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Breaking the Tale of Two Cities in East L.A.

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Community residents joining efforts to preserve Wyvernwood Garden Apartments with the Homes for All campaign

L.A. in Motion, a series exploring transportation equity in Los Angeles, is produced in partnership with the California Endowment.
My vision for the Next L.A. is one where we have broken the tale of two cities and have forged one city for all Angelenos. This may sound utopian; however it is an achievable vision when city policies and funding allocations prioritize the neighborhoods and residents with the most need. At East L.A. Community Corporation (ELACC), we strive to engage the residents who have been traditionally locked out of the decision making process. We believe in planning being done with people, not planning being done to people. This can be an organic process from the ground up to shape good policy and strong communities.

The City of Los Angeles has tremendous opportunity to close the chasm of inequality with the renewed investment in transportation and focus on development adjacent to transportation. For too long development in L.A. has been driven by speculation, greed, and collusion between municipal power brokers and those threatening to invest their millions of dollars elsewhere. Decades of making it "easier" for developments and investors has come at a high cost of poor health and significant wealth disparities. It is time for the city to have strong plans that lead with public benefit in mind, in order to attract those development partners and investors who will support the vision of a great city for every Angeleno, regardless of their income.

For example, Boyle Heights residents have endured the negative health effects of being in close proximity to the East L.A. Interchange -- five major freeways slicing the six square miles of this neighborhood. In the 1990s, residents witnessed one of the highest peaks of crime and violence, schools far exceeding their student capacity, the loss of much needed public housing units, and in this time frame the most arduous investors were the residents themselves -- with their lives. ELACC and other organizations grew out of this era, bringing together residents to start turning the tide.

At the turn of the 21st Century the light at the end of the Metro Gold Line tunnel arrived. After decades of fighting by residents, alongside the late Congressman Edward R. Roybal and other elected officials, the light rail made its way to the Eastside with many golden promises of prosperity for the neighborhood. We quickly learned that even with this major win, there were more battles ahead. It is not enough to build the train and expect the neighborhood to be uplifted without specific and intentional policies to build out space for existing residents.

Las Margaritas Apartment, an ELACC affordable housing development just north of the Soto/1st Street Metro GoldLine Stop
Las Margaritas Apartment, an ELACC affordable housing development just north of the Soto/1st Street Metro GoldLine Stop
ELACC community members and staff testifying before Metro Board of Directors for equitable transit oriented development
ELACC community members and staff testifying before Metro Board of Directors for equitable transit oriented development

The Next L.A. must be one where residents are uplifted, not uprooted, in order to demonstrate gain in the income and safety indicators. How can the Next L.A. support uplifting residents versus uprooting and transplanting?

  • Engage residents in developing vision and decision making. Go beyond checking the box for sending flyers and hosting the one large meeting. Train staff to embrace the process and facilitate large meetings with conflicting viewpoints to arrive at collective decision. And partner with organizations that do this as part of their values and practice.
  • Affordable housing for all. The market on its own has not and will not be able to fulfill the demand on its own. The City needs to have land-use policies that require the construction of new and preservation of existing housing units for the entire spectrum of low-income residents from housing the homeless to working poor families and align the monetary resources to fulfill the demand.
  • Affordable transportation that connects people. L.A. has made major strides in getting people out of their cars and using public transit. Unfortunately, it has been leading with providing the service to people who own cars and with higher incomes. Building out the transportation system by focusing on connecting lower income people of color who are already less likely to own vehicles or own older vehicles to their basic needs such as schools, groceries, medical facilities, and why not recreation activities.
  • Connecting it all together with citywide transit oriented development policy. Los Angeles has 114 neighborhoods with 4 million residents; that is a lot of people and uniqueness to support. L.A. can develop a citywide transit oriented development policy which provides the necessary tool box for each neighborhood to meet their needs from ensuring affordable housing, bicycle lanes, improving routes to schools, increasing green space, enhancing culture and arts and so much more.

ELACC is a member of local, state and national alliances advancing equitable transportation and community development. You can check out our collective work at: ACT-LA: Housing CA: Right to the City:

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