As USC continues to advance its Specific Plan for development of the University Park community, it remains unclear how the university will change its relationship with the neighborhood.
With nicknames like “University of Spoiled Children” and the “University of South Central,” USC has long had the reputation of a ritzy college in the middle of a not-so-nice neighborhood.
And those stereotypes even have statistics to back them up. According to the Los Angeles Times, 53 violent crimes have occurred in the University Park area since January, and a median household income of $18,533 is low for both the city and county of Los Angeles.
Perhaps because of these statistics, university officials have planned the redevelopment of the University Village shopping center as one of the largest components of the USC Specific Plan.
The proposed redevelopment of the center will create more than 2 million square feet of new student-faculty housing as well as add more retail outlets and restaurants, according to David Galaviz, executive director for local government relations at USC. The university wants the project to benefit the community as well as students and has held more than 250 public meetings since the start of the project to encourage residents of the area to get involved.
The response from the community has shown that USC’s efforts are working. As evidence, Galaviz pointed to a public hearing held by the city planning department in March that drew a crowd of 800.
“One of the challenges is that people think the university doesn’t have strong relationships with the community, but if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to get 800 people to a hearing,” Galaviz said.
The project will also create an estimated 12,000 jobs, but the community involvement it will bring could be more important.
“The university feels that by redeveloping the new Village, we can enhance the strong ties that already exist,” Galaviz said. “We can create a new center where community members and especially students can spend time in one place. That doesn’t exist in the current Village.”
Though the university seems confident about the inclusion of the community, some community members themselves are concerned.
David Robinson, the political director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy — a group that lobbies on behalf of residents and community members — said many families have been pushed out of the neighborhood in recent years by rising rent prices. The group worries that more university development will only aggravate this trend; they want USC to add more affordable housing to its plan.
“Instead of tens of families, we are saying roughly a couple thousand families should be able to stay in the neighborhood based on a combination of affordable housing, small business support and local hiring,” Robinson said. “Their plan right now will not help more than a token representation of the community today.”
Gabriela Garcia, community organizer for SAJE and 12-year resident of the area, said residents also want to ensure the development doesn’t eradicate their neighborhoods and sense of community.
“This development will really define how our neighborhood looks for the next 100 years,” Garcia said. “We want to make sure residents are not pushed out of that process.”
The development of The Village, including the loss of Superior Market and other small businesses, is another concern.
“Some families are feeling that this is not their place anymore. They want to preserve the neighborhood. This is where their babysitter lives or where their favorite bakery is,” Garcia said.
Some students also noted the importance of finding a compromise with the community.
“It is unfortunate that the university’s gain could end up being the greater community’s loss,” said Denise Ge, a junior majoring in international relations global business. “It is the job of students and alumni to encourage the school to include more affordable businesses in The Village.”
Though residents still have major concerns about the project, Robinson said, the community is still hopeful that the university will compromise with them to find a mutually beneficial plan.
“If USC wants to do less local hiring but more affordable housing and more small business support, that’s great. That’s up for negotiation, but right now USC has taken a very oppositional stance,” Robinson said. “What we want is a win-win … a plan that will serve USC, its students [and] its staff, but will also serve the local community.”