The Fight for Los Angeles continues: Meet Diana Mabel Cruz

Four years ago when I first got back to Los Angeles from Davis, there was nothing which spoke to me more about the future than walking through the city, when it became clear that it was in the midst of a great change, and that somehow JIMBO TIMES would also be a part of that change. I look back at that time now and marvel at just how many other L.A. Stories were also orbiting close by, making their own way through a transformation with the city before claiming a role in the process of it. Diana Mabel Cruz tells one such Cuento.

Diana Cruz is a 25 year old organizer from Los Angeles who is currently fighting an eviction notice in her native vecindad of Koreatown.

Alongside her mother, she’s taking a stand against being forced to leave a community where their family holds decades’ worth of investment and memories by organizing a Legal Defense Fund for their stay. In walking with Diana through her neighborhood to learn more, she shared fragments with me of the countless stories that make her vecindad more than just a familiar place, but one worth defending; she showed me where her family first moved in to the neighborhood in the early 60s, where they went to church as the years passed by, the school she went to for elementary, and how many changes she’s noted in the community since. It became clear to me then how Diana perceives her neighborhood in a way that any city planner should find invaluable: she not only treasures the place she comes from, but also understands her ability to play an active part in its shaping over the course of time. She explains it best herself, however:

1. When did your family first arrive to Los Angeles? My grandparents moved to Koreatown in 1966 when my dad was only 5 years old, staying with family friends around Saint Kevin church until they could afford their own apartment. In 1968, they moved into their own home just nearby on Edgemont Street. I still have black and white photos from the family’s arrival here during the sixties. My mother arrived to Los Angeles in 1991. She moved out to the Koreatown neighborhood from the Pico-Union district in 1996.

2.What was your school experience like, being from the neighborhood? I went to nearby Cahuenga Elementary for 5 years, but my mother also placed me on a waiting list for a Magnet program at Brentwood elementary. I was accepted into Brentwood’s magnet program when I was in the fourth grade. I remember that my bus stop for Brentwood was then at Alexandria Elementary. From the sixth through eight grades, my bus stop for Paul Revere Middle school was at Virgil Middle School, and my bus stop for Pacific Palisades Charter High was at the corner of 3rd/Normandie. Throughout my time at schools on the west side, at any point that the school administrators considered me to be misbehaving, the ultimate form of punishment was the threat of being sent back to my home schools.

3. What did you study at UC Davis, and what drove you to return to L.A. once you graduated with a renewed vision of your place in The City? (YES, UCD!) I studied Sustainable Environmental Design at UCD and focused on Participatory Urbanism. Too often community members are not invited to the table when a city makes a planning decision that will directly impact them. Or if they are, meetings are hosted at times when they are unavailable and without language justice being offered. But the question persists for me: Who better to direct urban planning decisions than the people that live in their own neighborhoods? I’m now using the privilege I’ve had of being able to access higher education to amplify the voices of the people in my community. This is our neighborhood and we have just as much agency as the landlords that own the buildings we live in. One day, when I pay off my current student loans my goal is to go on to graduate school for these same reasons.

4. What inspires you to keep fighting for this particular struggle at Mariposa Villas in K-town? My family has a lot of history in this neighborhood. My dad went to Virgil Middle School and Belmont High. My aunt went to Marshall. The local church, panaderias, Central-American markets and restaurants here hold several memories for us as well. We have roots in this neighborhood that date 52 years ago–this is our home; these are the sidewalks I played in, the buildings I grew up in, and the streets that raised me. If we don’t fight for our right to stay, who will?

In addition to organizing for her Tenants Association in Koreatown, Diana is also supporting the Prop 10 campaign this upcoming election.

This November 6th, voters in California will decide on Proposition 10, or an historic piece of housing legislation that would allow localities to place new rent control ordinances in their cities in an effort to curb the state’s deepening housing crisis.

