For years, Dr. Ara Tavitian and his crew at Kanon Ventures have been building an empire through healthcare services and real estate development, which includes a proposed $1-billion mega-project with two skyscrapers and huge supergraphic billboards called “SoLA Village” at The Reef in Historic South-Central. Tavitian and his execs knew that one of the keys to their success would be spreading around cash at L.A. City Hall.
Between 2001 and 2015, Tavitian and executives Dr. Avedis Tavitian, Jon Vartan Hovsepian and Ava Bromberg shelled out $12,450 to the campaign war chests of L.A. politicians, according to the city’s Ethics Commission.
In pursuit of building SoLA Village, the developer has poured $357,325 into super-connected lobbying firm Marathon Communications to win over L.A. pols and city agencies, according to the Ethics Commission. The wealthy doctor and his team operate through a limited liability corporation known as PHR LA Mart.
That’s a whopping total of $369,775 — more than 10 times the median household income in Historic South-Central.
As one would guess, Kanon Ventures wants big favors from City Hall politicians and bureaucrats. To build luxury housing at SoLA Village, the developer needs, among other things, a zone change and General Plan amendment.
SoLA Village is proposed for the site of The Reef, a design center and creative space formerly known as L.A. Mart. Kanon Ventures owns The Reef, and Dr. Ara Tavitian is the president of PHR LA Mart. Kanon Ventures business development exec Ava Bromberg is spearheading the effort to build SoLA Village.
On the property, which stands near the Santa Monica Freeway at 1933 S. Broadway, Tavitian and crew want to build two luxury housing skyscrapers (32 stories and 35 stories each) and a 19-story hotel. The mega-project, which features humongous supergraphic billboards, will be 1.6 million square feet with 2,734 parking spaces and 1,300 bike racks. Abandoning its Historic South-Central heritage, Kanon Ventures markets The Reef as a “creative habitat in downtown L.A.,” an obvious attempt to grab the attention of artists, hipsters and techies.
That doesn’t sit well with activists and residents in Historic South-Central, who have been deeply concerned about the displacement of longtime, lower-income residents.
Martha Sanchez, representing Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, spoke at a recent South Los Angeles Peoples’ Forum organized by respected community activist Damien Goodmon of Crenshaw Subway Coalition. Addressing issues of out-of-control gentrification and rent-gouging being caused by the arrival of huge luxury housing developments, Sanchez said:
Not one unit of The Reef will be affordable housing for the community, which needs it. But this type of development only benefits big business, upper-class workers and white-collar residents. If The Reef is approved, 43,000 people in the immediate area will be displaced or negatively affected. This is not the kind of development that helps those who live in Los Angeles!
A crowd of 250 people at the forum cheered loudly for Sanchez.
Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, an economic justice and tenants group based in South L.A., is also very concerned about the impacts of SoLA Village and other luxury housing projects. In a post on its website, SAJE noted:
The scarcity in housing affordable to ordinary people is, if anything, being made worse by the upsurge in luxury housing construction. Just across the 10 freeway from the overcrowded housing of South Los Angeles are a plethora of upmarket apartment buildings catering to newcomers who can afford the high prices. Those fancy new units aren’t relieving the pressure on housing any more than manufacturing Teslas would improve the market for used pick-up trucks; would-be pick up drivers don’t need a Tesla and they can’t afford one.
In addition, SoLA Village is approximately 640 feet from the Santa Monica Freeway, according to the developer’s environmental impact report. It places the mega-project right on the troubling edge of becoming a serious health risk for children and pregnant women.
According to the landmark Children’s Health Study, conducted by top USC researchers, children living within 528 feet of a major freeway are at high risk of coming down with reduced lung development and respiratory disease, all of which will impact their health for a lifetime and possibly cause premature death.
UCLA researchers also found that pregnant women who lived within 750 feet of a freeway had a greater-than-normal risk of delivering premature babies.
Such risky freeway-adjacent development in L.A. has come to be known as “Black Lung Lofts.”
Despite community outrage and these eye-popping public health risks, SoLA Village keeps moving through L.A.’s broken and rigged development-approval process. That’s what $369,775 can buy Tavitian and Kanon Ventures at City Hall — outsized influence and power. It’s what the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative seeks to change.
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With billions of dollars on the line, developers will do anything to defeat our movement. But together, we, the citizens, can create the change that L.A. needs!