Trust in Government in Boyle Heights
Thoughts on the Hollenbeck Police Station expansion
J. Miguel Flores
It is agreed that Boyle Heights is at a critical cross roads. The landmark exhibit "The Power of Place" at the Japanese American National Museum reminded us of the rich history of the neighborhood as the Brooklyn of Los Angeles, where immigrants from Russia, Japan and Latin America aspired to achieve their American dream. It also reminded us how in the name of national security or progress some members of the community were relocated from Boyle Heights.
Published on LatinoLA: April 6, 2005
Today, the Latino population faces similar challenges of displacement. We have heard of the displacement of Latino families in communities such as Echo Park by market forces where Latino families, often low-income, can no longer afford the market-rate rents, a phenomenon referred to as ?gentrification.? One thing is for the unpredictable forces of the market to affect the housing of these communities, another thing is for government to have an active hand.
It is also agreed that there is a shortage of low-income and affordable housing not only in California, but also across the country. Yet it is puzzling why in the midst of this low-income and affordable housing shortage, government is actively eliminating housing in communities where it is needed most.
Such is the case in Boyle Heights, where the City of Los Angeles has decided to arbitrarily remove 57 - 66 units of housing to expand the local Police Station. It is not debated that a new Police Station is needed, however, we expect that government in siting such a facility will act in the interest of the public and make careful decisions. This was not the case in the expansion of this LAPD facility in Boyle Heights.
For one, the City has decided to place the Police Station in an area that is inconvenient to the area the Police Station serves, at the very edge. Second, the City disregarded zoning regulations and specific plan provisions that discourage police stations on residential lots. Third and most disturbing, it dislocated an unknown number of Latino families and removed valuable affordable housing from these families and the wider Boyle Heights community. To top it all off, the City acted to do all of this and much more, all before preparing an Environmental Impact Report in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, State law whose very purpose is to protect the public and allow for ?informed decision making.?
As early as February 2004, the City of Los Angeles began to acquire the lots where these families lived, and in many respects without their knowledge. When families were given notice, it was because the City was telling them to find alternative housing. In essence the City conducted secret negotiations with affected property owners and did not inform not only these families, but also neighbors of the immediate surrounding area. The effects on housing were felt beyond the Project area. The City also displaced a congregation, which itself being displaced acquired the Boyle Hotel at the Mariachi Plaza and subsequently started displacing mariachi tenants.
Some tenants have given accounts that City workers came and asked them to fill out forms which asked to check-off if they were citizens or residents, thereby intimidating some tenants who may have been undocumented. Other tenants have also given accounts that the City employees who first made contact with them and informed them the Police Station was expanding were police officers. The fact that an Environmental Impact Report was prepared subsequent to these residents being displaced raises questions they have suffered differential treatment of law and process contrary to the protections guaranteed under the Federal and State Constitutions.
Not only did this Police Station Project disrespect Boyle Heights residents, but it also aimed to demolish part of its rich cultural history. As part of the Project the City plans to demolish a building significant to Boyle Heights? Jewish pass. Named after Mr. Baruch Charney Vladeck, a Jewish labor leader and New York City Councilman who helped Jewish refugees back during World War II, the building served both as a school and a gathering place for community activism in Jewish Boyle Heights. In an ironic twist, last year New York City honored the memory of Mr. Vladeck in its commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the New York City Housing Authority, an agency in which Mr. Vladeck served as a founding Board Member. So in 2004 while New York City honored Mr. Vladeck, the City of Los Angeles planned to demolish a building named after him along with 66 units of housing.
While security is needed to protect Boyle Heights, State laws and regulations cannot be disregarded for a public facility that represents law and order in a community. The ends do not justify the means in this case. A police station represents the criminal justice system in a community and questions that the City acted contrary to State laws and regulations at the very least gives the appearance of impropriety thereby eroding the credibility of the criminal justice system. So far the Los Angeles Police Department has remained silent on the issue, stating only that it does need a new facility. However, we would hope that a Department whose credibility and reputation has been questioned in the pass years due to scandal and questions of Police misconduct would want to absolve itself from this matter.
It is unknown why the expansion of the Police Station was preferred over selecting a site that met the service needs of the Police Station. After all, that is the primary purpose of a police station, to protect the public and the City. A resident on the opposite end of the police service area for example would want a police station that is most centrally located so there are faster response times. Yet, indications seem to lead that this Police Station Project became in essence a pork barrel project where certain segments of the community simply wanted a new facility where it had to remain in the area or risk losing it. As a former resident of New York City, I find this particularly disturbing given the fact we live in a post-September 11 world and I would hope that City officials would defer to the expertise of law enforcement in making such strategic long-term decisions to protect the City, and not defer to the laymen?s opinion or wishes of a small segment of the community who have no expertise in Police matters.
