A Timeline of the Chavez Ravine and Dodgers Stadium events for @USCPrice Rawjee Family Student Conversations

Some quick and dirty notes for my Rawjee Family Student Conversations at USC Price with the students on Chavez Ravine, so that I can be useful to them. Please feel free to correct–it’s very sloppy as I am in hurry.

  • up to 1950’s Mexican families, facing discrimination in most of the Los Angeles housing market, create a sustained community–a “Poor Man Shangra-La” as it is called in multiple references. It was self-contained in many ways; residents had their own churches and many grew their own food. (There was also livestock kept). The area consisted of three general districts La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop.
  • WWII and post-WWII Los Angeles experience tremendous new population growth, and the City begins to look for places to build. The 300-acre site in the center of Los Angeles was, to outsiders, an obvious choice.
  • 1949 The Federal Housing Act of 1949 granted money to cities from the federal government to build public housing projects.
  • and Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron voted and approved a housing project containing 10,000 new units, with Chavez Ravine being a central part of the new development plans. Much of the housing was shanty construction, and housing authority planners viewed the construction as unsanitary and unsafe. City of Los Angeles housing authority representative Tom Wilkinson was a central actor in the Plan.
  • Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander develop a plan for infill development (Elysian Park Heights) to house 3,300 families in a sprawling complex of 24, 13-story towers and 163 two-story garden apartments, where the families of Chavez Ravine could be housed. The residents were supposed to have first choice among these units.
  • In July 1950, all residents of Chavez Ravine received letters from the city telling them that they would have to sell their homes in order to make the land available for the proposed Elysian Park Heights.
  • The city began buying property and using eminent domain to push families out. An coalition emerged in LA Politics between conservative private development interests and Mexican families furious at their displacement. Mike Davis reported in City of Quartz that the buy-outs were shady.
  • In 1952, Frank Wilkinson, the assistant director of the Los Angeles City Housing Authority was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He was sentenced to one year in jail for refusing to cooperate with the committee. Five other Housing Authority employees were fired.
  • By this time, virtually all of the families had been removed and their homes razed, though some hold-outs remained in what would be called “The Battle of Chavez Ravine The property would stay vacant for nearly 10 years.
  • 1953 The City Counsel tried to back out of its contract with the federal government to provide housing; it went to court, and LA lost.
  • Also in 1953 conservative Norris Poulson won the mayor’s office using the Chavez Ravine controversy as a platform; he promised to the vowing to stop the housing project and other examples of “un-American” spending.
  • With Norris’ intervention, the feds would relent and sell the land back to the city for a low price on the condition that the land be used for “public purpose.”
  • 1957 Mayor Norris Paulson, Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman put together an offer for the Dodgers on behalf of the City of Los Angeles, including what was a privately owned, 56,000-seat stadium at the confluence of several major freeways surrounded by 16,000 parking spaces. (from O’Malley Was Right) It’s a question to me if whether this sale actually
  • 1958 Taxpayers Committee for Yes on Baseball, which was approved by Los Angeles voters on June 3, 1958 that the Dodgers were able to acquire 352 acres (1.42 km²) of Chavez Ravine from the City of Los Angeles. (This, too, was an ugly political fight, with Poulson getting accused of taking bribes and making money off the deal.)
  • Dodgers Stadium would not open for a few years yet–the Dodgers played in the Coliseum until the field opened.

Additional resources:

KCRW’s Coverage of Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander’s plan for public housing

chavez ravine la historia de un pueblo fantasma en trinchera de palabras

The Provisional City: Los Angeles Stories of Architecture and Urbanism
By Dana Cuff (The MIT Press, 2002)

Chavez Ravine 1949 by Don Nomarck

PBS Independent Lens documentary Chavez Ravine

The Rawjee Family Student Conversations at USC Price
This conversation series provides undergraduate students the opportunity to interact with a variety of community leaders in the Los Angeles area. Students gain new perspectives on important social issues, cultivate new interests and passions, discover potential career opportunities, and create lasting friendships with their peers and mentors. Through these enrichment opportunities, undergraduate students have met with city managers, debated ballot initiatives, addressed health policy issues, and toured the Los Angeles River. Learn more here about what we are up to with undergraduates: here.

I’m having trouble writing about Los Angeles’ “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative”

Because I haaaaaaaaaaate so much.

Here is the LA Times story on it.

When I write about something, I try to force myself to understand what is going on before I formulate conclusions. Now, that’s a pretty lofty idea, and I fail all the time. I often write normative theory, and normative theory is…normative. People should get excited and passionate about things like justice and equity.