At the heart of the matter, what we’ll be deciding on is just how much of a support network we can create for the mass of renters who live and work for California by expanding protections for them to keep their homes. These renters may not be very visible on election day, and many of them will not (be enabled to) show up to the polls for various reasons, but they will be there for their pueblos at every other moment; they are people like Diana and her mother, and people like me and my mama, numbering in the millions throughout Los Angeles and across the Golden state as we keep these places clean, friendly, and most of all, beaming with warmth like the sunshine above us no matter the winds.

To support Diana’s current stand against the eviction in her building, please visit her Legal Defense Fund’s page. And stay tuned: November 6th is just around the corner.

J.T.

Advertisements

Super Pan Bakery Has Gotten An Extension

Super Pan Panaderia with 'Matriarch' by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles
Super Pan Panadería with ‘Matriarch’ by Cesar Tepeku at Virgil and Monroe, Los Angeles

It’s with great pleasure to announce that the 20 year old Panadería in the “Virgil Village” community has gotten an extension for its relocation. At least until December, families in our community can continue to quench their appetites with Doña Elvia’s fresh pan dulce, hot tamales, and bolillos con huevos.

It’s a key victory for the pueblo that comprises the ole neighborhood, but now with the extension secured, some of us are left wondering: might the Panadería be able to simply stay after all?

The fact of the matter is that maintaining a small business like Super Pan in cities like Los Angeles is increasingly difficult. While gentrification in the community compounds the trouble involved in maintaining the bakery’s “appeal” over the years, even if the buzz-word was removed from the equation, rising inflation and the cost of living since the bakery’s opening in the early 2000’s without an increase in backing or security for its services continue to undermine any effort to keep its place in the community.

I think of another small place close to heart, in Mama’s caseta, which is less than four blocks north of Super Pan on Santa Monica boulevard.

In over sixteen years in the vecindad, regardless of whether the stand’s revistas and literatura turn a profit or not, we’re required to pay insurance fees for its footing before we can even submit a reapplication for permission from the city to maintain its location on the boulevard.

Once the stand clears the permitting process, as with most other things in life, taxes apply, but at no point in the process is there an accounting for the stand’s aggregate time in the community, or for its ability to make ends meet despite market ‘trends’, health or other issues which can impact the owners’ ability to stay in business; the stand is thus locked in a tax system which never offsets the burdens it places on small business with anything other than permission to keep operating. It thereby turns into an increased burden in itself for business owners to deal with, among other challenges they face in an increasingly expensive city to live in.

Is it any wonder why mujeres like like Doña Elvia and Mama have such a mystical spell about their place in the community, then?

Each year new hurdles are placed in from them as small businesses owners, but they continue to rise with their small places to claim their time under the sun. With their heads up high, they greet their customers loyally, serving each of them with gratitude in their gestures, and placing their faiths in the forces beyond them to continue with all of it through another day–and if they’re bendecidas enough–through another year. How then could we not honor these people, Los Angeles.

The extension of the deadline is a sign of good faith for what lies ahead, but there is in fact much more work left to do for the pueblo. Still, for now, please celebrate with us by visiting a small mom and pop shop near you with while you can! They are dreams come true today, and with them we move onto yet more dreams, for tomorrow. If somehow they can manage to do it, we can too, Los Angeles.

J.T.

Still Resilient in Los Angeles

JT_Red
Metro Red Line Station; Vermont Ave and Santa Monica Blvd.

When you’ve known a place your whole life, a place that you take pride in, where you’ve found love in, and where you’ve found yourself in, what do you do as that place is taken from you? When the people who comprise this place are people who look like you, or who speak the same language as you, who hail from that same “otherness” like you, what do you do as they’re taken from you, too?

I think of the local Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line Subway station. A place where thousands of people pass one another by each day, past the flocks of pigeons nestled above in the station’s arches, and past the heaps of other people laying by the entrances to the terminal.

The birds cradled in the station’s altitudes are conditioned to the factors of the environment, which are often rather unfriendly to their livelihood: Food is scarce, competition for food is abundant, and the winds push people and traffic through their huddled masses daily.

