Hundreds of high-priced residential units packed on 5.2 acres. Nearly 45,000 square feet for fancy shops, restaurants and a market. A token amount of affordable housing for seniors. Chinatown community activists were shocked by the mega-project known as “College Station” proposed at Spring and College streets near the Gold Line station — and saw it as a direct attack on their working-class community.
The Los Angeles City Council or Department of Planning have approved scores of such projects, aimed at gentrifying longtime affordable areas that developers insist are ripe for dramatic change.
Sissy Trihn, executive director of Southeast Asian Community Alliance, explained to one radio station, “The high-end supermarkets, the live-work lofts where a one-bedroom goes for $2,000 or $3,000. … Not for families, not for seniors, and definitely not for the low-income residents of Chinatown.”
A land-use website controlled by business interests declared that the mega-project “could change the face of Chinatown.” Quite literally, in fact. Just take a look at the drawing above for how Atlas Capital Group, the deep-pocketed, politically connected developer, re-imagines the neighborhood.
College Station is not “smart growth.” It’s another gigantic project proposed by another greedy developer that will ultimately drive longtime residents out of their neighborhood. So why is the City Council listening to Atlas Capital and other developers?
Atlas Capital needs a special vote of the full City Council to get a “zone change” from industrial and manufacturing to mixed-use commercial and residential. Such industrial property is supposed to be developed by companies who have hundreds of good blue-collar jobs to offer. But the City Council has instead become obsessed with creating gentrification.
To get the big zone change, Atlas Capital need merely follow the old Los Angeles rule: Pour money into City Hall, so big favors for a developer can come out.
The first wildly inappropriate College Station development, unveiled in 2014 by EVOQ Properties, featured two, 20-story skyscrapers with up to 685 residential units for high-paid Downtown L.A. professionals and 100 “affordable” units for seniors. The skyscrapers were vastly out of proportion to the historic community and weren’t geared at all for the people who actually live there.
Activist Sissy Trihn asked KPCC radio some months ago, “How is this serving the existing community, as opposed to creating a harder standard of living because it’s making everything else more expensive?”
Trihn is dead on correct.
Atlas Capital, a development firm with an international real estate portfolio worth $2.5 billion, then took over the project, but still didn’t care care about longtime residents and destroying the special nature of Chinatown. A situation all too common in a city that needs to protect the unique neighborhoods still standing in L.A.
In 2016, Atlas Capital ditched the two skyscrapers, but decided to make the project even more sprawling: 770 apartments in six Big Box buildings on 5.7 acres with 57,000 square feet of retail space and hundreds of parking spaces.
Once Atlas Capital alters Chinatown’s neighborhood character forever, Atlas and the City Council will have knowingly set off the “domino effect” of more and more luxury projects — and longtime Chinatown residents will be shoved out. And, as usual, in an area whose infrastructure can’t support the sprawling project, the “traffic studies” for College Station will be creative fiction — or ignored by the City Council.
Why? Because in 2014 and 2015, Atlas Capital spent $614,804 on a City Hall lobbyist to talk turkey with the Mayor’s Office, City Council members, the Building and Safety Department, and the Planning Department about College Station ($108,672) and another project in nearby downtown, ($506,132).
In Chinatown, the median household income is $22,754. Residents will never get the insider access to City Hall that Atlas Capital bought with its $614,804.
Residents often don’t realize how deeply City Hall is involved in cutting deals that raffle off L.A. neighborhoods to developers.
Now add on top of that lobbying the direct campaign cash giving to L.A. politicians—more money poured into City Hall for big favors. In 2014 and 2015, Atlas Capital employees shelled out a total of $7,000 to a City Council candidate and several incumbents.
In 2015, key people from Atlas Capital, including its chief financial officer Christopher Flynn, forked over $2,100 to L.A. City Council member Gil Cedillo. City Council candidate Carolyn Ramsay got a $700 campaign contribution, and council members Mitchell Englander and Jose Huizar got $700 each from Atlas Group employees.
In 2014, Atlas Capital president Andrew Cohen and principal Jeffrey Goldberg shelled out $2,800 to L.A. City Council member Jose Huizar (their other nearby mega-development, known as “ROW DTLA” at city landmark Alameda Square, is in Huizar’s district).
When Atlas Capital unveiled its sprawling redo idea for Chinatown in February, most media didn’t utter one peep about the big money flowing from Atlas Capital into City Hall.
If voters approve the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative heading for the Los Angeles city ballot, the international real estate moguls at Atlas Capital would be shown the door. No more zone changes by City Council members who take cash from developers who gentrify and push out the community.