Local leaders stress unity in fighting Reef development

Panelist Jorge Rivera discussed methods to combat gentrification in South Los Angeles based on his experience in Long Beach. | Matt Lemas, Intersections South L.A.

Local advocates against citywide gentrification gathered Oct. 28 for a discussion on methods to combat a $1 billion multi-use development in South Central Los Angeles.

The Reef development, a planned residential, hotel and retail complex to be built in two parking lots just south of Washington Boulevard on either side of Broadway, has many in the community riled up. The proposed luxury site ignites residents’ fears that the development will drastically alter the community make up and increase nearby rents, displacing thousands that have lived in South Central for generations.

“We’re not anti-development,” said Jorge Rivera, a community organizer for Housing Long Beach, an organization focused on improving affordable housing in the city. “We want development, but we want to be able to stay and enjoy that development.”

Hosted by the South Central Neighborhood Council, Wednesday’s panel discussion brought in advocates from Atwater Village, Downtown, Boyle Heights and Long Beach. All groups discussed their own experiences fighting gentrification in their respective locales. The discussion both demonstrated support for the South L.A. community and provided tips for the fight against the Reef development.

About 80 people attended the forum held at the Santee Education Complex.  The meeting’s theme centered around concerns that communities have been ignored by private and public investment for decades, leading to their decline. Now, in addition, residents have witnessed a surge in outside development that doesn’t cater to the community make up.

“This community was created by discriminatory practices,” Rivera said. “Government and businesses didn’t invest here…but now they want to ‘improve’ or ‘better’ the community. They’re investing for their own purposes; they don’t take into account the community.”

Panelists stressed that in the fight against private development, those against the Reef should encourage  “people power” over money as organizations’ main tool in pushing back.  

“Focus on human capital,” said panelist Michelle O’ Grady, member of the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council. 

The room seemed to be split on whether or not local residents could trust Councilman Curren Price, who oversees District 9 where the Reef’s project site is located, to speak out against the development. 

Price has not taken an official stance on the complex. In the past he has said the Reef could serve as a “lower-cost” alternative to downtown, and on Monday, in light of local complaints on the development’s luxury nature, he told  ABC7 the development will be supplemented by two upcoming affordable housing projects “minutes” away from the Reef.

The two additional housing complexes, Price said, would supply hundreds of construction jobs. Current plans for the Reef allot none of its spaces to affordable housing. 

Community members cited that construction jobs are only temporary, however, and interpreted Price’s neutrality and comments as damaging and indicative of a pro-developer’s stance. 

“Price has not taken a position which it in itself is a decision,” Rivera said, citing that his comments lean more toward approving of the Reef.

“His lack of decision could lead to more homelessness in this city,” added panelist Jose Fernandez, alluding to the potential effects of a displaced community. 

In the fight against the Reef, a recent point of contention among residents has been the Nov. 2 deadline for submitting public comment against the development. The South Central Neighborhood Council stressed it has not had not had enough time to review the 3,000 page environmental impact report released in September.

The public comment period has still not been extended. Price has said on record that extensions are only allowed if new information has come forth, which has not been the case. 

A Reef representative told Intersections last week that after the public comment period, the company will still be open to hearing local input regarding a community benefits package attached to the project, which among other things, could stipulate how the development’s future tenants hire for their spaces. 

Job growth is a common argument for those who favor gentrification, but the panelists warned that the jobs aren’t always given to those in the surrounding community. 

“There’s no guarantee the tenets will do local hiring,” said panelist Roxana Alguilar, who worked in job placement during the construction of L.A. Live.

During the event’s Q&A period, there was a virtual agreement among the crowd that, rather than combatting the issue of gentrification on a project-by-project basis, organizations would have to form a unified coalition to fight displacement from both the Reef and in the city at large.

Accompanying that call was one to disregard racial differences and combat developer money with unified human capital. 

“If we come together as black and brown…it’s a lot of people power,” said Crystal Mitchell, co-director of the nonprofit business and community development organization Recycling Black Dollars. “They’re expecting apathy.”


South Central development project concerns neighbors


A new South Los Angeles development project drew sharp criticism from neighbors and health advocacy groups at a press conference Monday. A report released by Human Impact Partners found that “The Reef” development, slated to build two multi-use high-rise buildings, will place over half of renters in the site’s surrounding area at high risk for financial strain or displacement.

In September, the City Council released a 3,000 page environmental report on the development. The document has been has been a source of strain on attempting to be involved in the development process.

“In the immediate, we are concerned about the draft [environmental impact review] project that has only given us 47 days to respond to a 3,000 page document,” said Benjamin Torres of CDTech.

