The city has drawn back its approval for construction of a new charter school in Boyle Heights, which opponents had argued would create traffic and pollution problems and accelerate gentrification in the community.
The Los Angeles City Planning Department issued a letter on March 19 formally revoking permission for a developer to build a building to serve as a permanent site for KIPP Promesa Prep. Four days earlier, KIPP LA Schools had requested that the permission to build be withdrawn because the plans were “no longer feasible,” according to the letter.
The proposed project had faced stiff opposition from community groups since it was first announced in 2017.
“This is a really good victory against gentrification,” said Marisol Márquez, a community organizer with neighborhood advocacy group Centro CSO. “We united a lot of different people and attacked it from various angles. We sued them, and we protested outside their offices, and it’s amazing to see it actually be successful.”
The Boyle Heights Residents Association and Carlos Montes, an organizer with Centro CSO, sued the city of Los Angeles and the charter school operator in January over the construction of the charter school, arguing that the city had failed to conduct an Environmental Impact Report before approving the development.
The lawsuit argued that the proposed school — on the site of the former Promise Hospital at 443 S. Soto Street, a block from Theodore Roosevelt High School — would harm the environment by increasing pollution, traffic and noise in the neighborhood. KIPP Promesa Prep currently operates a school for 450 students at a temporary site at 207 S. Dacotah Street, less than a mile away.
Opponents of KIPP Promesa Prep’s proposal also saw the lawsuit as a challenge against gentrification and privatization of schools in Boyle Heights. Charter schools are publicly funded and open to all students, but are not run by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Critics say that they draw students out of from nearby public schools — a process that can lead to lower enrollments, lower state funding and layoffs at those schools.
In October, labor rights group United Teachers of Los Angeles and community organizer Centro CSO led a protest to City Councilman José Huízar’s office in Boyle Heights, demanding that the city deny the development on environmental grounds. The ongoing fight over charter school funding was also a driving factor behind the teachers’ strike in January.
“This win was a huge victory for the community,” Carlos Cerdán, a teacher from nearby Breed Street Elementary School, said in a press release from Centro CSO. “Charter schools serve to divide communities at an early age in order to destroy unity through false pretenses of choices.”
KIPP LA Schools, a national nonprofit organization that runs 15 public charter schools around the city, planned to open the new school in July with space for 625 students in grades K-4. KIPP LA’s Chief External Impact Officer Manny Aceves said in a statement that the charter school operator decided not to defend itself against the lawsuit, but that it would continue to look for “a permanent home” for KIPP Promesa Prep.
“As part of the Boyle Heights community, we are saddened by the opposition’s actions, but we are not discouraged,” Aceves said in the statement. “Rather than engage in a long and expensive legal proceeding, we have decided it is best to allocate our resources toward meeting our students’ needs.”
Centro CSO stated that the site of the proposed school could instead be used to build a public library, park or affordable housing.
Photo: Protesters rally in front of José Huízar’s office in October to speak out against his support for KIPP Promesa Prep. By Antonio Mejías-Rentas.