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Voices / STREET LEVEL

Turning Echo Park Around

June 06, 1993|JEB BRIGHOUSE | Jeb Brighouse, 56, is founder of the Echo Park Renters and Homeowners Assn. and a member of the community group Echo Park 2000. Brighouse, who has lived in Echo Park 18 years, is also a former political science teacher at Glendale Community College. He was interviewed by Regina Paris. and

Echo Park is a historical area with roots that go back a century. There are people of all races, income levels and educational backgrounds--which is a microcosm of what every city in America should be.

Echo Park 2000 was proposed at a community meeting that was held in response to last year's riots. We wanted to form an organization to define what kind of community we wanted to have and protect. Our goal is to not only preserve the integrity of our community but to enhance the quality of life for the residents.

Our worst fear would be that Echo Park would be bulldozed like the communities south of Temple Street and west of the Harbor Freeway now known as Central City West. There used to be housing there; it was run-down, but low-income people could afford it. Speculators bought up that land, lot by lot, and when they ended up owning an entire block, they would bulldoze it.

In Echo Park, there was a code-enforcement sweep by Building and Safety about 14 years ago. The purpose was to shake people loose from their property by finding code violations that would require them to spend thousands of dollars in repairs or sell out. If this resulted in many people selling out simultaneously, developers could buy up the property. We got the help of Councilman John Ferarro, who got the sweep shut down. He subsequently appointed a bunch of us to the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Echo Park-Silver Lake plan.

It's clear developers had the same plans with Echo Park. To them, the land was more valuable than the people.

Recently, we have been concerned as the quality of the residential areas has improved but the business area is declining. The closing of the 75-year-old Finer's clothing store and the opening of a thrift store down the street was a blow to the Sunset business district and indicates the way things are going. We want to attract the middle-class businesses like bookstores, health food stores and copy places. The businesses replacing the old ones now tend to be aimed at poverty.

The people of Echo Park are really mixed and there's a solid middle-class. They do buy things retail, and would like to shop along Sunset if there were shops for them. Our merchants need to attract people who have more money to spend.

The Echo Park Improvement Assn. has put together an effective program. It's held one successful mixer in an effort to bring residents and merchants together. A lot of the merchants are new, and they're diverse: Latinos from Mexico and Cuba, Asians from South Korea and the Philippines, and Armenians.

Community leaders have conducted walking tours for residents and merchants to discuss how things can be improved. There have been graffiti paint-outs one Saturday a month. They've developed an extensive Neighborhood Watch program with the help of Officer Joe Writer, of the Northeast Division, and hired a private security company to patrol the neighborhood. Since then, crime has decreased dramatically.

Only by using the talents and resources of the people of Echo Park--and a city government that encourages its people rather than blocks their way--will places like Echo Park prosper.

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