South LA voices and views at USC

Intersections has offered a platform to extend USC’s Visions and Voices three-part series examining community building in and around USC and South Los Angeles. The events focus on movements and organizations that are responding to the disparities and injustices that structure life in South LA. Their daily leadership, sacrifice and creativity helps bind South L.A., catalyzing progressive and sustained neighborhood change. In light of USC’s recent expansion and potential impact on our neighbors, it is crucial that we take stock of the university’s role in the civic and community life beyond our walls, and understand the significant work, service and fellowship already being cultivated by community members and institutions.

This online space allows for continued sharing and conversation on these topics. [Read more…]

Trader Joe’s scouting out first South LA store

Trader Joe's | Rebecca

Trader Joe’s | Rebecca

In 1967, the first Trader Joe’s opened in Pasadena. The supermarket chain began selling its organic pretzels and “Two Buck-Chuck” wine among other groceries outside of California in the 1990s and grew to operate more than 400 stores nationwide.

Now, for the first time, Trader Joe’s is coming to South L.A.

The store has committed to opening a location at the forthcoming USC Village, located on Hoover and 31st streets near the Figueroa Corridor, according to USC University Communications.

Many residents who live in the area are rejoicing. [Read more…]

New USC Village breaks ground

Community members, student leaders, trustees and local politicians break ground with USC president Max Nikias. | Phoenix Tso/Neon Tommy

Community members, student leaders, trustees and local politicians break ground with USC president Max Nikias. | Phoenix Tso/Neon Tommy

Nearly 950 members of the USC community gathered Monday morning in 90-degree weather to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new USC Village, a project that aims to raise USC’s reputation around the world.

“There will be no one to catch up to,” said USC president C.L. Max Nikias about the appeal of specific project features to incoming students. These features include the 2700 beds to be added by 2017, and the retail space that will open up and about the McCarthy Honors College, which Trustee Kathleen Leavey McCarthy donated $30 million to build for incoming merit scholarship students. “Everyone will want to go where the action is.”

In the days leading up to the groundbreaking, admissions officials were excitedly anticipating how to market these features to next year’s freshmen. During the ceremony, President Nikias spoke of how USC was committed to transforming from a commuter university to a residential one, like “other preeminent universities.”

“This is special for us,” said Timothy Brunold, USC Dean of Admissions, in a phone interview in the days leading up to the groundbreaking. “The students we’re currently recruiting will be able to use it.”  [Read more…]

Student turnover, not economy, frustrates 2-9 Café owner

imageWhen employees leave him high and dry on a busy Friday night, the restaurant manager of the 2-9 Cafe does not think twice about picking up the slack. He quickly clears a table, places an order for patrons, and delivers food to a group of hungry customers. For Garinn Morton, this is just one of the many obstacles he has overcome as the owner of this establishment.

The 2-9 Café sits at the intersection of the University of Southern California’s Greek Row, the University Village and one of the largest areas of off-campus student housing. To many, the location would seem like a jackpot for a restaurant owner, but the restaurant’s demographic has been its biggest worry.

“I don’t know if you’ve been here in the summertime, but it’s a ghost town around here,” said Morton.

Aside from holiday breaks, every year, Morton loses 20 percent of his business. That is because every year, and often every semester, students that live near the café move further away or graduate. Something as simple as a move to the other side of campus can keep a student from returning. According to Morton, graduates also steer clear of the restaurant because there is a stigma associated with visiting USC right after graduation.

“You can’t get caught up in making profit,” Morton said. “It’s a very simple game. You’re either not making money, you’re breaking even, or you’re making money.”

Morton plans to combat these problems by starting a “Trojan Country Card” for students. USC students would give their email address, local street address and year in school. In return, they would receive special deals for cardholders only. The cards would be scanned on all purchases at the 2-9 and it would help Morton track his regulars in order to entice them to come more often.

Parker Finley, a senior majoring in aerospace engineering, began frequenting the 2-9 when he lived nearby during his sophomore year. Once Finley turned 21, he said he went weekly. Now that he lives on the Row, he goes once every couple weeks. His reason for going is simple.

