Ensuring Development in South LA is Equitable, Sustainable, and Community-Led

"Development is not for us, unless it is led by us."

Dawn Phillips of Causa Justa delivered this powerful yet succinct statement at the recent PolicyLink Equity Summit that I attended along with a number of my colleagues and community partners. This statement captures what equitable development ought to be. Yet as simple as it is to articulate, it has proved more challenging to ensure developers and planners alike put it into practice.

Case in point: the Reef Project proposed in South LA. If approved as proposed, this 2.5 million square foot, multi-use development would include over 1,400 luxury residential units, as well as a hotel, upscale businesses, and over 230,000 feet of signage--in stark contrast to the current neighborhood aesthetic, demographic, and needs.

South LA is a vibrant and close-knit community home to mostly low-income residents of color. The neighborhood has historically been hit by disinvestment, segregation, and other harmful policies, which have led to high rates of poverty, overcrowding, and homelessness. Rather than addressing these problems, the Reef will exacerbate these problems and create significant environmental impacts. The United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) coalition, of which NRDC is a part, has detailed these important concerns through public comments on the Reef Project's Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).

By providing luxury housing, amenities, and resources without addressing the needs of current residents, the Reef Project could lead to significant displacement in South LA--up to 43,000 residents, according to Health Impact Report commissioned by UNIDAD to determine the health effects of the Reef project on residents of the surrounding area. The report further explains that displacement and financial strain can cause and exacerbate stress-related physical and mental illness, including depression, anxiety, obesity, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. In addition, as I've explained before, displacement of low-income residents near transit has real environmental impacts: core riders of transit in LA are low-income, so studies have found that transit ridership actually decreases when these riders are displaced and car usage increases as higher-income, non-transit reliant residents move in. Yet the DEIR did not identify displacement as a potential impact of the project and, consequently, failed to provide any mitigation measures to address these impacts. It also did not adequately address the significant impacts related to air quality, noise, light, and traffic, among other concerns.

The environmental review process exists mainly to allow for the involvement and input of the public, especially those members of the public who will be directly affected by a proposed project. Current South LA residents deserve protection from likely environmental and health hazards, as well as the right to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work, regardless of their race or income. Now is the perfect time for the Reef developers, as well as the City of LA, to do the right thing by integrating the needs of the residents of South LA into the Reef Project, and allowing these residents to continue to live and thrive in the community that they built.

Thank you to my colleague Danielle Leben for contributing to this post.


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