Inglewood Transit Connector could uproot 44 businesses to make way for trains to SoFi Stadium, Kia Forum

California

Amelia Hernandez isn’t sure there will be any room left for her in the Inglewood of the future.

Her Selwyn Jewelers store, which was handed down from her father, has operated in the city since 1962. But now her business and dozens of others could be forced to relocate to make way for Inglewood’s nearly $1.6 billion automated transit system connecting the Metro K Line to the Kia Forum, SoFi Stadium and the Clippers’ Intuit Dome.

Selwyn Jewelers is one of 21 businesses located in the Inglewood Center on Florence Avenue that could be demolished to make way for a transit station and 650 parking spaces for the proposed Inglewood Transit Connector the city hopes to have running in time for the 2028 Olympics.

Hernandez said her family-run business was previously forced to move by the city about seven years ago from its old address on Market Street, next to the Fox Theatre, to its current location in the shopping center. Her father, Hector Hernandez, worked his way up through the original Selwyn Jewelers company, becoming the head jeweler and then the owner.

Though the city has offered to reimburse relocation costs for the affected businesses this time around, Hernandez’s past experiences with the city and the skyrocketing price of doing business in Inglewood have left her worried that her business — and those of her neighbors — may not survive the transition.

‘Wait and hope’

“There is not much for me to do other than wait and hope we can afford the move,” she said in an interview. “If not, we’ll be forced to shut down.”

The city has hired a consultant to help the businesses eventually obtain funds to cover their costs, and city officials say they’re doing everything they can to soften the blow from the project.

Hernandez has received a packet explaining the process and been encouraged to apply for relocation assistance, she said. Under the city’s draft plan, displaced businesses can submit receipts to be reimbursed for moving expenses, property loss incurred as a result of relocation and certain costs associated with finding new real estate.

But for now, the businesses are stuck in limbo, as they have been told not to move, or sign any agreements, until the city makes a formal offer on the properties. If they act too soon, they could lose their eligibility for the relocation assistance. The companies will be given at least 90 days to vacate once the city formally begins the acquisition process, which is not expected to occur until later this year, according to the draft plan.

The City of Inglewood plans to use eminent domain to acquire a number of properties, potentially including the CVS Pharmacy, for stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector, in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
The city of Inglewood could use eminent domain to acquire dozens of properties, potentially including this CVS Pharmacy, for transit stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector, in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

Altogether, the ITC project is expected to displace 44 businesses and 454 employees, with the bulk of the workforce — about 130 — coming from a Vons grocery store on Manchester Boulevard. The project’s team is trying to find a way to keep the Vons at its location, though it may need to be rebuilt to accommodate a maintenance facility for the transit system.

Elsewhere, the ITC’s Hardy Street Station, at the intersection of Hardy and Prairie, will displace 17 businesses in the Holly Park Plaza shopping center, including Casa Rios Restaurante, Sweet Red Peach, Fishbone Seafood and Lee’s Caribbean, among others. The Manchester Station, across the street from The Kia Forum, is slated for an empty lot that was previously purchased by an LLC associated with the Raising Cane’s fast-food franchise.

Owners uncertain about future

Hernandez worries the high cost of rent in Inglewood could make it difficult to find suitable space even with the city’s assistance. The jewelers’ last move, with help from family and friends, still cost tens of thousands of dollars, in part due to the security issues associated with transporting jewelry, she said.

“It’s stressful, my hair is falling out,” Hernandez said. “I know it’s going to happen, but when is the shoe going to really drop, you know?”

Dr. Daniel Binafard, who has provided dental services in Inglewood for nearly 28 years, is cautiously optimistic about the relocation. But he said moving a medical office with specialized equipment is neither easy nor cheap.

“It is going to be a big issue,” he said. “But if I have to do it, I have to do it.”

At this point, he said he doesn’t have any reason not to trust the city to keep its promises, so he is waiting to see what it offers.