“It’s convenient and has cheap beer,” said Finley.

Morton bought the 2-9 in August 2011 as part of the T.K. Burgers group, which also owns six other restaurants in Orange County. T.K. wanted to expand their reach into Los Angeles. According to Morton, when scouting possible expansion sites, the group looks for buildings with a natural and hip feel, like the 2-9. Morton’s short-term goal is to just break even. Five years from now he hopes the location is still operating.

“Trying to find excuses isn’t going to bring one more person in here,” said Morton. “You just gotta find your best way to navigate through it.”

Flower Street residents tell the city they don’t want to go anywhere


Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

Residents of the 100-year-old apartment building at 2913 S. Flower Street are sending a letter to the city today.

“Dear Developers, City Officials, and members of the general public,
This letter is meant to express one simple intention: we will not leave our community without a fight,” the letter begins.

Many families in the 33-unit building have lived there between 15 and 35 years. But they have started to feel pressured by the growth of the neighborhood around them.

“There’s a lot of redevelopment of this area,” says Thelmy Perez, an organizer with the LA Human Right to Housing Collective. Her organization helped write the letter along with other groups LA CAN and Comunidad Presente. “You have the university to the south, you have now the proposed Farmer’s Field development that’s just north of us, you have the giant Palmer project that’s up here on the corner, you have the new Icon project that’s over here on the corner of Figueroa and Jefferson and the Metro [Expo] rail line.”

About half of the building’s residents are USC students. The low income families in the building like having students around and being part of the University community, but worry they might be asked to leave soon.

The building is managed by student rental group, First Choice Housing and owned by 424 W. Brown Road, LLC. First Choice Housing says it is not aware of the building being for sale.

Some residents say they’ve been offered money to move out though. So before any big changes happen, they have written this letter to the city and sought legal advice. Barbara Schultz is a lawyer working on the tenants’ behalf.

“Under the state’s Ellis Act a landlord is allowed to remove a unit from the market, but only if they’re going to permanently remove a unit from the rental market. They are not allowed to displace tenants only to either just replace them with new tenants or build a new building and replace them with new buildings,” Schultz says.

In October, USC agreed to contribute $20 million toward affordable housing as part of their University Village expansion project. Farmers Field reached a similar settlement with the city last week for $15 million. Until those projects begin, what will happen with those contributions is unclear.

It is clear that this neighborhood is changing quickly. Whether or not the rumors of the building’s potential sale are true, Perez says the residents want the city to know their concerns saying, “What we’re calling for is people-oriented development.”

Residents say they don’t mind changes in the neighborhood, as long as it means they don’t have to go anywhere.

South LA small businesses looking for missing details in USC expansion plan

With a final vote postponed until late November, The University of Southern California has a few more months to provide more details in its quest to get City approval for extensive development and renovations both on campus and on properties nearby.

Community interest has been intensely focused on University Village, a shopping development just across Jefferson Boulevard from the main campus. Opposition to the development has mostly centered on concerns about student housing to be built there. But small businesses in the area are worried about their place in the new development.

Local small businesses wonder if and how they’ll be included

The need for improvement to University Village (UV) is not in dispute. The current buildings are tatty-looking and in need of modernization and upgrades. The proposed new development will contain retail space, including a full-service grocery store, academic and administrative space, convention space, and more student housing.

Most of the businesses currently operating in UV are small, locally-owned and -operated shops, including a bicycle shop, a shoe-repair shop, an optometrist, a cigar shop, nail salons, a hair salon, and a food court populated with miniature mom-&-pop restaurants. There is also a small multi-screen discount movie theater, a discount grocery, a 99-cent store, and the lone big-box retailer, Starbucks.

The merchants running the local shops have been asking, during the mutli-year process of developing the plan, for more details on a range of issues: when they are expected to move out, what kind of help they will receive for relocation during the projected two-year demolition and construction process, and if and how they will be allowed back in. They have been given a move-out target of August 2013, but that’s the most detail they say they have received.

USC has promised relocation help, but no details have been provided in the Development Agreement so far. Nor have the merchants been told what criteria will be used to decide who will be allowed back in after construction.

imagePacked aisles at Los Angeles City PLUM Meeting August 21. A vote approving or denying USC’s Specific Plan for University Village was postponed to November.

