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Residents Want a Say as Los Angeles Neighborhood Changes

The big market forces of Los Angeles long ignored Elysian Valley, colloquially called Frogtown. But now the neighborhood has hip cachet and residents are organizing to have a say as the area changes.
June 15, 2015, 6am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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The phrase "riverfront property" often connotes value, but not traditionally for the Los Angeles River. But that may soon change in Elysian Valley. "Traditionally working class with a large immigrant population and, historically, a mix of residential and industrial uses, the 0.79-square-mile area has seen properties flip since the Army Corps of Engineers announced a year ago a $1-billion plan to revitalize the Los Angeles River."

Molly Strauss writes, "There's a sense in the community of losing control — that outsiders serving private interests will transform this neighborhood of about 8,900 into a place residents will no longer be able to recognize, or afford."

In response, nonprofit organization LA-Más conducted a series of public workshops called Futuro de Frogtown, designed to gather stakeholders and brainstorm ways to integrate community interests and new development. "When calling for a standstill in the face of a shifting market, a community can miss the opportunity to offer alternatives that proactively meet its needs, ultimately leaving outside forces to determine the area's outcome."

That effort has seen some success. Since the workshops began, a motion is on its way to the City Council calling for restrictions in line with "preserving and enhancing the neighborhood character" and "seeking a higher degree of compatibility of architecture and landscaping for new infill development." 

However, as Strauss documents, "Futuro de Frogtown revealed that even sensitivity, thorough research, and a deep knowledge of the issues might not be enough in the face of a community's historical relationship with government and development."

In a separate article on the same subject for Next City, Alexis Stephens reports on efforts by community members to influence seemingly inevitable redevelopment in Elysian Valley, known as Frogtown. "The community of nearly 9,000 primarily working class and largely Latino and Asian residents is experiencing the same real estate development pressures experienced throughout L.A., but with an increased urgency because of an upcoming billion-dollar reinvention of the L.A. River."

Long-time residents are naturally suspicious of redevelopment. "Many older residents lived through the disruption of mid-20th-century urban planning related to the construction of the I-5 freeway, the eviction of families from Chavez Ravine in order to make way for an unrealized public housing project, and the construction of [Dodger] Stadium."

Frogtown hosts a well-established informal economy, with many small businesses operating out of homes. Rather than be driven away, "Residents expressed a desire to formalize their businesses through efforts like legalizing street vending, assisting people in applications for necessary permits, getting discounts on space rentals within new development projects, and customizing small business incubation programs."

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Published on Tuesday, May 12, 2015 in Los Angeles Review of Books
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