Some South Gate residents sound the alarm on proposed housing project

Concerns include rental prices and possible contamination

Screenshot of housing presentation demonstrating the site plan for the Legacy Apartments.

Screenshot of housing presentation demonstrating the site plan for the Legacy Apartments.

Tahiti Salinas, Community News Reporter

To build apartments that are higher density than normally allowed, developers in the city of South Gate can agree to provide affordable housing.

Gonzales-Goodale Architects and Newport Ventures did just that in September for a 78-unit apartment complex they’d like to build on the site of a former metal fabrication company. But city officials asked that the developers increase the number of affordable housing units to about 10 or 15 and to consider adding some private open space like balconies.

So the developers recently proposed 12 low-income units instead of four “very low-income” units but some city residents and leaders took issue with waivers the developers are requesting.

A screenshot of a Zoom council meeting with three people on screen, the mayor, a council member and a city employee in three boxes with black background.
Screenshot of South Gate’s city council meeting showing Mayor Maria Davila and City Manager Michael Flad who are saying their goodbyes to Joe Perez, who will be working for a different city.

For instance, the city requires developers to give half of the units in a building access to private open space. The developers say that won’t work for this project and instead proposed doing that for four units while providing other communal spaces on the roof and in courtyards, according to the agenda report.

The developers also want an indoor trash area instead of outdoor and don’t want to have a yard, terrace or porch in front of the building. The city requires one of those options in that industrial area “to create a pedestrian friendly environment and connect where possible to the future amenities offered by the Los Angeles River Bikeway,” as described in the agenda report.

At a South Gate city council meeting last month, the city rejected the waivers after hearing from more than a dozen stakeholders, most who were opposed to the development or the waivers. Among other issues, there were questions about reports of lead contamination on the proposed site and concerns about how affordable the units would actually be.

Rent estimations

In South Gate, rent can average $1,400 for a 646-square-foot apartment, according to RentCafe.com.

Legacy Apartments estimated the rental price of a one-bedroom unit would be $1,958 and two-bedroom units would be $2,300. It would be closer to $1,469 and $1,777 for low-income one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, respectively. 

A computer design of a new apartment complex that is beige and white.
Screenshot of housing presentation demonstrating the elevation look for the Legacy Apartments.

“I don’t know if anyone else felt this way but when the estimated rent was read out, my stomach dropped because as a college-educated person who earns okay money, that seems almost unaffordable for me,” said Veronica Hernandez, a resident who called in.

Robert Montalvo, who also called in to comment during the council meeting, said the development doesn’t help much with the area’s housing crisis: “Unfortunately, $1,900 is way over budget for our typical family here in Southgate. So we’re not really solving any other housing issues with your development.”

Lead contamination questions

Considering the site used to be an industrial facility where they processed metal, area residents had questions about possible hazardous substances at the site such as lead. 

“Legacy high school, north of [the site] is peppered with groundwater monitoring wells that tells me that there’s a very big problem with groundwater contamination,” said Liz Ruiz,  and environmental consultant. “Groundwater contamination is very shallow there and [the site is] right next to the LA River so, I mean, brown water creates fumes, fumes go through pretty much everything.”

Ruiz, who is also concerned that the city council had not done its due diligence, added: “Is somebody from the city going to be there daily to make sure that the dust isn’t been picked up? I mean, all those residents are going to be exposed to all that lead if the dust picks up.”

A slide of an empty lot with dried up grass.
Screenshot of housing presentation showing the street view of the site for the Legacy Apartments.

“Thank you for the caller who made us all aware of the environmental impacts of the soil on this property. I’m in dismay that this wasn’t part of the presentation,” added Hernandez during her comment.

Dave Mossman, a representative of the developers, addressed the project, saying “In summary, these waiver requests would result from a responsible design and development approach to creating what we believe will be a superior apartment housing opportunity and an attractive residential living option for the citizens of South Gate.”

Dianne Guevara, South Gate’s interim director of community development, said that the first two phases of checking lead contamination levels in the dirt have been completed and officials are now working on a plan to decontaminate the site.

“In addition to reviewing those two environmental studies, we also consulted with state and federal databases to evaluate the past history of the site,” said Mark Blodgett, an environmental consultant for the project.

Affordable housing units

Some community members were more concerned that there weren’t more affordable housing units included.

“I want to bring special attention to something stated by [the developer’s representative]. To hear him state that they’re invested in our community, but in the same breath, say the move to affordable housing units from four to 12 and it not being optimal for their firm shows…otherwise,” said Amanda Tapia, who called into the meeting. “Twelve units do not suffice given the needs of our community.”

Diana Morales, from the office of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said that the legislator thinks the proposed number of units of affordable housing should increase.

Another caller agreed, saying that the city’s housing ordinance should require that “at least 20% to 25% of units are for low-income families, especially because they’re the ones who are suffering the most right now.”

The motion to allow the developers’ requested waivers failed to pass. The developers can still build the apartment buildings following the city’s housing codes or make changes to the proposal that they think the city would approve.