Letter to Congressman Schiff: In Support of Little Tokyo Service Center’s Santa Monica & Vermont Apartments for East Hollywood

Dear Honorable Congressman Schiff,

I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to you today to express my support for the Little Tokyo Service Center’s (LTSC) transformative housing project in partnership with L.A. Metro at the Vermont/Santa Monica intersection in East Hollywood.

This past March, along with members of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and a coalition of storytellers, scholars, and other community members, I discussed historic redlining practices affecting East Hollywood in the critical years before the onset of WWII. You may or may not know that East Hollywood, along with a number of other neighborhoods in the Central L.A. area, was historically redlined by federal and municipal government officials who saw Black and immigrant families as “blight” and “too risky” or unworthy of investment.

As offensive as redlining was for racist language that discouraged private banks from lending to working-class families in East Hollywood, what was more consequential was redlining’s discouragement of building development to break ground for needed housing in the community.

This is still relevant today. The World War II era, for its myriad of unique particularities, continues bearing key connections to the current housing crisis in Los Angeles. In 1939, the national economy was still emerging from a decade of the Great Depression. Therefore, when the U.S. officially joined the conflict, while California’s ports and aerospace industries began employing masses of new workers, labor shortages threatened to stifle the state’s service and agriculture economies, which could have almost certainly cost the U.S. the war effort.

In bouts of heroism and bravery alike, waves of Black families from the historic U.S. south came to the rescue, especially for the Golden State’s service economies. Simultaneously, Latinx workers from the global south, particularly from Mexico, came to California as the first “Braceros” for the state’s agricultural industry.

Yet while these workers were sure to be hired in Los Angeles, what was entirely uncertain was their housing. After decades of racial covenants, deed restrictions, campaigns against housing for non-whites by an L.A. chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and their collaborators, and homogeneously white city councils, courtrooms, and police, Los Angeles left Black, Latinx and APPI communities with housing conditions that would only worsen with time.

Twenty years after the end of WWII, these conditions erupted in Watts. A generation later, less than twenty years after the world recession of 1973 – 1975, these conditions erupted again in South Central Los Angeles.

And today, even as research shows Black and Latinx people make up to 70% of the unhoused population in Los Angeles, and virtually the same rate of the incarcerated population in the L.A. County Jail and across California prisons, during the “war” against COVID, Black, Latinx and AAPI workers have unflinchingly and resiliently supported L.A.’s service, agricultural and transportation economies, including in East Hollywood. This is why LTSC’s project at Vermont/Santa Monica is as timely as it is appropriate. It is breaking the ground for families needed as early as the years before WWII.

I write in support of Little Tokyo Service Center’s Santa Monica & Vermont Apartments because they will provide 187 units of overdue affordable housing for people of color in the community, as well as permanent supportive housing that communities of color in East Hollywood have missed as the homelessness crisis, which is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis, has only grown by leaps and bounds.

You are likely aware, Congressman Schiff, that in L.A. City Council’s 13th district, where East Hollywood is based, nearly 4,000 people are unhoused, and also that job losses due to the pandemic threaten to unhouse waves of more families of color in our community.

Therefore, while federal and municipal officials have still yet to officially account for discrimination in housing in East Hollywood due to redlining and related policies, LTSC’s extremely low-income housing is what beginning to “turn the page” looks like.

Congressman Schiff, the current moment for our state and nation calls for both bravery and urgency from our leadership, most of all in regards to historic issues of racial and economic justice in the U.S.

As you can recall, Lyndon B. Johnson was the first in Washington D.C. to officially declare “war” on poverty, but could only see the work unfinished as subsequent, “reactionary,” and corporate-bound leadership jeopardized the effort to bridge the wealth gap in our country. The moment now calls for that unfinished work to be resumed with utmost haste, and so we await your affirmation of this through your urgent support for LTSC’s housing work in East Hollywood.

Sincerely, and in community, always


Re: the New Wine Bar, Alma’s, on the Corner Where Our Young Brown Neighborhood Forms a “Promise Zone”

Dear Mr. President,

I hope this note finds you well. On the subject of “returning to normal” once the majority of our cities and communities are vaccinated, I’d like to bring up an old, but recurringly fresh, topic on my mind as well as that of many in my community in Los Angeles.

As you may know, white people in the United States have had exclusive access to land in America by way of colonies, plantations, titles, laws, segregation, FHA loans, redlining, zoning, credit access, the suburbs, and more for 500+ years.

Can you explain to us, then, how white people now fraternizing with other white people over drinks in our ‘hood, which until recently was avoided by both private and federal banks for its Black and immigrant families here, IS NOT recreating this exclusive access?

This is exactly the case at “Alma’s,” a bar recently opened underneath apartments that house Latinx families, including elderly women and children, and feet away from one of the most disinvested intersections for our communities over the last few years.

The reason it’s so outrageous that white people have suddenly opened this bar in the vicinity is because little Brown kids from our community were killed across the street from the corner, and indeed on the same block where it now does business.

In turn, as our neighborhood still reels from racist disinvestment in health, housing, and educational opportunities for our families, the new bar acts like a vortex, vacuuming in white money away for white investors’ keep, all while Brown reality surrounding it remains disinvested in.

The census tract for the area, 191410, shows a Median Household Income of $34,000 a year, or roughly half of L.A. County’s, placing the majority of families in the area well within the federal poverty level.

On top of this, public records state that at least 20% of people living on the same tract where the bar now operates rely on food stamps to pay for meals and groceries. This is a rate second only to that of the tract right below, 191420, where 23% of residents rely on food stamps.

That’s approximately 600 people in a six block radius, not counting undocumented and/or unhoused residents, of whom there are many along Virgil avenue, barely getting by, as white people throw money away on lavish drinks for themselves at this establishment, permitted to operate after a spot-zoning ordinance by local City Council Member, Mitch O’Farrell, in 2018.

The bar is also situated directly beneath residential housing where Latinx abuelitas and mijas have resided for decades, and is less than 500 feet from our community’s local Lockwood Elementary school. I’ve got a feeling that this wouldn’t happen in neighborhoods throughout the Pacific Palisades, Bel Air, or Malibu. So why should it happen in ours?

Due in no small part to those whiter, more exclusive neighborhoods, as of January 2021, the median price for a single-family home in L.A. County is now at $650,000. This makes the tiny blocks in our neighborhood much of all we have for the foreseeable future.

Yet suddenly, in our neighborhood, white liquor licenses, paid for by white patrons, are welcome? That is the definition of Planning Violence, meaning that is how inequality for some is designated, built, and manufactured, while access and rights are reserved for just a privileged few.

Walking past “Alma’s” recently, Mr. President, I could spot shame on some of the faces behind the bar’s screen, a shame betraying cowardice, as they looked back in our direction but still failed to see our humanity, before returning to the white fantasy that plays more like a nightmare for those of us only in the fantasy’s peripherals.

Candles for Anthony, a youth and local in the neighborhood slain in October 2019 just over 300 feet from where “Alma’s” now operates.

Long-time neighbors and community members all around where the new bar is now set up have also witnessed:

Yellow tape cordoning off white chalk lines, where Brown bodies fell to their deaths on the street. Right in front of “Alma’s.”

Helicopters hovering and shining lights into our windows, not to airlift unhoused residents towards shelter, but to hunt Brown bodies down for arrest. Right in front of “Alma’s.”

Police handcuffing and incapacitating Brown youth before hauling them off the street, even during quarantine. Right in front of “Alma’s…Cider Bar.”

And so we hope you can appreciate, Mr. President, that if there’s one thing we know after these experiences:

It’s that we don’t lose Brown lives on our streets for white wine bars to take home–outside of our neighborhoods–the pay.

