The History of South Central Los Angeles and Its Struggle with Gentrification

September 13, 2017

City Rising is a multimedia documentary program that traces gentrification and displacement through a lens of historical discriminatory laws and practices. Fearing the loss of their community’s soul, residents are gathering into a movement, not just in California, but across the nation as the rights to property, home, community and the city are taking center stage in a local and global debate. Learn more.

 

We are not against development, we’re against luxury development,” exclaims Donna Liseth Quintanilla. 19-year-old Quintanilla is a co-founder of the South Central Dreamers, a collective of youth activists from South Central Los Angeles who use the arts and activism to fight against gentrification displacement and the school-to-prison pipeline. Wiser than their years, the South Central Dreamers are a part of a larger multicultural cadre of organizations and activists that are skillfully fighting gentrification and the imminent transformation of South Central Los Angeles.

The combination of rising property values, the lack of rent control, dozens of new condo developments, Metro’s expansion, and the Los Angeles Rams moving to nearby Inglewood, is contributing to South Central Los Angeles’ struggle with gentrification. The historically African-American neighborhood has become increasingly Latino over the last four decades. As famous as South Central is from films, music and popular culture over the last half-century, most Angelenos and others around the world do not comprehend the legacy of the area and how important it is in the larger story of Los Angeles.

“We know much more, it seems, about ancient cities and dead civilizations — the chalices the elders drank from or the raiments warriors wore — than we do about day-to-day life in ‘South Central Los Angeles,’ beyond the term, beyond the trope,” wrote Los Angeles native journalist Lynell George in 2006 for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.

This is a favorite quote of Los Angeles County Urban Planner Jonathan P. Bell. Bell has worked the last dozen years in South Central as an embedded urban planner intent on fighting gentrification. Bell is constantly out in the field working with residents and stakeholders. “As a South Central planner,” Bell recently said, “I’m doing my part to support the anti-gentrification resistance. I make connections among advocates and bring people together. I help advocates interpret dense municipal ordinances and land use policies.” Bell empowers citizens by offering any material, intellectual or infrastructural support they need. Before spotlighting some of the current battles, it is important to discuss South Central’s geography and history to show how it got here.

The Birth of South Central

The roots of South Central Los Angeles trace back to the beginning of the 20th Century. The neighborhood that is now known as “Historic South Central” includes the area between the Harbor Freeway on the west, Central Avenue on the east, Washington Boulevard on the north and Vernon Avenue on the south. Though this pocket is about 40 square miles, the name South Central became an umbrella term for Black Los Angeles, a much larger area, stretching all the way to Watts and Compton on the south and west across the 110 freeway into Inglewood and the Crenshaw District. Technically the term South Central was only geographically accurate for the rectangular parcel of the Central Avenue corridor, but as history has shown, neighborhood names in popular culture are not always historically or geographically accurate. A similar misnomer applies to Boyle Heights and pockets of East Los Angeles like Maravilla, Belvedere and City Terrace.

 

“South Central Dreams” mural | joey zanotti/Flickr/Creative Commons

Historian Steve Isoardi writes about how the term South Central came to be in his book “The Dark Tree.” “Lured by an expanding economy and the prospect of jobs, the relatively low cost of real estate, a mild climate, and a seemingly less-overt racism,” Isoardi states, “African Americans began moving to Los Angeles in large numbers after 1900. For the next forty years their numbers doubled every decade and by 1940 represented slightly more than 4 percent of the total population.”

Right from the beginning of this period, the city was already segregated because of racially restrictive housing covenants written into property deeds. These covenants were not only enforced through the property deeds. The banks and insurance companies also indirectly enforced them through the practice of denying loans, insurance policies and other financial services for African Americans that attempted to sidestep covenants. This practice is better known as “redlining,” and it continued well after the covenants were declared unconstitutional in 1948.

One of the only areas not covered in these restrictive covenants extended south from Downtown Los Angeles along Central Avenue all the way to Slauson. As Isoardi states, “By 1940, approximately 70 percent of the black population of Los Angeles was confined to the Central Avenue corridor and relied upon the Avenue to meet all of its social needs.” Because this stretch was along the southern section of Central Avenue, the term “South Central Los Angeles” gradually entered the local vernacular by the 1920s. “South Central” became a blanket term for all of Black Los Angeles from Central Avenue to Watts to the Crenshaw District.

The African American population doubled because of the Second World War. The need for workers in the aerospace industry and other wartime jobs caused the United States government to make it illegal for government contractors to discriminate in hiring. The opening of these jobs lured thousands of African Americans to Los Angeles in the 1940s. Lonnie G. Bunch, a longtime historian with the Smithsonian Institute, writes, “Between 1942-1945, some 340,000 Blacks settled in California, 200,000 of whom migrated to Los Angeles.” Nonetheless, because of the restrictive covenants, there were very few places where they could live.

 

A family (the Lee family) in front yard of home near Central Avenue and 21st Street. | Shades of L.A. / LAPL

As Professor Paul Robinson writes, “In the wake of Executive Order 8802, hundreds of thousands of blacks migrated to Los Angeles to work in the newly opened defense industries. Subsequent overcrowding in Los Angeles’ ‘Black Belts’ caused the housing crisis to become the number-one issue facing Los Angeles’ black community during this time.” Bunch explains further that, “The greater the Black population grew, the more tightly enforced were the restrictive housing covenants. Though the Black community doubled in the 1940s, it remained confined to pre-war boundaries.”

