Echo Park -- The debate over whether affordable housing should be built on a recreation area and ball courts for low-income youth has become a political issue.
School board member Jackie Goldberg and 1st District Councilmember Gil Cedillo have joined efforts to kill a proposal by 13th District Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell to build affordable housing on a city-owned parking lot currently occupied by an outdoor recreation area.
Goldberg and Cedillo say Echo Park needs housing for low-income residents and the homeless but not at the expense of a facility that serves low-income and troubled youth.
"I'm asking you to find another location," she said in remarks to the City Council on Wednesday.
El Centro Del Pueblo, which operates the play area and ball courts, is a social service agency headed by Sandra Figueroa, who was appointed to the Police Commission by Mayor Eric Garcetti. He made one of his first public appearances after being elected as mayor in 2013 at the El Centro playground. But he's been under growing pressure to build more affordable housing.
An email from El Centro to supporters declares, "Stop Councilman Mitch O'Farrell and Mayor Eric Garcetti from demolishing El Centro del Pueblo's playground."
Cedillo and Goldberg were at City Hall on Wednesday morning when supporters of El Centro, dressed in red t-shirts, filled the City Council chamber to voice their opposition.
Goldberg, who was involved in creating the recreation area when she served on the City Council during the 1990s, said the outdoor area serves as a refuge and haven for troubled youth and was connected to other social services provided by El Centro.
"We want it [affordable housing] in our neighborhood," said Goldberg. "We are not opposed to it in our neighborhood. But we really cannot afford to lose this playground in order to get that housing."
Cedillo, whose district borders O'Farrell's, said it made more sense to build affordable housing across the street on a large public parking lot that serves the neighborhood's main business district.
"There's a parking lot right across the street that is absolutely 100% appropriate," Cedillo said. "We would love to work with you on that" he said to O'Farrell.
O'Farrell, in response, said that the site he favors has enough room for housing and recreation. "We can accommodate both," he said.
The project was not on the council agenda so no action was taken. O'Farrell's proposal is now making its way through City Hall.
El Centro supporters, dressed in red t-shirts, left the council chambers chanting "save our playground."