Rendering of Proposed Vermont Manchester Project, courtesy of Killefer Flammang Architects

Now that a judge has approved its use of eminent domain, Los Angeles County is poised on May 7 to take possession of a four-acre property at the corner of Vermont and Manchester that has been blighted since the 1992 Civil Unrest, and to embark on the process of developing one of the largest tracts of vacant land in South LA.

The County plans to build affordable housing and retail, as well a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) transit plaza, preparatory boarding academy and training center on the site. Renderings for the project were released in February. It is currently finalizing the solicitation process to operate the academy in partnership with Metro. On April 30, bids will be solicited from affordable housing and retail developers that want to be part of the project.

The County sued in December to condemn the property on the east side of the 8400 and 8500 blocks of South Vermont Avenue from owner Eli Sasson, who had left it largely undeveloped for 26 years. The two blocks have been subject to more than 35 notices of building code violations over that period.

In his ruling on April 26, LA Superior Court Judge Daniel Murphy wrote, “The Court finds that (the County’s) needs override any hardship suffered by (Sasson).” He added, “(Sasson) will not lose rents and (Sasson has) sat idly on the project without development for years.”

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hailed the court’s ruling, saying it paves the way for the proposed project to enter the development and implementation stages.

“Local governments have an absolute obligation to think imaginatively about our most pressing issues – job creation, quality education, transportation, and the development of affordable housing and community centers,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “With this project, we are taking an out-of-the-box approach to getting all of that done at the corner of Vermont and Manchester.”

US Rep. Karen Bass said, “I am grateful and relieved to hear today’s ruling. Over and over, residents have heard lofty promises about all kinds of redevelopment, resources, jobs and housing on this site. Now, revitalization is finally on the way.”

“South LA has waited for a fresh start on Vermont Manchester for 26 years,” added LA City Council Member Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “Over the course of almost three decades, residents endured crime, blight, violence, and neglect – all while waiting for empty promises and false starts to produce something real. Today, a longstanding injustice has been resolved!”

With the court upholding the County’s right to take immediate possession of the property, the Supervisor will begin working with community residents on the various elements of the project.

One of its most innovative components is a state-of-the-art vocational and college preparatory boarding academy that will allow students from the County’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems, as well as youth from surrounding communities, to graduate with the skills needed for careers in transportation.

The local transportation industry is sorely in need of well-trained workers. Almost 40 percent of Metro employees will be eligible for retirement over the next two and a half years, and Measure M has generated funds to support 778,000 new jobs over the next 40 years. “We have projects, we have jobs and we have funding — but not nearly enough skilled workers,” said Metro CEO Phillip Washington. “This new workforce education model represents a shift in how Metro plans to prepare the next generation of workers.”

Community members also celebrated the news. “This neighborhood has been held hostage to lip service and empty promises,” said Robert Rubin of the Vermont Village Economic Development Corporation. “We have literally waited decades for this site to receive the investment, improvements and development it deserves.”

“We are grateful that the County has taken steps to end the dilapidation of this prominent location in our community, so that we can have much needed and long-overdue public amenities,” added Pastor Anthony L. Williams of the 88th Street Temple Church.