The back end of the Bank of America branch in Echo Park have served a variety of public uses over the years. The Echo Park Avenue space that once housed bank offices and a sidewalk teller window has served as a police drop-in center, community meeting room, fruit-tree giveaway distribution point and, for the last three years, home of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council. But, apparently, there is a problem with this space. The city agency that oversees neighborhood councils recently determined that the Echo Park council office is “not compliant with building codes” and cannot serve as a polling place in next October’s neighborhood council elections. Meanwhile, the Building and Safety Department has found that the same space where the Echo Park neighborhood council holds its meetings is technically a garage and not permitted for office use.
At some point, the back of the Bank of America building, which dates back to 1926, was converted from a garage into office space. But apparently the permits – including an essential “certificate of occupancy” – cannot be found of the conversion. At the end of May, an order to comply was issued by the Building and Safety Department, according to online city records. Said a summary of the violation:
“A two story structure approved as office and garage has been converted without permit and inspection. The garage on the first floor has been converted to office / meeting room without permit and inspection.”
The findings are a big surprise to the leaders of the Echo Park neighborhood council, which recently renewed their lease of the space following a review and approval by the City Council as well as the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees neighborhood councils. It’s not clear how the city, police department and neighborhood council used the space for so long without the proper permits being in place.
“No one can find a certificate of occupancy” said Lisa Baca-Sigala, Chief Information Officer for the council. Officials with the bank have “told us that we are going to get a new certificate [of occupancy] this month. We are just waiting as tenants to get the certificate in place.”
The council for now continues to use the office. Baca-Sigala said they will once again request the office serve as an election polling place once the proper permits are obtained.