Right on the heels of Mayor Eric Garcetti's triumphant announcement of the $1-billion investment on the Los Angeles River, came concerns of longtime residents being pushed out in favor of developers looking to turn a profit on what is now prime real estate.
It is a worry that has long loomed over the riverside neighborhoods, particularly in Elysian Valley, Elysian Park, and Cypress Park, which have been ground zero for many of the Los Angeles River revitalization projects such as the kayaking program. "Economic development plans often talk about big things, but how do we empower those who are already here?" asked resident and Elysian Valley Riverside Neighborhood Council president Steve Appleton in a previous article.
The situation is especially disturbing when one takes a look at the figures supporting the neighborhood's anxiety. The Los Angeles Times points out that the median price of a house in Elysian Valley rose 21% over the last year to $443,400 versus just 16% for the rest of the county over the same period. The newspaper's Mapping Los Angeles project cites that more than half of households are renters versus owners (58.3% are renters in Cypress Park; 52.2% in Elysian Valley; and most significantly 81.9% in Elysian Park). A recent LA2050 report also highlighted housing as one of the key areas of concern for Los Angeles: 93% of renting Angelenos spend more than a third of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. Housing expenses in excess of 30% are historically considered as an indicator of a housing affordability problem.
In an interview with KCET, Garcetti answered these concerns with a generous dose of optimism. Though the $1-billion plan to revitalize 11 miles of the Los Angeles River only deals with the ecology of the waterway, Garcetti views it as having the potential to do more than that. "I think we're finally claiming our history and writing our future with the Los Angeles River," said the mayor. It "means that we have the opportunity to do good things for the economy, for ecology and for environmental justice."
With more than 9,000 signatures on the petition supporting Alternative 20, it is clear Angelenos understand the value of such a project. For those actually living by the river, Garcetti assures them, "Nobody's houses can be taken. Nobody can be kicked out of rent stabilized apartments close to the river. People in public housing won't be moved."
Garcetti still leaves the door open to a new constituent looking to live closer to the river. "We have ensure though that new people that want to live there, who are just graduating from high school or college and are looking for an affordable place to live or even buy a home won't be priced out in future years."
The mayor says he and his team are looking at various options, including establishing a River Benefits Fund through the office of Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, "so we put affordable housing dollars aside and make sure they're spent [in those riverside neighborhoods]."
Another option is to put workforce housing on land owned by the city, similar to the model for the current developments coming online along transportation hubs.
One other possibility, should Los Angeles make a bid for the Olympics, was to build an Olympic Village by the river. "That can be great workforce housing after the games," noted the mayor. The city doesn't need even need to win its Olympic bid for a similar housing project to be built.
Perhaps the city's most viable alternative is simply to consistently keep affordable housing in mind whenever developers look to the city for concessions in its projects. I'm confident that we can ask for good things for the community in exchange for concessions about height or density, says the mayor. A model would be similar to the $13.5 million NBC Universal deal championed by the Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, which adds a 6.4-mile bike path between Whitsett Avenue in Studio City to Griffith Park at Riverside Drive in exchange for the theme park's expansion.
"Everybody wants the good that comes with revitalization. I refuse to say, let's keep things bad and affordable," said Garcetti. "Let's capture what's good, but let's make sure we mitigate what is the bad side of gentrification."
Time will tell if Garcetti's assurances will materialize. However, one thing is certain, the community needs to be engaged with the process of revitalization. The process began with the finalization of the Los Angeles River Masterplan, but the work continues, not in the least with the final report to be drafted by the Northeast Los Angeles Riverfront Collaborative, which includes first-hand comments from residents in the riverside area.
Garcetti encourages such continued participation by the community. "It's making sure we don't go be hind closed doors to determine what happens in a neighborhood but the neighborhood telling us behind closed doors what they want."