Will the Jordan Downs Redevelopment Turn Watts Into Calif.’s Flint, Mich.?

A $1 billion project to tear down the Watts housing project is mired in issues with lead-contaminated soil. 

Jordan Downs Redevelopment
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In August 2013, the city of Los Angeles approved a $1 billion project to tear down the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts and build a mixed-use development that includes apartments, shops and restaurants.

At the time, both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Housing Authority President and CEO Doug Guthrie lauded this development as a win for both residents of the housing project and the people of Watts in general.

Garcetti said that the plan would “transform the neighborhood and revitalize the area,” and politicians from all over the city put in a good word for the project.

The project was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in June, paving the way for construction to begin, and Guthrie seems determined to push the project forward despite the fact that the site sits on lead-contaminated soil.

KPCC reports that for two years, residents and activists have raised questions about soil contamination at the housing complex after it was discovered that the property next door, a former steel mill, was contaminated with lead, among other things.

More than half of the current residents of the Jordan Downs Housing Project are children, a population for whom lead is particularly harmful.

In early August, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control advised the L.A. Housing Authority to conduct soil sampling during demolition. Guthrie said that his agency collected samples and was awaiting results, but he was not going to delay demolition of four buildings scheduled to be torn down to make way for new construction.

“We don’t think there has been any evidence that show elevated levels on the site that we are aware of,” Guthrie said in an interview with KPCC. “We decided to do our own testing of the soil on the site so that the proper dust control would be put in place.”

DTSC says that the review is ongoing, but Guthrie claims to have been told otherwise.

A ceremonial demolition was held at Jordan Downs on Aug. 12; area residents, community officials and news crews were present. Still, the lingering dust over the project holds concerns for many.

Why the rush to get the project done when there are still so many questions about the surrounding soil? What does this mean for the current residents of Jordan Downs? Will the project turn Watts into California’s Flint, Mich.?

Just who is really winning here?

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