The humans below, whether moving with the traffic or anchored to the sidewalk, are conditioned to the factors of the environment, too: Food and housing are expensive, finding decent work to afford decent food and housing is likewise competitive. As people push through flocks of pigeons in the race to get to it all, we push past one another too; over time, this has the effect of insulating us from the environment and one another as a whole.

I think of my own experience in this sequence, in terms of just how many people I’ve walked past over the dozen or so years I’ve stepped foot through Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica corridor. Past people conflicted by mental health disorders, addiction, or no place for shelter at night. Past people trapped in abusive relationships, police violence, or no access to a steady meal each day. Past children who had no choice. I’ve got a feeling that this is an experience which binds me with millions of other people in the U.S. today.

In the 21st century, America isn’t just pushing people away from its borders, but it’s also pushing them from their homes, their livelihoods, and even from its street corners. In the pending displacement of Super Pan, my pueblo is dealing with wealth in this country, and the power of wealth to shove human beings out of the way instead of using it to uplift them and our community together as a whole; a legacy as old as the country itself.

But all around us are more mom and pop shops at risk of displacement, just as there are more Metro stations serving as shelters for more people with less than us. Not far off are also those individuals with wealth who simply want to take each of these spaces for their own benefit without pausing to consider how others can be harmed by such obnoxious claims to space.

If I’m somewhere in between, that is, not enamored by the power of wealth, but also not forced to sleep by the Metro stations at night, then just where do I stand? I pass by the less fortunate like the rest, to try to be better in some other way, which is for the most part what I have to do. But I don’t believe I’ve always got to do things this way.

I believe there’s still a world to build right through the one we see now, both with and alongside others: a world that’s been here before, actually, and which still glimmers through the shadows in moments each day out there; a world of people helping each other, uplifting each other, and building great things as a result.

A world we have to fight for, and which we continue fighting for each day: Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles.

More on Super Pan in the Virgil Village SOON,

J.T.

Our Petition for Super Pan Bakery of the Virgil Village is now LIVE

“She collected observations as one would collect ice-cream sticks: a youth riding a wobbly bike on the muddy shoulders of the street; a skinny cat roaming through the tall bird-of-paradise stalks; two comadres chatting between a fence; an old crooked bird man who fed his flock of pigeons daily. The desire to be on the other side of the fence, to run away and join them, was so strong, it startled her, just like the buzzard bell ending another recess.”

– Their Dogs Came With Them, Helena Maria Viramontes

One day we were teenagers, just trying to make our way home without forgetting our books at the 7-Eleven, either because we had put them down in trying to avoid looking overly studious with over-sized backpacks, or because we just didn’t take backpacks to school to begin with, being too cool.

The next we were at a crossroads, either turning the other cheek as police raided the homes and pockets of our classmates and peers, or going down in a blaze with them for trying to stand at their side without the social standing to back us.

Today we’re at another junction, as the influx of new wealth and power make their way through the streets which for decades we’ve called home, transforming their characters and erasing their pasts for a new crop of city-goers in a new time of city-going.

But to be clear about the question of change: the fact of the matter is that the neighborhood has been in the midst of transformation since the earliest steps our parents took through its intersections when they first arrived en masse to Los Angeles during the 1980s in an effort to make for new lives here.

The technology since that time has also been in the midst of transformation; the way human beings have connected with the rest of the world has come a long way from the days of the first home computers and beepers and payphones. My peers and I were born in the 1990s, arriving just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which placed us at the end of an arms and technological race between two empires that spawned formidable, reverberating technologies across the world.

While the smartphones we use today now change our perception of the world at light-speed, the atom and hydrogen bombs before them, followed by the freeways not long afterwards, also altered time and space in ways that moved people, including our people–that is, our immigrant and working class communities all over the U.S. and the world–to and through cities like Los Angeles.

But now another social and technological shift is underway again, and the question is not whether we can keep another neighborhood in Los Angeles from being taken from its past, because this has definitely not been the case here since the city’s foundation, throughout its annexation, during the boring for Mulholland’s aqueducts, amid the aforementioned scientific innovations, or at any other point.

