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
Photo by Gregory Bojorquez
"Reyes!" barked the planning supervisor. "In my office! Right now!"
The young urbanist’s hands shook as he entered the City Hall planning office. His teeth were clenched, his mind filled with the image of the pregnant woman, beaten and bloodied, he had spotted an hour before as his city car rounded a corner in South Los Angeles. He now walked past the "zombies" — his term — who pushed paper through a Planning Department that seemed to be sleepwalking instead of remaking the future of Los Angeles. His partner, who didn’t want to stop the car and help the beaten woman, didn’t want to wait for the police to arrive — he was already a city zombie. It made Ed Reyes mad.
"Reyes!" his supervisor repeated. "What the hell were you thinking?"
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The story tumbles out from Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes as though it happened yesterday, and not some 16 years ago. The frustration feels fresh. The quiet ex-planner starts his standard speech. "L.A. today is a tale of two cities, with the haves protected by City Hall, the have-nots left to fend for themselves." But this time the conversation veers from Reyes’ plans to remake the city, and the Planning Department’s reluctance to sign on, to the sharp recollection of that day in the late 1980s when he knew he had to get out of there. His supervisor — a man who still works there — was yelling at him for getting involved.
"Dude was Captain Bligh!" Reyes says, flashing a half smile. "How can I say this? He gave importance to all the wrong things. He tells me I could have undermined the department for getting involved. That I shouldn’t have stopped. That I shouldn’t have helped this woman. I shouldn’t have argued with the dude who was beating her. I could have jeopardized the budget."
Back then, though, Reyes was too hot, or too dumb, to back down. Jeopardized the budget? How, exactly? If it were another part of the city, he demanded, would you respond the same way? If it were a white woman in the San Fernando Valley instead of a Latina south of the Santa Monica Freeway, what then? He was reminded that he was on probation. Still, he kept arguing.
And in the young urban planner’s anger the memories coalesced of other incidents that had been gnawing at him since he started working at the Los Angeles City Planning Department. The mocking of the new Latina councilwoman, Gloria Molina. His own desk, stuck in a closet. This place is racist, Reyes concluded. Racist in office politics, racist in planning policy. But what could he do? He could sulk, or become a zombie. Or he could plan.
And there was so much to plan. It was 1988, and Los Angeles was painting itself into a corner. After a decade of incredible commercial growth, a coalition of wealthy and middle-class homeowners and anti-sprawl environmentalists saw an L.A. lifestyle being swallowed up by rapacious developers. This city still was, as the name of a leading activist group put it, "Not Yet New York," and a Valley-and-Westside coalition led the charge to pass the stringent slow-growth Proposition U to keep it that way. Manhattanization had been put at bay.
But to Reyes, slow growth meant too few houses and apartments, which meant an inevitable jump in housing prices. Laborers and civil servants working here would have to drive for hours from more-affordable homes out in the desert or in San Bernardino County. Their rush-hour commutes would clog freeways and streets. The smog would get thicker. And the Valley and the Westside, once again, would win special protections for their neighborhoods, while South L.A., Pico-Union and Northeast communities like Reyes’ own Cypress Park would once again get the packed apartment houses and overburdened sewer lines and streets.
Reyes thought then and talks now about another way. Smart growth. Block sprawl by actually making housing denser. Put apartments on top of stores — and gardens on top of apartments. Make historic preservation as available to struggling Highland Park as it is to tony Hancock Park, as long as it doesn’t keep housing prices out of reach of working people. Declare that environmentalism is not just a Westside NIMBY sport, and claim the L.A. River and adjacent industrial yards as greenspace where Latino families can play soccer. Divert part of the river to form parks in rundown neighborhoods. Like Cypress Park.
Instead of piling even more restrictions on developers, Reyes thought, maybe loosen up a bit, to encourage them to build. Perhaps require only one parking space per unit instead of two, as long as the new apartment building is on a major public-transit thoroughfare. Let developers build more — as long as they devote a portion of every project to below-market affordable housing, and as long as those affordable units appear equally throughout the city, and are not just plunked in low-rent minority areas. Other cities are doing that. Inclusionary zoning, they call it.
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.
But as developers see the affordable-housing crisis as a rare chance to advance against so-called NIMBY homeowners and L.A.’s fabled red tape, and as affordable-housing advocates try to squeeze concessions from developers, and as all parties try to extract assurances from City Hall, Reyes and his backers may not be enough to control the future.