Beyond the environmental impact report, the community is concerned that the development will bring new residents into the proposed luxury apartments while pushing out lower-income locals because of rising rent and property value.

Read More: Neighborhood council to take action on Reef Project report

Los Angeles is the least affordable city for renters, and HIP found that the city lost 65 percent of state and federal funding for affordable housing between 2009 and 2014.

The South Los Angeles neighborhood surrounding the development is one of the most crowded areas in the city. In the community where 45 percent of residents fall below the poverty line, a rise in prices leaves many residents forced to compromise.

The Reef development

Residents hold a press conference in front of The Reef, which plans to develop two new skyscrapers in South LA over the next 15 years. | Caitlyn Hynes, Intersections South L.A.

Community members are worried that The Reef development will not include affordable housing, an issue that already exists. At the press conference, residents and community leaders urged developers and the City Council to consider their voices throughout the 15-year building process.  

Benjamin Torres of CDTech said he was concerned that the decisions made about the development would not include the input of the neighbors who currently live there.

“One [concern] is the long-term process and what the role of the community is, and making sure we have equitable community development that benefits the area,” he said.

Neighbors want South L.A. to attract developers. They also want development to reflect the neighborhood’s residents as they are now, not those who will move in to be a part of The Reef’s demographic.

“Let’s imagine for one minute what this project could be. Imagine if this was affordable housing for the residents of affordable housing for South Los Angeles,” said Jim Mangia, President and CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center. “Imagine if that development was serving the people of this community, who have built this community with their blood and their sweat and their tears. Imagine if some of that retail space were community health centers that served this community.”

Read More: Some South LA residents express uncertainty with billion dollar development 

Dr. Holly Avey of HIP said that her organization was concerned about the negative impact that this development could have on the historic South Central L.A. neighborhood. The report found that community residents who are impacted by displacement and financial issues are at a high risk of a variety of health problems, including anxiety, depression, obesity and diabetes.

Beatriz Solis of the California Endowment said that some families are forced to make delicate tradeoffs, like choosing between healthy food or preschool.

Cynthia Bryant, the owner of a local ice cream shop, voiced her concern that when the development does go forward, the businesses in The Reef will push her out of the neighborhood. Bryant worries that the business space in The Reef will drive up rent prices across the neighborhood.

“I don’t want to be the first one to get on the boat if we get pushed out of this community, because they’re pushing us further and further. But where is the boat loading? Should I be the first or should I be the last, should I keep hanging on?” said Bryant.

The rising rents and subsequent displacement of residents worries Solis as well.

“At the community level, when people are forced out, the whole community fabric begins to unravel, and what cohesion and collaborative efficacy, or social and political power did exist begins to evaporate, making it more and more difficult to have a voice in community development,” Solis said.

Neighbors like Erendira Morales, a working mother of four children, say they want to be a part of this process to make sure that their concerns are being heard and addressed.

“We feel that they are playing with the life and the future of the people who live in this community. Our local representatives are not listening to us,” said Morales. “We have our interests, we have our opinions and we feel that they are not paying attention to us. We want to participate, we want to be part of this process.”

Neighborhood council to take action on Reef Project report

The South Central Neighborhood Council and community members discussed possible courses of action on the Reef Project Environmental Impact Report on Tuesday, October 20, 2015.

The South Central Neighborhood Council and community members discussed possible courses of action on the Reef Project Environmental Impact Report on Tuesday, October 20, 2015. | Rachel Cohrs, Intersections South L.A.

With the deadline for public comment on more than 800 pages of documentation on the proposed Reef Project development approaching, the South Central Neighborhood Council said it needs more time to sort through the information.

“The language is hard to understand, and it’s just too much,” said council member Martha Sanchez. “I want to be able to understand what I’m reading. . .I want to have time for an expert who knows more to explain what this means to community members.”

The Reef Project is a $1.2 billion development of high-rise condos, commercial space, and a hotel to be erected in South LA. The project has received some pushback from community residents.

A rendering of the proposed $1.2 billion Reef Project development. | Courtesy of Gensler and PATTERNS

A rendering of the proposed $1.2 billion Reef Project development. | Courtesy of Gensler and PATTERNS

The paperwork under review is the Environmental Impact Report that describes the different community impacts the project could have on nearby residents. The Los Angeles Department of City Planning’s summary of the report describes that the Reef Project’s largest disruptions will affect local aesthetics, air quality, noise, traffic and transportation.

The report, released Sept. 17, is available solely in English, and is only available by either visiting the Department of City Planning office, visiting one of four library locations, or paying $7.50 for a copy on CD.