The Great Migration

This period is known as “the Great Migration.”  It was also the heyday of Central Avenue as a Jazz District and the West Coast Harlem. Numerous eateries, music venues and nightclubs like the Lincoln Theater and Club Alabam stretched from Pico to Slauson from the 1920s to the early 1960s. The Dunbar Hotel at 43rd and Central was where jazz luminaries like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young would stay when they visited Los Angeles. Hollywood’s biggest celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles would regularly visit the Avenue, and so did the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen. Despite the storied musical and cultural history, the lack of housing and overcrowding made for poor living conditions.

 

Audience watching a performance at Club Alabam, S. Central Avenue and 42nd Street, 1945. Identified are: actress Lillian Randolph (right of center), dancer Prince Spencer, Clarence Moore, Tillie Culison, Clehue McGee. | Shades of L.A. / LAPL

In 1948, the court case “Shelley v. Kraemer” rendered the restrictive housing covenants illegal. Gradually through the 1950s, the southern section of Los Angeles, from Watts and west towards Inglewood and the Crenshaw District, became increasingly African American. Moreover, during this era, West Adams, Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills gradually became middle class and upper middle-class African American areas. Perhaps no writer has chronicled South Central as much as the Watts-born poet, journalist and screenwriter Wanda Coleman. Born in 1946, during the height of the Great Migration, Coleman documented the area in hundreds of poems and essays written from the mid-1960s to her untimely demise in November 2013.

In an extended essay from 2005 titled “Dancer on a Blade,” Coleman ruminates on her South Central childhood. “I grew up in the South Central of the Fabulous “50s,” Coleman writes, “which was in relentless flux as a steadily increasing Black population demanded more access to financial, health, and recreational facilities and an end to housing along racial lines.”

Coleman remembers that her family was the first Black family on their street. Coleman attended Gompers Junior High and graduated from Fremont High School in 1964. She celebrates the archipelago of “Black Los Angeles,” made up of Fremont, Jefferson, Jordan and Washington High Schools. As the ’60s went on, Crenshaw, Dorsey and Manual Arts High Schools were also included in this.

Professor Josh Sides has closely documented the last century of Black Los Angeles over the last two decades. His accounts corroborate Coleman’s about the rising social status of African Americans in the city in the mid-century. As the 1950s gave way to the early 1960s, neighborhoods were desegregated, and several of the leading Black churches were beginning to wield political influence in civic affairs. “By the early 1960s,” Sides states, “African Americans had significantly transformed their status in Los Angeles. Their protests were widespread, their demands were well known, and their political influence — if still uneven — was undeniable. Most important, African Americans participated in daily urban life in ways that would have been impossible two decades earlier.”

Chief Parker and Interstate 10

 

Chief Parker and his officers, 1954. | Shades of L.A. / LAPL

Sides also notes that “Few issues troubled African Americans in postwar Los Angeles more than the complete deterioration of their relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department.” The reputation of the LAPD became especially notorious under the reign of Chief William Parker from 1950 to 1966. Parker is infamous for many reasons. He is credited with not only promoting racial profiling and aggressive policing but also with harassing businesses and patrons along Central Avenue so frequently that his policing methods led to not only breaking up Central Avenue’s vibrancy but the 1965 Watts Riots.

One illustration of Parker’s totalitarian tactics is cataloged by Mike Davis in “City of Quartz.” “Under Parker — a puritanical crusader against ‘race mixing’ — nightclubs and juke joints were raided and shuttered,” writes Davis. “In 1954 John Dolphin, owner of Los Angeles’ premier R&B record store near the corner of Vernon and Central, organized a protest of 150 Black business people against an ongoing ‘campaign of intimidation and terror’ directed at interracial trade. According to Dolphin, Newton Division police had gone so far as to blockade his store, turning away all white customers and warning them that “it was too dangerous to hang around Black neighborhoods.” It was episodes like this that culminated in the 1965 Watts Riots.

Another issue that stifled the spirit of the community was the California State Highway Commission’s campaign to build both the 110 and I-10 through the heart of South Central Los Angeles. The path for Interstate 10 was especially troubling because it cut through a 500-foot-wide section of West Adams known as “Sugar Hill.” “Sugar Hill” was considered one of the most beautifully well-kept neighborhoods of African Americans anywhere in America. Josh Sides explains further that, “Believing that the selection of this route was at best insensitive and at worst racially motivated, a group of West Adams residents immediately formed the Adams-Washington Committee, choosing several delegates to present the community’s grievances to the commission in Sacramento.”

Sides also notes that African Americans in Santa Monica opposed the proposed route through their area too because it bisected the small black community in Santa Monica, similarly in the enclave near Pico Boulevard around 26th Street. The great Los Angeles African American poet Kamau Daaood was born in this section of Santa Monica in 1950.

Ultimately, Interstate 10 was built through both neighborhoods destroying hundreds of houses. A similar process happened 10 miles east of Sugar Hill in Boyle Heights, where five freeways intersect, including the 10. This destructive process of freeway construction through neighborhoods of color not only occurred in Los Angeles but also Minnesota, the Bay Area, Maryland, Louisiana, Washington, Texas, New York and Massachusetts. Accounts of the devastation of freeway construction in neighborhoods of color across Los Angeles can be read in both Eric Avila’s “The Folklore of the Freeway” and Helena Maria Viramontes’ “Their Dogs Came With Them.” Eric Avila’s 2014 book spotlights the creative strategies urban communities across America used during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s to document and protest the damage highway construction wielded on countless neighborhoods.

