Planting a SEED in South LA

Planting a SEED in South LA

By Mark Ridley-Thomas and Phillip A. Washington, Special to the Los Angeles Sentinel

Rendering of the SEED School by Abode Communities

On the northeast corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues, a little over four acres of land have remained blighted and mostly vacant since the 1992 Civil Unrest, when the shopping center that once stood there was set ablaze.

For the past three decades, as the world around it has continued to turn, this small commercial strip in South Los Angeles has remained frozen in time—an unfortunate and sobering reminder of the anger and desperation that led to neighbors looting and setting fire to businesses, many of which were owned by those of a different color. It has come to symbolize the lack of economic growth and opportunity that far too many corners of South Los Angeles still contend with today.

The protests and civil unrest that we have seen across this country, and across Los Angeles this month, are visceral reminders that progress is not inevitable, that addressing the deep racial and economic inequities that continue to define our region and much of the world must come from the hard work of our action and begin at home.

But there is no reason that this plot of land on the corner of Vermont and Manchester should continue to sit vacant for decades to come.

In 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided to invest in the change that was long overdue. The Board took the unprecedented and bold step to acquire this property by eminent domain with a commitment to rebirth it with all of the elements necessary to revitalize a community. We will soon break ground on a model transit- oriented development. It will include 180 units of affordable housing, community-serving retail, a transportation-focused job training center, and a plaza that will connect to the future rapid bus line slated to travel down Vermont, connecting Hollywood to the South Bay. But the centerpiece of the new development will be the SEED School of Los Angeles.

Rendering of the SEED School front courtyard by Abode Communities

With a planned opening in August 2022, SEED LA will be California’s first public college- prep boarding high school. The admissions lottery will be weighted for students from households that are eligible for mainstream benefits, experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity, or have an immediate family member who is incarcerated, as well as students with a history of involvement with the child protection or juvenile justice system. Young people who have demonstrated tremendous resilience in the face of adversity hold enormous potential to become key leaders in our community, if given access to appropriate opportunities and tools. These Resilience Youth will receive the resources – both in and out of the classroom – to prepare them for college and careers.

We could not imagine a better partner in making this vision a reality. The SEED Foundation has the track record – three campuses on the east coast that produce graduates who enroll in college at a rate of 94%, and graduate from college at 3.5 times the national rate for low-income, first generation students.

SEED LA promises to prepare its scholars not just for college, but through a unique partnership with LA Metro and LA County, is committed to educating and exposing students to careers within the transportation and infrastructure sectors.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington

This will happen not just through interdisciplinary courses in STEM fields, but through a mentor program linking students to professionals in the industry, internships at Metro and with industry partners, and field trips both locally and globally to give students a deeper understanding and appreciation for the infrastructure that we all rely on, each and every day.

All over this country, infrastructure projects are being designed, built and managed in underserved communities by people who are neither indigenous to these communities nor reflective of these communities’ demographics. SEED LA will expose students to an array of professional fields ranging from communications and planning to design and finance, with the intention of creating a farm system comprised of a new generation of Angelenos who represent the ethnic and geographic diversity of our County and can guide this work for decades to come.

This community and many others across our County have waited far too long for meaningful change. But we know that change doesn’t roll in on the heels of inevitability. Lasting change happens when civil society, governments, philanthropy and corporations step forward and invest in ideas, institutions, communities and people who can truly bring about a more just society.

This moment must inspire all of us to pursue tangible change in our communities, and we intend to finally seed that change, right on the corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the Second District, and member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors.

Phillip A. Washington is the Chief Executive Officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

More Careers for a Cause

After seeing the success of its first graduates, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is bringing back the Careers for a Cause program which trains people in South Los Angeles for essential jobs in the homeless services industry. The inspiring stories of those first graduates, many of whom have experienced homelessness themselves, became the subject of a special report by reporter Thomas Curwen in the Los Angeles Times.

Recruitment is now underway for the second cohort of students to begin the eight-week non-certificate program in September 2020. Interested applicants must register here by July 9th to virtually attend an information session.

