Southern California Flower Growers’ real estate project approved

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PRESERVING AND RETAINING HISTORY ­— Rendering of the Southern California Flower Growers’ proposed project. courtesy of Brooks + Scarpa

LOS ANGELES — A redevelopment project of the Southern California Flower Growers Inc. that would include a high-rise residential tower with multi-family housing units, overcame a legal challenge by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and was approved Dec. 3 by the Los Angeles City Council, announced SCFG Manager Scott Yamabe.

“It feels wonderful, it’s been six years that we’ve been working on it,” Yamabe told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a telephone conversation. “We’ll be breaking ground for the project, with any luck, in about two years.”

The flower growers hope the project will preserve and retain the character of the historic Southern California Flower Market, which it owns, so that it will last for the next 100 years. The project will add new parking, commercial space and 323 loft-style housing units in a 12-story concrete frame residential tower, while its neighboring upgraded market building will have space at street level for flower vendors to continue their sales operations, plus parking and office space above that, according to the architectural firm of Brooks + Scarpa. The planned project, located at 755 South Wall St., is expected to cost an estimated $135 million.

Japanese immigrant flower growers founded the Flower Market in 1909 when Los Angeles had a significant agricultural influence. The market first opened downtown in 1914 and then in 1923 moved to its current location at Seventh and Wall streets. Collective ownership helped the Issei business owners to survive challenges such as the Alien Land Law that prevented Japanese immigrants — ineligible for naturalization and citizenship under racist U.S. laws at the time — from owning land. The Nikkei owners also overcame the United States government’s ethnic cleansing campaign during World War II that resulted in 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry being expelled from the West Coast and placed in concentration camps after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Many of the shareholders are descendants of the original Issei founders of the nearly century-old market. About 98 percent of the Southern California Flower Growers Inc. are of Japanese descent today, including about 200 families of shareholders, according to Yamabe.

The current Flower Market property consists of two two-story buildings on the nearly four-acre property. Yamabe stated that SCFG’s buildings are “very old,” with one building having been built in 1960 and the other in 1980. “We can’t go on trying to maintain our buildings, because it’s just too expensive, they’re too old. That’s why we needed to have this project approved, so that we can keep operating, as well as us being competitive … Assuming that we can afford to build this thing, we certainly want to be in downtown L.A.”

Lawsuit Delays Project
The flower growers’ project was temporarily halted in June when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the city of Los Angeles to set aside its approval until the developers complied with the California Environmental Quality Act. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation had sued the city in December 2019 over its approval of the development, arguing “the project’s environmental impacts were flawed as to greenhouse gas emissions and noise impacts.”

Since the legal delay, the flower growers’ group has clarified the greenhouse gas studies, submitted them to City Hall and gained the City Council’s approval, Yamabe explained. “The judge just wanted to see our clarification on the greenhouse gas study to ensure that it complied with the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Yamabe said he doesn’t know what the foundation’s motives are or why they wanted to sue SCFG. “Some of the people here feel that those suing us are anti-Asian. We tried to work things out with them, but they weren’t interested in negotiating toward a settlement … Discrimination, that’s how some of my owners feel. There were three other housing buildings that just went up just a block north of us and AHF didn’t oppose those.

“No wonder why there’s such a housing shortage,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that groups like the AHF, which has nothing to do with us whatsoever, are able to use CEQA and the California courts to delay projects like ours. If we don’t give them what they want, they hold us up in court.”

Market Needs Redevelopment
The planned residential apartments won’t be luxury units as described by Los Angeles Business Journal, Yamabe emphasized. “We are Skid Row adjacent. Luxury units would not be appropriate for our area. We’re going to build a loft-style apartment building. It’s housing for middle income mainly. And we’ll have 10 percent affordable housing.”

CFG’s tenants are flower growers at this point, Yamabe explained. “For us to renovate or build a new building, we couldn’t just build another large flower market because that would not sustain the property. That’s why we had to supplement our industry with other than just the flower market.”

The neighborhood needs retail stores to energize the area, he said. “We’ll have the flower market on the first floor, but there will be residential units, a special events center for weddings and conferences, as well as a creative office.

Our concept is to try and create a property where you don’t have to leave, other than for work. We want to provide a well-designed food hall, kind of similar to Grand Central Market. There’s a lot of homelessness in the area, unfortunately. We’re hoping that once we build this project, it’ll energize the area and provide a lot safer neighborhood.”

Yamabe foresees prospective tenants of the project as flower market employees, young professionals, students from nearby schools — University of Southern California, Loyola Law School and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising — as well as nurses, police and firefighters.

Supporters of the SCFG included “everybody,” Yamabe declared. “Even the unions support us, the local Japanese community, obviously, Go For Broke, Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, Japanese American National Museum, Little Tokyo Service Center, all the property owners in the area, and even the Skid Row Housing Trust was supportive of our project. There was no opposition except for AHF.”

Additional community support came in the form of a petition launched by Keith Saito in October that urged the City Council to approve the project. The petition, which gained hundreds of signers, stated in part: “As members of the local Asian American community … we urge the City Council to approve the Flower Market project. In the 1940s, the Japanese families who owned the market nearly lost the property when they were imprisoned in internment camps. They are at risk of losing the property again as they can no longer afford to maintain the upkeep of their old buildings … Approve this project today and help the flower market continue on with its storied legacy!”

The Southern California Flower Market continues to operate at full occupancy, and there are still a few fourth-generation Japanese American flower growers selling at the Flower Market. Today the Los Angeles Flower District is a six-block marketplace consisting of nearly 200 wholesale flower dealers and is the United States’ largest wholesale flower district, according to the Online Archive of California.

One response to “Southern California Flower Growers’ real estate project approved”

  1. David J. Haskell Avatar

    I would like to know more

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