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Here's one L.A. housing problem we can solve in an afternoon

Here's one L.A. housing problem we can solve in an afternoon
An empty lot at the intersection of 1st and Lorena streets in Boyle Heights, where a nonprofit developer plans to build housing for homeless and low-income people. (Los Angeles Times)

I know the perfect place in unaffordable L.A. to build new, beautiful affordable housing. It's on a breezy corner in Boyle Heights — a quick drive from downtown. It would be built on a vacant lot across one street from a cemetery and another street from a Pizza Hut. In other words, the 49-unit residential and commercial development would immediately raise the aesthetic profile of the neighborhood. Its neighbor on the other side is the venerable El Mercado shopping center and restaurant.

The development, which would offer affordable housing to low-income people and homeless people — including families and veterans — has the blessing of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, the L.A. City Planning Department and the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the land. A highly regarded nonprofit developer, A Community of Friends, was chosen by Metro to be the developer.

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Yet, this project has been mired in City Hall muck for well over a year. The El Mercado owners filed an appeal of a city administrative finding that the developers had submitted sufficient environmental analysis without going through a full environmental impact report. In other words, the El Mercado owners are arguing that the developer's already extensive environmental plan is not extensive enough.

On Tuesday, more than a year since that appeal was filed, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee (better known as the PLUM committee) will take up this matter. And, here, the council members can put an end to this long, tangled mess by recommending the full council deny the appeal and get this project underway.

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So far, Jose Huizar, the PLUM committee chair and councilman for this district who has also been a champion of housing for homeless people, has refused to give his approval to the project. That could change today. That should change today.

I have met all the major characters in this drama — Dora Gallo, the chief executive of A Community of Friends; Huizar; and Tony Rosado, one of the owner's of his family's long-time business, El Mercado. These are all smart people who care about this community. They should be working together to make this a great project. This development does not threaten El Mercado. (And, by the way, something will be built on that lot and it's not likely to be a park.) Nor does it threaten Boyle Heights. And Gallo is a consummate service provider and developer of housing for homeless people.

Here's the thing to remember: City and county voters just stepped up to the plate and authorized literally billions of dollars to house and help homeless people on a massive scale in the city and county of L.A. But getting these projects up and running is daunting: Developers must work with neighborhoods on plans that please most (or many), financing — beyond what the city offers — must be secured, service providers must be engaged. Nothing gets built overnight. But this Boyle Heights project is so far ahead of the curve. All it needs is the City Council's approval.

This development will house about two dozen homeless people. This is no giant housing project. However, there are nearly 47,000 homeless people in the county of L.A. About 27,000 of those live in the city of L.A. Housing for them will be spread across the entire city. So, while people struggle to find sites and engage neighbors about the other thousands of units of housing we need, let's green light this project that's ready to go. This should be an easy call.

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