An Excavation of East Hollywood: Part One

Following the completion of Who Is Your Neighborhood’s first ever tutoring program this fall, a new project for J.T. The L.A. Storyteller begins. First, a small photo series for readers.

All photos are courtesy of publicly available collections at the University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society, as well as at Los Angeles Public Library, with the exception of two: The first, taken at LACC by L.A. Times photographer B.I. Oliver on March 13, 1969, and the second, taken by J. Benton Adams at Vermont & Santa Monica, circa 1998.

J.T.

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.

J.T.

Meet The Anti Eviction Mapping Project in Los Angeles

Originally founded in San Francisco in 2013, the Anti Eviction Mapping Project (AEMP) was a response to the city’s hostile developments against working class families to make room for the tech and AirBnB booms there over the last decade that have kept San Francisco, along with much of the Bay Area, within the top five most unaffordable cities in the country for nearly a decade. Since then, a mix of scholars, activists, artists and working-class voices have regularly updated and expanded the reach of the AEMP to create visibility for the role of Ellis Act evictions in the manufacturing of unaffordability in the state of California.

The Ellis Act, a state law passed in 1985 that was originally intended–at least on paper–to give “mom and pop” landlords the opportunity to leave the rental business when they wanted to opt out, has since provided more and more corporate landlords the ability to evict tenants, including tenants living in rent-controlled units, substantially reducing the availability of such units from the rental market for working class families. As a result, since 2001, the city of L.A. alone has lost at least 27,067 rent-controlled units to Ellis Act Evictions.

Since 2017, the AEMP has documented this process in Los Angeles, tracing available public data on the date of evictions, as well as on how many units were taken off the rental market by their displacement. In the words of scholar-activists Terra Graziani, who co-founded the AEMP in L.A., and Mary Shi, a UC Berkeley based scholar, regarding the role of documenting such processes:

“AEMP’s Ellis Act Eviction Map visualized the city’s erased history of “no-fault,” Ellis Act evictions as a series of time-lapsed, exploding, black and red circles. By culminating in the image of a city pockmarked by eviction, this visualization served to re-signify San Francisco as a site of mass displacement and thereby counter growth machine imaginaries of the city as an unblemished terrain ripe for capital accumulation.”

– Data for Justice: Tensions and Lessons from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project’s Work between Academia and Activism

If you live in the city of Los Angeles, or any of the other AEMP-documented counties, there’s no reason why you should not know how many Ellis Act evictions, for starters, have taken place in your community over the last 20 years. After a brief survey of the interactive map, in the vicinity of the Virgil Village area, which spans the length of only a single mile radius, I counted up to 84 ‘no-fault’ Ellis Act evictions of residents here. I will update the count for the East Hollywood area before too long. Check back for that update.

Meanwhile, to learn more about the AEMP, click the flyer below to check out the latest free talk held by the Anti Eviction Mapping Project in conjunction with the Los Angeles Tenants Union on how to organize for tenant protections in Los Angeles. Tune in with yours truly to learn how you can start a Tenants Union or Association within your community, if not join one nearby. And remember: at the time of this writing, in the city of L.A., more than 2.4 million people of the city’s estimated 4 million residents rent rather than own the homes they live in.

Additionally, from now on, readers can view a histogram charting the number of rent-controlled units lost in L.A. over the past two decades due to the Ellis Act at the footer of this website.

J.T.