Winter 2006 Newsletter

NSBN Helps Save & Expand Much-Needed Boyle Heights Preschool & Community Center

Jim ConnIn Boyle Heights, the community’s need for a new high school, housing, and an MTA station appeared to endanger an important community preschool facility until the parties, with assistance from NSBN and the support of then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa’s and then-LAUSD  Board President Jose Huizar’s offices, worked out a collaborative planning process.  Rev. Jim Conn, an urban strategist with the United Methodist Ministries and Eduardo Garcia, CEO of Plaza Community Services, discuss NSBN’s community planning process, which has led to a signed memorandum of understanding, the completion of negotiations between LAUSD and the United Methodist Ministries, and an agreement between LAUSD and Plaza to temporarily relocate the preschool to the adjacent Utah St. Elementary School campus.

Reverend Conn, you’ve been the catalyst from day one for NSBN’s community planning effort with Plaza Community Center in Boyle Heights. You asked for help because the land held by one of your United Methodist Churches is being taken by LAUSD for a new high school.  Describe the relocation challenge that the church and pre-K childcare provider Plaza brought to NSBN to help creatively resolve.

Jim Conn: The United Methodist Church has historically been concerned with low-income neighborhoodsa nd the children and families who live in them. For nearly a century, the church has owned property in this Boyle Heights neighborhood and proided a variety of human services in this community. Most recently, this site has become the home of Plaza Community Center’s childcare program, a program for families who do not have the income to pay for private childcare services.

When LAUSD moved to build a new high school campus in Boyle Heights and take this piece of property for its development, we were very concerned for our ability to continue providing early childhood services for these families.  We knew we needed help to avoid being relocated out of Boyle Heights; and we knew we needed to reach out to some of the civic organizations in the community, like NSBN, to assist us.  NSBN responded quickly, positively and very professionally, thank God.

The development process has moved forward, and LAUSD is taking the Church’s property.   How has the “taking” negotiation with LAUSD progressed, and what will the Church do with the resources derived from the forced sale to LAUSD? 

JC: The Los Angeles District of the United Methodist Church owns the property, and the church district has committed that whatever revenue is received from the sale of this property to LAUSD will be committed to providing human and childcare services through the Plaza Community Center, in and for this neighborhood.  The church’s commitment has been there from the beginning, and it continues.  So when a sale is complete this spring, that money will be held for a future facility for the Plaza Community Center in Boyle Heights. 

The schematic relocation plans that have evolved from NSBN’s collaborative planning process in Boyle Heights involve the creation of a large community center, with multiple services and childcare, two-and-a-half blocks east of the new high school.  Is this proposed plan consistent with the church’s promise and values? 

JC: It’s a marvelous plan, and it far exceeds our expectations.  We originally were thinking just about how to replace the childcare center, but there are some possibilities here that would enable us to provide more services and have a larger presence in that neighborhood.  This neighborhood  is being revitalized and rebuilt.  There are going to be many more families in this immediate community that are going to be in need of these kinds of services, so we’re really excited about the prospects.  But it’s way beyond our capability to implement. 

Mr. Garcia, the relocation of Plaza Community Center’s childcare program  as a result of displacement by the new East L.A. High School motivates your involvement in NSBN’s collaborative planning process with the church, the mayor and Council offices, the school district, and city departments such as CDD and HACLA. How happy is Plaza with NSBN’s planning efforts to date?

Eduardo Garcia: I’m happy to report that we have, thankfully, gotten more people on the same page regarding the need for Plaza’s pre-K program.  The LASUD now has a pretty solid understanding of how long Plaza has provided services in this area and how Plaza desires to stay in this area surrounding the new school and new housing.  I think New Schools, Better Neighborhoods and the City of Los Angeles, both the mayor’s office and District 14, have all recognized that the services should remain in the district and that we have larger dreams for providing services throughout the whole area that is now being developed around the First Street corridor.

Through this collaborative planning effort, will Plaza’s pre-K program and seats be saved? Please elaborate, Eduardo.

EG: Yes! In the short term, we’ve been working closely with these same partners and more specifically with L.A. Unified School District to solve the temporary relocation of Plaza’s First Street Satellite Center to Utah Elementary School, which is within walking distance of our facility - about a half-block east.  That maintains the seats in the neighborhood and continue care with the families we are serving.  We also provide a service to Utah Elementary School in that many of the same services that are offered at Plaza can be utilized by the extended families that Utah Elementary serves.

And in the long term, what are Plaza’s prospects? Will the neighborhood families now served continue to be served?

EG: We’ve been able to identify something interesting about who is being served by Plaza. The zip codes that we have been serving in and around our First Street site are far more than one might assume.  Not only do we serve the local zip code 90033, but we’re also servicing some zones that we hadn’t quite realized were significantly underserved by childcare providers in L.A. County. 

I think that the fact that we’re serving zones that have been termed “hot zones” by LAUP and the First 5 LA means that we have a chance to secure those much-needed facility and operational dollars for East LA. We expect new housing will be going up in Boyle Heights and that the need for infant child care and K through 5 seats must be continuously planned and provided.

What is the value of having an independent, third party manage the planning process for new educational facilities in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights.

EG: There is clearly value in having neutral facilitator – and we’re talking New Schools, Better Neighborhoods now – when you are involving multiple organizations. NSBN has been able to facilitate the discussion across city lines, school district lines; they have been able to bring interests together to have the dialogue necessary so that jurisdictions can be massaged and cooperation can be brought to the table in discussing the kinds of services and the kinds of needs which best serve the children and families of Boyle Heights.  There’s just a lot of value in a neutral party coming on board and bringing groups together that don’t normally speak together about the design of schools and neighborhood centers. That needed service is the value that I think has been brought to the table in this effort. 

As noted, a number of community organizations have been added to the Boyle Heights planning process, such as the Boyle Heights Learning Collaborative, and many others.  What’s the value added of having an array of community interests collaboratively plan new facilities for the children and families in Boyle Heights. 

EG: Certainly we provide pre-K through 5 in Plaza Community Center, but there’s a larger need for a wider scope of services.  Bringing on more stakeholders is a way of addressing the needs for these wider services.  I’m sure the Learning Collaborative is looking beyond what we’re servicing and towards a continuum of care from the ages we serve to the ages of elementary and middle and even high school and beyond.  I think that’s what we draw our strength from - having those agencies that work across each other’s boundaries to provide a continuum of care.  That’s certainly something that we didn’t anticipate but is now beginning to grow as a result of the collaboration.

The plan for the long term conversion of the two and half blocks east of the new Boyle Heights high school  into a community center requires the support of newly elected Councilman Huizar and his predecessor, Mayor Villaraigosa.  How have both contributed to the evolution and likelihood of success of the community plan’s realization?

EG: I’m glad that Jose Huizar has been at the forefront of the education of the children in our neighborhood.  He had been with the L.A. Unified School District and I’m pleased to see him take on that and other challenges in the City Council.  I think it’s a continuation of his efforts in the City Council seat and what we’ve started with Villaraigosa now in the mayor’s office offers a wider range of support from LA Unified School District, City Council District 14, and all the way through to the mayor’s office.  Particularly when we’re looking at expanding services, bringing in new services, and bringing in all the neighborhood communities, I think it’s going to flow quite nicely as this begins to unfold in the next three to five years.