The question is whether we can manage to facilitate these changes in a way that doesn’t come at the complete expense of others, and in a way that benefits more than just one group over another.

It’s also a question of whether the people in the “less affluent” groups like the one described here can muster the collective social and political strength necessary to take a stand in this regard. I would argue that our Back to School Party at El Gran Burrito this past August was a STAND, which makes it so that calling attention to Super Pan Bakery’s displacement from the Virgil Village is now a direct follow up to that same STAND.

I also believe that while there’s much debate in cities throughout the U.S. about just what kind of change is inevitable, it’s clear that it’s increasingly difficult for institutions and owners to take space from others without people calling attention to their place in the historical timeline of the environment in question.

Today then, calling attention to displacements like the one now facing Super Pan is a matter of claiming the history of our community here for our own sake and development.

At the time of this writing, we now have a petition with our first 137 signatures supporting the family at Super Pan Bakery in their bid for more time to relocate at the FOLLOWING:

https://www.change.org/p/mitch-o-farrell-help-super-pan-bakery-of-virgil-village-get-more-time-to-relocate

Only ten years ago, 137 signatures would have required far more work to put together over the course of a few days, if not a whole week, but now we can publish a petition online calling for our people just minutes after deeming it necessary. In the 15 days before the deadline for Super Pan’s relocation is up then, we will continue to rally support from the various members of Nuestro Pueblo throughout L.A., California, and across the world who believe in our Panaderias with us.

This next week also includes a meeting with a representative for local Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office, getting more of us involved in the effort, and which we’ll have notes about in our next update. In the meantime, I hope we can garner the signatures of each reader of this blog for our petition, and that you can also spread the word to your own networks and peers.

Thankful for each step in this process, and each of you,

J.T.

Preserving Los Angeles Is Critical to Our History

IMG_2075
L.A. Times Building; J.T., 2015

This past June all L.A. Times staff and personnel moved from the historic L.A. Times building in downtown Los Angeles to a new headquarters in El Segundo after the Times’s lease expired with the building’s owners at the end of the month. The building was sold by Tribune Media, the former owners of the L.A. Times, to the Canadian real estate Onni Group in 2016.

Now The L.A. Times building as it stands on 1st and Spring street is slated for a seismic redevelopment if the Onni group has its way, as the firm looks to convert the 1973 Pereira installment of the building into a high-rise residential and retail space.

Preservationists have called on the L.A. City Council to grant a landmark status to the structure, the cornerstones of which were erected in 1937, but even if approved, the specter of demolition of at least some of the structure will still loom large. The city council can ‘encourage’ or incentivize the Onni group about how to move forward with its redevelopment plans, but the firm is not known for its preservation records. What a show of the power of ownership in the face of the public interest.

When I visited Chicago in the summer of 2016 it was an eerie sight to observe an absolutely empty Tribune building in the middle of the city’s highly developed downtown area. Now, as our very own media company here on the West coast meets the same fate, the swiftness with which modernization undermines the foundations of our institutions dawns once again. And yet, Los Angeles does not have to go the way of Chicago. If the city’s leadership can consider the long-term benefits of preserving this piece of our local history, future generations just may get to experience the magnitude of the structure for themselves.

Indeed, when much of the leadership in California likes to tout the state as a beacon of forward-mindedness, the act of preserving our history should be a no-brainer. And if L.A. Times reporting and storytelling has shown me anything over the years, it’s that someone is always paying attention to the movements swirling through our society, and that the more we can place the parcels such movements leave behind into perspective, the more fully we can grasp just where we come from and thus know ourselves better.

Moreover, this same forward-mindedness, or respect for both present and future, is what many of the movements against gentrification in cities like Los Angeles are also centered around: to resist displacement for the sake of chic new markets is not just to be facetious, it is to herald what is already here, what is already provided by what’s (t)here, and what might still be borne from its preservation when measured not by market values, but human values.

