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Contested plan to build homeless housing on youth rec site in Echo Park forges ahead

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Opposition came from a surprising source: another councilmember

A photo of the space as seen from the street. There are two bike racks on the sidewalk in front of the space, which has tall gates that are covered so you can’t see what’s on the other side.
The recreation area seen from Lemoyne Street.
Google Maps

The push to create housing for homeless Angelenos on two city-owned lots in Echo Park lots has drawn heavy criticism but will continue to move ahead following a 10-2 City Council vote today.

Building the permanent supportive housing complex would require demolishing basketball courts and recreation space for young people and kids run by the nonprofit El Centro del Pueblo, which was founded in the 1970s to offer services to communities affected by gang violence.

In a building next door, the nonprofit operates a resource center for children and families, providing tutoring, ESL classes, and a battery of other services. That building would not be part of this project.

Plans are still in the early stages. The council’s vote today will allow the city to transfer the property to the city’s housing and community investment department and begin the process of requesting proposals from potential developers.

But opponents of the proposed project are not waiting for the plans to mature, telling the City Council today that they are not against homeless housing—but against the loss of a valuable community resource.

Community members and people who had made use of the services at El Centro asked the council to allow the recreation space to remain.

Clay Johnston said that he was “a product of El Centro,” and used its services as a kid. “The streets of Echo Park weren’t so safe, but that was a place that was safe,” Johnston said. He asked the city not to support the homeless at the expense of the youth.

The area is represented by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who remained firm on building supportive housing at 1146 Glendale Boulevard and the adjoining lot to the east on Lemoyne Street.

“The lack of affordable housing, of permanent supportive housing, is not an issue but the issue facing us,” he said.

It’s rare for councilmembers to speak out against developments that are not in their districts, but Gil Cedillo, whose represents parts of Echo Park, but not the project site, strayed from that practice today.

“[The housing department] has done 31 projects like this, but not one is taking away an asset from any community,” he said.

Cedillo likened the fight over the proposed development to that over Chavez Ravine, the 1950s debacle in which Latino residents of the Elysian Park-adjacent neighborhood were removed from their homes, often forcibly, under the guise of making way for public housing. They got Dodger Stadium instead.

“This is about an attack on the Latino community,” Cedillo said. “Nothing could be more clear or more evident.”

Cedillo and Councilmember Joe Buscaino voted no.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor and Los Angeles City Councilmember Gloria Molina urged the council not to “pit one vulnerable community against another.”

Another former city councilmember, Richard Alatorre, read a letter from the California Latino Legislative Caucus, asking the council to spare the space.

But the Echo Park Improvement Association, homeless advocates, and a handful of residents of the area submitted letters in favor of the project and made comments in its favor Wednesday.

O’Farrell said that, on paper, the property is “underutilized” and that housing will be the best use for the sites—a sentiment that was met by boos from a few members of the public.

The property, which also includes the nine-space city parking lot next to the Echoplex, was identified as a good site for permanent supportive housing by a citywide survey of city-owned parcels.

Because of its location, it is zoned for as many as 98 housing units, a report from the city’s municipal facilities committee found. The project would require replacing only nine parking spaces—something that would keep costs on the project low, O’Farrell said.

O’Farrell also said that, as a “compromise,” he had already committed to requiring any proposals for developing the site to include plans for creating publicly accessible recreation space that faces Lemoyne Street—space that could be leased to El Centro del Pueblo for its use.

“This is a proposal to accommodate both populations and both needs,” O’Farrell said.