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.”

Consistent job growth inspired re-imagined Crenshaw business district

imageCalifornia employees and entrepreneurs were heartened by last month’s revelation that December marked a fifth consecutive month of a declining unemployment rate statewide. Los Angeles’ 8th City Council District, one of the poorest in the city, met the news with guarded optimism.

More than 3,200 new jobs were created in the 8th District in 2011, which was the sixth consecutive year of job growth in the area. The 8th District includes the Crenshaw, Hyde Park, Vermont Knolls, North University Park and Baldwin Hills neighborhoods.

“We believe that we’re kind of at the forefront of a transformation here,” said Karim Webb, a local restaurant owner. When it comes to employment, “there’s definitely a positive spin on the story.”

Still, like most of the nation, employment is one of the community’s biggest concerns, said 8th District City Councilman Bernard Parks.

“We send a weekly e-newsletter to 7,000 people every Thursday evening, and the number one item is every job opportunity that we become aware of,” Parks said. “Every time we check the most-reviewed areas, it’s employment opportunities. It’s the number-one question we get asked.”

Since 2006, Parks’ district has added jobs every year. In 2011 alone, restaurants created about 300 positions. Several primary care clinics opened in Crenshaw. And a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Vermont Knolls made public health 2011’s fastest-growing industry.

But because most of the 8th District’s jobs are still in restaurants, retail and services like car repair, income levels haven’t risen in concert with the improving job market.

“We have more people working, but we still have the lowest-paid jobs in the city,” Parks said. “We have people who actually criticize the district, saying that yes, you’re creating jobs, but they’re low-paying.”

imageBut Parks sees these jobs as the gateway to better employment down the road. “Every job is not a career,” he said. “Every job is not a life-long job. You move to another job. You develop.”

Karim Webb opened a Buffalo Wild Wings in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza last year. He hired most of the staff from the Los Angeles Urban League, which helps young minority Angelenos find education and employment. Webb also believes the restaurant addressed a community need.

“It’s a place for people to bring their families, bring their kids after a soccer game or a little league game; a place for families to meet up after work; a place for buddies to meet up after work, have a beer, watch the game. There’s a pocket,” Webb said. “If we can secure that… then people will come. And we’re finding that.”

Webb worried about the community’s crime activity, especially gang problems, before he opened the restaurant. But he said those fears haven’t been validated.

“Demographically, incomes are lower here than among the general population, so that’s somewhat of a challenge,” Webb said. “But we knew there was going to be some aggressive movement toward redevelopment here.”

Edna Boedenave recognizes the neighborhood’s limitations as well. When she opened My Sassie Boutique last month in Crenshaw Square, a plaza on Crenshaw Boulevard between Coliseum and 39th Streets, she set a $20 cap on the price of the shoes, clothing and accessories in her shop.

“It’s something I thought would work here,” Boedenave said. “I like clothes, I love shoes… I think it offers people something they find refreshing. I have items that people want and are affordable.”

What entices customers, though, is not the rack of $19 five-inch heels or the gifts Boedenave offers new guests. Instead, “people say they walk in and it’s like they’re not on Crenshaw,” she said. “They have the feeling that, this is nice, I like the feel of this.”

Webb, however, wants visitors to remember exactly where they are – in fact, he wants Crenshaw Boulevard and Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to become citywide destinations. “Restaurants and boutiques are just the heralds of a neighborhood beginning to thrive,” he said.

“People that live in Leimert Park, View Park, Windsor Hills, Baldwin Hills are going to have every reason… to spend their dollars here. And there will be people from outside this community who want to come here just to spend time and money,” Webb said. “People who get off the freeway and travel south on Crenshaw Boulevard have a lot to look forward to.”

Compton business owner sets up a shop with style

When you think about all the possible places to find fun fashion around Los Angeles, the city of Compton may not be the first place that comes to mind. But one young entrepreneur is trying to change that.

Jai Hawkins, 24, is the owner of Zazz Boutique, a women’s clothing store on Compton Boulevard. Hawkins got her business license and officially opened last April, but her store really picked up momentum over the summer. She prides herself on offering something she always felt was lacking in Compton: a place to find unique, stylish clothes at affordable prices.

Jai Hawkins

Jai Hawkins shows off her wares at Zazz Boutique. She makes it a goal to have new items in every week.

Hawkins went to school at LA Trade Tech for fashion design and then worked as a buyer at Nordstrom. When it comes to clothes, she knows her stuff. But she was sick of having to drive far away from Compton to work in the fashion industry or to buy exciting outfits.

While she always thought she might own her own business one day, Hawkins never imagined it happening so soon. But she felt like the opportunity to be the first one on the fashion scene in Compton was too good to pass up.

