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USC's retail, housing project faces city hearing and criticism

A series of what promises to be contentious hearings start Wednesday on USC’s plans to replace an existing shopping center north of the campus with a large mixed-use development that would include shops, a hotel and dormitories for 5,000 students.

The Los Angeles Planning Department is holding an open house at 5 p.m., followed by a hearing at 6 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel, 3540 S. Figueroa St., near USC, and will repeat it at the same times and place on Thursday.

USC officials say the $900-million Village project at Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street will relieve pressure on the private housing in surrounding neighborhoods that has displaced low-income families by students. The school also says the plan will provide many jobs and amenities for the wider community.

Some community groups, however, say that they fear the proposed development will hasten gentrification and that the dorm rates will be so high that many students still will live in off-campus rentals within bicycling distance to school.

Thomas Sayles, USC senior vice president of university relations, said that he hopes the City Council approves the project this summer and that construction begins in early 2013. Sayles said the university is trying to meet some of the concerns raised by activists and negotiate city agreements that would guarantee local hiring and provide more funding to improve neighborhood housing and convert some from student-tenancy to family residences.

Sayles said a majority of area residents support the project and look forward to the shops, movie theater and jobs.

A coalition called United Neighbors In Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD) said it will organize a protest at the hearings to pressure USC and the city into more concrete measures to preserve neighborhood housing and guarantee local hiring.

David Robinson, political director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), one of the groups in UNIDAD, said he and other critics of the USC project are not trying to stop it altogether but want “the city and USC to really take these concerns we raise very seriously and work with us to come up with real solutions.”

-- Larry Gordon

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