As a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic, Careers for a Cause is launching an online curriculum and providing students with Chromebooks, in addition to career exploration and assessment, job shadowing, skills training, on-the-job coaching, and job retention support. Students will also receive a weekly stipend and wraparound support services.

“I urge you to join us in the fight against homelessness by partnering with Careers for a Cause,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urged both prospective students and their prospective employers in the homeless services industry. “With the pandemic further exacerbating homelessness, unemployment and economic inequity, we need your expertise, experience and exceptional insight more than ever.”

Algenia Harding, one of Careers for a Cause’s first graduates who later become one of its first employees, said, “It not only helped me professionally but personally. To me, it opened the door to understanding how the system actually works. But what I liked most was that it helped our class to understand how to maximize our lived experience, our passions, and what we would have called failures and struggles —  and make them marketable.”

Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph. D., Executive Director of the nonprofit homeless services agency St. Joseph Center, said,   “We believe that staffing our teams with people with lived experience is critically important. Staff members who have been homeless, or maybe faced generations of poverty, bring a perspective to the work that is profound. We also know how impactful it is for people who are rebuilding their lives to have employment that matches their expertise and gives them a chance to reshape their future. By hiring people with lived experience, we give them that opportunity. ”

Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum- President & CEO, St. Joseph Center

“The Careers for a Cause educational program provides South L.A. residents with the opportunity to capitalize on their personal experience and the challenges that they have overcome,” said Effie Turnbull Sanders, Executive Director of the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z), which is leading the recruitment effort. “Over the course of eight weeks, students will develop their personal agency skills to affect change within their community, and learn to use these skills to build fulfilling careers.”

50 homeless service agencies and organizations from across Los Angeles County attended a recent webinar hosted by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to encourge participation in Careers for a Cause. The list included Chrysalis, SCHARP, Wellnest, Goodwill Southern California, PATH, HOPICS, SRO Housing Corporation, Midnight Mission and countless others. Almost all have signed up to partner with Careers for a Cause as guest speakers and mock interviewers, and to provide internship and employment opportunities. Many also indicated they would like to get involved by providing employment opportunities to C4C graduates.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas invested $100,000 of his discretionary fund to develop the first cohort of Careers for a Cause in October 2019. The classes were held at Los Angeles Southwest College in partnership with the Los Angeles County’s Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services Department (WDACS),  tSt. Joseph Center and SLATE-Z. Several of the first graduates have already been hired as case managers and other workers in the homeless services industry.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has approved an additional $650,000 in funding to support five additional cohorts over the next two years. Enhanced program components include a full-time case manager, job developer and weekly training stipends.

$3 Million in Small Business and Non-Profit Grant Assistance to be Deployed Through New Los Angeles-Area COVID Recovery Fund

As businesses and non-profits across the Los Angeles region continue to face challenges in response to the public health and economic crisis of COVID-19, the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles, and philanthropy have partnered to deploy $3 million dollars in grants for small businesses, non-profits and microentrepreneurs in a newly launched LA Regional COVID-19 Recovery Fund.

The $3 million dollar Recovery Fund, established as a joint effort by the County of Los Angeles, who have contributed $2 million dollars, and the City of Los Angeles, who have contributed $1 million dollars, as well as additional support from philanthropic partners, aims to assist small businesses, nonprofits, and microentrepreneurs that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing $5,000 grants to microentrepreneurs, and $15,000 grants to non-profits and small businesses. To ensure equitable access to capital across various demographics throughout the region, grants will be distributed through an equitable lottery system.

“Our small businesses and social enterprises are not only the economic engine of our region but its heart and soul,” said LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We know that once COVID-19 is gone, the economic damage will remain. We must do all that we can to make sure we’re supporting them through this difficult and unprecedented moment.”

“Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to deliver every possible ounce of support, resources, and investment to help get them—and our region’s economy—back on track,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “From day one of this crisis, our City has acted to keep businesses open and workers on the job, and the LA Regional COVID-19 Recovery Fund is another vital source of financial assistance for the very backbone of our communities.”

