Q&A with district Councilman Ed P. Reyes

Councilmember Ed P. Reyes is in charge of District 1 which includes MacArthur Park/Westlake. An active part of the community since the early 1990s when he was deputy, Reyes was elected to his current position in 2001. He talks to me about what he has improved in the neighborhood, and what his district still needs to work on.

What are some things this community still needs?

This area still needs support systems for the families, especially when you look at childcare, senior care and assisted living.

The notion of assimilation into a new society also needs to change. This is like the Ellis Island of the west. So you have a whole range of populations from all over the world. We have 70,000 people per square mile. There’s a lot of energy here.

We need to help these people out. We need vendors that can give out micro-loans,education in finance, teaching them how to handle a checkbook and knowing what insurance you need, what attorneys are legitimate. People take advantage of those that don’t speak English. To me the immigrant experience is very special. They have this transitional period and in that context, many don’t know about their vulnerabilities.

What about the gang issue? Is it still as present as it was in the ’80s and ’90s?

That’s the biggest elephant in the room. It’s kind of like water. You engage with it in one area but then it moves somewhere else. In my point of view, if the young people had options, other than abusing themselves or letting those abuse them in a gang culture, no one in their right mind would want that.

But out of necessity they find themselves in that position. They don’t find themselves in a structured environment, their parents are always working, they don’t feel connected to a central fabric of any kind of unit. They don’t enjoy school, so they find themselves in a culture that abuses them.

We’ve done a lot of organizing, creating non-profits and establishing leaders in our own communities. But bottom line is, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.

What are the next steps then?

This should be an organic, natural development. We need to give them [the immigrant community] more tools to understand how government works. And to let them define themselves in their own space.

What do you say to those upset about newer developments and those yelling “gentrification”?

We’ve always had three families in one-bedroom apartments. I’m not bragging about that. That’s always been a reality. But it’s gotten worse. And that’s what breaks my heart, to know that because we cleaned the lake, we cleaned the park, we brought in new schools, new libraries, new resurfaced streets, new trash cans, now others think, “It’s not a bad place to live because it’s so close to downtown.” And the landlords see it, and they raise the rents. And you’re right, it has pushed out many people.

I’ve been at meetings where the senoras I’ve been working with, the abuelitas, the grandmas, the folks in the communities I’ve been working with for years, say, “Why are you doing this to us?” They tell me “we’re being pushed out.”

So there’s a balancing point. That’s where my advocacy comes in by creating laws and policy. I need votes that say we need 20 percent affordable housing in every new development. But it’s hard. I’m only one vote out of 15. Until we get more pressure from the forces that be, it’s going to be a struggle.

We have to address the wrong here. The question is how do we do it so everyone is equal, and that’s the hardest thing to do.

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