J.T. Supports the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) Coming to L.A.

At the same time that calls increase on our public officials to support not luxury, but humane housing in Los Angeles, a growing number of people are also calling for more Community Land Trusts (CLTs). CLTs maintain community ownership–or shared stewardship–over land and housing, committing to permanently affordable housing options for community members.

According to Matthew Vu, a resident of South Central Los Angeles and student at L.A. Trade Tech’s Community Planning and Economic Development department, CLTs require participation from homeowners and tenants, as well as other members of the community in their governing board meetings or governing structure. Vu also notes that renters in areas covered by CLTs can work with local CLTs to acquire a property together, facilitating the process of acquisition for tenants as well as the non-profit stewards..

The first modern Community Land Trust was born in the late 1960s in Southwest Georgia, when Black farmworkers and civil rights leaders, including members of the famed Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, founded New Communities Land Trust, turning nearly 6,000 acres of land into homesteads and agricultural area, as well as providing affordable housing for Black farmers and their families on the land. As of 2019, New Communities turned 50 years old and is still operating in partnership with Black farmers.

There are now up to 225 CLTs in the United States, twelve in California, and five in L.A. County. In June 2020, the city of San Francisco passed the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, providing local CLTs there the first opportunity to purchase buildings and take them off the market once they’re on sale. At least six buildings in the Bay area at risk of being purchased by speculators have been saved by local CLTs since the law’s passage, keeping them affordable for low-income residents there.

Now, in an effort to create more for Community Land Trusts across Los Angeles County, which at 10 million residents is the largest in the U.S., CLTS in Los Angeles have formed a coalition and are urging communities to learn about the Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act. The L.A. Community Land Trust Coalition (LACLTC) is an organization of L.A.’s local trusts, “committed to the preservation of low-income communities of color by decommodifying housing, promoting education, community empowerment, the conversion of tenants to owners, and making housing a human right.”

The Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is a proposed law that would give tenants in unincorporated areas of L.A. County the first opportunity to buy the building they live in if and when a building’s owner decides to sell the property. The five Community Land Trusts (CLTs) in L.A. County advocating to bring TOPA to L.A. include: Beverly-Vermont CLT (BVCLT) along the East Hollywood and Koreatown areas, El Sereno CLT (ESCLT) in the El Sereno community, T.R.U.S.T. in Historic South Central, Fideicomiso Comuntario Tierra Libre (FCTL) in the Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles area, and Liberty Community Land Trust for the Southwest and Mid-City communities.

Want to learn more? Check out the TOPA Town Hall hosted by the T.R.U.S.T. and Liberty Community Land Trusts this past February.

J.T.

EPISODE 53 – LUCINE POTURYAN, LITTLE ARMENIA, EAST HOLLYWOOD

In our 53rd episode, Lucine Poturyan, born and raised in East Hollywood and now an official District Representative of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, joins us for a galvanizing conversation. Lucine speaks with us about her time as a student at Wesleyan University in Boston, why she decided to run for a seat on the Council this past March ’21, goals she’s set for her tenure with the EHNC, and how her Armenian heritage informs all of her work as a scholar and activist for working-class communities in Los Angeles today.

J.T.

Re: the New White 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.

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, since 2000, 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.

PRE-ORDER MAKING OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE MAGAZINE

That is not a typo.

MONmockup_IG.png

Making Our Neighborhood: The Magazine

A magazine about the past, present, and future of East Hollywood, featuring essays and photos by This Side of Hoover & Jimbo Times.

$35.00

*Please note that orders can take up to a month to ship*

J.T.

EPISODE 49 – DOCUMENTING GENTRIFICATION

For our 49th episode, catch the LIVE recording of our second panel for Making Our Neighborhood: Documenting Gentrification. Guests include Nina Suarez and Jeffrey Maloney of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Samanta Helou-Hernandez of This Side of Hoover, Stephano Medina of the Eviction Defense Network, Terra Graziani, Cate Carlson and Cris Lopez of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, and Doña Elvia Perez of Super Pan Bakery.

J.T.

EPISODE 47 – HOW TO MAKE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

In our 47th episode, we chat with Samanta Helou-Hernandez, our fellow East Hollywood resident and cross collaborator who’s also co-hosting with yours truly for Making Our Neighborhood: Redlining, Gentrification and Housing in East Hollywood this Thursday, March 4th, ’21. Samanta and I discuss the background for this special event for our community, and about the importance of our work together in the current media and policy landscape in Los Angeles. To help us complete our fundraiser for translation services on the day of the event, please do so via our FUNDLY.

J.T.