Santa Monica College will host a weeklong series of free panels, walking tours and a screening investigating how to prevent displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods.

The eighth annual Public Policy Institute (PPI) spring symposium begins Saturday with a walk through the Pico neighborhood, where gentrification has become a concern for longtime residents in recent years. The tour will explore how zoning shapes Pico Boulevard, which the City of Santa Monica’s Pico Wellbeing Project has been studying since last fall.

The PPI organizes an academic symposium for students and the Santa Monica community around a particular policy issue each spring.

“This will be a topic a lot of people interested in because of how important it is in Santa Monica … and every district in the state has this issue to grapple with,” said PPI co-director Shari Davis.  “It doesn’t have an easy solution, but a great chance to explore different angles with people who are working on possible solutions.”

A second walking tour of Pico is scheduled Thursday. It will focus on the neighborhood’s history, culture and diversity, with discussions led by community leaders Jaime Cruz, an SMC professor, Robbie Jones, Irma Carranza, and Santa Monica City Councilmember Ana Jara.

Jones will explain Pico’s history as an African-American neighborhood before the Santa Monica Freeway was built through the area, displacing Black residents. She was born and raised in the city and has been living in the neighborhood for more than 61 years. On Thursday, Jones will discuss the Black churches in the area, SMC’s first African-American dean, a home designed by a prominent Black architect and how Black families living near the site that would become Virginia Avenue Park lobbied a developer and the City to build a park in their neighborhood.

Other events include a discussion with SMC faculty on the history of gentrification, a screening of a documentary about California’s discriminatory housing laws at the Aero Theatre and a discussion with state senators Scott Wiener and Ben Allen and Santa Monica mayor Gleam Davis.

The faculty discussion will take place Tuesday morning at SMC. As the second event in the symposium, it’s meant to provide attendees with a base level of knowledge they can use to interpret other events in the series, Davis said.

“We have some wonderful professors who are experts in gentrification and its history both nationally and locally,” she said.

The documentary “City Rising” will be screened at the Aero the following evening. The hour-long KCET documentary explores the history of discriminatory housing laws in California that created segregated communities, which are now fighting gentrification that threatens their cultures and contributes to housing insecurity and homelessness. A discussion with Santa Monica city manager Rick Cole, Pico community leader Irma Carranza and D’Artagnan Scorza, founder of the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood will follow.

“We can see a lot of these issues playing out in a very dramatic fashion in Inglewood with the new Chargers stadium, plans for a new basketball arena and the renovation of the Forum pushing rent prices through the roof,” Davis said. “The question is how do you balance that you want communities to thrive economically, but make sure you’re not pushing people out of the place that they’ve raised their families.”

The symposium will culminate with a Thursday evening discussion with Wiener, Allen and Davis. Wiener will discuss Senate Bill 50, which he introduced to ease the state’s housing crisis by incentivizing more development around public transportation hubs and job centers.

A full list of the symposium’s events is available at

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