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City Stops Excavation on Belmont Tunnel Property

Times Staff Writer

A small band of transit history buffs and graffiti devotees managed Tuesday to stall excavation of the abandoned Pacific Electric subway yard near downtown Los Angeles, the underground center of the city’s graffiti culture.

Opponents who flocked to the lot after bulldozers had arrived over the weekend complained to the city’s Department of Building and Safety, which issued a stop-work order late Tuesday afternoon. The contractors had ripped into the lot’s dirt field without a grading permit, the department said.

Meta Housing, the development company that plans to build a 276-unit apartment complex on the site, called the stop-work order a minor setback for a plan that was all but certain to go through.

The Central Area Planning Commission approved the project in September, after opponents failed to secure a cultural historic designation for the lot’s famed graffiti walls.

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But protesters vowed to continue their fight for an open “art park” at the lot, and have pinned their hopes on an appeal to a City Council committee next month.

The Belmont Tunnel property at 2nd Street and Glendale Boulevard has been the center of a land-use squabble since early this year, when Meta Housing announced its plans, which include about 55 affordable-housing units.

Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes the Belmont Tunnel lot, supports the development, as do housing advocates concerned about the housing crunch in the dense neighborhoods near downtown.

But the Belmont Tunnel is an internationally recognized landmark in the graffiti subculture. It is widely known as the epicenter of graffiti murals in Los Angeles, drawing film crews seeking a gritty, urban setting for movies and television shows, and graffiti enthusiasts from all over the world.

Protesters want the city to allow graffiti muralists to use the lot’s retaining walls legally and preserve the open space used by immigrant workers for weekend matches of tarasca, an ancient Mexican ballgame.

“We are the community, and we want to prevent what they’re doing,” said neighborhood resident Amy McKenzie, an organizer with Belmont Art Park United, the group opposing the development. “This is a gathering place, it’s an open-air art gallery. It’s part of our culture.”

John Huskey, president of Meta Housing, said the company has every right to proceed with the preliminary work on the project. His company plans to preserve the tunnel opening and a nearby electrical substation building.

“This is private property. We could have done this at any time, but we did this at this point, when we were sure our financing was in play,” Huskey said.

The plan’s opponents “seem to think they have some kind of right that they don’t have,” he said.

A few picketers, some holding spray-paint cans, kept watch over the lot Tuesday, and vowed to return early today.

“I love hanging out here, watching the tarasca games on the weekends,” said resident and picketer Aaron Bocanegra, 24.

“I love watching people put up graff art,” he added. “It’s the only real park we have around here.”


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