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USC's $1.1 billion development project given the green light

City News Service | 12/11/2012, 3:12 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif.--A $1.1 billion, 20-year development project near USC--the largest building project in South Los Angeles history--was approved by the City Council today.

The nearly 5 million-square-foot project adjacent to USC's main campus was touted by proponents as a major facelift for the University Park neighborhood. The project, planned for completion in phases by 2030, includes new student housing, academic buildings, a grocery store, movie theater, bars and restaurants and eventually a hotel and conference center, as well as 12 acres of open space.

Officials from the three City Council districts immediately affected by the project, the mayor's office and the Chief Legislative Analyst's Office negotiated a $27 million community benefits package with USC that was also approved.

The agreement requires USC to contribute $20 million toward affordable housing in the area over 20 years and to provide at least 3,000 net new beds for students. The agreement bars USC from demolishing any student housing until all of the new units are built.

USC originally committed only $2 million for affordable housing, but a coalition of housing activists convinced city officials to push the university for more. The groups feared the development would reduce an already shrinking stock of affordable housing, which is threatened by a growing student
population.

"For many years the university was growing and expanding, and there was no public plan in place. Now today that changes," City Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes the university, said.

Hundreds of supporters, including University Park and South L.A. community and housing rights groups and construction labor unions, showed up at City Hall to support the project.

Only one person spoke against the plan. Ketan Sharma, owner of a Wendy's fast-food restaurant on the site of the development, told the council he was concerned USC would not offer him a right of first refusal in the new development.

The university also committed to local and disadvantaged worker hiring quotas for the construction of the project and for permanent full-time workers.

University officials, construction union leaders and residents who support the project said it would create an estimated 12,000 jobs, including 4,000 construction jobs and 8,000 new permanent jobs. At least 30 percent of the workers must be local and at least 10 percent must come from backgrounds that put them at a hiring disadvantage.

USC officials also agreed to procure at least 15 percent of its materials from local vendors and to contract quotas for small-, minority- and women-owned contractors during the construction phase.

Under the community benefits package, USC will contribute $350,000 to the Los Angeles Parks Foundation and money for nearby streetscape improvements and bike lanes.

USC Senior Vice President for University Relations Thomas Sayles said the development will be "truly transformative."

"At first we had somewhat differing points of view, but the beauty of this process is that we all came together," Sayles said.