EPISODE 74 – A LATINX HISTORY OF LOS ANGELES IN THREE PARTS, PART I

In our 74th episode, we chat with Oscar Monroy, a father of four from Echo Park and owner of the recently closed Cuscatleca Bakery along Sunset boulevard. Oscar and I discuss his family’s roots in Los Angeles since the 1970s, and how his parents (hailing from Mexico and El Salvador) first came to establish Panaderia Cuscatleca in the Pico-Union area in the early 2000s. We also discuss being Latinx in L.A. (including as “Mexidorans”), the future of the Latinx demographic in the U.S. (whose population currently numbers at 60.6 million), the current struggle for families like Oscar’s in the midst of gentrifying Echo Park, and much more. A can’t-miss session for any and all ‘coming up’ in the city of Los Angeles, and the first installment of a three-part discussion for Los Cuentos.

J.T.

From Venice to Echo Park: Unroot the Red Line

The next time you find another angry message board about unhoused people in Venice, please refer them to these facts.

Venice was redlined in the 1930s for 15% of its area containing families of “Mexican, Japanese, and Italian” origins and 4% “Negroes,” according to written records. The decision in the 1940s to funnel money for housing away from the area is no small part of why today’s homelessness along its beachsides, followed by policing, have markedly increased over the years.

A screenshot of a map from 1939 by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, marking Venice for disinvestment from federal dollars for housing.

Appraisers for the federal government arrived to Venice in 1939 and misleadingly claimed, “Many mortgage institutions will not operate in area.” They also went on to call the community “blighted” for its multi-ethnic workers and families. At this point, if you’ve read about redlining on this blog, it should be clear that such language was not only malicious, but consequential in that disparaging language against non-whites was an instrumental tool used by federal government officials and their counterparts in states and cities to decide where wealth and poverty would reside.

Over time, as the militaristic takeover of Echo Park this past March showed, public officials in L.A. would largely choose to expend public tax dollars to formerly redlined areas in the form of policing, that is, policing poor people in these communities on the basis of “Neighborhood Watch” and also “super-predator” theories, which supposed that youth and working age-adults in such “slum” areas were simply more predisposed to commit crime given their impoverished living conditions. Of course, in order for these theories to work, city officials just had to ignore the fact that opportunities for wealth and home-ownership for Black and immigrant communities in “slums” were choices first taken away from them by the federal government and complicit municipal and state actors.

A screenshot of a map from 1939 by the Home Owners Loan Corporation, marking Echo Park for disinvestment from federal dollars for housing.

But don’t let what escaped real estate appraisers in the 1940s escape you in the 2020s: Disinvestment in non-white communities and the inverse for whites was and remains backwards planning since whiteness could not and still cannot survive as an investment without supportive non-white labor pools nearby. The very development of the Venice canals in the early 1900s was only possible because of Black labor, after all. In fact, Black labor was so crucial to the construction of Venice beach that families were moved out to what would become the Oakwood neighborhood in order to speed up work for the grand opening of the famous beachside in 1905.

Canal scene in Venice Beach’s inductive year of 1905; Photo courtesy of the L.A. Public Library

Yet when federal appraisers arrived in 1939, on seeing “Black, Mexican and Japanese” residents alongside white European immigrant households, they were under strict orders from the Federal Housing Administration’s 1936 manual:

“The Valuator should investigate areas surrounding the location to determine whether or not incompatible racial and social groups are present, to the end that an intelligent prediction may be made regarding the possibility or probability of the location being invaded by such groups. If a neighborhood is to retain stability it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.”

Ironically enough, this logic, claiming that any and all whites interested in a home near Venice beach would turn away from the area on learning of Black and immigrant communities like Oakwood, was proven false by white influxes into Venice starting in the 1980s. Yet it’s nevertheless the logic of entitled homeowners associations in the neighborhood today, who assert as unscientifically as their peers did when “separate but equal,” or Jim Crow policy, was still law, that the very existence of unhoused people in the area depresses property values and “brings in crime,” something we’ll get back to in a moment.

For now, just note that housing shortages for Black and non-white immigrant communities in Oakwood would only be exacerbated in the decades after the World War II population boom because of this L. Ron Hubbard-like pseudoscience of real estate assessments against their “compatibility” with the dominant white order.

