filled by local community members, to name a few.

There are ways to acknowledge harms done and work to ensure folks are not left behind or pushed aside a second time, the People’s Plan suggests, even if they require planners wade into some less comfortable waters. Boyle Heights’ Community Plan makes a good-faith effort to acknowledge some of Boyle Heights’  very real challenges. But without addressing their provenance, or the extent to which some of the investments in transit and along the river the plan touts will add fuel to some of the very problems the plan trying to combat, it feels somewhat toothless.

What say you, denizens of Boyle Heights? Find the draft plan here. Attend the open house Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Boyle Heights City Hall (2130 E. 1st Street) and give planners your feedback in person (details here).

  • Raul

    I don’t understand the hate against Wierd Wave. My family and friends have no problem with them even if some of the owners are white. Better than a Starbucks or another empty storefront and Wierd Wave isn’t really high end at all. If the community is so against them then their business would not survive, but the opposite seems to be happening. Do you really think we are all so poor and destitute here in BH that we can’t have a basic coffee house? Amazing.

  • Justin Runia

    There’s a certain logic; plain Starbucks coffee tastes like burnt buttholes, because it was designed to be augmented with large amounts of cream and sugar, which happens to align with the classic regional preparation Cafe con Leche.

    On top of this, Starbucks can afford to weather any direct action, both in terms of replacing damaged material (getting windows smashed since 1999), and in terms of being able to legally pulverize anybody unfortunate enough to be caught. Weird Wave doesn’t have quite the deep pockets to deal with the material setbacks, or the legal deterrent, so protests there have better ROI for any would-be protestors. Irony.

  • triollo

    the group of 15 UCLA protesters who try to “speak for the community” got everything they wanted from the city, and still they complain on this entry….you can’t please them

  • sahra

    Really? Because what I find amazing is someone who I rarely agreed with but who I thought was a straight shooter misrepresenting who they are. And then going back through the back end of this site and realizing this is not the first time that that person has pretended to be of a different race/background in order to push back on something. Just FYI, we strongly discourage that and it can be grounds for banning from the boards.

    All my best,

    sahra

  • LAdevelop

    Could you make the images expandable please?

  • sahra

    I can’t, unfortunately. But they can be found here. I had posted the links within the article, but some of them apparently changed since this past weekend: http://www.bhplan.org/draftplan.html

  • LAdevelop

    Got it, thanks!

  • sahra

    better versions of the maps are under the interactive map link: http://www.bhplan.org/interactive-map.html They didn’t release that til after the open house…

  • jannos

    This is a planning document that at best is meant to prescribe how a physical environment might look and very, very gently augment the free market reality that exists in Boyle Heights. It cannot do something like guarantee lower rents to certain groups. Planning documents cannot compel the city to subsidize those businesses that cant pay for their rent, or compel the property owner to do so.

  • Richard

    “as the community became more Latino, continue to be denied access to power.”

    In the last 32 years, Boyle Heights has been represented by a non Latino on the city council for only 4 years.
    In the last 34 years, Boyle Heights has been represented by a non Latino in the US House of Representatives for only 4 years.
    In the last 34 years, Boyle Heights has been represented by a non Latino in the state Senate for 0 years.

  • Richard

    An HPOZ would definitely kick displacement up a couple notches.

  • sahra

    That is hardly the only way power is expressed, and simply having a representative (as if one Latino speaks for all…?) on a council doesn’t mean any and all problems are automatically resolved. Surely you know that.

  • sahra

    In the not-so-distant past, we effectively used planning tools to deny certain groups access to housing and to keep certain communities in expensive substandard housing while also denying them the ability to accumulate wealth via home ownership. Boyle Heights was one such red-lined community. For planning to be truly equitable, there must be some reckoning with those harms. Otherwise, we perpetuate them. Does that mean we should be prescribing rents? Probably not. But there is room to assess the damage that was done by redlining, disinvestment, and denial of resources and to see where planning could begin to right some of those past wrongs that make residents there vulnerable to displacement now and make their community so attractive to developers and relatively cheap to members of communities that were not discriminated against in that way.

  • another homeless

    i wonder if they even count how many illegal evictions went on this month …i wasnt homeless but the otherside had a lawyer and i couldnt afford one………… figures if you are thinking yeah im not a lawyer and i really wish i had one.. i would win my case and the foreigner who is making me homeless would have been stopped .. to much risks and you have a record and eviction… so the lady wins and no relocation fees for the new homeless forced to settle so she can double the rent by the time this city helps the homeless there wont be ANY ONE LEFT , to help …to bad

  • another homeless

    how hard is having someone just check hey lady is the room you rent really worth 800.. oh you just pay a manager who is not there , commiting tax fraud , saving money on your taxes , moneylaundering.. oh and did you notice that the inspectors let everything slide… like who is really checking on the services that are not even provided but removed with no corrisponding rent decreases… market rent checks would have stopped my situation…. the value is a bare 400 , all the people pay 2o0 on my left and right and only the one sucker gets the 800 and we share utilities ? does that even out…. no its one person paying the utilities and the rest part of the shystie system that has no checks and balances … please put any person who actually lives on my street in the office and this would not continue making people homeless … the actual facts to be revealed after everyone is thrown in the street… when it wasnt even legal or valued anyway.. mr richies next plan is for us not to drive cars anymore since in boyle heights we shouldnt be allowed .. the same things but want to eat out everymeal… no kitchens for us, no parking mr. richie parks. he wins every time he sends all the exrra back home to hong kong and locks his little gated cage he calls a 2000$ elder care suite .. they wont stop you have to stop them look what the goal is.?

  • another homeless

    why has the building broken code after code..

    mailbox .. its the law we dont have any mrs. richie says that would never be possible or legal. wrong.. its the law since 2007 and inspection after inspection our own housing dept doesnt ever notice hey … all the cases are closed when no one gets the mail.. oh you know that already… cause its part of the greased wheel … making us homeless .. if no one knows , then we all end up ” with our little book know your rent control rights.. isnt that even worse than not knowing but knowing they should be doing there job is far worse knowing that it could be prevented by not paying mrs. richies buddies to keep the process of us getting no attorneys in court for evictions when she has hers….. real fair…. its so ridiculous i cant wonder how many a month have the right to be counted.. Who was illegally evicted with our my voucher sec8 oh you cant find a place anyways… by the time im homeless and all our money goes back to china for more owners to evict american citizens… how this should be the issue ” basically we are in our country and most of these abuses are from property owners that are from other countries… can you even imagine buying a home? they bought our homes and now they want us homeless… and they are not from here… but our council doesnt stop anything do anything but get paid to watch us forced out of the new area that are now being bought by person who benifits off making us citizens homeless…how is this allowed… someone dont you want the house one day dream not for us…. right..like we can afford to eat out every meal… what happend to the ” we should eat healthy and have home meals.. ” its bad to eat fast food… its the slogan any more …. we need to ride bikes and eat out every meal … its nonsense… mrs richie is making us pick out a tent…

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