City cuts deal with Olvera Street merchants

Posters saying
Posters saying "Save Olvera Street" greet visitors to the 80th anniversary celebrations of Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles on on April 24, 2010.
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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday signed off on a deal with merchants along downtown’s historic Olvera Street.

For more than a year, merchants and the city feuded over L.A.’s attempt to raise rents on shops and restaurants on the city-owned pedestrian mall known as Olvera Street.

The new agreement gradually raises rents on merchants that for a long time enjoyed subsidies because they occupied the birthplace of L.A. that many people call Placita Olvera.

The lease proposal, which applies to about 60 merchants on Olvera Street, still needs the approval of the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument Authority Commission.

"This is historic," said City Councilman Jose Huizar, who helped broker the deal. "We finally have a document that, while not perfect, allows us to get on a path that will bring in revenues to the city that are due and justified."

Huizar said the lease agreement is about 25-30 percent lower than what was proposed last year.

Vivian Bonzo, president of the Olvera Street Merchants Association, said the city still needs to provide professional marketing and promotion to help sustain the new rents.

"We believe the rents as they're adopted now are over market. It will be a tremendous burden unless new sales come in," she said.

Leonora Barron of La Plaza United Methodist Church said that during the bitter dispute the city changed the locks on the historic sanctuary that pays $1 a year in rent.

"They took our keys, they were trying to charge us $3,000 for baptisms," she said.

City Council President Eric Garcetti conceded that the city went too far with the church.

“They were the innocents," he said. "They were sort of caught in the cross hairs of a city that, of course, wants to charge fair market rents for properties we own.”

The deal allows church members back in without having to check with city security guards, but it leaves open the question of how much rent it will end up paying.

KPCC Wires Services contributed to this story.