The Legacy of Ed Reyes

First District City Councilman Ed Reyes at the May 20 groundbreaking ceremony in May for Blossom Plaza.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — Ed Reyes wasn’t the flashiest of politicians. Not even close. Whereas some other people arrived in City Hall with a playbook for how to keep ascending the political ladder, Reyes was more of a lunch-bucket politician, if such a thing exists. He didn’t try to be a “star.” Instead, he showed up at his First District office day after day, focused more on neighborhood issues than personal ambitions.

Reyes was termed out on July 1, having completed 12 years representing the territory that includes City West and Chinatown (the sprawling First also encompasses neighborhoods such as MacArthur Park and Mt. Washington). Due to issues of poverty, density and a relative lack of development, it is one of the three most challenged districts in the city (the Eighth and Ninth are the other two).

Those challenges make it virtually impossible for any elected official to be widely adored. Still, Reyes leaves office with a long, sturdy list of accomplishments. He ignited momentum in the portions of the district tied to Downtown Los Angeles and in other areas as well. It is all the more impressive considering he faced hurdles such as the demise of the Community Redevelopment Agency, a key source of funding for projects in his area.

Reyes came to office with a background in urban planning, and that mindset stuck with him; he often adopted long-term strategies that could take years to pay off. This is a rarity in the era of term limits, when politicians frequently strive to make a quick and noticeable splash, one that ensures they continue the aforementioned ascent.

A case in point was Reyes’ dedication to improving the condition of the Los Angeles River and raising its profile. He helped launch and then chaired the Council’s Ad Hoc River Committee, an important step as it provided the political framework to craft a long-term plan and seek federal and other funding for various waterway projects. Reyes was not alone in this effort, and had the fortune to push forward as the nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River also took up the issue. Certainly much remains to be done, but the development of schools, parkland and coming housing at nearby Taylor Yard is a model of the change that can be realized.

Chinatown did not develop as quickly as many, including Reyes, had hoped, and the decade-long difficulty in launching Blossom Plaza was a source of frustration. Still, Reyes rode herd on the project even after the original developer lost the property through foreclosure. He pushed the city to buy the land, then worked with the new developer, Forest City. That project should serve as a catalyst in Chinatown, in particular by creating a connection with the Metro Gold Line station. It will help propel the neighborhood forward as it dovetails with other area developments such as the recently opened Metro at Chinatown Senior Lofts. Reyes deserves credit for never giving up on this one.

He also oversaw a quiet advance in City West. The portion of Wilshire Boulevard just west of Downtown has seen a steady stream of investment, with several thousand apartments either opening or in the construction phase. Reyes and his office were always involved, and suddenly a critical mass is approaching.

Like all politicians, Reyes had both friends and foes. He opposed the Wal-Mart under construction near Chinatown and this page is among those who disagreed with him. We are not fans of Wal-Mart because it tends to wipe out small retailers, among other issues, but in this case there was a strong desire in neighboring communities to have a Wal-Mart grocery store (which is much smaller and more focused than a normal Wal-Mart). Reluctantly, we supported this Wal-Mart because of that broad support.

Reyes also faced opposition on his longstanding effort to create affordable housing in market-rate complexes. This put him at odds with certain developers, though at the same time there were plenty with whom he found common ground. Whether one agrees with him or not, he brought an important matter to the forefront.

There were improvements outside the area that will also ultimately benefit Downtown. Chief among these was an advance in MacArthur Park. The attraction west of Downtown now has a lively concert series, and while certain unsavory elements remain, the turnaround from when Reyes arrived in 2001 is dramatic. He helped improve the park for families, which is good for the entire city.

Gil Cedillo, who has replaced Reyes, has a long record as a legislator. He notched some impressive achievements in state government and arrives with plenty of potential. He also has, to use a cliché, some big shoes to fill. We hope he can continue the momentum that Reyes began. Thanks to Reyes and his team, the entire First is a much better place than it was 12 years ago.

Copyright 2013 Los Angeles Downtown News.