Ask any economic expert what Los Angeles needs most to rebound from our painful recession, and the answer would be “investment.” A proposal to bring a tremendous investment to Los Angeles – along with thousands of jobs – is to be considered shortly by city officials. They would be wise to welcome it with open arms.
Wyvernwood Apartments is a sprawling housing complex on 70 acres in Boyle Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1938, the site’s buildings and overall design are outdated and obsolete for the 21st century. The real estate firm that owns the property, Fifteen Group, is proposing to redevelop and transform the site in a major $2 billion project that would create more than 10,000 construction jobs and lead to $25 million a year in annual city tax revenue after completion.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Central City Association don’t always see eye to eye on every issue, but we both strongly support the Wyvernwood redevelopment as a critical economic stimulus for Boyle Heights and all of Los Angeles.
Known as the New Wyvernwood, the project will create high-quality union jobs in a community that desperately needs more opportunity. Thanks to the project’s local hiring program, many of these jobs will go to Boyle Heights residents, including disadvantaged residents who have otherwise been left behind.
The project is a prime example of best practices for new infill development, providing a mix of housing types, open spaces and on-site shopping options within a far more walkable community. These features helped the New Wyvernwood earn a major international design award last year.
The impact of the redevelopment project will stretch far beyond jobs and economics. The New Wyvernwood will ease a severe workforce housing shortage in Boyle Heights – located just a few miles from downtown, our region’s top employment center – and give young adults who grew up in the neighborhood a chance to remain there once they start families of their own.
Critically, the project will also increase the neighborhood’s supply of affordable housing for families with low and very low incomes. Fifteen percent of residential units on the site – up to 660 units in total – will be set aside as affordable housing for 30 years. This comes in sharp contrast to the allocation on the current site, which includes no covenanted affordable housing. On top of that, rent control for current residents will continue on the redeveloped site, making the redeveloped property just as affordable for current tenants. Thanks to an innovative phasing plan, tenants will also be able to remain on the property while the project is being built.
These facts help explain why a majority of Wyvernwood households support the project, which is also backed by a broad array of community leaders such as Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association and the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce.
The Los Angeles Conservancy sees the age of Wyvernwood’s Depression-era buildings and woefully outdated site plan as an asset. Meanwhile, a great majority of Wyvernwood’s residents disagree with that view, particularly as they cope with fragile electrical systems, a flawed street grid and just one bathroom in each apartment no matter the size.
The Los Angeles Planning Commission and City Council have embraced progressive policies to spur smart growth in many parts of the city. Playa Vista and Hollywood are two communities that have reaped tremendous benefits recently from the city’s bold vision for urban infill. Thanks to a unanimous vote last year by the Planning Commission, Warner Center’s new specific plan is on its way to becoming the blueprint for long-term progress in the West San Fernando Valley. Arguably, plans for the New Wyvernwood are even more innovative and necessary in a part of the city that has been overlooked for too long. Why should Boyle Heights be left behind?
As Los Angeles continues to struggle with a substantial budget shortfall, a stubborn unemployment rate and an acute shortage of quality workforce housing, our city government must embrace high-quality, responsible development opportunities that uplift residents, create jobs and generate positive economic activity. By supporting the New Wyvernwood, City Councilman Jose Huizar and our public officials will be sending a clear signal to other potential investors, and future employers, that Los Angeles is truly open for business that benefits us all.
Maria Elena Durazo is executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. Carol Schatz is chief executive of the Central City Association of Los Angeles.
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