 

Santa Monica Freeway cuts through L.A. with 1962 dedication ceremony. | UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

“The spate of racial violence that erupted in American cities in the mid-1960s,” Avila declares, “shocked white Americans who had insulated themselves within exclusive suburban enclaves, willfully ignorant of inner-city conditions of racial poverty. After riots in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts, 1965 became America’s 1848, sparking more stringent demands for racial equality and drawing the world’s attention to America’s latest race problem. In the depths of inner-city despair, highway construction added insult to injury, fanning the flames of racial unrest.”

The 1965 Watts Riots and Civil Rights Movement

As Avila insinuates above, issues like highway construction combined with frustration with the LAPD, the brewing unrest of racial inequality and inner-city poverty contributed to the outbreak of six days of rioting in Watts in August 1965. The catalyst for the riots occurred on August 11 on a warm night when a highway patrol motorcycle officer pulled over a young African American man named Marquette Frye for speeding.

A large crowd assembled around the officers as they attempted to arrest Frye, and the unrest began. Further details on this episode have been written about in countless books, but as Martin Schiesl writes, the six days of rioting “covered about 46 square miles and left thirty-four persons, mostly black, dead; 1,032 wounded, and 3,952 arrested. Property damage amounted to $40 million, with over 600 buildings damaged and destroyed.” Over the next few years, several similar riots occurred across America, like the 1967 Detroit Riots. These episodes further galvanized the emerging Civil Rights Movement and connected with the creative branch of the Black Power movement, the Black Arts Movement.

 

Buildings on Fire, Watts Riots | LAPL

Following the summer of 1965, Watts and South Central Los Angeles became a hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement. Organizations like the Studio Watts Workshop, the Watts Writers Workshop, the Watts Towers Arts Center, Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra, the Black Panthers and US Organization utilized both the arts and direct action as methods to raise awareness and attempt to create social change. These groups and many others were highly active in the community well into the mid-1970s. The 1973 documentary film “Wattstax” captures the magic and optimism of this period. 103rd Street in Watts was one of the epicenters. During this period, the lively artistic and musical spirit that was originally on Central Avenue started moving west to streets like Normandie and Western and eventually to Crenshaw and Leimert Park.

From about 1965 to 1975, the Black Arts Movement in Los Angeles flourished in Southern California. It continued beyond 1975, but economic conditions and public policy in the late 1970s and the rise of Reagan in the 1980s led to less funding for the arts and more difficult circumstances for artists and musicians. Economic restructuring in the manufacturing sector and other changes in the economy made jobs scarce.

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Josh Sides explains that “the mid-1980s represented the nadir of South Central’s already tumultuous history. Fueled primarily by the wave of plant closures, black unemployment and poverty rates rose throughout the decade. An analysis of income distribution in black Los Angeles between 1970 and 1990 revealed the polarizing effects of the decline in low-skilled and semi-skilled employment among blacks.” These conditions also contributed to the rise of the Crack Cocaine economy. Crack offered a quick fix with a high profit margin. Crack was introduced on the South Central streets in the early 1980s and caught on quickly.

The devastation of crack and the rise of gangs across South Central Los Angeles is now old news. For many voyeurs around the world, the film and musical depictions of this stereotype became their image of South Central Los Angeles. Even though much of the greater South Central area includes well-kept, small, single-family homes, many still associate it with films like “Menace 2 Society” and musical groups like NWA. The Uprisings of 1992 further exacerbated these preconceived notions, and the stereotypes only became more prevalent as the 1990s went on. While the world saw South Central one way, the area was transforming demographically.

 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters at a press conference in South Central LA in 1996. She’s holding up a taped package that shows how big a kilo of cocaine is. | Rick Meyer/Getty Images

The Rebirth of South Central

Beginning in the 1980s, South Central started becoming more Latino. Josh Sides writes that during the 1980s, “the Latino population of South Central increased by approximately seventy-eight thousand, whereas the black population decreased by almost seventy thousand. Remarkably, the census of 2000 revealed that the Latino population of South Central (58 percent) finally outnumbered the black population (40 percent).” A variety of factors contributed to this. A sizeable percentage of African Americans sold their homes and moved to the Inland Empire and other locations like Palmdale, Lancaster and even Las Vegas for larger, less expensive and newer houses and better employment opportunities.

Writer Dana Johnson discusses African American families moving to the Inland Empire in her recent book of short stories, “In the Not Quite Dark.” In addition to black families leaving South Central, the emerging Latinization of South Central was not only incoming Mexican residents but also included Salvadorans. Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Belizeans and others from Central and South American moving into the area.

This more diverse demographic mix made the Rodney King Uprisings of 1992 even more complicated than 1965. Many of the same frustrations from 1965 remained, but the 1992 event involved more multicultural citizens and a much larger geographic area. Many historians have called 1992’s events in Los Angeles, “a postmodern bread riot.”

Similar to following 1965, many efforts were made following 1992 to rebuild South Central. There were some new projects, but perhaps one of the best-known changes happened to the name “South Central,” itself. In 2003, the city of Los Angeles unanimously voted to change the name South Central to South Los Angeles. This effort was aided by the rise of other smaller micro-neighborhood names like Chesterfield Square, Canterbury Knolls, Athens on a Hill, Green Meadows and Vermont Square among others. There are also areas of Unincorporated Los Angeles County in the vicinity like Florence-Firestone, Athens-Westmont and Willowbrook.

