August 30, 1989 - From the August, 1989 issue

Watts Next: Growth and Development Opportunities in Watts

Eugene Grigsby, III, president of the Planning Group (an urban planning consulting firm) and Sterling J. Barnes, City Planning Associate with the LA City Planning Department write on the potential developmental opportunities in Watts. Grigsby and Barnes start off by listing the various developments that have been completed or to be completed in Watts as the fertile ground for development. Then, they address the negative image that other Angelenos have placed on Watts in stark contrast to the homeowners of Watts who want growth in their city. Lastly, they elaborate on the Watts Redevelopment Project that will call for affordable housing, new streets, etc.  

As the Southern California economy and population continue to grow, planners, architects and developers alike are constantly looking for new locations to practice their trades. Many believe that Watts, with some interesting development opportunities, is a logical location for intensified development.

The completion of the Century Freeway, the Los Angeles to Long Beach Light Rail Line and the Century Freeway Light Rail Line coupled with the potential expansion of the Watts Redevelopment area, the formation of a Slate/County Joint Enterprise Zone, and the potential rehabilitation and/or sale of Watt's four public housing projects, lend some credence to the notion that new growth opportunities exist.

As pressures for new growth mount, the City of Los Angeles has to bring zoning into conformity with the City's General Plan as mandated by the State AB 283 program. In the case of Watts, this has meant that some higher density residential areas have been scaled back and that some commercially zoned land has been redesignated for residential use only. The passage of Proposition U also reduced floor area ratios (FAR) from 3:1 to 1.5:1 in Watts. Both of these actions will likely serve as disincentives to development. The Planning Department is also in the midst of revising its sewer permit ordinance which will limit growth under certain conditions while attempting to encourage new growth to occur in undercapitalized areas. Revisions in the ordinance could benefit Watts in that certain incentives may be provided to developers who build in these areas.

The city is also beginning to formulate a management strategy which is to provide a framework for influencing the rate and location of future growth.

Growth and Development in Watts

While population growth in Watts has kept pace with that of the rest of the region, commercial, industrial and housing growth has not. In large measure this is due to the extremely negative image of Watts widely held by “outsiders.”

A recently completed report entitled “Watts Next The Challenge of Change” prepared by a team of professionals for a Los Angeles Design Team workshop found “two faces of Watts”. From a resident perspective Watts is comprised of a variety of people, most of whom have limited incomes, and many of whom are homeowners.

Residents are quite concerned about the lack of employment opportunities, particularly for youth, the poor quality of schools, the lack of shopping opportunities, and the tremendous hardships that drugs and gangs have imposed. Residents have expressed dismay at the “outsider's view of Watts”—a community rift with gun-toting gang members ready to prey on people who leave the security and safety of their home or automobiles. Unfortunately, it is this latter “view of Watts” which permeates much of Southern California.

With the exception of drugs and gangs, residents today are echoing the same concerns residents expressed immediately following the Watts revolt of 1965. However, unlike more affluent sections of the city where a preponderance of growth opponents reside, a large number of Watts residents would like to see benefits of regional growth directed towards their community.

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But not at any price. Homeowners in Watts do not want to be displaced, and low income renters do not want to be priced out of the market place. Similarly, Watts residents also do not wish to sacrifice a relatively pollution free environment for potential employment opportunities which bring with them unfettered environmental problems. 

Development Opportunities in Watts

The Watts Redevelopment Project comprises 107 acres of land and is bounded by 100th Street and Century Boulevard on the North, Wilmington Avenue on the cast, 104th Street on the south and Success Avenue on the west. The plan calls for affordable housing for families and seniors, neighborhood shopping facilities, new streets, sidewalk and utility system improvements and street lights and street trees. The area contains a diversity of land uses, including industrial, commercial, residential, public and quasi-public, institutional and recreational.

From 1969 to date, the CRA has acquired 525 separate properties. A total of 723 residential and business tenants have been relocated. The agency lists 21 different projects as being complete or nearly complete. Among these are the Martin Luther King Jr. Shopping Center, 458 low to moderate income housing units, six community service centers, and a number of public improvements.

Now the CRA is in the process of expanding the Watts redevelopment project area boundaries. At the request of the fifteenth Councilperson office, the Redevelopment Agency has begun the requisite planning for the proposed expansion of the existing Watts Redevelopment project. The proposed expansion would be accomplished by amending the existing Redevelopment Plan to include an area surrounding the older Project If approved, this expansion will create the largest redevelopment area in the City of Los Angeles.

The proposed expanded Redevelopment project area would encompass nearly 2,000 acres or 3 square miles. Expansion of the area will potentially allow the CRA to capitalize on development opportunities which may be generated as a result of the completion of the Century Freeway and accompanying Light Rail Line as well as the completion of the Long Beach to Los Angeles Light Rail Linc.

For the LA/DAPT team, the mission of development should be to “build a community where residents fully participate in controlling their future, live safely, have adequate employment opportunities, and are comfortable in the knowledge that their children can be well educated.” Specific recommendations presented by the LA/DAPT team included:

  • Creating an official City mechanism to assure that intervention strategies and incentives are coordinated
  • Require that special Federal and State funds (e.g., block grant, tax increment, UDAG, repayments, Proposition A, etc.) be prioritized by City departments and agencies toward supporting a comprehensive Watts revitalization plan
  • Establish special-benefit assessment districts to help generate needed revenues for community improvements.

            Development opportunities currently exist, particularly around transit station locations, the Watts Towers, and the Century Freeway off ramps. What is needed now is the right combination of public incentives and private ingenuity to speed up the process.

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