New generation of activists takes on Echo Park and Silver Lake development

Rendering of Sunset Junction project by Silver Lake resident opposed to the development.

Echo Park attorney fights Barlow Hospital project with a website.

Many Echo Park and Silver Lake residents have over the decades waged long and often times unsuccessful battles against real estate development, from a proposal by the Dodgers to build a football stadium next to the ballpark (Peter O’Malley backed off) to a plans for 2,500 apartments on a Silver Lake hillside (the neighborhood got a 95-home, gated community instead).  Now, a new crop of development has prompted a new generation of residents to become more vocal and involved in development issues.  They are newbies when it comes to neighborhood activism but they are following in the footsteps of others who have waged similar battles in the era before Facebook and computer-generated renderings.  Here is background on two residents – an Echo Park attorney and Silver Lake industrial designer – who decided to take a stand against development they see as out of place.

Echo Park attorney fights 888-unit project with a website

“Neighborhoods change, and development is a fact of life in Los Angeles,” said attorney Ari Bessendorf, who moved to Echo Park six years ago. “The question is really one of scale.”

What is certainly out scale, in Bessendorf’s view, is a proposal by Barlow Hospital to develop its leafy campus next to Elysian Park into a residential community with as many as 888 units of housing.* In his first foray into neighborhood activism against real estate development, Bessendorf created a website – SaveElysianPark.org – to spread information about the project and help residents wade through a complex environmental impact report.  Bessendorf, who wrote the content, recruited a friend who is a graphic designer and a cousin who designs websites to help create the SaveElysianPark.org. It took about a week to put the site together.

Rendering from SaveElysianPark.org

Bessendorf decided to get involved after watching a three-story, townhouse project rise on the corner of Echo Park and Delta avenues. He was left frustrated by the “terrible state of Echo Park Avenue” while the project was left partly unfinished after  a previous owner lost control of the project and how the 36-unit condo development, now being completed by a different owner, has fundamentally changed the character of the corner. “When I heard about the Barlow project, I knew I had to get involved.”

Barlow Hospital has said it needs to develop and sell most of its 25-acre property to pay for a new hospital to be built on a corner of the site. But Bessendorf said Barlow’s effort to secure the necessary development rights does not square with the operational mission of a hospital, which opened more than 100 years ago to treat respiratory problems.  “There are many aspects of the [draft environmental impact report] that appear seriously inadequate, not least of which is that the project does not appear to account for overflow of 1,000 cars into the neighborhood in excess of the proposed parking spaces, ” said Bessendorf. “The fact is that the Barlow site, while not officially part of Elysian Park, is integrated with the park in terms of geography, wildlife, traffic, and riparian issues.”

Bessendorf said he thinks his website can play an important role in keeping residents informed about the project, provide access access to the documents that Barlow has filed with the Department of City Planning, and give people the resources they need to get involved.

“Politicians come and go, but the people who live in the community have a responsibility to safeguard the natural heritage of public open spaces,” Bessendorf said. ”  I absolutely think that the project can be stopped, as long as committed citizens remain involved and put pressure on the appropriate city agencies and elected to officials to properly account for the project impacts.”

After working on clean development and energy efficiency issues around the world, Bessendorf said it was finally time to put his skills to work to protect his own neighborhood, where he would like to buy and restore a home one day. “This is a chance to be involved in my local community and put into practice community values that I think are vital.”

Silver Lake industrial designer challenges developer drawings

Before and after renderings by R. Reyes

The renderings above that read “75+ unit Colossal Apartment Building” are definitely not the work of developer Frost/Chaddock, which is planning to build a trio of apartment buildings with about 300 units in the Sunset Junction area of Silver Lake.  These and other renderings were created by R. Reyes, an industrial designer and Silver Lake resident.  Reyes claims the renderings provided by Frost/Chaddock  under play the size and impact of the buildings.

“I wanted to call attention to these grossly out of proportion buildings by showing them in and amongst the existing site,” said Reyes, who did not want his first name used. “My hope is that they will be scaled down to an appropriate size. I really do fear they may ruin the personality of the Sunset Junction irrevocably.”

Matthew P. Levy, vice president of acquisitions and development at Frost/Chaddock said the buildings presented in Reyes’ renderings are not of the right size and scale. The renderings “don’t accurately present what has been proposed,” he said. Still, Levy said he is willing to meet with Reyes to talk about this renderings, facts about the project and his concerns.

It’s the first time that Reyes, who owns a condo but rents an apartment in Silver Lake near Effie and Micheltorena, has ever taken a stand against a real estate project. “This is the first time I’ve decided to do something in opposition to anything, ever,” said the 41-year-old resident.  “To tell you the truth I’m usually an extremely private person, so I was  initially very apprehensive doing this.”