Alma’s” disruptive presence in our community is not equity for our kids. It’s not of support to 600 neighbors on food-stamps, and it’s certainly not justice for redlined Black and immigrant families here, but only a product of Jim Crow policies by public officials in Los Angeles who shut the door to working-class communities but line boulevards for investors.

To be sure about our neighborhood, though, Mr. President, please also note that it was designated as a “Promise Zone” under the Obama administration in 2014.

According to the fact sheet for Promise Zone neighborhoods in Los Angeles, strategies to create equity for communities here are supposed to include (bold J.T.’s):

  • Increasing housing affordability by preserving existing affordable housing and partnering with housing developers to increase the supply of affordable new housing to prevent displacement.
  • Ensuring all youth have access to a high-quality education, and are prepared for college and careers through its Promise Neighborhoods initiative, by partnering with the Youth Policy Institute and L.A. Unified School District to expand its Full Service Community Schools model from 7 schools to all 45 Promise Zone schools by 2019.
  • Ensuring youth and adult residents have access to high-quality career and technical training opportunities that prepare them for careers in high-growth industries through partnerships with career and technical training schools and the Los Angeles Community College District.
  • Investing in transit infrastructure including bus rapid transit lines and bike lanes, and promoting transit-oriented development (TOD) that attracts new businesses and creates jobs.
  • Charging its Promise Zone Director and Advisory Board with eliminating wasteful and duplicative government programs.

Mr. President, please send help. The Youth Policy Institute was actually shut down in 2019 for embezzlement, and there is no doubt that establishments like “Alma’s” are not healthy businesses, much less supporting youth or adults in our community with access to “high-quality career and technical training opportunities.”

In addition to goals laid out by the Promise Zone we’d still like to see fulfilled, we’ve also got a simple suggestion for what our neighborhoods can use to create equity here:

Federally subsidized housing and zero-interest loans for Black and immigrant communities, so we may live without the threat of displacement and banishment and open our own shops in our neighborhoods; like what FDR did for working-class families during his New Deal.

And in terms of “wasteful and duplicative government programs” to eliminate, personally I’d submit that the 13th District Council Member’s office for our community has fit this profile for decades, and that it should be shut down and rebuilt for our communities more equitably in the interest of our Promise Zone.


Sunset over East Hollywood, Los Angeles


The following are a few passages from an article for the University of Miami Law Review in 1950, when Gary I. Salzman, a former Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Miami, provided a brief summary for a real estate book published just one year earlier, entitled REAL ESTATE SUBDIVISIONS (1949) by Stanley L. McMichael.

The excerpts are of particular interest considering that McMichael’s book came on the heels of the consequential U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley vs Kraemer (1948), in which the court outlawed racial deed restrictions as unconstitutional (emphasis J.T.’s):

ADAM was the first to be given possession of land, subject, however, to certain restrictions…Through the reported connivance of his co-tenant, Eve, these restrictions were broken and the first eviction occurred…Adam had been given no deed to the land and not even a one dollar consideration was on record as having been paid. Indeed, the first real estate transaction was actually a conditional lease in perpetuity, contingent upon observance of certain covenants. Violation of one of these covenants led, subsequently, to a long series of litigations, which have been responsible for more clogged legal dockets than any other phase of human behavior.” – McMichael, 1949

What immediately stands out about this passage are conflated themes of property, tenancy, gender, law, and violation of law. According to the author’s logic, these themes ground a claim that “land” and “ownership of land” based on respect for “certain covenants” or agreements, are characteristics that go back to the earliest days of humanity, as fundamental things that make humans, well, human.

McMichael’s passage conveniently forgets, however, that if such characteristics are supposed to be fundamental, and even sacred to what makes us human, then the United States as an entity was in deep and perpetual violation of their sanctity since its founding, having been grounded on Indian genocide, Afro slavery, and various other forms of oppression inspired by these acts, not to mention the U.S. government’s repeated failure to honor many of the agreements or “covenants” made with descendants of these and other groups in its constitution, bills of right, and more.

Additionally, this first passage is striking for how utterly inventive it reads, like something borrowed from the mischievous L. Ron Hubbard (whose Dianetics was published a year after Subdivisions in 1950, by the way); but the fact of the matter is that zoning, or land rules, themselves were–and remain–inventive tools by which to maintain class and racial dominance. This was true according even to real estate experts themselves at the time, as the next passage indicates.

“‘The legal aspects of restrictions are given from material by Melvin B. Ogden, member of the Los Angeles Bar, stating that private control over the development of subdivisions of land by means of ‘restrictions imposed in deeds, declarations of restrictions, agreements, and similar contracts between the subdivider and lot owners, is of comparatively recent origin.‘” – Salzman, 1950

From this second quotation, it’s certainly no surprise to learn that lawyers in Los Angeles contributed significantly to instructions for realtors nationwide on the maintenance of land as [white] property, but to see one’s actual name cited on the matter is quite the homecoming.

Yet if there’s still any doubt regarding the very, very racial elements of real estate and zoning in Los Angeles as practices by which to assert white racial dominance, let the next quote clarify for readers.

“Can a subdivider of land so restrict sales of his lots that he can prevent, legally, the occupancy of such by non-Caucasions?”

Gary I. Salzman on Stanley L. McMichael’s Subdivisions (1949)

According to Salzman, this is a question McMichael covers at length in his book, with up to eight suggestions (italics J.T.’s) “made to soften the impact of the blow that racial restrictions have received.”

That is, the utterly tragic blow to those racial restrictions delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, when the court sought to honor the 14th amendment in the land of the free and home of the brave, which, don’t forget, had just returned from Europe and the Pacific after defeating fascists there, according to the prevailing narratives of the time.

However, it’s the final passage for this reading that is of most interest to yours truly.

“…the higher the quality of a subdivision, the more satisfactory it is to its creator and the more money can eventually be made out of it by both seller and buyer.” – McMichael, Subdivisions (1949)

After a trying month in March 2021 for hopes of a more equitable, politically informed public dialogue between realtors, city leadership, planning and communities today given L.A.’s racist showings in housing historically, this last passage from McMichael’s Subdivisions seems to be the one which continues to reverberate the most today for two reasons.

First, on March 18th, the L.A. City Planning Commission voted to adopt an utterly inadequate Hollywood Community Update Plan, declining to accept the Just Hollywood Coalition’s calls for language in the plan towards higher affordable housing requirements (as opposed to 10% “encouragements”) from developers, a Right to Return clause for tenants displaced by new building developments, and strong limitations on destroying current rent stabilized housing units in Hollywood, which are increasingly dwindling due to Ellis Act and “cash-for-keys” evictions in the area.

Many working-class and especially immigrant voices lent their time for these calls with the Planning Commission via Zoom during the public comment segment, but while commissioners nodded along and thanked callers for these inputs, their voices, time, and stories were largely ignored during the commission’s final deliberations.

Because the Hollywood Community Update Plan approved by the L.A. City Planning Commission also still designates or “zones” more than 4,500 acres of land in the Hollywood area for single-family homes, thereby allowing for only single family homes to be built on this land, it’s apparent that much of zoning’s racist legacy remains critically out of the sight of our public and private leadership, especially during their “leadering”!

Other than being a major impediment to creating new, multi-family affordable housing in the Hollywood area, single-family zoning is a legacy product of white supremacy in Los Angeles over the 20th century, which the above quotations show clearly, and remains as exclusionary in the 21st century for Black and immigrant workers, most of whom are still anchored in poverty due to wage inequality and other forms of discrimination across L.A. and the “Golden” state.

Secondly, on March 25th, Mitch O’Farrell’s lawless eviction of unhoused residents in Echo Park was another score for the owning classes in Los Angeles, a 21st century version of eminent domain, or seizure and destruction of the dispossessed and their time and resources, for the right of property values and their holders.