 

Washington Blvd. and Central Ave., 2009. Signs Showing Los Angeles neighborhood branding: South Los Angeles, Furniture & Decorative Arts, Menlo Park. | Laurie Avocado/Flickr/Creative Commons

Specific districts within the greater South Central area like Angeles Mesa, Leimert Park, the Crenshaw District and Watts had always existed, but the renaming of South Central to South Los Angeles inspired these other smaller enclaves within the greater area to rebrand themselves with more specific names. Opinions on these changes vary across the board, but some older citizens were happy to discard the South Central name because of the negative connotations that many associated with it. Other changes that have altered the community’s character include the rise of charter schools. There are now dozens of more schools, many of which did not even exist 15 years ago.

Contemporary Community Organizers

All this history brings South Central Los Angeles to this current juncture of gentrification and displacement. As USC continues to expand north and south on Figueroa, Metro expands across the Crenshaw District into Inglewood and the Los Angeles Rams return to town and begin building their new stadium in Inglewood, the greater South Central Los Angeles area is facing new issues that further complicate the long-standing ones. Many different organizations in the area are working hard to stop gentrification and displacement; Community Coalition is one of the most established. There is also Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement. These coalitions include black and brown residents who are united to improve their community and counteract the forces of gentrification. SAJE is where the young activist Donna Liseth Quintanilla of the South Central Dreamers interned three years ago while still in high school. This experience changed her life and politicized her when she was 17.

Quintanilla attended Jefferson High School and West Adams High School and has an incredible command of the public policy issues currently facing South Central. I met with her briefly along Central Avenue one late September afternoon, and she spoke eloquently about many key issues facing the area, like the remodeling of Rolland Curtis, the renovation of Jordan Downs, the new soccer stadium being built at Exposition Park and the lack of affordable housing across South Central Los Angeles. Quintanilla’s vocabulary is far beyond her years, exercising terms like the AMI, (Area Median Income). Currently attending Trade Tech, she wants to transfer to UCLA to become an Environmental Justice major and then get her Masters at UCLA in Urban Planning. The Guatemalan-American Quintanilla also works in close collaboration with L.A. County Urban Planner Jonathan Bell.

 

The rainbow over the fountain symbolized hope for South Central. | Jonathan P. Bell

Bell met Quintanilla through the extended South Central L.A. network during the early days of the vigorous community-driven protest against The Reef. The Reef is a redevelopment project on Washington and Hill that many long-term South Central residents oppose. Bell says, “Donna was out on the front lines pushing back — hard! She was equally active on social media raising awareness about the looming threat of gentrification in South Central. Fearless, undaunted and only 19, Donna is a true resistance leader against South Central gentri-hipsterfication, and she represents the Latina youth leadership at the heart of today’s social justice movements.”  There are many other young activists like Quintanilla.

49-year-old Skira Martinez is the owner and founder of Cielo Gallery on Maple near 32nd Street in the heart of Historic South Central. Martinez is a close cohort of Quintanilla, and she will never call South Central, “South Los Angeles.” She feels the new name erases history, and many in her community would agree with her. Martinez works closely with three generations of activists from 17 to 77.

Martinez has her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the neighborhood. She believes in a lifestyle that supports her neighbors. She spends her money in the community, supporting yard sales, thrift stores, street vendors and small family businesses. Furthermore, she has opened her gallery/living space as a site where the immediate community “uses Cielo in very practical ways and in the ways that they choose to rather than me creating and offering programs, workshops, etc. that I feel they need or want. The community has created space within Cielo to organize, come together in celebration and to make use of the resources within Cielo for homework projects or to simply store a vehicle or vending equipment in the parking lot. Cielo tends to be whatever it needs to be both to the immediate community and to surrounding communities.”

 

Martinez has worked closely with other local activists including the South Central Dreamers, the LA Tenants Union, the Solidarity House of the South on Central Avenue and groups like the Youth Justice Coalition, SAJE and the Community Coalition. She tells me that, “It is the autonomous movements/collectives and community members that are doing the most profound and important work in my community — they are the community — and put people over profit. Collectives like Solidarity House of the South are community-based/led and are pushing against gentrification in a way that includes education, healing and keeping cultural practices alive. They understand that the fight against gentrification is directly tied to a history of stolen land and resources. Dreamers of South Central have been very active and present in direct actions against gentrification and in gathering and sharing important information.”

“The LA Tenants Union has started a local chapter in South Central, and this is great as their mission is to strengthen tenants’ political power through education and advocacy amongst tenants themselves,” Martinez says. “It is us — the community itself — that must and can make the difference by resisting and refusing to negotiate and be pacified into believing that the gentrification of our community by white art spaces, the ‘nice new white neighbors’ and eventually corporate interests.”

“South Central is being surrounded and swallowed up by USC,” she says. She has similar concerns about, “the Metro and plans for the Olympics because they are all including a massive collaboration of corporate interests.” Martinez believes in putting people over profit. Well versed in the area’s history, she understands the economic and cultural patterns that have shaped Los Angeles. “Communities of color have never been able to choose where we live,” she declares, “and wherever we do live and create community, we have always lived under the threat of displacement.”

Martinez and Quintanilla are not against development; they are against luxury development that displaces and leaves out the residents who have always lived in South Central. The history shows how displacement has already fractured the community; it is because of this they fight so hard. South Central Los Angeles has always been one of the most important communities in Los Angeles, and it always will be. As Skira Martinez says, “The history of South Central says and shows it all, and as a community, we have no choice but to actively resist by the many means necessary and available. For many, to say that this is life or death is not an exaggeration.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR MIKE SONKSEN Equally a scholar and performer, Mike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, is a 3rd-generation L.A. native acclaimed for published essays, poetry performances and mentoring teen writers. Mike teaches at Woodbury University.