“Looking at this neighborhood, for [the document] only to be provided in English is absurd. We have lots of monolinguistic Spanish-speaking people around here. It’s hard enough for the average person to understand, not to mention if they don’t speak the language,” council member John Parker said.

The South Central Neighborhood Council has authorized a committee to submit a public comment before the Nov. 2 deadline. The statement will be based on community input the council has gathered since its town hall meeting last month. The exact content has yet to be determined.

A visual map of the location of the Reef Project south of downtown Los Angeles. | Courtesy of Gensler and PATTERNS

A visual map of the location of the Reef Project south of downtown Los Angeles. | Courtesy of Gensler and PATTERNS

The council also plans to submit a request to the city to extend the deadline, but the prospects of success look grim after another organization’s request was denied.

Reef Project representative Will Cipes said that although the official deadline for comment may pass on the report, the developers will still be open to community insight regarding a community benefits package attached to the project.

According to Cipes, however, the community benefits package with the city isn’t quite concrete.

“We have talked about the broad concept of an agreement [on a benefits package] but we have not talked specifics,” Cipes said.

Cipes estimated that the official city council vote on the development will likely be at least six months away.

The Environmental Impact Report didn’t measure how much potential displacement the existence of market-rate apartments could cause in the surrounding area. Preliminary analysis conducted by SAJE, a local nonprofit advocating for tenant rights and affordable housing, identified 4,445 individuals within a two-mile radius of the Reef Project who could be at “very high” or “high” risk for financial strain and/or displacement if the development is built.

To educate community members and provide a place for residents to voice concerns about the project, the South Central Neighborhood Council is organizing a community forum on gentrification Wednesday, Oct. 28 at Santee Education Complex at 6 p.m.

“We want to do something that is really going to benefit people,” South Central Neighborhood Council President Jose Reyes said. “We don’t want to do something just to say we did something.”

Some South LA residents express uncertainty with billion dollar development

South LA residents are weighing the benefits of a proposed $1.2 billion development that promises to add condos, a hotel, a grocery store and hundreds of permanent jobs to the community.

About 60 community members came to the South Central Neighborhood Council’s town hall meeting to voice their opinion on The Reef Project. The project is an expansion around the current Reef building, which serves as a space for small creative businesses. Parking lots cover the rest of the two-block area bordered by Hill Street, Washington Boulevard, Main Street and 21st Street.

Attorney Edgar Khalatian said that the REEF Project will support affordable housing in South LA | Photo by Rachel Cohrs

Attorney Edgar Khalatian said the REEF Project will support affordable housing. | Photo by Rachel Cohrs

The development also would add a pharmacy, retail space, a bank and open pedestrian spaces.

If the project is approved, it is projected to create 2,758 temporary construction jobs and 751 permanent part- and full-time positions, most of which would be in the hotel. Thirty percent of the construction and hotel jobs would be filled by people living within a five-mile radius. An apprenticeship program is being developed through Los Angeles Trade Technical College to provide training for local residents to qualify for the positions.

Out of dozens of resident questions submitted, a central question emerged: What’s in it for us? Residents at the meeting on Sept. 19 at Santee High School voiced concerns that the project wouldn’t cater to their needs.

“They are trying to make us feel like we are privileged that they are coming here, but they should be coming in on our terms and asking what we want it to look like,” said Adriana Cabrera, education representative for the Central-Alameda Neighborhood Council and co-founder of Empowering Youth in South Central.

[Read more…]

Latino families transition from unemployment to work


Araceli Martínez Ortega | La Opinión (text)
Brian Watt | KPCC (audio)
Maya Sugarman | KPCC (photo)

This story is available in Spanish here.

This article was produced for Watts Revisited, a multimedia project launched by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that explores challenges facing South L.A. as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts Riots. Learn more at www.wattsrevisited.com.

David Williams, who works at Homeboy Industries, fills out paperwork to enroll in a seven-week construction course at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Monday, April 1, 2015. The class is put on by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in partnership with LATTC. | Photo by Maya Sugarman for KPCC

David Williams, who works at Homeboy Industries, fills out paperwork to enroll in a seven-week construction course at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Monday, April 1, 2015. The class is put on by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in partnership with LATTC. | Photo by Maya Sugarman for KPCC

Last September, Abigail Flores arrived heartsick at the WorkSource Center, a work placement agency in South Central Los Angeles. She had spent at least seven months unemployed, depending upon public assistance to support her three young children.

“What I encountered here was beautiful. They helped me in everything. The work that they found for me was at a Dollar Tree shop. Then the hours were decreased. Once again they found me another job in a hamburger restaurant where I made minimum wage,” said Flores, a resident of South Los Angeles and a 34-year-old single mother. Her children are 6, 7, and 14 years old.

