The East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission passed a contentious motion on Wednesday night to halt the demolition of a rent-stabilized Boyle Heights building. 

The motion, which accepted an appeal to halt the demolition of a property on E. Cesar Chavez Avenue, follows months of protest from the current tenants and community members. The last meeting about the project was delayed due to a lack of translation in December and then again in January due to time constraints.

The commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the appeal after three previous attempts during the meeting to pass motions for and against the appeal. After Commissioner Gloria Gutierrez motioned to accept the appeal citing concerns over many of the city planner’s findings, as well as the lived experience of the public comments that had been given at the hearings, commissioners Avila-Hernandez, Gloria Gutierrez, and David Marquez voted to accept the appeal.

Gutierrez listed her reasoning for the motion during the meeting: recent eviction filings from Boyle Heights and the surrounding area since the end of COVID renters protections, a displacement index shared during public comment that shows that the original letter of determination did not take gentrification, displacement and mental health impact into consideration, and the inconsistencies between the proposed project and the Adelante eastside redevelopment plan – which encompasses the historic Brooklyn Avenue corridor where this project is being proposed.

Commission President Micheal Yap and Vice President Eunice Song voted against the motion to accept the appeal. Earlier in the evening they voted in favor of a motion to deny the appeal, but that motion failed.

“Making that motion citing things that are important aspects that impact the community and have been raised here does not meet the standard based on the advice we’ve been receiving,” Yap said in reference to the planning department recommending the project be approved based on the city’s own criteria. 

The Apetito-Finessa Colectivo, consisting of the commercial and residential tenants who live at the current Tiao-owned property on E Cesar E Chavez Ave & N Chicago St., spoke out against the development project since it first came to the public’s attention through the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council in 2023. The appeal process began after the Director of Planning’s Determination letter was put forth on August 31, 2023 which approved the Tiao project for CEQA exemption and gave the greenlight for the project to move forward.

The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council recommended in July of last year that the city of LA deny the project, but the “Approval and Findings of the Director of Planning” determined the project to be within the parameters of the City’s rules for CEQA exemption and the Boyle Heights neighborhood plan update’s zoning regulations circa 1999.

Viva Padilla, a tenant at the Tiao property, said she was hopeful going into this week’s hearing. “We knew from the last public hearing that we were swaying them,” she said.

“This was the 4th public hearing. We had been through this before but when the three commissioners voted no [on the first motion to deny the appeal] it was clear to me that we managed to sway the board in our favor.”

Neighbors, small business owners, and organizations such as Community Power Collective have been vocally opposed to the project at the public hearings. The public comment from all four meetings included various instances of evictions and displacement from the community and general concerns that gentrification will change the historic neighborhood.

“We have seen time and time again the prioritization of potential residents instead of those who are already living there,” Jocelyn Sanchez, a resident of City Council District 14, said during public comment.

The City Councilmember who represents the area, Kevin de León, told LA Public Press that the commission made the right choice. “I have been consistently opposed to all projects that expand gentrification, and my commitment to protecting tenants and legacy businesses from being displaced are detailed in our new Boyle Heights Community Plan,” de León said. “Yesterday, the Area Planning Commission made the right decision to listen to the community who organized to preserve rent controlled housing and small businesses from the real threat of gentrification.”

Commissioner Lydia Avila-Hernandez gave her own testimony on her lived experience with witnessing the displacement of her neighbors before the vote. “There is a history of our community being steamrolled by the planning department, since, well, always,” she said. 

“Displacement hurts all of us, and those decisions are being made by the planning department, by the housing department, and by the city but they never find a preponderance.”

According to Jane Choi, the principal city planner, and the deputy city attorney present at the hearing, there is still the possibility that Tiao will file a lawsuit against the city of LA citing an instance where a developer won a case involving a 500-unit project in the Crenshaw area. If Tiao were to win a legal battle against the city it could result in a reversal of the decision made by the commissioners.

LA Public Press reached out to Aaron Belliston, a representative for Tiao properties, but Belliston declined to comment on the decision and whether there will be any legal action against the city citing that they have yet to receive a written determination.

Amanda is a journalist born and raised in SELA, where you can find her playing tennis at a local park or taking her cat out for a walk.

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