Ballot Initiative to Save Parker Center for Homeless Housing

In City Hall, Homeless, Housing by Jill Stewart

A growing coalition of civic leaders on Thursday at 10 am will unveil a ballot initiative to save historic Parker Center, the former LAPD headquarters, from the wrecking ball, and renovate it as the Tom Bradley Center to house the homeless.

The plan is backed by Coalition to Preserve LA Executive Director Jill Stewart, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, Holman Church UMC Senior Pastor Kelvin Sauls (a board director of AHF and a city commissioner on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), Poverty Matters Executive Director Susie Shannon, Catholic Workers Associate Director Kaleb Havens, and many other civic leaders.

Parker Center has stood empty five long years. The Los Angeles City Council says it would be “too expensive,” to save it, but a city consultant exaggerated the cost of earthquake and asbestos retrofits. Renovating it to house 732 homeless people would cost significantly less than the city is spending to build new homeless housing — at a staggering $450,000 per homeless unit.

Amidst L.A.’s worst humanitarian crisis since the Great Depression, city leaders intend to demolish Parker Center to erect a $490 million luxury office skyscraper — for city workers.

Jill Stewart, of Coalition to Preserve LA, said “This is our Katrina, with homeless crowding under tarps from Home Depot and nowhere safe to go. City Hall must stop clinging to plans it laid for a luxury skyscraper, at a time when L.A. politicians were pronouncing an ‘end to homelessness’ within their grasp. A decade later, we must rethink things and focus on the mission at hand.”

When Angelenos approved the $1.2 billion Prop. HHH in 2016, to house L.A.’s exploding homeless population, voters made clear: unused old buildings should be repurposed for the homeless. Yet little of this “adaptive reuse” is underway.

The iconic Mid-Century Parker Center, across from City Hall East, could be renovated before the city opens its first HHH homeless units. The city will open these first units in late 2019 — three years after voters approved $1.2 billion.

A recent proposal made to city leaders to reuse Parker Center to house 732 homeless people, was ignored — as were previous entreaties. Now, leading voices in homelessness, religion, architecture, historic preservation, and civic betterment call on voters: Transform Parker Center from a place with a dark past, to the uplifting Tom Bradley Center, serving our underserved and forgotten.

As the brilliant author D.J. Waldie wrote in the Los Angeles Times three years ago, “Putting up a bland, generic office tower as a replacement would diminish the Civic Center’s renaissance, symbolized by Grand Park. Erasing the symbol that Parker Center has become would betray the memories of those who suffered because of the decisions made there.”

City officials ignored the Los Angeles Conservancy, which found that city consultants had exaggerated the costs of renovation. Neither the building damage from the Northridge quake, or the asbestos used to insulate U.S. public buildings before the 1980s, threatened LAPD staff who worked at Parker Center for years and years.

Architect Margi Nothard, president of Glavovic Studio Inc, an award-winning firm in the fields of adaptive reuse and social housing, says of Parker Center:

“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for L.A.’s leaders to demonstrate to cities across the U.S., many struggling with similar challenges, how to reuse an existing structure for a critically important purpose – housing homeless residents. It’s design is beautifully adaptable to housing.”

Saving this viable iconic building makes sense, not just historically and economically – but for our city’s own humanity.

Parker Center proposed renovation for 732 homeless housing units

Parker Center proposed renovation for 732 homeless housing units