LOS ANGELES (CN) – Drivers making their way to Los Angeles International Airport may have never noticed Inglewood or thought about stopping for a visit, but that will change thanks to a development boom spurred by city leaders and developers.
New entertainment projects are sprouting up across the city, boosting property values and bringing in construction jobs. And while rents are lower here than in other parts of LA County, more residents are receiving rent increase notices – leading many to worry they’ll be pushed out by projects they had little say in crafting.
Inglewood sits on the southwest side of the county, a short drive from Venice Beach. The city sits near the 405 and 105 freeways and lies directly under the LAX flight path.
Visitors will soon be able to ride in and out of Inglewood on Metro’s under-construction Crenshaw Line, which will offer the first public transit option to LAX.
Professional sports have also turned its eyes to the area: Hollywood Park, a 2,500-home residential community, will be part of the $2.6 billion Rams stadium project expected to open in 2020. The community will feature a revamped Hollywood Park Casino, a luxury hotel and an artificial lake.
An elevated tram line will connect visitors to all attractions, including a proposed NBA stadium for the LA Clippers.
Mayor James Butts told Courthouse News he envisions the city becoming a place where local kids can grow up, go to college and have “gainful employment without having to leave” the city.
“We want them to rise economically but also lift up residents that have lived here,” Butts said.
There’s no doubt Inglewood’s star is rising. But a county health report said economic conditions are worsening for the city’s 116,000 residents, 20 percent of whom live at or below the federal poverty line.
The majority of residents, 65 percent, rent in Inglewood and have seen housing costs climb by 25 percent since 2013, according to the county report. Only 35 percent own homes.
A closer look reveals bleak figures: 56 percent of residents spend 30 percent or more of their annual income on housing, and nearly a third spend 50 percent or more on housing costs.
Butts said housing costs are rising throughout the state but new development will lift all boats.
“What prices are rising in Inglewood that are not rising in other places,” he said.
The city is 53 percent Latino and has a larger black population – 43 percent – than the county as a whole, at just 8 percent.
“We’re not really united but there’s no tension between us,” said Hector Cervantes, whose family has owned a home in Inglewood since 2001.
Cervantes, who lives within walking distance from the renovated casino, said he’s worried about new projects increasing traffic.
“These projects are going to turn this city into another parking,” he said.
David Dang, a resident of Inglewood since 2012, said jobs are the “main selling point” of the projects but may not pay enough to allow residents to stay long term.
“Pretty soon these stadiums will kick people out and bring in new people,” Dang said.
Ivan Villanueva has lived in Inglewood for nearly 20 years. He says he can see both sides.
“Depending on who you talk to, neighbors say [development] is good because it raises property values while others hate the traffic and say it will bring in [outsiders],” he said. “They’re both right.”
Villanueva said “mom-and-pop laundromats and panaderias” are gone. Buy Low and other local markets he grew up going to have been replaced by big-box stores.
Along Century Blvd., giant high-definition screens blast ads all day, blanketing local liquor stores, payday loan shops and pupuserias in bright lights.
“[Development] here doesn’t follow typical gentrification logic,” Villanueva said. “There are no hippy coffee shops.”
He recalled one his former students inviting their uncle Mayor Butts to speak to the class.
Butts “went right into political mode,” Villanueva said, saying that he wanted the city to be the entertainment capital of the West, rivaling downtown LA and “bigger than Vegas.”
Butts denies making that claim.
Derek Steele, a resident and affordable housing advocate with Uplift Inglewood, said a majority of residents won’t benefit from new development.
Steele said “culture bearers” are pushed out and minimum affordable unit requirements are stripped from housing projects. Residents “make it work” by doubling or tripling up in homes, he said.
Uplift is not antidevelopment, he said. Many coalition members led efforts to bring the stadium and other projects to the city.
“The city is being sold wholesale and it’s being made to believe there is no opposition,” Steele said.
Uplift backs the county’s proposed rent freeze and is pushing for a local tenant rights agreement.
The group also took part in an effort to put a local rent control measure on the ballot in November. The initiative didn’t collect enough signatures, but Steele said the county’s signature count is being challenged.
Butts said he would “gladly support” rent control if voters passed a measure but won’t unilaterally push for rent stabilization.
The group is also working with Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, to challenge the city’s use of public land for construction of the Clippers arena.
A lawsuit filed June 19 claims the city violated the California Surplus Land Act by not first seeking out proposals for affordable housing construction on the site.
Butts says affordable development is “forbidden” on that land because it lies in the LAX flight path and has been “deemed incompatible” for housing projects.
But Steele said the entire city is a flight path. “These arguments don’t make sense – not even common sense,” he said.
The city wants the Legislature to pass Assembly Bill 987, which Steele says would “bypass” state environmental regulations in order to fast-track construction of the Clippers arena.
Butts said it’s not a “fast-track bill” but would simply set the same schedule that other major projects – including Oracle Arena in Oakland – operated under.
Antonio Hicks, an attorney at Public Counsel, said the groups want the city to be more transparent and include residents in the planning process.
“To extend the city intended to benefit community members, they haven’t actually engaged community,” Hicks said, who added that speedy City Council meetings are often the “only entree” for residents to voice concerns.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s many opportunities to have a say in how these things play out,” he said.
Even if the Clippers arena is stopped or affordable housing is added to the project, Inglewood will need to build still more. City plans, so far, don’t come close to reaching the number of units needed: The Department of Housing and Community Development said Inglewood will need to add at least 500 units of affordable housing for low-income residents by 2021.
Butts said his administration is working with county officials to build at least 170 units on city-owned parcels in the next three years.
The City Council and Housing Authority share the obligation of developing affordable housing – including replacement of any units destroyed or removed from the housing market – as a successor to the city’s redevelopment agency, which was dissolved in 2012.
“I have a hard time trusting that city will do it right way,” Steele said.