I recently had the privilege of working with the DTLA Downtown Center Business Improvement District to write a special report on the Future of Urban Retail. If you haven’t noticed it yet, DTLA is quickly becoming THE place to go for restaurants, entertainment… AND NOW…SHOPPING! The report takes an in-depth look at DTLA’s 8 key districts and profiles what’s hot in DTLA retail right now along with what’s going to define the personality and excitement of these districts in the months to come. Stay tuned…the story just keeps getting better!
We moved to Downtown Los Angeles in May of 2013 and in the past 20 months I’ve never seen more progress in a community than what I’ve observed Downtown under the leadership and vision of 14th District Councilmember Jose Huizar.
And it’s not just progress, it’s also his concern for how the progress evolves. I reached out to Councilmember Huizar’s office shortly after Nick passed away when I read that Huizar was looking into programs to further assist the homeless while also making our streets cleaner and safer. He was investigating the possibility of “parking” meters installed in various locations around the city that would accept change and credit card donations to support organizations that aid the homeless. Our dear Nick was always reaching out and wanting to help those who were living on the streets around us and, inspired by Nick’s concern, I felt this initiative would give people a place to donate and hopefully eliminate some of the drug sellers that prey on the homeless who depend on handouts to support their habit. While there is no perfect solution. I thought this one had possibilities.
Diana Edoyan in Councilmember Huizar’s office promptly responded to my request for a meeting and we had a very productive discussion around how helping the homeless could also be tied in with a greater city initiative around creating awareness for how we all live in the city together and how a spirit of kindness and social consciousness, the way Nick approached life, would continue to contribute to the livability of Downtown along with the physical revitalization efforts. Whether I was being overly optimistic or not, Diana was excited about what I was suggesting and was open to taking these ideas to her boss. I’d never been to City Hall before and this first experience was one of collaboration–even though I was just one citizen with an idea that I wanted to share.
A few months later, I attended Councilmember Huizar’s homeless solutions panel where multiple stakeholders and a vocal audience with differing opinions all had a chance to speak. It was a bold move on his part and Huizar handled it with great concern and sensitivity . I’ve heard Huizar speak to students at USC’s Price School of Public Policy and listened to his vision for Downtown. It doesn’t just focus on business and more buildings, it’s also about building community, livability and a place where families want to spend the day enjoying all that downtown has to offer. It also addressed the importance of being proud of who and what we are as a city.
The idea of Bringing Back Broadway was one of the reasons we wanted to live in the Eastern Columbia Building and have a front row seat to the beautification of our neighborhood. I had a big smile the day the bistro tables and red umbrellas went up on the street. It makes a statement that WE care but it took a leader like Councilmember Huizar to make that statement. I love to see all the people actually sitting at the tables that, along with the planters, create an ambiance on the street. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but you see people eating their lunch or enjoying a coffee with friends and it shows that we’ve come out from behind our walls and we’re meeting our neighbors.
Of course I love all the new retailers who have been attracted to the area and the shopping and dining discoveries that seem to pop up on a weekly basis within the blocks surrounding our building. Some people express concern about too much building. I recognize that I moved to a city and one that is changing, at that. I want to see history preserved and I want to see more green space, too. BUT if Jose Huizar is not re-elected I fear we’re going to stall our progress and lose all the momentum that he’s worked so hard to get going. I know first-hand he will listen and that he has an incredibly talented and dedicated staff that will help him stay aware of what his constituents’ needs are.
According to Wikipedia, Jose Huizar was born in Zacatecas, Mexico. His father was a migrant farm worker and later a machinist. His mother, Isidra Serrano, was a meatpacking plant worker. His family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Boyle Heights. Jose graduated from U.C. Berkeley, got his law degree from UCLA and received his Masters of Public Policy from Princeton. If I’m looking for the right person to hire for a challenging job, those papers alone shout “Qualified!” But character counts just as much–and no one is perfect…it’s how you move forward from a challenge that is the real test of character, and I believe Jose has proved that as well.
If you live in District 14 your vote is critical. Please be sure you get to the polls before they close tonight at 8 p.m. In case you haven’t figured it out…I hope you cast your vote for Councilmember Jose Huizar.
Waking up and smelling the coffee in the Vision Trust house becomes a favorite morning routine. Although I must admit, I do like smelling the coffee while still lying in bed a bit longer while I listen to the voices of everyone gathering at the breakfast table. Our house is one of the nicer ones in the neighborhood and it faces what is considered a park that wraps around a big water runoff pit across the street. Gates with padlocks at night seem to be common precautions around here.
