Barlow Respiratory Hospital has waged a years-long effort to transform its leafy grounds on the eastern edge of Echo Park into a major residential development, with the most recent proposals calling for more than 800 units of housing and a new hospital. But that project has been opposed by many residents and neighborhood groups. Now, several key candidates running in the Council District 1 and Council District 13 races have joined the opponents. In some cases, the same candidates who have voiced opposition have also received major financial support from unions supporting the Barlow development.
Hospital officials says redevelopment of their 25-acre campus on Stadium Way is crucial if the 101-year-old institution is to survive. Faced with a state mandate to build a new facility that meets modern seismic building codes, the hospital’s plan is to re zone its property to allow for high-density residential development and then sell off most of the site to developers, using the proceeds to build a new hospital. That new hospital would be located on a parking lot on the western tip of the Barlow property.
As part of its campaign to win support for its new masterplan, Barlow has gathered endorsements from major union leaders, whose members would likely be employed to build a new hospital and residential development. Key among those labor supporters is Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the influential Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “The proposed Barlow Hospital replacement plan will help increase the Echo Park community’s economic base by creating and retaining more than 4,800 good union jobs, and supporting local businesses and working families,” says Durazo in a statement on the Barlow website. “Neither Barlow nor the community can afford to let this opportunity pass.”
Yet, in recent days, two city major council candidates backed by Durazo’s union have come out against Barlow’s development plan. Last week, Council District 13 candidate John Choi, a former Public Works Commissioner who has received well over $100,000 in independent expenditures from the county federation of labor, joined many of his fellow contenders, including Mitch O’Farrell and Josh Post, in opposing the Barlow project. In a press release, Choi said:
“While we must address the pressing issues of seismic safety at this historic property, we cannot allow it to be used as a Trojan Horse to sneak in an oversize and inappropriate development,” said Choi. “I oppose overdevelopment and destruction of green space. We must fix Barlow hospital, but we can accomplish it in a transparent way that involves the community, preserves precious open space, and protects the historic heritage of our city.”
Meanwhile in the race for Council District 1, which includes the Barlow property, State Assemblyman Gil Cedillo has joined chief rival Jose Gardea in opposing the project. In a statement issued by his campaign, Cedillo, who has received more than $110,000 in independent expenditures from the county federation of labor, said:
“I do not agree with the proposal to build 800 new housing units at the Barlow Hospital site. I believe that Barlow Hospital is an asset to the community and wants to help preserve the hospital. As a Los Angeles City Council Member I will use a balanced approach to reach a resolution that is acceptable to all reasonable stakeholders.”
It’s not clear what type of development is acceptable for Cedillo and the other candidates running in the March 5 council election. But Margaret Crane, Chief Executive Officer of the hospital, said in an email that Barlow is working on addressing the concerns of residents and candidates. “We are a month or so away from communicating with the community about a revised master plan that addresses past concerns and will provided important benefits to our immediate community and to the Southern California health care system.”
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