Groups Fight $1.2 Billion Development in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Two community groups have taken Los Angeles to court to block a controversial $1.2 billion development of homes, stores and a hotel in a poor neighborhood south of downtown.

In separate complaints filed on Dec. 23, the Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance and SAJE, both nonprofits, claim the City Council violated state environmental laws by approving a mixed-use project called The Reef.

Scheduled for construction next year, the “luxury mega-development,” as one complaint calls it, will put 549 apartments, 895 condominiums, 160,000 square feet of retail space and a 208-room hotel on two city blocks near USC, where parking lots are now.

The groups say the project will force up rents in one of the poorest areas of Los Angeles and drive out residents who have lived in the neighborhood for decades.

SAJE, a tenants-rights group, also claims planners and city officials violated government code and the city plan by rushing through final approval in late November to beat the effective date of a newly adopted ballot measure that imposes minimum affordable housing requirements on many new developments.

The Reef “could displace thousands of residents” from a community that “has long suffered from segregation, concentrated poverty, limited opportunity, and prolonged civic disinvestment,” the Justice Alliance says in its complaint.

“While the project may provide luxury condominiums and achieve transport efficiency for affluent professionals, business people, and hipsters, it imposes disproportionate public health, social, and economic burdens on a community that is already one of the most polluted and economically challenged in California,” the Justice Alliance says.

The alliance is a nonprofit citizens group based in the Inland Empire area with members throughout the state, according to its Los Angeles attorney Steven Blum, with Blum Collins, who declined further comment.

His clients accuse the city and council of failing to prepare an adequate environmental impact report, and ask the Superior Court to set aside the EIR and prepare a new one properly.

In the second complaint, Los Angeles-based SAJE —Strategic Actions for a Just Economy — adds the city Planning Department as a defendant and adds violations of the state subdivision map act and the city’s general plan as causes of action, along with claims under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Neither the group’s executive director Cynthia Strathmann, nor its attorney Mitchell Tsai, of Pasadena, returned calls seeking comment.

The Reef project’s attorney, Edgar Khalatian with Mayer Brown, could not be reached Wednesday.

The city councilman who represents South Los Angeles, Curren Price, has said The Reef “will be a tremendous asset” to a part of the city that “for too long … had been overlooked and disregarded.”

Price told the Los Angeles Times the project is unprecedented because it will not require any public money or subsidies.

Under a community benefits agreement, the developer will set aside 5 percent of the apartments for low-income renters and will pay the city $15.2 million to retain and improve other low-cost housing, project supporters say. It also promises to contribute $3 million to community organizations for job training, youth programs and violence prevention.

“This is what real progressive change looks like,” Councilman Gil Cedillo said at a planning meeting on the project in November.

Some activists asked that 15 percent of The Reef’s housing be low-income; others asked for 50 percent.

SAJE claims the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not adequately analyzing the project’s objectives and failing to consider alternatives. It says the city did not “adequately analyze or mitigate” the project’s impact on aesthetics, air quality, geology, cultural resources, greenhouse gases, water quality, land-use planning, noise, population and transportation.

The Justice Alliance claims the city “approved a woefully inadequate EIR that … could push a sensitive community to and over the brink.”

The CEQA “requires additional disclosures and comprehensive and severe mitigation that are nowhere to be found in the project’s EIR,” the alliance says.

If The Reef is built, “the public will have to endure significant, avoidable, unmitigated adverse environmental impacts without there being any (or there being insufficient) benefits to outweigh such impacts,” the alliance says.

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