Remember simply that “the higher the quality of the subdivision,” as McMichael put it to his readers in 1949, the higher the sale and profit. By the same logic, the “safer” or “more secure” from adverse elements a property is, the greater its value. Of course, as in 1949, safety and security is dependent on whose safety and security we’re talking about.

In the case of Echo Park, violent removal of unhoused residents from the Lake area, predominantly Black and immigrant people, necessarily threatening their safety and security, is permissible under the current zoning or rules for the land. This is because their forced removal, however temporary, is still a boon for investors looking to cash in on Echo Park’s renewed “safety,” however temporary even that boon may be (it’s always temporary, isn’t it?).

As historic actions of the owning class in Los Angeles suggest, then, there are no rights quite like the rights of owners. And as both actions and inaction by so many of L.A.’s public officials in service of this class have shown–and continue to show–the power of property over human rights in Los Angeles today is at least as strong as it was during McMichael’s day, which was a day in which realtors everywhere sought books like Subdivisions to navigate through that “tragic blow” to racial property restrictions delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Shelley vs Kraemer. But while Subdivisions guidance for realtors entailed perverse and even “conniving” analyses of “creation” stories to serve McMichael’s narrow interests as the salesman, the question is, what stories does our society now accept about property rights over human rights?

You can pray for us now, Los Angeles.


The downtown Skyline appears behind a fence separating the 101 freeway from Echo Park

Echo Park Sun Rising – The After-Hours Meditation

In the interest of furthering dialogue regarding Mitch O’Farrell’s actions against unhoused residents in Central Los Angeles, the following are notes from yours truly on the Echo Park Uprising for Episode 51 – Echo Park Sun Rising on J.T. the L.A. Storyteller Podcast:

I. What’s different or so special about Echo Park; why so much fuss about it? Echo Park as a public park is easily the most walkable, most popular shared space in all of Central Los Angeles. The Echo Park neighborhood surrounding the public park has also been home to generations of Latinx, Asian-American, and also African-American laborers and families; however, over the last ten years especially, Echo Park’s proximity to Sunset boulevard, Dodger stadium, and downtown L.A. has made it and the accompanying neighborhood prime real estate for gentrification, leading to the pricing out of generations of Latinx and Asian-American families especially.

According to Stefano Bloch and Dugan Meyer, two scholars on the area in 2019 [parentheses mine]: “At the beginning of the 2000s, Echo Park consisted of a non-Hispanic white population of 16%, compared to the City of Los Angeles’ 30%, and was in the midst of a more than decade-long drop in its violent crime rate to the lowest levels on record. By 2014, when the [L.A. City Attorney’s] civil gang injunction was implemented, Echo Park’s white, non-Hispanic population stood at 29%.” In other words, from the early 2000s through the mid 2010s, Echo Park is a neighborhood that has become substantially whiter at the same time that it’s become increasingly exclusionary to non-whites.

All of these factors have made the area one of the “major places to watch,” and given the park’s high visibility and accessibility, a space almost “destined” for culture clash. Finally, for what it’s worth, like East Hollywood and other parts of Central Los Angeles, Echo Park was also historically red-lined for housing Black and “foreign” families at least as early as 1939.

The Echo Park neighborhood, seen on this redlined map of Los Angeles as a part of the D-34 area.

II. The L.A. Times (@latimes) did the right thing by breaking the story of O’Farrell’s lawless eviction of unhoused folks at Echo Park Lake ahead of time. Transparency is what journalism is supposed to be about, and here we’ve got just that; bravo! Additionally, LAT’s article discussing gentrification as a “planned” development for the area due to racist homeowning policies in the 1960s, which gave way to racist renting and absentee landlordism in the 1970s, is indeed a good starting point for folks just entering discussions on gentrification and housing in Los Angeles, of whom there are still many (especially in the LAT audience. Ahem).

III. The fight against white supremacy in Los Angeles’ political landscape is the fight against fascism. This is because the forced removal of non-armed people in Echo Park last week stands on a long tradition of racist, and yes–genocidal policies–against non-white bodies in Los Angeles and California at the hands of “government,” which is represented no better today than by the fact that the L.A. County Jail, still the largest jail system in the United States, houses a population that is 3/4ths non-white, a rate parallel to that of the unhoused population in Los Angeles, more than 3/4ths of which is non-white and disproportionately Black.

Merriam-Webster defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime…that exalts nation and often race above the individual…headed by a dictatorial leader…and forcible suppression of opposition.” If one thus takes the various names and figures in L.A. and California’s political histories who’ve served as “leaders” only in the interests of white supremacy as say, the status quo, then for non-white bodies in L.A. and California both the city and state have long performed as fascist entities, and continue to do so.

IV. Over the course of the next election year in Los Angeles, it’s key for storytellers to emphasize that Mitch O’Farrell’s privileging of property values over human rights in Echo Park and throughout CD-13 is fascist in nature. Because yes, it was property values and “shareholders” invested in Echo Park’s ongoing gentrification, more than anything, that led to the violent uprooting of unhoused residents there last week, something Mitch O’Farrell’s office doesn’t even have to fully grasp to serve the interests of loyally.

A protester holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall
A protester against racialized police violence holds a sign in front of L.A. City Hall in June 2020

Several folks online also asked where O’Farrell’s office even got the legal go-ahead to use so much LAPD personnel, reportedly up to 300 officers, for the mass eviction; the fact is that there was no legal ground for such action; as with Garcetti’s undemocratic call to Newsom over summer 2020 to deploy National Guard troops onto L.A.’s streets, justification was made up on the fly; no charter citations, nada. “Checks and balances” thus merely functioned as rhetorical devices that got in the way, literally, as demonstrated by LAPD’s indiscriminate arrest of journalists on the ground; it’s also important to remember that whenever any public official massively escalates the presence of police for any given operation, they place both people and police officers’ lives on the line at their own discretion, which is flawed discretion.

V. No, the Echo Park arrests were NOT the Chavez Ravine; however, they’re certainly both under the history of racialized housing policies in Los Angeles. To be certain, Mexican-American families actually built housing in the Chavez Ravine area, where they married, had children, and even raised little league teams for decades.

“Group of young boys and girl of Chavez Ravine,” 1935; Courtesy of collections at the L.A. Public Library

Following substantial population growth over the course of WWII, the city of L.A. suddenly cared about the Chavez Ravine, and then paid Mexican-American families in the area inadequate sums to vacate this land under the threat of “condemning” their homes otherwise, which would have allowed the city to forcibly remove residents. After letting go of these homes, Chavez Ravine families were then promised actual public housing units that never materialized. The unhoused residents in Echo Park, by contrast, many of whom arrived to Echo Park Lake in the past two years in particular, have only been offered temporary hotel rooms under Biden’s FEMA money for Project Roomkey.

VI. We already know, but it’s worth reiterating that the sudden and violent closure of Echo Park is ultimately not about Mitch O’Farrell. O’Farrell is, like most of his colleagues at L.A. City Hall, a mere servant of a larger systemic issue in CD-13 and across Los Angeles, which is white supremacy in the city’s housing stock and accessibility. Therefore, calling for O’Farrell’s resignation at this time is merely calling for his replacement, which the council district’s recent history suggests may not be much better. Remember–and remind others–that before O’Farrell oversaw the office of the 13th district it was Eric Garcetti (from 2001-2013), who handed Hollywood and neighborhoods across CD-13 the current crisis of hotels and luxury rentals for the wealthy instead of housing for Brown families and workers.

Before Garcetti in the 13th district, there was Jackie Goldberg (from 1994 – 2001), who played no insignificant role in the grossly expensive and failed Metro rail line that is the Metro Red Line. While the Red Line displaced several Latinx and AAPI communities from Koreatown to East Hollywood and also drove up the cost of living in these areas, it still satisfied demands from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, folks at Kaiser Permanente, and other anonymous investors in the “project.”

