June 28, 2017 - From the June, 2017 issue

Jordan Downs Groundbreaking Engenders Promise for Watts

When Eric Garcetti was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2013, The Planning Report shared a list of proposed priorities recommended by civic leaders of our readership. That list included completing the long-awaited redevelopment of Jordan Downs. Once known as the most dangerous public housing complexes in Los Angeles, the neglected Watts development has finally begun a massive renovation that will culminate in a mixed-income “urban village,” grocery and local retail space, and complete streets connections to the rest of the neighborhood—all without even the short-term displacement of current residents, who will have access to the new units for no additional rent. TPR is proud to present excerpted remarks from Mayor Garcetti, Councilmember Joe Buscaino, and Housing Authority Director Doug Guthrie at the groundbreaking June 5.


Joe Buscaino

Eric Garcetti: Today, we are not just marking history, but making history. This is what history feels like: this moment, this place, and this gathering of people together, who are at the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

Joe Buscaino has been such a great partner in this. From the very first moment I became mayor, he said, “You’re coming to Watts, and we’re going to do great things for Jordan Downs.” This is his community, and he has never left it.

When a big, fancy developer comes to City Hall, they get all the departments lined up ahead of time to make sure there’s no red tape. When it comes to public housing, that isn’t always the treatment. But I said, “This is as important, if not more important, than any fancy development downtown.” This is filled with people who are already part of Los Angeles—not somebody new moving in, and not somebody making an investment. These are the folks who have been the lifeblood of the community.

So I want to thank all the city departments and the working group we put together to cut through the red tape. And thanks to the Strategic Growth Council, a state body that has returned your tax dollars to your community, for funding Jordan Downs not once, but twice, through cap and trade. The cap-and-trade program is paying off in communities like this.

This is an important step forward, not just for Watts, but for Los Angeles. When the project is complete, we will see more than 1,400 units of affordable housing. That’s double the number that exists now.

We have a housing crisis in Los Angeles. You feel it. Your sons and daughters wonder whether if they can stay in the city; employees wonder whether they can afford to work here. There is a 20 percent increase in the number of people who are living on the streets or who are homeless. We need to build more units. That starts right here, right now, today.

The first 250 of these units will be built over the next two years, and it was so important to Councilmember Buscaino and me to make sure that nobody would be displaced in the meantime. It does no good to build new units if the folks who live here get moved out. We’re doing this project in a way to make sure that current Jordan Downs residents will be able to move into these beautiful new units before anything else is demolished. That’s the right thing to do.

We don’t want just to build housing. We want to build a new community. We want to build more open space. We want our children not to have the scourge of diabetes and obesity. This project includes nine acres of open space—a central park for Jordan Downs. It includes a 50,000-square-foot community center as nice as anything on the Westside. It includes retail space so you can spend your money here locally.

We hope local businesses will start up here, so that jobs will be given to folks who live here and capital will be kept here, in the black- and Latino-owned businesses of the folks who grow up here and become the entrepreneurs of Watts. A new Main Street for Watts—isn’t it about time that we had that?

It wasn’t City Hall who had these answers. It wasn’t that we decided to impose a vision on Watts. We listened to Watts. This is the vision of Watts. It says: We deserve to have our representatives build what we need.

What’s exciting, too, is that this is going to be one of the largest sustainable developments in the history of this city. We’re going to expand Century Boulevard by a half-mile to create a walkable, complete street that will connect Jordan Downs to the rest of Watts. No more island here at Jordan Downs: We have to connect Watts with itself, not just with the greater community.

We can brag—and we should—that unemployment has been cut in half in Los Angeles; we now have the lowest unemployment rate in 20 years. But tell that to a community where there’s still double-digit unemployment, and where even those numbers don’t tell the truth of how under-employed you are—not knowing whether you’re going to get 15 hours or 30 hours next week. This project will produce, not only good jobs, but career pathways for the construction jobs that this city is going to have for the next 40 years.

Thanks to the voters who passed Measure M, we’re going to be building tunnels. We’re going to be building rail lines. We’re going to be building freeways and transportation infrastructure. The folks who learn those crafts here will have 40 years of employment, and they will live right here in Watts, because 30 percent of people hired for this development will come from this neighborhood.

Right now in Jordan Downs, we have people who can win gold medals. We have people who can become doctors. The next Mark Zuckerberg could be an African-American or Latino girl growing up right here and founding a tech company. Every single day, as your mayor, I think about what that dream is of a small child. I have a five-year-old daughter who is the love of my life. I want to bring the Olympics here for her, but also so that some great athlete growing up in Jordan Downs can have free access to sports facilities—just as Serena and Venus Williams did when we put the 1984 Games’ profits into tennis in Compton, and they became two of the greatest tennis players the world has ever seen.

