Lead Story West Edition

Proposed state law adds to gentrification fears

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — More than 300 passionate community members attended a standing-room-only town hall meeting May 22 to oppose the passage of state legislation that could eliminate single-family housing around major transit hubs throughout the state.

Diane Robertson, president of the Sutro Avenue Block Club in Leimert Park, was the lead organizer and helped pull the meeting together to give the community a better understanding of how Senate Bill 50 will directly impact their neighborhoods.

Authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the proposed legislation would mandate that cities allow at least four homes on plots designated for single-family homes that are built around mass transit hubs. While supporters of the bill claim it is a necessary step in tackling the housing crisis that Los Angeles currently faces, opponents argue that it will do little to provide residents with affordable housing, and, instead give developers free reign to build luxury apartments that will price out current community members and change the landscapes of communities where families have lived and worked for decades.

Monica Breckenridge, 57, lives in the Crenshaw Manor neighborhood, in a house that has belonged to her husband’s family for four generations. She is one of many who fear that if SB 50 were to pass it would threaten their very way of life.

“I am concerned about the character of my neighborhood being overrun and overwhelmed by multifamily units being next door to single-family units,” Breckenridge said. “I do not want to give up the character of it being the family home. It’s incredibly important to me that this still be the home where the grandkids come to for Christmas and Easter.”

“I think this is just a way to back door very wealthy individuals into (these communities) and to displace longtime residents who bought in these neighborhoods when they could not buy anywhere else,” Breckinridge added. “This is about … preserving the legacy that we have already established.”

Featured panelists at the town hall included deputy director of Los Angeles City Planning Department Arthi Varma, community advocate Romerol Malveaux, community advocate and co-chair of land use community and vice president of  P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council Hydee Feldstein, vice president of the Baldwin Hills Estate Homeowners Association and builder John Gonzales, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival Larry Gross and president of the P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council Brad Kane.

While any movement on the bill has been tabled until January 2020, Wesson warned attendees not to celebrate just yet.

“Nothing is ever really dead in Sacramento,” Wesson said, adding that 60% of residents who reside in the 10th District will be effected by this bill. “Now I recognize that we have a housing crisis and we need to creatively come up with a way to try and fix it, but who better to do that than the people that live in the area?

“I understand that their heart is in the right place, but … come and meet with us … and together we can write every word on how we are going to do this and going to do that.”

Wesson urged attendees to stay engaged and reach out to their local representatives to express their views on this issue and to educate their community members about the bill. 

The panelists pointed out that Los Angeles is working very hard to increase available housing and the state just needs to give the city’s existing plans time to bear fruit.

“We are aware that there is an affordable housing crises …but the reality is that SB 50 is a real estate bill masquerading as a housing bill that will provide an enormous gift for developers,” Gross said. “It is wall street in our back yards. The news media is framing the demise of SB 50 as due to white home owners in the suburbs … but it was the tenants, home owners, progressives and people of Los Angeles working together who fought SB 50 because we know (that) SB 50 will accelerate gentrification, it will increase displacement, it will destroy the quality of life in neighborhoods, and it will handcuff local government and provide windfall profits to large developers.”

After the panel discussion, there was a question and answer session in which attendees expressed their concerns about issues such as employment, city zoning laws, and public perception of the bill that could have long-term effects on the ability of the city to provide affordable housing going forward.

Robertson, who was thrilled by the turnout, and the amount of education that attendees received on the bill, agrees that the town hall is just the beginning.

“I hope that the people who came tonight feel energized and inspired to … talk to their neighbors, colleagues, and friends. … That’s how it starts,” Robertson said.