Racial disinvestment against areas like Oakwood would continue well after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, when redlining was outlawed, with the exception of policing budgets and details to patrol Black and Latino families in the vicinity, who, like their contemporaries to the Southeast in Watts, were not only discriminated in housing but also in employment and educational opportunities, thus making them more vulnerable to L.A.’s expanding carceral state.

A real estate boom would hit the community in the late 1980s, abetted by an accompanying surge of policing, pushing major swaths of Blacks out of the historic neighborhood in particular. By 1990, the Black population in Oakwood fell by eight percentage points down to 22% of the area, a considerable drop from a high of 44% in 1970. Latinos and whites, by contrast, increased by five and three percentage points, to make up 50% and 26% of the Oakwood population in the years before the Rodney King rebellion, respectively.

By 2000, the Black population in Oakwood fell again, by another seven percentage points to 15% of the area, while the Latino population saw its first decline after four decades of growth by three percentage points down to 47% of the area. Over the course of the new millennium, however, Latinos would continue to leave Oakwood, following in the footsteps of Blacks, whose displacement from the area began as early as when Latinos grew to comprise half of households there in 1970. As of 2019, the percentage of Black families in the area was less than 12%, while the Latino population decreased to 30%. White families, by contrast, now form 73% of the Oakwood neighborhood, something that must have seemed unimaginable to many Black and Latino youth policed up and down its corners in the early 1990s.

A gang injunction by the LAPD in Oakwood was initiated in 1999, even as research showed that “gangs” across L.A. by the 2000s were largely inactive compared to the 1970s and 1980s.

An LAPD gang injunction map from 2013, allowing them to stop, harass, and arrest any “suspected” gang members.

Compounding a dearth of housing and employment opportunities, the injunction would harass and jail generations of working-age Black and Latino residents in the area until an ACLU lawsuit slowed it down in 2016. Yet by the early 2010s, as Brown families to the northeast in Echo Park would also find, the damage was done. As one life-long resident of Oakwood noted in a 2018 interview:

“Families moved out to get their kids away from the gang injunction because you couldn’t be anywhere in Venice and not get stopped or harassed or arrested by the police if they deemed you a gang member.”

Additionally, an inspection of data from the Million Dollar Hoods project shows that over a five year period, from 2012 – 2017, police made over 3,300 arrests in the Venice beach area, with Black and Latinos accounting for 57% of arrests despite making up just 27 percent of the area’s population by 2008. Black men in particular were arrested at a rate seven times higher than their share of the population.

Conservative estimates of LAPD expenditures on arrests in the Venice beach neighborhood from 2012 – 2017.

Today, Council District 11, where Venice and Santa Monica are based, stands to see a continued decline of Black and Latino households at the same time that homelessness continues to soar for these two groups across Los Angeles. Since 2011, CD-11’s rate of unhoused people has grown by 160% to more than 3,200 people without shelter, making it the sixth most impacted district in Los Angeles today, and by extension, another hub for hostile police activity.

This is because while the number of unhoused people in L.A. grew by leaps and bounds over the 2010s, research suggests that homelessness, followed by policing, grew most in formerly redlined areas. For example, in 2019, just three of fifteen districts in L.A. contained 41% of the city’s homeless population, all three of which were heavily redlined or marked for disinvestment for their Black and immigrant residents during the federal housing administration’s development programs. Neighborhoods in these redlined areas include Skid Row and Boyle Heights, South Central or South Los Angeles, and Leimert Park and the Crenshaw corridor, where rapper Nipsey Hussle was slain in March 2019.

We also now return to the question of “crime,” particularly as it’s said to concern unhoused people. In the 1980s and 1990s, white liberal and conservative politics asserted that crime in L.A. was largely due to Black and immigrant “gangs.” Today, homeowners associations and their backers increasingly attribute crime to unhoused people, nearly 3/4ths of whom are Black and Latino in Los Angeles. Yet since the early 1990s through 2019, while homelessness increased in the city, reports of violent and “property crimes” across the nation–and in L.A. County–generally fell by more than half.

