By Alonzo Edwards
Over 35 years ago, in the mid-1980s, L.A. County designated West Altadena predominately Black and brown community for redevelopment.
Lincoln Crossing was completed in 2007 with a fitness center, supermarket and retail stores. Fourteen years have passed, and development efforts have been nonexistent. Community’s town hall meetings were conducted in 2001 and 2019 and the community wishes have been consistent:
• Preserve the “Altadena experience” (i.e., enjoying diversity, mountain views, the small-town feel, density, community, etc.) while enhancing its aesthetic (i.e., green spaces, curb appeal, trees, benches, etc.) for locals and visitors.
• Improve housing and transportation options for everyone (mixed uses, affordable homeownership, biking/walkability).
• Make commercial districts more active and vibrant to create more options for residents to work, shop and dine.
• Building architecture designed to maintain residential neighborhood scale and character.
• Encourage businesses, both local and new, to buy into the “Altadena experience” (i.e., restaurants, mixed-use, retail, stores, green space).
Over the years neighborhoods bonds have become weaker, with an increase in public disorder, criminal and nuisance activities. Neighborhoods are being systematically marginalized with contributing factors such as:
• High density of liquor stores (six within a 2-square-mile radius), which have been in existence prior to Lincoln Crossing and are linked to higher levels of crime, violence and childhood trauma.
• Arguably a disproportionate number of group homes and rehabilitation facilities with little or no services to address health and safety issues.
• A reduction in the sheriff department resources and community-based programs for public safety and crime prevention measures.
• A delay over four years implementing a traffic signal at Windsor Avenue and Figueroa Street for traffic mitigation.
The above issues have contributed to economic and social disintegration in West Altadena. The passage of the By-Right Housing Ordinance, planning.lacounty.gov/brho, is another tool being used to disenfranchise the community. This new ordinance overrides the majority of Altadena’s zoning ordinances, known as Altadena Community Standards Distrust (CSD), with practically no controls in place to maintain development standards for residential and commercial areas.
How can a local developer at 2214 N. Windsor Avenue, follow Altadena CSD with community engagement, while another developer, Affirmed Housing, five blocks away at 2439-2445 Lincoln Avenue, abuse the By-Right Housing Ordinance with a five-story building exceeding Altadena CSD?
This is an example of how a profit driven developer can game the system at the expense of destroying a community. All development should be held to one standard: Altadena CSD.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger of the Fifth District can correct the systemic racism that has plagued our community for decades. LA County owns surplus parcels in West Altadena that are stagnant and need development. The Fifth District can direct the Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) to include the following verbiage in the Request for Proposals:
• Exempt By-Right Housing Ordinance
• Require developers to comply with Altadena CSD
• Promote programs to encourage affordable homeownership
• Encourage mixed-use development
The selection of the companies to develop these parcels is “critical” to the revitalization of West Altadena. Developers need to adhere to the vision and goals from the community’s town hall meetings with homeownership and an economically viable commercial district as top priorities. Starbucks has indicated a strong interest to invest in West Altadena. This opportunity needs to be acted upon and move forward with a positive outcome.
LACDA should promote homeownership programs. Offer parcel discounts to developers offering affordable homes to own. Convert the underutilized Business Technology Center into a mixed-use development with condos. Promote mortgage assistance programs such as “silent second” mortgages and “rent-to-own” agreements.
After decades of economic and social disintegration, West Altadena predominately Black and brown community has earned the right and deserves to be made whole. The potential exists to become an active vibrant community it once was. The question remains, how truly committed is the fifth district to partner with the community to make it happen? Action speaks louder than words.