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City Council approves plans aimed at halting South LA gentrification

An aerial view of Western Avenue (left of center) south of Slauson.
Courtesy of Steve Hymon / LA Metro
The city of Los Angeles is set to approve future development plans for South L.A. and Southeast L.A.

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved new plans for real estate development in South L.A. and Southeast L.A., after years of discussion with residents focused on guarding their neighborhoods against gentrification.

The neighborhoods' community plans, which provide guidelines for what can and can't be built in local areas, haven't been updated since 2000, and residents said new blueprints for land use regulations are badly needed.

South L.A. and Southeast L.A. are home to some of the least expensive real estate in the city, and that worries the residents watching market-rate developments go up in their neighborhoods.

Debby Alvarez testified along with dozens of activists and residents before the L.A. City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday. She said she had received notice that her building is going to be demolished.

"Leave something for us," Alvarez told officials. "You’re kicking the people in the community out. Where are we going to go, where are we going to live?"

A coalition of groups called United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement has worked with the city over the last decade to create incentives for developers to include affordable housing in the new community plan.

The group said about 1,150 families in the two neighborhoods have been forced to move out of their homes since 2001 under the state Ellis Act, a law that allows landlords to evict tenants if they are getting out of the rental business.

Councilman Curren Price, whose district includes Southeast L.A., said the city incorporated about 80 percent of their group's recommendations, but turned down others such as incentivizing projects to set aside discounted retail space for local businesses. 

The City Council's planning committee endorsed the plans during its meeting, paving the path for the full council's unanimous vote on Wednesday.  

Joe Donlin, whose group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy is part of the anti-displacement coalition, said the plans going before the council represent a "triumph that the community should be celebrating."

But he said he wishes the city had adopted the group's recommendation that there be caps on how many apartments can be converted into condominiums or demolished each year.

"We recognize that some of the strongest provisions to prevent displacement still need to be incorporated in the city’s municipal code, so we have more work to be done," Donlin said.

The South L.A. plan encompasses the larger territory of the two areas. Melissa Alofaituli, the project manager who worked on the update, said that the plan allows the building of 15,000 new housing units for more than 43,000 people over the next two decades.

Alofaituli said the plan is able to do this by "thoughtfully directing new growth to transit corridors while preserving lower-scale residential neighborhoods."

The updated plans for the two neighborhoods are among the first up for City Council approval since voters in March rejected Measure S. Supporters of the ballot measure accused city officials of being over-permissive with zone changes to outdated community plans, and called for a two-year moratorium on large-scale developments.

In their bid to stop Measure S, council members pledged to approve the city's 35 community plans every six years.

This story has been updated.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date Measure S was passed.