As recently as 2019, there were approximately 555 violent crimes per 100,000 people, compared to nearly 1,800 such crimes reported in 1990. There were also 2,200 property crimes per 100,000 people (not including arson) in 2019, though compared to 5,700 such crimes reported in 1990. The point is so important it merits repetition: Even while homelessness in Los Angeles has increased yearly since the early 1990s, both violent and property related crimes have largely continued to fall in the county since their 1990 levels.

An analysis of the crime rate by the Pew Research Center showing fallen crime rates from ’93 to…”infinity”?

But contrary to pseudoscience from police unions and their public official liaisons, “more cops” have not equaled more public safety. As Aya Gruber recently noted in a brilliant essay on “bluelining,” or police-patrol as a new form of redlining against historically discriminated communities of color, experts have long held that random preventative patrols, along with rapid response time to calls, neither reduce crime nor induce fear in people considering a criminal act. Additionally, Gruber points out:

“Researchers have also determined that ‘proactive policing,’ which includes ‘quality of life’ offenses, street sweeps, and stop-and-frisks, does not reduce, and in fact, may increase, crime.”

Yet, if not for the continued policing of non-white bodies, as demonstrated above, and increasingly, the policing of unhoused non-white bodies, exactly where would police have gone over the last 30 years? Something tells this writer that “preventing,” or rather responding, to 500 violent crimes per 100,000 residents and roughly 2,200 property crimes per 100,000 households to the tune of billion$ would be more difficult for police unions and public officials in L.A. to justify before city councils and communities. Yet it’s increasingly the case as more of us bear down on the city and county’s historic over-expenditures for a police state.

As author Alex Vitale noted in The End of Policing (2017): “The reality is that the police exist primarily as a system for managing and even producing inequality by suppressing social movements and tightly managing the behaviors of poor and nonwhite people: those on the losing end of economic and political arrangements.”

Moreover, in Los Angeles, there is overwhelming evidence to show why policing non-white communities into submission is not a sustainable path for the city, state or federal government. This August will mark 56 years since the war-zone in Watts, when the LAPD and Mayor Yorty called on National Guard troops to descend on Black bodies in the South L.A. community after their rebellion against continued police brutality there. The war-zone in Watts led to the police murder of 26 civilians, the injuries of thousands more, and subsequent “riots” in response to over-policing and disinvestment against Black communities in sister cities over the following years. Yet it would not constitute the worst damage in Los Angeles, after all.

This past April marked 29 years since 64 people lost their lives across Los Angeles, including ten murdered by police, while 54 others were killed amid looting and civil unrest during Mayor Bradley’s tenure. As with Watts twenty-seven years earlier–and thousands of other deaths and damages in cities all over the U.S. following the 1960s–each loss of life and damage was preventable, if not for civic institutions and policies continually demoralizing non-white, impoverished people as undeserving of fair and equal treatment in virtually every walk of life, pronouncing the indignity of the “red line” well beyond the 1930s.

What’s also true is that a major part of why L.A. & Cali have always operated–dangerously–in isolation is because of Washington D.C’s refusal to rein in the states when acting unilaterally against our historically discriminated communities. Yet as the progenitor or “forefather” of the Federal Housing Administration program that has segregated [verb] Black and immigrant neighborhoods in the inner city for nearly 100 years now, and marked them for disinvestment, Washington D.C. is not extricable from discussions of equity, reparations, and reconciliation for housing, employment, and other opportunities robbed from us.

In concert with a new civil rights movement, then, picking up where our first civil rights leaders left off, it’s now time for communities, from Oakwood and all of Venice, to Echo Park and beyond, to mark every dollar lost on policing rather than resourcing our neighborhoods. In a fair hearing, whether on the streets of D.C., or before the United Nations, each dollar represents what we are owed—with interest—in a new, New Deal through the 21st century.

J.T.

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.

J.T.

EPISODE 51 – ECHO PARK SUN RISING

For the 51st episode of our podcast, notes on the recent spate of attacks against Asian American & Pacific Islander communities, the assault on Echo Park by L.A. City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell’s office, and the importance of events at Echo Park this month for City Council District 13 going into the district’s biggest election ever in 2022.

J.T.

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.

J.T.