Faced with pushback from Little Tokyo community leaders, Metro is moving to restart the search process for a development at the under-construction subway station at 1st Street and Central Avenue, tabling a partnership with an Orange County-based firm.

In March, a staff report to the Metro Board of Directors recommended entering into an exclusive negotiation agreement with Innovative Housing Opportunities (IHO) for the development of the site.  The Santa Ana-based firm had proposed the construction a mixed-use project consisting of 78 apartments - priced for households earning between 30 and 120 percent of the area median income - with 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and parking for 18 vehicles.

IHO's project - which was recommended over competing proposals from Little Tokyo Service Center, Centre Urban Real Estate Partners, and Kaji & Associates - was the only finalist development to include affordable housing - something which is encouraged under Metro's joint development policy.

However, the scoring rubric for the four finalists, as well as the recommendation of a developer without strong ties to the Little Tokyo neighborhood, has rankled some community leaders.

According to a Metro Board report, the Little Tokyo Community Council and other groups within the Japanese-American community engaged in a series of meetings with Metro staff, the offices of County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to address grievances regarding the selection process.

Besides the lack of a Little Tokyo-based organization within the IHO project team, the staff report indicates that stakeholder groups felt that the selection criteria weighed financial feasibility too heavily relative to other factors, and asserted that Metro had discouraged applicants from including affordable housing in their proposals due to the constraints of the 1st/Central property.  Additionally, the organizations stated a preference for a lower-scale development - similar to the two-story Japanese Village Plaza - and felt that IHO had proposed an insufficient amount of parking.

Despite meeting more than 20 times, the staff report indicates that the two parties have been unable to reach an agreement regarding the IHO project.  This process culminated in August, when the Little Tokyo Community Council passed a resolution in opposition to the recommendation of IHO, and requested a restart to the selection process.

Metro staff, citing the wishes of the Little Tokyo stakeholder organizations, has opted to table their recommendation and start with a fresh solicitation of developers.

The process which led to IHO's selection earlier this year was initiated by the release of a request for proposals in June 2019, which was distilled to a short list of four finalists in October.  The new selection process for the 1st/Central property comes as Metro revises its joint development policies.  A draft proposal is scheduled to be released in January 2021.