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Parks proposes new name for South Los Angeles

With only a few weeks remaining in his third and final term, 8th District City Councilman Bernard Parks wants to leave his constituents with something to remember him by: a new name for South Los Angeles.

At the April 21 City Council meeting, Parks made a motion to add the acronym “SOLA” to the area of the city known as South Los Angeles.

In 2003, the City Council renamed what used to be known as South Central — a community geographically not much larger than affluent Hancock Park in Central L.A. — as South Los Angeles. The name change was designed to improve the negative image that South Central had, an image that transcended its borders into a much larger area where African Americans lived.

“South Central was thought to be code for ‘black’ and synonymous with the 1965 and 1992 riots, drugs and violent crimes,” Parks said.

If Parks’ motion is approved, SOLA would be included in future documents and records referring to South Los Angeles —which geographically, includes all or parts of City Council Districts 8, 9, 10 and 15 — and by some definitions, unincorporated areas as well as some adjacent cities.

“Community boundaries won’t be changing and individual community designations like Hyde Park, Vermont Knolls …will not be lost,” Parks said.

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who takes over Parks’ 8th District seat July 1, said he talked to well in excess of 12,000 voters during the March City Councl election campaign, but “changing the name of the community was not an issue. So, it is not a priority … of the voters.”

“There are a lot of changes that people want to see, and in my role as City Council representative, we want to respond to the voters,” Harris-Dawson said. “We’ll see where the issue is in the process after July 1, but SOLA won’t be one of the priorities — and there are a lot of priorities in the 8th District.”

Other community stakeholders see the proposal as a distraction from the longstanding problems affecting roughly 750,000 people, as well as an advertisement for the area, once home to L.A.’s black community, culture and business.

Malcolm Harris, a resident, homeowner and the program and organizing director for Trust South L.A., said he is concerned about the deep systemic social issues that continue to impact South Los Angeles.

“We will continue to go through rebranding every 20 to 25 years if these issues are not addressed, if there is no connection to the real systemic issues and no cultural shift in our community,” Harris said. “Our issues will continue to happen.”

Parks said people have said to him they want name identity and distinction when people refer to their communities. “‘SOLA’ will not be replacing the term of ‘South Los Angeles,’ it will just be another option for people to refer to themselves,” he said. “It’s purely technical.”

Bernard Parks
Bernard Parks

“Other communities are doing this already. Just like in South L.A., some who live there will specify the neighborhood they live in, like the Arts District, Fashion District, South Park. Some will say they live in ‘Downtown’ and others say ‘DTLA.’ It’s not the first horse of the gentrification apocalypse,” Parks added.

West Adams resident Leslie Evans says he doesn’t object, “in principle … but it would take a while for SOLA to catch on, if ever. I never minded ‘South Central Los Angeles.’

“Plain ‘South Los Angeles’ goes all the way to Long Beach. … It really is too unspecific. ‘SOLA’ sounds like something to do with solar power,” he added.

According to Parks’ media deputy, Kimberly Briggs, “SOLA will have no fiscal impact. No new street signs would be erected and existing ones would not be changed.”

At the April 21 meeting, the council referred the motion to the Education and Neighborhoods Committee for hearings. The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal at that time. Hearings have not been scheduled.

City Council President Herb Wesson, the committee’s chair, said the motion would be brought back to the council before July 1, in time for discussion before the full body.

“I give you my word that it’ll be back to the council before you’re gone,” Wesson told Parks.

The proposal was also referred to the council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, but that panel is expected to pass on the proposal, according to Edward Johnson, Wesson’s assistant chief deputy.

Ninth District City Councilman Curren Price did not respond to requests for comment.