Vote Yes on S: Gentrification Issues and Battles
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Opal Young, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Homeowners Coalition Say Yes on S
Jan. 25 -- Opal Young moved into South LA in 1963. The grandmother has seen a lot in her neighborhood, but the developer greed she's witnessing today is "insane." With City Hall approval, developers are creating a luxury city that Young and many Angelenos can't afford.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times noted, "Looking to cash in on a booming real estate market, Los Angeles property owners are demolishing an increasing number of rent-controlled buildings to build pricey McMansions, condos and new rentals, leading to hundreds of evictions across the city."
The paper found that "more than 20,000 rent-controlled units have been taken off the market since 2001" across LA.
In Young's South LA neighborhood, San Francisco-based Carmel Partners seeks to build a luxury skyscraper that will gridlock the streets with more cars and cater only to the affluent who can afford expensive housing.
"Who can afford that?" says the grandmother. "What's the point of having new development if you can't afford to stay in the city to enjoy it."
Angelenos across our great city agree.
That's why civic leaders, neighborhood activists and working- and middle-class residents support Measure S.
It reins in zone-breaking luxury mega-development that squeezes working people out of their own neighborhoods -- and returns power back to residents.
Will 'The Reef' Mega-Project Displace Longtime Residents in Historic South-Central?
Aug. 12, 2016 -- After a six-hour, emotional hearing at L.A. City Hall on Thursday, the City Planning Commission approved the billion-dollar mega-project known as "The Reef" for Historic South-Central, but scores of local residents testified that the high-end residential development would force them out of their neighborhood and create widespread displacement.
"This is modern ethnic cleansing," a young man told the planning commissioners at the packed meeting.
Neighborhood activists and working-class residents have long been wary about The Reef, also known as SoLA Village.
The 1.6 million-square-foot mega-project, pushed by developer Kanon Ventures, is located near the Santa Monica Freeway at 1933 S. Broadway, featuring a 19-story hotel and two luxury housing skyscrapers (32 stories and 35 stories each) with more than 1,000 units. Abandoning its Historic South-Central heritage, Kanon Ventures markets The Reef as a “creative habitat in downtown L.A.,” an obvious attempt to grab the attention of artists, hipsters and techies.
In a 2014 Los Angeles Times article, L.A. City Council member Curren Price, who represents Historic South-Central in District 9, also made clear that the mega-project was part of an expansion of downtown L.A., which has been rapidly gentrifying.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to show what the future of downtown is going to be as it migrates southward," he told the newspaper.
Perhaps most tellingly, Kanon Ventures offered no affordable housing at The Reef, but agreed to contribute $15 million to the Council District 9 Affordable Housing Trust Fund to "facilitate development of affordable housing within CD 9 and towards the purchase of expiring restricted affordable housing covenants," according to a city document.
Each council member maintains a number of trust funds that are essentially slush funds, with money often going to the politician's favorite pet projects and organizations. The slush funds are difficult to track and receive little public oversight.
Kanon Ventures and its executives have long been deep-pocketed players at City Hall. Between 2001 and 2015, the developer shelled out $12,450 to the campaign war chests of L.A. politicians, according to the city’s Ethics Commission.
In pursuit of building The Reef, the developer poured $357,325 into super-connected lobbying firm Marathon Communications to win over L.A. pols and city agencies, according to the Ethics Commission. For The Reef, Kanon Ventures operates through a limited liability corporation known as PHR LA Mart.
That’s a whopping total of $369,775 — more than 10 times the median household income in Historic South-Central.
During Thursday's meeting, many city planning commissioners, who are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, revealed that they had previously talked with the Mayor's Office about The Reef -- a sign that in addition to Councilman Price, Garcetti was deeply involved with the mega-project.
At the hearing at City Hall, where more than 140 people testified, local residents brought up a number of serious concerns with planning commissioners David Ambroz, Renee Dake Wilson, Veronica Padilla, Caroline Choe, Samantha Millman, John Mack, Robert Ahn and Dana Perlman:
- Local residents can't afford the market-rate housing at The Reef;
- The residential towers are next to the 10 Freeway, the kind of freeway-adjacent housing that USC and UCLA scientific studies show is dangerous to the health of children, seniors and pregnant women;
- Apartment rents around the The Reef will rise and force people out of their homes and cause displacement;
- Numerous large billboards at the site will overwhelm the neighborhood;
- And the developer and City Council member did not properly reach out to the community.
