EDITOR’S NOTE: More than a century-old and located at the birthplace of the city on Olvera Street, La Plaza United Methodist Church is fighting for its life. It is under assault from City Hall even though a long-running dispute between the merchants of Olvera Street and the city has just been resolved. The city is demanding the church, long a provider of services to the poor and needy, pay fair market rent on a lease limited to just five years and pay huge extra fees for each specific use, use fees that could make a baptism cost $3,000. They call it “pay-to-pray” and have mounted a campaign with Councilman Jose Huizar’s help to fight City Hall. Along with supporters such as civil rights leader Rev. James Lawson, they showed up before the Council on Friday to make their case during public comment. Among those testifying was church member Trey Baskett, who recently wrote me after I wrote several articles about Olvera Street.
I read your recent post about the lease agreement the merchants on Olvera Street reached with the city. There is one more piece of the El Pueblo puzzle yet to be put in place and that is the lease agreement between the city and La Plaza United Methodist Church. This church has served Los Angeles since 1899 and on the zocolo at Olvera Street since 1926. Unfortunately the church building is owned by the city of Los Angeles. In short, United Methodist Ministries built it in 1926 but it was subsequently appropriated by the state and city through threat of imminent domain in 1956. In all, our church has been in service to the city for 111 years and is, arguably, one of the most historically significant congregations in the city of Los Angeles having led the way on minority and immigrant services, healthcare, education and spiritual guidance for generations of Angelenos. We have been on the plaza for 86 years. All are welcome at La Plaza United Methodist church regardless of where they find themselves in life’s journey. Goodwill Industries of southern California got its start with this church and we had one of the first water fountains in Los Angeles people of any race were free to use.
We are currently in negotiations with the City Attorney’s office and the El Pueblo management seeking a long term, reasonable flat rate lease agreement to continue our work at the church and through our non-profit historical and educational foundation. Talks with the El Pueblo management have been difficult at best, insulting at worst. They have continued to push a “Pay to Pray” lease structure which could subject the church to incremental fees and possibly tens of thousands of dollars in rent each month! Council Member Huizar and his staff have been very supportive and helpful in driving the talks. Back on May 4th CM Huizar introduced of CF 11-0689 to take the parties to talks and include CM Huizar’s oversight. The council vote was unanimous in support of the church. Today we need more help and city council intervention.
Please see the attached FAQ sheet from our La Plaza team. (LaPlaza-FAQ.doc) We are requesting among other things, a flat rate lease with a term of 20 years. Negotiations, as they stand now, have failed to resolve our differences with the city attorney’s office and the El Pueblo management. We believe our position is reasonable, legally grounded, and will serve both the city’s concern for a separation of church and state as well as allowing us to continue our work on the plaza as one of the historical jewels of this city.
So, you see, we at La Plaza United Methodist Church are still fighting for a fair and reasonable lease agreement. On July 8th we plan to appear before city council to ask their support again to bring increased transparency and oversight to the talks. Of course if the city will agree to reasonable terms before the 8th we can all get back to business.
Thanks for your attention. Ask around. This church has been treated pretty poorly by the El Pueblo staff and we are constantly countering their rather manipulative techniques to diminish the presence of the church on the plaza and erase our long history of service to Los Angeles.