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What light rail will bring to South L.A.

Episode Summary

For decades after the riots, South L.A. wondered when long-promised civic investment would come. Is a light-rail system it?

Episode Notes

After South L.A. erupted in anger 30 years ago, government officials promised to end the community’s economic disparity once and for all, and invest. It’s a promise that many residents say remains unfulfilled. But is that finally going to change?

Today, Part Two of our L.A. riots anniversary coverage will focus on the Crenshaw Line, a light-rail system that some South L.A. leaders say will help the neighborhood improve — and others fear will bring gentrification. 

Read the transcript. 

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times business reporter Samantha Masunaga

More reading:

Facing schedule delays, L.A. Metro seeks $120 million more for Crenshaw Line

Meet six artists making the public art you’ll soon see on Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line

Opinion: The Crenshaw Line is a start, but L.A.'s most transit-dependent neighborhoods need more options

Episode Transcription

Intro mux

Gustavo: After south LA erupted in anger 30 years ago, government officials promised to end the community's economic disparity once and for all. And invest.

CSPAN Pete Wilson: When Los Angeles was ravaged by riots, we created a revitalization zone, a place where rules and regulations take a back seat to jobs and opportunity. 

Gustavo: It's a promise that many residents say remains unfulfilled.

Tape James Fugate: even today, if you go into south central LA like Manchester and what is that Vermont? Oh, the lot right there. Oh God, it looks horrifying.

But is that finally going to change? 

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Gustavo: I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to The Times, daily news from the LA times. It's Friday, April 29th, 2020. Today part two of our LA riots anniversary coverage. Can the new rail line be that economic fix that South LA never got? 

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Gustavo: Here to talk to me about all this is business reporter Samantha Masunaga. Samantha, welcome to the times.

Sam: Hi, thanks for having me.

Gustavo: So yesterday we heard from a few of our colleagues about what actually went down in 1992 in Los Angeles, specifically in south LA. Today, we're going to look at 30 years of promises to rebuild it. So for our listeners who aren't familiar with Southern California, what is Southwest?

Sam: So south LA is a huge region in the area. It's about the size of San Francisco and it's made up of more than 20 neighborhoods. Um, there's Limerick park, there's Crenshaw Baldwin Hills, and it's all south of the 10 freeway, a huge, huge area.

Music (no task too small)?

Sam: Historically it was a Black community. Over the years, the community has become more Latino and the Black community has shrunk a little bit. Socioeconomically, the neighborhoods are incredibly diverse. There are homes with really high value, huge houses. There's also parts of the region that face a lot of poverty.

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Gustavo: And in your reporting, you met up with a youth organizer there, Jathan Melendez, and also a bookstore owner, James Fewgate. What did they have to say about South LA?

Sam: So Jathan has lived there at least a decade of his life, he has seen the neighborhood change.

Tape Jathan Melendez: So for me over the last 10 years, I noticed that there has been a lot more affordable housing developments in South LA so that’s a beautiful thing. 

Sam: He's pretty hopeful about its future. He works on a lot of campaigns to improve the area along with other long-time residents.

Tape Jathan Melendez: Over the years, we were able to transform that park and make it a little more of a healthy space. There's a library that folks can take advantage of and utilize that resource. there's a couple of great things happening in the community.

Sam: So Jathan has talked a lot about how this area is a food desert. There's no Trader Joe's, there's no Sprouts. It's hard to get fresh food. There's a lack of grocery stores in the area.

Tape Jathan Melendez: So again, when you think about fresh food options, it’s scarce in South LA. and that's why Southland's considered to be a food desert. I mean, if you look at just the employment rates in south LA, it doesn't add up to how much healthy food options cost. So a lot of folks will go to unhealthy alternatives McDonald's…

Sam: So while he is optimistic about its future, there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed now to improve the quality of life for so many residents.

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Sam: James has owned his bookstore in Leimert park for a long time before that they were in other parts of the city; Inglewood and elsewhere.