J.T.

California Primary Elections: June 2018 Recap

According to the Washington Post, just over 6.9 million people in California cast a vote for the state’s June 2018 Primaries–the largest recorded in the state’s history for a primary election–out of a total of over 19 million registered voters, to make for a 36% ‘return’ rate.

However, when considering the total number of all potential voters in the State’s Registrar, listed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s records as being at 25 million eligible voters, the turnout rate becomes 27%, or just over a fourth of the possible turnout.

To make things more interesting, when considering the total population of California, the most recent census records show that the Golden State is comprised of over 39.5 million people. To be sure, the census also counts people who are imprisoned, undocumented immigrants, and other non-voting citizens such as youth under eighteen years old. Nevertheless, if the total population is considered, it makes the Primary’s ‘turnout’ rate even smaller, at 17% of all the citizenry in the state, or less than a fifth of the ‘democratic’ or participating possibilities.

In contest for June 2018’s primary elections was the state’s Governorship, a seat for one U.S. Senator’s position, various seats for the U.S. House of Representatives, local courtroom positions, measures or ordinances varying from county to county, and more, like the recall of Judge Aaron Persky in Santa Clara County, for one.

Now, a quick glance at which groups comprise the California population:

From the U.S. Census Bureau’s ‘Quick Facts’ online:

At 15.4 million, Latinos account for 39% of California’s population.

At 14.6 million, Whites hold 38.8% of California’s population.

At 5.9 million, Asians maintain 15% of California’s population.

And at 2.5 million, Blacks constitute 6.5% of California’s population.

At 633,000, Native Americans compose 1.6% of California’s population. And at 198,000, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders form 0.5% of California’s population.

My favorite data for this election, however, is Political Data, Inc’s Absentee Vote Tracker (AVT), which tracked the early return of ballots on both the day before the Primary election as well as the day of, tracking up to 2.8 million returns of the 6.9 returns overall.

We’ll take a look at some of the numbers, particularly the following about which groups were mailed a ballot for the primaries, and which groups actually submitted those ballots.

According to the AVT, the day before and the day of the election, the percentage of ballots held by the states voter’s along ethnic lines were:

Latinos: 2.2 million (25% of the total)
Asians: 1.05 million (12% of the total)
Blacks: 312 thousand (4% of the total)
Whites: 5.2 million (59% of the total)

What the numbers suggest is reason for pause: similarly to L.A. County’s Special and Municipal Elections, voting at the State level is still the matter of a huge disparity between the White and Non-White populations who make up California.

Remember our Census data: at 15.4 million of the overall population in California, Latinos outnumber Whites, even if by only less than a percentage point. When it comes to ballots held between Latinos and Whites before election day, however, there are more than two White voters for every Latino voter, and nearly five times as many White voters for every Asian voter. This is what inequality in the democracy of the Golden State looks like.

On the day of the Primary election, the numbers are more startling.

Latino returns: 367,000 (13% of the total)
Asian returns: 295,000 (11% of the total)
Black returns: 75,000 (3% of the total)
White returns: 2.04 million (76% of the total)

Of course, one should also note that these numbers are from just the day before as well as the day of the vote, which obviously makes them incomplete. But in midterm elections like these, which are usually less popular and thus more predictable, the probability that early returns are indicators of a normal distribution is usually higher than not. In other words, after counting the total overall, the 76% rate of Whites who voted in this last election is probably off by only a few percentage points in one direction or the other.

The implications are that the current inequality between white voters rates and those of people of color when considering the larger voter eligibility pool of the latter group in Los Angeles and California is more than just unfortunate, it’s something of a public safety concern; if recent trends in U.S. politics show us anything, it’s that very few groups feel adequately represented by the country’s current institutional makeup. Just as relevant: although the state and its officials certainly like to claim they welcome immigration and the diversity of the land, when it comes to the distribution of power between its various groups, California’s white population is as much in control of the state as whites are in places like Tennessee or Arkansas, both states that overwhelmingly voted for the current administration.

