Gentrification Sneaks into Skid Row Via ‘Landscaping’

SKID ROW, DTLA-For well over a decade, Downtown’s revitalization efforts, which include luxury housing, high-end hotels, and expensive bars and restaurants -- some with celebrity Top Chefs in their kitchens -- have been deemed a success in all places except Skid Row, aka, “the homeless capitol of America.” A map of development projects in DTLA looks like a well-glazed donut -- a whole lotta sweet stuff all around but Skid Row is stuck in the hole in the center with no donut and definitely no glaze! 

Business leaders and City officials looking for “solutions to homelessness” at Skid Row have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the problem but have come up short, to say the least. Their efforts have been described as “repetitive and ineffective hot air,” “all-words and no substance-type lofty goals,” “unrealistic rhetoric,” “the ole wait and see, but trust me now typical political fluff” or a combination of any of the above. 

The frustration has been mounting up higher than any of the Measure HHH new homeless development projects. 

Many in the Downtown business sector say they want a cleaned-up Skid Row. Many in the homeless community say they want new and/or upgraded housing so they can get off the streets and live in apartments like most other Angelenos who also struggle to survive. Many of the politicians say they want affordable housing for all who need it. Well if everyone is saying the same thing and if everyone wants the same results, then what’s the issue? 

Angelenos have taxed themselves billions of dollars to create new funding pots to solve homelessness. Those who understand development know that it takes years to complete brand-new buildings from the ground up. Homeless individuals and families are piling up on sidewalks and communities across the City. The official 2018 Homeless Count numbers will be released next month with high-expectations of yet another increase…meaning there’s no end to homelessness in sight. 

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a new project called The North Sea has emerged in a northern section of Skid Row. A handful of property owners have painted all their buildings alike and since most of them were at some point seafood factories, it’s no surprise that ocean blue is the predominant color. These buildings have been neglected for decades, so no one complained when the sea of blue buildings emerged. In Skid Row, this was at first simply seen as a community beautification project; community members approved and appreciated the efforts but were totally unaware that more was to come. 

Now, capital improvements in the form of “landscaping additions” have raised eyebrows in Skid Row. While it’s common knowledge that property owners control up to three feet of sidewalk from their buildings, The North Sea is taking upwards of 5-10 feet of sidewalk, allowing only for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance and ZERO space for homeless tents and/or encampments. 

While installation of temporary construction fencing forced homeless people away from their normal homes on sidewalks in the affected area, no outreach was done. Most thought the fencing was for the paint job and would be removed once it was completed. This would enable tents and encampments to return, like when Operation Healthy Streets provides sidewalk cleaning. 

But months after the paint jobs were complete, the temporary fencing remained; many believed this was an effort to keep homeless people from returning. Now, we see The North Sea is nothing more than a Trojan Horse, designed to completely rid the sidewalks in Skid Row of homeless citizens. 

Already, The North Sea is expanding beyond what was initially proposed, presumably because more property owners are seeing the immediate results and are joining the effort. 

While some may see this project as “a Godsend,” there are myriad of legal issues associated with this project that may send our local political leaders, Skid Row property owners and Los Angeles Police Department back to the drawing board. 

With several lawsuits specific to Skid Row’s sidewalks (Jones, Lavan, Mitchell, and more) still active, there are “sidewalk settlement agreements” that have been violated by this North Sea project and while the property owners may be in the clear, the City of Los Angeles may not be. 

Further, with such a large portion of Skid Row’s sidewalks temporarily taken away from homeless people, a natural reaction is occurring: people are moving their tents and encampments to neighboring communities such as Little Tokyo, the Arts District, Historic Core and the Fashion District. 

This is where poor planning and outreach will negatively affect other communities because these homeless persons need sidewalk space. And this is where LAPD may be forced to “do something.” 

Skid Row community leaders have already reached out to top City officials with a powerful message: “The City of Los Angeles is hiding behind property owners while still criminalizing homelessness” -- LAPD brass, the Department of City Planning, the City Attorney himself and the Mayor were directly contacted via email but no response from these decision-makers has been received. There has also been no explanation given regarding the sudden uptick in homeless arrests in Skid Row. 

In another realm, recent obligatory City notifications indicate that Little Tokyo has joined The North Sea effort by applying to sell alcohol in a new restaurant in Skid Row on 4th street within The North Sea area. While it is unknown exactly who the applicant is or who comprises Little Tokyo Management, LLC, tension remains between Skid Row and Little Tokyo after last year’s effort to create the Skid Row Neighborhood Council. Back then, Little Tokyo pledged its support, but later rescinded it through the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council. 

What’s ironic is that many naysayers of the Skid Row NC effort complained that its leaders wanted to put tents on Main street. Now we learn it is property owners who want to move homeless people away from the front of their own properties and who have created something that will now put tents on Main street. 

Not to be overlooked, Little Tokyo wants to open a restaurant and sell alcohol in Skid Row as part of The North Sea project. This can be viewed as a precursor to Little Tokyo attempting another “land grab” to expand its southern border from 3rd street to 4th street. Clearly, Little Tokyo and The North Sea have common interests and are quietly making the rounds to build consortiums across the eastern side of Downtown. 

What is not being considered are the Skid Row non-profits who apply for and receive funding to provide services in Skid Row and are based on or near 3rd street. If these boundaries are changed and these non-profits are suddenly based outside of Skid Row, their funding streams would instantly be put in jeopardy. As a result, Skid Row residents and homeless persons would be without the services they are already receiving. 

Unfortunately, it seems the selfish and limited vision of The North Sea property owners who want to satisfy a few, will hurt other Angelenos living outside of Skid Row in Downtown LA. As homelessness continues to expand at a rapid rate, displacing people from large sections of sidewalks in Skid Row gives them no other choice than to migrate into nearby communities. 

It’s uncertain what the result will be, but gentrification has finally made a grand entrance in Skid Row. No need to take a bow yet though. Obviously, there’s more to come!

 

(General Jeff … Jeff Page … is a homelessness activist and leader in Downtown Los Angeles. Jeff’s views are his own.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.