Tape James Fugate: And so when I got out of college, I ended up working for a small bookstore. And they had a significant selection of Black books. 

Sam: And he is fairly confident, um, about his bookstore, continuing. He is worried about his fellow businesses though, and whether they'll be able to, to last for the next 30 years.

Tape James Fugate: I don't think they're willing to maybe invest in opening up places down there. And then we also don't talk to some of these businesses about, if you do open up a supermarket, what kind of loss are you experiencing from theft and those kind of problems?

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Gustavo: Samantha, what was the economic situation like in South LA around the time of the 1992 riots?

Sam: It was really difficult. The nineties were a time when LA county's sprawling aerospace industry was really contracting. There were cutbacks in defense spending because it was the end of the cold war. And so a lot of aerospace workers were losing their jobs. At the same time, there was a lot of deindustrialization happening. There was a tire plant that was in South LA that closed. That meant a lot of residents in South LA were losing their jobs in addition to the aerospace jobs. That was really frustrating to a lot of people. 

Gustavo: And when the riots happened in April of 1992…and they just devastated South LA…over a billion dollars in property damage…at least people killed. But I also remember politicians coming to South LA and promising at press conferences all this re-development and investment. How did it go?

Sam: There wasn't a lot done after that. There were huge promises to rebuild LA. That there was going to be a lot of investment that private companies would come in and set up the stores that they never did initially. And a lot of the issues still remain, you know, there's still issues with food access. There's still not large stores that set up in South LA and residents say that there are still vacant lots that have nothing on them that’ve been vacant for the last 30 years.

Tape Jathan Melendez: It was an empty lot there. I believe the one on Martin Luther king in Western was also an empty lot.

Sam: So there's property to be developed and corporations and others don't want to come in.

Tape Jathan Melendez: There was too many empty lots in this area specifically.

Sam: South LA’s unemployment rate is really high compared to the rest of LA county. the median household income for the area is $44,000 compared to $73,000 for the rest of LA C ounty. 

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Sam: So there's a huge disparity there in terms of the economics of the area with, with the rest of the county

Tape James Fugate: Now, maybe before, you know, before the LA riots, there may have been more mom and pop businesses. But you go to the landmark on Pico in Westwood, they're all types of little businesses around there, employing all types of people. And none of that happens here. And that's what leads to all of this dissatisfaction with society. 

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Gustavo: Coming up after the break…a new train line….the Crenshaw light rail…opens in South LA.

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Gustavo: Samantha, before the break, we were talking about the broken promises of economic investment  in South LA since the 1992 riots. But now there’s this new project in South LA... decades in the making. A light rail that’ll connect it to // the rest of the city’s light rail system. How did it come about?

Sam: So government officials started pushing the idea of this light rail system or a trolley system, right after 1992. There were government officials that said that South LA was so cut off and isolated from other areas that private investment would cite that as a reason for not coming in. But things really didn't start until much later,

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Sam:  The line wasn't approved until 2009 construction, didn't start till 2014. and the line has still yet to open.

Gustavo: What took so long?

Sam: it was a lot of discussion about how the line would work, um, where there would be stops.there were also construction issues delays on delays. So it took a long time to get to where it is today.

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Gustavo: The rail line is going to connect places like Inglewood and Westchester to lax the airport. It cuts right through the heart of Los Angeles. But there was a time that it wasn't even going to go through a lot of south LA. 

Sam: Right. So there was a plan initially where there would not be a stop in Leimert Park, um, which is the heart of LA’s black arts and culture scene. And community members really pushed to get a stop there. They wanted the foot traffic. They wanted people to stop in this historic neighborhood and really benefit the businesses there. And they finally succeeded and there is going to be a stop there in Leimert Park.

Gustavo:  Samantha that new Crenshaw rail line it's finally supposed to open sometime this year. Does Metro, which runs a station. Do they expect it's going to be used a lot?

