The Boyle Heights neighborhood is located adjacent to east downtown Los Angeles, and has historically been an immigrant reception area. The neighborhood was populated by numerous immigrant groups throughout the 20th Century, but the non-Hispanic population left the area during the latter decades of the century. Today, Boyle Heights is nearly 100% Hispanic (94%). In 2000, the median household income was $33,235, while the median household income for the city of Los Angeles was $46,226. Due to the low-income nature of the community, housing overcrowding is an issue. The population density of the neighborhood is 13,008 per square mile, while the at the city level it is 7,350. Another factor affecting the overcrowding issue is the demolition of public housing in the neighborhood, which pushes residents into the decreasing number of remaining structures.
The Los Angeles regional transit agency, named Metro, began operating LRT in 1990 and, due to its popularity, has been extending the line since. The Gold Line LRT opened in 2003, and has been the slowest of the Metro system’s lines with the lowest ridership. An extension began operating in 2009, and travels through the Eastside of the metro area with four of the eight stations located in Boyle Heights. These stations have increased transit accessibility for residents, while creating unintended consequences for the existing community.
Mariachi Plaza is one of the more prominent stations within Boyle Heights, and its construction nearly displaced a thriving immigrant business community. The area currently named Mariachi Station was initially nicknamed Mariachi Plaza in the early 20th century, as mariachi musicians would use the space as a pickup location to play at local parties and events. Their business decreased by 90% during the construction period. In addition, the area is becoming more expensive due to the increased transit accessibility.
About 75% of the neighborhood population lives in rental housing, and is thus sensitive to rent increases. Land owners and speculators anticipated the increased value the Gold Line LRT brought to the community, and land prices adjacent to the stations doubled. In addition, some landlords began evicting existing tenants as they anticipated the ability to attract higher income tenants or redevelopment opportunities. The potential effects of the increased property value adjacent to stations are significant, as the line is affectionately called the “Sushi-Torta Express.” This name derives from the Gold Line’s alignment, which connects the Japanese and Hispanic immigrant enclaves adjacent to downtown. If the current residents relocate to more affordable neighborhoods, the existing business community, which serves these residents, may follow their exit.