Jose Huizar Proves How L.A. City Hall Serves Foreign Millionaires While Jailing and Displacing its Poorest Residents

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 59)

After nearly two months of the city’s great slow-down, the past week might almost seem like a forgettable one, another shot down the drain of the lurid whirlpool of days and nights the pandemic will become in our memories.

For a handful of the city’s voters and observers, however, this week will mark one of the most explosive in history for Los Angeles’s political leadership. Mike Davis is affirmed.

On Wednesday, L.A. City Council had one of its former consultants, George Chiang, plead guilty to charges of racketeering for buying his way into the city’s favor to advance his clients’ investments in the Luxe Hotel downtown. Two days later, L.A. City Council’s board president, Nury Martinez, stopped short of demanding a resignation from Jose Huizar, the council-member for the 14th district, for being the main figure in the FBI bribery case related to George Chiang’s plea.

This Friday also saw the entire city council team & L.A. county board mandated by federal judge David Carter to move hastily toward sheltering its nearly 60,000 unhoused, the order arriving only after a lawsuit from downtown residents and advocates charged the city with failing to sufficiently respond to the needs of its residents in Skid Row, even despite the pandemic. Now, one can’t help but wonder:

If Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi had “Russiagate” for the president’s pro-Russian heart, and if Tom Brady could have “Deflategate” for lighter-than-usual footballs, can Los Angeles have “Huizargate,” or maybe “Luxegate,” for how the latter expose city hall’s loyalty to millions of dollars, instead of its 4 million residents, workers and families?

SkidRowgate” might also work because it’s a part of Huizar’s 14th district. Now, somewhere out there this weekend, the councilman is at a true crossroads, having to choose between showing himself out of City Hall’s doors, or waiting until he’s escorted by police officers and federal agents. It almost reminds me of Robert De Niro’s Heat (1995).

But more importantly, the scandal is about more than just Huizar’s avarice, even if we forget for a moment that the FBI’s probe against him also involves looking at other current council-members. The truth is that if Huizar’s fealty to foreign real estate developers hurt only himself, it would be one thing. But his crimes during almost 15 years on the council after Antonio Villaraigosa left the seat to become mayor have not hurt just Huizar. Drawing once again from the United Nations report from Professor Philip Alston:

“In Skid Row, L.A., (again, a part of Huizar’s district) 6,696 arrests of homeless persons were reported to have been made between 2011 and 2016.”

The scandal proves that those nearly 7,000 residents didn’t have to be punked in such a way. It’s just that they were collateral, to say nothing of the far greater number of bodies also forcibly taken to L.A.’s jail cells beyond the interval cited, which, to be sure, were dragged in as such during Mayor Villaraigosa’s and police chief William Braton’s tenure as well. Even back in the early 2000’s, advocates were calling for those residents to be helped off the street and placed into transitional housing, which, if done, could have made for a very different downtown Los Angeles today.

As professor Alston points out:

“Rather than responding to homeless persons as affronts to the senses and to their neighborhoods, citizens and local authorities should see in their presence a tragic indictment of community and government policies.”

We just may be edging towards the other side of that coin, finally; for one, there are now certainly indictments on the table. At the same time, so is Mayor Garcetti’s 2020-2021 budget, which proposes rewarding billions to the LAPD while slashing millions from Housing and Community Investment. The truth is crueler than fiction.

Here’s a proposal from yours truly, however: we can only use the “gate” suffix for Huizar’s story if we start to see some good eventually coming from the darkness it’s now exposed.

Yearning for more light all across Los Angeles,

J.T.

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Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California (2010)

The first time we analyzed an election in California was in 2017, when we reviewed data from a Special Election in Los Angeles. Data for that election showed a yawning gap between the voting rates for white and non-white voters; at the close of the special election, in a city where less than 50% of the population identified as white, over 64% of ballots turned in belonged to white voters. As we noted in our article:

“Although non-white registered voters make for a combined total of 52% of votes eligible to be cast, post-election day only 37% of ballots turned in belonged to non-white voters.”

As it turns out, the rate of return for that Special Election in L.A. was not an anomaly, or some new and strange phenomenon, but actually just consistent with the history of voting in ‘liberal’ California.

In Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, Daniel HoSang takes an analysis of California’s voting patterns one step further, exploring the way the predominantly white electorate of the state has voted negatively or against a handful of ballot issues dealing closely with racial or progressive issues in the state during a sixty year period from just after 1945 to the early 2000s.

And why–the student may ask–should we care about a handful of ‘old’ voting issues in California? HoSang explains that ballot measures are especially useful for thinking about the state’s role in the inequalities found between its public schools, healthcare, employment and other areas ‘separating’ people of color from wealthier whites due to the way that voting publicizes a particular type of conversation on these issues:

Ballot measures…especially those that receive widespread public attention, create public spectacles where competing political interests necessarily seek to shape public consciousness and meaning.

