June 1, 2001 - From the June, 2001 issue

New Leaders Elected In City Of L.A.: Ed Reyes Offers A Vision For CD 1

Term limits have created a lack of institutional memory in LA's City Council. In some cases that may be a blessing in disguise, but it could also open up new councilmembers to rookie mistakes and undue influence by longer-term players with their own agendas. Ed Reyes may avoid falling victim to those pitfalls because his experience as Mike Hernandez's Chief of Staff helped him codify what his priorites will be going forward. TPR was pleased to interview Ed after his election victory regarding his vision for CD 1, how he might use his planning knowledge to benefit the community, and what he believes the policy priorities of his council office should (and will) be.


Ed Reyes

Ed, you have experience in City Hall representing the First District beginning with your tenure as a planning deputy to outgoing Councilman Mike Hernandez. With your election to succeed him as that District's Councilmember, share with us the planning agenda you bring to CD 1?

We need to revitalize and elevate the level of confidence between the community and the elected representatives. To do that, we need to implement plans that take into account our current-and tremendous-need for schools, housing, open space and basic city services.

And the best way to deal with those needs is to ensure that future proposals look at the nexus between those issues and infrastructure investment. We must realign our development plans so that they address the adverse effects that development has on a community and mitigate them. Let me enumerate a couple of specific examples in my district.

First, the Northeast Community Plan Area essentially said that we can no longer continue to ignore the fact that we don't have enough school facilities. If we cannot provide that kind of community infrastructure, why should we continue to allow development projects to continue construction? To allow development without proper infrastructure is simply an antiquated and nonsensical way of growing.

A second example is in the Westlake Community Plan Area where we are focused on intensifying development around the Metrorail station. Because of this transit oriented development, we can enhance quality of life and address the needs of those residents dependent on mass transit by linking housing and commercial activity around a heavily used rail station.

Third, the Central City North Community Plan must be altered so that it can accommodate the recent decision to put a park on the Cornfields. We need to address that particular site so that we can bring in complementary forms of development that connect Chinatown, Lincoln Heights and the Downtown business center in such a way that the park becomes a critical and historic element for L.A. These are the kinds of forward-thinking planning efforts that I would like to improve upon.

What kind of signals do you want to send out to housing and economic development investors regarding the challenges in these various neighborhoods. What do you want to attract to your council district?

I want to attract investors who understand and appreciate the rich diversity of the district and not merely see my constituents as "poor people." Regardless of their income, there is a significant population living here. They may not have incomes in the $60,000-$110,000 range, but there's still a lot of people who have the ability to spend money. Why not respect them? Why not give them a clean place to go shopping? Why not help improve the sidewalks and the open space? Why not give them the level of respect that other districts receive?

Are there projects around the city that you've seen growing up in the area or in your role as Chief of Staff to Mike Hernandez that appeal to you? Are there housing, commercial or retail developments that you believe could be replicated in your district?

There are a number of developers within the city who are willing to be very creative. The Crescent Village housing development is just one example of a project that would find enormous support in my district. We need to find a way to supplement or replace the space set-aside for vehicles with community learning centers, social service centers, childcare centers and senior care facilities. I'm sure that developers would be willing to transfer a portion of the capital costs involved in constructing a parking structure, a parking lot or even a single parking space to a use that is more "social" in nature. I would be very happy to lend my support to more developments which work creatively to use space more effectively and in the process address some of the growing infrastructure concerns of the city.

As far as mixed-use, the one project that comes to mind is the old Capital Mills project in which they are retrofitting an old storage site into a mix of commercial and housing uses. The key to that project is that they've kept the integrity and image of the building and have merely adapted the structure into something marketable. This is particularly attractive when you start looking at the beginnings of the development of the light rail stations in the Northeast. With development such as this, these transit nodes can assume a different role in serving a multiplicity of purposes.

Ed, as we do this interview, the governor's revised budget has come out, and it includes money for the Cornfields. What does that opportunity offer you? What do you hope to do with that project?

If we can use that project as a background for linking Dodger Stadium, Chinatown, the Civic Center, Lincoln Heights and Debs Park in a way that lessons traffic and addresses the open space, recreational and education needs of the local community we've really created a win-win situation. The opportunity is there. We have an excellent opportunity to reshape the urban fabric.

Well, let's elaborate on your reference to education. One of the ideas of a complimentary feature of the Cornfields would be a school. L.A. Unified has told the groups involved that they have no interest in siting a school on that site. What kinds of energy and opportunity for the leadership from your council office is there to work with the school district to create new schools and better neighborhoods in the First Council District?

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I hope to have the kind of relationship with the School Board that allows me to encourage them to reassess their current thought processes, take advantage of opportunities such as the Cornfields and clarify LAUSD's standard for investing in the inner-city.

We've heard for quite some time that much of Downtown is built on oil fields, methane gas, etc. But, if they're going to say that we can't build in the inner-city because of these factors, tell me under which criteria we can build. If we can't identify the standard by which we invest, we'll never invest in the inner-city.

That is one of the many frustrations of my constituents. I hope that my relationship and my vantage as a Councilmember can put me in a position to inform parents what they should demand from the school district and hopefully create an environment where the community and the school district can cooperate and build these desperately needed facilities.

Well said Ed. Now let's turn to Taylor Yard. You've watched that project over some time. What's your agenda with respect to Taylor Yards? What are you listening for? What do you want to accomplish?

In 1993 we went through an aggressive community planning process. Now eight years later, we have 1/3 of the industrial park portion finished-very attractive building, nice landscaping, etc. But, we still have 2/3 of the site left and the community really wants to see open space and commercial or retail.

I'll be working hard to help Union Pacific understand that these community desires offer a great opportunity to increase the notion of desirability and quality of life in the neighborhood. By increasing those two factors we can encourage the best and highest land uses for the people that live there.

Taylor Yards can no longer be viewed as an industrial dumping ground. It was vacant for many years. It's now a clean slate. Why not follow what the people want there? You improve your customer base, you change the image of the area and you reinforce that historic element of the original suburb. If we follow the community's desire for a park, we create the foundation for everything else.

Ed you're joining the council on July 1st. It will be a very new council, with a new mayor and a new charter. What are your hopes and what are your desires with respect to the role you want to play in this new 15 member council with a new mayor?

The neighborhoods are right now in a vulnerable position. We haven't been informing them, we haven't been giving the folks who need to participate the access to information necessary to challenge elected officials. What I want to do as an elected official is be in a position to provide the community with the capacity, the information and the technology to hold elected officials accountable.

Because of term limits we're going to see a lot of turn around. And I'm afraid that those who don't come with my experience and exposure will have to depend too heavily on the bureaucracy. That begs the question, does the bureaucracy know the people and issues they are representing? Do they live in the city? What's their priority? Whose issues are they addressing?

The community needs to be in a stronger position to hold folks accountable. I know that it's a double-edged sword but it's what must be done if we want to deal with these issues of inequity.

Let's close by having you list which committees you would be interested in serving on. Which Committees best utilize your skills as both an urban planner and long-time City Hall staffer?

The Committees that deal with direct impact interested me: Public Works, CED, HCR--and of course, PLUM is a committee that is very natural to me. Whether politically it unfolds and transpires is to be seen. But honestly, any committee I come into, I'm going to do my best to make it a viable committee that has direct impact and results in the 1st District.

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