Where the Sidewalk Starts: Restaurant closures are a turning point in USC Village makeup — students should get involved

USC community members can submit forms regarding concerns and complaints about USC Village.  (Daily Trojan file photo)

Some retailers in USC Village shuttered quietly — SOKFY and Cafe Barilla did not receive the business they expected and closed their doors without many taking notice. But BBCM and Rance’s Chicago Pizza have made their closures known — they are currently engaged in a lawsuit against the University for promissory fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract. As USC Village continues to change with these new vacancies, students and community members need to engage and speak up on inclusivity and affordability issues and share their thoughts on which retailers and restaurants should be part of USC Village. 

I’ve written about how USC Village’s construction, from solely an architectural and design standpoint, lacks inclusivity. Construction projects take a long time to complete, especially one with so many stakeholders to consider, so it is unlikely much will change on this front. But another aspect of community inclusivity lies in the retail, restaurants and services that are available.

After the completion of USC Village, many community members voiced their concerns about the sheer lack of affordability of all vendors in the area. The Daily Trojan even ran an editorial board commenting on the “unaffordability of USC Village’s establishments” and that USC was “shortsighted to not have inexpensive options at USC Village, or to at least allow students to use their dining or discretionary dollars.”

Part of the problem that contributed to this backlash was a lack of proactivity before USC Village was constructed. While students only live at USC for a short period of their lives, student concerns have been similar throughout the years: accessibility, affordability and inclusivity. Students needed to show up and speak up back in 2005 when USC Village was first being planned. Since we can’t rewrite the past, students need to get involved now and voice the concerns that they have about what USC Village lacks or fails to do.

While USC Village was under construction, all of the master plans were available to the public. USC Village’s appearance was public knowledge, which renders the lawsuit’s claim of the University misrepresenting USC Village’s Dining Hall as questionable. According to Laurie Stone, associate senior vice president of USC’s Real Estate and Asset Management, in the years leading up to USC Village’s construction, there were numerous occasions for community and city government input.

“We had … over 100 community meetings between 2005 and 2012,” Stone said. “Throughout this process, hundreds of longtime community residents and supporters attended many public hearings to voice their support. During the final unanimous city council vote, over 1,000 community residents attended.”

At some point, the University should host another community meeting about USC Village, for updates and concerns. But until then, students and community members can send REAM a message about which vendors they hope to see in USC Village or complaints and concerns they have had during the past two years USC Village has been standing. USC Village’s website has a contact form, linked at the bottom of the page — not the most readily apparent forum, but it does exist.

While the outcome of Rance’s and BBCM’s lawsuit is still to be determined, students and community members have an opportunity to have a say in what retailers they wish to replace these restaurants, or what USC should keep in mind when selecting vendors now and in the future. A contact form may not seem to be the most potent way to share concerns, but REAM does keep students’ concerns at the front of their considerations.

According to Stone, before USC Village was constructed, “two student surveys were completed as part of the selection process, and additional input was received from community members and city representatives during the entitlement process. We selected tenants with that input and feedback in mind.”

Though there isn’t a survey this time around, that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t be involved. Under a new president, there is ample opportunity to begin discussion. President Carol Folt has been receptive to students’ input on a number of issues, and USC Village’s affordability and inclusivity should be a topic on the table.

The University should also meet students halfway. Another forum or community meeting, or even a survey, could be a constructive step to ensuring the community the USC Village serves is included in the conversation. Whether by contact form, direct email or student-led initiatives, it’s never too late to speak up about development that affects our community.

Breanna de Vera is a junior writing about urban planning. Her column, “Where the Sidewalk Starts” runs every other Monday.