Jackie Goldberg celebrating the opening of the Metro Red Line from downtown into the Hollywood area in 1999; Photo courtesy of the L.A. Public Library

It’s probably safe to call CD-13 under Mitch O’Farrell’s direction in 2021 a done deal, then, and look towards the seat’s election in 2022.

VII. Make no mistake about it: the race for CD-13 in 2022 officially began with a loud WHAM on Thursday, March 25th, 2021, with Mitch O’Farrell’s office seeking to wrest control of activist narratives about L.A. City’s historic indifference towards unhoused residents into his own hands as a public official “restoring [white liberal] order” despite those activists’ “radical left” agenda.

O’Farrell’s rhetorical strategy is to exploit the same “politics of grievance” over the city’s inaction, a euphemism for white “back-lash,” that have a long history in California politics, popularized no better than by Howard Jarvis’ Taxpayers Association, which successfully framed the passage of the infamous Prop 13 in California in 1978 as a [white] rebellion against public services for growing numbers of [non-white] residents in the state.

The one, the only; Grandpapa Howard Jarvis of California

California’s electorate body–and also that of Los Angeles–is of course no longer the same as in 1978, or even 2016 or 2017, for that matter, but the race for CD-13 in 2022 is still going to be a long, hard-fought numbers game between O’Farrell’s moneyed supporters and an energized progressive mass all around them in central Los Angeles. For the record, as of the end of 2020, Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign has seen nearly ten times the amount of contributions than Albert Corado’s, his leading challenger for the seat.

According to the L.A. Ethics Commission, O’Farrell’s office has received just under $110,000 in donations compared to Albert Corado’s $11,000.

VIII. L.A. City Council as a body has basically no credibility left, which is actually a good starting point for L.A. voters. This is because since the council’s founding in 1850 as a body in the state of California, it has rarely been substantially more than a ruse for private actors, multimillionaires, and now multibillionares in need of some “governance” for their workers/hired labor, as well as for major payouts from tax-subsidized building “projects;” Jose Huizar’s, George Chiang’s, Justin Kim’s, and Mitchell Englander’s portfolios have demonstrated this colorfully most recently, but meeting notes for L.A. City Council going back to the earliest convenings of the Council in the 19th century also make clear that private bodies have always been “friendly” with L.A. City Hall as a public “office.” (Ask if you need some PDFs here.)

IX. The Echo Park Neighborhood Council, and all Neighborhood Councils in Council District 13, which are more democratically forged bodies and more accessible than the actual L.A. City Council, need to make clear for voters in the 13th district that O’Farrell’s violent actions against the unhoused in our communities cannot earn him their votes in 2022; can we say, letter campaigns, y’all? Bring in the postcards.

X. About white “gentrifiers” protesting in Echo Park. There are some resolvable tensions in activist spaces between white and non-white communities, and some unresolvable tensions. White “gentrifiers” in Echo Park showing up for the unhoused may in fact be folks of means who have choices regarding the movement that non-whites will not access in this lifetime; but like non-whites, they’re also people “the movement” requires. It is a fact that white privilege is served by gentrification in Los Angeles, but boiled down to its core, white privilege is still a class and not a “race” issue; therefore, the existence of both white and non-white folks in the progressive sphere is a net gain for housing for all, since a more equitable world for all is what we’re supposed to be building.

That said, an unresolvable tension in the movement is when you learn that groups like Occupy LA in 2011 actually had police infiltrators working inside the “movement,” and also that the disproportionately white leadership of Occupy LA was said to tokenize people of color only to silence concerns from POC in the group about inequitable movement-making. That’s an unresolvable tension. Movement. Done.


An Open Letter to Mitch O’Farrell’s Office in CD-13; 439 Days to June 7, 2022

On behalf of a critical segment of residents in East Hollywood, this office can now keep for its records that the level of abandonment towards unhoused residents in the 13th district in the years leading up to COVID-19, and then during the year of stay-at-home orders, has gone from derelict to criminal and back again.

As if to add further injury to insult of the principles that CD-13’s office should stand for, actions taken at Mitch O’Farrell’s and homeowners’ direction to forcibly remove unhoused residents and housing-insecure residents as well as their supporters in Echo Park this week are fascistic at their core, and obvious as such to all but this office and the homeowners whose wealth and property values they seek to protect by so doing; O’Farrell’s decision to undermine the unhoused at Echo Park also mirrors what real estate appraisers sought to do in the 1940s when they redlined property values against Negroes and “foreign families.”

In the 1940s, explicit prohibitions against homeownership by non-whites were legal, but not right nor humane. In 1948, when racial covenants were banned by the Supreme Court, it was largely due to pressure by African-American civil rights organizing in our cities, as well as because of a need for the U.S. judicial system to distinguish the U.S. from “[Soviet] communism,” that is, at least on paper. But today, while deploying police officers paid for by tax dollars extracted from a city that’s 3/4ths non-white against unsheltered bodies, 3/4ths of whom are non-white, may still be technically legal, it is as wrong and inhumane as previous removal policies in Los Angeles and California, which special rapporteur for the United Nations, Philip Alston, as much as noted in 2017.

These issues are not just temporarily emotional or online issues for us either, but issues we live with each day as we walk through our avenues, open up our shops, and make our way to and from work inside of the 13th district; many of us preceded Mitch O’Farrell’s term here–and also Garcetti’s from 2001 – 2012–and will outlast O’Farrell’s tenure, but make no mistake about it: the damage wrought on our community by O’Farrell’s and Garcetti’s dedication to Business Improvement Districts, hotel and condominium developers, and entitled home “owners” will take our community generations to recover from.

We also know the office is fond of sending newsletters to constituents noting their “clean-ups,” but until June 7, 2022, the only clean-up we’d like to see is of Mitch O’Farrell’s office on Sunset boulevard. The “flight” of white supremacy and its proponents in the 13th district, who regard our unhoused residents only as “blight” on our streets–truly the pots calling kettles black, given that these streets belong most of all to the renters and workers who share them–will also be a welcome reprieve.


It’s Now Time to Ask if Gentrification is a Fourth Wave of Jim Crow Policy

Just shy of 200 years after President Andrew Jackson signed into law and enforced his long-coveted Indian Removal Act of 1830, ignoring the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1832 recognition in Worcester v. Georgia that forcibly pushing the Cherokee nation west of the Mississippi river citing hastily-drafted genocidal state laws would be an illegal violation of the Cherokees’ sovereignty, today Black, non-white immigrant, and Indian families in cities all across the U.S. increasingly comprise the overwhelming majority of makeshift “homeless” encampments underneath American “freeways.”

At the same time, for a growing number of pockets in Los Angeles such as Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo, East Hollywood, and Leimert Park, where Black, Asian, and Latinx spaces have historically been segregated due to zoning laws, racial covenants, and more, gentrification now acts as an additional, entirely legal form of exclusion of these communities. The process of taking land in these areas, once considered subpar for “racial elements,” then remaking it to fit wealthier, whiter city-goers, almost uniformly prices non-whites out of areas some have called home for generations.

Being now so widespread throughout L.A., gentrification has driven non-whites out of the city and towards less developed vestiges of the South-land such as the Inland Empire or Palmdale, where “older” white racism still controls most policy-making, including policies like denying apartments to those formerly convicted of a crime, which disproportionately affects Black & Latinx renters priced out of Los Angeles. In fact, L.A. and California’s gentrification have been noted to drive non-whites entirely out of California, in a mass exodus for Black families in particular which scholars have identified as “reverse-migration,” to the historic U.S. south, where legacies of the official Jim Crow still fester. To borrow a definition for the historic term from Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia:

“Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.”