Put another way: materials like campaign rhetoric, opinion articles, television commercials and other instruments used to support the passage or defeat of certain ballot issues can show the way voting doesn’t ‘just express‘ the will of an electorate, but how the process leading up to election day can actually create and develop certain perspectives about what a place like California is, and more importantly, about who California is and who it belongs to.

Because the instruments of direct democracy by definition are intended to advance the will of “the people,”…organized groups and interests must always make their claim in populist rather than partisan terms, thereby defining the very meaning of the common good.

In other words, for HoSang, as anyone familiar with the 2016 Presidential Election should be able to recall, voting issues have a very particular–at times even “nasty”–way of telling voters about “who we are,” what our values are–or what they should be–and how we should act on those values with our votes.

HoSang further contends that the “sensibilities” or logic which the voting issues of Racial Propositions make their appeals to are voters’ “political whiteness.” The phrase “political whiteness” has layered meanings, but essentially, throughout his book it means a degree of privilege and status for white voters that’s not only maintained but also expounded on by voting issues:

[Racial Propositions] draws from and extends both George Lipsitz’s observations about the ‘possessive investment in whiteness’ and Cheryl Harris’s critical account of ‘whiteness as property.’ Whiteness, Lipsitz argues is ‘possessed’ both literally in the form of material rewards and resources afforded to those recognized as white as well as figuratively through the ‘psychological wages’ of status and social recognition detailed by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Stated more simply, HoSang claims that “whiteness” in the United States isn’t simply a “fixed” identity, where if you’re white you view yourself as white in a “static” or “unchanging” way, but that “whiteness” is highly impressionable, that is, capable of transforming due to external factors like advertising, propagandizing, and voting.

As HoSang takes readers through the first dozen or so pages of Racial Propositions, then, rather than simply restating the term, the author arrests and interrogates scores of materials left by different voting issues in California. The campaigns for Fair Employment, Fair Housing, or the effort to Desegregate Public Schools in California are just a few of the voting issues he discusses, in which he exposes the logic of “political whiteness” at play in the efforts by organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Realtors Association (CREA), the Parents Associations and other groups that come together to defeat these measures.

That’s right. Did you know that in 1946, voters in California decided against protections for workers facing discrimination in hiring? Or, did you know that in 1964, voters in California decided against protections for non-white residents looking for a home in the state? Did you know that in 1979, California voters decided against racial integration at our schools when they canceled the state’s busing program?

In Los Angeles alone, 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 barely getting off the ground.

The vote against desegregating schools was passed through an ordinance known as Proposition 1, and put an end to “mandatory” busing in 1980 (which, of course, was just a few years before my parents would arrive from Latin-America alongside many other Central-American and Asian people. Can anyone say, awkward?).

On the issue of school integration, HoSang points out that placing an end to a program whose stated goal was the integration of the races in the state’s public classrooms was not easy; it required a sophisticated deployment of a language of “racial innocence” which sought to ‘pass the buck’ or responsibility of “fixing” racism onto the desks of the state and away from the children of ‘innocent’ [white] parents:

[Supporters of Proposition 1] held that because white parents and students did not intentionally create the second-class schools to which most racial minorities were consigned nor explicitly support segregated schools as a matter of principle, they could not be compelled to participate in the schools’ improvement.

In other words, in the same way that today the Trump administration likes to argue that the refugee crisis in Central-America should be some other state’s–perhaps Mexico’s–problem, opponents of the school-busing program in late seventies California argued that mixing their white children with Black and Brown kids was unfairly burdening them with a job that was supposed to be the state or federal government’s to do. That is, whenever the state or federal government would get to it. Perhaps never, even, but the point being the same: it was not the parents’ responsibility to account for or address inequality at public schools. They were “the innocent ones.”

But the gift of Racial Propositions is that no matter what the reader may make of the author’s argument on political whiteness, the book is an exhilarating page-turner for anyone interested in a political history of “The Golden State.” This is due in no small part to HoSang’s unsparingly sharp, saber-like writing skills. For his part, the author recognizes none other than James Baldwin as a key influence on his analytical framework:

Whiteness was for Baldwin “absolutely, a moral choice,” an identity derived from and constructed through a set of political convictions. It was by inhabiting a particular political subjectivity—one that rested upon a series of destructive assumptions—that one became white. To embrace the myth of whiteness, he argued, was to “believe, as no child believes, in the dream of safety”; that one could insist on an inalienable and permanent protection from vulnerability.

By the closing pages of Racial Propositions, HoSang’s analysis also makes clear why our political discussions today need to abate a conception of ‘liberal’ California which still dominates the vox populi leading up to 2020: that because California is already a “minority majority” state, it offers a glimpse into the “progressive” future of America through, since the country’s “browning” is supposed to ‘liberalize’ it.