We have a team that is united. LAPD is doing extraordinary work, together with gang reduction and youth development folks, so that we’ve seen months and sometimes years without a single killing here. Folks have come together from the nonprofit sector, like Project Fatherhood; from the Children’s Institute; and from Kaiser.

If you’re ever down about the state of the world these days, if you’re worried about what’s coming out of the White House—don’t worry about who’s in the White House. Worry about who’s in this house. Don’t worry about the most powerful man in this country; think about the most vulnerable in our community. While they’re sending out tweets, we’re paving your streets.

This feeling that we have of making history today—let’s make sure that it isn’t just about what we build, but also about what we give the folks who will be in what we build. That is what our legacy will be. We are a part of breathing hope back into one of the greatest communities in the heart of this great city.

 Joe Buscaino: Two years ago, here in the Watts community, we marked the 50th anniversary of the Watts Rebellion. At that time, there wasn’t a lot to celebrate here at Jordan Downs.

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The mayor and I put together a cabinet of the best and brightest of every city department, and we communicated the urgency of moving forward on this amazing project. Every month over the past two years, the Jordan Downs Working Group met to ensure that we secured all the funding, permits, and approvals needed to bring us to today’s groundbreaking.

We’re here today to chart a course for a renewed Watts. The renewed Watts will have better schools and education, like the newly renovated Jordan High and the College Track program, which provides students with the support and commitment they need to enroll in and graduate from college.

The renewed Watts will have more youth programs, like the Watts Bears. The renewed Watts will have better policing, like the Community Safety Partnership Program, which is a proven successful model that every department in this country should follow.

The renewed Watts will have an expanded Kaiser Counseling and Learning Center, which has been serving our children for the last 50 years, along with a state-of-the-art medical facility on 103rd Street and Success Avenue.

The renewed Watts will have more services, like the expanded Children’s Institute, designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry. In addition to Frank Gehry, the renewed Watts will attract—like bees to honey—more internationally acclaimed architects and designers to add to the Watts Towers.

The renewed Watts will have more healthy food options and more supermarkets, like the one that will be built here on Century, and like Roy Choi’s LocoL, which opened last year and was named the L.A. Times’ restaurant of the year.

The renewed Watts will have better housing, and attract more modern and sustainable homes like we’re building here at Jordan Downs. The renewed Watts will also have more jobs: 30 percent of the workforce that will build this development will come from here.

The renewed Watts will have more stable families, more love, and more pride. The renewed Watts will welcome back residents who have paid their dues to society and make sure they have a fair shot at participating in the job market, allowing them to provide for their families and live a safe and prosperous life.

The renewed Watts will have more parks, like the new Serenity Park—one of the most beautiful parks in this city—and the new 109th Street pool, where the mayor and I will kick off our Summer Splash program later this week.

And the renewed Watts will no longer be overlooked or underfunded. I’m currently working with the mayor and our city family, along with our development partners, Michaels and BRIDGE, to submit a Transformative Climate Communities grant to the Strategic Growth Council later this year. If we’re successful, we can bring in $35 million to this Jordan Downs community and Watts. Finally, the renewed Watts does have a voice.

This is what the renewed Watts will look like, and I know all of you agree: Watts is indeed worth it.

Doug Guthrie: Some people say that we’ve been working on this plan for 10 years. I’d venture to say it’s been more like 30 or 40 years that we’ve been talking about the redevelopment of this community. This development promises progress to the residents of Jordan Downs and the larger Watts community. It is the end of the beginning for a new community.

There have been so many people involved in this project, but the strongest of all have been the residents of Jordan Downs. They’ve been here, working on this from the beginning. They’ve been strong partners and believers, and at times, when we’ve gotten discouraged, they’ve lifted our spirits up. It all started with the residents.

There was no way HACLA could have done this alone—we tried, and didn’t get very far. Our longtime community partners and leaders have been critical, and I can’t overstate the political leadership it has taken to get this done.

It’s great to have a HACLA vision and a local vision, but none of that goes anywhere without the ardent support and leadership of the mayor and the councilmembers of this great city. Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Buscaino made the difference. They made this a priority from day one, and then they made it a priority for all the city departments as well.

That’s why we’re here today, and that’s why we’re going to be here over the next few years, finishing what we’ve started. I want to echo our councilmember in saying: We are all bound together by one strong and true belief, and that belief is that Watts is worth it.

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© 2017 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.