Standing above the MacArthur ParkRed Line station, Ed Reyes points out spots where derelict structures have given way to new mixed-use projects under programs he started in his district that have now gone citywide: adaptive reuse, to turn old commercial buildings into housing; density bonuses, allowing increased floor-area ratio; and relief from mandatory parking requirements. With a sweep of his arm, Reyes shows where he wants to put flags of Central American nations and a market area for an Olvera Street–type experience. This is drug-dealer central, or at least it was. But with new attention from City Hall, it’s no longer inconceivable that MacArthur Park could be a family destination.
Critics call many of his proposals social engineering, because besides making affordable places for families to live, they expressly aim to put people of all economic classes in any given neighborhood.
Reyes turns around to point eastward toward the skyscrapers of Bunker Hill, and he lets loose.
"It wasn’t social engineering when we spent millions of tax dollars to build these towers," he snaps. "We did this because L.A. wanted a central city. We wanted a skyline. And look who works there. Who benefits from that expenditure of tax dollars?"
The answer, of course, is that wealthy lawyers, accountants, real estate brokers and business leaders work in those towers. So do secretaries, bookkeepers, custodians and security guards, but Reyes says most of them commute by car or bus from miles away and have to hit the road before sunup for the privilege.
Don’t the rich have long commutes downtown too? Ah, there’s the irony. More and more downtown young professionals who can afford the high mortgages and rents are abandoning their suburban condos and giving up on L.A. dreams of the ranch house, the pool and the barbecue for a new urban vision: downtown living. The Spring Street loft boom may have played out, but developers of new projects, like Geoff Palmer’s Medici, Orsini and the like, command top dollar. Most make no room for below-market units.
Many Latinos, meanwhile, move out of downtown and Northeast L.A. as soon as they can and make their way to the suburbs to claim the older L.A. dream of the ranch house or the bungalow. Just how strong this trend is, and what it means to Los Angeles, is yet to be seen.
As a young planning associate working in City Hall, Reyes began studying where in the city all the building permits were being pulled, and where all the specific plans — overlays that imposed special building restrictions — were granted. Time and again, his research showed, the city handed out permits like candy to anyone who wanted to build in Boyle Heights, Cypress Park, Pico-Union, South L.A. No specific plans there. The protections against overdevelopment went instead to the West Valley, West L.A., Hancock Park.
Affordable-housing advocates note a shocking symmetry between the maps Reyes created that mark the still-unprotected areas of the city and the older maps from the prewar era that show where black, Latino and Asian families could buy or rent without worrying about restrictive racial covenants.
The advocates’ message is clear: Housing discrimination is alive and well. Minority areas get saddled with the big ugly boxes while the white areas are sheltered. The approval process has institutionalized NIMBYism, giving wealthier homeowners the power, through their City Council representatives, to send undesirable development to the east or south ends of town.
If that was the case in the slow-growth era, it’s even truer now, because of economics.
"It is the return of de facto segregation," contends Robert Gnaizda.
As general counsel of the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based study and advocacy organization that plots strategies for affordable housing, Gnaizda notes that the national homeownership rate is 69 percent, but only 58 percent for California, much lower for Los Angeles, even lower for blacks and Latinos. Fifty years ago, he asserts, most blacks could get a high-paying job in L.A. without a high school diploma and could afford a median-priced home. Today, though, the median price of a home in Los Angeles County is between $400,000 and a half-million dollars. By most accounts, it would take an annual salary of close to six figures for a buyer to be able to afford it.
Adding irony to injury, the property-tax system often compels first-time buyers of tiny condos or ramshackle houses with astonishing sales prices to subsidize some of the very same wealthy homeowners who organize against new development. The owner of a five-bedroom house south of Ventura Boulevard, for example, may have paid $300,000 in 1978 but today enjoys a value of $1.5 million, a five-fold increase. But the tax will be calculated on the 1978 value, plus another 1 percent per year — less than a one-third increase in property taxes paid for ever-more-costly city services like police and fire protection. The new buyer of a four-bedroom house in Silver Lake will pay $1.5 million this year and will pay property tax on the full market value.
Gnaizda and other housing advocates support modifying Proposition 13, and he criticizes business groups that rally to block such a move.
But, in an example of the political realignment taking place over affordable housing, the Greenlining Institute is staunchly pro-business when it comes to development. The group — which includes representatives of big banks and builders — says there is too much red tape. It’s time to return to the free market.
"California is legendary for government regulations," Gnaizda complains. "It costs $100,000 more to build a home here than in Arizona."
