The plans approved by the city’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee to redevelop University Village have met resistance from several city councilmembers and activist groups who are concerned about the negative effects of the project on the community.
Though USC says the project will create 12,000 jobs, 4,000 new beds for student housing and a new retail complex, opponents maintain the construction threatens to displace established businesses and gentrify the area, leaving lower-income tenants unable to afford the new cost of living.
University officials, however, claim the plan will actually help residents of the area.
“The university sees this plan as doing the exact opposite, by enticing students to leave community housing and come to university-owned housing,” said David Galaviz, executive director of local government relations at USC, who has heard many community concerns about the Village project in the past five years of negotiations.
Galaviz also said he has mainly heard questions about what benefits the project will bring, not about the potential negative consequences of the project.
“They’re asking if [the redevelopment] can provide them with a new movie theater or a restaurant that has tablecloths and window curtains where they can take their families,” Galaviz said.
The university and supporters of the plan, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, hope the benefits of this new complex will extend beyond students to the greater community of South Los Angeles.
“This investment represents nearly $1 billion and close to 12,000 jobs, many of which will be dedicated to the local community,” said a statement from the mayor’s office. “As the city’s economy recovers, it is important that we focus our efforts on areas that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn to ensure there is a place in the recovery for all. This project provides that opportunity for the residents of South Los Angeles.”
Some city councilmembers worry that this isn’t the case, and that the new project is instead catering too much to student needs. They are concerned the area could suffer if the plan uproots small businesses in the area.
“There are dozens and dozens of businesses that have been in that area for decades,” said Councilman Bernard Parks, who participated in the negotiations and represents some of the area surrounding USC. “It appears that ’SC has decided that they will not consider giving any of those businesses the guarantee to come back to the shopping center, and in fact the university’s message is that it will not even consider them.”
Now that the plan awaits city approval, USC maintains that it will focus its negotiation efforts on tenants who face eviction when construction begins. USC has been conducting extensive surveys of local businesses to determine their needs as the plan moves forward.
“We have a range of services already prepared for them, to help them find access to capital to sustain them during the demolition and to help with business plans and job training,” said Craig Keys, the associate senior vice president of civic engagement at USC.
The city said it has also made a concerted effort to promote the success of these small businesses. Villaraigosa and his Small Business Services Team are working toward addressing the community’s needs and helping them develop feasible business plans.
Community groups are also concerned that the project’s focus on student housing will eclipse the need for affordable housing for families and non-students in the area.
“For decades, the developers have gone into the north University Park area, and they have converted most of the single-family residences into mini-dormitories,” Parks said. “Many of these reconfigurations were not done to code, and there are significant parking issues. The university should assist owners of property so they have access to low-interest loans so that non-students who want to live around the university can have access to quality housing.”
To help solve this issue, USC’s end of the agreement includes giving $20 million to bolster affordable, non-student housing in the area and creating a counseling service for local tenants within the Gould School of Law.
According to Galaviz, community support for the plan has grown as community members have become more familiar with what the project would entail.
“There’s a perception of what this project is,” Galaviz said. “But once community members find out what this project is instead of what the perception is, there’s been a lot of support for this project.”
Parks also said he believes USC, the city and the community can come together to create a compromise that is mutually beneficial. Though some opponents bring up disappointment in USC’s disregard for its community impact in the past, Parks is hopeful that this project can be salvaged if the university takes steps to consider the community.
“It’s very important to the community that it’s done right because you can’t redo it,” Parks said. “And the community certainly has a right to have a say in what happens.”