UCLA researchers are looking into the growing problem of commercial gentrification in Los Angeles caused by new developments near transit stations, in which mom-and-pop stores and ethnic small businesses are pushed out of their longtime communities. It’s an important, citywide issue that gets little attention, and Big O Tires at 11470 W. Gateway Blvd. on the Westside near the Expo Line is a prime example.
Family-owned Big O Tires has been operating on the Westside for 17 years, providing new tires and other automotive services. It’s located in a strip mall where several other small businesses, nearly all auto-related, have served the community for more than 10 years. But in late 2015, the small-business owners received a shock.
While there had been rumblings about a new development project that would force Big O Tires and the other shops out of their current location, a posting on the development site Urbanize.LA confirmed that the threat of commercial gentrification was real.
Not only had a developer filed papers with the city of L.A. for a dense, five-story mixed-use project with 129 residential units, but, Urbanize.LA pointed out, the construction of the complex “would first require the demolition of an existing strip mall.” That meant Roz Etedali, whose family owns Big O Tires, and his neighbors may be getting the boot.
“You invest heavily in establishing yourself in the neighborhood,” explains Etedali, who graduated UCLA in 2006, “and it’s scary to get displaced. On this side of town, there’s not many affordable options.”
He adds, “We’ve been looking at other sites, but it’s way out of the area. We like the Westside — it’s a good neighborhood with nice people.”
Etedali, a manager at Big O Tires, says nearby residents are not thrilled by the proposed development either — the automotive shops are near a residential community and people can simply drop off their cars for repairs and walk home.
“We’re all ingrained in the neighborhood,” says Etedali of the small businesses.
The project has been working its way through the city’s development approval process, and Etedali says the office of Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the Westside in District 11, told the shop owners that it’s essentially a done deal.
“We were told the project will happen,” says Etedali, “and we should find a new place.”
Easier said than done.
Etedali is now trying to organize residents and inform them about the plans to demolish a strip mall that’s long served the community.
“What happens a lot of the time with these projects is that people don’t know what’s going on,” says Etedali. “They get sneaked in” by the city.
It’s something Angelenos often notice when dealing with L.A.’s broken and rigged planning and land-use system, which the reform ballot measure known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative aims to fix.
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