Sam: Yeah, they expect that there's going to be a lot of foot traffic there. They expect that there's going to be a lot of people going into the current businesses, maybe even new businesses coming up on the line // to take advantage of  commuters coming in and out. There's hopefully going to be more jobs. There's a transportation school. That's going to be coming up to help train people for new transportation jobs associated with the line. So it has been built as something that's going to really benefit the community and really increase the economic development there.

Gustavo:  This is the big promise that all these politicians made 30 years ago in a way?

Sam: Right, right.

Gustavo: And the people you actually spoke to though, who live and work in South LA, like James, a bookstore owner, and Jathan, the youth organizer. How do they feel about it?

Sam: So they're cautiously optimistic. They're excited about the opportunities that it could bring.

Tape Jathan Melendez: They were able to advocate for there to be two stops, one at Lawson and one, uh, right here in LA. So that the folks in the community can also have access to the train station and then will benefit from the revenue that's being generated from the businesses being built here because of the train station. So this is a beautiful thing.

Sam: But they're also wary. 

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Sam: Some folks described it as a double-edged sword that they're excited that there could be more economic development, which is something they've pushed for for a really long time.

Tape James Fugate: I had mixed feelings about it, but I also thought, too, that, you know, it's a steady march of progress.  That LA needs to have the kind of transit system that London has….

Sam: But on the other hand, with the train coming through, housing prices go up, rents can go up both for homes and businesses. And they're worried that people who have lived there for a long time are going to be pushed out of the area because they can't afford it anymore.

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Gustavo: It's interesting because I did a couple of columns in South LA recently, and you see that new development. Like you see a sort of on the outskirts of some parts of South LA you're driving around all these historic buildings. And then there's like hipster lofts here and there. But you're the business reporter. You're the one who knows these numbers. What are the trends that are actually happening in south LA ?

Sam: So, over the last decade home values in South LA have increased faster than the rest of LA  county. So between March, 2012 and March, 2022, the home values nearly tripled in South LA. Growth in the rest of LA county was a lot slower. At the same time, you know, you see a lot of commercial developments going up. There's a new  luxury high-rise tower in west Adams where rents for a one bed, one bath apartment are around $3,000. You're seeing this sort of price increase all across the board and residents are concerned. I mean, a professor I had spoken with who saw that the home prices around her home are tremendously increasing, which makes her think, can anyone in this neighborhood afford to buy and stay there?

Gustavo: Samantha, so much of our memory of the riots and what we think is a legacy of the riots. It's always about police brutality. It's always about the violence and the devastation. But the people that you talk to, how do they view the legacy of the riot? 

Sam: Um, a lot of folks really cite that economic factor that it seemed like. South LA was really exempt from a lot of the development. And a lot of the progress that the rest of LA was making that the south LA was a forgotten part of community.

AP chant

Tape James Fugate: I think that we look at the riots and we look at Latasha Harlins.

Tape James Fugate: We look at Rodney King, but we don't look at the fact that people didn't have jobs there. Their community is deprived of services and the businesses.

Sam:. And they say that a lot of the lessons about making sure that all parts of the city are included in, um, economic growth have not really been learned today.

Sam: Still.

Gustavo: Samantha. Thank you so much for this conference.

Sam: Thanks Gustavo.


Outro mux

Gustavo: And that’s it for this episode of THE TIMES, daily news from the LA Times

Next week: streaming wars, presidential elections in the Philippines…fermented Mexican drinks? Oh yeah. : 

Kasia Broussalian, Kinsee Morlan, and Ashlea Brown were the jefas on this episode. 

Our show is produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Kasia Brousalian, Ashlea Brown, Angel Carreras and David Toledo. Our editorial assistants are Madalyn Amato and Carlos De Loera. Our engineer is Mario Diaz. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmin Aguilera and Shani Hilton. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen. 

Like what you’re listening to? Then make sure to follow the Times on whatever platform you use. Don’t make us the Pootchie of podcasts!

I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back next week,  with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.

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