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
Reyes stewed over what had become of him in the Planning Department as he rode in that city car, counting mailboxes, in South L.A. Then he saw an old Victorian house, with a huge picture window, through which he could plainly see a man beating a woman in the face. Despite his partner’s protests, Reyes went to the front door. The first-floor tenant tried to tell him it was no big deal, the couple upstairs always fought. But Reyes went around back to find the door for the upstairs unit, and there he saw the beaten woman crawling on the floor in a trail of blood. "¬°Ay√ļdame!" she said.
"So I went back there, I saw the dude," Reyes recounts. "Dude had no shirt on. He was like in a rage. And I started yelling at him. What’s wrong with you, you don’t treat animals that way, how can you treat a human being that way? And I saw there was a baby on the floor. And he grabbed the baby. I was yelling, what are you doing, leave the baby alone. You can get arrested for this!"
When the police arrived, Reyes says, he told his partner, "Man, don’t tell anybody this happened. Man, I’m going to get shafted for this."
Because, he explains, "I already knew the environment I was in. I already knew the hostility that was there. I could feel the racism. I’ve been in places like this. You feel it. You know it. And sure enough, man, the first thing this dude does is he goes to a person and he tells."
Reyes felt doomed. But he was fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of a woman who was trying to make changes in the department. She assigned him to the department director, Ken Topping, to do special projects like tracking down every motion that came out of the department.
"That’s where you started seeing where the resources were being driven," Reyes said. "That’s where you started seeing the specific plans that were being designed or built. What areas of the city were being taken care of. And when I realized what we had done, what we had learned, it made me even angrier. Man, this is not only on an individual level. This is on an institutional level. And that we were driving our resources. And it’s so skewed. You can see it on the map."
At about this time, complaints about racism and unfairness in the Planning Department trickled out to the City Council, which demanded an accounting of practices there. A 1991 document called the Zucker Report recounted low morale and a culture of racism. Topping was saddled with the blame and was fired. In his place Mayor Tom Bradley tapped Howe, executive director of the Planning Department in New York.
But Reyes had had it. He heard from an old Cathedral High School classmate, then working at the City Attorney’s Office, that there was a guy running in the 1st District to succeed Gloria Molina who could use his help.
It was Mike Hernandez. Reyes called him up, and the two men interviewed each other for five nights straight. "Because I didn’t know him," Reyes explained, "I didn’t trust him. Because he was very showy. He was like a big peacock. A lot of feathers."
But Reyes read up on Hernandez, asked around, and decided he was the real deal. He helped Hernandez get elected, then became his planning deputy and introduced the concepts that had been rolling around in his mind for years.
Hernandez helped get the ball rolling, but drug and
alcohol problems, and finally his well-publicized arrest, slowed the pace. While he was in rehab, many of Hernandez’s staffers moved on. Not Reyes. He stayed and became chief of staff. He sat with his boss, keeping him abreast of the goings-on at City Hall, encouraging him to stick with it. With Hernandez out of action, it was Mike Feuer and Jackie Goldberg who first introduced a motion in 2000 calling for a study of inclusionary zoning.
As Hernandez’s term neared its end, Reyes started to think that perhaps he could run for the job himself. To most political insiders the idea was laughable. The job clearly belonged to Richard Polanco, the Eastside boss who was being termed out of the state Senate. Reyes asked Hernandez for his support, but the councilman, now back at work, said he was backing Polanco. Reyes felt betrayed.
Then Polanco shocked everyone by dropping out of the race amid rumors of family problems. Did Reyes have anything to do with the rumors? He denies it. Some Polanco backers in Cypress Park insist to this day that Reyes played dirty.
He barely avoided a runoff. But it was a done deal. Ed Reyes, a city planner, was elected to the City Council.
In office, Reyes pressed forwardon his planning initiatives, but ran headlong into some familiar problems. Resources in his old department, he said, were focused on specific plans and preservation zones on the Westside and in the Valley. There weren’t enough planners to create an "all-star team" of expedited processing for developers who commit to building affordable housing.