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.

For the local students in Empowering Youth in South Central, South Los Angeles is their home. Changes would affect their families and the neighborhood they will come back to after college.

The recurring themes throughout the meeting were affordable housing and the number of jobs that would be available to local residents.

Project representatives admitted the details about the affordable housing impact aren’t very clear yet. Project representative and land use attorney Edgar Khalatian said that the project will support affordable housing, but not necessarily by building units on Reef Project site.

Other options are giving money to other affordable housing projects, preventing the expiration of covenants around the project area to make sure rent-controlled housing units don’t face sharp increases, or building affordable housing units at another site. Khalatian said the developers have not committed to pursuing any of these alternatives yet.

An image of the development that would be built in South LA.

An image of the development that would be built in South LA. | Courtesy of Gensler and PATTERNS

Some residents see the project as a precursor to gentrification.

“They are looking for other people to come in with more money and are attracting a wealthier crowd, which will push the South Central culture and the community out,” said Angie Escalante, a local resident and Youth Empowerment in South Central member.

During the affordable housing discussion, a group that calls themselves the Young Peace Makers Club left abruptly, and adult leader Sergio Juarez voiced frustration that the questions seemed to “have an agenda” against the project.

Juarez said he supports the project because of the economic opportunity it would bring to the area and the jobs it would create for local students.

“With these meetings, it’s all the same. It’s affordable housing this, affordable housing that,” Juarez said.

Project representative Khalatian urged that the community getting behind this proposal is essential to the development’s overall success.

“This is not going to be a fortress, it will be open to the community,” Khalatian said. “The only way for us to succeed is if you come enjoy it and if your children come and work there.”


The REEF Project would be projected to build condos, a pharmacy and grocery store within South LA. | Courtesy of Gensler and PATTERNS

The project will incorporate several other features to benefit residents, including paying for a DASH bus line through the project, providing low-rent micro-retail space to support Los Angeles Trade Technical College graduates, and creating a large bike garage.

Azusena Favela, a member of the South Central Neighborhood Council, said the council hosted the event because many community members do not realize that the project could become a reality. In promoting door-to-door for the meeting, she found that most of the dozens of people she talked to had never heard of the proposed development.

For her, it’s important that residents start researching and understanding the impact the project would have on the area.

“We are having this now because most people don’t worry about these things until it’s too late,” Favela said.

After moving through an approval process through the city, project representatives said the goal would be to break ground in 2017. The developer, who was not present at the meeting, has preferred to stay anonymous. Representatives said it was a “Los Angeles-based privately held family fund.”

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