Reyes is not an architect or planner. But his work requires him to come up with drawings based on architectural standards and specifications. He spent about two hours on ArchiCAD,  a computer aided design program, to come up with his version of the Frost/Chaddock buildings. Reyes said he would like to see new retail and residential development at Sunset Junction but on a much smaller scale.

“I’m hoping that my renderings bring more community opposition to the project at its present scale,” Reyes said.

* The Eastsider is a board member of the Echo Park Historical Society, which is working with other residents and groups to oppose the Barlow project as currently proposed.


  1. What’s the height of the Sunset Junction perspective? It looks really low, like 2 or 3 feet off the ground?

  2. There are a number of 2, 3 and even 5 story buildings (the deco 3408 Sunset) already in the neighborhood. These new proposals aren’t anything out of context for the neighborhood. In fact, they create a more cohesive context, in my opinion. Just because you use the word “colossal” in your poorly made renderings does not make these buildings so. Maybe you should let the size, scope and design of the buildings speak for themselves, Mr. Reyes and leave the propaganda for the North Koreans

    • They’re proposing 300 units over three small lots, so about 100 units each. Show me a five-story building around here, and on such small lots, with 100 units — and the parking required for them (2 spaces per unit)!

      I don’t believe for a second that 100 units on those size lots will be a mere 5 stories — I’m not that easily fooled. I live under the laws of physics, which says that 100 units cannot fit in the space for only 50 units.

      So, check out those five-story buildings you are referring to and see if they have 100 units, and one-bedroom or larger units at that!

      • Why should there be two spaces per unit? Is it surprising that some households might only have one car? And if they really plan to put 100 units in a building that you think is too small, then maybe they plan to make the units relatively small – that would be good, because that’s the only way we’re ever going to get affordable housing in this area!

  3. It’s important for the community to voice its concerns. Those two buildings at Sunset and Santa Monica do look very large for the general scale of the area. I think it should be limited to 3 stories and lessen the number of units. However, I’m not sure that the local residents and neighborhood councils can do legally.

    • First, the zoning is not all there is — they cannot automatically build what the zoning would allow — and anyone who tells you that is lying.

      Any number of variables can force a reduction, mostly the “environmental” concerns, which is a lot more than greenery. Gee, the mere traffic danger of the one on Santa Monica into that intersection is an “environmental” concern that has to be weighed, along with a hundred other environmental impacts. And you can’t just say, oh, well, there is a bus, so no one living here will use a car — no, lying doesn’t cut it. Lying might get it through the City Council — they love to side with lies, most especially LaBonge and Garcetti — but it is not likely to get it through a court challenge.

      This developer has been despicable from the get go, most especially in tearing down that strip on Santa Monica under cover of darkness after leading the community to believe he will still talking with us about it. (And no help from Garcetti on it.) This guy is filth and should be handled as what he is.

      In that regard, tactics can beat developments, too — delay, delay, delay, delay until they lose their financing. It won’t the first development beaten with that tactic. Hearing after hearing, appeal after appeal, as much time between hearings as possible, gee even tie it up in the Neighborhood Council for a year or more — and finally a lawsuit to tie it up for the next five years or more.

      And Tom LaBonge and Eric Garcetti better be on board and help delay as extremely as possible — or they better run for their lives. And the neighbors better let them know they better run for their lives — or you will deserve the huge development you get. Garcetti has been bull**** on this so far — don’t let him get away with it.

      This developer is a bastard and has asked for the worst tactics to be used against him — he presumes residents here are too shallow and stupid to fight fire with fire. Now is you time to show where you are stupid of not.

      • Jerry Malatesta

        I would also suggest that if residents get involved that they engage in constructive, intelligent discussion and come up with pointed, well reasoned arguments. Engaging in harsh toned accusatory, anti-development histrionics meant only to obstruct any change at all really ruins the credibility of everyone trying to help shape any good changes in the neighborhood. Emotional appeals don’t really help much and they won’t help preserve the quaint, village-like atmosphere that probably hasn’t existed here since the 60’s or 70’s, if it ever existed at all.

  4. Ari, thanks for your work against the absurd Barlow plan. You have my sword.

  5. Comparing 5 story apartment buildings on Sunset (main corridor of the neighborhood) with the 888 unit Barlow sprawl (greenfield development up in the hills) is apples and oranges.