But this time out, I’m having the same trouble as I had with Chapter 6 and Stand Your Ground. I haaaaaate. Haaaaaaate so hard.

Somebody tell me to straighten up and put my big-girl social science pants on.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #16: Stephanie Frank

I’m a bit behind with ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014, but I will keep going. I’ve always been a slow worker. What are you going to do besides keep plugging away at it?

This week I discuss the work of Stephanie Frank, who is one of my students, which means the work is brilliant and perfect in every way and anybody who says otherwise gets a knuckle sandwich. Stephanie has left our beloved USC, and she is now an assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The paper of hers I am going to highlight is:

Frank, S. (2012). Claiming hollywood: Boosters, the film industry, and Metropolitan Los Angeles. Journal of Urban History, 38(1), 71-88. doi:10.1177/009614421142064

The year is 1937; the place is a then-small, but rapidly urbanizing, region in southern California. There is money being made in film industry, and by selling the idea of “Hollywood.” Culver City boosters get the smart idea to rename themselves from the prosaic–and, frankly, Midwestern-sounding, Culver City to Hollywood. (Not accidental: Culver City took its name from an early pioneer from Nebraska.) Even today, Hollywood is a district or a neighborhood. Despite multiple pushes for secession, Hollywood is part of the larger city of Los Angeles. Culver City, however, is not. My use of the present tense is a spoiler: boosters failed, and to this day, Culver City remains plain old Culver City, though it is a very nice place to live with lots of wonderful things to do.

I let you read the manuscript for the full story of how and why the boosters attempt failed; let’s just say it’s a story of big-fish elite of one type, and bigger-fish elites of another type, and one (of many ways) the movie industry made its spatial impact on the geography of Los Angeles.

Stephanie wrote her very fine dissertation on movie studios as land developers under the direction of David Sloane, Greg Hise, and Bill Deverell, and she should have a book coming out shortly. Keep your eyes peeled for it, and for future work. My auntie-like bias notwithstanding, she really is a fine young scholar.

Eric Eidlin blogging on HSR and land use in Europe

Eric Eidlin is a friend of mine from back in the day at UCLA; he’s currently a community planner with FTA up in San Francisco. He is currently on a fellowship in Germany and France and he is writing his observations at The Urban Current. Here is one of my favorite entries so far, on Train Stations and the Tension between “place” and “node.”:

An issue that has come up frequently in my discussions with my French project contacts is how to balance the conflicting roles of train stations: how, on one hand, to design stations that serve as places through which large numbers of travelers can move through efficiently, while at the same time creating memorable and pleasant urban places where people want to spend their time. This is what planner geeks like me call the ‘tension between place and node.’

Go read.

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 1447.

So my young planners have been passing around this story about a Florida property owner who won his case in front of SCOTUS.  Yes, this makes it more difficult for government to do its job, but have you folks read this thing?  I don’t think the property owner acted unreasonably here: After Florida declared much […]

Losing the commons: Peter Barnes on our lost land and history

I’m not sure what I think of the argument yet–it’s one that could use more data than presented here in this excerpt in Guernica–and yet it’s certainly a foreboding question if true. My favorite quote:

What’s astonishing about these takings isn’t that they occur, but how unaware of them the average citizen is. As another Republican, former Secretary of the Interior and Alaska governor Walter Hickel said, “If you steal $10 from a man’s wallet, you’re likely to get into a fight, but if you steal billions from the commons, co-owned by him and his descendants, he may not even notice.”

This piece in Guernica is from Peter Barnes book Capitalism 3.0. What I get from it is rehashed natural capital theory, which hasn’t helped us on the ground so far in the three decades of its existence, no matter how significant the theory. But that doesn’t mean it will can never and will never win people over.

What I learned at the UCI/UCLA/USC Research Day

It was a wonderful day of research. USC’s Jenny Schuetz presented a very well-done paper on commercial real estate; of particular interest to me are her findings about how wealthier neighborhoods chase off retail and how location markets for food stores have both push and pull factors away from low-income neighborhoods.

Richard Green presented an extremely interesting paper on whether “strategic disclosure” of school district information affected the sale prices of homes–and it seems not to.

I discussed a working paper by Marlon Boarnet, Douglas Houston, and Gavin Ferguson at UCI. They looked at the possibility for variation in the relationship between land use and mode choice at the neighborhood level. We have a lot of general information out there among those claiming to have measured how much VMT will go down vis-a-vis changing the arrangement of origins and destinations and transit supply. But, Boarnet argues, regional measures may mask what is going on from one neighborhood to another.

