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Rebel With a Plan 

Ed Reyes is angry. He wants the "zombies" in L.A.’s Planning Department out. He wants affordable-housing supporters in. And he wants his more polite colleagues on the City Council to help him pull it off.

Thursday, Nov 18 2004
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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 forward on 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.

There was a letter from Dwayne Wyatt, a planning associate who worked with Reyes, urging his former colleague earlier this year to put pressure on Mayor Hahn to oust Howe and his top deputies, for his own benefit, and that of other minority planners who he said failed to advance because of discrimination. Wyatt said it was also for the benefit of poor and minority areas of the city, which must bear the burden of development without the protections enjoyed by wealthier areas, like historic-preservation zones and strategic plans that limit density and impose tough strictures on new projects.

Wyatt requested a meeting to discuss "a number of long-standing concerns many of the minority planners have" about personnel practices, including "manipulation, favoritism and racism."

Reyes understood. He had been there.

Meanwhile, Con Howe missed a couple of key meetings on the topic of inclusionary zoning, and Reyes’ staffers were incensed. They tried to push their boss to get tough with Howe. And the only way to do that was to get tough with the mayor.

To them, it’s clear that Howe’s priorities have little to do with affordable housing. In some sections of town, Howe is widely credited for using Planning Department programs and policies to make preservation of historic buildings a reality in Los Angeles. The city already had Historic Preservation Overlay Zones, or HPOZs, when Howe came in. But he gave them greater resources and rapt attention, and helped launch new HPOZs in many districts, including Reyes'.

"Con Howe has done a lot for historic preservation in this city," says Murray Burns of Angelino Heights, a neighborhood of restored Victorians and Queen Annes surrounded by the tiny bungalows and densely packed apartments of Echo Park. "I think his view is that there’s a possibility of Los Angeles being held in better regard by many people who don’t live in L.A. if we can preserve the truly wonderful architecture we have."

But to some political activists, that’s just the problem. Resources go to historic homes instead of new housing for the thousands who must commute for hours, or live in their vans, or pay more than half their wages for rent.

"The city needs an affordable-housing policy," says Assistant Professor David Diaz of California State University Northridge, "and the elected [officials] are not going to deliver it. I’m totally disillusioned with most of the minorities in city government, and the, quote, liberal mayor. Sometimes the bureaucracy has to take some flak, show some courage."

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