Community Perceptions

Community Perceptions about Eminent Domain and the “Taking” Process

The use of eminent domain to take properties in making way for the Sendak School was seen by community leaders as indicative of government and private business interests. Larry Gross uses a broad brush painting eminent domain is a “tool, for the most part, of displacing low-income, mostly people of color, to build public structures that facilitate private corporations and expansion of their sites.” He argues that it is used to gentrify communities, disperse political bases, and hide motives. Although he recognized that displaced low-income renters were provided assistance in finding affordable housing and multiple years of housing subsidies, Gross saw the negative impact that eminent domain was having on the number of affordable housing units in the community around Sendak.

During the relocation process, CES defended tenants’ rights under the law and pushed for fair compensation. Many of these renters had been repeatedly displaced over the years, forced to move much more than the average Angelino.[1] Reading the official LAUSD “Strategic Execution Plan for Relocation,” even an impartial observer is struck by the overly word-crafted, PRish, tone of parts of the document. In its “Guiding Principles” section the LAUSD says that it “recognizes and respects the disruption” the projects will cause in displacees’ lives. It seeks to “make the relocation process as ‘user-friendly… as possible.” It states that “The District shall empower displacees to be partners in their relocation.”[2]

Source: Coalition for Economic Survival

Community organizations, such as the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), see battles between low-income and well-moneyed interests as part of a larger battle for equity in urban communities. Without low-income communities organizing themselves and getting support from other pro-equity organizations across the city, well-moneyed interested win those battles. CES’s support for the low-income residents displaced in the case of Sendak is an extension of its work on preserving affordable housing, pushing for a living wage, fighting for rent control, campaigning to clean up lead in substandard housing, and establishing legal standards for compensation for low-income residents displaced by other developments. [3]

Responding to what some see as knee-jerk, anti-gentrification rhetoric, some urban scholars and policymakers note that some influx of resources is needed in low- and mixed-income communities to make them sustainable. These resources could take the form of new schools and other government investments. They can also take the form of new businesses and new residential development. The central issue is whether or not these new investments help the existing residents, or if it displaces them. New investments and the use of eminent domain to reshape communities can benefit low-income residents, as demonstrated in the case of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, described elsewhere in this website. It is organizations such as CES that see their work as protecting the interests of low-income residents to make sure that they do benefit from improvements coming into their community.

CES confronted the LAUSD on its relocation process. The community group charged that the procedures were violations of the promised “impartial, professional, and fair” eminent domain takings and relocation process. CES claimed that LAUSD failed to consider the individual hardship by imposing a “one-size-fits-all” process. LAUSD responded that they acknowledged that the process was “difficult and possibly inconvenient” but that “the law does not ‘make a gift of public funds.”[4] CES was not satisfied with LAUSD responses to its charges of misconduct by the consulting Relocation Agents. LAUSD responded to this additional complaint that it was unlikely that agents were aggressive, but rather “firm and clear” as the vacate dates come nearer.[5]

Front Page of LAUSD Relocation Brochure[6]

[1] Gross interview. This is consistent with scholarly research that has documented the “serial forced displacement” of low-income residents in U.S. cities over the years. Mindy Thompson Fullilove and Rodrick Wallace, “Serial Forced Displacement in American Cities, 1916-2010,” Journal of Urban Health. June 2011 (vol. 88, issue 3), pp. 381-389.

[2] Los Angeles Unified School District, Office of Housing and Relocation, “Strategic Execution Plan for Relocation” October 10, 2001. Accessed March 5, 2016.

[3] A list of CES accomplishments is available on their web site:

[4] Correspondence from LAUSD to CES, Sept 18, 2002, provided by Larry Gross.

[5] Correspondence from LAUSD to CES

[6] Los Angeles Unified School District. 2005. “Relocation Brochure.”  Accessed February 27, 2016.