 

 

Gentrification Is About Power, so What’s Community Got to Do with It?

August 10, 2017

Gentrification is frequently described by its epiphenomena — that is, the appearance of new housing and new restaurants, the arrival of a wealthier and whiter populace and the seeming loss of street scapes and businesses that had proudly weathered harder times. The pace of change — and the many moving parts — often leave both researchers and observers hard-pressed to offer a clear definition of a process in motion.

That challenge is matched by the fact that it is hard to assess the implied neighborhood change in the usual binary: good or bad. In fact, long-term residents often greet gentrification with deep ambivalence. They appreciate the new amenities — stores boasting fresh food and police that actually protect rather than just patrol are considered pluses. But they also worry whether they will be able to stay to enjoy them — and resent that it took new neighbors to gain the corporate and municipal services that have long been desired and deserved.

But despite the glitter of change, the confusion about specifics and the ambiguity of resident reaction, one thing is clear: gentrification is fundamentally about power.

 

Taking it Back, Occupy Oakland. Protesters shout and pump their fists in the air shouting “We are the 99%!” | Glenn Halog/Flickr/Creative Commons

After all, if residents had sufficient market power, they would own local property and local businesses and so benefit from an uptick in demand. Or if they had sufficient community or political power, they would be able to put restrictions in place that would force new development to minimize displacement and disruption and maximize affordability and local employment.

Given this, it is useful to step back from the immediate fights about the new local vegan breakfast joint or the Peruvian restaurant with no Peruvian customers — and step back as well a purely policy-focused discussion of the tools that can contain negative change and preserve community character. To grasp what is really at stake, we must understand that the control of land has long been a reflection of the contestation for power and a deeper contestation over meaning.

 

Land is always valued in two ways: for its intrinsic use and for its market yield.

To understand this duality, consider what is for many of us our most important asset: our house. On the one hand, it is the place where we settle with partners, find solace and calm and make the markings on kitchen doorjams that record the history of our children. Of course, none of that is listed on Zillow; instead, the focus is not on your house as a home but rather as a financial nest egg.

Indeed, the ability to sell a piece of property is described legally as “alienation” — the right to render land without meaning or history and instead treat it simply as a commodity. This version of property rights was certainly foreign to indigenous Californians who found it difficult to conceive of land in anything but a collective way. The Mexican ranch owners who were part of the system that displaced them may hvae brought a different understanding as they amassed vast tracts of land and created the map for much of modern-day urban California. Yet for these Californios, claims were often unclear and market ties were weak; as a result, there was generally no compelling need to sharply define territory and put the land to its “best and highest” — that is, most profitable — use.

 

The Mexican-American War and its aftermath changed that. While the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo supposedly guaranteed the property rights of Mexican land-holders, defending claims required money for lawyers and retaining property required paying taxes. In a sort of 19th century version of gentrification, the ripple effects of the California Gold Rush forced decades of reckoning: with the market driving up land values and a new state government hungry for revenues, land titles were lost and new whiter and wealthier arrivals changed the meaning of what it meant to be a Californian.

Of course, the racialized nature of property ownership had long been baked into the U.S., including the very idea that people could be owned as slaves. Still, California helped drive new sorts of exclusions. For example, the California Alien Land Laws of 1913 and 1920 were set up to prevent immigrant Asians from buying property; while some responded by placing land in the names of their U.S.-born children, the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II completed the asset-stripping of at least that part of the Asian population.

 

Juichi Soyeda and Tadao Kamiya of Japan who lobbied against the California Alien Land Law of 1913 | Library of Congress

 

A sign left behind by a Japanese American shop owner in Oakland, CA upon the forced internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor | Library of Congress

California housing markets were also broadly marked by the racism infecting the larger American body politic. Racially restrictive covenants, which put the more desirable parts of urban areas out of the reach of African Americans and other minorities, reinforced segregation; even after they were formally struck down in the late 1940s, discriminatory lending practices forced many people of color to purchase property in locations where wealth accumulation was elusive at best.

Other aspects of public policy also actively sought to devalue neighborhoods of color. Consider Los Angeles in which the Mexican-American eastside was cut up (and cut off from the central city) by a system of freeway exchanges that drove down local property values — and made it easier for suburban commuters to avoid stopping anywhere that might expose them to a sea of Brown faces. Adding to the toxic stew of auto emissions from the new highways were land use regulations that permitted industry to abut housing in “certain” neighborhoods, producing a highly unequal environmental risk-scape.

1939 HOLC “redlining” map of central Los Angeles | LaDale C. Winling/urbanoasis

In these frequently challenged locales, populations found property values low but community cohesion high. Consider the proud struggles for social justice that emerged from Oakland, birthplace of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s (and now home to a vibrant renters’ rights movement). Or think of the fight for education and against the Vietnam War that burst from East L.A. (a community whose residents are now fighting to stay on the ground that they have long defended). Asset values may lagged but a sense of community pride was vibrant.

 

Black Panther Headquarters in L.A. 1977 | Los Angeles Public Library

It is against that racialized history — and in the context of the struggles for community control — that the new forces of gentrification have been unleashed.

What may seem curious is why this new version of land seizure and displacement is now happening with such ferocity in areas that were once disdained by those with more privilege. After all, much of the pattern of post-war suburbanization involved those with either wealth or racial advantage separating themselves from city neighborhoods that were denser and more diverse. “White flight” (and later middle-class flight as more economically successful minorities joined the exodus) generally meant that city centers would serve a daytime economic function even as immediately adjoining districts were considered undesirable by those who had other options.