At the same time that Flores returned to the labor force, and to be able to provide for her family, the WorkSource Center, located inside LA Trade Tech College at Vernon-Central, began to provide her with training in the hotel industry.

With these new skills, Abigail will be able to make a transition to full-time work with a better salary and benefits. [Read more…]

LA County joins City in considering minimum wage hikes

Text and video by Kimberly Leoffler 

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and United States Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez advocated to raise the minimum wage this week, arguing that it would benefit all residents. They also lashed out against wage theft.

“If all the people who lived in poverty in L.A. were an independent city, they’d be the tenth largest in America, the third largest in our state,” Garcetti said.

“In January of this year, seven million Americans got an increase in the minimum wage as a result of state and local action,” Perez added.

The pair was greeted with cheers at an event in Downtown L.A. where hundreds of people with United Service Workers West came out to support an increase in the minimum wage and greater protection for workers.

Tina Tran said she was a victim of wage theft. While she was able to file a claim and settle with her employer, many of her co-workers haven’t been able to do the same. She says she wasn’t paid for overtime and never received meal or rest periods.

“The biggest issue of all was that I was being misclassified,” said Tran. “As a result, that’s why I was not being paid for overtime.”

Minimum wage debates have sprung up across the city. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors commissioned their own study this week to examine the effects of raising the minimum wage. In addition, the City Council’s Economic Development Committee held a meeting Tuesday night to solicit public input.

Originally published in Annenberg TV News.

Fresh & Easy to close South LA store

8250297617_525464b08c_kA South Los Angeles neighborhood will soon have one less option for fresh produce. Grocery chain Fresh & Easy is preparing to close its store on Central and Adams Boulevards in South LA, in addition to 29 of its other locations in Southern California.

The University Park location, on Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard, will remain open.

Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wolcott says the locations are being closed because they “do not meet the criteria of Fresh & Easy’s model of modern convenience.” [Read more…]

“Pamper Me Day” comes to South LA

By Meghan Coyle | Annenberg Radio News

Hair stylist Aja Marie Chaff gives back to the community by cutting hair on Pamper Me Day. | Photo by Mirian Fuentes

Hair stylist Aja Marie Chaff gives back to the community by cutting hair on Pamper Me Day. | Photo by Mirian Fuentes

Homeless men and women relaxed for a spa day at Awesome Hair Salon in South L.A. on Monday Feb. 23. The salon provided free manicures, facials and haircuts to homeless individuals and those living in transitional housing for the second annual “Pamper Me Day”.

The event hoped to give these men and women a boost of confidence so they can see themselves in a new way.

Hairstylists such as Aja Marie Chaff spent time with participants to get a sense of their own individual style. Understanding who these people are and what they are looking for helps gives the customers a better experience, according to Chaff.

Martina Tegalo hasn’t had her hair cut since she attended the event last year.

“I always wait every year for this event because it’s a really special event,” she said.

Sheila Thorne, founder and CEO of the Women of Color Entrepreneur Directory, organized the event. The event is her way of paying it forward to thank all those that helped her when she was homeless.

Thorne estimates Awesome Hair Salon served 25 customers during the event. The salon hopes to make the event a regular occurrence.

South LA liquor stores may put residents’ health at risk

Kenny's Market | Morgan Greenwald

Kenny’s Market | Morgan Greenwald

On West 48th Street in Hyde Park, a neighborhood of South L.A., children soak in the afternoon sun on swing sets and plastic slides at Angeles Mesa Park. Just down the street, amid residential streets lined with quiet houses, Kenny’s Market & Liquor stands covered in bright yellow paint, its luminescent ‘liquor’ sign inviting passersby to peek inside.

According to the 2012 “Health Atlas” compiled by city and county departments, Kenny’s Market & Liquor is just one of 152 establishments with an off-sale liquor license in South L.A.

This license allows a person to purchase alcohol at the establishment and consume it off the premises. South L.A. has one of the highest numbers of off-sale licenses in Los Angeles. [Read more…]

Worker delivers tearful plea to USC president to increase wages

Activists captured an awkward confrontation with millionaire University of Southern California President C.L. Max Nikias and a campus worker on video—right outside one of the school’s most expensive cafeterias.

After someone off-camera asked the college president if he would listen to workers seeking a living wage, Nikias enthusiastically told the heckler, “You have nothing to worry about it.”

But hospitality worker Abigail Lopez gave the university administrator a piece of her mind and relayed how campus workers earning poverty-level wages have plenty to worry about—like paying bills and buying food. What ensued was the longest elevator wait of Max Nikias’ entire life. Lopez couldn’t make it more than a few sentences before tearing up, much to the discomfort of Nikias. [Read more…]