TODAY—I’m at @ucimurp delivering the Medina Family ADU Story in Prof. Lynda Hikichi’s class UPPP 275: Site Development. This is the 9th rendition of this public talk and the 2nd time UCI Urban Planning & Public Policy hosts it, thank you! If you’re on campus or nearby, come through: Room 3240 in the SBSG-Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway building, 11:30am—12:30pm.
ABSTRACT: This presentation puts a human face on California’s housing crisis. Through storytelling, reflection and #EmbeddedPlanning praxis, presenter Jonathan Pacheco Bell @c1typlann3r, a zoning enforcement planner in South Central #LosAngeles, presents the story of the Medina Family from the #SouthCentralLA community of @FlorenceFirestone, who built an informal backyard Accessory Dwelling Unit #ADU for extra income after the sudden passing of their head of household. An anonymous complaint triggered inspection and eventual demolition of the dwelling for code violations. Jonathan himself ordered its removal. Attendees will understand the emotional roller coaster the family endured while embroiled in this regulatory process, and Jonathan’s inner conflict with the outcome. To help himself cope emotionally and to spotlight this family’s housing struggle, Jonathan has turned the experience into a speaking tour offering takeaways for planning policy, practice, and pedagogy. Jonathan will explain the @EmbeddedPlanning approach at the story’s core. This talk will inspire emerging planners to adapt and respond to the problem of housing insecurity with empathetic, activist, street-level planning #praxis.
If you’ve been to my Medina Family ADU Story, or plan to attend an upcoming talk, you’ll see I get choked up. Happens every time. I don’t even try to suppress it anymore. This was a harrowing experience for the Medinas, and for me. My #EmbeddedPlanning praxis rejects the technocratic detachment of Rational Planning orthodoxy. When we shed tears, those tears are earned.
For the Medinas, removing the backyard dwelling built to generate income after the passing of their head of household worsened the stress that started it all. Ordering the removal after knowing the Medinas’ story made me question strict enforcement of #InformalHousing. The dwelling was not substandard—it was simply out of zoning compliance. All of this predated California’s relaxed State ADU Laws, so the only option was to demolish it. This was in 2016. After 10 years on the job, I’d finally realized that “Penalties or Demolition” was a false dilemma fallacy in #ADU enforcement. We’re trying to change this outcome for other folx.
The ending part is emotional for me. I conclude with slides featuring each member of the Medina Fam. I wanted audience members to understand the impact of rigid zoning on real people. I wanted to evoke an emotional response. And every time it works . . . on ME.
The final slide is of little Janelle. Janelle represents the future of #LosAngeles.
In this editorial I outline the tenets and benefits of #EmbeddedPlanning. This is my opening salvo to the planning field arguing for Embedded Planning praxis, what I describe as planning in the streets, over orthodox, desk-bound practice.
I ground Embedded Planning in the real life example of the Medina Family ADU Saga in the South Central Los Angeles community of Florence-Firestone. In my current speaking tour, “A Matter of Necessity:” Understanding Informal Housing through Embedded Planning, I’m sharing the family’s difficult first lesson in Planning and Zoning, and my inner conflict with the outcome. I can tell the Medinas’ story because I earned their trust, at their doorstep.
I’m writing an invited op-ed on Embedded Planning. It’s a challenging but rewarding exercise. This has been an amorphous idea swirling in my head for years. I knew what it was intuitively, but I hadn’t defined it. This op-ed is pushing me to define, outline, & explain the benefits of my #EmbeddedPlanning praxis.
The piece draws on my ideas developed over 12 years doing urban planning on-the-ground, from my #MLIS experience in which I regularly wrote about librarians breaking free from the reference desk to do LIS work out in the neighborhood, & from my speaking tour on the Medina Family #ADU saga.
My most fruitful thinking on this op-ed has been away from a desk. On Thursday morning, stuck in #LosAngeles traffic, I had a eureka! moment about the title of my public talk, “A Matter of Necessity”: Understanding Informal Housing through Storytelling. The reason I can tell the Medina Family story is because I earned their trust, at their doorstep, through my Embedded Planning praxis.
Thus far I’ve delivered the Medina Family ADU talk at CSUN, Woodbury University, Cal Poly Pomona, UCLA Luskin, & the American Planning Association #NPC18 Conference in New Orleans under the “Storytelling” title. It’s high time for an update. It’s time to revise my title to underscore that the lessons learned result from Embedded Planning.
Henceforth the title of my talk on the Medina Family ADU story is:
“A Matter of Necessity”: Understanding Informal Housing through Embedded Planning
Only through Embedded Planning do we arrive at my thesis: “Behind every informal unit there’s a story to tell, a human dimension that needs light.”
The present post serves as a hyperlinked footnote (“comparable demographics”) from this paragraph in my article titled, “My Afternoon Doing Urban Planning on the Ground in South Central Los Angeles,” to be published shortly in UrbDeZine:
Yet despite familiar appearances, ERD’s renaming was less a matter of “Compton stigma” and more about autonomy. Unlike the five cities who’d whitewashed Compton Boulevard from their maps, ERD reflected comparable demographics for African-American and Latino residents as the City of Compton. ERD wasn’t dissociating from the local populations; rather, it embraced them under a new, shared ethos within its borders. And while some stakeholders saw better economic development potential with the new name, backers argued that the rebrand would establish the autonomous identity rightly owed to this community. “I think we deserve it,” declared ERD leader Margaret Comer. These days, any definitive motivation for the name change remains up for debate – but what’s irrefutable is that this episode in local politics rendered publicly the fiercely independent spirit that defines East Rancho Dominguez.
The below chart includes selected 1990 Census data on those comparable demographics for the City of Compton and unincorporated East Compton—now called East Rancho Dominguez. The data are drawn from social, economic, population, and housing characteristics with the base geographic area of Place and County subdivision, 2,500 person or more.