Given the urgency for assistance, the Recovery Fund will be deployed in two phases and make technical support immediately available throughout the application process. The first phase will consist of a grant program, and a second phase will consist of a loan program that will launch at a later date. Starting today, the first phase will deploy $3 million in grants available at $5,000 for micro-entrepreneurs and $15,000 for small businesses and non-profits. Both phases of the Recovery Fund will be accompanied by support from diverse technical assistance partners, funded by philanthropic and private sector partners. Support for these efforts include $1.1 million from the Wells Fargo Foundation, $100,000 from Citi, and funding from MUFG Union Bank Foundation.

The public-private partnership will be administered by national community development financial institution partner, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC will administer the grant process and work through local partners to reach businesses and nonprofits who may not have received Federal relief funds.

“LISC LA is thrilled to be leading this crucial effort in partnership with the LA County working group,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, Executive Director of LISC LA. “With over 40 years of experience connecting diverse communities to resources and opportunities, LISC has the knowledge of seasoned community partners along with the aptitude for expediency to lead the deployment of the Los Angeles-Area COVID Recovery Fund. Since day one of the pandemic we’ve been working to provide relief and recovery in low-income and underserved communities – as our organization focuses on garnering and deploying capital to small businesses and organizations that need it most. We are excited to get started on what we do best.”

“Our small business and non-profit communities need our support more than ever and this Recovery Fund can provide a critical boost during these challenging times,” said Joseph M. Nicchitta, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. “Through the L.A. County Disaster Help Center, our department remains dedicated to providing business operators and microentrepreneurs important information regarding the Recovery Fund and access to all of the resources that can help them most.”

Local partners providing technical assistance with proven experience in serving the County’s most vulnerable communities include the API Small Business Program, Inclusive Action for the City, LA Area Chamber of Commerce, New Economics for Women, Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), Pacific Coast Regional (PCR), The Center by Lendistry, and Vermont Slauson Economic Development Corporation. The full list of technical assistance providers can be found on the LA Regional COVID Recovery Fund website.

Those who need assistance are encouraged to call (833) 238-4450, LA County’s Disaster Help Center and one-stop for local emergency resources. The Disaster Help Center will connect callers to LA Regional COVID Fund partners and provide the most updated Fund information.

Visit to access the Fund’s resources online or get connected to a technical assistance partner.

Recognizing Essential Workers in the Second District

Sylvia Lachapelle: Vermont Corridor

Last week’s installment of the Second District essential workers series recognized Refugio Rivas who works on the Park to Playa Project This one is dedicated to Sylvia Lachapalle who is working on the Vermont Corridor Project.

Spotlight on the Vermont Corridor: This project is a multi-phased mixed-use Koreatown development that includes a 21-story tower. The project will eliminate the existing blight along this stretch of Vermont Avenue and is a short walk from the Metro Vermont/Wilshire Red Line Station.

The new tower located at 510 South Vermont Avenue will be the headquarters for the Los Angeles County Departments of Mental Health (DMH) and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS), and will have mental health services available to the community on the ground level of the building.

The other phases of this project include a 72-unit affordable senior housing project located at 433 South Vermont and currently under construction. The senior housing project includes a 12,500 SF community center that will be operated by the YMCA.  Both projects are on schedule to open in 2021.

Vermont Corridor Project

The final phase of the project involves the adaptive reuse of the County-owned building located adjacent to the new tower into 172 units of market-rate housing. Construction of this final phase will commence once the new tower is completed and DMH has moved into their new headquarters.

Meet Sylvia Lachapelle. Sylvia is from the Hyde Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles. She attended Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATCC) where she studied Electronics Communications — she is a sound and communications apprentice for Morrow-Meadows Corporation which is a full-service electrical contracting company based in Los Angeles.

Sylvia has been working on this project since February of this year, and her responsibility is to tests CCTV, cameras, and telecom cable connections.  She has also worked on other local projects, one at LAX and another one at Metro.

