A proposed billion-dollar development project in South Los Angeles is getting blow-back from local residents who say the plan may displace hundreds of persons in the name of gentrification.
SoLA Village would be built just south of Washington Boulevard on about 7.5 acres of land on both sides of Broadway. It includes the old LA Mart (now The Reef), which is a large design center that still serves as a showroom for the gift, interior design and furnishing industries and is home to the some of LA’s most creative and artistic firms. Bounded by Hill Street to the west, Main Street to the east and 21st Street to the south, the plan calls for skyscrapers with low- and mid-rise residential buildings along with outdoor plazas and terraces which will one day allow for a more pedestrian-oriented community. Existing development also includes an 11,500-square-foot warehouse building; the remainder of the project is occupied by surface parking lots.
But there’s a problem with the proposed development because many residents have lived nearby for decades and fear encroachment which may force them to move.
“We’re not anti-development,” said Jorge Rivera, a community organizer for Housing Long Beach which focuses on improving local affordable housing. “We want development, but we want to be able to stay and enjoy that development.” Rivera said that affordable housing in Los Angeles County is becoming more difficult to obtain, which is one of the reasons he suggests stakeholders take a closer look at what is being proposed.
About 80 people turned out recently at a forum held at Santee Education Complex. They heard from representatives of the South Central Neighborhood Council as well as stakeholders residing in Downtown and advocates from Atwater Village, Boyle Heights and Long Beach where such redevelopment is taking place. They said that unchecked gentrification may eventually cause more harm than good. Additionally, advocates said communities comprised primarily of the working poor are being ignored by private and public investment entities which is the [original] reason the locations have fallen into disrepair.
“The community was created by discriminatory practices,” Rivera said. “For decades, the government did not want to invest here, but now they want to ‘improve’ and ‘invest’ in the community at the expense of long-time residents. They’re investing for their own purposes, and they don’t take into account the community.”
The 1.66-million-square-foot development will be built in stages, likely beginning with a 19-story, 208-room hotel. The other proposed structures would include condominium towers of 35 and 32 stories, some shorter apartment buildings and, in total, roughly 900 condos and 549 apartments including 21 “live-work” units for people who operate small businesses in their homes. The developers hired San Francisco-based Gensler, a well-known architectural firm, to include a number of shops, restaurants, bars and a grocery store. They plan on a gym and yoga studio, about 2,800 parking spaces and 1,300 bicycle hubs, the latter helping to support a biking-sharing program. Cyclists will be encouraged to use the nearby Blue Line on Washington Boulevard.
The panelists at the forum told attendees that if they’re going to direct their fight against private development, they should focus on “people power” over money which is usually an big organization’s main way of fighting back against dissent.
And the room seemed to be split on whether or not residents could trust Councilman Curren Price who since taking office has created an ongoing “New Ninth” campaign to modernize the long-neglected community. Price hasn’t taken an official stand for or against the project, but he has said that the Reef could serve as a “lower cost” alternative to residing in Downtown, despite the “luxury-style” nature of the proposed development. He said that the project would eventually be supplemented by two upcoming affordable housing projects which will go up not far from the disputed site.
Gentrification has been in the news quite a bit, particularly in Downtown, as many of the old hotels have been transformed into modern, loft-style townhomes and condominiums. Even Clifton’s Cafeteria at 6th Street and Broadway has been reopened. The 71-story Wilshire-Grand Hotel is scheduled to open in December 2016.
Job growth has been a common argument from those favoring gentrification, but the panelists warned that new jobs are not always given to those in the surrounding community.
“There’s no guarantee that tenants will do local hiring,” said Roxana Aguilar who worked in job placement during the construction of LA Live. She suggested that organizations form a unified coalition to fight displacement from both the Reef development and the city at large.