What is also now widely recognized as the “second” Jim Crow, starting roughly in the fifties and becoming more pronounced over the 1960s, was racialized credit access, or denying loans to non-whites in the United States, particularly for Black people, which placed white home-owners ahead of non-whites by several generations and continues to this day. The “third” Jim Crow, as documented by Michelle Alexander, was the rise of what is now known as the prison industrial complex, or the policy of investing in the incarceration of Blacks and other non-whites, fueled overwhelmingly by the “war on drugs” initiated by President Nixon in the early 1970s; as recently as the last ten years in the U.S., non-white communities accounted for more than two-thirds of the approximately 2.3 million people still incarcerated within the states, despite accounting for approximately just two-fifths of the population.

Today, in the “post-recession” era following the predatory lending crisis of the final years of President W. Bush’s second term in office–and through the initial years of President Obama’s first term–a new wave of disenfranchisement by way of gentrification, combined with city budgets dedicated to luxury developments, tourist hotels, and policing, is pushing more non-white communities out of major cities in the U.S. towards lesser-resourced areas; the phenomenon is becoming so pronounced that it merits a reassessment of gentrification as a set of policies in the present moment given L.A.’s historic forms of disenfranchisment for non-white communities.

A century of civil rights violations can go by very quickly, though not without excruciating details, often also accompanied by different forms of resistance. The Cherokee nation knew this 200 years ago when they adopted the English concepts of “sovereignty” to make their case before an ultimately unreliable U.S. Supreme Court, and–while they’re still owed land and restitution–continue to herald sovereignty as an inalienable right of all aboriginal tribes in the United States, as indicated by their support earlier this decade of the Standing Rock Sioux resistance to the North Dakota Access Pipeline. And so, to build “a more perfect” resistance to evictions, displacement, banishment, and other forms of erasing Black & Immigrant communities in Los Angeles, let’s first consider a few instances in L.A.’s development over the 20th century, when non-white communities here abundantly faced, but also resisted reduction of their way of life and second-class citizenship at the hands of racist policies and their proselytizers.

I. Anti-Black Policies & Resistance in Los Angeles

Black beach-goers in Santa Monica circa 1925, from the Tessa collection at the L.A. Public Library

In 1925, when racial covenants, along with the Klu Klux Klan and the LAPD attacked Black homeowners and beach-goers who preceded white residencies in the cities of Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, and Bruce Beach, to try and scare them away from these areas, Black communities there organized and fought back, even if only to come away with very partial victories against the white power structures formed against them:

“[Black-developed] Bruce’s Beach met its demise at the hands of the Manhattan Beach city council, which deployed eminent domain to dispossess Black property owners of their homes in the mid 1920s. Though it took years of litigation, the court eventually awarded the Bruces $14,500 in compensation…When in 1927 the city tried to formally segregate the space, the NAACP held a wade in protest and forced the city to revoke any sort of overt racial separation, though the lot remained barren and largely unused for decades.” – “Fighting for Leisure: African Americans, Beaches, and Civil Rights in Early 20th Century L.A.,” Reft, KCET

Black organizing against white supremacy in Los Angeles would re-surge again in the 40s, 50s and 60s, and a century after the outset of the “roaring 20s” Black Lives Matter organizers in Los Angeles and across the U.S. have entirely shifted the political dialogue from white narratives of the health crisis posed by this year, to the much older conversation of racial inequality in this country. BLM-LA also continues to fire up the electorate in Los Angeles even post-election.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles, June 2020; Photo by Brett Morrison/Flickr

II. Anti Japanese American Policies & Resistance in Los Angeles

Japanese Americans herded at Union Station to be sent to Concentration Camps, February 1942; Tessa collections at L.A. Public Library

In February 1942, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the rounding up of Japanese Americans to be placed in concentration camps, high-profile opponents of the ill-advised and racist campaign were few and far in between. But some did make their voices heard, including the Reverend Emery Andrews, a Baptist minister and former emissary to Japan, who wrote in 1943 that:

“[F]uture historians will record this evacuation–this violation of citizenship rights–as one of the blackest blots on American history; as the time that democracy came the nearest of being wrecked.” – Andrews, “An Interpretation”

Student leaders at the time also made their voices heard against the Concentration Camps. At Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, student newspaper editor, Elizabeth Ginsburg, voiced her opposition to rounding up Japanese Americans for “relocation camps”–as they were called at the time–in an op-ed, and also visited one of her best friends, Susie Hattori, when she and her family were held at the Santa Anita-racetracks in the San Gabriel Valley, to show her solidarity with them.

“‘It was shocking: They were in horse stalls,'” Ginsburg recalled. “‘We felt it was a terrible injustice.'” – “Boyle Heights celebrates its ethnic diversity,” L.A. Times

While at least 100,000 Japanese Americans would overwhelmingly peaceably accept their relegation to concentration camps, together with later generations in Los Angeles, they would also help form one of the current city’s most persistent organizations advocating for the preservation of L.A.’s racialized past in the Japanese American National Museum. In 1980, Japanese American activists also went on to form the Little Tokyo Services Center, which to this day deploys an array of senior services in Little Tokyo and downtown L.A., and which even develops low-income housing for working-class communities across Los Angeles.

Little Tokyo Service Center Founders, circa 1980

III. Anti Mexican American Policies & Resistance in Los Angeles

Mexican American youth beaten and stripped of pants in downtown Los Angeles, June 1943; Courtesy of Tessa collections at L.A. Public Library

In early 1943, with the Japanese out of the way, anxious white hysteria in Los Angeles led to increased targeting and attacks against Mexican Americans in the city, culminating with the arrest of 17 Chicano youth alleged to be members of the 38th street “gang,” based on weak evidence accusing them of murdering a fellow Mexican American youth at “Sleepy Lagoon.” In a quickly concluded trial, the openly racist Judge Fricke convicted every last one of the Mexican American youth with sentences ranging from a year to life in prison.

But writers and activists, including the legendary historian Carey McWilliams, rallied and formed the “Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.” By 1944, the committee successfully argued for each conviction to be overturned based on the fact that racial prejudice during the trial was the only evidence for which there was a case to be made during the entire debacle. As professor Frank P. Barajas points out about overturning these convictions at the time:

“This was no small achievement considering the enormous influence of the Hearst press and the L.A. Times and their harping on the gangster theme.” – Barajas, The Defense Committees of the Sleepy Lagoon

Just a single generation after the humiliating trials of the zoot suit rampage overseen by the white establishment, in 1968 the Chicano “Blowouts,” otherwise known as the East L.A. walkouts, inspired a wave of organizing, ultimately leading to the creation of such critical spaces as Black, Brown and Asian ethnic studies departments.

Students protest during a walkout at Roosevelt High School, Devra Weber, 1968; from the La Raza Photograph Collection, courtesy of the photographer and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, ©Devra Weber

And just this past August, activists– some of whose early years of organizing were informed by those same walkouts, not to mention by student organizing in 1994 opposing Governor Pete Wilson’s Prop 187–watched Governor Newsom sign Assembly Bill 1460, making ethnic studies courses a requirement for graduation at the CSU. Timing could hardly have been better. For the fall semester this year, the University of California admitted its largest Latino class in the UC’s history.

IV. White Gentrification & Mutli-Ethnic Resistance in Los Angeles in 2020

Cancel Rent, Los Angeles Tenants Union, July 2020

Today, a new civil rights era, most recently in response to police violence, but also as the result of years’ worth of work by organizers, is increasingly bringing together Black, Latinx, Asian and working-class Jewish and white communities across the U.S.

