Olvera Street Plan OKd by Council Rivals
Away from the glare of the public arena, Los Angeles City Council members Gloria Molina and Richard Alatorre have put aside personal differences and have quietly settled on a unique concept--a seven-member “authority"--to govern the deteriorating yet still-popular Olvera Street.
According to city staffers familiar with the talks between the two Eastside politicians, the proposed El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument Authority has emerged as the best vehicle to jump-start the stalled $30-million renovation of the Mexican tourist attraction, on the site where the city was founded more than 200 years ago.
The idea, which has the tentative backing of Olvera Street merchants and a group of Chicano historians and activists, is expected to be unveiled next week with the blessing of Mayor Tom Bradley.
The agreement was forged out of pressure from a Latino leadership weary of the political wrangling about Olvera Street. They felt that the street’s significance in the city’s Mexican history should override personal animosities between the two council members.
Still a sensitive issue, and one left unclear, is who would sit on the authority’s board of trustees, and how the agency would affect decisions already made by the city, authorizing the creation of a Chinese museum and the restoration of a community hall for Italian-Americans within the confines of the El Pueblo park.
Numerous city officials, including spokesmen for Alatorre and Molina, declined comment on these points.
“This is a carefully crafted thing and the deal could be blown if word would get out about this person or that being considered, or if we start talking about the specifics,” one insider said.
Alatorre and Molina are reportedly trying to draft a list of nominees that the mayor could select from, subject to council confirmation. Some Chicano activists expressed concern that Alatorre’s politically powerful allies could be named to the board of trustees.
According to city officials, the authority is seen as having the best chance of governing Olvera Street efficiently. The concept incorporates Molina’s strong desire for public scrutiny and Alatorre’s desire to do away with an outside developer to oversee the revitalization work.
At present, the only city-owned facility controlled by an authority board is the Los Angeles Convention Center.
An authority’s powers do not differ greatly from those of independent city commissions. Alatorre and Molina agree that the city Parks and Recreation Commission should no longer manage the street, an aging tourist attraction that draws about 2 million visitors a year.
Alatorre, whose council district includes the area, favored the creation of a private nonprofit corporation as the best entity to ensure the street’s Mexican authenticity.
Molina, who represented Olvera Street as a state assemblywoman, proposed a new municipal commission to ensure public scrutiny of and participation in Olvera Street’s proposed revitalization.
In June, during the debate over the rival proposals, Molina accused Alatorre of engineering a “back-room deal” to install his nonprofit corporation idea. And he groused that Molina was grandstanding to curry favor with Latinos, who hold Olvera Street in special regard as the Mexican link to the city’s founding.
To end the bickering, the two began holding once-a-week talks that have resulted in the agreement on a seven-member authority board.
“We’re all interested in preserving Olvera Street, but public confidence was lost (in the wrangling over the restoration mechanism),” said Al Avila, Alatorre’s chief deputy. “We’re trying to restore public confidence.”
Alma Martinez, Molina’s chief of staff, agreed, adding: “There has been a spirit of cooperation to get (the disagreements) behind us.”