DEVELOPERS’ DREAMS-After a six-hour, emotional hearing at LA City Hall on Thursday, the City Planning Commission approved the billion-dollar mega-project known as “The Reef” for Historic South-Central, even though scores of local residents testified that the high-end residential development would force them out of their neighborhood and create widespread displacement.
“This is modern ethnic cleansing,” a young man told the planning commissioners at the packed meeting.
Neighborhood activists and working-class residents have long been wary about The Reef, also known as SoLA Village.
The 1.6 million-square-foot mega-project, pushed by developer Kanon Ventures, is located near the Santa Monica Freeway at 1933 S. Broadway features a 19-story hotel and two luxury housing skyscrapers (32 stories and 35 stories each) with more than 1,000 units. Abandoning its Historic South-Central heritage, Kanon Ventures markets The Reef as a “creative habitat in downtown LA,” an obvious attempt to grab the attention of artists, hipsters and techies.
In a 2014 Los Angeles Times article, LA City Council member Curren Price, who represents Historic South-Central in District 9, also made clear that the mega-project was part of an expansion of downtown LA, which has been rapidly gentrifying. “This is a wonderful opportunity to show what the future of downtown is going to be as it migrates southward,” he told the newspaper.
Perhaps most tellingly, Kanon Ventures offered no affordable housing at The Reef, but agreed to contribute $15 million to the Council District 9 Affordable Housing Trust Fund to “facilitate development of affordable housing within CD 9 and towards the purchase of expiring restricted affordable housing covenants,” according to a city document.
Each council member maintains a number of trust funds that are essentially slush funds, with money often going to the politician’s favorite pet projects and organizations. The slush funds are difficult to track and receive little public oversight.
Kanon Ventures and its executives have long been deep-pocketed players at City Hall. Between 2001 and 2015, the developer shelled out $12,450 to the campaign war chests of LA politicians, according to the city’s Ethics Commission.
In pursuit of building The Reef, the developer poured $357,325 into super-connected lobbying firm Marathon Communications to win over LA pols and city agencies, according to the Ethics Commission. For The Reef, Kanon Ventures operates through a limited liability corporation known as PHR LA Mart.
That’s a whopping total of $369,775 — more than 10 times the median household income in Historic South-Central.
During Thursday’s meeting, many city planning commissioners, who are appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, revealed that they had previously talked with the Mayor’s Office about The Reef -- a sign that in addition to Councilman Price, Garcetti was deeply involved with the mega-project.
At the City Hall hearing, where more than 140 people testified, local residents brought up a number of serious concerns with planning commissioners David Ambroz, Renee Dake Wilson, Veronica Padilla, Caroline Choe, Samantha Millman, John Mack, Robert Ahn and Dana Perlman, including:
- Local residents can’t afford the market-rate housing at The Reef.
- The residential towers are next to the 10 Freeway, the kind of freeway-adjacent housing that USC and UCLA scientific studies show is dangerous to the health of children, seniors and pregnant women.
- Apartment rents around the The Reef will rise and force people out of their homes and cause displacement.
- Numerous large billboards at the site will overwhelm the neighborhood.
- The developer and City Council member did not properly reach out to the community.
The planning commission, however, decided against super-graphic and digital billboards at The Reef, and proposed that the developer offer some affordable housing -- a paltry 50 rental units for low- and moderate-income tenants. The commissioners did approve spot-zoning favors such as a General Plan amendment and zone change.
Community activist Damien Goodmon of Crenshaw Subway Coalition, who opposed The Reef, said about the City Hall-approved favors that push forward over-sized, luxury development in LA, “Spot zoning for mega-projects is facilitating gentrification. People who live in these neighborhoods are longtime residents, and they will be pushed out. Who are these projects for?”
It was a question that the planning commissioners never asked developer Kanon Ventures.
(Patrick Range McDonald writes for the Coalition to Preserve LA where this piece was first posted.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.