Written by Gloria Angelina Castillo
The City of Los Angeles rolled out the green, astro-turf carpet and modern furniture to hold Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office hours on East 1st Street in Boyle Heights, as part of the “PARK(ing) Day” event on Sept. 20
Several metered parking spaces were temporarily turned into a comfortable waiting area where constituents, many of them local business owners, waited for their chance to speak with the mayor as vehicles zoomed past the spot in front of La Serenata de Garibaldi.
Aurora Rodriguez, owner of La Serenata, told EGP she was very happy the mayor set up camp in front of her door. Cleaner streets, less graffiti and vagrants, were among Rodriguez’s concerns. While La Serenata has its own parking lot, street parking is an issue, she said.
Other business owners and local residents echoed the same concerns when it was their turn to speak with Garcetti.
In response, the mayor advised the business owners to consider forming a Business Improvement District (BID) to help improve the appearance of the commercial corridor. He told them about his idea to pick about 20 “main streets,” in different neighborhoods throughout the city, and invest in their curb appeal.
“This feels very similar to Echo Park when I was there about 10 years ago. You know Echo Park had a lot of family-owned businesses for a really long time, and some vacant store fronts,” Garcetti said, explaining a targeted neighborhood initiative helped property owners improve their storefront facades, along with other changes that improved the “street-level experience,” which in turn brought more people out, and attracted more people from outside the area.
“Why would anyone want to stop here? There’s nothing,” said one business owner who wants to improve his businesses but said he doesn’t know where to start.
Garcetti said there is a lot of culture in the area and he believes making the area a destination requires a more vibrant nightlife. Christina Ramos, of Printing Services on E. First Street, asked Garcetti in Spanish to help promote the mariachis at Mariachi Plaza.
Garcetti said tourists who arrive at LAX don’t know about Mariachi Plaza, which he called an “integral part of the city.” He wants to see how the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs can help promote and attract tourists to the area.
Guillermo Uribe, of Eastside Luv Wine Bar y Queso, said he talked to Garcetti about “gentification,” a term he has coined as a twist on “gentrification.”
“Usually it becomes an issue of race, ‘the white folks are coming,’ but we can’t get hung up on that,” Uribe said, explaining the so-called “enemy” that poses a threat to the community are corporations not individuals.
Garcetti also touched upon gentrification with resident Guillermina Cueva. Garcetti said he knows the main concern is keeping Boyle Heights affordable to the current residents.
“We need to build more units of affordable housing to keep the affordability here. In Echo Park and Silver Lake, we built a lot of units for low-income and working people,” Garcetti said.
Cueva also expressed her concern over gang activities in a specific location, graffiti and other quality of life issues. Garcetti reminded her to dial 3-1-1 for graffiti, bulky item pick up and pot holes. He said he would talk to the Hollenbeck Police captain about increased patrolling.
The mayor also spoke with high school students about scholarships and helping them with transportation for field trips.
Blanca Dueñas, a local mother and activist, asked the mayor to repair a sidewalk at the intersection of Boyle and Pennsylvania, and urged him to do what he can to ensure that Prop 30 funding goes to its intended purpose: education.
He also talked to another group about the possibility of the city’s Department of Aging offering adult education.
Garcetti shook a lot of hands and kissed many women on their cheeks, as would seem culturally appropriate in the predominately Latino neighborhood. He also posed for photos throughout the event.
The mayor said the event was his first out-door office hours, jokingly adding that it felt “relatively safe.”
“This is great, this is Boyle Heights where my family came from. This is a street we transformed into a park and I figured, why not take advantage of this day, Park LA, and actually meet with constituents,” he told reporters.
Garcetti said most people can explain their problem in one minute and his staff can start working immediately to resolve the problem, and to connect people.