The planning commission, however, decided against super-graphic and digital billboards at The Reef, and proposed that the developer offer some affordable housing -- a paltry 50 rental units for low- and moderate-income tenants. The commissioners did approve spot-zoning favors such as a General Plan amendment and zone change.
Community activist Damien Goodmon of Crenshaw Subway Coalition, who opposed The Reef, said about the City Hall-approved favors that push forward over-sized, luxury development in L.A., "Spot zoning for mega-projects is facilitating gentrification. People who live in these neighborhoods are longtime residents, and they will be pushed out. Who are these projects for?"
It was a question that the planning commissioners never asked developer Kanon Ventures.
Metro Transit-Oriented Projects Cause Displacement and Gentrification, UCLA Study Says
Aug. 31, 2016 -- UCLA researchers released eye-popping findings this week that community activists have known for years -- Metro-promoted development near transit stations in Los Angeles causes displacement of lower-income residents and brings about gentrification.
UCLA noted that the "upscaling" of L.A. neighborhoods through development near transit stations can lead to lower-income, disadvantaged residents being pushed out of communities. The majority of new development in L.A. features luxury housing for affluent professionals.
Paul Ong, director of UCLA Luskin’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge and a professor of Urban Planning, said in a statement:
Sometimes, landlords aggressively — and perhaps illegally — force them out. Higher rents make it difficult for low-income households to move into the neighborhood, so we see a net decline in their numbers. They are replaced by those who can afford the higher housing cost — people referred to as ‘gentrifiers.’
Community activists who have been fighting luxury mega-projects across Los Angeles know that all too well. But City Hall politicians and bureaucrats have done little, if anything, to address displacement and gentrification.
Instead, the City Council and mayor have consistently ignored lower-income residents' concerns, ignored existing zoning rules that protect neighborhoods from luxury overdevelopment and granted developers special "spot-zoning" favors such as a General Plan amendment or zone change so they can build 30-story skyscrapers with luxury housing and make millions in profits.
L.A.'s planning system has become so broken and rigged that even the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti rolled out a so-called "reform" plan in April. The politicians, however, have yet to follow through with any substantive action.
In the meantime, city politicians and bureaucrats continue to support such transit-oriented, luxury mega-projects as Cumulus with a 30-story residential skyscraper on La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards in South Los Angeles and the upscale SoLA Village, known as The Reef, in Historic South Central. Both projects need the City Council and mayor to sign off on special spot-zoning favors.
UCLA provides an interactive map for residents to see which neighborhoods have been hit by gentrification caused by Metro-promoted development -- and released these key findings:
- Areas around transit stations are changing and many of the changes are in the direction of neighborhood upscaling and gentrification.
- Examining changes relative to areas not near light-rail or subway projects from 2000 to 2013, neighborhoods near those forms of transit are more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households
- The impacts vary across locations, but the biggest impacts seem to be around the downtown areas where transit-oriented developments interact with other interventions aiming to physically revitalize those neighborhoods.
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative (Measure S), however, proposes real reforms for L.A.'s broken and rigged planning system -- and it's received citywide backing from Angelenos.
Unsurprisingly, wealthy developers and L.A. politicians, who have received $6 million in campaign contributions from the real estate industry, are opposed to the citizen-driven reform initiative -- developers and their well-heeled allies recently spent $722,335 to defeat the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative.
Los Angeles Small Businesses Are Victims of Commercial Gentrification
Oct. 18, 2016 -- UCLA researchers are looking into the growing problem of commercial gentrification in Los Angeles caused by new developments near transit stations, in which mom-and-pop stores and ethnic small businesses are pushed out of their longtime communities. It's an important, citywide issue that gets little attention, and Big O Tires at 11470 W. Gateway Blvd. on the Westside near the Expo Line is a prime example.