In Los Angeles, this is probably no better demonstrated than by the L.A. Tenants Union, a multi-ethnic, horizontally led coalition of activists fighting–and winning–for renters. The organization is quickly growing in chapters and membership, but make no mistake about it: The L.A.T.U. was not founded by a narrow analysis of renter’s rights, but by a larger lens studying the historic role gentrification plays in making the city less accessible to its historically working-class communities. In the words of L.A.T.U co-founder Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal:

“Gentrification is displacement and replacement of the poor for profit. Gentrification is not a natural or inevitable process. Gentrification is human-made, and often aided in large part by government policy.” – Rosenthal, “101 Notes on the LA Tenants Union,” Commune

But while the L.A. Tenants Union has placed gentrification at the center of its work in resistance, up to now most scholarship on the issue has largely studied it as a “buzz-word.” A recent book authored by three scholars titled Gentrifier (2017) only goes as far as to define gentrification as “the reinvestment of real estate investment money or capital into dis-invested, devalued, centrally-located neighborhoods, which fosters a new infrastructure for middle and high-income residents.”

Left out of that very definition is what actually happens to the working-class poor within such areas or neighborhoods, who are overwhelmingly people of color. But in a post-Trump environment, it’s also important to reconsider the way gentrification has intermingled with a larger “white backlash” which has shown no signs of slowing down over the next decade. Nestled in a larger context of what leftists would more readily identify as U.S. imperialism, or policies backed by armed forces whose revered “founders” were slave-holders at the same time that they advocated for total annihilation of Indians from their native lands, gentrification strikes at the core of what it has historically meant–and what it increasingly means–to be a non-white working-class person of color in the U.S.: to watch, almost in “real-time,” how institutionalized racism continues to remove and dispossess non-white culture of space in major cities like Los Angeles, reminiscent of U.S. removal policies advocated by such legends as Thomas Jefferson in the first decades of the colonies, as well as the policies in the official Jim Crow South which sparked the historic Civil Rights movement of the 1960s:

“This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.” – Jefferson, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, December 29, 1813

V. An extended look back at Discrimination in Los Angeles since 1920, and then some

“Japs Keep Moving – This is a White Man’s Neighborhood,” “Japs Keep Out,” and “Member Hollywood Protective Association” in Los Angeles circa 1920; courtesy of the National Japanese American Historical Society

In the 1920s, when white supremacists in Los Angeles used racial covenants, police badges, and renowned newspapers and film studios to demonize Black and Immigrant people as “undesirables” who drove down “property values,” their tactics foretold of a legacy of white exclusion of non-white people in the form of redlining maps 20 years later.

Redlining maps would separate wealthier white communities from working-class Black, Asian and Latinx communities, as well as from working-class white and Jewish neighbors nearby, and for decades, the California Realtors Association would persistently use media to maintain the “separate but equal” doctrine inherent in redlining, and also to discredit any effort challenging their maintenance of segregated housing as a “de facto” condition of life, or something that, ‘just happened.’

Front page of the May 6, 1948 edition of the Los Angeles Sentinel after Shelley v. Kraemer, when the U.S Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants as a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

But it must be made clear that redlining and the restriction of housing for whites only–which acted as L.A’s. and California’s unofficial Jim Crow policies–were not just tasteless, staid government and municipal codes supported by private groups such as the California Realtors Association. They also actively disrupted and sabotaged peaceable integrations of white and non-white people in working class neighborhoods. This is because redlining was not only assigned to communities where Black and Immigrant workers made up the majority of residencies, but also wherever they made up even only a portion of them; in other words, redlined neighborhoods included Black, Immigrant, Jewish, and also white, working-class people and laborers.

It’s the inherent ideology of whiteness in federal redlining policies, then, advanced and abetted by lower municipal or city officials, that also must be studied more closely for its reverberations even into the present moment. Because even if — its language of “racial elements” aside — redlining didn’t explicitly encourage racism against non-whites in Los Angeles, it certainly made room for it, as historian of the Library of Congress, Ryan Reft, has noted about the number of white hate crimes against Black home-ownership and neighborhoods in Los Angeles following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, which outlawed those racial covenants that were harassing and displacing Black beach-goers in L.A. back in the 20s:

“During the 1950s, six bombings and four incidents of arson against black homeowners were recorded in Los Angeles County by the County Commission on Human Rights. During the same period, out of 95 “racial ‘housing incidents’” nearly 75 percent were against African Americans with the rest divided between Japanese and Mexican Californians.” – Reft, “How Prop 14 Shaped California’s Racial Covenants,” KCET

Enter 1965 in Los Angeles. Less than nine months after the predominantly white electorate in California voted against Fair Housing in the state, that is, against banning racist discrimination in home-sales–which the California Supreme Court would deem unconstitutional two years later anyway–by summer of the mid-1960s, the over-policed and largely unemployed Black families of Watts and South Central Los Angeles under Mayor Yorty had survived twenty-plus years of a uniquely Californian, L.A. brand of redlining and racial-covenant inspired racism. When LAPD’s 77th street division still couldn’t keep their hands off Black bodies there, then, a generation of resentment pushed back. But Los Angeles’s political leadership had actually been warned about such tensions repeatedly, as far back as twenty years prior.

In a June 24, 1943 article on the L.A. Times regarding a commission studying the “underlying causes” for racial unrest in L.A.–that is, after white U.S. Navy sailors attacked Mexican Americans in downtown Los Angeles “for wearing zoot suits,” a Black community leader is reported to have informed city and state officials that conditions were ripe for more discord if the city did nothing to curtail its racist policies, particularly regarding derelict housing conditions for L.A.’s Black communities:

“[Williams] told the jury about the increased housing problems facing the Negro districts as a result of the recent influx of more than 30,000 Negroes who have come to Los Angeles to take good-paying defense jobs. Williams said that the present housing facilities of the Negro district are entirely inadequate and reported that he told the jurors a good deal of the gang problems could be traced to this source.” – “Negroes Testify at Hearing on Zoot Suit Riots,” L.A. Times

Tragically, in 1968, three years after the LAPD and National Guard swarmed the people of Watts, the U.S. Kerner Commission would really only so much as echo Williams’ notes on L.A.’s and other major cities’ inadequate responses to the needs of their non-white communities, particularly in terms of housing and employment opportunities:

“[C]ondemned by segregation and poverty to live in the decaying slums of our central cities, the goal of a decent home and suitable environment is as far distant as ever.” – Kerner Commission, 1968

And yet, even with this information at hand, by the 1970s neither federal, nor state or municipal officials in Los Angeles would move considerably to develop decent, discrimination-free housing for the Black, Brown and Asian communities that came to the rescue over the course of World War II, when L.A. desperately needed them as essential workers for the city’s — and California’s — manufacturing and agriculture economies.

Rather, a generation after the war to end all wars, federal and city resources from the 1960s through the 1970s were devoted to another war abroad, in Vietnam, as well as to the suppression of Black communities with programs such as COINTELPRO, which litigated and destroyed anti-racist coalitions such as the Black Panthers. Moreover, like racial covenants in the 20s, and redlining in the 40s, unrest over the Vietnam war, and the concurrent Civil Rights movement in the 60s inspired “back-lash” not just from state and city officials, but also from civilians, who once again organized to wage anti-Black and Immigrant policies in major cities across the U.S..

In Los Angeles, for example, predominantly white homeowners from the San Fernando Valley led efforts against integration with Proposition 1 (1979), which cancelled plans to bus segregated Black students stranded in schools within South Central (including Watts), to better-funded, whiter schools in the San Fernando Valley. As noted in Daniel HoSang’s Racial Propositions (2010):

“[In 1979,] In Los Angeles…a mass of white parents voted by a margin of 73% to put an end to school busing in the city, which was only instituted in 1977 and thus not even off the ground yet.” – “Racial Propositions,” J.T. The L.A. Storyteller

Let’s also not forget another major citizen’s led back-lash against non-whites in Los Angeles and California during the seventies, Howard Jarvis’s Prop 13 in 1978, which reduced massive amounts in revenue from property taxes for the state for funding and maintaining public parks, schools, libraries, and more spaces where non-white communities were increasing in number.