It was in 2014 that the PEW Research center identified Latinos as the largest ethnic group in California, which is considered a preview for the overall direction of the U.S.’s ‘majority-minority‘ poised to arrive in the next twenty-five years or so. But if the current trends in California’s voting disparity between whites and non-whites here continues, one can only reasonably calculate for an even more radical inequality at the national level in terms of power and policy between the groups than what we’re seeing today.

J.T.

Matriarca, por Ceaser C. Tepekuyut

img_0219887068656.jpg
‘Matriarca’, por Ceaser C. Tepekuyut; Virgil y Monroe Avenues, Los Angeles
“La reducción de espacios para las tradiciones de mujeres y niños Indígenas y sus descendientes mestizos que han levantado esta tierra, así como nuestros ancestros también lo han hecho por milenios atreves de todo el continente americano, es una profanación.

Sacar a la gente Indígena de sus hogares, y sus negocios y sustentos, es sacar a la tierra de sus raíces. Reducirlos a objetos es inhumano e irrespetuoso a la vida misma. ‘Que no se olviden: Esta tierra pertenece a la tribu Tongva.’

 

Cada figura en este mural está basada en una personal real que vive en los pueblos y las reservaciones a lo largo de Los Angeles, Sonsonate, El Salvador, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Oaxaca, Mexico, y más.

Es por ellos que estamos aquí.

Declaracion en Comunidad,”

Interpretacion por Samanta Helou.
J.T.

Matriarch, by Ceaser C. Tepekuyut

 

“The reduction of space for the traditions of the indigenous women and children–and those of their mestizo descendants–whose footsteps have grazed and raised the land here for generations, as those of our ancestors have done throughout the American continent for millennia, is a desecration.

To push them away from their home(s), and their businesses and livelihoods, is to push the land itself from its roots. To reduce them into objects is less than human; it is to reduce life itself. ‘Don’t forget: These are Tongva lands.’

 

Each figure in this mural is based on a real person, present and living among pueblos and reservations throughout Los Angeles, among Sonsonate, El Salvador, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, Oaxaca, Mexico, and more.

It is because of them that we’re here.

– Statement in Community,”

J.T.

La Gentrificación del Pueblo Continuará

Hasta que el pueblo se levanta y dice ya basta.

A walk through any neighborhood is the most effective way to survey its culture. This afternoon through my own, at the intersection of Madison and Willow Brook avenue, I took a moment to photograph the complex above, which is now in the process of redevelopment. Around the abandoned buildings, power lines idle next to nestles of leaves from high trees branching out through the air. East of the complex, less than a minute of walking distance, is Lockwood Elementary school, where my old friends and I went to school, and where now even some of the children of those old friends go to school.

Today Lockwood Elementary is no longer just one school, but ‘two in one,’ as the site is now split between the traditional Los Angeles Unified School District program (LAUSD), and a charter school overseen by Citizens of the World – Silver Lake Charter (CWC), which serves ‘qualified’ students whose enrollment is based on a ‘lottery.’ The irony here is that Lockwood Elementary is actually not located in the famed Silver Lake area, but instead in what’s known officially, or according to the LA City Clerk, as ‘East Hollywood.’

In any case, when my peers and I finished fifth grade at Lockwood, our next stop was Thomas Starr King Middle School (King MS) for the sixth through eight grades. King was located East of Virgil boulevard on Fountain avenue, and at just under a mile away from Lockwood, if one made the trek to King MS on foot from say, Madison and Willow Brook Avenues, they might reason that the school was actually better situated to serve students located in the Los Feliz area.

An urban policy planner might reply to this contention that it’d be an easy fix, however, since all that the parents of the complex at Madison and Willow Brook Avenues had to do was drive their kids to King. Of course, that just meant that the parents had to be able to afford a car, which wasn’t always the case for many of the single mothers who oversaw so many of my peers and I. Even so, at just under a mile of walking distance to the school, the daily trek couldn’t be that bad of a slog, right? Some parents did it. Indeed, some had to. There wasn’t a whole lot of support for them otherwise.

