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Ramona Gardens becomes first public housing project with an open-air market

The cluster of blue tents selling shirts, garden tools, knickknacks and tacos fresh and hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth might not seem like much from the outside, but in this East L.A. neighborhood, the Ramona Gardens Swap Meet is a marker of change.

For years, the collection of vendors and food stands dotting Ramona Gardens Park on Saturday mornings formed a necessary, albeit illegal, pop-up market for a low-income neighborhood far from any large grocery stores. Tired of the endless citations, the vendors agreed to temporarily close up shop in January, and worked alongside Los Angeles police, the housing authority and local activist groups to bring their weekend tradition in line with city codes.

The result? The first legal open-air market at a Los Angeles housing project, and a model that some people hope can be replicated across the city.

“This is a great example of creating the kind of partnerships in communities where people can build the community they need, and have the community they want,” said the Rev. Zach Hoover, executive director of LA Voice, an interfaith congregation at the heart of the effort to make the weekend swap meet legal.

The 'bad old days' in Boyle Heights are gone, but for how long?

The ‘bad old days’ in Boyle Heights are gone, but for how long?

Last month, Los Angeles police officers fatally shot 14-year-old Jesse Romero in Boyle Heights during a foot chase.

The shooting — one of five at the hands of police in the Eastside district this year — sparked a protest outside the Hollenbeck police station that drew about 30 people who demanded…

Last month, Los Angeles police officers fatally shot 14-year-old Jesse Romero in Boyle Heights during a foot chase.

The shooting — one of five at the hands of police in the Eastside district this year — sparked a protest outside the Hollenbeck police station that drew about 30 people who demanded…

(Brittny Mejia and Kate Mather)

“We’re not declaring complete victory. But there’s generational healing that needs to happen here,” Edwards said. “A lot of our interactions with some of the gang members who have turned their ways, they’re saying if we would have had this kind of interaction with the LAPD, this kind of community leadership, maybe we wouldn’t have been involved.”

Gang violence has plummeted in East L.A. since its height in the 1990s, though violent crime has ticked back up in recent years. Los Angeles police have also been involved in five on-duty shootings in the Eastside district this year, stoking tensions between locals and police in some corners.

Even the Big Hazard gang, which was seemingly crippled by a 2014 federal takedown at the apartment complex dubbed Operation Resident Evil, still lurks in the area. A gang tag with the letters “BH” scrawled in long black lines marked a wall just 50 feet from the swap meet Saturday afternoon.

But none of that history seemed able to pierce the happy vibe inside the swap meet, where community leaders and vendors were celebrating the end of a years-long journey. 

A number of the vendors who frequent Ramona Gardens Park sat down with Hoover and other community partners at Santa Teresita church five years ago to begin strategizing how to bring their pop-up marketplace in line with Los Angeles’ regulations.

At the time, most of the vendors had never considered the need for sinks or mesh netting to keep their mini-eateries up to city health codes. Working alongside the LAPD, the housing department and other groups, Hoover said a $25,000 grant was obtained, in part, to help the vendors buy needed supplies. Now, with the vendors trained in how to properly maintain their businesses and keep them in compliance with city codes, the swap meet should be able to thrive.

“People can make a piece of their living without worrying if their stuff will be taken away the next day,” Hoover said.

Edwards knows firsthand how important the swap meet is for the neighborhood. His mother, a Mexican immigrant, used to travel from Downey on weekends to sell wares at the swap meet when it first popped up in the 1990s.

Nestled against the 10 Freeway, the apartment complex is situated unreasonably far away from grocery stores and other outlets, especially in a community where many residents can’t afford a car. For some vendors, Edwards said, the swap meet might mark their only weekly income.

“The people that are here are poor and there’s not a lot of choices for markets,” he said. “So obviously they came here and they wanted to sell.”

Standing near a vendor selling shirts priced at $1 and novelty children’s Halloween costumes, Boyle Heights native Christopher Barragan said he hoped that the reemergence of the swap meet could help create a dialogue among the different generations of Latinos who live in the area.

“People come here every week, they communicate. It’s something you can look forward to,” he said. “For Mexicans, it’s a tradition.”


Weekend Roundup: 8 stories you can't miss

Caption Weekend Roundup: 8 stories you can’t miss

Los Angeles’ new federal courthouse, SAG actors strike, familial DNA leads to controversy, CA’s National Guard members won’t have to pay back enlistment bonuses, new civil rights lawyers step to the plate, Jonathan Gold’s new 101 best restaurants in L.A. is out, Bruce Springsteen’s fans have opposite political views from him, and a Los Feliz teen’s backyard haunted house.

Los Angeles’ new federal courthouse, SAG actors strike, familial DNA leads to controversy, CA’s National Guard members won’t have to pay back enlistment bonuses, new civil rights lawyers step to the plate, Jonathan Gold’s new 101 best restaurants in L.A. is out, Bruce Springsteen’s fans have opposite political views from him, and a Los Feliz teen’s backyard haunted house.

90 seconds: 4 stories you can't miss
Tearful reunions and fear for the missing as Iraqi residents return home

Caption Tearful reunions and fear for the missing as Iraqi residents return home

Hundreds of residents have been flocking back to villages newly freed from Islamic State’s grasp. 

Hundreds of residents have been flocking back to villages newly freed from Islamic State’s grasp. 

Christopher Van Meter, former California Army Reserve captain and Iraq veteran

Caption Christopher Van Meter, former California Army Reserve captain and Iraq veteran

Christopher Van Meter, former California Army Reserve captain and Iraq veteran

Christopher Van Meter, former California Army Reserve captain and Iraq veteran

Supporters urge voters to pass Proposition 66

Caption Supporters urge voters to pass Proposition 66

Proposition 66 would speed up the death penalty system. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Proposition 66 would speed up the death penalty system. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in Southern California. 

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Article source: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ramona-gardens-market-20161028-story.html