Then there are the environmentalists.
"I’m in favor of environmental protections," Gnaizda insists. "But not for the salamander or the fairy shrimp. Not at the expense of people."
Reyes, joined by Councilman Eric Garcetti, is trying to support a new environmental paradigm to appeal to the Latinos who live by the river or in areas in which the urban forestry group Northeast Trees is active. It’s a hard sell, though. "Latinos aren’t tree huggers," one frustrated activist confides.
As for the free market, Reyes and his supporters don’t believe it alone can solve the L.A. housing crisis.
On the council floor, Reyes has wavered between impatience and outrage at his colleagues as they express reservations over mandatory inclusionary zoning. At one point a year ago, he appeared to have brokered a deal to bring hearings on "IZ" and other affordable-housing strategies to every council district, and Tom LaBonge’s mostly wealthy 4th District was to be first. But LaBonge later demurred, and the agreement collapsed. So did activists’ hopes to bring IZ to an early vote.
"Guys like Tom LaBonge, if they could, they would be riding around here on their horses with their cowboy hats on," Reyes mused later. "You know, old school, ‘White is right and we’ll take care of our little brothers.’"
That comment aside, Reyes insists he no longer is motivated by anger, but by his vision of a city serving all its people.
"My anger days, my chip-on-my-shoulder days, faded away a long time ago," he says. "I don’t walk around contemplating the injustices to people in our community. Because I just wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning."
In 1988, Reyes was a fledglingassistant planner who had just returned home from Northern California to sign on with the department. For a young Latino urbanist from Cypress Park with a UCLA master’s degree, it was an era of excitement and possibility, brought on in part by the remade 1st District and his new City Council representative, Gloria Molina.
Reyes was Cypress Park all the way. Even today, he lets drop, as he passes by a particular street corner, "We used to hang out here." Or, in fact, "I was hit by a car in this intersection," and "My brother was shot here."
Cypress Park was high-crime and high-neglect, but Reyes believed he was coming home to make a difference through urban planning.
Then there came one particular staff meeting at which the manager started mimicking Molina. "He imitated her, how she would posture herself and walk back and forth," Reyes recalls. "I think there was a level of ridiculing her, that was for sure. It was just a mockery of her directives."
Reyes was shocked. Is this what we do? he asked his colleagues. Is this how we operate? What’s going on here? He complained to his supervisor, but he didn’t have much standing. He was already assigned to a desk that was stuffed in a closet.
"No, really," Reyes says. "I kid you not. In a closet. The closet door was here" — Reyes reaches in front of him to illustrate the complicated arrangement — "and when they closed it, I could get in and out. When they opened it, I would be stuck in there."
An assistant planner who was hired later — "an Anglo guy," Reyes points out — got a real cubicle, with a real desk. Reyes asked about it. He was branded a troublemaker, and before long he lost his spot in City Hall and was assigned to the field, where his job was to count mailboxes.
"They’re pretty mean people," Reyes says of his supervisors at the time, noting that most of them are still there.
He avoids naming names. But two of the top three deputies to Planning Director Con Howe — Franklin P. Eberhard and Robert H. Sutton — were there in Reyes’ time. In fact, Eberhard has retired, but continues to help lead the department, drawing both a pension and contract pay.
Problems in the Planning Department predated Howe, who was still in New York during Reyes’ tenure. But Reyes already knew he had to get out.
"I had been doing so much work, it got to the point where I started getting other people’s binders, because they were taking off," Reyes says. "In the middle of the day. Going to the movies. Bragging about how they could be at home. Taking care of their business. The guy that ragged about it the most, I ended up doing his work. And when I saw that, that really pissed me off. Because the accountability wasn’t there."
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.
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."
Diaz, whose field is urban studies and planning, labels Howe "an absolute wimp" who has failed to take account of the rapid increase in L.A. population. He says a good planning director would offer cowardly elected officials a certain measure of political cover, shielding them from necessary, but unpopular, decisions.
Howe’s image doesn’t help. A handsome man with a shock of white hair, he has a bearing that can come off as aristocratic. His wife was president of the board of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the West’s largest historic-preservation group. She is a principal project specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute. Both organizations symbolize, to minority activists, a white liberal elite.
Howe declines comment on efforts to oust him, except to acknowledge that he has long had a handful of unhappy employees among the many planners in his department. But he expresses pride in his efforts to encourage affordable housing in the city.
"I’ve spent a lot of time in my career working with and trying to build affordable housing," Howe says.