Addressing Los Angeles City Council’s PLUM (Planning and Land Use Management) commissioners at a packed August hearing, local businessman Jorge Nuno stated during public comments that the community benefit package, which will be part of the Development Agreement, doesn’t put enough emphasis on resources to help small businesses.

Nuno, who owns The NTS Group, a small advertising and marketing firm located on East 35th Street, has been studying the issue over the last couple of years. In a follow-up interview, he said he “sees a lot of challenges in the area: small businesses need to have access to the development. They need educational resources for business plans.”

USC offers free basic legal help to local small businesses

In official documents and public statements, USC points to two clinics specifically aimed at helping local small businesses. One, the Small Business Clinic, administered through the Gould School of Law, provides help with basic start-up legal paperwork to local small businesses. The Business Clinic’s services, free except for filing costs, include structuring businesses -– as corporations, limited liability partnerships, or sole proprietorships and the like. The clinic also helps draft basic contracts with vendors and clients of the participating business.

Faculty advisor Michael Chasalow said the clinic keeps the paperwork as simple as possible. “Our demographic is not fancy folk. It’s primarily salt-of-the-earth,” mom-and-pop businesses that provide services to the community. “They don’t want or need something complicated,” said Chasalow.

The purpose of the student-staffed clinic is educational -– to teach students how to craft the best service for customers, but “the benefits go to the community,” said Chasalow. In the five years the clinic has been open, it’s served almost 300 clients and currently has a waiting list. When clients need more than the SBC offers, they are referred to area non-profits like SCORE, Public Counsel, and the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), or the local Chamber of Commerce.

“What we offer,” said Chasalow, “is very different than the kind of advice you’d get if you went to a firm,” which would charge high fees. “If you’re trying to start a business on five-thousand dollars, an eight- hundred dollar fee is a lot.”

USC’s free business consulting clinic

USC also offers a free business consulting clinic, Los Angeles Community Impact (LACI), through the Marshall School of Business. Also student-run, LACI helps local entrepreneurs create business and marketing plans that will help them sustain and grow their businesses.

According to Neil Garvey, a junior and LACI’s vice-president for external affairs, most of the clinic’s clients need help focusing their goals. “You don’t have time to think about where your business is going if you’re just busy running the business,” but he said, “a business plan isn’t as complicated as people expect it to be.”

LACI president Jeremy Gross, also a junior, concurred, saying, “Many are spread too thin. They say yes to all their clients’ requests,” but with doing “payroll, managing staff and clients, paying the bills,” it’s aquestion of limited time and resources. “Many clients just have too many ideas. We help them winnow that.”

LACI assigns clients a team of four to five students. Over the course of a process that can stretch to up to twelve weeks, team members help clients refine their goals. The team carries out studies and surveys assessing local awareness of and interest in the client’s services, identifies possible competition, and then delivers a set of succinct recommendations and “next-steps” that clients can carry out on their own. The team then conducts a follow-up a month or so later to see how things are working out.

Is the community aware of these services?

Nuno said some small business owners he talked to confirmed USC has reached out to make them aware of these programs. But, he said, “many say they feel intimidated, because USC is talking big numbers, but they’re small businesses.”

That statement may seem a bit odd, given the fact that both clinics tailor their free services for mom-and-pops, but, said Chasalow, “with law in particular, you see people who feel they lack sophistication and may be intimidated from the get-go.”

Garvey and Gross, of LACI, feel that the sheer size of USC might lead to a perception that its programs are too hard to access. For instance, said Garvey, if you’re trying to become a vendor to the University, “the bureaucracy and red tape” of dealing with the university “is very frustrating,” even though USC has a local vendor initiative.

Gross added, “A lot of the businesses around USC don’t have a deep relationship with USC, but often want one. It’s almost like a lone market within a larger market. it’s very difficult for a mom-and-pop to get through the red tape. How do you even find out who to call?”

