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City Council Extends Olvera Street Lease Negotiations

April 23, 1998|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday extended long-term lease negotiations with Olvera Street's merchants to July 1, stepping in to override the commission that oversees the city's historic birthplace.

The council used Proposition 5 to override the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority commission, which had voted to impose interim rent hikes on merchants who hadn't finished negotiating by May 1.

"We are asking the council to intervene and redirect the commission so we can finish the process without threat or intimidation," Vivien Bonzo, president of the Olvera Street Merchants Assn. and head of a group of 47 business owners who are negotiating together, told the council.

The negotiations--the first in the merchants' 68-year history at the Mexican marketplace--were mandated by a 1992 charter amendment and began last August. They call for 30-year leases with 25-year renewal options and also include steep rent increases.

Councilman Mike Hernandez introduced the motion on behalf of Councilman Richard Alatorre, who is recovering from surgery and represents the two-block downtown area where 11 families founded Los Angeles in 1781.

Alatorre's chief of staff, Hilary Norton, said the council's intention was to take away the threat of interim rent hikes so talks could conclude peaceably, not to take over negotiations for the commission. The commission was appointed four years ago to oversee El Pueblo after the city's Recreation and Parks Department was stripped of the duty.

The street's 70 merchants have not had rent increases for 11 years. The group negotiating together has demanded that the city repair dilapidated buildings or give them rent write-offs to do the work themselves.

Hernandez said the merchants should receive some of the benefits offered to other struggling commercial areas in the city. Instead, they have been viewed as a revenue source for El Pueblo, which is facing a budget shortfall.

"We don't look at Olvera Street as a business improvement district. We don't look at how we as a city can partner with the merchants to improve the district," he said. "We need to start providing business assistance that's provided to other parts of the city."

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