Just about a ten-minute drive from the Vision Trust house is the most make-shift community I’ve ever seen. The area is called Herrera and it was created by people who just started building dwellings anywhere they could find the space to do it. Our driver maneuvered up and down some alleys before arriving at our destination for the day: A school and a rooftop church in a multi-story, rustic building.
Through the iron-gated door of the building, we followed our ears up several flights of stairs to the amplified sounds of music. Upon reaching the top floor a lead female singer, her five back-up singers, a drummer and a few other musicians were in full praise mode. It wasn’t long before many of us were brushing the tears away. In this place with so little, the joy in the room was embracing. Doris, the lead singer, was also the translator for the pastor’s sermon. She spoke in such clear, expressive English that we were convinced she was a professional entertainer. But when we spoke with her after the service she insisted that she had been nervous translating and that she only sings in church.
From the time Doris first started singing to when she finished translating the pastor’s sermon, it must have been 90 minutes and 85% humidity. She never sat down and never seemed to break a sweat. THAT’S amazing grace!
After hugging everyone in the congregation at the end of the service, we spent some time hearing from the pastor, who spoke perfect English, about how he established this church. Some of the kids wanted to know if they’d be able to get on facebook on the new computers we were bringing them and they were eager for us to take their pictures. Then we posed for our own group photo.
After the service we were taken on a Sunday stroll through the maze of Herrera. We were lead by the youth pastor from the church who stopped and shook hands with residents along the way. This 45-minute walk was one of the most startling and humbling experiences I’ve had so far on this trip. The homes, for the most part, are cubes–one stacked on top of the other. The streets are more like passageways and the life inside and out is a mixture of the full spectrum of the human condition.
There are a few scary scenes like the power lines that everyone taps into and the ditch flowing with trash and pollution that runs through this section of town,
We walked across one freshly paved street and were told it was a project that Canada had taken on where they built a road through the town and covered up a portion of the polluted ditch. Smiling faces greeted us on every alley, pathway and street with “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” while we tried to keep a watch for motor scooters zipping by.
Most of the dwellings were tiny and plain but there were a few that stood out with gardens in front or elegant satin pillows and elaborately decorated artificial Christmas trees in the living room that we could see through the open doorways. Businesses have popped up along the streets of Herrera –not that they have to apply for a permit to do so, we were told.
Our main job in Herrera was to set up the laptop computers that we had brought here from the States. The Herrera school had been operating without internet access and using severely outdated systems. We were able to take down the old computer towers, hook up the wireless router, set up the 30 laptops to Spanish, and attach the keyboards, mouses and monitors all in just a little over an hour.
Our reward for a job well done was to head over to the baseball stadium in Santo Domingo for a night game where the two most competitive teams in the Dominican Republic were playing each other. Winter is baseball season in the Dominican and the Tigres del Licey, from Santo Domingo and the Águilas Cibaeñas from the “other” capital, Santiago, have a rivalry that could be compared to that of the Dodgers and Giants. Adding to the attraction of going to the game was the fact that former, Dodger and Dominican countryman, Manny Ramirez, was playing for the Águilas. The fans were into it and we joined them shouting “Mann-y! Mann-y!” Especially when Manny hit a homer that scored two more runs.
Jay and I both brought a little bit of Nick with us to the game,–Jay in his NDHS cap and I was wearing my NDHS T-shirt. He’s with us everywhere we go and in everything we do…and especially at a baseball game.
The clouds that had been gathering when the game first started decided to let loose in the bottom of the 5th inning. We had perfect seats for the rain under the overhang so we stayed relatively dry while the teams tried to finish the inning but it started coming down so hard the game had to stop and the field had to be covered.
We had a great time experiencing baseball in the country that loves it as much as the U.S. We ate delicious ballpark empeñadas, cheered with the fans and got soaked by the warm rain as we hurried back to our car. Surprisingly, there were no other fans leaving the park. Everyone else was hanging out by the food stands on the lower level, having a great time and waiting for the game to start up again.
I don’t know if that game ever did resume. It’s been raining steadily all night with distant thunder in the background. When we all got back to the house we reviewed the activities and emotions of the day and we all agreed, that even in the challenges and when situations we encountered seemed far from what we would consider ideal, there was always joy to be found.