Said Garvey, “I think that speaks to the larger issue that USC students are a completely different market than the surrounding area. And businesses serve either one or the other, but usually not both.” That town-and-gown division might contribute to the idea that even services aimed at local small business, like the clinics, are intimidatingly inaccessible.

Loans to help local business

Some of what Nuno says is missing from USC’s current draft Development Agreement does involve larger numbers. He’d like to see “a revolving loan fund to help with relocation and business expansion…. USC could really do something big with a small amount of money,” says Nuno.

He says one to two million dollars would be ample to provide revolving loans to up to forty small local businesses.

Final city vote postponed until late November

It would be erroneous to say that the community is universally against the development. There is significant community support for the proposed improvements to shopping choices, aesthetics, and even the increased public safety that is expected as a result of the rebuilding.

But small businesses are hoping missing details will be provided in time. The current draft Development Agreement does not as yet provide them. And that’s important, because the Final Development Agreement with the City will be a legally binding document. With the final vote postponed until late November, there is still time for those details to be fleshed out. But not much time.

USC Representative responds to South LA housing alliance proposals for 20-year Master Plan

South LA’s affordable housing alliance UNIDAD (United Neighbors in Defense against Displacement) has been lobbying for more specifics in USC’s Specific Plan and Development Agreement, particularly about community benefits. The Plan is the agreement between the City of Los Angeles and the University which spells out how USC’s Master Plan will be implemented. The terms of the Plan will stay in force until 2030, and thus the details are of intense interest to the University and its surrounding community.

UNIDAD has five main issues: provide enough housing for students at reasonable prices; provide significant money to support affordable housing for non-students; ensure that the construction and businesses that come into the development hire a good proportion of locals; ensure that a good proportion of those jobs are permanent and above minimum-wage; provide training for those jobs; and support and enhance local businesses, rather than relying primarily on national chains.

David Galaviz, Executive Director of Local Government Relations for USC, said the university is diligently addressing these issues. The university had met with UNIDAD early in the planning process, he said, citing ten meetings altogether, but a mutually acceptable agreement could not be reached at the time.

Student Housing

USC has proposed building 5,400 new beds as part of its redevelopment of University Village, a fairly rundown shopping area just north of campus on Jefferson Boulevard. There are already approximately 7,000 university-owned beds in various locations on campus and off. About 1,000 of those will be lost in the redevelopment, leaving 4,400 actual additional beds. The Recommendation Report released by the City’s Planning Commission says that this will free up 900 housing units in the community. UNIDAD is concerned that’s not going to be enough to significantly reduce the housing pressures in the community, especially because students are often willing to pay higher rents than many in the community can afford.

Galaviz confirmed that number is not enough to house every student who needs it. But, he said, “there’s going to be two million square feet added for housing alone. That’s a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot. And that’s going to be five to six stories of housing…So it’s not enough housing. But do we go sixteen or seventeen stories high? We’ve heard from the community that they don’t want that.”

Galaviz pointed out that the University doesn’t have many options as to where it can build housing. It can’t go west of Vermont Avenue, an area which already has seen a high proportion of family housing convert to student housing. It can’t build to the south, because that’s Exposition Park, which is filled with museums and the Coliseum. It can’t do much to the east, because the City has a lot of industrial space there, although the university does own some land in the area.

Affordable housing

USC originally proposed setting aside two million dollars for affordable housing in the area, particularly in University Park on the campus’s north side. The City Planning Commission required USC to increase that to eight million before the Plan could be approved. That’s not as much as UNIDAD would like, but it’s a welcome improvement, said David Robinson, Political Director for Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), a key organizer of UNIDAD.

Galaviz defended the amount, saying it would be used for many necessary community benefits, including a revolving loan fund for rehabilitation and conversion of existing privately-owned student housing back to family homes. SAJE’s Robinson counters that the amounts discussed so far would only help a relative handful of homeowners. Other possible housing mitigation could include purchasing homes, creating privately-held low-income housing projects, and creating grants for low-income housing. But these details are still to be worked out, according to Galaviz.

