MID-CITY — Sandwiched between the rail yard issues of the Pico Neighborhood and parking problem in the Wilshire-Montana area is a long strip of more than 25 city blocks where there’s been silence on the organized advocacy front for the residents who call it home.
In a city where neighborhood activism is well alive with established organizations like Friends of Sunset Park, Ocean Park Association, North of Montana Association, Pico Neighborhood Association and Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition, such representation has been lacking in Mid-City.
There could be a new addition on the horizon as a group of residents for the past few months has been mobilizing to revive one of the city’s original neighborhood groups — Mid-City Neighbors — and bring a unified voice back to the people who live there.
Gregg Heacock, who has lived on Yale Street for the past 21 years, said he became interested in bringing the group back together after attending several meetings for development projects in the neighborhood, including one at 31st Street and Wilshire Boulevard, believing that there needed to be more involvement by area’s residents.
“When you look at the city, it doesn’t have representation all up and down this corridor,” he said. “Even in the Downtown area it’s not clear what that representation is.
“It seems strange to me.”
The area has seen several projects unfold over the past decade, including the renovations of both Saint John’s Health Center and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, and could see more in the future, including a new hotel and activities center that’s been proposed through the drafting of the Land Use and Circulation Element.
“I think all of us in the other neighborhood groups see there is a crying need for the whole swath of the middle part of the city that doesn’t have representation,” Jeanne Dodson, who is the chair of the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition, said. “We would like to see them reformed.”
There are currently five neighborhood groups that are officially recognized by City Hall, making them eligible to receive annual membership and communications grants. Groups must be registered as a 501C3 nonprofit, have an active membership of at least 50 people, hold one annual membership meeting and be governed by a board of directors that is selected in accordance to the association’s bylaws, which must be submitted to City Hall.
“Having a neighborhood association helps people connect and creates a strong community,” Rachel Waugh, who serves as the neighborhood group liaison for City Hall, said. “It also gives them an opportunity to represent themselves as one voice when they’re going to a board or commission or council on something that affects their neighborhood.”
Waugh said the Mid-City Neighbors last received a $4,000 grant for membership building activities in 2002. There’s been no requests from the group since.
The organization was formed in 1982 following the success of the Ocean Park Community Organization and the Pico Neighborhood Association by a small contingent of about 20 residents that met at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church.
There were several issues looming that helped mobilize the neighbors, including the hospital zones proposed by the two medical centers and several office developments along Colorado Avenue, including the Water Garden.
With a roughly $90,000-a-year grant from City Hall, Mid-City Neighbors rented a space at the YWCA and hired 3.5 staff members, including Michael Tarbet, who was brought early on to help organize the group and attract new membership.
The major issues during that time were crime prevention and changing the law to allow renters to petition for street lights instead of just property owners.
“The initial crowd of people that worked on this saw some things that they wish could be dealt with like they had seen dealt with in Ocean Park and the Pico Neighborhood and thought it was a pretty healthy way to go,” Tarbet said.
The group eventually had to let go of its staff in the late 1980s when the City Council decided to cancel funding to the neighborhood groups. Tarbet stayed for several months as a volunteer, leaving the organization when it had about 700 members.
Over the next decade, that number would tumble to zero.
Those who were involved with the organization attribute the end of the Mid-City Neighbors to several reasons, some blaming the transient nature of the residents who live in the area, which is largely comprised of renters, others believing it was a result of political infighting among its members. Some believe that the group simply fell apart after a long-time couple who served as the backbone moved to Orange County.
Joan Charles, who joined Mid-City Neighbors in its early years with her husband, former City Councilman Kelly Olsen, over the street lights issue, said that the problem with Mid-City Neighbors was that it covered too large an area where issues in one section were not shared with another.
“I do believe that neighborhood groups come out of a desire of the neighbors to foster change in their neighborhoods,” Charles said.
Howard Meibach, a Mid-City resident since 1994, said he would like to see the neighborhood group brought back to life to help tackle what he sees as one of the biggest issues in the city — traffic.
He recently launched a new Web site called NoGridlock.com, hoping to galvanize residents to tackle the long-standing congestion on the Westside and the developments that he believes draws them. The plan is to bring all of the neighborhood groups together in the cause, he said.
“I believe that development in one area that affects all the areas,” he said.
While an organization has been defunct since the early part of the decade, turnout by residents from the neighborhood has been strong at various planning meetings.
Ellen Gelbard, the assistant director of planning and community development, said that when a community workshop is held for a pending project, notices are published in the newspaper and letters are sent out to residents who live within a 500-foot radius. The department also notifies the neighborhood association.
She said that there has been strong attendance by residents from Mid-City for Land Use and Circulation Element meetings and most recently, a workshop for a proposal to build creative offices, neighborhood commercial and residential units on Colorado Avenue between Stewart Street and Stanford Street. The project is still in the conceptual stages and has yet to be filed.
Gelbard said that the department currently has a LUCE notification e-mail list that is 1,500 contacts long. The department also places postcards notifying of future meetings at libraries, community centers and grocery stores.
“It’s always good to have that neighborhood association,” she said. “It’s one more way of reaching out with the neighborhoods.”
When it comes to issues, there’s also strength in numbers.
“The big topic here is parking and if it was just me standing around on a street corner, nobody would be paying attention,” Dodson said. “It’s because we represent thousands of people that City Hall listens to us.”