Boyle Heights plan to save small grocery stores underway

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By Ashley Orona

Contributing Writer

BOYLE HEIGHTS — The community is banding together to protect small neighborhood grocery stores that function as the source for accessible fresh food for many residents.

The city of Los Angeles’ community plan for Boyle Heights’ long-term development would officially allow little grocery stores — tienditas in Spanish — to open in the neighborhood, as well as existing ones to remain, according to a community plan update presented by the city Planning Department in September.

Tienditas play an important role in providing the surrounding neighborhood with fresh groceries and basic household goods and also provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and local employment.

There are around 27 scattered throughout Boyle Heights in residentially zoned areas. Some were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s and are considered non-conforming under current zoning. Current residential zoning does not allow for new tienditas to open either.

“I think, especially during COVID, it’s incredibly important for people to have access to these amenities and food and the things they need for their daily lives within walking distance,” said Los Angeles City Planner Kiran Rishi, who is working on the Boyle Heights Community Plan.

Boyle Heights lacks accessibility to healthy and affordable foods, with only four large supermarkets within 6.52 square miles, according to Rishi, and many residents are unable to regularly shop outside of the neighborhood due to their socioeconomic status. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated lack of access, with many people losing income and many others — especially senior citizens — experiencing limited mobility due to the state of emergency.

Boyle Heights is predominantly Latino, a demographic group that as of Oct. 24 had a COVID-19 mortality rate of 100 deaths per 100,000 people compared to the county rate of 63 deaths per 100,000 people. Tienditas provide an alternative for those who may be immuno-compromised and may not want to expose themselves to larger crowds by going to conventional grocery stores.

“Throughout the last eight years of outreach, we’ve heard the need or the desire for these tienditas to continue to exist and to allow opportunity for new ones to open,” Rishi said.

The community plan proposes to allow residential zoning to include “RN2” and “RN3” districts, which keeps uses primarily residential but allows for limited commercial usage in the form of tienditas, day care facilities and some personal services.

Limitations include restricting commercial activity in these special use districts to corner sites, capping building size at 1,500 square feet and setting hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“We’ve tried to really coordinate with the different community groups to make sure that everyone’s input and voices are incorporated into the recommendation that we bring forward,” Rishi said. “Throughout the last eight years of outreach we’ve heard the need or the desire for these tienditas to continue to exist and to allow opportunity for new ones to open.”

The plan has been in the works since 2012 and will set the standard for development in Boyle Heights for the next 20 years after adoption. City planners are still taking feedback from community members on the latest draft. When that is complete, an official public hearing will be scheduled.

The Planning Commission will then recommend a community plan for adoption by the L.A. City Council.

Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.