As for inclusionary zoning, Howe says he has "no point of view that this is a bad thing." He points out that he worked with Reyes to increase the number of affordable-housing units that can be built near transit corridors.
"I really admire many of the things Ed Reyes has done," Howe says.
It’s not an easy call for Reyes to make to Mayor Hahn. Reyes has endorsed his re-election bid, but he’s also recently expressed dissatisfaction with the mayor's lack of support for inclusionary zoning. As Wyatt and others have argued that it is retirement time for Howe and several of his top lieutenants, Reyes struggles over whether to put his foot down and demand Howe’s ouster, or simply be the quiet staffer who finds different ways to get things done.
There’s another issue: Hahn opposes mandatory inclusionary zoning. That means the proposal must be sufficiently watered down to get the mayor’s signature, or council support must be significantly higher to overcome his veto. That last scenario is extremely unlikely.
Even among the proponents, there is little in the way of zeal for IZ beyond Reyes, Garcetti and, perhaps, council President Alex Padilla.
Villaraigosa joined Reyes and Garcetti a year and a half ago at a City Hall news event with ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, to jump-start the drive for inclusionary zoning. He combined the gravitas of Reyes with the cheerful charisma of Garcetti, and added the cachet of his own name and reputation for consensus building. Since then, though — and especially since last spring, when he began contemplating another run against Hahn — Villaraigosa has been very quiet on inclusionary zoning.
"Antonio was only into it as long as he thought it was going to win, and he wasn’t going to take any heat for it," said one frustrated IZ proponent. "But he’s running for mayor now and he needs business [support]."
In fact, Villaraigosa’s progressive credentials often obscure his alliances with some of the same business leaders who oppose mandatory IZ. An uncompromising Villaraigosa demand for inclusionary zoning is unlikely through at least March, the mayoral primary, and probably the May runoff, as the challenger and Hahn court the same business campaign donors.
That puts Reyes in an especially uncomfortable spot, if he wants to get IZ through the council anytime soon. As a declared Hahn man, he has very little sway right now over Villaraigosa or, for that matter, any council member trying to decide whom to endorse.
"I support inclusionary zoning," Villaraigosa said at a recent community forum. "Not necessarily the proposal that’s on the table now."
Villaraigosa did tell The Eagle Rock Association that he was disappointed with the Planning Department, and that the problems start at the top. But that’s all he would say.
So has Reyes pressed Hahn to fire Howe, and with him the top deputies who tormented him a decade and a half ago?
He responds with a typical Reyes-ism — he stops, looks upward, closes his eyes briefly, flashes a fleeting grin. "How can I say this?" Reyes asks aloud. People who know him look out for that phrase. It means something insightful, and controversial, but perhaps less than straightforward, is coming.
"There are a few heroes in there that are carrying a lot of weight," Reyes finally says. "I just need the leadership. Senior management has gotten comfortable and detached from reality."
Sources inside City Hall said Hahn would stick with Howe at least until the plan for revamping Los Angeles International Airport is approved. Approval came in October. Howe is still there.
Earlier this year, Reyes stood on his own turf, near the tough Cypress Park streets where he grew up, and prepared to tell his constituents about inclusionary zoning. More housing for you and your families, Reyes tells neighborhood groups, because any developer who ever again hopes to build a house or apartment in Los Angeles must devote 12 percent to 15 percent of the project to affordable housing. He talks up more housing equity, and how new affordable units will be distributed evenly around the city.
But at this forum at the River Center, half of his constituents were stalking out the door. As a panel of business-suited downtowners began delving into the controversial initiative, some of the event’s English-speaking organizers complained that the Spanish interpreter and her equipment, which arrived late, were causing a "disruption." They told their neighbors, in essence, to shut up.
Now, as the interpreter leaned silently against a wall and the insulted Spanish speakers stormed out of the elegant meeting hall, a flustered Ed Reyes was left standing at the front of the room to give his standard stump speech about a tale of two cities, one privileged and protected, the other dumped on and abused. And this meeting, he later admitted thinking to himself, is the perfect example.
Some weeks later, he spoke to the Empowerment Congress North Area Neighborhood Development Council, and it didn’t go much better. Reyes told the story of how half of his constituents were disrespected at the River Center. But the black residents here were unimpressed.
"Why," one African-American man demanded, "do we want to allow more density on our street? There’s already not enough parking for us, and we live here, we’ve been putting money and work into our homes. Why should we pack more people in and reverse everything we’ve been trying to do?"
