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.”


Bill Clinton endorses mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel

Bill Clinton announced Monday that he endorses Wendy Greuel for mayor of Los Angeles, according to a Clinton press release.

Clinton highlighted Greuel’s strength in making “government work for ordinary people…especially during periods of crisis.”

Click here for more of the story.

Watchdogs needed for cities like Bell

Local government corruption could be prevented if the public paid more attention to the structure and activities of their city councils, Assemblyman Hector De la Torre said at a panel discussion at USC earlier this month.

Residents of Bell were appalled when City Council members were recently charged with public corruption in a scandal uncovered by the Los Angeles Times. Charges include misappropriation of public funds, falsification of documents and conflict of interest. The investigation revealed that Bell’s city manager was being paid twice the salary of the President of the United states, while other members of the council were earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

Corruption in Bell and other charter cities can be attributed to a lack of government transparency and accountability, panelist said at a discussion held Oct. 4 at the University of Southern California.

“You have city managers who get housing allowances, one-and-a-half million dollars to buy a house,” said De la Torre. “Some of these practices are happening up and down the state of California.”

With a declining number of local news publications and fewer reporters from larger newspapers covering city councils, residents have lost access to important information about local government affairs.

There is usually one reporter assigned to cover 28 cities said Bob Stern president, of the Center for Governmental Studies. In a telephone interview, he said more reporters focusing on government affairs would make a huge difference in smaller cities like Bell.

Panelists at the conference agreed.

“If you look at the number of reporters that city newspapers assigned to state governance today compared to 20 years ago, it’s traumatically reduced,” said De la Torre.

Panelists at the conference said most residents in Bell are working-class citizens who are struggling to make a living and do not have the time or resources to act as watchdogs.

The City Council of Bell took advantage of residents and their inability to monitor the city council, paying themselves huge salaries, with the city manager making nearly $800,000 a year.

Stern said that citizens in Bell faced an even bigger challenge than most residents of smaller cities because their City Council had often refused to release information upon request.

Panelists agreed that the members of Bell’s City Council acted without transparency, meeting secretly and withholding official government records from the public.

Times reporter Jeff Gottlieb said that he and his colleague Ruben Vives had to threaten to sue Bell to release documents of official salaries and City Council minutes.

Under the California Public Records Act, local government agencies are required to provide anyone who asks for information or documentation about their actions and spending. Most government records are considered public.

Gottlieb said the information he and his colleague received could have been sought by anyone.

“We don’t get documents that the average citizen can’t get,” Gottlieb said.

The Bell case is an issue less about corruption and more about education said De la Torre. There are always “bad people” eager to take advantage of a public that does not understand the structure, context or language of government he said.

There are many lessons to be learned from what happened in Bell said De la Torre. Among them, he said, that it’s important that this type of corruption is not seen as an isolated incident because it is a problem that other regions could face too.

De la Torre asked that the public not condemn all government officials and institutions.

“Trust but verify,” said De la Torre.