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VENTURA, Calif. — The Ventura Avenue United Leadership Team, is a group of working-class residents in this southern California city organizing to resist the gentrification of their neighborhood.
For several months. Ventura Avenue has been the target of a massive redevelopment plan that would gentrify the culturally diverse neighborhood by morphing it into a modern-day shopping destination.
Ventura Avenue, traditionally a working-class neighborhood, whose oilfields made it a self-sustainable community early last century, has long been looked at as the "poor side of town." It is here where working-class people can find an affordable living space outside of modern-day suburbia. Yet, only two parks surround the Avenue — on opposite corners of the neighborhood.
According to studies by The City Project, a firm that deals with equitable access to green space in communities of color, the Ventura Avenue neighborhood has an obesity rate that is higher than the rest of the city. One reason is the lack of access to parks and open space in the predominantly Latino neighborhood.
The Ventura Avenue United Leadership Team is a Spanish-speaking group that evolved in the community shortly after The City Project's presentation. They consist of grassroots leaders who have organized a postcard campaign to lobby the city to turn an empty lot into a neighborhood park.
The leadership group also has been organizing in the neighborhood for the interests of the residents, not future developers. There efforts have resulted in a coalition to stop the annexation of unincorporated county land, which is still undeveloped. The group has also succeeded in collaborating with City Planning staff to write community-focused policies and code for maintaining the eclectic ambiance in their working-class neighborhood.
The City Council was set to approve a plan for the neighborhood without including the vision of its residents. However, the Ventura Avenue United Leadership Team assembled a large group of residents from the neighborhood — including youths, college students, Spanish-speaking families and working-class people.
Along with the support of their county supervisor, these residents' testimony forced a unanimous vote from the City Council in favor of incorporating the park as a priority and doing away with the annexation of the Canada Larga property, which would have required taxpayer dollars to build infrastructure to a part of the city that is not yet incorporated.
The group claimed a small victory — the ability to have equitable access to green and open space in their immediate neighborhood. The community has empowered itself and its people in standing up to the developers and fighting for development, which, in the long run, will help unify, not divide, the neighborhood.