So the activists met in living rooms and canvassed door to door. They posted fliers, distributed petitions and scoured city records. Nelson’s neighbor, Norisol Ferrari, recruited dozens of students from Belmont High to join the effort. In meeting after meeting, they spoke passionately from the floor of hearing rooms in City Hall. The one thing they failed to do was convince Councilman Ed Reyes.
Originally, Meta Housing planned to build an entirely market-rate, 360-unit, 14-story tower on the site. "They were going to build the hell out of this place," Reyes says. A longtime advocate of inclusionary zoning and affordable housing (see last week’s cover story), Reyes prevailed on the developers to scale down the project and rent 20 percent of the apartments at rates affordable to low-income families. Meta also agreed to devote another smaller building the company is constructing on top of the hill on Emerald Street entirely to affordable units. In the end, the development’s opponents were unable to sway the councilman. "We could not accommodate the purists in the graffiti world," Reyes says. "For every room full of artists and graffiti advocates, I probably get two rooms of people who want housing. And they’re all right."
Lacking Reyes’ support, the opponents lost a key battle in front of the Cultural Heritage Commission in August. The subway tunnel portal and the power station were declared historic landmarks (Meta will be required to preserve them, but is free to do so out of public view behind the development’s gates), but not the yard itself or the graffiti-covered outer walls, which leaves Meta free to tear them down — almost.
In late September, the Central Area Planning Commission granted Meta several zoning variances it had requested, clearing the way for construction to begin. But McKenzie has appealed that decision, and will have a final chance to argue the case for preservation before the City Council on December 15. Until then — despite the bulldozer’s false start last week — Meta will not be issued permits to start construction.
John Huskey, Meta’s president, is confident that the project will move forward. "Unless there’s been some major change in priorities that’s been announced by the city of Los Angeles, we will be approved." His opponents, though, are not giving up. They’re consulting with lawyers and hoping to pressure Reyes to shift sides. "We’re planning a huge mobilization of people," Maleski says. And, he adds, they’ll be on the sidewalk every day until the 15th, fighting while they can.