Leadership Academy – Week 7: The Bigger Picture (Olivia Zheng)

 In Leadership Academy

This week, one of my Lyft drivers told me that he has lived in Echo Park for his entire life. Because I have only stayed in Echo Park for a little over a month, I was curious to learn his opinions on how [the area] has changed over time. I have heard a lot about gentrification and development issues in the area and wanted his take.

The Lyft driver told me that Echo Park was completely different back then. Unlike the relatively safe and clean area it is now, it used to be completely unsafe. One story stood out in particular: after gang members had used one of his friends’ car as a shield during a fight, his friend walked outside the next morning to see his car covered in bullet holes.

Now, however, Echo Park faces a different problem – developers want to build apartment complexes in the neighborhood, but many of the residents do not want more complexes in their neighborhood. My Lyft driver felt that further development would only lead to more cars, more traffic, and less parking. Another rider in the car mentioned the parallel to gentrification in Boyle Heights, where new coffee shops have pushed into historically Latino areas. The conversation left me wondering: so who was pushed out of Echo Park?

Echo Park
Echo Park is in CD13 (represented by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell) but borders CD4, which is Councilmember Ryu’s district.

My Uber driver the day after that showed consensus. Echo Park is now full of vegan brunch restaurants at every corner. He agreed that Echo Park was very different in the past, but he also expressed the sentiment that Echo Park is a much nicer and safer place to live in now. I thought: so how do we balance development with preserving neighborhoods?

On Thursday, Councilmember David Ryu’s office had an intern luncheon, where we celebrated the contributions of the interns in our offices with free lunch, cake, certificates, and photo opportunities. Sarah, our Chief of Staff, asked the interns to play a quick game: answer the question, “What do you think is the greatest problem in Los Angeles?” without thinking for more than a second. Some of the other interns, born and raised in LA, rattled off “homelessness” and “transportation.” When it was my turn, I said, “development and gentrification,” based mostly on the phone calls I have received from the past few weeks and the conversations I have had with LA natives like my Lyft drivers.

When Councilmember Ryu spoke after Sarah, he told us, “I really do want to work on these big issues — homelessness, transportation, development.” He also explained that the issues were more complicated than they seemed on the surface. People want to get rid of homelessness, but they do not want more housing to be built. He talked about the attitude of “NIMBY” that many Angelenos hold—Not In My Backyard. Help the homeless, but do not build an apartment complex on my street. Add more transportation, but do not let the Metro cut through my neighborhood.

He concluded by telling us that politics was all about give and take. Establishing trust, he emphasized, was the most important part of working with the community. My big takeaway from this week is to not look at Los Angeles from the lens of single issues, but instead to take into consideration many different and interconnected parts. Rather than assuming that there is one solution that will solve everything for everyone, it is important to remember that policy should work to the improvement of the City as a whole.

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