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A $1.2-billion mixed-use complex in South L.A. is closer to being built, despite community opposition

Plans to build a $1.2-billion residential, hotel and retail complex in South Los Angeles are one step closer to approval after city officials Tuesday rejected the arguments of community activists who said the project could lead to widespread displacement of low-income residents.

The proposed development, called the Reef Project, would transform two empty parking lots and the 12-story Reef Building on Washington Boulevard into a walkable community of skyscrapers and low- and mid-rise residential buildings just blocks from a Metro Blue Line station. 

The village would include luxury condominiums and apartments as well as a hotel, grocery store, fitness center and restaurant space.

City Councilman Curren Price, who represents the area, called the project unprecedented in that it will not require any public money or subsidies.

“For too long, the area has been overlooked and disregarded,” Price said. “The proposed project will be a tremendous asset to South Los Angeles … and will set the tone for the rest of developments not only in South L.A. but in the city.”

The Planning and Land Use Commission cleared the project to move forward by denying an appeal by community group United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement and Joe Donlin, with nonprofit Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. According to the appeal, the city had not properly weighed the economic impact of the project on one of the poorest parts of the city.

The decision to reject the appeal and approve the environmental review for the project comes as Los Angeles lawmakers face mounting criticism over soaring rents and are poised to ask voters next week to pay higher taxes to address the homelessness crisis. 

During recent heated hearings at City Hall, Donlin and South L.A. residents argued that the project would accelerate gentrification. Opponents fear the project will bring in residents who have been priced out of downtown L.A., Echo Park and Silver Lake, causing rents to rise, pushing poorer people out. 

UNIDAD calculated that the project could lead to the displacement of 43,000 residents of modest means. 

As part of its agreement with the city, the developer promised to set aside 5% of the rental units for low-income housing, provide $15 million for an affordable housing fund and give an additional $3 million to community organizations for job training, youth programs and violence prevention efforts. 

Some residents said the concessions are not enough.

Lamar Banks said his grandmother was just priced out of the neighborhood, and he's concerned it will happen to other low-income residents.

“We’re scrambling right now trying to find her a place,” he said. “She's 65 years old and shouldn't be working, but all she’s thinking about is how she’s going to pay the rent for the new spot. I'm looking at all these families, and they are going to be going through the same thing we are going through.”

Supporters said the project would bring jobs, services and much-needed investment to an area that has long been ignored by developers.

Mark Escobar, 32, owns a tax-preparation business next to the proposed project. While he said he does not look forward to the construction, he’s still excited.

“My family’s business is going to be directly affected by this,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m still standing here saying bring it on. We need more projects like this in our community.” 

The project still needs to be approved by the City Council before it can be built.

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings.  She can also be reached at angel.jennings@latimes.com.

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An earlier version of this article referred to the Reef Project as SoLA Village. That was the project's previous name.
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