When my peers and I finished at King MS, what followed for us was John Marshall High School (JMHS) for ninth through twelfth grade. At just about two miles walking distance from the old apartment complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, Marshall High School was significantly farther east of Virgil boulevard, and unlike King, which the aforementioned urban planner could argue was located at a ‘border’ point between ‘East Hollywood’ and Los Feliz and thus serve both areas, Marshall High School was definitely located in the Los Feliz area. As such, it was definitely designed to serve the students of parents within that area.

Even so, somehow my friends and I still made it in through the gates at Marshall, either by carpooling with one parent or another, or by taking the Metro 175 bus for those of us who could catch it early enough in the mornings. But only 48% of the class that my peers and I entered into Marshall with would walk out of the school with their diploma.

Was that graduation rate planned? With ten years of hindsight from the day of graduation, I can say that it certainly wasn’t planned against. That is, from the time my peers and I were at Lockwood, all the way through our time at Marshall, there wasn’t exactly a cultural plan from the urban policy planners around us and the rest of the leadership in the area to get my peers and I through the neighborhood successfully onto college and back.

Was it their job in the first place? One may well argue that it was not, but it’s precisely that same lack of accountability which leads me to believe that in a significant way, the neighborhood surrounding the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues, like many neighborhoods all across Los Angeles, was either supposed to get with the program, or just get lost. That is, parents in our vecindad were supposed to run with the market, or get Left Behind.

Similarly, today’s redevelopment of the old complex at Madison and Willow Brook avenues is a matter of getting with the program. Except that the program of the new complex at the intersection will be one of sleek buildings, the flaunt of which will be accentuated by bold fonts, and the grounds of which will be guarded by steep fences shrouding the complex in seclusion and high visibility all at once, thereby earning its ask for the unenviable rent prices it’s destined for; rent prices that virtually none of the trabajadores now reconstructing the complex day by day, nor any of their vecinos in the pueblo surrounding the complex, will be able afford for them and their children, nor that even their children’s children might afford.

Asi es. Y asi sera, me dirian tantos compadres en los trabajos por ahi. Pero asi es hasta que nosotros decimos no mas, Los Angeles.

There is reason to nevertheless be optimistic about challenging this lack of accountability, or this lack of protection for so many working families in neighborhoods like this one. Everywhere in Los Angeles is growing a Resistance to this old order of power, which has stifled pueblos like those of my peers and I, and our movements, throughout The City for decades.

I’ve got a feeling, then, that even at the intersection of Madison and Willow Brook avenues, even if asi es, y asi sera, a resistance to pricing out the pueblo and its children will grow there too. It may not do so overnight, nor even over the course of tomorrow. But it will rise and make its voice known, one day at a time.

Indeed, it has to, Los Angeles.

Asi es. Y asi sera.

J.T.

Deed Restrictions in Los Feliz and East Hollywood

Red Car On Santa Monica Blvd - 1940
Red Car on Santa Monica Boulevard, ‘East Hollywood’; 1940

T-RACES, or the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, is a powerful map and treasure cove of historical documents showing how cities like Los Angeles were developed over the course of the 20th century, particularly during the years just before World War II. The archives contain ‘area descriptions’ of L.A. neighborhoods as seen by city and county officials of the National Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC); to learn more about the HOLC, readers can visit Design and Violence, where my treasure hunt for the documents began.

