Panel spotlights social justice issues of USC neighborhoods
USC’s planned redevelopment of University Village and the addition of the Metro Expo line have put a spotlight on social justice issues in the neighborhood surrounding the University Park Campus.
Raphael Bostic, director of the Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise, housed within the USC Price School of Public Policy, moderated a panel discussion Jan. 30 on the delicate balance of improving the area while keeping current residents around to enjoy the benefits.
The discussion was part of the ongoing “Students Talk Back” series, a weekly politics and public policy forum sponsored by the Bedrosian Center, the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at USC Price and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.
“At the Price School, we sit in planning, policy and public administration — at a juncture of all these fields — where these tensions about justice come into play,” said Associate Professor Lisa Schweitzer, who served as a panelist. “At this level, the choices get very hard, and we have to spend a lot of time thinking carefully about what we are doing.”
Joining Schweitzer on the panel were USC Price Master of Public Administration student Leslie Ivie and Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the South Los Angeles community advocacy group Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE).
USC received approval from the Los Angeles City Council in December to transform the dated University Village shopping center across from campus into a modern town square with a grocery market, shops, restaurants and housing that will be attractive to students. The approval came after nine months of discussions and negotiations with community organizations.
“There’s probably not a single person on the planet who wants to keep University Village the way it is,” Schweitzer said. “It’s a bad facility. People in the community would like an amenity. … But then when markets come in and you start to have that raising of land values, of course people who don’t have as much money to compete in this very competitive market around USC get displaced.”
Compromises made by USC to gain community support included a $20 million contribution to affordable housing (up from $2 million in the original proposal), an increase in student housing capacity from 1,200 to 3,000 and the creation of a tenants’ rights legal clinic on campus.
Gonzalez said SAJE never wanted to stop the development, which will create 12,000 jobs, but to work with the university to ensure that it benefited the local community. She would like to see community organizations more involved in the early stages of planning.
“Development often happens in the city this way,” Gonzalez explained. “The city council and developers decide what is going to happen, announce it to the community and then defend it from any opposition. Really, what should be happening is that the community should be involved from the very beginning.”
Now that the USC Village project has been resolved, a key social justice issue in the neighborhood going forward will be development along the Metro Expo line that connects USC to downtown and Culver City through light rail.
Luxury housing developers are already beginning to buy up prime real estate near the Expo line stops.
According to Schweitzer, luxury housing will draw high-income earners who usually have cars and only make use of the transit part time, forcing core transit riders to move farther away. The LA County focus on rail expansion is also leading to bus lines being cut, which makes it more difficult for those displaced to get back to the rail or to jobs.
“It actually doesn’t equal smart growth if you’re bringing car drivers into transit and displacing your core transit riders,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not only an economic justice issue in that those residents who are being displaced now have less access to infrastructure and getting to where they need to go, but it’s also not environmentally smart.”
Ivie serves as president of Partnership for an Equitable Los Angeles, a student association at USC Price, and she works as interim director of development at the Liberty Hill Foundation. She would like to see the university more actively engage the community on the issue of social justice.
“I think the university can partner with nonprofit organizations to bring the voice of the people and the voice of the academy together so that we can think creatively about how we can share this space,” Ivie said. “We can mutually benefit from each other’s presence without being threatened.”