So what’s changed? There are several sets of factors — including structural shifts in the economy, the widening gaps between rich and poor and ongoing efforts to revitalize central cities — and none of them are going away soon.

 

The Yost Theatre in Santa Ana which formerly showed Mexican cinema and musicals. It is curren

On the economy, much ink has been spilled on the rise of the so-called “creative class” — more generally, professionals engaged in symbolic work, including not just architecture, design and web content but financial management and other high-end services. Because they gain from being able to work together in close proximity — think of the clustering of software engineers in the Silicon Valley and entertainment workers in Hollywood — this has helped to give place a new importance.

That geographic turn has often helped to revitalize business districts as they become peppered with start-up firms, legal service and many other functions. But why don’t the highly paid professionals working in those enterprises just get together during the day, then disperse to “safer” suburbs like their cohorts in earlier decades? Why do they now linger in expensive condos and cause long waiting lines in chic “neighborhood” restaurants?

Part of what helps to fill the explanatory gap is the sharp rise in income inequality in the U.S. With highly paid professionals gobbling up gains from a more technological and globalized economy, they are able to colonize en masse — think Google employees taking over the Mission District in San Francisco — rather than being lonely, obvious and perhaps risky pioneers (that role is left to the truly creatives — artists — who are often just one step and one off-brand coffeshop ahead of the gentrifiers who follow).

In some cases, global inequality is at play as well. The global super-rich can purchase condos and apartments that they visit infrequently. Parking assets in the form of real estate may seem senseless to those priced out of the market (shouldn’t somebody be living there? And why can’t it be me?) but in a world in which interest rates have been stuck at zero, accumulating property is one way to safeguard “value.”

On the policy side, it is important to remember that since the 1960s and 1970s, many cities have sought to revitalize their downtowns. Particularly with the slow drip-drip of of declining federal support for cities over the last few decades, municipal authorities have become more “entrepreneurial,” seeking to attract companies and uses to areas that were in decline.

The surprise for some, particularly after many years of vacant office buildings and empty streets in the older sections of downtowns in Los Angeles and Oakland — is that it’s finally working. Public investments, including in mass transit, have attracted private investors to follow with housing and amenities. Financiers have learned how to pull off complex mixed-use projects. And it’s now being pushed along by climate-oriented policies aimed at encouraging more compact development.

Another trend that will not go away: demography. In the past, suburbanization was driven partly by the view that one’s home was the surest investment possible. But the Great Recession left many stranded in the hinterlands with a foreclosed house and a soul-killing commute. Millennials see less reason to “drive till you qualify” and, in any case, find themselves saddled with college debt and unable to muster the down payment for home purchase. Nice thing about the young: they are more open to ethnic diversity so that widens their range of acceptable neighborhoods. Bad thing about the young: that means they contribute to driving up rents in ways that can displace those to whom they are open.

 

UC Berkeley Protest | Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr/Creative Commons

So what’s a neighborhood to do? 

The tools to address displacement are rather limited and, in each case, face a constellation of power on the other side. Rent stabilization and strong tenant protections are key — but apartment owners are a strong and resistant lobby. Affordable housing is necessary — but developers, eager to generate profits, fight against mandates. Land trusts — which essentially take land off the market and preserve it for communities — face tough competition from those seeking “highest and best use.” City governments could demand more from development — but they worry that they will kill growth altogether if they ask for what their residents really need.

All this is occurring, particularly in California, in the context of under-building. While it is naive to think that simply expanding the stock of housing of any sort will necessarily solve the problems of excess rents — a position taken by those who imagine that the wealthy will buy new units and “trickle down” their vacancies to those less fortunate — all estimates suggest that the housing industry is way behind on what is necessary to accommodate California’s future population.

In the meanwhile, the long-running struggle over who controls land and what it means continues. Is Boyle Heights just a lovely set of older homes and streetscapes waiting to be revitalized with new residents and new galleries — or is it the irreplaceable heart of Chicano Los Angeles? Is South L.A. the secret location of amazingly well-tended but often poorly known but easy-to-market residential jewels (think of West Adams or Village Green) — or is it the link to a Black history and reality that must be preserved? Is it any different or any better in Santa Ana because some of the gentrifiers are also Latino — or does ethnicity really make a difference to those facing the forces of displacement?

These are not easy questions but ultimately they do come down to the power to define the meaning of both land and community. Moving to a more productive conversation about the sense of loss and fear that grips many neighborhoods will not necessarily solve the problem but it will lead us to understand that there are real lives — real parents notching their children’s history on the doorjams — at stake.

Indeed, when you go to communities and speak to residents — as is the case with the stories in this series — you find a common refrain: “better neighborhood, same neighbors.” That vision may not be entirely possible—communities always experience churn and change. But it should be at least one guiding principle as policy makers, civic leaders and local residents try to promote a more equitable, inclusive and vibrant California.

 

 

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Whites are moving back to Inglewood. There goes our neighborhood.

 

By ERIN AUBRY KAPLAN

 

Several years ago, a woman who lives around the corner in Inglewood told me a story common to black people who were among the first to move into once-white cities. She and her husband bought their house in 1967. Every day that summer, she said, her next-door neighbor came out on his porch, glaring. Whenever he saw her, this white man shouted not a greeting, but a question: Why are you here? In a few months, he was gone, along with pretty much every other white family on the block.