    • Hear hear! If the population of the country is going to keep growing, then people are going to need some place to live. If we don’t allow them to live in new buildings on Sunset Blvd, then they’ll either try to build 888 unit monstrosities up in the hills, or sprawl even further into the desert or the central valley.

  6. If you are against the Barlow Project, make sure also follow through on the actions listed on the “What Can I Do Page.” Also, donations to the Echo Park Historical Society and the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park to help pay for the consultants necessary are definitely needed!

  7. Hmm….Mr. Reyes’ renderings are inaccurate because they don’t take into account the downward slope from Sunset Bl. on both buildings. Even he has acknowledged as such.

  8. And I’m not sure if Mrs. Reyes is basing his measurements off of the maximum height described in the EIR but if you compare the Frost/|Chaddock renderings and Mr. Reyes’ you’ll find that Mr. Reyes added an extra floor. In his renderings each of the SJ area buildings are 5 stories instead of the 4 stories in Frost|Chaddock’s renderings.

  9. @corner soul–I believe that is comaparing apples to watermelons??


  10. Bravo to new activists stepping up to the plate! There are so few of us who fight the same battles, over and over again, for decades (yes, decades). These people should be encouraged. Thank you for taking a stand.

    Whether it’s 888, 300, 40 or 15 units, context and scale is everything. Even though the City refuses to acknowledge it, cumulative impact is really important to those of us who have to live with these out-of-scale projects crammed into our already dense, hillside neighborhoods.

  11. It makes little difference how much lipstick you put on this pig it is still a pig. this project would never have gotten off the ground if the council office was listening to the community. We don’t want “cram em in develpment”. Oh that is right I forgot silly me, all of those future residents will be taking the bus or riding a bike so let’s just waive infrastructure improvements and parking requirements. Let’s see 311 units means at least 311 new car trips a day out of that intersection, their friends coming over allegedly on the bus or by bike so no extra burden on parking in the area. Increased air quality issues, greater demand on water use. Did anyone calculate the demand on city services such as water, sewer, elec over what the former buildings used? My God why don’t we all get up and cheer this developer is doing us a great favor, maybe the city should waive all height restrictions and parking requirements.

  12. I don’t see why every building in an area should be of similar size. On Vermont Ave. in prime Los Feliz Village across from Figaro is a 5 story apartment building with over 100 units, much bigger than anything in the neighborhood. But no one complains about how out of scale that building is. People are just afraid of change.

  13. Those apartments will have a nice view.

  14. I think they should tear down the existing buildings and turn the land into a public park as a gift to the residents of Silverlake…just because they are so awesome!

  15. A worm’s eye view is about as deceptive as the usual tricks architects use to minimize the visual impact of a project.

    Again, the parking requirement is not 2 parking spaces per unit. It’s 1.7 parking spaces per unit rounded up to the nearest whole number. This is why when most people in SFR or duplexes go into the building department to do work they are told 2 per unit, because at those low unit numbers the shorthand is 2 spaces, 1 covered and 1 uncovered.

  16. Sounds like a new generation of NIMBY’s. That area where the buildings are being proposed is transit rich with 2 24hour buses and an overlayed Rapid with 2 major subway stops 3/4 mile and 1 mile away. Density is not the problem. People who are car dependent and expect to drive through a region of 16 million people at 40 mph is the problem. Those days are over, grow up. An early 20th century era building already exists on Sandborn that is 4 stories tall and built up to the street with no setback. These buildings are completely within the scale of the neighborhood even if they were 5 stories. And if you’re so worried about traffic demand that the developer reduces parking in the building.

  17. Los Angeles is park and open space poor, and to “develop” demolish yet another piece of open space with all the attendant adverse (and irreversable) environmental effects is not in the community/city’s citizens best interests, let alone the few remaining wildlife that are clinging to survival in these areas, but of course they aren’t a strong factor in the equation. I suppose it is naive to wish that alternate sites for development could be where unused buildings, abandoned lots, etc. could be utilized for new or (rehabed builiding) development. Perhaps the payoff isn’t as appealing.

  18. A new hospital will create new jobs and provide a new development in the city of Los Angeles. The new development could help improve our lagging economy, especially in this area. Regardless if either Barlow or anyone else has the land, the piece of land will eventually get developed. In Southern California, land is way too expensive to leave nothing on it. Beside, Barlow has owed the land for over 100+ years and developing a new hospital is vital to the community, especially to ventilator weaning patients.

    Traffic is already a mess just being in Los Angeles, not to mention the traffic created by the Dodgers – Everyone CELEBRATED when Dodgers where sold and I’ll bet they will re-develop the stadium.

    Barlow is part of Los Angeles’ history and should continue to be part of it’s future.

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