Jobs and training for locals

“One of the things we’re most proud of,” said Galaviz, “is that this is the largest development project in the history of South LA. We’re not using public dollars – this is financed completely by the University.” The project will include approximately 12,000 jobs, including “8,000 full-time equivalent construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs,” according to the Planning Commission’s Recommendation Report. Galaviz said the construction contractors will conduct outreach for local hiring and also provide training through trade apprenticeship programs. Additionally, the development will also use the city’s First Source hiring program, which requires contractors to train and hire the traditionally unemployed or under-employed for living-wage jobs. But these details are also still to be worked out.

Local small business report

The businesses to be brought in include a 25,000 square-foot grocery store. There will be an additional 325,000 square feet of commercial space for retail/shopping, restaurants, and a movie-theater complex. UNIDAD wants the largest proportion of business space to go to local businesses that will be affordable for the neighborhood. Said Galaviz, “The key price point has to meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff, and community members. We need the community to shop here to make this successful. So we have to meet their price points.”

He pointed out that the university already has multiple programs to assist neighborhood businesses, including its Supplier Diversity Services’ Local Vendor Program, the Gould School of Law’s Small Business Clinic, the Marshall School of Business’s Marshall Consulting Program, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Minority Business Enterprise Center, and the School of Policy, Planning, and Development’s Community Development and Design Forum.

Galaviz emphasized that the University still has many “regulatory hoops to jump through” before the Plan is finalized. USC wants to begin teardown of the current University Village in the early summer of next year, so those hoops have to be jumped through before then.

Community groups say USC’s Master Plan lacks guarantees for the neighborhood

Please make sure to read USC’s response to the issues raised by UNIDAD by clicking here.

Standing in the shade of a small pocket park sandwiched between modest apartments and the 110 Freeway,

imageJuana Osorio is worried about getting pushed out of the neighborhood by the USC Master Plan.

Juana Osorio spoke emphatically through an interpreter: “Me and my husband are on a very fixed income – we’re both already retired, so we depend on the support that my daughter and her husband living with us give us to share the rent.” Osorio is paying $1500 a month for a small house in the Estrella section of University Park, just north of USC.

The Osorios have lived in the neighborhood for almost forty years. They moved here after their previous, cheaper rental house a few streets over was sold. The new owners raised rents and the Osorios had to move.

Juana Osorio was one of the speakers on a recent journalists’ tour sponsored by United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD), a campaign launched by the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice, an alliance between affordable housing and activist groups. The alliance hopes to focus public attention on USC’s Master Expansion Plan, a 20-year agreement between USC and the City of Los Angeles, and its effects on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Many students, not enough housing

USC, which bills itself as the largest private employer in Los Angeles, has a total enrollment of 38,010 students. According to a 2012 study commissioned by Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE) – a key member of UNIDAD – and authored by a Master’s degree candidate in USC’s School of Urban Planning, fully 71 percent of those students will not live in university-owned housing, even with additional units being built under the Master Plan.

USC currently offers 7,198 units of on-campus housing. The Master Plan, available online, says it will provide 7,600 new beds. However, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required by the city says that 5,200 beds will be built, but 1,200 existing beds will be lost.

The remaining students will have to live somewhere and many will fan out into the surrounding neighborhoods. These neighborhoods, which were fancy suburbs for early-20th century Angelenos, are now home to primarily low-income, working class Latinos and African Americans. The median income for the area is $18,533, making it one of the lowest-income areas in both the City and the County of Los Angeles, according to the L.A. Times’ “Mapping L.A.” project.

Beth Rodin, Director of Economic Development for Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, a UNIDAD member, said a majority of these residents pay one-third to one-half or more of their income on housing each month. And most of them live in rental housing.

Students and community compete for rentals

But with students looking to find rentals near campus, residents are often in direct competition for available housing. Scott Estevez, another speaker on the tour, is a 22-year-old whose family has lived in Esperanza affordable housing for almost eight years. He said that a friend of his father who owns rental housing in the neighborhood was told by a city housing inspector not to rent to Latinos, because they would ask for cheap rent and tear up the building, whereas students wouldn’t make a mess and would pay higher rents.

imageAnd they often do pay higher rent. Privately-owned student housing can soar to $4,000/month, which is the case at the Gateway Housing development, located on the corner of Jefferson and Figueroa. Rents for a 2-bedroom apartment are $999 per person if the bedrooms are shared with another occupant. If the rooms are rented privately, the monthly rent is $1,798.

