Columnists Opinion

An outsider’s mission to ‘preserve’ South L.A.

By Jackie Dupont Walker

and Tunua Thrash-Ntuk

Guest Columnists

South Los Angeles is transforming before our eyes and many are concerned that the African-American community may not survive this current tide of change. The community is equally concerned with “so-called” activists that parachute into our community and try to speak on our behalf.

We are two African-American women who made a life-long commitment to build and serve South Los Angeles, the community where we live and fellowship with our family and friends.

Collectively, we have more than 40 years of experience building affordable housing for poor and working families. That meant partnering with community, business and civic leaders to breathe life into the vacant and blighted buildings that riddle our neighborhoods and creating pathways to careers and homeownership for local residents.

We are greatly concerned when well-funded political crusaders from outside the community come in with grand plans to “save us.” It is important to understand the motives of those who want to stunt our economic growth and slow our progress.

The effort to stop several development projects across Los Angeles, including the renovation of the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza, is being backed by multi-millionaire, activist Michael Weinstein.

We’ve seen this game before. We’ve seen well-funded activists dedicate resources to “preserve” or “save” our community when they are actually protecting their own monetary interests. Their efforts to stop community development projects only hurt the working families of South Los Angeles.

And we have reason to be wary of the current effort to “save us” being financed by an outsider. Weinstein is the head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. For more than 20 years, Weinstein embraced a no-growth agenda that diminishes new housing and business opportunities for Los Angeles in the name of “preservation.”

In 2016, Weinstein supported Measure S, which would have halted new housing construction in one of California’s most impacted and expensive housing markets. The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times said “Measure S is likely to increase evictions and the loss of rent-controlled housing” and “will result in a loss of rent-stabilized housing.” The measure was opposed by dozens of homeless and affordable housing advocates across Los Angeles.

Now, Weinstein is exploiting the fears of poor and working families to stifle economic development in South Los Angeles. As members and servants of this community, we have both fought for better jobs, services and housing for decades and are suspicious of any effort to organize residents around fear without real solutions.

A “one-size-fits-all” approach to community development has never worked for the diverse communities of this city.

Our experience taught us that we must advance a range of solutions to create social and economic stability in South L.A. This work will take time and requires the engagement of the entire community.

We encourage community, faith and business leaders to work with all those who want to advance a vision for community-driven development, but we must scrutinize any outside influence that seeks to disrupt our community’s fight for equity and economic justice.

Jackie Dupont Walker is the founding member of Ward Economic Development Corporation and a member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board.

Tunua Thrash-Ntuk is a seasoned community and economic development practitioner and the executive director of Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation.