Winter 2005 Newsletter
Boyle Heights Neighborhood
Plans For High School & Pre-K
In the east Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, the community's need for land for a new school, housing and MTA station appeared to endanger an important community preschool facility, until the parties, with the support of Councilman Villaraigosa's office and assistance of NSBN, worked out a collaborative planning process. In this interview, LAUSD Board of Education President Jose Huizar; Jim Conn, an urban strategist with United Methodist Ministries; and Eduardo Garcia of Plaza Community Center discuss NSBN's community planning process, which has led to a signed Memorandum of Understanding.
Eduardo and Jim, as the operators of the Plaza Community Center, why are you interested in a collaborative planning process with the community and LAUSD in the Boyle Heights area?
Eduardo Garcia: The collaborative planning process provides us with an opportunity to not have to return later and say in hindsight that services should have been dealt with in this manner. So many times, I have seen LAUSD go back and try to undo mistakes of the past. This is an opportunity for LAUSD and the local community, including Plaza Community Center, to think about the long range.
Jim Conn: The United Methodist Church owns the parcel at First and Utah Streets, and we are committed to making sure that there is property available for the provision of services through the Plaza Community Center. So, where this property is located and how it fits into the community will make all of the difference for Plaza. We think that the site will be better integrated into the community and provide those services more effectively if there are a lot of people around the table making the decision.
Jose, as the School Board member representing the First & Mission area of Boyle Heights, what are your thoughts on the prospects of this partnership and the integration of a new high school into the neighborhood?
Jose Huizar: I think that this is a great opportunity for the community in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles to work together and find the optimal site for a childcare center. There are large housing developments nearby, a new high school going up, and the Gold Line coming through. With all of these different developments, agencies must work together to reach an optimum result for the community.
I have tried to create an environment of cooperation at the district. After all, we all serve the same constituency. If we work with other jurisdictions in the community to leverage and strategically place resources, while keeping focus on our mission, I think at the end of the day, we will create the best result for the community. More government jurisdictions and communities should be using these types of processes to site necessary community resources in highly dense areas.
Jim, you have served as mayor of the City of Santa Monica. You know how public agencies work in silos. Here, we are trying to craft a collaborative planning process with multiple jurisdictions, agencies, and community stakeholders. What are the inevitable challenges, and what are the challenges that are faced in this particular project?
JC: I think the biggest problem is always that property owners already have an idea about what they want to do with that parcel, or they have an interest at stake. So, getting people to see the larger picture and envision how that property fits into the matrix of the properties around it is always a really difficult thing. We tend to see the world from our own perspectives.
Eduardo, you have been running Plaza for some years now, and you realize that your project is in jeopardy. What are the challenges that you face in trying to engage in this collaborative process with agencies like the school district, MTA, CRA, and others?
EG: First of all, this community has felt for many years that it has been overlooked: overlooked in planning, overlooked in dollars, and overlooked in attention from elected officials. The community is trying to get the attention of probably the largest elephant on the block. The school district has an opportunity, being the second largest school district in the country, to show some leadership and demonstrate that it does and it will meet the needs of the neighborhood and the community. It still needs to come into the place and show that it does have the community's best interest at heart.
Jose, what does the school district bring to the table?
JH: The school district brings, obviously, a lot of expertise in siting community resources. We are in the midst of one of the largest public works programs in the country, building 160 new schools in the next eight years. We have a good team in place that knows how to work with communities to find sites. At the same time, we haven't built many new schools in the past thirty years. Given that we are the secondlargest school district in the country and that we are running the largest public works program in the country, efforts like this MOU will set a precedent.
Take a step back, Eduardo. What are the services that Plaza Community Center provides, and what is at stake in this planning process for your organization?
EG: Overall, we are nearing 100 years of service to the community. The Plaza has been in Boyle Heights since 1956. We are a family- oriented service center, providing child care, mental health services, alcohol and drug outpatient services, services to teens, services to mothers, and services to prevent and treat domestic violence. There is a lot at stake when a place serving 50 children from 50 families gets displaced and moved out of the neighborhood. Many of the families do not have transportation. We serve families that are very poor. For our agency to be relocated from the First Street site further away from where our constituency can reached, it is not only a problem for Plaza, it is a problem for the families in that neighborhood.
That neighborhood in and around First Street in the larger Boyle Heights community is undergoing some major concept development, including housing. Housing will bring families, and families will need childcare. We are the experts in that field, and have been for many years.
Jim, for the United Methodist Church, what is at stake in this potential collaboration?
JC: The church wants to stay in this community. Our concern is that, in this eminent domain process, we would be left without an ability to continue our presence there providing these services. We don't want a piece of property that is a few miles away. We want to stay in that community.
EG: If I might add, our state grant is also at stake. If we should move far enough away that there is an interruption of service or the possibility that some other agency down the line may take advantage of the services, Plaza may lose our state grant for delivery of child care services. We don't see that as something that is good for Plaza or good for the community.
