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Controversial 'Reef' project in South LA gets green light from city

The City Council on Tuesday approved construction of the proposed Reef development in South LA.
The Reef
The City Council on Tuesday approved construction of the proposed Reef development in South LA.

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve construction of a $1.2 billion mixed-use development in South L.A., despite activists' warnings of rising rents and displacement of residents in one of the city's poorer communities.

Councilmember Curren Price, whose district includes South L.A., has been a vocal supporter of the luxury project from developers, brothers Avedis and Ara Tavitian. The plan for The Reef calls for more than 1,400 units of  housing, as well as a hotel, restaurants and shopping to be built on two empty parking lots near a Metro Blue Line station.

"Development is occurring throughout our city and we want to benefit from it in South L.A.," Price said.
  Price spotlighted the "community benefits" the developers have agreed upon with the city, including money for Los Angeles to build below-market rate housing. He valued the entire package at $23.5 million dollars, which he said is the largest the city has ever seen.

But activists say for a project so massive, the package should be much more generous. 

"Our leadership, with all of you standing behind Curren Price, has left so much on the table and has not defended the community from the development that is going to impose significant displacement impacts," said Joe Donlin of the non-profit Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) in testimony before council on Tuesday.

The package of benefits, formally known as a development agreement, will go up for a vote before the council's Planning and Land Use Committee in the coming weeks, and after that, the full council.

Brian Lewis, a spokesman for the developers, said in a statement that "The Reef will make a substantial investment in the South L.A. community." He said that in addition to housing, the project will bring jobs to the area. About a third of construction jobs are slotted to go to local residents.

But activists said that the project is oversized and out-of-character for the community. A report by the non-profit United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) said that The Reef could displace 43,000 people or put them through financial hardship. 

"They need a place to live," Yvonne Michelle Autry told the council. "God is watching you. God is watching you."

SAJE's executive director Cynthia Strathmann said that non-profits opposing The Reef are considering legal action to stop the project.

Activists have accused city leaders of fast-tracking the approval process for The Reef to avoid falling under the purview of Measure JJJ, the housing affordability initiative passed by city voters this month. Projects that require land use changes would have to meet  JJJ's affordable housing quotas, and certain hiring and wage guidelines.

But Price said "we're not trying to push this through," and noted there's been more than two years of discussions with the public.

"This has been a very deliberate process and one that has been very inclusive," Price said.

This story has been updated.