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How Many Historic South-Central Residents Will Be Displaced By Massive Megaproject The Reef?

The Reef megadevelopment is moving right along through the approvals process, making way for a massive change in the Historic South-Central neighborhood just south of Downtown LA. The Reef is a $1.2-billion, 1.66-million-square-foot project that would rise on the site of two parking lots—this thing promises to be a beast, with a 19-story, 208-room hotel and two condo high-rises (32 and 35 stories tall), all overlooking a pedestrian shopping plaza. The project will bring 2,758 temporary construction jobs and 751 full-time positions to the community, but the area's residents are worried they may not be in that community for long—some neighbors of the megaproject have started wondering if the development is a precursor to their displacement. Intersections South LA reports that the South Central Neighborhood Council is racing against the clock to analyze the project's 800-page environmental impact report so it can officially weigh in on the project before the November 2 deadline for public comment.

The environmental impact report, which is mandated for all large land use projects in California, concedes disruptions in local aesthetics, air quality, noise, and traffic. All of those elements are rather expected for a development this size, but it's another potential impact not in the report that has neighbors most concerned. The EIR lacks analysis on how many people in the surrounding area face potential displacement from their homes as a result of the Reef project dramatically altering the character of the neighborhood—EIR's don't gauge gentrification effects. But nonprofit organization Strategic Actions for a Just Economy have filled in the gaps with some preliminary analysis of displacement risk. According to SAJE, some 43,756 people living within two miles of the project could face an untenable increase in cost of living or displacement. Of those, they found 4,445 individuals living nearest to the proposed project that would face a "very high" or "high" risk of financial strain or outright displacement.

With nearly 44,000 lives potentially affected by the development, it seems that a clear case against the project would come naturally, but according to the South Central Neighborhood Council, there have been some stumbling blocks to community involvement. The environmental impact report was released on September 17 and clocks in at nearly 800 pages. The deadline for public input on the project is November 2, leaving residents just over a month to do their homework on the massive project, which is written in a lot of developer and legal jargon, and then verbalize it in a public forum. Neighborhood councilmember Martha Sanchez calls the language of the report "too much" and "hard to understand." She is calling for more time so the council can bring in experts to analyze the report and present it in layman's terms to the council and community.

And there's a much bigger language barrier: the report is only available in English, a bit of a problem when a large percentage of the neighborhood predominantly speaks Spanish. Councilmember John Parker says to provide the report only in English is "absurd" and that the language in the 800-page report is "hard enough for the average person to understand" without having the additional task of translation.

The South Central Neighborhood Council is looking to extend the deadline for public comment, but it doesn't appear that will happen, so a committee is working on the council's public comment to be prepared quickly, before the deadline.

A rep for The Reef ssays they will still take public input on the project's community benefits package (e.g. street improvements they'll be required to do in order to get approvals to build) after the deadline. Some revealing statements at a town hall meeting held last month, however, suggest The Reef's community benefits might not stay in the community. When asked about affordable housing, project representative Edgar Khalatian said that, while The Reef developers will support affordable housing, they might not actually build affordable units on The Reef site. Rather than include affordable units in development plans, The Reef people are looking into funding or building other affordable housing projects elsewhere. Not very promising news to neighbors fearing displacement. Khalatian also suggested developers could work to stop the expiration of housing covenants that keep certain apartments but affordable, but provided no details on how they would pursue that legal headache with the government.

Representatives for the development expect the Los Angeles City Council vote on the project is at least six months away, and are looking to break ground in 2017.
· Neighborhood council to take action on Reef Project report [Intersections]
· Some South LA residents express uncertainty with billion dollar development [Intersections]
· Development in South LA: A Threat or an Opportunity? [SAJE]
· First Look at the 35-Story SoLA Village Megaproject Headed Just South of Downtown [Curbed LA]