Throughout many parts of south Los Angeles, the physical scars of the riots remain in the form of empty lots. Even 25 years later, lots where buildings were destroyed remain vacant despite efforts to rebuild like Tom Bradley’s five year program to ‘Rebuild LA.’
Bradley enlisted Peter Ueberroth, architect of the 1984 Olympics, for Rebuild LA to use his expertise in the public/private partnerships that helped transform LA for the Olympics.
“Rebuild LA was supposed to act as a funnel for money, talent and expertise into the inner city. The organization directed private money to the burned out neighborhoods, building on the model of the 1984 Olympics.”
Expectations for improvement ran high among South LA residents, but few of these hopes were to be realized. Vons promised to build 12 supermarkets in South LA and only one was built. When the media attention faded, private business interest faded. Then, two years later, rebuilding the infrastructure damaged by the Northridge earthquake became the regional priority and the burned out buildings and vacant lots throughout south LA were forgotten.
Today, part of the problem involves finding financing and developer interest to build in an area that is still economically disadvantaged. Yet, the small size of the lots themselves presents another obstacle. In the age where big box stores have largely driven out mom and pop shops, there isn’t much interest in developing the lots where these mom and pop shops once stood.
Locals don’t like the blight of the vacant lots because they attract the homeless and violence usually soon follows.
“It looks bad. It’s dangerous,” said Rosaisela Espinoza de Garcia, 65, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade and frequently passes a vacant lot on her way to the market. “It scares us.”
Even though the area has a much lower crime rate and the economy has improved since the riots era, many developers don’t find area appealing, but that may be changing as the competitive real estate market has made land expensive and scarce. South LA may be rare spot that offers developers attractive land prices. The market for historic craftsmen homes in West Adams has already been white hot for the past few years. And the coming football stadium in Inglewood is stirring developer interest in the western part of South LA.
“Despite the obstacles, South L.A. has a growing crop of success stories: The Chesterfield Square shopping center, which includes a grocery store and a Starbucks, arose in a neighborhood that was once battered by the unrest.Housing for the homeless is being discussed at the corner of 88th Street and Vermont, where stores once burned to the ground.”
So far, no government agency has been involved in pushing for development of these vacant lots since Rebuild LA dissolved 20 years. Perhaps this anniversary will remind the City that it has a role to play to heal these lingering scars.