Sylvia’s Perspective: “The Vermont Corridor Project will give the community a positive outlet to support the restless and the homeless and get them the help they need,” she said.

A typical day for Sylvia: Most of Sylvia’s time is spent learning to read blueprints, determining pathway, pulling cable, connecting cable with connector or jacks, testing, and troubleshooting.

Sylvia takes pride in being an essential worker because she is building a safer community. “Do the job right the first time and it won’t be repeated!” she said.

A New Home for Florence Library

Florence-Firestone residents are poised to get a bigger and better library in their community after the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new site for the Florence Library. In November of last year, The Board of Supervisors (Board) agreed to set aside a total of $5.7 million for this project.

With approximately double the space of the original library, the new Florence Library will serve as a one-stop hub for constituent services, including workforce and economic development opportunities, senior assistance, and more.

Los Angeles County Florence-Firestone Community Service Center

“Last year, I committed to finding the best location possible for the Florence Library – a larger, more accessible and technically advanced facility that would provide resources to individuals of all ages,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “I am pleased that this vision has now come to fruition through the collaborative work of the community. Moving forward with a location that offers such a unique opportunity to create a true community civic center is the best and most efficient way to ensure this critical resource is delivered to the community.”

“I have always been, and remain, deeply committed to the people who call Florence-Firestone home,” he added. “I look forward to working collaboratively with this community to get this project off the ground and on a fast-track to a speedy completion.”

Several community leaders were excited about the new site, includig Florence-Firestone Community Leader, Martha Escobedo.

Florence-Firestone Community Leader, Martha Escobedo expresses her eagerness for the completion of the new library.

“After a long-awaited return, I am really excited and eager for this project to be completed. It’s been a huge hurdle, but we did it, we achieved our goal. I am really proud of the community. I thank the Supervisor and his staff for their transparency and for working with us throughout this process to make us feel comfortable. This new library is a reflection of his dedication to the community. This facility will be useful to a lot of individuals and open to anyone that wants to be a part of it. This library is one of the few resources in the community, and I am happy that we will be able to embrace the people, encourage them to get educated, and teach them to value and appreciate our culture.”

Support also came from Florence-Firestone Community Leaders President Dominique Medina.

Florence-Firestone Community Leaders President Dominique Medina explains his excitement for the new library.

“The Florence-Firestone Community Leaders are delighted that the Florence-Firestone community will be getting a new modern Library where people will be able to gather to explore, interact, and imagine. We supported the Library being built on Compton Avenue because the Library will be central to the community. It will serve both the youth and senior population alike. The Library will be a great community center for our diverse population.”

The original library, previously located at 1610 East Florence Avenue, was built in 1970. At 5,000 square feet, it was one of the smaller facilities within the County Public Library system and long overdue for renovation or replacement.

Community Library Manager, Julian Zamora scans the book collection in the Florence Express Library.

“We’re delighted to have a permanent location for Florence Library with new furniture, new computers, and a larger library area for our community. Children, teens, and adults will be able to have their own separate areas, as well as two shared community meeting spaces for larger programs and activities. With Los Angeles County Department Of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS), and the Register-Recorder’s Office in the same building, it is an opportunity to collaborate and provide a one-stop shop to our Florence-Firestone residents. I look forward to working with the County team to ensure the best library and community space for Florence-Firestone,” stated Community Library Manager, Julian Zamora.

Edwin Hernandez, Executive Director of the Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce stands in front of Los Angeles County Florence-Firestone Community Service center.

“Libraries are fundamental to our community and offer resources and opportunities for learning that are essential to advancing the education of our future generations. The Florence Library has been an ongoing endeavor with the Florence-Firestone community. I believe the relocation of the library, along with the state-of-the-art improvements that come with it, will be of great benefit to our younger generation and community,” stated Edwin Hernandez, Executive Director of the Florence-Firestone/Walnut Park Chamber of Commerce.

With the new Florence Library, the County hopes to include several new features, including child, teen, homework, adult, and technology areas – all aimed at providing students and individuals with a safe space to access the information that they need.