Why doesn’t the city of Los Angeles want to follow its own rules? More importantly, why isn’t Mayor Eric Garcetti making it a priority to enforce the city’s building codes? The LA Times has criticized the mayor for not stopping “backroom” conversations with developers which leads to the laxed oversight of building and safety requirements. Should this practice continue, what long-term ramifications could this have for tenants living in a building that was allowed to avoid being compliant with the building code? More importantly, is this a sign of “gentrification”?
Measure S Is Critical to the Fight Against Gentrification in Los Angeles
Urban renewal of the 1960s, which James Baldwin coined, “Negro Removal,” met fierce community opposition. Modern-day gentrification is more subtle, but equally vicious.
The powerful perpetrators of displacement must like that the conversation typically focuses on the new residents walking their dogs. It prevents a thorough analysis of the forces at play and the actors involved.
Too often, many of the actors are black politicians, who implement the policies of their corporate overseers by advocating and voting for gentrification mega-developments. That is the primary reason every black elected official on the City Council of Los Angeles is opposing the citizen’s initiative on the March 7 ballot, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative – Measure S. Measure S will delay or end specific gentrification mega-developments that the black council members support and prevent future ones.
Understand that an important component in making gentrification acceptable is convincing people of color that “white ice is colder.” Some want to blame the absence of quality services in South LA and the Eastside on the neighborhood’s lack of white people or the lack of access to white people, to distract from focusing on the long history of institutional racism, discrimination and divestment by both the public and private sector.
Demands for holding our elected officials and corporate America accountable would intensify if focus were put on the systemic problem. Often after heightened discriminatory policing and/or a new public resource, like the addition of a transit rail line, these same people claim the new luxury developments with $3,500 per month rents should be welcomed, and are “progress.”
Changes are coming. But are these new developments by and for people of color? And if long-time residents are forced to move out to places like Moreno Valley and Lancaster, because they’ve been priced out of the community, how are they possibly supposed to enjoy and benefit from them?
Review the list of the largest proposed developments in L.A. County and it is clear that this current wave of change isn’t for the black and brown residents of South LA and the Eastside – it is intended to displace them.
A real estate article published in May 2016 stated that the county’s biggest proposed developments are not skyscrapers in Downtown L.A. or Century City – they are massive luxury projects in the city’s historically black and brown communities.
#1. Rams Stadium/Hollywood Park Development (Inglewood): in addition to the stadium, retail shops and offices, 3,000 market rate luxury apartments.
#2. New Wyvernwood (Boyle Heights): the demolition of the historic garden apartment complex occupied by poor and working class Latinos, to build 4,400 luxury apartments.
#3. Crenshaw Mall Redevelopment (Leimert Park/Crenshaw): in addition to the renovation and expansion of the mall, a new hotel, and nearly 1,000 all luxury apartments and condos.
#4. Cumulus Skyscraper (Baldwin Hills/Baldwin Vista): the first approved skyscraper in the history of South LA, 30 stories at traffic-clogged La Cienega/Jefferson with nearly 1,200 luxury units.
#6. Historic Sears Building (Boyle Heights): the building is to be rehabilitated for 1,100 luxury-housing units.
#7. The Reef (Historic South Central): 1,440 luxury-housing units next to LA Trade Tech College.
Only one of the seven is where one would expect it – in Downtown (#5 is the Ferrente luxury apartments by Jeffrey Palmer, the biggest donor to Donald Trump’s campaign). The other six are in historically black and brown communities of Inglewood, Boyle Heights, Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, and Historic South Central, where the units are to be priced much higher than the amount affordable to local residents.
The point should be made, but in case it is missed let’s make it plain: these massive luxury housing developments will unleash a wave of gentrification that will wipe out entire black and brown communities. It has happened in places like San Francisco’s Fillmore District, where the “Harlem of the West” is Black no more, and it can happen here.
In the case of The Reef, a study found that building the luxury housing mega-development would put 52% of the people who live within 2 miles of the site, 43,756 people, at a very high to moderate risk of “financial strain or displacement.” Rents would go up, and landlords would attempt to push out long-term tenants.
Elena Popp, the foremost tenants rights attorney in the region and Founder and Executive Director of the Eviction Defense Network, has stated that the mere proposal of the New Wyvernwood project in Boyle Heights has led to a stark increase in the surrounding area of harassments and evictions by landlords.
The likely displacement of 52% of the people in the community surrounding The Reef is the impact of just ONE luxury mega-project. Six are proposed, and more are surely coming.
This is a grave threat to the stability of Los Angeles’ black and brown communities. We are staring down the potential of mass displacement.
Since May of 2016, The Reef and Cumulus Skyscraper were both approved by the City Council. They were pushed by the area’s black council members, Curren Price and Herb Wesson respectively, and the other black council member, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, voted for them both. In both cases the developer spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and contributions to City officials, and conducted backroom deals that allowed the mega-developments, which broke the local zoning code, to be approved.
Measure S would forever ban the big zone change, known as General Plan Amendments, which the projects needed to be approved. Measure S would also force the city planning meetings on these mega-developments to take place in the community on weeknights or on the weekends, instead of downtown during the middle of the workday as they currently occur.
Critics of Measure S have used as a red herring a literal handful of potential affordable housing projects that may be stalled because of the measure. It is dangerously shortsighted to oppose Measure S, which would prevent massive gentrification projects like The Reef, which would wipe out entire communities, because a handful of 100-unit affordable housing projects may have difficulty being built.
The principal financial backers of the campaign against Measure S are luxury real estate developers. To quote the LA Tenants Union, which is a major supporter of Measure S, “It is insulting to think these corporations have our best interest at heart.”
I hope voters aren’t bamboozled by the rhetoric paid for by billionaire developers, who are using as a front, organizations that are showing themselves to be more worried about their personal sustainability than the survival of black and brown communities.
Measure S is about saving historic black and brown neighborhoods. Angelinos who care about their future must vote Yes.
Black Community Clergy & Labor Alliance, Co-Chair