New Independent Analysis of Cornfields Site to Be Released June 8
Neither of two competing plans for development of the Cornfields, a major vacant parcel next to Los Angeles’ Chinatown, may produce the best results for the local community and the city as a whole, according to a new independent study commissioned by Occidental College’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute.
Rather than propose a third alternative, the study by a team of UCLA urban planning graduate students provides a comprehensive analysis of the issues involved in the debate over the former rail yard and offers a series of benchmarks to guide the development of this and other contaminated urban sites, or brownfields.
The team will present their findings on the Cornfields property and the competing development proposals from Majestic Realty and Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) at a public meeting on Thursday, June 8 at 6:45 p.m. at Castelar Elementary School, 840 Yale Street, in Chinatown.
Copies of the executive summary are available at www.sppsr.ucla.edu/dup/research/main.html.
“Our goal was to provide a resource handbook that can help guide future development of this very important site and to provide a planning model for the development of other brownfield sites,” said team spokesperson Lauri Ames.
“We believe that the comprehensive nature and the significance of the findings in this study should now be used by policymakers in all future decision-making about the Cornfields site,” said Robert Gottlieb, Henry R. Luce Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Occidental.
To that end, the seven-member student team examined a decade’s worth of planning proposals for the site, examined the physical, social, economic, political, and historical aspects of the former Southern Pacific rail yard and the surrounding community, and the often divided views of local residents and community groups.
Majestic Realty, Los Angeles County’s largest commercial and industrial developer, wants to build a light industrial park on the 48-acre industrially zoned site it says will provide 1,000 badly needed new jobs. The city has made available almost $12 million in federal loans and grants for the project to be used in part to deal with the contamination left behind by 100 years of railroad use.
FoLAR has created a mixed-use plan for the site that includes housing, commercial and retail space, a middle school, and a large park. The non-profit organization argues that the Cornfield represents a major opportunity to “re-green” the Los Angeles River and provide badly needed housing, open space, and school facilities.
Majestic’s proposal, while economically viable and likely to provide jobs now lacking in the community, ignores several city and private planning studies that call for mixed-use development, open space, community facilities, and connectivity with surrounding neighborhoods.
While applauding FoLAR’s vision, the study points out that its proposal still needs to provide evidence of its financial feasibility. Some of the FoLAR proposal’s major design elements, including a canal and an artificial lake, do not appear to be aimed at the most pressing needs of the surrounding community, the study says.
Among the study’s other findings:
§ The recently released results of a 1999 site investigation and assessment reveal that the Cornfields has generally low contamination levels. These results indicate that remediation costs will be reasonable, no matter what use is developed on the site. A variety of rapidly evolving programs and technologies exist that will make the remediation of sites like the Cornfields more cost-efficient and safe for redevelopment.
§ The Cornfields has a far greater historical significance than has been previously acknowledged, and this history can have a significant impact on development action. In addition to the recently discovered intact portion of the zanja madre, the city’s original water source, on the site, the Cornfields has links to the 1769 Portola expedition and some of the city’s earliest mass transit systems.
§ The area surrounding the Cornfields is a densely populated, ethnically diverse, lower-than-average income community with high levels of limited English proficiency, low levels of citizenship, and lower-than-average levels of educational attainment. Although the local job base is growing, the wage base is declining and overall unemployment levels are higher than average.
§ Community attitudes in surrounding neighborhoods – Chinatown to the south, Lincoln Heights to the east, and Elysian Park to the north – are mixed regarding the two competing development proposals. In Chinatown in particular, interest in the Cornfields is high, and opinion is far from unanimous on what is best for the community.