Los Angeles City Council Approves Billion-Dollar, 35-Acre 'Village at USC'

December 11, 2012

The University of Southern California won unanimous approval on Tuesday for a $1.1-billion redevelopment project that will replace an aging shopping center near its campus with a pedestrian-friendly mix of shops, restaurants, a grocery store, a hotel, a movie theater, student housing, and academic offices.

The Los Angeles City Council voted, 15 to 0, in favor of the USC Specific Plan, which will feature the 35-acre "Village at USC" as its centerpiece.

Thomas S. Sayles, Southern Cal's senior vice president for university relations, said the decision would allow the university to proceed with an ambitious 20-year construction plan without having to return to the council for building-by-building approval.

"It's a good day for all concerned," said Mr. Sayles, who pointed out that Tuesday's vote capped nearly a decade of planning and countless meetings with neighbors, local activists, labor leaders, and city officials.

The only protest at Tuesday's meeting came from the owner of a Wendy's fast-food restaurant that could be permanently displaced by the project. The owner, Ketan Sharma, said he objected not to the redevelopment but to the absence of any guarantees that the university would grant a right of first refusal to its tenants in the existing University Village shopping center.

In an interview afterward, Mr. Sayles said that the university would negotiate in good faith with any tenants who were current on their rent.

Among those who spoke in favor of the plan on Tuesday were local residents, union leaders, and Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, an activist group in South Los Angeles. Ms. Gonzalez's group had pushed the university to contribute more money to a fund that supports affordable housing, to ensure that the surrounding neighborhood would not become gentrified after the project was completed. To win the support of Ms. Gonzalez's group, Southern Cal had to raise to $20-million from $2-million its proposed contribution to cover the cost of expiring affordable-housing covenants and keep some 1,500 units below market rate.

In addition, the university agreed to include a total of 5,400 new beds for students as part of the new project, a net gain of 4,200 beds. Area residents had complained that the lack of beds on the campus had put pressure on the local housing stock. Under the agreement, the university's required contribution to the housing fund will be discounted to $15-million if it can show that it is housing at least 70 percent of its undergraduates on the campus.

The university, already the largest private employer in Los Angeles, said the project would result in 12,000 new jobs—4,000 in construction and 8,000 in permanent jobs at the redeveloped complex. Under the agreement, 30 percent of those jobs will go to local residents.

The university will also build a new fire station for the neighborhood and pay for transit and landscaping improvements.