HoSang notes that if the “majority minority” or “browning” scenario, which became the case in California nearly two decades ago, is what progressives are hinging their hopes on for a more liberal future in the United States, they better look at the numbers:

…in 2000, as California became the first large “majority minority” state in the nation, white voters still constituted 72 percent of the electorate.

And so, as one blogger put it to his fellow readers and historians following another election where that same “majority minority” was hardly seen throughout election day:

…the current inequality between white voters rates and those of people of color when considering the larger voter eligibility pool of the latter group in Los Angeles and California is more than just unfortunate, it’s something of a public safety concern.

So let’s get on it, Los Angeles. Find and read Daniel HoSang’s book, which has full approval from The L.A. Storyteller. Then, send me your book recommendation to see if I can review it next!

J.T.

Voting in Los Angeles: Municipal and Special Elections 2017

Less than 18% of registered voters in L.A. County cast ballots for the Municipal and Special Elections of Tuesday, March 07, 2017. But in the election postmortem, when L.A. County’s Voting Registrar and KPCC discuss the paltry turnout of voting in The City, the key point is how they talk about it: they neglect to mention the demographics of Los Angeles. Yet the turnout or lack thereof for voting has much to do with ‘identity politics.’

If we’re going to talk seriously about the turnout, that is, to make an impact on it going forward, discussing “the voters” in purely abstract terms is not helpful. We have information at our fingertips, and it’s meant to be used; below, for example, is a telling info-graphic on voters identified before the election on March 7th, 2017, either by registration or vote by mail submissions.

As a note, these graphs are incomplete. They do not account for people who identify as mixed, Native American, or Pacific Islander as the 2013 Census does. However, the graphics nonetheless offer valuable assessments for a comprehensive look at the patterns we’re dealing with when it comes to voting in Los Angeles.

Returns

Based on the data, we can see that elections start early through the registration of voters. In terms of eligible voters, whites outnumber their non-white counterparts by considerable margins at 47%, or nearly half of all registrations. However, the combined population of non-white registered voters is slightly larger at 52%.

Assuming that each of these voters hold a place on the vote-by-mail list –as is standard procedure– the potential for at least a reasonable turnout of the vote either by mail or on election day is there.

When it comes to ballots returned from those registered voters, the number of returned ballots from 18 – 24 year olds is exceptionally low at 3.4%, while the number of returned ballots from 25 – 34, 35 – 44, and 45 – 54 year olds is spread more or less similarly across the board at 10%, 10.4%, and 12.9%, respectively.

The highest number of returned ballots from registered voters, however, comes from 55 – 64 year olds and those 65 years and over, who make for 19.3% and 44% of returned ballots, respectively.

When it comes to the racial makeup of ballots returned after election day, according to the data, white voters make up for more than half of all returned ballots at 64.7%; the non-white population on the other hand, makes up for 35.7% of returns.

There is a considerable dropoff, then. Although non-white registered voters make for a combined total of 52% of votes eligible to be cast, post-election day only 37% of ballots turned in belonged to non-white voters.

Is there a way to be more specific, however, or to see more about L.A. voters besides their age and racial category? Sure. The three categories for the large numbers below as set up by the samplers are ‘registered’, ‘has ballot’, and ‘returned’, respectively. This data more or less corroborates the aforementioned, but also tells us about voters’ living situations.

Screenshot 2017-03-13 at 3.25.25 PM - Edited.png

From here, since we already know that Senior white voters make up for more than half of all returned ballots of the share, we can also see from this second graphic that these folks are overwhelmingly a group of homeowners, outnumbering apartment renters by essentially 58%.

Finally, we can also see that a sizable portion of vote-by-mailers registered or re-registered for November’s general election, and that hardly any new voters entered the game in 2017.

Based on the information presented by these graphics, then, what’s clear about politics in Los Angeles is that while most of its constituents, or the 52% of eligible voters are stuck in traffic somewhere, a swath of mostly Senior white homeowners are electing the city’s officials and policy-making decisions.

What a fascinating dynamic. At a time when the 2011 Texas legislative session has just been indicted for drawing district lines discriminating against Black and Latino voters in favor of Republican Anglos, we might say that L.A. is a 2011 Texan Republican’s perfect empty vessel, a dreamland of political opportunity for white identity politics.

Isn’t that something?! But of course there’s more the story; again soon.

For POC Today,

J.T.

Los Angeles: Coming to Terms

Reading and learning about Los Angeles has been a privilege, but I heard once that the more you know, the more you owe.

In the third chapter of City of Quartz, Davis introduces readers to a more ‘modern’ kind of power-player in The City’s shape and politics: the Homeowner’s Associations.

