The Board of Supervisors this week voted to condemn two long-vacant lots at South Vermont and Manchester avenues to build affordable housing and a boarding school, over objections from a developer who has promised for years to build a major retail center at the location.
Both sides claimed to be acting in the interests of the South Los Angeles community that surrounds the land that has served as a homeless encampment, crime scene and reminder of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recalled a 2014 Los Angeles Times story that dubbed the two-mile corridor Death Alley because it boasted one of the county’s highest homicide rates and said the area continued to suffer an “inexplicable level of trauma.” He promised 180 units of affordable housing and jobs for local residents.
“My office is committed to elevating the quality of life in this neighborhood,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This is a fabulous project, this is a creative project … this is a deserving project by any standards.”
Conceptual plans for the 8400 and 8500 blocks of South Vermont Avenue submitted to the board also include a six-story charter boarding school and a retail component. But developer Eli Sasson, who has owned much of the land in question since the time of the riots and recently closed on three final parcels to complete the site, has a vision of a “destination retail center” that he has dubbed Vermont Entertainment Village and is ready to sue the county as it prepares to take the property by eminent domain, according to his lawyer.
Attorney Robert Silverstein accused the county of launching its plan without warning or public input in an “unconstitutional attack.” The county lacks the statutory authority it needs to invoke eminent domain, according to the developer’s attorney.
The board set aside $15.7 million to acquire the property as both sides disagreed about whether offers had been made as required by law. Proponents of the county plan said they are tired of waiting for Sasson to build on the site.
Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, without naming Sasson, accused the owner of “criminal neglect.”
“Just last summer … the last standing building on the parcel, because of neglect, I believe criminal neglect, had been taken over by homeless people. Folks then set it on fire. We came out of our office to see two people being chased by a man with a machete. And piles and piles of trash; encampments on a regular basis,” Harris-Dawson said.
Citing a host of crimes, including two shootings, the councilman told the board that not taking control of the property would amount to “waiting for one of these bullets to hit somebody and for there to be a funeral.”
Many community members agreed, complaining about ribbon cuttings for a retail project that never materialized. Pastor E.L. Williams of the New Prospect Baptist Church was among those who said he had “no confidence” in the developer. Joyce Fantroy, a resident and block club member, told the board, “We’re being held hostage by property owners who do not live in the community.”