September 15, 2006

Mercado Project Down to Three Developers and Four Deadlines

Residents voice needs and some discrepancies in process

By Raymod R. Beltran

“Ignore all the rumors. We’re here with blank sheets of paper and we’re going to build with blank sheets of paper,” responded Jim Waring, the mayor’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Land Use.

He attended last week’s Mercado Project meeting at Calvary Baptist Church in Barrio Logan, along with District Eight Councilman Ben Hueso, City Planning Manager Jim LoBue, and City Project Manager Richard Chavez to collect ideas for the long awaited Mercado from an approximate 150 community residents.

The outcome is three developers left, four deadlines, and a long grocery list for a Mercado-starved community.

The selected project is supposed to be finalized for construction by January 2007, but for now, the prospective firms are to have their request for proposals turned into the city by November 17 this year.

The city will put together a five person selection panel, three from their department and two community residents, who will choose one of three firms to be announced by December 4.

Residents highly opposed having only two voices in the selection panel. Groups like the Chicano Park Steering Committee CPSC suggested one member from their group as well as two residents so that the community would have equal representation during the process.

“If Chicano Park is the jewel of the neighborhood, then we should have some say in what happens,” said Jesse Constancio, CPSC member.

Chavez, the city’s project manager, said that the panel is outweighed by city staff because they are responsible for the construction of Mercado. Yet, the city currently has no criteria for qualified panel members, an area that seems unconvincing to many.

“The city doesn’t want to build a Mercado that the community doesn’t want,” said Councilman Hueso, in his first appearance at a Mercado meeting since taking office. “We’re going to select that project on how it mirrors the wishes of the community.”

A hall full of residents split up into groups to discuss the needs and the unnecessary businesses in Logan.

The redundant idea of a Latino themed grocery store was mentioned at many tables, but other ideas sprouted for a commercial anchor at the site, an agricultural nursery, an independent movie theater like Landmark Theatres, that would cater to multicultural films, and a bilingual bookstore. Educational facilities were adamantly demanded for the site, such as a Chicano Park Living Museum, a performing arts theater or cultural center, and a library.

Businesses fiercely downcast were ones environmentally disastrous, like auto shops and industrial warehouses. Others shunned were anti-community businesses like military recruitment centers and liquor stores.

City staff will hold a follow up meeting [Thursday, Sept 21, Calvary Baptist Church, 719 Cesar Chavez Pkwy, 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.] to present the input they comprised last week.

City planners say there’s currently no project plans yet and developers Tony Salazar and Margie Francia from Los Angeles-based McCormack Baron Salazar, one of three firms left, say they don’t start creating site sketches until after consulting with residents.

The other two remaining developers are San Diego-based Shea Properties and Forest City Property Corporation, a group that’s affiliated with New York-based Forest City Ratner.

FCR is a development firm that has been highly opposed by grassroots community advocates in Brooklyn due to, what they say, have been devious practices while developing a large scale sports arena, Atlantic Yard, in their neighborhood. Brooklyn-based critics, like No Land Grab, Develop Don’t Destroy, and No Stadium, make claims against FCR and its president, Bruce C. Ratner, relating to eminent domain abuse, under-representing development costs, and misleading the public about the size of the project area and the number of jobs they produce.

Development firms DH Horton and Pacific Scene, which met the city’s qualifications, bailed on the project because the neighborhood could not support the idea they had for this site,” according to Project Manager Chavez..

Seventy five percent of Barrio Logan is made up of family households. Eighty percent of Barrio Logan residents earn below $40,000 a year. While 92 percent of households in the barrio are in need of affordable housing, “only twenty percent of Barrio Logan’s housing units are restricted to affordable rents,” according to the Environmental Health Coalition.

“Residents and supporters of Barrio Logan and Chicano Park are very concerned that outside developers interested in this land may not have as a guiding force the historical and cultural interests of Chicano Park and the residents and supporters of the barrio,” said CPSC Chairwoman Tomasa Camarillo in a letter to the city.

Aside from a seat on the selection panel, the group is insisting that the city enter into a binding contract with local residents that will insure them first opportunities for jobs during construction of the Mercado and jobs when it’s complete. “If housing is part of the project, [build] affordable housing to fit the community’s average income and affordable to minimum wage earners,” says their letter to city officials.

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