Eduardo and Jim, you have signed on to a memorandum of understanding with NSBN. We have also received support letters from Councilmember Antonio Villaragosa; Supervisor Gloria Molina; the MTA; and the housing developer that is working in the area, McCormack, Baron, Salazar. What do you hope can be accomplished by this planning process for co-location, joint-use, and development in the neighborhood?
JC: What is so fascinating is the opportunity to create a community, a neighborhood, in an area that is being systematically renewed. There are so many different agencies that are putting significant investments into this community. To have that community work as a whole, to have the pieces fit together, aligns with the theology of the United Methodist Church. We really believe that pieces of neighborhoods need to be connected to each other, and that those pieces need to be integrated.
When those entities making investments work together, we are more likely to have a sense of community as a result. I am not talking about just buildings and streetscapes, but ways where people can actually interrelate more effectively with one another and be a community of people in a neighborhood.
EG: My hopes are high because the School Board member representing this particular district, Jose Huizar, is from the community. I think he realizes that the community needs to feel that they are stakeholders, that they have buy in, and that they have a voice in the investment in their neighborhoods. I have a lot of hope that the community will feel as though they are a part of this project.
What is the timing that you imagine for this process, and when do we get started?
EG: For us, a great way to wrap up the year would be to have completed a memorandum of understanding that there is a collaboration and that we are all going to be at the table planning this process. I hope the MOU is signed by the end of this year, so in the new year we can see hope for the future of the neighborhood.
JC: We are asking for a 90-day window to do that kind of collaborative process, so that it won't slow down the school district in their goal of building high schools, and it won't slow down any of the other entities, such as the MTA, in their planning processes.
This newsletter describes several projects in which NSBN has helped to bring together schools with housing, open space, an early education center, and a primary center. Are we beginning to see some models emerge for planning co-located and joint-use facilities with the school district?
JH: Yes, but quite frankly, I wish there were more models. As we continue to build public resources like parkland, schools, child care centers, and police stations, we are working in some very dense neighborhoods, and we are going to look at these models as necessities, not luxuries.
For example, we completed our first phase of building, in which we are siting 80 schools. In the next few years, we are going to be looking for property to site another 80 schools in some of the densest neighborhoods in the country. So, I think it is going to be out of necessity in the future that we use these types of collaborative planning processes.
I am very supportive of working collaboratively with the city and with MTA, but I think you almost need a third, non-government party like NSBN to help bring all of these agencies together. Public entities are sometimes so focused on our own missions that we need someone else to get us all together and illuminate the possibilities. Secondly, as the school district gets more comfortable in its construction program, it will feel more at ease to collaborate. Right now, I think, we are just getting started. Now that the initial stages are tapering off, I see more of these possibilities coming to bear. And the benefits are tremendous.
What is the lesson here, Jim? You spoke eloquently of the United Methodist Church's theology about neighborhoods. If you were successful in Boyle Heights, what would be the lesson that you would take to other communities in which you work?
JC: I think that a church or a church-owned piece of property can serve as leverage for helping various segments of the community work together. I would like to see the church use its position in many neighborhoods to leverage that kind of cooperation among the various institutions in the community.
Eduardo, with First 5 LA funding NSBN's community planning of neighborhood centered schools, how might Plaza's work and others also involved in the delivery of early childhood services, benefit from this pre-development planning project?
EG: I think that my lesson is that we ought not to lose the opportunity to show that this is a model for what other communities can do. Each community is different, and I think it is difficult to bring everybody together to speak about these differences, but, again, we can serve as a model to show that it can and has been done in the past, and can be done in the future.
Jose, NSBN got involved with the First & Mission project to help find a new location for a childcare center that would otherwise be lost. First 5 and LA Up are focused on a universal pre-kindergarten program for the entire county. How do we, from your experience, best meet the needs for early education and the school district's requirements for seats for K-12? What lessons are you learning, and what do we need to do?
JH: It can't fully be the responsibility of LAUSD. We have 740,000 students in K-12, another 400,000 students in adult education, and about 10,000 in early education. I hope that LAUSD plays a strong role as we move toward providing universal preschool. At the same time, we have to look at various types of agencies, including non-profits, the school district, and other entities, and a multi-faceted approach to provide this service. I applaud the folks who are working on universal preschool. As we know, research shows that kids who enter school and are stimulated earlier on in their lives do much better later on, particularly in our low-income communities. This project in Boyle Heights and what we, LAUSD and NSBN, did together in the Pico-Union/Westlake area are examples of different entities coming together to find a solution.
One final thought: I am particularly excited about the East Los Angeles High School, because that project had been three years behind in finding a site. When I became the board member for that area, it was one of my priorities to locate a site. Working collaboratively with the city's Housing Authority, we were able to lease the site for practically nothing. That is a very good example of the type of cooperation that should happen between different entities. What started as a good partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of L.A., has led to more partnerships, such as we are seeing here with the MOU. This shows the evolving principle for more community participation in creating schools as centers of the community.