I’ve gathered a few of the area descriptions of the “Los Feliz” and “East Hollywood” neighborhoods, respectively, all of them dated from 1939. It’s fascinating to see the old vecindades distinguished by their racial and class makeup. For example, in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the absence of “foreign families” or “negros” based on the “deed restrictions” banning their presence, as well as single-family residential zoning, lead to a “high green” or attractive rating for the HOLC:

“[In Los Feliz] …Deed restrictions cover both improvement costs and racial elements. Zoning is single-family residential. Conveniences are as available as is desirable in a multi-car garage neighborhood. This area was subdivided some 15 years ago, and was engineered and platted to contour resulting in well arranged and improved streets. Construction, maintenance and architectural designs are of the highest quality. Population is of a high character and many of the city’ s wealthiest citizens reside here. Values shown above are somewhat conjectural as size and location of homesite affects prices. This also applies to rentals as quality of tenant is a large consideration. With a convenient location, ideal building sites and high caliber deed restrictions, this area should continue indefinitely to attract a substantial type of resident. On the basis of present development and future prospects area is accorded a “high green ” grade.”

By contrast, in East Hollywood, for the ‘concentration of Jewish families’, along with 5 & 6 room dwellings, or apartment buildings with 5 to 6 units, a “medial yellow” or “only fairly” attractive grade is accorded.

“[In East Hollywood] …There are no deed restrictions and zoning, while mainly single-family, also permits all types of multi-family residential structures in different parts and is also “spot zoned” for business and provides for numerous institutional developments. Two of the largest hospitals in the city are located within the area. Conveniences are all readily available. This area was originally largely occupied by the old Sullivan Farm and was subdivided approximately 25 years ago. Divided by and surrounded with business thoroughfares this far-flung area contains a miscellaneous array of multi-family residential development; however, the pre-dominating type of residence is 5 & 6 room dwellings which are generally of standard construction and fairly well maintained. It is said to be one of the community’s best rental districts. Rumors of scattered Japanese and Negro residents were not confirmed as none were located except upon the business thoroughfares. There is a concentration of Jewish families between Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. east of Western Avenue. The population in general is heterogeneous, as is also the aspects of the improvements. There is a fair percentage of owner occupancy and many homes are still occupied by original owners. There is a decided trend at present toward business and income properties; however, it is thought that the major part of the area will remain predominantly single-family for many years to come. The area is accorded a “medial yellow” grade.”

Such standards beg the question, just who is the HOLC describing these conditions to?

That is, just who determines that ‘negros’, ‘foreign’ and ‘Jewish’ people and their dwellings reduce the overall quality of life? In literature it’s called the white gaze, or the white imagination that dictates a certain narrative or reality.

With these frameworks in mind, I was excited to read about just how the vecindad my family and I would come to call home during the eighties when mom and pops arrived here fared ‘in the ratings’.

In the eyes of the HOLC, the neighborhood was considered ‘blighted’ for 15% of its residency consisting of ‘foreign’ families, and for 10% of it consisting of ‘negros’, as well as for the neighborhood’s multiple family dwellings and bungalows. This led to a “medial red” or mostly unattractive rating.

“[In East Hollywood] …The few deed restrictions which have not expired are irregular and largely non-effective. The major portion of area is zoned for single family dwellings, but multiple family dwellings are permitted in scattered sections. Conveniences are all readily available. This district was subdivided over 25 years ago as a popular price home district and has largely maintained the characteristics. Many of the improvements are of substandard construction and maintenance is spotted, being generally of a poor quality. Scattered throughout the area are a number of small “B” grade apartments, bungalow courts and other multi-family dwellings. The population is highly heterogeneous with more than a sprinkling of subversive racial elements, there being several concentrations of Japanese and Negroes within the district. There is also quite a Jewish population adjacent to the synagogue which is located in the northern part. While by no means a slum district, the area is definitely blighted and is accorded a “medial red” grade.”

On the one hand, it’s astounding to think that there used to be more Japanese and Black people in the neighborhood. On the other hand, it’s sobering to consider how World War II and the Japanese interment which followed removed such communities from the area. When one considers these events and the subsequent or concurrent modernization that followed or accompanied the war, such as the building of the first freeway in America in the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940, one can see how modern development has always been a matter of some violence on communities and restrictions of their space for the benefit of others.

It’s rarely ever easy to take another field trip through the historical foundations which led to our modern dilemmas with access to space. But in order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we come from, Los Angeles.

J.T.