Public Comment Period on Dorset Village Extended; Number of Proposed Affordable Units Dropped to 141

The official comment period on the environmental review process ends Feb. 6, but city planning will accept comments on the project up until it is approved

The late rapper Nipsey Hussle filmed a number of music videos in Dorset Village over the course of his career, including "Higher," by DJ Khaled.
The late rapper Nipsey Hussle filmed a number of music videos in Dorset Village over the course of his career, including "Higher," by DJ Khaled.
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Last week, L.A.’s Department of City Planning (DCP) quietly extended the public comment period on the Initial Study regarding the demolition and redevelopment of Dorset Village, located just east of Crenshaw on Slauson, to February 6.

The plans include razing 206 rent-controlled units of a historic garden apartment complex occupied by 163 families and replacing them with 782 apartments, several pools, a basketball court, a sand volleyball court, and a recreation center including a gym, a dance/yoga studio space, a locker room, and an outdoor deck. Of those 782 apartments, only 141 will be categorized as affordable, including 87 Extremely Low-Income, 17 Very Low-Income, and 37 Low-Income units. [We reported the number of affordable units had been bumped up to 147 from 141 in our last story on the project – DCP has since corrected the error.]

The environmental review process – mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – requires developers to identify significant environmental impacts of their proposed projects and to avoid or mitigate those impacts to win project approval. The public comment period, opened with the publication of an Initial Study, is meant to allow concerned community members to point out things they would like the environmental review to consider.

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The extension of the comment period is a tacit acknowledgment that DCP erred in giving billionaire developer Jeff Greene so much license to effectively stifle public input on that process.

The original 30-day comment period, launched on November 25, straddled Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa before closing on December 27.

But few people knew that until it was almost too late, myself included.

While writing a story on the Initial Study on November 25, I had scoured DCP’s website for the Notice of Preparation (NOP) in the hopes of being able to offer area residents information about the public comment period and any scoping meetings. But while the Initial Study was easy enough to find, I was only able to locate the NOP on ceqanet – not on the city planning website – well after the December 11 scoping meeting had come and gone.

Residents weren’t the only ones being kept in the dark. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s office reported they had not received notice regarding the public scoping meeting, either.

Considering that the project will displace 163 families, tear a massive hole in the fabric of the Crenshaw community, and fundamentally change the nature and character of Nipsey Hussle Square (should the project be approved), the lack of communication with the councilmember’s office is rather astounding.

The latest rendering for Dorset Village from HKS Architects.
The latest rendering for Dorset Village from HKS Architects.

But because the project does not need to go before city council for approval* (and Greene therefore doesn’t really need to win over the councilmember), it’s also been par for the course.

Greene’s people notified the councilmember’s office about their plans in early 2019, but have had little communication with them since. It’s something Harris-Dawson says he would like to see remedied, given the size of the project and his concerns about the well-being of the residents Greene plans to displace.

When I spoke to Harris-Dawson just before the holiday break, he said he was looking to have the public comment period extended, but also expressed that that was the minimum he thought should be done. A more intentional community engagement process, a right of return for residents, and units that were reflective of the community’s needs and family sizes were all things he said he expected of projects coming into the community.

Unfortunately, any public opportunities he or the residents will have to push the developer to be more responsive to the community will be few and far between over the next couple of years.

Despite there being no translation available at the December 11 scoping meeting, no materials in Spanish, and no one from either the city or the developer’s team that could speak to the Spanish-speaking tenants that had shown up to ask about the fate of their families, the city has no plans to hold a second scoping meeting.

Instead, as noted in the amended NOPs recently posted to its website, DCP suggests it has done its due diligence by simply holding the December 11 meeting. Whether attendees actually were able to make comments or leave the meeting informed is apparently not of DCP’s concern. From the amended NOP:

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That said, the councilmember can request that a public forum be held.

The kind of forum residents deserve, however – one where they are able to question the city’s willingness to allow a slumlord developer to do as he pleases – is not in the cards.

Somehow in 2020, the planning process has still not adapted to formally acknowledge the legacy of segregation or create formal space for assessment of the impacts major projects can have in and on disenfranchised communities.

Important as the environmental review process is, it is far more concerned with the fate of fossils found underneath a site than with the fate of the humans that currently occupy that site. And too often, city planning staff have actively used CEQA’s narrow framing of displacement as a way to scoff at community concerns about indirect displacement and gentrification.

That is unlikely to change any time soon, unfortunately.

So in the next few days, we will be publishing a longer story spotlighting the voices of tenants who are both frustrated over what they’ve had to endure and afraid of what the future holds for them.

In the meanwhile, if you’d like to send your thoughts to the city, see the notices regarding the public comment process in English and Spanish. Send comments to Alan Como: Alan.Como[at]lacity.org or call (213) 847-3633. To reach me, find me on twitter: @sahrasulaiman or via email: sahra[at]streetsblog.org. Our previous coverage is here:

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*Once the environmental review process is completed – a process which can take several years – planning staff will issue a Director’s Determination approving or denying the project. In the case of this Dorset Village, Greene appears to have anticipated the environmental review process to last about a year and a half, with demolition happening in 2021. See DCP’s project page here, and all of the CEQA documents here. Although the official comment period ends February 6, city planning will continue to accept any and all comments on the project until it is approved.

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