MAKING FRIENDS AND CONNECTIONS - Sunne McPeak (left) and Douglas Guthrie watch Mar Vista Gardens resident Israel Villacorta address the audience at a ceremony announcing a project to install broadband Internet technology at the public housing complex.

MAKING FRIENDS AND CONNECTIONS – Sunne McPeak (left) and Douglas Guthrie watch Mar Vista Gardens resident Israel Villacorta address the audience at a ceremony announcing a project to install broadband Internet technology at the public housing complex.

By Gary Walker
A joint effort between a city agency in charge of managing Los Angeles’ public housing and a broadband technology company is giving residents at a Del Rey public housing complex a helping hand toward bringing the Internet into their lives.
Residents of Mar Visa Gardens broke into cheers when city representatives as well as the chief executive officer of the California Emerging Technology Fund announced their plans to bring Internet access to the residential complex Aug. 2.
The pilot program calls for the installation of broadband infrastructure at Jordan Downs in Watts and Mar Vista Gardens, which are under the auspices of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.
The technology company is investing $300,000 in this venture, which in addition to providing Internet access will also allow residents of the complex to access bilingual digital literacy training and low-cost computers.
A large percentage of the residents of Mar Vista Gardens are Spanish-speaking families.
California Emerging Technology Fund President and CEO Sunne McPeak pointed out the uniqueness of the private-public partnership.
“This is a first, a first in the country where a housing authority with the support of their representatives are making the commitment to connect (broadband) to the residents who live in their public housing,” McPeak told the audience. “Today is a great, great celebration.”
Mark Redick, the former president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, praised the union of the two entities that will allow Mar Vista Gardens residents to become a part of the information highway.
“This takes a community that was considered closed and opens them up in a great way,” said Redick, who sought to integrate residents of Mar Vista Gardens into the fabric of the local council when he was its president.
Israel Villacorta, a Mar Vista Gardens resident who is studying at Santa Monica College, talked about the effect that computers have had on him.
“Computers offer a wealth of information. With just a click of a button, you can learn about people, places and cultures,” Villacorta said. “I have been fortunate enough to have access to the Internet through financial aid.”
City Councilman Mike Bonin has been an outspoken proponent of using technology in government and feels it can also improve the lives of his constituents.
“I am unbelievably stoked about this,” said Bonin, who represents Del Rey. “Unfortunately, far too often Internet access has been disproportionately available largely in pockets of wealth and not nearly as much in communities that aren’t as wealthy.”
Douglas Guthrie, president and CEO of the housing authority, said that under the pilot program, other public housing complexes could be identified for Internet access in the future if all goes well at Mar Vista Gardens.
Guthrie thinks having access to computers in their residences will give students who live in Mar Vista Gardens an opportunity to be on a more even playing field with other students.
“There are many school districts that are trying to migrate to Internet access for all students. But it’s one thing to be able to do it at school and it’s another thing to have access to the Internet at home where you can do your homework,” he noted.
Many of the school-aged children at Mar Vista Gardens attend Braddock Drive Elementary School and Marina Del Rey Middle School in Del Rey, both within less than a mile from the housing complex.
Teachers and parents at Marina Del Rey often talked about the dearth of Internet access for some of the school’s students, who have been forced to use computers at public libraries after school to complete homework.
The public-private partnership to bring the Internet to low-income students will now allow students who live in Mar Vista Gardens to be able to keep pace with their peers. That is the belief of Los Angeles Unified School Board Member Steven Zimmer, who represents Del Rey.
“We are so grateful for (the housing authority’s) enduring commitment to remove any and all obstacles that stand in the way of our students’ ability to reach their dreams, as they are doing with this program,” said Zimmer.
Bonin called narrowing the digital divide “a moral imperative. Access to the information feeds the mind and satisfies curiosity.”
Redick, who is now the vice president of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, sees the coming of broadband to Mar Vista Gardens as the continuation of a series of enhancements that have come to the public housing complex that once had a reputation for gang activity.
“This opens up a world of opportunity that many residents did not have before,” he said. “This is a great time for residents of the Gardens to be truly connected to the outside world around them.”
Representatives of Rep. Karen Bass, state Sen. Ted Lieu and Assemblyman Steven Bradford were in attendance.
All three legislators represent Mar Vista.