And they find that yes, you do get much bigger elasticities when you break the transit markets into different segments–in their case, employment accessibility segments. However–and this is a big however–they also show that the sociodemographic composition of people within high employment accessibility zones (or transit market segments) vary systematically from those who are not within those zones. That brings us back to the residential self-selection problem: people who want transit pay to live near it, and those folks are certain portion of the market. What they chose to do may not reflect what other people do when presented with transit supply.

It may be, however, that this is only true in Los Angeles, and in places where transit is more ubiquitous, we would see less sorting.

Marlon and I got into a bit a dustup (as bad as two pleasant people* can) over the relative importance of land use as a climate change strategy. I simply can’t imagine land use changing in the next five years quickly enough to make any difference to climate action. We may want to change land use for many reasons–urban life, etc–but I actually think that those who proffer Smart Growth/New Urbanism as a climate strategy are almost as irresponsible as those who still rally behind hydrogen. Yeah, they’re great strategies, but they are 30 to 50 year strategies, particularly now that the real estate market is in the toilet and infill is going to way more slowly than it has over the past 10 years. The over-emphasis on voluntary supply strategies, like land use/transit supply, has displaced discussion of nearer-term demand-dampening strategies like gas price floors that would push fleet conversion or higher CAFE standards we should have had YEARS ago.

Ultimately, Marlon and I agree that the portfolio of strategies for near-term and long-term strategies makes the most sense. Nonetheless, for somebody who appears to be an advocate for land use strategies, the paper he presented had “land use” variables that primarily reflected transit supply–not land use variables, per se.

*I had a screaming headache after fighting the crowds for Obamafest yesterday, so I wasn’t as pleasant as I normally try to be.

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Incompatible land use, externality-shifting American neighbors, or unsustainable practice?

Today’s LA Times ran this story about the land use conflict surrounding an immigrant-owned poultry slaughterhouse in Rosemead: the Chinese American Live Poultry Company.

These types of land use conflicts are at the center of sustainability, and it’s a thorny set of issues. The owners, the Phus, have got a number of code violations on the books, including improper disposal of chicken waste. That you can’t have, not at industry levels. It’s not like we’re talking a few chickens in the backyard.

And yes, chickens do smell.

But the facility has been there since 1991. I suspect that many of the neighbors who hate this facility and want it shut down moved next to it in the first place. And I bet they eat chicken, regularly, though I suspect not from the bloodied floor of a local slaughterhouse, but purchased in packages at Ralph’s.

My students often want to discuss mixed land use in terms of retail, housing and office space. If I push them to think about industry, they say they envision “green industry” but have no real way to flesh out what green industry is and how it works. Isn’t this a green industry? It’s providing local-scale food. If they composted the waste material (a process that would probably send the neighbors into outer space with rage), it could be pretty green. I suggest to students “how about organic or sustainable meat production in downtown LA-would that be green industry?” and they look aghast, even though most are not vegetarians.

Two major things have entirely altered the landscape of my youth: corporate agriculture and, not unrelated, methamphetamine production. My hometown in Iowa is enveloped routinely by the smell of hog production. Is it acceptable for people in Bakersfield to have to tolerate meat production so that everybody else, including Rosemeadeans, can indulge in chicken pot pies and roast beef sandwiches without having their dainty noises offended by the reality of their food?

This has always struck me as a problem that better urban design, better industrial ecology, and better governance should be able to help reconcile. Put some money and creativity into solving the problem rather than trying to just get your own way in a public conflict. Why, really, does that building and its environs have to be so ugly? Why does this conflict have to be about putting somebody out of business instead of enhancing their business to fit in better?

Perhaps the first rule of sustainability should be that if the land use/public service/whatever can’t go in your neighborhood, it can’t go in anybody else’s neighborhood either. Which means either you get creative, or you can’t eat chicken. The responsibility resides on both the producer and the consumer to construct livable communities.


Kelo (0), the State (0) Pfizer (0) and the Recession (1)

The New York Times today ran this story about Pfizer leaving New London, which used its powers of eminent domain to seize and destroy housing for an “urban village” development. Now that Pfizer is leaving without delivering the development, people are understandably bitter.

I have to say it out loud: I really hate eminent domain. I know we need it for land assembly, but…states that do not respect property rights past a certain, reasonable point are bad regimes.