10-Mile Island: Fighting the Freeway in Los Angeles

by Tony Chavira

It’s been a long week, and you flop down on your couch and hit HBO to catch up on the trials and tribulations of those Entourage jerks and their glorified lack of work ethic. You look up and say to yourself “Hey! I’ve been to that restaurant! It’s on Beverly and Robertson!” And that, my friend is exactly the problem: the illusion that “Los Angeles” only exists on that 10-mile strip between Downtown and Santa Monica.

Talk to anyone you know from out of state. They’re not looking to head down to Long Beach to visit the home of Snoop Dogg. They’re not going to the Irvine Spectrum for some light afternoon shopping. I’d personally buy drinks for my first West L.A. friend who suggested hanging out at Dave & Buster’s in Ontario Mills. Frankly, I have problems begging people to come out to Monterey Park for amazing Chinese food. Surprise, surprise, areas like Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Venice are jam-packed on a Friday night, while downtown Fullerton doesn’t even seem like a viable alternative. But why is this? I mean, it can’t all be because of movies!

downtown Los Angeles
photo: Allen Conant

Developers, as expected, go where the money is. When the L.A. Times reports that young professionals are moving to Downtown L.A., guess where the development hot spot is? “You’ve never seen a young, professional community until you’ve lived in [Insert Any Area from Downtown to Santa Monica Here].” All native elitism aside, I do enjoy visiting the Westside of Los Angeles to see friends, hit up a bar or go to a nice restaurant. But what’s the cost of saturating this 10-Mile Island between Downtown L.A. and Santa Monica?

Let’s just be blunt: there’s a fat chance that anyone’s going to want to develop affordable housing in this Island. And seriously, who’d blame them? When you can hike up your prices based on the area alone, any available property is a hot ticket. But what are the implications of putting so much development emphasis on such a small area?

First, you have the freeway saturation. Everyone works with or wants clients on the 10-Mile Island (since they’ll probably be the most lucrative), so everyone’s going to (1) struggle to locate their business to this area or (2) make themselves readily available to those clients at all times. Eventually, this will create is a hub of culture on the 10-Mile Island that is totally impenetrable. I (for one) do not find this fair at all, especially for developers and small businesses. For example, if you decided to open a specialty coffee shop in Maywood, what are the chances that you’ll have better traffic than any Coffee Bean in Westwood? Let’s up the ante and say that you have specialty coffee growers in Mexico and Ethiopia, advertise your fair trade agreement, and you still charge less per cup than a Coffee Bean. Who’s really going to care?

I’ll tell you who’ll care. The local community will. The local community that doesn’t have to drive to the 10-Mile Island to grab an amazing cup of coffee. In fact, the more that local business congregates around you, the more your small business will benefit. Literally, the community will support itself through commerce (and if you’re in Maywood, the city of Commerce). There’s no need to take a freeway to get anywhere, there’s no need to jump on the Red Line and transfer buses 4 times before you end up on the 10-Mile Island.

Venice boardwalk
photo: JF Elias

Now I know that people in Southern California are always complaining that there’s no “Times Square” here. That Los Angeles doesn’t have a center point, or that Los Angeles has no culture (the comment I personally resent the most). But Los Angeles isn’t New York City, and Southern California consists of sprawling urban and suburban communities with potentially limitless possibilities. Developers need to stop thinking about the urgency of just building up the 10-Mile Island in L.A. (aka catering to the catered to), and should start thinking about investing in properties throughout Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Ventura Counties. Especially when everyone’s trying to cut down their monthly gasoline spending, investing in local community shopping and specialty businesses can really benefit the developer who caters to the locals.

The best part about localizing business is that affordable housing development projects will financially appreciate greatly throughout the entirety of Southern California. Whether you’re building your first house in Reseda or a massive housing complex in Chino, the quality of interconnected businesses will make your local experience as unique as the 10-Mile Island is. Well, as the 10-Mile Island self-advertises anyway.

We need to start thinking about how we can better localize our businesses, and the development will follow in suit: Developers go where the money is. Seriously though, why jump on the freeway when everything you want could be just around the corner? Let’s bring the 10-Mile Island back to the land.

Tony Chavira is the President of FourStory, a nonprofit organization that promotes fairness and social justice through strong writing and storytelling. He is also the Program Developer at RACAIA Architecture, writes and posts comics at Minefield Wonderland, and teaches Business Report Writing at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
tony@fourstory.org

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