Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar came out Thursday against a $2-billion proposal to raze nearly 1,200 apartments in Boyle Heights and replace them with shops, offices and new homes — some of them in high-rises as tall as 24 stories.
Appearing with tenant activists and historic preservationists, Huizar said he would fight efforts by Miami-based Fifteen Group to demolish the Wyvernwood apartments, which house an estimated 6,000 residents in 153 buildings.
Fifteen Group is preparing an environmental impact report on its project, which would cover the 70-acre campus with 4,400 apartments and condominiums. Huizar said residents love the complex as it is, with its courtyards and walking paths.
"People are not going to rebuild the type of community that exists here now. You can't redo that," said Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights.
Huizar's views are significant because the council typically defers to the wishes of individual members when it comes to real estate projects in their districts.
Wyvernwood represents the latest fight in Los Angeles over preservation of low-slung rental buildings constructed in the 1930s and 1940s and arranged around open space, sometimes referred to as "Garden City" apartments.
In Sherman Oaks, renters and activists successfully spared the 260-unit Chase Knolls apartments from the wrecking ball. In Venice, preservationists and advocacy groups saved much of the complex known as Lincoln Place after a lengthy legal fight.
"What we've found with Chase Knolls, Lincoln Place and now Wyvernwood is that people really love living in these places," said Los Angeles Conservancy Executive Director Linda Dishman, who portrayed Huizar's announcement as a preservation victory.
Executives with Fifteen Group said they plan to press ahead with their project, by making the case that redevelopment of the site would create 10,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs — many of them for residents of Boyle Heights.
Fifteen Group executive vice president Steven Fink said his firm crafted an "unprecedented" relocation plan to keep tenants not only in the neighborhood, but within the boundaries of Wyvernwood. Under that plan, renters would temporarily move into nearby buildings during construction, then into new structures once the work is completed, all at the same rent they would have paid in their original home.
After Fifteen Group announced its plans three years ago, residents quickly mobilized against the proposal, saying its many working-class tenants were in danger of being displaced.
Huizar made his announcement under a shade tree at Wyvernwood, surrounded by renters' rights activists. Also in the crowd were several backers of the project, who wore gray T-shirts with the message "A New Wyvernwood."
Among those supporters were Paul Vizcaino and Rogelio Navar, onetime Huizar staffers who are now paid by Fifteen Group to promote the redevelopment project. Vizcaino, a registered City Hall lobbyist, yelled "We need jobs" during Huizar's news conference.
Wyvernwood resident Erica Guerrero said Fifteen Group's proposal would replace buildings plagued by crime and poor plumbing. "They're going to make a better Boyle Heights overall," she said.
That view was not shared by Isela Gracian, associate director of the East L.A. Community Corp., an affordable housing developer based in Boyle Heights. She said it did not make sense for Fifteen Group to triple the amount of density in a neighborhood that already needs more public services.