When The Community Has Their Say (notes from recent Vermont/Manchester community forum)

Congresswoman Maxine Watters (CA-43) reads a letter to those in attendance at the Community Christian Reformed Church on Saturday February 10th in South Los Angeles.

A curious audience of South Los Angeles residents filled the auditorium of the Community Christian Reformed Church this past Saturday to hear the latest on the controversial Vermont – Manchester property. The community forum was hosted by Congresswoman Maxine Waters who stressed the purpose of the meeting was to gather ‘information’ as local residents were not ‘sufficiently notified’ about a December 2017 meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors who unanimously voted to start the process of eminent domain of the proposed Vermont Entertainment Village previously owned by Sassony Development.

After a brief ten minute speech by Ms. Waters about her activities and happenings in Washington D.C., (including the creation of a new Alzheimer stamp to help fund a cure) the audience finally heard what they came for. Presentation boards displayed the County’s and Sassony’s plans on stage. The congresswoman read a response from County Supervisor for the 2nd District Mark Ridley-Thomas explaining his point of view of eminent domain was needed as stated in his letter that the surrounding community has been neglected and deserves ‘respect’. An explanation of the eminent domain process was explained to the audience. A photograph below provides more detail. Although representatives of the city, county, even the mayor’s office were invited to the forum, none were in attendance. It was empathized this meeting wouldn’t be the last. There would be more in the future so residents would be able to hear both sides of this issue.

A long line of community residents waits to ask questions to Jennifer M. Duenas of Sassony Development at the meeting.

The next person at the mic Jennifer M. Duenas, the chief operations officer for Sassony Commercial Real Estate Development, shared a timeline of Sassony’s dealings with the Community Development Agency. (CRA/LA). She explained Sassony were the partial owners of the land from 2008-2012 adding that there was a previous attempt to take the vacant lots by eminent domain by the city. (According to the L.A. Times, the CRA initiated the process back in 2008 citing the same reasons the county cites of ‘blight’) In 2013, Sasson was cleared by buy three parcels of the land on 85th Street. A previous report on the property from the L.A. Times mentions the parcels in question were owned by Sasson’s brother.

Duenas answered questions from those in attendance who wanted to know more about the proposed Vermont Entertainment Village plan. She laid out possibilities of what may be placed on site; a grocery store with parking lot on the roof, a pharmacy, banquet hall on the 8400 block of Vermont Avenue, sit down restaurants (which may offer healthy food choices) and other retail options. When asked about the 2015 groundbreaking (seen below) without development to follow, Duenas asserts that in 2016, the city and county plotted to take the lots once again. On November 2017, she stated according to a judge, the CRA did not have to sell to anyone which meant the remaining parcels of land bought by Sassony are under their control. A question about affordable housing was raised, which is already satisfied by the county’s plan. Duenas conceded that Sassony has bought two parcels of land across the street on Vermont that possibly could be converted into affordable housing if the residents desired.

Future Sassony developments such as the Manchester and Kansas site, home to a former fish market were mentioned but at this time, no timetable is set. A new charter school which rests on the same land where a former car wash once stood. Sassony are not the owners of the land where the Alliance charter school sits although they do own the lot across the street.

Residents had mixed reactions by meeting’s end. Most were satisified by what they heard. Others insisted on hearing an explanation from the city and county of their action of eminent domain. Everyone was in agreement something had to be done to the barren patch of lots which have been empty for over two decades. Questions remained regarding the boarding school, the county’s smaller retail space and the need for a transit center in what should be a pristine location for retail and dining. The county will ask a judge in April whether or not they should move forward with eminent domain. By that time hopefully, all questions will be answered and at last, progress on the Vermont-Manchester property will be a reality instead of a ‘fantasy’

Charles L. Chatmon
California Eagle Eye


M Waters Letter to County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas
MRT Response to Congresswoman Waters
Can the Vermont/Manchester project be saved? (L.A. Times)
Vermont/Manchester in pictures (L.A. Times)
Construction still hasn’t started on a fancy outdoor mall planned for South L.A. (Curbed LA)
L.A. County votes 5-0 to use eminent domain to take South L.A. property from developer (Curbed L.A.)
County Looks to Eminent Domain to Rewrite Future of Vacant Lots at Vermont/Manchester (Streetblog la)
New Renderings for Housing, School, Transit plaza (L.A. County’s plan – Streetblog la)
Vermont Village (Sassony)

Eminent Domain Explained