“The first Homeowner’s Associations in Los Angeles, beginning with the Los Felix Improvement Association in 1916, were the children of deed restrictions in a new kind of planned subdivision. As Marc Weiss has pointed out in The Rise of Community Builders, early twentieth-century Los Angeles established the national legal precedent for zoning districts exclusively for upscale, single-family residences…”

At first, it’s no major news to find out The City was the first to institutionalize certain restrictions to develop particular types of neighborhoods. After all, how else could places like Beverly Hills, Silver Lake, or Los Feliz come to form if not by some kind of ordinance?!

On closer look, however, it turns out that the zoning restrictions weren’t just aesthetic regulations, as the Homeowner’s Associations weren’t just a band of fellas looking for a book club.

“Although deed restrictions also specified details of lot and home design, their overriding purpose was to ensure social and racial homogeneity.”

Here, I think it’s useful to point out how with any law or restriction, while there might be a totally fair or logical effect for it on paper, there’s a way in which these things are applied that makes for a much different story. To see how, one just has to ask why certain laws or restrictions or –in this case– associations are formed.

“Homeowners’ associations first appeared on the political scene in the 1920s as instruments of white mobilization against attempts by Blacks to buy homes outside the ghetto.”

At the time, many Black workers and families presumably made it to Los Angeles in hopes of better lives from those of the Jim Crow South. But as Davis points out, while Los Angeles in the 1920s didn’t have official segregation laws like the former confederate states, it didn’t account for them either.

This left room for many Homeowners Associations to take matters into their own hands.

“Where tracts were not already legally bound by subdivision deeds, white homeowners banded together as ‘protective associations’ to create racially specified ‘block restrictions’. In this fashion 95 per cent of the city’s housing stock in the 1920s was effectively put off limits to Blacks and Asians.”

At this point in the author’s analysis, history feels so close by, like a ghost from only yesterday. It’s strange; even for those of us who hail from the losing side of history, which any immigrant family finds itself in at some point, there’s a way in which the experience of history tends to be inconceivable.

Moreover, in an age where history is made every time another photo or video from just the other day is streamed, the stories of our predecessors from nearly 100 years ago have never seemed more far away; it’s like they’re from completely different contexts.

In fact, they’re very much the same contexts we’re still (trying) work our way out of.

This is how the city of Los Angeles today came to form, not far removed from the segregation and exploitation throughout so much of the rest of America. Of course, things had to change eventually. Otherwise, how else could we have gotten here?

“Until the US Supreme Court finally ruled against restrictive covenants in 1948, white homeowner groups in Los Angeles had ample sanction in the law. The California Supreme Court first established the doctrine in the Gary case of 1919, and continued to reaffirm it as late as 1947. Thus Harry Burker, the erstwhile president of the White Home Owners Protective Association (covering a vast residential area bounded by Santa Barbara, Main, Manchester and Vermont) ran for various municipal offices on a platform of Black and Mexican exclusion.”

Lest I digress from this post and join in on the circus surrounding another certain candidate running for office on xenophobic terms, I’ll just leave it to the readers to draw parallels between Burker and our current political contests.

But even beyond Burker and the Associations, there are still so many more parallels to discover between our time and the past. While City of Quartz is an extraordinary vision with a masterful analysis, it’s still only one part of the picture, i.e. there’s still so much more reading (and writing) to do.

For now, however, the book is far more than a great start to understanding Los Angeles beyond the sunshine and palm trees. 165 pages in, it’s clear that calling attention to power-players is a battle-cry, but that author Mike Davis knows where he stands, like a great fighter who respects the great battles and their warriors before him.

“Veteran Black newspaper publisher Charlotta Bass recalled some of these now forgotten battles in her memoirs. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, for example, whites in the West Jefferson area sued to evict five Black homeowners, while the local Klan burnt ‘Keep Slauson White!’ crosses a few blocks away. The gradually increasing Black presence in the old railroad town of Watts was contested by the virulent South Los Angeles Home Owners Association, whose spores later became the core of white resistance in Willowbrook and Compton further south. A Black home was blown up (presumably by the Klan) on 30th Street, crosses were burnt in Crenshaw and on the USC campus, and white homeowners rioted against sales to Blacks on East 71st Street…”

With more soon,

J.T.

Psst!

JIMBO TIMES will be back with more L.A. stories soon, but for now, there’s another important event to make note of, this time in Philadelphia.

According to International Business Times, the schedule for this year’s Democratic National Convention is as follows:

“Monday

Speakers include First Lady Michelle Obama, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Astrid Silva, a “DREAMer” set to talk about her immigrant story and activism.

Tuesday

Former President Bill Clinton, husband to Hillary, will deliver his speech. Mothers of the Movement, a group composed of mothers to black men and women who died from gun violence or in police custody, will deliver remarks as well, according to the L.A. Times.

Wednesday

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to speak Wednesday.

Thursday

Clinton herself will deliver her acceptance speech. Daughter Chelsea Clinton is scheduled to speak as well.”

See you there?!

J.T.