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.”


Feeding Our Families forum talks food justice issues

At a community center in Inglewood, about a dozen people came to attend the Social Justice Learning Institute’s Feeding Our Families forum.  They talked about food justice, the idea that all communities should have access to healthy, affordable, organic, locally grown and culturally relevant food. 

Inglewood is considered a food desert.  This means that most people live more than a mile from a store that could provide the community with healthy options.  Communities that are far from food sources have higher obesity rates, diabetes rates and heat failure.

Panelists sat at a white, collapsible table at the front of the gym.  Community members faced them on blue folding chairs, arranged in two semi circles around the speakers.  The sound of rain pounding outside echoed dully through the auditorium.

The panelists included Trina Williams, a advocate for education and a member the Inglewood Unified School District Board of Education; Megan Bomba, a project coordinator with the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College, and; Julie Sheppick, Director of Communication & Fund Development for Women Organizing Resources, Knowledge and Services (WORKS).

Together with facilitator Danielle DeRuiter-Williams, the Social Justice Learning Institutes’ food justice coordinator, the three panelists discussed how to bring more food choices to Inglewood and how the community can get involved. 

The bottom line, agreed the panelists, is the push must come from within the community.

“You have to start where you at, use what you got, do what you can,” said Williams.

During the question and answer portion, the intimate group started a conversation.  They shared personal experiences and challenges when it comes to eat healthy foods.

Adriane Banks came to the meeting because changing her diet improved her life.  She has lost 40 pounds through eating healthy and walking with her kids.

Barry Hargress happened upon the auditorium while on an errand.  But he stayed for the forum.

“My son gave me an errand,” he said.  “I’m supposed to pick up a box of chocolate donuts on the way home.”

He said he wants his kids to eat better.  Not him, he’s a lost cause.  But he wants better for his children.  People chimed in to give him advice with his kids and said he should also push for a healthier lifestyle for himself.

An elderly woman in a leopard-print hat also chimed in.

“I come to a lot of community meetings,” she said.  “This is the first time I’ve ever stayed longer than 15 minutes.  It’s also the first that I’ve seen a group that’s committed to doing what they know is the right thing to do. “

The panelists praised the community members for coming and having so much passion about food justice.