Some may ask, well the people have been displaced, and the Project seems to move forward, what is the point in raising objections now? This could happen again, and it is happening not only in the City of Los Angeles, but other cities across the Country. Low-income communities, often Latino, are being displaced again in the name of progress. One New Jersey lawyer working on similar cases where Latino communities are being displaced by local governments in the name of progress says it?s a Civil Rights issue. It may be a Civil Rights issue, but also the Latino community has to inform itself on these land use, environmental issues and process, that is the only way it can participate and protect itself from this type of government action. Allowing city government to act in this manner by disregarding the State?s environmental laws, invites uncertainty and chaos and unfortunately it will be communities such as Boyle Heights who will most suffer the consequences. That is precisely what occurred when freeways were constructed through Boyle Heights and that is what almost happened again in the 1980s when State government attempted to site a prison in Boyle Heights and later a neighboring city wanted to put a toxic waste incinerator that would affect Boyle Heights? residents.
Boyle Heights needs to develop once again this consciousness of environmental and land use issues so it can protect itself and actively participate in government. The next years will be critical for the area. The Gold Line will soon be finished, and already there is talk of a bio-tech facility in Boyle Heights and high density developments. We should certainly not be against change, after all a society without the means of change is a society without the means of conservation. However, decisions have to be made carefully, in accordance with the law and most importantly with respect to the community. Who will protect the community if not the members who live there and hold a stake, no matter if they are business owners, homeowners or tenants.
Currently the City of Los Angeles is receiving comments for its Draft Environmental Report. I invite the community to submit their comments, no matter if they support the decision to expand the existing Police Station or choose an alternative that does not remove this low-income housing. Below are sources to assist interested people in writing a letter. These comments are very important because it is one way to persuade officials and at the same time prepare an administrative record to help those who wish to challenge these decisions through the legal system.
Please mail by April 25 to:
Mr. Carter Atkins
City of Los Angeles
Public Works, Bureau of Engineering
Environmental Management Group
650 S. Spring Street, Suite 574
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Or email at email@example.com (if you email, please copy yourself on the email and me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
City of Los Angeles, Initial Study, Hollenbeck Police Station Replacement ? Boyle Heights, May 20, 2004 available at http://eng.lacity.org/techdocs/emg/Environmental _Review_Documents.htm
City of Los Angeles, Hollenbeck Police Station Replacement, Environmental Impact Report available at http://eng.lacity.org/techdocs/emg/Environmental _Review_Documents.htm
Bureau of Engineering Program Management Team, 2002 Proposition Q Citywide Public Safety Bond Program, COC Quarterly Report, Mar. 2005 available at http://www.lapropq.org/index.cfm
Pub. Resources Code, Section 21000, 21065 et seq available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/
Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14 Section 15000, 15004 available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/
Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Reagents of University of California, 47 Cal.3d 376 (1988) available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/
Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority v. Robert R. Hensler, 233 Cal.App.3d 577, 588, 596 (1991) available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/
Stand Tall on Principles v. Shasta Union High Sch. Dist. 235 Cal.App.3d 772, 779 (1991) available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/
City of San Jose v. Great Oaks Water Co., 192 Cal.App.3d 1005 (1987) available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/
Boyle Heights Community Plan at III available at http://www.lacity.org/pln/complan/central/bhtpage.htm
Biographies Of Persons For Whom Selected New York City Housing Authority Developments Were Named available at http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/nycha/html/name.html.
Antonio Villaraigosa Offers An Agenda: The Emerging Latino New Urbanism, An excerpt from the LA City Councilman's keynote address at the recent Transportation and Land Use Collaborative conference, Latino New Urbanism, The Planning Report (Nov. 2004) available at http://www.planningreport.com/tpr/?module=displaystory&story_id=793&format=html
Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Councilmember of the 14th District, Empowering People to Get Things Done, Jan. 17, 2005 at 10.
New Police Station Serves and Protects Community, Aug. 2004, available at. http://www.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek04/tw0813/0813pw_hollenbeck.htm
Gilbert Estrada, Feelings Over Hollenbeck Station Still Boiling, Eastern Group Publications, Mar. 17, 2005, available at http://www.egpnews.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=browse&id=3&pageid=37
Daniel Hernandez, Evictions Questioned in Boyle Heights, L.A. Times. Mar. 12, 2005 B3.
Gilbert Estrada, Flawed Process Angers Residents, Eastside Sun, Mar. 3, 2005 at 6.
Iver Peterson, There Goes the Old Neighborhood, to Revitalization, N.Y. Times, Jan. 30, 2005
Selene Rivera, Inquilinos Protestan al Compas de Musica Mariachi, Mexican American Sun, Nov. 25, 2004 at 9.
Gloria Ohland, Renaissance in the Barrio, LA Weekly, Nov. 19-25, 2004
J. Miguel Flores:
J. Miguel Flores holds a Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School and is a resident of Boyle Heights. He can be reached at email@example.com