Annenberg Radio News

A new gondola project faces opposition from some Chinatown residents

Planned to connect Union Station to Dodger Stadium, the gondola is criticized for its potential invasive and gentrifying nature.

It’s a beautiful sunny day in the Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown. Joggers are taking the scenic route on their daily morning runs. Families are enjoying the grassy hills and bright blue skies. And your occasional happy couple is having a romantic picnic underneath the lush trees.

But soon this community park may soon be home to an aerial electric gondola hanging from cables about a hundred feet in the air.

The L.A. Aerial Rapid Transit project or LA ART for short hopes to create a new and faster way for Dodgers fans and concert goers to get from Union Station to Dodger Stadium.

PHYLLIS LING: How it makes me feel is kind of a little bit exasperated and exhausted. it just doesn’t make any sense.

Phyllis Ling IS an organizer with the Stop the Gondola project and a current resident of Chinatown.

LING: My house would actually be across the street from one of the intermediate stations.

There’ll be three intermediate stations. Phyllis would live across the street from the Chinatown Station. The proposed plan is to connect the line from union station over alameda street and up bishops road to Dodger Stadium — right through the heart of Chinatown.

LING: You know, they’re making it big so that they can have that 5000 per hour maximum capacity that they’re talking about. And they’re telling us they’re running 18 hours per day. So, yeah, it would be pretty, pretty invasive for me and for my neighbors, too.

And she’s right, the plan is to have three gondolas operate year-round. So in her free time, she and her mom create flyers in Chinese and English and go door to door to keep her neighbors informed. But she says her neighbors have a lot of questions and so does she.

LIN: For a long time we were promised that we would have a lot of our questions answered in the draft D.I.R. And then when we kind of looked into the draft D.I.R., it seemed like they weren’t really answering a lot of those questions.

She says questions like privacy when the gondola is traveling over her neighborhood, structural integrity for earthquake, and maintenance for when the gondola breaks down. And Phyllis is not alone in her concerns for the community.

JINTANA WILLIAMS: The gondola, you know, hasn’t had a lot of community input.

Jintana Williams lives nearby the route to Dodger Stadium.

WILLIAMS: Chinatown has been a community that’s been rapidly gentrified over the last few years. And this plaza is like a really, actually great example of it. // What experience do they have to be building this horrendous eyesore? I don’t understand. Like, I truly don’t understand how it’s even gone this far.

Jintana is an organizer with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development or CCED for short. CCED has an extensive background fighting for the rights of the working class tenants in Chinatown.

The 125 million dollar project is funded by former Dodgers owner, Frank McCourt. He promises the project won’t displace any residents since the gondola runs along public right-of-ways. Jintana disagrees. I reached out to LA ART for comment but they didn’t respond. Jintana also says the project will divert traffic away from Chinatown businesses.

WILLIAMS: These gondola cable cars, like they’re going to be flying over Chinatown, you know, and then to Union Station so that you’re actually like diverting traffic away from these businesses. And then especially for like the legacy businesses, like they’re going to have to compete with other trendy businesses. I don’t really see it actually doing them a lot of good. You know, there actually needs to be more investment in community owned businesses and buildings instead of. Using public resources to build this gondola.

Gentrification has long threatened the community’s existence as a working-class immigrant ethnic enclave. An influx of these luxury developments like this project has increased property values and slowly kicked out the original residents of Chinatown. But the residents aren’t the only ones who are feeling the pains of gentrification.

KING CHEUNG: Chinatown is also a place I met my wife. So does have some historical significance. My mom used to live in Chinatown and work in Chinatown in the sewing factory. So those things connect me to Chinatown. I even now, I don’t live in Chinatown. I feel very close to the people there.

Chinese Angelenos like King Cheung have found a home in this neighborhood and continue to fight for its existence. He has been volunteering and organizing in Chinatown since the 70s and has watched as the neighborhood has slowly morphed into something he doesn’t recognize anymore.

CHEUNG: I think this project is benefit the billionaire that proposed it. As is nothing more than debt. And there’s a lot of false hope and a lot of propaganda saying how good it is, how how forward is to the community, which is not true and in fact can harm the small businesses harmed working class immigrant residents in Chinatown overall. And we don’t need him.

And Williams couldn’t agree more.

WILLIAMS: It’s really unfortunate because Chinatown, like, it might seem dramatic to say this, but I don’t think Chinatown is gonna exist in five years. Like, oh, at least the Chinatown that we know now.

If the proposal goes through, the gondola will be built in 5 years time, just in time for the 2028 Olympics. But for now, whether it’s the delicious food at local restaurants gorgeous views at the Los Angeles State Historic Park we can still enjoy the beauty within Chinatown while it lasts.