Riordan had just sold off the last farm land between Ventura and Los Angeles County, making Los Angeles County officially land locked from the Pacific Ocean to San Bernardino County and creating a perfect scenario for redeveloping the inner city. His commissioner sent me a terse reply stating “Washington Blvd.was not a target for redevelopment from Mayor Riordan’s office.”
I was furious. Washington Boulevard’s central location made it an obvious target for development. West Adams is the only neighborhood 15 minutes from Downtown, Southland, West Side or Hollywood. Originally developed in the 1900s as a bedroom community to urban downtown, the 360 degree vistas of true Southern California made it desirable to the original Superstars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is built on a mesa, high enough to protect it from flooding (pre-Los Angeles River Wash) and to catch balmy south seas breezes off the marina. Washington Blvd. used to be the destination of all of the Southland for city life until the mid-1960s when the eminent-domained freeway severed it from its lifeline. Now, it is the only thoroughfare from the ocean to Whittier, CA and is nicknamed by the Latinos as the “El Camino Barrio” or the ghetto highway.
In 2001, mayor James Hahn, created a system of neighborhood councils in order to empower Angelenos and their neighborhoods. Our local branch is called United NeighborhoodNeighborhood Council (UNNC), and is comprised of eight neighborhoods in Historic West Adams. I joined the UNNC’s Zoning Committee in order to have an affect on the redevelopment of Washington Boulevard. In 2003, the Committee’s chairperson, Laura Meyers, presented an opportunity to the UNNC zoning committee to create a Specific Plan to develop the Washington Boulevard Corridor (Crenshaw Boulevard to Normandie Avenue). We the citizens of UNNC were empowered to write up a plan by
developing zoning surveys, land use conditions, and a streetscape or vision for Washington Boulevard. We came up with the Washington Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan. It is important to note that this is separate from any Community Redevelopment Association’s (CRA) plan, which is the councilperson’s vision as opposed to the neighborhoods’ own vision.
The community spent two years of dedicated nights at the South Seas House trying to figure out how to change the Manufacturing Zoning status of Washington Boulevard to Retail Zoning in order to make it more inviting to
developers. It would take major support from the councilperson to switch the zoning for redevelopment of the Washington Boulevard Corridor. We finally presented the proposal to our Councilperson Martin Ludlow in 2004.
Ludlow had moved the CD10 office from Crenshaw Boulevard to Western Avenue to demonstrate his commitment to the Korean American community.
Because he had a vested interest in South Koreatown’s Western Avenue hedismissed our proposal outright. He referred to his redevelopment vision of Western Avenue as “The Western Empire.” It turns out (according to the L.A. Times) while chairing the MTA Board, he thwarted an impending Metro depot at Arlington and Exposition to reserve the land for Korean American housing developers who had donated to his campaign. As a result, in 2006 federal charges were brought against Councilman Ludlow. There were also State charges brought against him, stemming from violations of campaign laws involving the use of union funds to pay expenses for his political campaign. He did a plea bargain of no contest with the State if the Federal investigation was dropped. Superior Court Judge Menendez had to reprimand Ludlow for smiling at his sentencing of only “community service” (ironic vernacular) by telling him to “wipe the smile off his face because he lost the public’s trust.” He was also prevented from running for office for 10 years
After Ludlow left office, UNNC worked with the community to finalize the Specific Plan proposal. The UNNC Board passed a detailed version of the proposal in 2006 and Meyers and other UNNC stakeholders met with Council District 10 staff and the Planning Department staff to discuss and review UNNC’s Washington Blvd’s Corridor Specific Plan. CD 10 staff members also sat in on numerous UNNC-sponsored community meetings about Washington Boulevard. The written plan encompasses surveys to determine what type of zoning is needed to promote new development (attractive(continued) stores and restaurants, mixed use housing) community stakeholders asked for.
Currently CD10 Councilman Herb Wesson does not accept nor support the will of the UNNC. In fact, CD10 has been sitting on it so long the city planners have redirected their efforts to CD9 Councilmember Jan Perry’s district’s, East Washington Corridor Specific Plan. The new target area is southeast of downtown where the manufacturing zoning has flipped to retail zoning virtually overnight. Perry wanted to capitalize on the new excitement of her South Park neighborhood (Nokia Live, ESPN Center, J. W. Grand Marriot Hotel) to the near southeast side.
I met with Herb on a recent Saturday afternoon at the home of Etchie Mura on 7th Avenue. He was there to
answer questions from the Quality of Life committee. I was able to ask him about the UNNC’s Washington
Boulevard Corridor Specific Plan. He responded with “Everybody wants restaurants but we have to give them liquor licenses.” Huh? He reduced the community vision, developed with extensive community involvement by a robust cross section of neighbors, over a substantial period of time…….to a liquor license problem? I am left to wonder if he has even read it.
The L.A. Times in homage to the Obama Transparent Government mandate, published a website, listing all of the councilperson’s campaign contributions. I was dismayed to discover how many manufacturers contributed to his campaign coffers and can’t help but wonder about the connection between this and Councilman Wesson’s reluctance to modify or change the manufacturing zoning to accommodate the kind of local businesses the community wants. It leaves me to wonder if our Councilpeople are here to serve us or are our communities here to serve the ambitions of our Councilpeople?
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Editors Note: Update Sept 09. Andrew Westall, Councilman Wessons Senior Deputy recently met with the Mid City Neighborhood Council (MINC) to share with and discuss Councilman Wessons "vision" for development along the Washington Corridor. He assured the community that Councilman Wesson was planning on implementing the specific plans of both the MINC and The United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council (UNNC).