Nearly 100 local stakeholders voiced their concerns or support for USC’s proposed redevelopment of the University Village during a second public hearing on Tuesday.
The three-hour Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management Committee hearing aimed to address a number of concerns posed by community members at a previous meeting on Aug. 28. A vote on USC’s $1.1 billion master plan, which would renovate the University Village to create new retail space and student housing, is scheduled to take place in three weeks, according to Department of City Planning President William Roschen.
The first part of the hearing was dedicated to presenting research conducted by the City Planning Department regarding concerns brought up at a previous hearing. The second portion of the hearing was left open for community members to voice their opinions.
Among those who spoke were students, small business owners and community members.
Undergraduate Student Government President Mikey Geragos emphasized the need for university and community participation at the meeting.
“More housing and retail can better foster a sense of community between USC and the surrounding community,” Geragos said. “I’m here in support of the USC Village because this opportunity will build a stronger and healthier community for us all.”
One of the main issues highlighted during the hearing was whether the project would spur job growth in the South Los Angeles area. USC’s plans for The Village forecast an increase in job growth by as many as 12,000 new jobs, 4,000 of which would be construction-based and 8,000 of which would be permanent jobs. Local advocates from an anti-displacement organization believe that the projected job creation is inflated.
“The bitter irony is that the community members who are supporting the project want the same things as we do,” said David Robinson, a representative of United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD). “What they don’t understand is that these jobs aren’t guaranteed under the current plan. We fear that these same community members speaking in support are going to be displaced themselves.”
USC’s executive director of local government relations David Galaviz said that gaining public approval has been challenging with a project of this magnitude. The Village will be the largest community redevelopment project in the history of South Los Angeles.
“It’s tough to generate public support for projects like this,” Galaviz said. “Not just here at USC, but anywhere. Throughout this long process, we’ve aimed to educate the community on the benefits that this project will have not only to the university but to the surrounding community.”
Though UNIDAD supports the plan to bring new jobs to the area, they question to whom these jobs will actually be going. Though the university has proposed leaving 30 percent of jobs to local residents within a 10-mile radius, UNIDAD representative Joe Donlin said that this is not enough to ensure these jobs go to members of the community.
“We want to see local families and residents get into those jobs,” Donlin said. “To keep a community together, we need 40 percent of permanent jobs going to local residents, starting within a two-mile radius for the first year.”
The planning department analyzed what other universities similar to USC are doing to deal with some of the local issues raised at previous hearings, specifically those regarding how to deal with student housing, business retention and local hiring.
The university hopes to attract students with low prices to the housing it plans to construct in the new University Village. According to Galaviz, housing will be offered on the second floor of the University Village structure and retail space will be on the ground floor.
“What we want to be able to do is price housing below current market rate to incentivize students to choose to live in USC-controlled housing as opposed to [choose] private housing market,” Galaviz said.
The City Planning Department presented research that compares housing and community involvement at other universities. The agency found that the University of Chicago houses 66 percent of its students, Columbia University houses 95 percent of its students and Harvard University houses 97 percent of its students. By comparison, USC only houses 29 percent of its students, all of whom are undergraduates, according to the Department of City Planning.
UNIDAD also said it believes the university’s plan to increase student housing will not satisfy the need, especially as USC accepts more students. The organization is concerned that students will look for housing in surrounding residential neighborhoods, displacing residents.
“The plan itself only requires a minimum of 1,200 beds,” Robinson said. “Student housing needs to be at the very least the full 4,200 [beds] permitted under the plan and it has to be priced affordably. As long as the housing units aren’t affordable, there will be no relief for the community.”
According to Kristina Raspe, vice president for real estate and asset management at USC, the overall support of the plan from both sides is encouraging. Raspe said the additional demands made by opponents of the plan, however, are not the responsibility of the university.
“I’m very happy that everyone is supportive of the project itself,” Raspe said. “The overwhelming number of community members who come to the hearings who are opposed to the development agreement simply want more community benefits. They want the university to provide more funds for affordable housing despite the fact that the project has a positive impact on the availability of affordable housing in the neighborhood. The university shouldn’t have to bear that burden.”