"He referred to his Spanish-speaking constituents and his Asian-American constituents as being disenfranchised by neighborhood councils," Stone said. "I told him quite plainly I was offended by his reference to disenfranchisement. He backed off slightly, but he didn’t apologize."
Besides, Stone said, there was a reason that she and her neighbors moved years ago to places like Shadow Hills and Sunland-Tujunga.
"When people move to an area like this, we do so because of the open space," she said. "We put up with the inconveniences like long freeway commutes because we like this way of life. Tell me how this is not telling us how we will live. I thought we were turning more towards environmentally sound things."
That’s not what IZ would do, Reyes protests. But, neighbors demand, wouldn’t you require new multifamily housing in our neighborhood? It’s coming anyway, Reyes invariably responds. Let’s channel it. But the horse communities are generally unimpressed.
It’s gone better in some neighborhoods, especially the ones that know what it is like to be built out. The Venice Neighborhood Council signed on to inclusionary zoning. Silver Lake’s council did too, with some suggestions and important observations. For example, if you want people to feel invested in their neighborhoods, shouldn’t you let people who buy submarket units sell for the full price if they stick around for 20 years or so? Let them build equity, like everyone else, and a stake in the community.
But it’s not just affordable-housing skeptics in the Valley who aren’t Reyes fans. Some of his most vocal Cypress Park neighbors are unhappy with him.
Art Pulido, for example, who has known Reyes and his family since childhood, thinks the councilman has his head in the clouds.
"You know what we got from Ed Reyes?" Pulido asks. Supplying his own answer, he forms a circle with his thumb and forefinger and holds it up to his eye. Zero.
"That’s a powerful position. Why doesn’t he hustle for us? Violence, drugs, dropouts — he doesn’t want to deal with that. He wants to deal with the river. With development."
He scoffs at the notion that Reyes is Cypress Park all the way. Even as a child, Pulido says, Reyes was aloof. Went to Sacred Heart, and then Cathedral High School. Went to school, came straight home.
"When he was 13, 14 years old, his mom didn’t allow him outside," Pulido claims.
This March, Pulido says, he will be casting his vote for "anybody but Ed Reyes."
John Edwards, a relative newcomer to Cypress Park, comes from a different perspective. But he ends up in the same place.
"He’s obsessed with the L.A. River," says Edwards, who runs a computer learning center. "Look what he’s ignored in the process!"
Edwards also notes that Reyes tends to lecture people on the city’s long history of neglecting the Latino Eastside and historically black South L.A.
"So is he trying to make up for the past discrimination," Edwards asks, "or is he against white people? I personally think he’s a racist."
Reyes’ own supporters and staffers bristle, or laugh, at the notion that Reyes is a racist. Still, they acknowledge that the councilman’s vision includes an environmentalism that’s embraced by working-class Latinos, and that groups that traditionally steward the river and the trees are, well, not Latino. Anglo. Elitist?
Ask the man himself, and he assumes a familiar stance. Eyes up, then closed, fleeting smile. "How can I say this?" he asks aloud. A pause. This time, there is no answer.
While some of Reyes’ City Council colleagues will glide to re-election this March -unopposed, Reyes drew seven challengers. None is considered a serious threat. But just over four years ago, Reyes, too, was considered a long shot.
The difficulty Reyes sometimes has in articulating his vision is underscored by the very different image presented by his chief ally on inclusionary zoning, and a host of other progressive measures, Councilman Eric Garcetti. Garcetti is everything Reyes is not — charismatic, confident, at ease with a crowd, comfortable with attention, smooth-tongued in both English and Spanish.
Reyes, pressing his point on why developers should subsidize affordable-housing construction, often asks community groups, "How much is enough?" It is from the heart. And it usually clunks on the floor.
Garcetti puts it differently. "We all have to sacrifice," he told a housing forum recently. "Communities have to give a little bit on density. Builders have to give a little bit on profits. Affordable-housing advocates have to give a little bit on their goals."
There’s something in there for everyone to hate. But Garcetti’s delivery, as always, was perfect, and he drew a warm round of applause.
Why can’t Reyes do that? But Garcetti says Reyes doesn’t need to. He brings the vision, but also much more. The guts. The guts to be unpopular, for a program he fervently believes is right.
"Ed Reyes is one of the most courageous people I have ever met," Garcetti says. "This is a very hard thing to do. But he will keep fighting for it. And we’re lucky because of that."