City officials have pledged that keeping the displaced businesses in Inglewood is their top priority. But there is no guarantee that the business owner will find a replacement site “that it finds to be acceptable,” according to the draft relocation plan.

For Binafard, it’s critical for him to stay close to his patients. “I cannot move from Inglewood to another place,” he said.

The shopping center on Florence Avenue is located near a senior living facility, allowing residents to walk to the shops daily for their essentials. Raynell Douglas has lived in Inglewood for most of her life and does just that. She shops at CVS and sometimes enjoys dinner at the Fiesta Martin Bar & Grill. Both will be displaced by the project.

“It’s not making the community better, it’s making life harder,” Douglas said. “Maybe I should just go live with my daughter in the Valley.”

The City of Inglewood plans to use eminent domain to acquire a number of properties, potentially including the Fiesta Martin Bar & Grill, for stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector. Raynell Douglas picks up her lunch in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
The city of Inglewood plans to acquire dozens of properties, potentially including the Fiesta Martin Bar & Grill, for transit stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.6 billion Inglewood Transit Connector. Raynell Douglas picks up her lunch in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

The city could end up using eminent domain to obtain the land needed for the automated train system’s three stations, various parking lots, walkways and 1.6 miles of elevated tracks. The project will not only allow for easy transfers from the Metro K Line, but will create nearly 800 new parking spaces that could be used by those attending events at the city’s sports and entertainment venues.

The three proposed stations will be located at the intersections of Market Street and Florence Avenue; Manchester Boulevard and Prairie Avenue; and Hardy Street and Prairie.

The hope is that the project will alleviate the traffic congestion — and parking headaches — caused by the city’s venues.

Someday, a visitor could land at LAX, hop on the airport’s Automated People Mover, then use Metro and the ITC to reach SoFi Stadium without ever sitting in a car, Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said at a March 14 council meeting.

The ITC is a “generational project” addressing the transportation needs of the future, he said.

“There are times in the evolution of cities where things change and you have to prepare for the future. That is what this is about,” Butts said.

The City of Inglewood plans to use eminent domain to acquire a number of properties, potentially including the Inglewood Beauty Supply & Wig, for stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector. Ameenah Lewis shops for beauty supplies in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
The city of Inglewood could use eminent domain to acquire dozens of properties, potentially including the Inglewood Beauty Supply & Wig, for transit stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector. Ameenah Lewis shops for beauty supplies in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

What the city is doing

The Inglewood City Council hired Trifiletti Consulting to carry out the relocation plan and inform the businesses about their rights. No one from the firm responded to a request for an interview for this story.

Lisa Trifiletti, the founder and principal of the firm, said during a presentation at the council meeting that her staff is trying to minimize the impact to the businesses as much as possible and to ensure that residents and owners are fully informed. Council  members were scheduled to have a public hearing on the relocation plan after the presentation, but have since delayed it to their April 4 meeting.

Trifiletti said she will use that additional time to conduct more outreach.

“All we’re doing right now is due diligence, planning and preparation and helping address folks’ questions, so we can find the best outcome for folks,” Trifiletti said.

While businesses will have the final say on where they locate, the city wants to keep them in Inglewood whenever possible, she said. Relocation agents have been assigned to assist with property hunting and can provide lists of available properties that could work for the bisinesses, according to a FAQ for the program.

A tally of available properties listed in the draft relocation plan indicates displaced restaurants are likely to struggle to find a place to lease or buy within five miles, but that sufficient inventory is available for offices and retailers. The city was unable to find any properties for sale or lease that would work for a grocery store, however.

Under the current timeline, the businesses likely will receive their 90-day notices to vacate in late 2023 or early 2024, according to Trifiletti.

At the meeting, the City Council acknowledged the concerns they’ve heard from business owners and residents, particularly about the closure of the Vons.

“They’re scared, they’re worried, because, at the end of the day, this is their livelihood,” Councilman Eloy Morales said. “Even moving down the street, that scares them, right?”

