Hearing focuses on Jefferson Boulevard transformation

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday night in the Founders Room of the Galen Center, approximately 75 people from the University Park neighborhood gathered to talk about urban design guidelines for the community.

Preach · Pastor Kevin Blue of the Church of the Redeemer addresses the audience at a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday night at the Galen Center. - Tony Zhou | Daily Trojan

Preach · Pastor Kevin Blue of the Church of the Redeemer addresses the audience at a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday night at the Galen Center. – Tony Zhou | Daily Trojan

The crowd was composed of small business owners, USC faculty, community leaders and concerned residents. Despite their different backgrounds, all had something to say about USC’s multimillion-dollar plan to transform Jefferson Boulevard.

The public hearing was held by the City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning regarding the plan that aims to transform the area around USC into what the project’s website characterizes as “a vibrant, walkable mix of retail shops, restaurants, student housing and academic space that has long been needed.”

Community members spoke at a podium in front of two city planning representatives to voice their concerns.

Chief among their concerns was the allegation brought up by several community members that USC has reneged on its promise to extend the development of new bike lanes, street lights and trees to the area west of the campus from Vermont Avenue to Western Avenue.

This has, in turn, fed worries that USC is contributing to the disparity in quality between the university and the neighboring area, including those expressed by community leader and pastor Kevin Blue, who characterized the university as building a “buffer instead of a bridge.”

Blue, pastor of the local Church of the Redeemer, strode to the podium, his young son following him in a matching suit.

“It feels like a bait-and-switch,” he said, referring to the plan’s failure to include key improvements to the area that were allegedly promised to the community on May 10, 2012.

Blue reiterated his point: the community wanted the promised trees, lights and bike lanes.

“If you’re supportive of these measures, please stand,” Blue asked of the assembly.

The majority of the hearing’s attendees rose to their feet, smiling and murmuring among themselves.

“We have 256 signatures on an online petition,” Blue continued as the community stood behind him.

Citizen after citizen walked to the podium following Blue, each emphasizing USC’s need to develop the surrounding area.

“This is not a bridge,” 30-year resident of the neighborhood Thomas Florio said. “This is a wall.”

Florio pointed out that USC has long rejected calls to wall off the university campus since the 1980s, but that the new development project seemed to be a shift toward isolationism between the university and the community.

“Now, with this fenced-in, guarded community with a camera on every corner, I sometimes feel like a prisoner,” he said.

As residents such as Florio spoke, representatives from the city planning department lingered at the back of the conference room, many of them using their cell phones or chatting among themselves.

The effect that the community’s statements will have on the development agreement is unclear.

Senior City Planner Craig Weber said that planners will consider the remarks as they submit a recommendation on how bicycle traffic will be handled in the new plan.

But as far as altering the wording of the development agreement goes, Weber said that “ship already sailed.”

USC already has a contract with the city in which their obligation is to pay a set amount of specified funds before constructing their new buildings.

Community members, on the other hand, said that the funds were vaguely allocated and might never reach Western Avenue and Vermont Avenue.

Weber said that he did not hear the remarks from USC representatives that formed the basis of the supposed broken verbal agreement.

“All I know is that this is what our council adopted,” he said.

The planning commission is slated to adopt the plans in December, leaving the fate of the utilities still in question.


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7 replies
  1. Josh b
    Josh b says:

    Thank you Steve Marks for your thoughtful and considerate comment! It is a shame that so many of our brethren react with arrongance and scorn to those among us who are struggling to make improvements in their community.

  2. Steve Marks
    Steve Marks says:

    Wow, really surprised by the comments here so far.

    USC is a private university, but the plan they are proposing presses into and through public property and spaces, so of course the people in those places it affects (surrounding neighborhood residents) ought to have a voice. I sort of can’t believe that isn’t obvious. How would you feel if a a local business near you had a plan approved that drastically altered the street that ran directly in front of your house? I bet you’d want to have some say in that. After all, it’s your neighborhood too.

    Also, I think the main issue here was that USC had already said it intended to make these improvements and now, after it had “won over” neighborhood support, is seemingly backing out of those commitments. That doesn’t sound like whining to me, as much as it sounds like asking for an agreement to be honored.

    And finally, and many may not agree with me here — as a Christian, the idea of “neighbor” is an important one. The Good Samaritan is heralded by Jesus as he cared for his neighbor. You might even call it “a handout”. Jesus called it love and said how you treat your neighbor says something about your relationship with God. I say good on USC for making efforts to see and reach out to the surrounding neighborhood for decades now. I’d like USC to continue in this strong legacy by following through on this commitment.

    Steve Marks
    Religious Life Staff
    USC Office of Religious Life

    (These comments are my own and I do not speak on behalf of the Office or the University)

  3. $20 million isn't enough?
    $20 million isn't enough? says:

    My mother always taught be not to “bite the hand that feeds.” Apparently that isn’t taught in the community surrounding USC.

    Let’s pack up the campus and move to Malibu where we won’t be repeatedly extorted by ungrateful beneficiaries of USC’s generosity.

    It would be a win for students, who would be able to leave their homes at night again, and (from the sound of their whining) a win for these community members, who will finally be rid of the neighbor who apparently inconveniences them so greatly. Free these people from USC’s oppression!

  4. Pat
    Pat says:

    Maybe the Pastor would like a new swimming pool and some tennis courts as well? Why not a new church with a lot of money in the til?

  5. USC Student
    USC Student says:

    Everyone is looking for handouts nowadays. I honestly like the idea of USC being a walled fortress. It’s private property, so why not? Keep the charming South Central community out.

  6. Jim
    Jim says:

    It’s sad and indicative of the entitlement culture. USC is not in the business of making every poor persons life better. However you wouldn’t know that reading the comments of the folks who spoke in opposition of this development. I was embarrassed for them after reading their nonsense.

  7. Jack
    Jack says:

    I wonder what political office Pastor Blue is planning on running for? Is Bernard Parks leaving?

    This is another attempt of stick it to USC for more money. Why would USC be responsible for renovating Jefferson Blvd to Western? That is a city responsibility. We all ready got stuck for $20million by the neighborhood that we love so much and do so much for.

    This “Outrage” is more of the same:” You have something, I want it, now give it to me or I will make trouble.” This is not about building walls it is coercion, pure and simple. How lucky are we to live in such a great neighborhood with such greedy neighbors.

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