Huge South Los Angeles Town Hall Opposes SB 50

In Housing, News, SB 50, South L.A. by Jill Stewart

A huge town hall at Holman Church and appearances by two key L.A. City Council members last week underscored the intense opposition in South Los Angeles to Senate Bill 50, with 90% of the audience raising their hands when asked if they opposed the controversial state law.

The turnout of 330 residents was the latest big, spontaneous town hall in Southern California as residents begin to hear of SB 50 — which is currently on hold in the legislature after failing to get out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 50 is an unprecedented, untested experiment that would wipe out virtually all single-family zoning in California, and encourage tall buildings with no parking — in communities nowhere near transit — that are dubbed “jobs rich.” Communities near transit stations would be upended as well.

For months, SB 50 has moved through the California State Legislature with virtually no media analysis, and often-inaccurate media coverage. The vast majority of Californians were left unaware of SB 50 and the drastic ways it would affect them.

Written by divisive Bay Area state Sen. Scott Wiener, who has said that single-family zoning is immoral, SB 50 is based on the hotly disputed theory that if vast amounts of luxury rental units are built, housing will “trickle down” to low-income families.

But SB 50 would reward developers to buy and destroy vibrant communities and solid housing stock to build luxury towers reaching 5 stories to 8 stories high. South L.A. is in the crosshairs of intense development allowed under SB 50.

The town hall last week was sponsored by the South LA Alliance for Locally-Planned Growth, a group of several community organizations in South LA who are opposed to state takeover of local zoning decisions.

Master of Ceremonies Diane Robertson is president of the Sutro Avenue Block Club in South Los Angeles and a vice president in the Law Department at CBS Television Studios. She and other organizers were inspired by an anti-SB 50 standing-room-only town hall that drew more than 300 residents to Temple Beth Am the week before, sponsored by South Carthay Neighborhood Association.

Here’s a sampling of what some of the panelists had to say at the South Los Angeles SB 50 Town Hall at Holman United Methodist Church:

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson urged vigilance to make sure SB 50 is not revived by the legislature. Wesson suggested that local communities work with the city to propose ways to build needed housing. He warned the crowd that “This (SB 50) is not dead. This is a vampire, and it can come back to life.”

Romerol Malveaux, a respected long-time community advocate and member of the Cherrywood Leimert Block Club, said to huge applause, “If we have to gentrify, my argument would be: ‘Let’s do it locally, where we can actually go to our (city) council office and say No, this doesn’t work.’ Because I don’t have enough money to fly to Sacramento.”

City Councilman Paul Koretz, leader of the fight against SB 50 in City Hall, got applause and laughter when he criticized Wiener’s trickle-down housing theory. Koretz said, “there’s no sign of that working anywhere. Seattle recently built 23,000 units in one year, in little Seattle, and their rents went down — by $2 a month on average.”

Hydee Feldstein, board member of P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council and the co-chair of its land-use committee, said to gasps from the audience, that of two new developments in her highly urbanized neighborhood “one has a 55% vacancy, and a studio is listed at $2,912.” The other new building is 71% vacant, Feldstein said, “and I think their studio started at $1,900 and went up to $4,400 — depending on how the good view was. We don’t have a housing crisis at all — we have a crisis of affordable housing.”

Larry Gross, the widely known executive director of Coalition for Economic Survival that fights for tenant rights and equitable housing in L.A.’s working-class and poor neighborhoods, slammed SB 50 by saying: “This is not a ‘YIMBY’ bill or a ‘NIMBY’ bill. This is a WIMBY bill: Wall Street In My Back Yard.”

Gross led a loud “No on SB 50” chant that galvanized residents, many of whom vowed to stop Sen. Wiener from devastating and gentrifying South L.A. Other speakers included John Gonzales, a builder and vice president of Baldwin Hills Estates HOA, Inc.; and Brad Kane, an attorney and president of the P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council, both of whom proposed a number of good alternatives to SB 50 that would not create the scorched-earth situation Wiener’s bill would all but guarantee.