By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
If I were ever in charge, Reyes’ inner voice repeated to himself back then, things would be different. Development protections only in the rich areas? No more. The river — binding the city together instead of serving as a storm-water trench. Inclusionary zoning — on the books. These backward Planning Department supervisors — gone.
But he wasn’t in charge. He was in a Planning Department of zombies, protecting the status quo. And rather than by any planning initiative or personnel slight, the point was driven into his gut by that searing image of the woman being beaten, the little girl seeing the city seal on his car and running out to plead for his help, the woman’s cry —"¬°Ay√ļdame!" — Help me! By his zombie partner’s insistence that they not get involved, and now, by his supervisor’s shouts, chewing him out for putting a woman’s life and safety above the department’s standoffish worldview.
And now it is 2004, and unlikely as it may seem, Ed Reyes — quiet Eastside kid who wrapped up his bookishness, his vision and his anger into a career as a city planner — is a city councilman and chairs the powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, with oversight of the Planning Department.
What should he do with this power? Is it vision, or an old grudge, or both, that drives him to re-create the city’s approach to planning?
Once or twice, he has exploded on the council floor, challenging his reluctant colleagues to accept affordable housing in their neighborhoods. More often he tones it down, mindful that he needs the backing of the wary development community and Mayor James Hahn. In the background lurk the March elections — not so much his as the one that will pit Hahn against two of his council colleagues (and two others). In the foreground looms the Planning Department, the source of his anger, the target of his reformist zeal. And at the top of the agenda stands inclusionary zoning, a policy simultaneously mind-numbing and politically hot, stirring up enough raw emotion to make homeowners, developers and affordable-housing advocates ready to go to war.
It is a pivotaland defining moment not just for the planner-turned-councilman, but for the entire city of Los Angeles. Perhaps all of California.
With or without Reyes and smart-growth programs, huge numbers of new arrivals (at least as many through births, the demographers say, as through immigration) will crowd the region over the next three decades. An entire population the size of Chicago will move in and demand a place to live. For the people already here, no amount of resistance or denial will obscure a simple fact: One version of the L.A. dream is slipping away.
Sheer numbers and urban density already make the wide-open freeway a fading memory. The 45-minute jaunt from the surf to the ski slopes? Once a birthright, today a rarity. A quiet cul-de-sac, plenty of street parking for your party guests, a low-rise landscape, everyone’s shot at a front lawn, an orange tree, a swimming pool and a barbecue — vanishing.
Angry homeowners who invested in that dream are working to fight off new laws that encourage denser housing. Many Southern Californians have begun to blame unchecked immigration and, more particularly, Latinos. The Sierra Club this year fended off a challenge from an anti-immigration slate of candidates, while anti-sprawl environmentalists find themselves labeled elitist.
A three-way battle is brewing, and in its wake may come a sweeping political and social realignment on a scale not seen since voters sent liberal pro-growth Governor Pat Brown packing and replaced him with Ronald Reagan in 1966.
The ties that bind key partners in the Democratic majority — wealthy liberals, environmental activists, urban progressives and the burgeoning Latino majority — are stretching, and are about to snap. The political dancers are peering over their partners’ shoulders and ogling some exotic strangers on the floor. Affordable housing, in the topsy-turvy world at hand, may throw Latinos and blacks into the arms of once-hated realtors, bigtime developers and the Republican business lobby. Less regulation, more building is their mantra. Liberal environmentalists and homeowners, labeled NIMBYs for a "not in my back yard" opposition to taller and more densely packed apartment blocks, may find themselves in an uncomfortable embrace with anti-immigrant groups. The assault on the Sierra Club is but one example. Progressives, trying to stay faithful to labor, may find themselves and their social-policy agendas abandoned by unions, who will be lured by big financiers, realtors, developers and thousands of new construction jobs.
Or not. The final shape of the realignment is unpredictable, because affordable housing and smart growth are emotional touchstones at least as much as they are policy issues. They press the hot buttons that the people of Los Angeles famously, and scrupulously, avoid discussing: race, class, immigration, and the right to a patch of ground and an open stretch of freeway.
Ed Reyes understands that, and is trying to craft a strong-enough consensus among all the parties to win new affordable housing and gain a measure of equity among L.A.’s neighborhoods, while giving life to a new breed of urban environmentalism. His goal is nothing short of re-defining the L.A. dream: a green city with recreation space for young people on the Eastside as well as the Westside, in South L.A. as well as the Valley, with efficient transit, ample opportunity and a social conscience.