Reyes pushes affordable housing plan for L.A.

Alfredo Santana

The community meeting was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at Glassell Park Elementary School.

Scheduled to be in attendance were officials from the Los Angeles Unified School District, a state Assemblymember, at least 100 parents concerned for their children’s education and advocates for affordable housing in the area.

At stake was Parcel F –a lot that could either be used to build a new high school or a set of apartment units for low-income families. Parcel F is a strip of land adjacent to Taylor Yard, a city property where a park is likely to be built.

About 15 minutes later, holding a gray English cotton coat over his right shoulder, Councilmember Ed Reyes, who represents the First District in the Los Angeles City Council, rushed into the hall unescorted. He headed straight to the only unfilled seat.

During the meeting, Reyes blasted Richard Meruelo, the new owner of Parcel F, for lax communication. The city tried to purchase Parcel F last year, before Meruelo paid $30 million for it in April 2005.

“The city and the LAUSD had shown clear interest in acquiring Parcel F, way before Meruelo purchased it last month,” Reyes said. “Nobody told me a different deal was in the works. Mr. Meruelo should have at least called me to tell me about his plans and (purchasing) timeframe. His ethic is outrageous. He knew we needed the lot, and went ahead with the purchase.”

“A new school is our priority,” Reyes said.

Along with Reyes was California Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg.

The April 28 meeting was one of many public instances where Reyes has criticized opponents of schools, affordable housing programs or individuals who act with “dubious” intentions when it comes to providing land or housing for the city’s needs.

It’s a trademark Reyes has carefully but consciously crafted over the last four years.

Aware of his plans, Los Angelinos should expect similar stands and some unorthodox arrivals at public meetings in the next four years.

Reyes won his re-election bid handily in March 2005. Now that the new city council has been sworn in, Reyes is expected to unfold new programs and rewrite proposals to try to get his agenda approved.

“I’ve known Councilman Reyes for many years,” Goldberg said. “I can attest (to) an almost lifelong commitment to public service for this community. He really is a positive leader of this community.”

However, after four years of public service, Reyes has failed to develop strong support from other councilmembers on some issues of citywide impact, such as affordable housing.

Reyes, who is the chair of the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, needs real commitment from other city officials for the yet-to-be-adopted Inclusionary Zoning ordinance, which calls for a citywide law that would allow families access to affordable housing, even in some wealthier neighborhoods.

If approved by the council and the mayor, IZ would call for at least 12 percent of the units for rent in a housing development to be “affordable” for people who earn half of the average wage in that neighborhood.

The other option under IZ is to offer 10 percent of the units at prices affordable to people earning only 30 percent of the average neighborhood income.

The ordinance would apply to developers of five or more rental units. If a family decides to purchase a unit, the household must earn at least 80 percent of the average neighborhood income. IZ would also apply to developers of five or more units for sale.

Reyes’ First District includes Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Cypress Park, Westlake, the mid-cities area, University Park and Elysian Valley. Highland Park and Mount Washington are shared with District 14. District 13 covers parts of Glassell Park.

Reyes has said that at least 40 percent of Los Angeles residents live in two city districts, the result being overcrowded neighborhoods in the inner city.

In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2003 that at least 239,000 residents lived in the First District.

Reyes envisions true gentrification along the 15 districts citywide, not yuppies’ offspring moving around the city in search of cheaper rents. In public, he has said he also wants construction of more housing units where low-income residents live, knowing the demand for affordable housing is higher than ever.

“We want to drive new developments along major corridors,” Reyes told the Van Buren Place Community Restoration Association in the Wilshire District in July 2004. “I have worked very hard to create an environment to preserve our historic neighborhoods. Highland Park and Angelino Heights and part of the Adams-Normandie historic area are in my district.”

Reyes said he is committed to preserving existing homes, especially historic ones, and with the needed refurbishing create three- or four-story apartments on residential streets. If the ordinance becomes law, the city will issue special retrofitting and redesign permits.

On the IZ ordinance, Reyes has had the verbal support of District 13 Councilmember Eric Garcetti, but support from other council members has not been so clear. Despite the fact that the first hearing on IZ was held in fall 2003 and the first motion was made in April 2004, no ordinance has been passed.

Reyes’ office has said the councilmember will try to pass an IZ ordinance “in the coming months,” presumably when Reyes has the full support of other councilmembers.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and a myriad of housing advocates across the city said they favor some sort of affordable housing law.

Villaraigosa has said he supports the Reyes proposal, but that any draft must include special allowances aimed to help builders foot the bill for affordable housing. Otherwise, they may end up choosing to take their development projects elsewhere or avoid new constructions altogether.

“Reyes and Garcetti have been able to get this on the city’s agenda for the first time because of their positions,” said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, to the Los Angeles Business Journal. “The council is instinctively inclined to be supportive, but they are wary of unintended consequences. And that’s where they are being lobbied hard by developers. Whatever emerges could determine the course of the debate for decades to come.”

One way to ease the builders’ path is to make the process of submitting and getting city approval for development permits faster and less bureaucratic, Guerra said.

In any case, the last time the Los Angeles City Council approved an affordable housing site was May 3, when it voted on the development of a 52-unit apartment complex located at 1417 W. Temple St. When the units are ready, all will be affordably priced.

Reyes pushed for the project, according to Monica Valencia, his press secretary.

Just last month, nearly 500 Los Angeles residents and advocates for IZ marched near City Hall in support of the ordinance.

Still, some neighborhood associations are against the IZ ordinance.

Mel Mitchell, president of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council Association, wrote a letter to former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn last year in disagreement with possible traffic logjams, a surge in population and a decrease in property value if the ordinance is approved.

“A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to Inclusionary Zoning is not workable for Los Angeles because of the diversity of neighborhoods throughout this large city, the unique and special characteristics and topography of the communities, and the individuality each community brings to Los Angeles,” Mitchell wrote. “A plan that works in one particular Los Angeles community may not fit in others.”

The Porter Ranch community is located in the northwestern part of the San Fernando Valley.

“Yet without city legal intervention, most of the new housing construction under purely market
forces is too expensive not only for the poor but for the middle-income people,” Reyes said during a recent community meeting. “Many constructions are in Westwood, Culver City and Downtown L.A., where a single unit costs $1,400 a month.”

Reyes said some banks now are beginning to consider low income to be $60,000 to $90,000 a year, mostly for those who live in West and Downtown L.A.

At the end of the Glassell Park meeting, Reyes urged residents to continue with public discussions in order to find ways to balance the needs of schools with ailing community issues such as affordable housing.

“In City Hall, we need to change some of the legal entities to come up with scenarios that are going to work,” Reyes said. “We need more community gatherings to get a common agenda.”

IZ in Los Angeles is a controversial issue that needs lots of lobbying from Reyes in many districts to garner enough support to be brought before the City Council for voting consideration.

Other councilmembers have not brought the ordinance to serious formal discussion. Now that Villaraigosa is mayor, perhaps Reyes could muster enough support to force a vote on IZ and finally shed light on who truly supports it, and who doesn’t.