I grew up in and around Inglewood and have lived here for the last 13 years. Walking home with my dogs three weeks ago, I was approached by a young white woman who, like me, is an animal lover. Turns out she and her husband had moved into the neighborhood recently. “We like it so far,” she said brightly. Like it? I felt a rush of resentment at a remark that to her, I’m sure, was perfectly innocent. All I could think was: White folks abandoned Inglewood, and now they’re coming back with no memory or acknowledgment of all that, expecting neighborliness?

Gentrification is big news all over L.A., and working-class and lower-income people across the county stand to lose a lot from its advance. They already have. But black people in particular will feel the sting. We will be out not just apartments and homes we can afford to rent or pay the mortgage on. We will lose our space, our place.

It’s an enduring American truth: Whatever black people have can be taken away

“Space” and “place” encompass something complex — community, which is our capital and always has been. In lieu of economic wealth, we lay down roots, we build social cohesion out of the vacuum created by white flight, avoidance and indifference. Our neighborhoods are our strength, our visibility. Leimert Park — a flashpoint of gentrification now — put Afrocentric culture on the map, literally, and has long been a hub of black civic and political organization. Inglewood isn’t Leimert Park, but it’s a significantly black city and distinct simply for that reason. Such a base is the source of our forward motion, especially in L.A., where black enclaves were never very numerous. At most, blacks have made up only 20% of the population.

 

The pattern of shrinking black space is hardly new, by the way: Over the years, immigration and Latino growth remade traditionally black areas like South Central and Compton and Inglewood too. But today’s white influx feels particularly ominous, like the worst of our bad history looping back on itself. Once again our places are tethered to what white people want, what they decide is acceptable, valuable.

It’s an enduring American truth: Whatever black people have can be taken away. History is rife with ugly examples, from the burning down of the black business district in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921, to the violent ousting of black leadership in Wilmington, N.C., in 1898 — considered the first and only coup on American soil. Indeed, most race riots before the 1960s involved angry white people running black people out of spaces they didn’t want them to occupy.

The angry white man on my neighbor’s porch in the 1960s was a vestige of that. His daily question was a declaration of his right to dictate living conditions because he was white. He represented a widely held belief in real estate, one that’s still in place: Whites improve and stabilize a neighborhood, blacks do the opposite.

That truism is what I read into my new neighbor’s blithe remark that she likes it here. She thought she was being friendly by bestowing her approval. My own thoughts about where we live felt irrelevant.

A confession: My late husband moved with me to Inglewood in 2004. He was white, Jewish to be exact. But he was an outlier, a guy who grew up in the working-class Valley whose racial politics were radical enough to make moving into a black, thoroughly ungentrified neighborhood not a big deal. It wasn’t an act of rebellion or an attempt to improve or upgrade things with his presence. He made himself part of a black space, serving on Inglewood’s police oversight commission, befriending youngsters (he was a teacher), pitching in to decorate trees on our block at Christmas. For lack of a better term, he integrated.

Fifty years ago, Inglewood’s white residents saw black newcomers not as neighbors but invaders, existential threats to their property values and to an ironclad social order. They could not, would not, live where we lived. The fact that whites are coming back to this once very contested space is not, I fear, evidence of the meaningful integration that has long eluded us. It’s a warning that my black community is, once again, irretrievably at risk.

Erin Aubry Kaplan is a contributing writer to Opinion.

 

 

How the Rams’ Stadium Development Could Impact Inglewood

January 16, 2018

When the Lakers and Kings left the Forum in Inglewood in 1999 for a brand-new arena in downtown Los Angeles, Staples Center was surrounded by parking lots, just like the Forum. Then came L.A. Live and the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton and the ongoing construction of several mixed-used high-rise towers across Figueroa Street.

Nearly two decades later, the land around the Forum is set to undergo a similar transformation with the construction of a football stadium for the Rams and Chargers. Unlike the development of L.A. Live and the surrounding blocks that has taken place independently from the arena over the past decade, the complex in Inglewood is already planned concurrently with the stadium — and it’s on a much larger scale.

Rams executive vice president of football operations and COO Kevin Demoff, in an interview with The Planning Report, called the project “the Grove, L.A. Live, and Playa Vista put together.” Some have likened the project to an NFL Disney World. The site is about 3 ½ times larger than Disneyland.

 

The 298-acre project is known as the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park. It is set to include a 70,000-seat football stadium as well as 890,000 square feet of retail space, 780,000 square feet of office space, residential units, a 6,000-seat performing arts center, a hotel, public park space and a lake. The stadium is set to open for the start of the 2020 NFL season.

Sports teams like to tout the economic impact their facilities will have on the cities and communities that they inhabit, from construction and stadium jobs to money flowing into the community from people who attend the games. Such is the narrative with the new stadium in Inglewood.

Economists though are usually skeptical of such claims. When discussing the economic impact of a stadium on the community, they often look at the number of dates when the facility will be in use. Baseball stadiums have games at least 81 days a year and arenas up to 82 if they host both a basketball and a hockey team. he case of the Inglewood stadium, there may be 20 preseason and regular-season games and perhaps a playoff game or two thanks to two teams sharing the field. It’s expected that the stadium would also host a few concerts each year and other events. Plus, there’s the expectation of hosting a major event every few years from the Super Bowl to the NCAA Final Four to Olympic events if L.A. is chosen as host for 2024 or 2028.

However, the range of developments wrapped around the stadium make the area a site of economic activity potentially throughout the year, not just on game days.

 

Will the LA Rams’ new Inglewood stadium be an economic boon or bust?