Family-owned Big O Tires has been operating on the Westside for 17 years, providing new tires and other automotive services. It's located in a strip mall where several other small businesses, nearly all auto-related, have served the community for more than 10 years. But in late 2015, the small-business owners received a shock.
While there had been rumblings about a new development project that would force Big O Tires and the other shops out of their current location, a posting on the development site Urbanize.LA confirmed that the threat of commercial gentrification was real.
Not only had a developer filed papers with the City of L.A. for a dense, five-story mixed-use project with 129 residential units, but, Urbanize LA pointed out, the construction of the complex "would first require the demolition of an existing strip mall." That meant Roz Etedali, whose family owns Big O Tires, and his neighbors may be getting the boot.
"You invest heavily in establishing yourself in the neighborhood," explains Etedali, who graduated UCLA in 2006, "and it's scary to get displaced. On this side of town, there's not many affordable options."
He adds, "We've been looking at other sites, but it's way out of the area. We like the Westside -- it's a good neighborhood with nice people."
Etedali, a manager at Big O Tires, says nearby residents are not thrilled by the proposed development either -- the automotive shops are near a residential community and people can simply drop off their cars for repairs and walk home.
"We're all ingrained in the neighborhood," says Etedali of the small businesses.
The project has been working its way through the city's development approval process, and Etedali says the office of Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the Westside in District 11, told the shop owners that it's essentially a done deal.
"We were told the project will happen," says Etedali, "and we should find a new place."
Easier said than done.
Etedali is now trying to organize residents and inform them about the plans to demolish a strip mall that's long served the community.
"What happens a lot of the time with these projects is that people don't know what's going on," says Etedali. "They get sneaked in" by the city.
It's something Angelenos often notice when dealing with L.A.'s broken and rigged planning system, which Measure S aims to fix.
Are Greedy Developers and Flippers Destroying West Adams?
Dec. 14, 2016 -- Greed-driven developers and flippers are gobbling up West Adams properties -- and displacing longtime residents, reports the Los Angeles Times. It's more proof that gentrification is a runaway train in L.A.
Here are key passages from the L.A. Times:
The boom is bringing excitement among some who have long clamored for more investment in South Los Angeles. But it’s also displacing tenants and, with many of the new residents white and wealthier, sparking tension in an area with a problematic history with race.
It’s a dynamic seen across Los Angeles in recent decades as home prices have soared amid job growth and a lack of new housing, especially in wealthy neighborhoods where development faces significant resistance. Priced out of more expensive areas, especially the Westside where a tech boom is underway, young professionals are scooping up fixer-uppers and newly remodeled homes in neighborhoods they can afford.
In particular, Jefferson Park and West Adams — largely bounded by the 10 Freeway to the north, Exposition Boulevard to the south, La Cienega to the west and Western Avenue to the east — have been attractive given their location halfway between downtown and the Westside.
The Times further reports:
Jefferson Park, West Adams and nearby Leimert Park were among Los Angeles' first suburbs, and racial covenants kept the areas largely white for decades until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial deed restrictions unenforceable in 1948.
As middle- and upper-class African Americans purchased homes, many white residents and businesses left and in 1952, a black homeowner was bombed. The largely African American and Latino area has struggled to attract investment for decades, particularly after the 1992 riots.
Now, long-term residents are concerned they and their families will lose their place in the neighborhood as it grows more expensive.
“It’s interesting, once the color of the people changes, they want to start investing,” Pruitt, who is African American, said of developers. “We want the same kind of stuff, we want a great grocery store and they ignored this area.”
But developers and their politician pals at L.A. City Hall have shown little, if any, interest in the plight of ordinary Angelenos. It's why L.A.'s planning system is rigged, broken and unfair, favoring only deep-pocketed developers who want to break city zoning rules to build luxury development for huge profits.
Then we, the people, suffer the consequences of ruined neighborhoods, gridlock traffic and widespread displacement of longtime residents, including the poor, middle-class and senior citizens.
That's why we desperately need to return power back to communities. Vote Yes on S on March 7.