According to figures released by UNIDAD, only three-percent of the housing stock in the Estrella neighborhood was occupied by USC students before 1998. By 2008, that had skyrocketed to 32 percent. Other neighborhoods around the campus have been hit with soaring rents as well.

Neighborhood changes affect local businesses

Pastor Brian Eklund, who headed St. Mark’s Lutheran Church from 1968 through 2007, saw these changes first-hand. More and more family housing in what he called “a vibrant, alive community” was snapped up by absentee landlords and private property-management companies and marketed to students. Eklund said St. Mark’s, situated on Vermont and West 36th Place, and not included in the current Master Plan, lost “about a third of its membership” to the conversion of family rentals to student rentals and the subsequent exodus of families from the area. “That was always our cry from the 1990s onward,” said Eklund. “We’ve been crying ‘Build housing, build housing.’” The response has been ‘We don’t do housing.”

The Master Plan outlines redevelopment of six districts around the campus, including a mixed-use retail, academic, and conference development with student housing at the University Village shopping center, and limited expansion into the warehouse district on the other side of the 110 freeway to the east. Its Guiding Principles include “encourag[ing] and participat[ing] in neighborhood development, in concert with the greater community.”

imageJon Samore, co-owner of Vermont Outlet True Value, says USC needs to give the neighborhood more information about its plans.

Jon Samore, co-owner of Vermont Outlet True Value at Vermont and 30th, said his store has a good relationship with the university. He and one of his brothers graduated from USC, as did several nieces and nephews. He is a former accountant for Arthur Andersen who also sits on the Board of Advisors for USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting.

Samore’s parents opened the shop in 1949; he and his brothers operate it now. Their customers and their employees come from the neighborhood. “We have two employees that live right around the corner…another one lives near Alvarado and 3rd St.,” said Samore. “We draw on the people in the neighborhood to work here.” But despite his positive feelings for the university, he wondered what the Plan “is going to do to the people in this neighborhood. We need more facts, we need more information.” According to Samore, Estevez, and UNIDAD, those details have been lacking. The discrepancies between the Master Plan online and the EIR do little to fill in the gaps.

UNIDAD’s wish list

UNIDAD wants the development agreement between the City and USC to address five issues: 1) provide enough housing for the students at reasonable prices; 2) provide significant money to support affordable housing for non-students; 3) ensure that the construction and businesses that come in as part of the Master Plan hire a good proportion of locals; 4) provide good permanent jobs for locals that are not minimum-wage; 5) provide training for those jobs; and support small businesses, rather than relying on national chains to fill retail spaces.

David Robinson, Political Director for SAJE, said it could be a win-win for everybody with thoughtful planning. “We’re not saying that USC has to sacrifice its growth and development. We are not saying that USC can actually solve all of the problems of the neighborhood – nothing like that. We’re saying we have very rational suggestions for how they can help families continue to live here, continue to work here, so that local community members and USC can prosper together.”

Dave Galaviz, Executive Director of Local Government Relations for USC, responds: “USC feels very ingrained into the social fabric of this community.” He cited multiple public meetings that were attended by hundreds of residents, many of whom expressed support for the project. (See Galaviz’ response by clicking here.)

The development agreement with Los Angeles for the Master Plan must be approved by the city’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, and then approved by the full City Council. The original date for that approval was September 9, 2012, but Guadalupe Duran-Medina, Planning Deputy for PLUM’s president, City Councilman Ed Reyes, said that deadline was no longer accurate. A new deadline has not yet been decided.

Town and Gown Disagree about the New University Master Plan

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageThe new plans call for a mixed-use development with retail space on the ground floor and student housing above. The housing is especially important, because USC students have moved into housing that would have been rented by local families. The proposed housing units in the new development should return 900 units to the community, according to the Master Plan for University Village. However, this may not bring the expected benefits to the neighborhood. Paulina Gonzalez, Executive Director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), a South Los Angeles community housing and economic development group, said,

“…even though the analysis that the university has released says that there’ll be 900 units
that will be released back to the community, those units have been lost [from] the rent
stabilization ordinance, so previously, where they might have been affordable to local families,
now they’re no longer under rent control—those rents can actually be significantly higher than
when they were initially lost.”

