July 5, 2000 - From the July, 2000 issue

Chinatown Cornfield's Challengers Won't Quit Dreaming of Open Space

The community neighboring the vacant Cornfield site in Chinatown is in desperate need of parks, schools and jobs--priorities that are often in conflict with each other. A Majestic Realty plan supported by the Mayor to build warehouses on the Cornfield would allegedly create nearly 1,000 (low-wage) jobs. Here author Robert Garcia, Senior Attorney and Director of L.A.'s Environmental Defense, and co-authors Lewis MacAdams, Chi Mui, and Juanita Tate of CCSLA, argue that the community's need for schools, parks and the site's historic and cultural value outweigh the unreliable promise of low-wage jobs. TPR is pleased to forward the debate with this account.

The Chinatown Cornfield is a 47-acre rail yard in downtown Los Angeles that has been vacant for ten years. Included on the site is the Zanja Madre, the "mother ditch" that first brought water from the Los Angeles River to the birthplace of L.A.-Olvera Street-in 1781 and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Millennium Trail. Both need to be preserved as part of our national heritage and the Spanish and Mexican cultural heritage of Los Angeles. But, more importantly, this last vast open space in downtown offers a once-in-a-century opportunity to create a world-class park, playground, school, bikeway, and mixed-use complex while at the same time restoring a critical section of the Los Angeles River. To achieve this dream, a broad multicultural coalition of community, environmental, civil rights, historic preservation and business interests has been put together to bring badly needed parkland to a city and a neighborhood that is park poor.

Los Angeles has fewer acres of park per thousand residents than any major city in the country. The Cornfield could provide land for a multitude of uses enriching and enhancing the quality of life of the surrounding residents.

One such mixed-use could be a park and middle school, high school or K-8 school in Chinatown-which currently has no middle school or high school facilities and buses its children 45 minutes to school and back everyday. The Cornfield could also provide badly needed recreation and open space for the neighboring William Mead Housing Project-currently sandwiched between the men's jail and the rail yard.The playground in the Mead housingproject has been closed because of contamination.

The children in these neighborhoods don't have adequate access to cars or to a decent transit system that would enable them to reach parks in other neighborhoods. They have been deprived of one of the simple joys of childhood-playing in a park.

Remarkably, the money is available to make this park happen. Last March the people of California passed Propositions 12 and 13 (the park and water bonds) in an attempt to help create the kind of community they want-a neighborhood which includes open space. In addition, the State budget already includes money to restore the Los Angeles River, federal and State clean up funds are available to address concerns about contamination from old railway operations, and the Los Angeles Unified School District-in desperate need of new schools-has funds that could be available under 1997's Proposition BB.

Despite these funding mechanisms and the endorsement of the National Park Service, the L.A. Times, former Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, and Senate Resource Committee Chair Tom Hayden to turn this site into parkland, the biggest current obstacle is still the Majestic Realty proposal to build 32-acres of warehouse and industrial development on the site-supported by the Mayor's Office and Union Pacific. This "sweetheart deal" would use federal funds to make the project profitable for Majestic, and would allow Union Pacific to avoid cleaning up the site. This proposal not only reflects a lack of vision by city planners but is also illegal.

The City Planning Department gave the green light to the Majestic proposal without requiring an environmental impact report, and without considering discriminatory impacts against the communities in Chinatown and the Mead housing project. State and federal environmental quality and environmental justice laws require that all reasonable alternatives be considered before taking any government action that may have a significant environmental impact. The coalition is currently appealing the decision to the new city planning commission, and is working to stop federal funding for the warehouses.


In addition the Mayor's Office states that the development will creating up to 1,000 low wage jobs. There are alternative sites for such job creation, there is no alternative for a 47-acre parkland site in Los Angeles. A park and mixed-use development would itself create jobs, increase property values, increase tourism-to what used to be the second largest Chinatown in the United States-and promote the economic revitalization of the community in ways that the Mayor's Office has failed to consider.

The public has a right to be skeptical of the Mayor's claims of job creation. According to a recent UCLA report, the Mayor's Office has vastly overstated its effectiveness in job creation, the quality of jobs has not been a criterion in selecting businesses for assistance, and the land use decision-making process lacks public accountability and input from the City Council, and community groups. We agree.

In 1930, the sons of Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted proposed a wealth of parks and playgrounds that would have made Los Angeles one of the most livable and beautiful cities in the world. City planners demonstrated a monumental lack of judgment by shelving that plan. We have the opportunity today to reclaim a part of the City's lost beauty and of the Olmsted sons' vision. We can make the park happen in the Cornfield to serve the human needs of the community.

More information is available on the Web


The coalition to stop the warehouse proposal includes: Chinatown-Alpine Hill Neighborhood Association, Chinese-American Citizen's Alliance, Citizens Committee To Save Elysian Park, Coalition L.A. 1st District Organizing Committee, Concerned Citizens of South Central L.A., The Advancement Project, Echo Park Community Coordinating Council, Elysian Heights Residents Association, Environmental Defense, Friends of Castelar School, FOLAR, Latino Urban Forum, Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Preservation Association, William Mead Homes Residents Association, Mothers of East L.A. Santa Isabel, NRDC, Northeast Renaissance Corp., Northeast Trees, People for Parks, the Sierra Club, and the Southern California Council on Environment and Development.


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