Space For Rent: Echo Park council abandons troubled office space

Mar 1, 2013

Outdoor portion of former Echo Park council office.

It’s been about three years since the leaders of Echo Park neighborhood council threw a block party to celebrate the grand opening of its new office and community center, a former Bank of America walk-up teller office that board members and volunteers cleaned, painted and remodeled. Peek inside that same office today, however, and you will find a jumble of unused chairs, tables and other equipment gathering dust, a sign that the council’s home has been closed and not been used for a while. In fact, it will never reopen again.

Earlier this week, however, the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, now under new leadership, voted to have the office cleaned up and cleared out after deciding to give up the space. It’s not exactly a money-saving measure  since council will have to come up with about $6,500 for repairs and unpermitted remodeling.

It was a small price to pay for some board members and residents who said the place was never well suited for the council or the community. “Just get rid of it,” said resident Margarita Fernandez.

Former Echo Park council office

Echo Park council office was open to the sidewalk.

Former council President Jose Sigala, now running to represent the 13th Council District, and his wife and fellow board member Lisa Baca-Sigala,  were heavily involved in getting the office opened, with Baca-Sigala even painting chairs to liven-up the decor.  Despite a convenient location, it was not an idea space, with larger meetings having to be held in a semi-enclosed space that was open to the sidewalk and street.

Following the complaints by some board members and activist, the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees neighborhood councils, last year determined that the office on Echo Park Avenue at Sunset Boulevard was “not compliant with building codes.”  Later, the city voided a new lease with Bank of America over the same space.

Sigala and Baca-Sigala and others wanted to keep the office open. At Tuesday night’s council meeting, one board member said while the office may have been an “ugly duckling” it “seemed to serve its purpose.”  Others, including new council President Ari Bessendorf,  saw no reason to keep it.

‘We felt that it was no longer an appropriate public meeting place due to its physical condition,” Bessendorf said in an email. ” We are working  …  to finalize our exit from the space and leave the space in an orderly manner.”

Sigala and Baca-Sigala declined to comment.

But the council cannot just walk away from the office.   Bank of America has demanded an estimated $6,500 to cover the cost of dealing with repairs and unpermitted work performed by board members. It’s not clear when and if the neighborhood council, which now holds its general meetings at the Logan Street School auditorium, will ever open another office.  For now, the challenge at hand is to determine what office items to dump and to keep and where to store them.

The bank has expressed an interest in finding another tenant interested in keeping the space open to the community, and several board members wanted to help recruit such a tenant. Said board member Tad Yenawine, “It’s a shame to lose a space that’s so centrally located.”

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