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LA County votes 5-0 to use eminent domain to take South LA property from developer

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Developer: “We are determined to move ahead with this project even if it takes a lawsuit”

The County’s decided to go forward with plans to seize a collection of Vermont Knolls properties owned by Sassony Properties.
Via Google Maps

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to use eminent domain to seize properties from a developer at Vermont and Manchester avenues in South LA.

After taking control of the property, the county intends to build a mixed-use project that includes schools, a transit hub, affordable housing, and retail. It has set aside $15.7 million for the land, county documents show.

“With meaningful community engagement moving forward, we can design tremendous amenities that make the corner of Vermont and Manchester the source of pride once again, rather than a long-standing example of stagnation,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Property owners Eli Sasson and Sassony Properties have hired lawyer Robert Silverstein to fight the county.

Sasson has controlled most of the property for roughly 20 years. It wants to put an outdoor shopping mall with restaurants and retail on the roughly four-acre property.

It even held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the development, called Vermont Entertainment Village, in 2015—but work never got off the ground. Sassony Properties recently acquired what it says are the final three parcels needed to finally begin construction on its project.

“Despite what happened here [Tuesday], we are determined to move ahead with this project even if it takes a lawsuit to overturn today’s illegal board action,” Sassony Development’s chief development officer, Jennifer Duenas, said in a statement.

At the supervisors’ meeting, attorney Silverstein hammered the county for what he said was a lack of public outreach for the project.

Silverstein told the board that there are a number of underused properties around Vermont and Manchester that would be good candidates for the county’s project, but “we don’t think the County is serious about [their] project because no one knew about it until a couple of days ago.”

He accused supervisors of misusing of “the power of eminent domain” and “millions of dollars of taxpayer funds,” and he urged the board to reconsider “before this becomes another process that further delays what this community has waited for for so long, which is this catalytic, revitalizing retail project.”

Over 30 people signed up to give comment at the hearing, including a representative for Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who opposed the eminent domain attempt, and a representative for Congresswoman Karen Bass, who supported it.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who worked for years in an office across from the parcels, favors the county’s plan. He says the eminent domain plan “comes as a great relief to me and thousands of other folks,” Harris-Dawson said.

Many area residents who support using eminent domain accuse Sassony of allowing the land to sit fallow—not only in the two years since the groundbreaking for the retail project, but for decades before.

One speaker who identified himself as a long-time member of the community said, “I normally wouldn’t go along with eminent domain, but we’ve had so many promises. This has been going on since ’92 ... We have to move it forward because some of us are getting old.”

Those who oppose it are largely upset at the lack of outreach about it. Several supporters noted that they’d given input on the Sassony Properties’ project and wanted to see something built that reflected that input, not a development that the county thought it needed.

“No one had come out to our community to talk to us,” about the county’s plans, said Claudia Genyard, a member of the 108th Street Neighborhood Association. “Please, come out and talk to us.”