SAJE also has concerns that local merchants currently in the Village will not find a place in the new development. Akim Alam, owner of Quik Pix, a photo shop and portrait studio which has been in the Village for 30 years, echoed these concerns:

“Well, it isn’t a priority or nothing like that , so whenever they are done [with rebuilding], they
[the merchants] can apply…but that doesn’t guarantee nothing. It doesn’t matter how long you
have been over here doing business…you’re just like any other people.”

Information given by the University to merchants like Alam states that 160,000 square feet will be allotted for ground-floor retail space and 400,000 square feet for academic needs and conference spaces. That’s a 40% increase over the amount for retail. The Master Plan projects that the redevelopment will generate $1.7 million dollars in tax revenue.

University Village is owned by USC. It was created in the 1960s, when the City of Los Angeles used its powers of eminent domain to claim land for the university. Such a heavy-handed approach has left a legacy of distrust in the neighborhood which underlies the skepticism about the benefits of the new development. The new project will be paid for completely out of private funding and will not claim any land not already owned by the university.
A further concern of SAJE, Alam, and other merchants interviewed for this piece is that they have not been an integral part of developing the plan. David Galaviz, USC’s representative for local government relations, said that the community has been deeply involved, with over 100 public meetings held between 2007 and 2009. Community members, both for and against the development, were able to give feedback at these meetings throughout the planning process.

The redevelopment is now slated to start in 2013 and is expected to take six to ten years to complete. Merchants currently in the Village do not know if they’ll be relocated during the building process.

Q&A: Tough financial times cut business at South L.A. hair salon

imageItzhak Nughadam, 64, owns Touch of Class beauty salon in the University Village Shopping Center. Nughadam chose this location 37 years ago because of the built-in student population, which once provided a steady stream of business. Since the recession hit, Nughadam saw his revenue plummet by as much as 30 percent.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Nughadam had two employees in the salon. One was busy cutting a man’s hair, while the other watched for potential customers from within. Nughadam took a smoke break.

Intersections South LA’s Raquel Estupinan caught up with Nughadam about his business, his customers and his determination to stay open despite challenging financial times.

Raquel Estupinan: How has the economy of the last few years affected your business?

Itzhak Nughadam: Terrible, terrible. I can’t even describe it. I’m just living day by day.

RE: What has been the hardest period?

IN: Ever since 2008 business is down. No up and down; it just keeps going down. Because I keep record and I see and I can’t even compare it to last year. Every year is bad since 2008. I can’t even match it; it just keeps going down.

RE: Did you need to get a loan, or were you able to get a loan?

IN: I might be able to get a loan. But paying it back, I don’t think I could pay it back, that’s why I don’t get it. It’s not a good idea at all, in my book.

RE: Are things looking any better now?

IN: I want to think that way, but I don’t see it really. If I say yes, I would lie. It’s not. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

imageRE: What factors contribute to how your business is doing?

IN: I guess the economy because basically we’re dealing with people—students, as a matter of fact. They would want to get a haircut every two to four weeks; now it goes to two to three months. No one gets coloring anymore. Color is the main money in this business.

RE: Does the beauty business do well only when the economy is doing well?

IN: Most definitely, yeah. People, they have to pay bills first before they can do their hair. As old as I am, I understand. People need money to do anything. That’s why business is down. It’s not only this area. Every area you look at, they’re in the same boat as I am. At least I could keep it going the last few years, so many people are out of business already. We’ll see what happens.

RE: How much is your rent?

IN: Almost $4,000 a month. I wrote a letter to the USC real estate agency to see what would happened if they could reduce the rent somehow.

RE: And have they responded?

IN: Not yet, no.

RE: What is keeping your business open?

IN: [I have to] pay bills and pay my house mortgage. That is [what] is the most important to me: bills. [It’s not] pleasure or anything like that. [It’s] just to live on, day by day, and to pay whatever I can.