The City of Inglewood plans to use eminent domain to acquire a number of properties, potentially including the Vons on Manchester Boulevard, for stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector, in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
The city of Inglewood could use eminent domain to acquire dozens of properties, potentially including the Vons on Manchester Boulevard, for stations and maintenance facilities for the proposed $1.5 billion Inglewood Transit Connector, in Inglewood on Friday, March 17, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Vons may not need to relocate

Initially, the news that Vons would be affected led to pushback from residents, but there is a chance the grocery store may not need to move, according to Trifiletti.

The city is working with Vons to determine if the grocery store, rebuilt to take up less space, could share its current property with a maintenance facility needed for the ITC project. Additional review is underway to determine if it could be possible to shift the maintenance facility to a different location altogether so Vons could retain its full layout.

“We’re working in concert right now with both our environmental team and FTA to bring that concept forward,” Trifiletti said.

Funding not locked in yet

The $1.56 billion ITC project — which has ballooned by $400 million since 2020 — has yet to secure all of its funding. The California State Transportation Agency awarded the project $407 million in January, bringing the total to $750 million, according to a Feb. 14 staff report. The state funding is contingent upon the ITC receiving a favorable rating from the Federal Transit Administration, according to CalSTA.

If all goes as planned, the ITC is expected to complete its funding with a $784 million grant from the FTA later this year.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer speaks during the Intuit Dome's Steel Topping Out and ceremonial raising of the final steel beam into the arena's ceiling on Tuesday in Inglewood. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer speaks during the Intuit Dome’s Steel Topping Out and ceremonial raising of the final steel beam into the arena’s ceiling in Inglewood. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Eminent domain hard to fight

It is unlikely that any of the property owners affected by the ITC project will be able to stop the city if it opts to take the properties through eminent domain. Courts have routinely affirmed municipalities’ rights to take over property needed for a public benefit.

Attempts to stop the city’s recent uses of eminent domain have been unsuccessful so far, including at the Intuit Dome, where the Clippers will play in 2024.

Several of the property owners in that instance tried to fight the proceedings. The city took possession of their properties in 2021 through a court order and, as of today, the owners have yet to be paid because of the dragged out legal battle.

Dev Bhalla and his father built their warehouse on West 102nd Street, brick by brick, back in 1989 using his father’s savings. Bhalla’s father, who died in July, had hoped to retire off the property some day.

“It was something we were immensely proud of,” Bhalla said.

The family stuck it out through the city’s rough patches and saw the construction of the SoFi Stadium as a sign that things were finally turning around.

“We were in a war zone for 25 years, and yes, at that point, there was no value, but we went through that, we struggled through it, we held on to it that long, paid all of our taxes and everything, and now, when time bears fruit, and somebody else comes by and says, ‘No, I’m just going to take it,’ ” Bhalla said.

Bhalla turned down offers from agents working for Clippers’ owner Steve Ballmer several times from 2018 to 2020. The offers stopped shortly before Inglewood voted to move forward with the use of eminent domain, he alleged. His doesn’t believe the amount offered since — $4.5 million — is enough.

Bhalla is one three property owners who have attempted to argue that the Intuit Dome, which is privately funded and will be owned by a company tied to Ballmer, does not constitute “a public use” — a key requirement of eminent domain — under state law, because the properties were transferred to a private entity. They allege the city effectively wielded its eminent domain powers to help the company, Murphy’s Bowl, obtain the land for less.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge didn’t agree with the arguments, stating there is little doubt that the arena “includes benefits for the City of Inglewood and its citizens and thus serves a public purpose.”

Both the appellate courts and the California Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of the decision.

The matter is now slated to go to trial later this year to determine how much is owed to the families for the land they lost. Murphy’s Bowl is paying the city’s legal fees and will pay for the properties once an amount is set by the courts.

Staff photographer Brittany Murray contributed to this report.

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