A barrage of ads and newspaper editorials from the 60s to the 70s showing white homeowners “rebelling” against such taxes, which implicitly meant “fighting back” against the growing diversity of California, also inspired less “noble” causes than those of Jarvis and L.A.’s SFV area parents, such as the Nazi party in Los Angeles showing up to anti-war marches to, let’s say, show their “support for the troops.”

Nazi supporters in Los Angeles at Wilshire boulevard, 1968; Courtesy of Tessa Collections at L.A. Public Library

VI. Gentrification, the Ellis Act, and a Looming Eviction “Crisis” of Staggering Proportions

Housing being destroyed at 1178 Hobart blvd in Little Armenia, of Mitch O’Farrell’s district; December 2020

After 52 years since the 1968 Kerner report following the war-zone in Watts, and two generations since four LAPD officers who beat Rodney King to within an inch of his life were acquitted on national television in 1992, in 2020 still too few Black and Latino youth, as well as AAPI and Indigenous youth, in South Central, East or Central Los Angeles and beyond, have been given much reason to believe they’ll fare substantially better as adults than their predecessors from prior decades; a growing number of the places that constitute their neighborhoods are being torn down, at the same time that new generations of “homeless” encampments are going up, showing how the historic wealth and opportunity gaps between white and non-white futures that began in the early twentieth century in Los Angeles are only roaring into the twenty-first.

A century after 1920, while the non-white groups among the county’s 9 million residents today have certainly made some gains in spite of white covenants, concentration camps, hostile courtrooms, the firebombing of their homes, dis-invested schools, incarceration, and more, these groups still predominantly constitute the most dispossessed communities in Los Angeles. There is no question that Black people in Los Angeles, and in California overall, have suffered the most extensive discrimination over the course of the modern state’s last 120 years in business, but Indigenous and non-white immigrant communities, especially Latinx and Asian ones, have also been left behind by city and state governments they’ve historically worked hard to support. It will also come as little surprise that the same disproportions of wealth and access to space in Los Angeles is the trend nationally; according to a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

African Americans make up 13 percent of the general population, but more than 40 percent of the homeless population. Similarly, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and people who identify as two or more races make up a disproportionate share of the homeless population. – “Racial Inequalities in Homelessness, by the numbers”

Moreover, the health crisis in 2020 has only exacerbated historic policies of discrimination in housing and access to space for non-white communities in Los Angeles. Earlier this year, the UCLA Luskin Institute estimated that as a result of the failed federal response, up to 449,000 people in L.A. County who suddenly lost their jobs amid shutdowns this year–overwhelmingly workers of color–are now at risk of being evicted from an estimated 365,000 housing units once Governor Newsom’s emergency order is lifted sometime in 2021.

This eviction tidal wave is also apart from the damage already done to ethnic, working-class neighborhoods by Ellis Act evictions, which destroy rent-stabilized housing, and which have only accelerated over the past two decades, including this year despite the health crisis and emergency order. In other words, the possibility of hundreds of thousands of more encampments, erected by non-white families in particular, along sidewalks and freeway overpasses in L.A. is pounding incessantly at the door.

Encampments along the 101 Freeway in East Hollywood; Mitch O’Farrell’s District; December 2020

Thus, the policy of enabling posh, white gentrifiers to remake space and thoroughfares in historically ethnic neighborhoods at this time is not only hostile to people of color for the obscene way it whitewashes former “slums” in L.A. that couldn’t have survived in Los Angeles if not for resilient Black, Latinx and Asian labor for more than a century, but also for how it entirely disrupts the fact that 100 years since racial zoning laws in Los Angeles were innovated to delineate communities for their Black, Latinx, Asian or Jewish “undesirables,” there has still been no official recourse from either the federal, state or local government to correct for an almost total betrayal of their duty to ensure fair housing and equal opportunity for these communities regardless of their skin color, surnames, or pocket sizes.

Moreover, gentrification in cities like Los Angeles has not been just an “inevitable” development either, but a planned series of events that have required city-approval by L.A. City Council members and their staff at each turn. Yet to date, there is no bylaw, or provision at L.A. City Hall’s Planning and Land Use committee, which is where all proposed building or “make-over” projects in L.A. go before they’re approved, requiring city officials to consider cultural and socioeconomic factors, along with community participation, in zoning and business permit decisions.

As a result, dispossession of the “older” L.A. which gentrification drives out is not just an aesthetic issue, but an anxiety-producing, psychological pitfall that can feel like an attack on non-white residents for how the process normalizes–relatively quickly and matter-of-factly–erasure of their culture in neighborhoods they were once only segregated in, but which they’ve since called home and “kept alive” with very little, if any support from the city.

At the same time, another storm brewing over L.A’s most vulnerable communities is also on the rise; even before the mass of evictions estimated by UCLA, eviction attempts this year have already ramped up in Los Angeles, as recent tensions at the College Hotel in East Hollywood showed, when a manager tried to scare out an elderly Latina woman whose husband–and co-renter–recently passed away, by calling the police on her. Eviction attempts are supposed to be illegal under the temporary stay-at-home order which is supposed to protect renters until January 2021, but LAPD is still being called to oversee removal of tenants, who are overwhelmingly people of color in working-class communities.

Aggression against vulnerable renters this year has also correlated with another “back-lash” in the form of increased clean-up “sweeps” of the unhoused–34% of whom are disproportionately Black people–on L.A.’s sidewalks due to L.A. City Hall ordinance. Clean-up sweeps include destroying unhoused people’s belongings, as well as their arrest, even despite this being the year of the “shelter-in-place” order.

In 2017, even the United Nations deemed such actions of hubris or slap-dash removal of L.A.’s unsheltered communities without providing comprehensive access to transitional housing and services as totally inadequate responses from our elected officials. Fortunately, as during previous instances of inhumane policies towards L.A.’s more vulnerable communities, tenants unions and other organized residents in the city have sprung up to largely fill the role that’s supposed to be the city, state and federal governments’, amassing protective “squads” of the unhoused in the face of surprise clean-up sweeps overseen by LAPD, and protesting as well as advocating for L.A.’s unhoused residents with social-media hashtags highlighting the need for “services not sweeps,” and “homes not zones,” from L.A.’s elected officials.

L.A. City Council officials discussing the legality of homeless “sweeps” in Los Angeles, September 2020

As seen in previous decades of blatant discrimination in Los Angeles, compounding these issues is the fact that, like racial covenants in the 1920s, and redlining in the 1940s, gentrification and other forms of city-sanctioned removal and reduction of space for L.A.’s ethnic, working-class communities are also not simply staid and tasteless policies. Recall that similarly to the days following Shelley vs Kraemer (1948), when random fire-bombings of Black homes in the 50s saw a major uptick, the process of dispossessing non-white groups of their homes and cultural hallmarks today, not to mention a few feet on the sidewalk, in a city which has historically left them to fend for themselves, just reinforces racist doctrines and beliefs. Such policies ultimately inspire less sophisticated, but equally offensive and sometimes even more harmful forms of “back-lash.”

Take the recently defaced “Map of the Motherland” mural by LA_Steez in Echo Park, for example, where in a community that over the last two decades has been whitewashed of its Black, Latinx and Asian roots, the crossing out of the indigenous person’s face and disparagement feels like something right out of a post-card by the mid-western-bred L.A. Chamber of Commerce from over a century ago, when it eagerly invisibilized California’s non-white and indigenous roots in order to entice whites from the mid-west to get on over here.

