The struggle against land privatization in Hacienda Heights, California

Two former schools in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, Glenelder and La Subida, are being sold to developer Lennar Homes for the development of luxury housing. Community members are suspicious of the sale as it found its way around the Naylor Act, which was written to keep school grounds from being privatized. There is evidence that the law was not followed properly.

In April, residents and community organizers formed the Coalition Against Lennar to block the sale which will bring forth the development of approximately 135 single-family homes between $1,200,000 and $2,000,000 to Hacienda Heights. The coalition mobilized for a district board meeting in June to condemn the board members actions and to voice the community’s concerns. They gathered the support of over 2,000 neighbors, but still the HLPUSD board voted 3-2 in favor to grant Lennar more time to finalize the sale.

Planning and development

According to the California Environmental Quality Act all local planning agencies must investigate the harmful environmental impacts that will arise from a development and mitigate the harm. The Coalition Against Lennar is advocating for an Environmental Impact Review because it is comprehensive and requires public input. 

The coalition attended both hearings hosted by Los Angeles County’s Regional Planning Commission. Dozens of residents made public comments during the RPC’s hearings, demanding the commission to conduct an EIR.

Parents shared concerns for their children, who have resorted to playing games on the street since the school was fenced. New housing will also bring more traffic and congestion to the already overcrowded neighborhood. The cost of the housing units angered the community.

Residents also expressed fear that the grading of the school grounds will result in the release of toxic dust containing asbestos, lead and arsenic due to the building’s date of construction. Despite these concerns, the development was approved without an EIR. The Coalition Against Lennar is appealing the decision.

Lennar’s history of environmental racism

Lennar has a history of environmental racism and endangering communities they gentrify. In the early 2000s the Environmental Protection Agency discovered polychlorinated biphenyls, solvents, pesticides and petroleum hydrocarbons at Hunters Point Shipyard, the site of a former Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory. The shipyard contained radiation throughout most of its infrastructure. According to the San Francisco Bayview National Black Newspaper, Lennar purchased this site for one dollar from the City of San Francisco for the development of housing.

Not only was Lennar’s development approved by the local Department of Regional Planning, it was also fast tracked by removing government oversight of cleanup standards. This resulted in the exposure of workers and children to toxic dust containing elevated levels of asbestos, particulates, lead, manganese, chromium, nickel and arsenic in a predominantly Black community.

A long list of city officials, contractors and employees were incriminated in regulatory violations and ethical conflicts of interests. Lennar knowingly poisoned a community. Clearly, Lennar cannot be trusted, and the integrity of our government’s planning agencies should also be called into question.

Gentrification as class warfare

In Hunter’s Point and Hacienda Heights, Lennar’s development plans were enabled by local representatives who sidelined the concerns of residents and trampled over laws written to protect public interest. Corporations like Lennar – and officials who enable their projects – undermine and work against the interests of working-class communities.

Maria, a neighbor in the Glenelder community and a member of the Coalition Against Lennar shared with Liberation News, “The housing developments will make the housing crisis worse. These are not affordable. The rental prices surrounding these new homes will probably go up, and people will move, which only makes matters worse.”

Maria continued, “What I’ve seen as a parent is that some people are already leaving our community due to the cost of living. Whether they are renting or looking to finally buy a house, they can’t afford it here.” 

Liberation photo

The fact that those entrusted with overseeing the planning and development of our communities use the housing crisis to justify the gentrification of our neighborhoods illustrates how gentrification is a symptom of the capitalist system.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation – Los Angeles held a community forum with the Coalition Against Lennar, to discuss theories, tactics and strategies to fight back against gentrification and to prepare for the upcoming appeal hearing. In order to abolish gentrification we need a system that values the needs of the people over the profits of developers. The management, planning and development of our communities belongs in in the hands of ordinary working people.

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