A planned $1.1-billion makeover of a faded shopping center near USC into much-needed student housing and retail space was put on hold by a Los Angeles City Council land-use committee Tuesday after community groups protested the project’s potential negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
After listening to three hours of debate, the Planning and Land Use Management Committee asked for more information about how other major universities have handled community concerns during major upgrades — including fears that low-income residents could be displaced.
Chairman Ed Reyes asked for a report, expected in mid-September, that would address “loops that have yet to be closed” in the project, which has been in the works for nine years.
Thomas Sayles, USC’s senior vice president of university relations, urged the committee to proceed quickly.
“We’re hoping to move forward as soon as possible,” Sayles said. “The majority of the community supports this project.”
The development, on Jefferson Boulevard north of USC’s campus, would create 12,000 jobs and provide as much as 350,000 square feet of retail space, including a grocery store, several sit-down restaurants, shops and services, officials said. A pedestrian plaza as long as the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica would cut across the revamped community, offering space for a farmers market and community gatherings.
Speakers in the crowded council chambers voiced overall support for the revamp of the existing University Village shopping center, located on land owned by USC.
But representatives of UNIDAD, a coalition of community, labor and faith groups, told the panel that they believed that USC students would continue to live in nearby off-campus units and the school was not offering enough money to make up for the loss of that low-income housing.
“We believe the project doesn’t nearly meet existing demand for students’ housing,” said David Robinson of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. Students will take up off-campus apartments, displacing low-income residents, he said.
USC initially offered a $2-million contribution to support low-income housing in the area as part of its development agreement. But the coalition said it should pitch in at least $20 million.
Council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks made a similar request in a letter sent to the committee members hours before the hearing. The council members and community groups also want stronger guarantees of local hiring.
USC disputes that the project would displace anyone. One study showed that the project would have the opposite effect, returning to the community 900 privately-owned off-campus housing units now leased by students.