As a result, amid the racialized eviction “crisis” looming over the next few years, as well as the destruction of rent-stabilized housing for predominantly non-white communities via Ellis Act evictions, growing clean-up “sweeps” of the unhoused, and more, gentrification must be reassessed for what it increasingly implies about any efforts to create equity between Los Angeles’s white and non-white communities today; that there is no equity, but only acceptance of increased inequality as a ‘de facto’ condition of “evolving” cities in the 21st century.

It’s therefore incumbent on scholars and analysts to begin to question whether gentrification is ringing in a new wave, or merely supporting prior forms of L.A.’s ‘unofficial’ Jim Crow or race-based exclusionary policies. Because if studying Los Angeles as a historic set of institutions and policies over a few decades suggests anything, it’s that business and home-making in the city have never been a neutral affair–nor uninformed by racial doctrines and ideologies–and that it’s still not today. 

Gentrification and other forms of reducing space for ethnic working-class or the “poor” in L.A. may actually just be revitalized policies of racial dispossession, constituting a “fourth” wave of Jim Crow segregation, and therefore, a ‘new’ civil rights issue around which to organize. There may be push-back against such an argument, but that should be welcomed; in order to improve theories for future movements of resistance against policies of dispossession, all options for how to identify such policies should be on the table.

After all, in 1960, before the onset of the historic Civil Rights movement, when the “Greensboro Four,” or four Black college students in North Carolina sat for a cup of coffee at their local Woolsworth restaurant, they did so not driven by a demand for uprising, but by a basic desire to be included in a city they saw themselves as no less in. Today, while gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles may not entail “WHITES ONLY” signs being posted on posh, new storefronts, white wealth — given way to by Black, Immigrant and Indigenous people’s labor for centuries — increasingly acts as a buffer just the same, separating L.A.’s non-white communities from lands they’ve tilled for over a century, and recalling L.A.’s history of unofficial Jim Crow over the 20th century. It is time for the exclusionary policy to be reexamined.


Support the Coalition for Fair Remapping in Los Angeles this 2020

With all the talk of elections and ‘fair’ counting this week, can anyone really stomach any more politics? Yet eventually it’s never too early to talk about the future for J.T. The L.A. Storyteller. It’s what’s right around the corner. Consider then that the 469 square miles which make up the city of Los Angeles will actually be ‘redistricted’ or redrawn soon. In other words, new maps and designations for vicinities are coming.

Wait. Does this mean that your neighborhood, like the new letter names in place of L.A.’s formerly ‘colored’ Metro rail-lines, is going to be totally remade, completely taking away what you’ve come to know as your specific part of L.A.? Or does this mean that the neighbors you’ve spent all this time getting to know will no longer be counted as your fellow stakeholders at your favorite Neighborhood Council meetings? Probably not, though given that today the L.A. City Council is better known for building luxury lofts and downtown hotels rather than affordable housing and shelter for its unhoused, one can never be too sure.

But in order to complement the decennial census’s updated figures for population counts, the various boundaries for L.A.’s neighborhoods need to be redrawn within the next couple of years. At least, that’s what City Council’s heralded Los Angeles City Charter says:

“Every ten years, the Council shall by ordinance redraw district lines to be used for all elections of Council members, including their recall, and for filling any vacancy in the office of member of the Council, after the effective date of the redistricting ordinance. Districts so formed shall each contain, as nearly as practicable, equal portions of the total population of the City as shown by the Federal Census immediately preceding the formation of districts.”

Yet by the time the last redistricting for L.A. was completed in 2012, when the redistricting commission signed approximately 250,000 residents into each of the 15 L.A. City Council members’ districts, the commission was widely blasted as a parody of accountability and fairness. For one, commission appointees, many of whom were former employees or people with close ties to L.A. City Hall, were handpicked by L.A. City Council members themselves.

For another, those representatives themselves were just pawns, either oblivious or obsequious to backdoor deals to the redistricting process overseen by council members. This was captured no better than by various stories of Herb Wesson–the now termed-out former representative of Council District 10–basically admitting to directing that his district be drawn in favor of Black votership on the south side at the expense of Asian-American voters in central Los Angeles, all the while forgetting to mention that such Black votership was meant to favor him and his political prospects, personally.

Wesson’s debacle led to a lawsuit against him from his own constituents in Koreatown, Lee v. City Of Los Angeles (15-55478), which argued that Wesson basically disenfranchised Asian-American voters there in order to fulfill his own narrow political interests. After eight years, the case is still in court, awaiting a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. But the lawsuit made one thing clear: L.A.’s redistricting has been little more than a way for various council members to consolidate power over the city, much to the chagrin of its less powerful communities. Even the normally conservative L.A. Times editorial board has called L.A.’s redistricting over the last few decades a ‘sham’ process, and cited the need for a total makeover:

“If Los Angeles had a truly independent citizen redistricting commission, like the ones that serve San Diego, Long Beach and Sacramento, City Hall insiders and political operatives would likely be disqualified from serving on it.”

“L.A.’s last redistricting was a sham. Do better this time”, L.A. Times, 2020

Also fearing a repeat of 2012, earlier this year more than thirty different civic groups, nonprofit organizations, and other activists in Los Angeles sent a letter to the current group of L.A. City Council members calling for a transparent and inclusive redistricting process this next go-round. Their letter notes concerns regarding the recent appointment of commissioners with previous ties to L.A. City Council–as it was the case back in 2012–as well as a rushed appointment process. It also points out that there are no specifications regarding how appointees may be removed if conflict of interest makes their removal necessary, as well as concerns about an accessible process for the public in all forms, including in terms of language access for the multitude of languages spoken by the city’s immigrant communities.

Such issues would be important in a “normal” year, but given that in just the last six months one former L.A. City Council member, Mitchell Englander, has plead guilty to corruption charges while another, Jose Huizar, has been arrested for using his office to satisfy Chinese real estate moguls, it’s anything but a normal year, which is not lost on the coalition members:

“With trust in LA City Hall waning, we cannot afford a repeat of previous redistricting efforts which not only divided communities and resulted in litigation, but further entrenched fierce divisions within City Council.”

RE: A More Independent Redistricting Process for LA, Coalition Letter from 30+ organizations

Still, even with such public calls for transparency, considering that this is the same city hall which responded to a summer of vehement outcries to “de-fund the police” by merely rescinding a scheduled raise for L.A.’s police force this next fiscal year–which, for the record, was initially a raise unilaterally agreed to by the mayor’s office to begin with and not an item that was voted on by the full council–is it better to be cynical that City Hall will budge on a more accountable redistricting process for its millions of constituents this next decade? It just may be.

But what’s also true is that with support from various progressive coalitions in L.A–including some signed on to the redistricting letter to the council–Nithya Raman, a first time candidate for public office, has just successfully unseated incumbent David Ryu. It’s also true that Black Lives Matter-L.A., after a years-long effort to expose eight-year incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey for failing to press charges against a single LAPD officer after more than 600 shooting deaths, has just ousted her. In other words, it’s safe to say that calls and coalitions for a more accountable Los Angeles are only growing louder every year; and in the next two years alone, if City Hall’s council members continue pretending not to see or hear some of these most vocal constituents, then they should expect only further rude awakenings, all of which will be in order. After all, as The Los Angeles City Charter states:

“Every City office and department, and every City official and employee, is expected to perform their functions with diligence and dedication on behalf of the people of the City of Los Angeles. In the delivery of City services and in the performance of its tasks, the government shall endeavor to perform at the highest levels of achievement, including efficiency, accessibility, accountability, quality, use of technologically advanced methods, and responsiveness to public concerns within budgetary limitations. (emphasis mine)”

In the 13th district, to get in touch with Mitch O’Farrell’s office for any concerns regarding his handpicked commissioner for the redrawing of the district, you can find the contact info for his Chief of Staff, Jean Min, HERE.