“I think it’s going to work,” Hawkins said. “Because there’s not too many places like Zazz Boutique in this area, so I feel like it stands out, it’s unique, and the people around here need something like this.”

And Hawkins’ store does her store stand out. She set up elaborate displays with manikins wearing bright colors and tons of accessories in her front window. She got the word out about her grand opening through friends and family and handing out flyers on the street.

Hawkins describes her items as “eccentric.” And she’s got quite the variety too. “Very cute rings, chandelier earrings, really cute shoes, handbags, scarves, accessories, you name it, I’m gonna have it,” she said.

Since her store has opened, Hawkins has seen a lot of support from the surrounding community, including from her landlord, Luz Herrera. Herrera owns the building where Zazz Boutique is located, and she’s also a lawyer and big advocate for the city of Compton.

“[Compton’s] not perfect and there are things in terms of infrastructure that need to be, I think, worked on,” Herrera said. “But there’s also a lot happening. If you go up and down the streets, this place looks very different than when I came here in 2002.”

Hawkins and Herrera do not have the typical strictly business landlord-tenant relationship. In the process of Hawkins opening her store next to Herrera’s nonprofit, the two women have become friends. When she first advertised the empty space, Herrera was approached by a lot of churches and AA groups. But she decided Compton already had enough of those. She wanted to find someone offering something the city hadn’t seen in years.

“There are a lot of new stores and shops and some of it has been brought in by city council because of these big developments, but then you also have the mom and the pops that are fixing their own facades and providing services that community members need here instead of going outside to other parts,” Herrera said.

In Herrera, Hawkins has found a kind of mentor. Herrera helped Hawkins get her store started, but said it’s been Hawkins hard work that has kept it going.

Six months since her store’s official opening, Hawkins has found her rhythm. Her store is still open, but she noticed business slowing down this fall. In October of this year, the national Consumer Confidence Index fell back to levels last seen during the 2008 recession. But she doesn’t let the national trends get her down.

“I can’t worry about what the big companies are doing,” Hawkins said. “I just have to worry about Zazz Boutique. That’s my main focus.”

Jai Hawkins

Hawkins never thought she’d be running a business at age 24, but now that her store is up and running, she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Her plan? Get on the phone and start calling up customers. In an age where much shopping is driven by huge holiday sales or online coupons like LivingSocial or Groupon, Hawkins offers something different: a store where the people running it actually know your name.

Hawkins grew up listening to people like her mother, Vanessa Scott, tell stories about a different kind of Compton, and their stories have served as an inspiration as she’s worked to distinguish her store in the community.

Scott remembers making weekend outings to go shopping with her entire family. “There was a downtown Compton during the time I was growing up, so we got a chance to just walk out of our homes and walk downtown to all the little local stores,” she said.

And while Scott gets just as excited about fashion as her daughter, she thinks Zazz Boutique can be part of a bigger movement. “We would like to see more people out, walking the streets, rather than people on the outside saying they’re afraid to be in the city of Compton,” Scott said.

Hawkins agrees. And she’s hoping her store can become the gathering place she never had growing up.

“I want Zazz Boutique to be the go-to store for all ladies, teenagers, all the young girls,” Hawkins said. “I want it to be that store.”

All over the city, there are signs that say “Birthing a new Compton!” And in a way, Hawkins could be considered a part of this movement. But she doesn’t see herself as doing something novel. She views it as a way to take Compton back to its roots.

Zazz Boutique is located at 1214 East Compton Boulevard, Compton, CA 90221. (310) 608-5767

Listen to an audio version of this story:

Jai Hawkins brings style to Compton by Kaitlin Parker

Target comes to downtown Los Angeles in 2012

By: Kyle Tabuena-Folli, Laurel Galanter and Stephanie Sherman

Listen to the audio story:


Read the audio script:

By 2012, locals can get everything from food to fashion at the new Target store in the 7th and Fig shopping center downtown. That is where Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a news conference to announce what he says is the biggest retail deal downtown has had in 20 years.

Villaraigosa: There’s no question about this. This is a reversal of a long trend of retail leaving downtown. This is a great day for downtown Los Angeles, for people who live here and work here as well.

The store will be more than 100,000 square feet. The lease is signed with Brookfield Properties. Representatives from Target say there will be a heavy emphasis on food and household products.

Some workers downtown say they are thrilled with the prospect of more shopping.

Worker: 7th and Fig, it needs that. It needs it because it’s dying. Little by little, all of these businesses are going away. There’s no traffic, there’s really nothing going on there, so I’m sure it will bring the shopping center back.

The shopping center has been without a major retailer since Macy’s left early last year.