For most Angelenos, particularly Latinos raised in Los Angeles, Olvera Street represents more than an escape to quaint Old Mexico where one can purchase maracas, eat taquitos and listen to a century-old ranchera. Olvera Street is also the birthplace of Los Angeles and the cornerstone of our city’s proud Latino legacy.
In recent years, tragically, Olvera Street has faded from the vibrant and festive marketplace of our memories. Merchants sell their wares amid dilapidated buildings and loose brick walkways. Many of the historic structures need seismic reinforcing, and the puestos (market stands) need repair. There is insufficient parking.
I have a vision for Olvera Street as a focal point of authentic Latino culture and history for all Southern Californians to enjoy. In addition to the physical renovations on the street, we must bring back the marimba bands, strolling mariachis, traditional clothing and authentic Mexican products. We must also take steps to ensure a viable economic future for Olvera Street.
As a first step in making this happen, I included the area in my district during the 1986 City Council redistricting. I also sponsored the state legislation that transferred both ownership and management of the street from an unwieldy city-county-state oversight arrangement to the city alone, where the City Council could exercise oversight of Olvera Street revitalization.
For the short and longer term, land use and planning measures must be created to ensure the integrity of Olvera Street’s character and its economic vitality, so that it is not dwarfed by imminent development at Union Station, Terminal Annex and other projects bordering this small but precious walkway.
To secure this future, I recently appointed an El Pueblo Neighborhood Blue Ribbon Task Force to provide thoughtful advice regarding growth in the Olvera Street neighborhood. The task force’s first objective is to help make sure that the potential we all see for Olvera Street does not collapse from the weight of special interests, overzealous developers or big money.
Complex and competing factors emerge in the equation for the successful preservation and future health of Olvera Street. While we endeavor to sustain the participation of the many merchants whose businesses are an integral part of the street, we must also create an economic package to furnish the capital needed to renovate and revitalize the street.
The merchants, who lease their spaces from the city and have an obvious vested interest in Olvera Street’s future, have created a development plan for the much needed face-lift. I agree with nearly every major element of the merchants’ restoration plan and have agreed to include these in a city document inviting developers to bid on the project.
This bid document will establish the criteria for the selection of a developer for the restoration and will specify requirements designed to protect the merchants and ensure that the look and feel of the street are preserved. Included are long-term leases, a relocation plan and the availability of new retail spaces on the street for existing merchants. I will also request that merchants be guaranteed the opportunity to purchase equity in the project.
The entire process is structured to protect the merchants regardless of the developer selected.
All who share the wish for a vibrant Olvera Street can take pride in our efforts to protect and preserve the birthplace of our city. If we are to do justice to our roots, culture, history and traditions--if we are to preserve the legacy of Jose Moreno, Luis Quintero, Antonio Mesa and the other men and women who founded Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles in 1781--the marimba must once again be heard in the plaza, and the Olvera Street of tomorrow must equal La Calle Olvera of our childhood memories.