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This undated rendering provided by HKS Sports & Entertainment shows a proposed NFL football stadium in Inglewood, Calif. During an NFL owners meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, in Houston the owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to move to a new stadium just outside Los Angeles, and the San Diego Chargers will have an option to share the facility. The stadium would be at the site of the former Hollywood Park horse-racing track. (HKS Sports & Entertainment via AP)

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By KEVIN SMITH | kvsmith@scng.com | San Gabriel Valley Tribune

PUBLISHED: January 13, 2016 at 9:17 pm | UPDATED: August 28, 2017 at 6:30 am

By some estimates, Tuesday’s decision by NFL owners to bring the Rams back to Los Angeles with the option of also accommodating the San Diego Chargers at a new $1.9 billion stadium will generate a major economic boost for the region.

But sports economists are quick to point out that the jobs and projected revenues associated with building and operating a new stadium are often inflated.

It appears the Rams will initially play at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But ultimately, they will move to a new privately funded 70,000-seat stadium in Inglewood that will be built on the 298-acre site of the former Hollywood Park race track.

The stadium is expected to be up and running in time for the 2019 football season.

 

Details for stadium and surrounding development

 

Rams owner Stan Kroenke teamed up with Stockbridge Capital Group to craft the stadium plan, which includes the option of housing a second team. The plan includes a one-year option for the San Diego Chargers to join as the second team in Los Angeles. With a retractable roof, the stadium will be capable of expanding to 80,000 seats for special events, and it will be part of a massive entertainment, retail and residential complex.

The project will include 890,000 square feet of retail space, 780,000 square feet for office use, 2,500 residential units, a 6,000-square-foot performing arts center and a 300-room hotel.

A spokesman for Hollywood Park Land Co., which owns the property, said there will be significant gains for the region.

“The entire project will create a total of 40,000 jobs counting construction and ongoing operations,” he said. “It will cost $1.86 billion to build the stadium. But the whole project is closer to $3 billion.”

 

Chris Meany, a development manager with Hollywood Park Land, said the project will conservatively generate “tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue” for the city. That will come from a ticket tax, sales-tax revenue from the project’s retail operations, property taxes and a hotel occupancy tax.

The ticket tax amounts to 10 percent of the sale price of any ticket sold at the stadium. It’s subject to an annual cap of $15 million, Meany said, but that could go up because the tax is tied to the nation’s consumer price index.

Hollywood Park Land has indicated the stadium will likely play host to other events, including soccer games and concerts.

 

Economic projections often overstated

 

Many are banking on the stadium, in particular, to energize the region.

But John Vrooman, a sports economist at Vanderbilt University, dispelled the notion that a new football stadium will automatically create an economic lift.

“The net local impact of a professional sports team is zero, if not negative sum, particularly for an NFL team playing in a monolithic space-eating stadium,” Vrooman said via email. “The stadiums are rarely used, and the economic architecture is designed so as to hermetically capture almost all of the gains within the venue.”

Vrooman said impact studies for such venues typically ignore the negative costs of congestion and reduction in economic activity elsewhere in the region.

“The local sports bars will probably rock, but most direct spending at the stadium stays at the stadium,” he said. “The injection of new cash flow into the local economy is negligible because it’s coming at the expense of local spending someplace else. The indirect spin-offs are also small because most of the spending leaks out of the economy like a sieve and so the urban/regional multipliers are usually zero, zip … nada.”

Vrooman also noted that stadium employment generally consists of “low-wage and seasonal jobs which are not exactly the best drivers of economic development.”

Roger Noll, a Stanford professor emeritus in economics and a former senior economist for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, agreed.

 

More events must be held to maximize profits

 

In a July 2015 interview published in the Stanford News, Noll said that because football stadiums are used so infrequently — two preseason games, eight regular season games and possibly a couple of playoff games — they don’t realize a large economic benefit from those games alone. So they have to accommodate a variety of other events.

He cited the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium, which opened in 2014, as a prime example. That venue, he said, has played host to concerts, college football, soccer and hockey games.

That’s also been the case with Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. where the New England Patriots play. That 68,756-seat stadium was built in 2001 and opened in 2002.

“We have a revenue stream that comes to the town directly in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement,” said William Scollins III, the city’s finance director and accountant. “For every NFL or major league soccer ticket that is sold, we get $1.52. And for other events like concerts or high school football, we get $2.64 per ticket.”

Last year Gillette Stadium hosted a record 55 events. Scollins said football ticket fees generate about $1 million a year for Foxborough. But with the other events added in, the total return comes closer to $2 million a year.

 

Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board applauds the move

 

Ernest Wooden Jr., president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board, applauded the Rams’ return to L.A.

“The tourism implications of the NFL and Rams franchise (and possibly another franchise) returning to Los Angeles are tremendously significant,” Wooden said in a statement. “Not only will this provide visitors from around the globe one more enticing reason to choose Los Angeles for their next getaway, but the Inglewood stadium plans provide the city an incredible asset that will have economic impact long after an NFL season ends.”

Having a stadium with a retractable roof also means the board’s partner organization, the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, can actively pitch for megaevents such as the NCAA Final Four and Super Bowl, he said — events that yield “a large economic impact” for Los Angeles and its residents.

 

Real estate will get a boost

 

Raphael Bostic, interim director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, said the project could well boost surrounding property values, both commercial and residential.

“I think there is potential for that,” he said. “But it really depends on how the project performs. If it translates into a vibrant destination place, it would not only benefit the city, it would also become a regional draw like Old Pasadena.”

 

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