Welcome to East LA Weekly
In this issue, the aftermath of the huge fire that nearly destroyed an affordable housing development. We visit a Carlos Almaraz show that never opened. And an East LA clown is accused of molesting a minor. Puede leer una versión en español de este boletín aquí.
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Antonio Mejías-Rentas, Editor | East LA Weekly
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There will be a ‘new dawn’ for East LA development destroyed by fire
The first tenants -- a group that included homeless veterans -- were supposed to arrive in December at Nuevo Amanecer, a new Spanish Colonial Revival-style apartment complex overlooking First Street.
But those tenants will have to wait at least another year after a fire that may have been intentionally set left the affordable housing development a smoking ruin.
Crews worked over the weekend to clear the site at First and Rowan of any hazardous materials from a fire that took some 150 firefighters several hours to put out on Sept. 16. The 3600 block of East 1st Street had been closed to traffic for demolition but reopened Tuesday. The stretch of Rowan between 1st and Michigan should reopen no later than Wednesday, said Manuel Bernal, president and CEO of developer East LA Community Corporation.
“Next step after that is clearing the site,” Bernal said. “That would allow us to evaluate what’s salvageable. Then, the [next] step is starting to rebuild.”
Damages from the blaze are estimated in excess of $12 million, a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department investigator said. The investigator said the fire appears to be arson and confirmed that a juvenile person of interest was detained at the site.
The juvenile was to have been arraigned on Friday and was being detained at an undisclosed location, the investigator said.
Asked about the cause of the fire, Bernal said he only knew what has been reported. “I’m not going to speculate on what happened until I see a report,” he said.
Bernal said that at the time of the fire, Nuevo Amanecer -- or “new dawn” -- was 70% complete and was set to begin receiving tenants by the end of the year. He estimated that the fire woud delay completion of the housing project 12 to 18 months, with an expected opening no later than the summer 2022. “A lot of it is going to depend on what we can save and reuse.”
The project was fully insured as required by law, Bernal said.
The $40 million mixed-use development was slated to offer 31 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless veterans and 28 units for low-income families, plus 10,000 square feet of ground-floor storefronts.
Bernal said that for practical and legal reasons, the project's original design –- a five-story building with ornate balconies and a pedestrian plaza -– will remain the same.
The fire also upended the lives of neighboring residents and businesses.
The apartments on the second floor of the adjoining Unique Theater, a historic 1920’s movie palace, are completely charred. The ground floor discount store has been boarded up, as have other businesses on the block.
Families displaced by the fire received immediate help from the Red Cross, but little is known about their fate. A spokesperson for the Red Cross said most of the organization's efforts have been focused on the large Bobcat Fire in the San Gabriel Mountains.
ELACC said it was looking into ways to support the displaced tenants.
“Obviously they lost everything and, being who we are, we want to help," Bernal said.
County fears post-holiday surge
Following an unsettling four-day increase in daily coronavirus case numbers, Los Angeles County's public health director said Tuesday that officials will be closely monitoring data to see if the region is beginning to see a feared post-Labor Day spike.
While the weekly average of new daily cases had been on the decline throughout the county, that was never the case in East Los Angeles. For the last two weeks, the weekly average of new daily cases in the neighborhood remained at 19.
Here are the latest numbers for East LA:
- Fourteen new cases were reported on Tuesday.
- As of Tuesday, a total of 6,175 cases have been reported in the community.
- In the last seven days, one new death was reported. Total number of deaths is now 102.
Funds to allow libraries to expand laptop loan program
A new LA County Library program launched this month that allows cardholders to borrow and take home a Chromebook laptop and wireless hotspot kit will benefit from additional coronavirus relief funding.
Within days of launching at 10 libraries – including the East Los Angeles branch – all 60 laptop & hotspot kits were checked out. According to Spectrum News, 500 new kits have been ordered.
The new funding will allow libraries to extend the Wi-Fi range to cover parking lots.
Study looks at East LA parking
The second of two virtual community meetings looking at existing parking conditions in East LA. and recommending improvements will be held Thursday, Sept. 24, from 2 to 4 pm.
Comments from the meeting are to be included in a county study that will evaluate parking needs, restrictions and enforcement practices, as well as the feasibility of establishing a pilot parking enforcement district and parking benefit district.
The County said that a vital part of the study will be understanding how residents, business owners, and stakeholders within East LA experience parking. Those who cannot attend the virtual meeting can fill out an online survey here.
Times’ Chicano Moratorium coverage turned into zine
Stories about the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium published last month in the Los Angeles Times have been converted into a 36-page zine available for sale in the paper's website.
The paper also made the zine available as a free download, with instructions on how to print it on 8.5 x 11 inch paper and assemble.
‘Intimate’ look at Carlos Almaraz’s early years
A taped walk-through of an exhibition on painter Carlos Almaraz’s work, including the late Chicano artist’s years in East Los Angeles, will be offered via Zoom today, Wednesday, Sept. 23, as part of a virtual sessions series by La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
The tour of the exhibit will be led by Almaraz’s widow and fellow artist, Elsa Flores Almaraz. The Zoom airing will be followed by a live Q&A.
Almaraz graduated from Garfield High School in 1959 and studied briefly at Cal State LA before moving to New York. A major influence during his East Los Angeles years was the Los Four collective.
“Carlos Almaraz: Evolution of Form” was set to open at La Plaza on March 19, the very day the county shut down all public and private events and gatherings due to coronavirus.
City Terrace man shot and killed in Boyle Heights
Police have not identified a suspect in the Sept.12 death of Samuel Montes, a 36-year-old City Terrace resident who was fatally shot in front of a home on Marengo Street near Fickett Ave in neighboring Boyle Heights.
According to Boyle Heights Beat, an LAPD spokesperson said it was unclear if the fatal shooting -- the eleventh so far in 2020 in Boyle Heights -- was gang-related. A relative of Montes said the shooting victim was not a gang member and that he often took long walks by himself in the neighborhood.
Detectives investigate fatal East LA shooting
A man found shot to death in an East Los Angeles alley last week is the 13th homicide victim reported so far this year in the neighborhood.
According to the LASD, the shooting was reported shortly after 6 pm in a residential area in the 6100 block of E. Allston Street. The agency didn’t have descriptions of the victim, who died in a local hospital, or of the suspect.
East LA clown behind bars for alleged molestation
An East Los Angeles man who works part-time as a clown and solicits business through a Boyle Heights party supply store remains jailed with a $950,000 bail, under suspicion of molesting a 10-year-old girl.
Florentino González Peñaloza, who performs as a clown named Ponponio, was arrested on Sept. 6. Authorities say the victim, whose family is friends with Peñaloza, alleges that he sexually molested her between 2016 and 2020.
Because of the nature of the suspect’s work, authorities believe there may be more victims.
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