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.

J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Supports Calls to Block Garcetti this Winter

As Los Angeles enters the 2021 winter season, a new initiative known as Garcettiville is calling for Mayor Garcetti to be blocked from a potential appointment to the incoming Biden administration’s cabinet following reports that his name may be on a short-list for secretary of transportation, or possibly even for secretary of housing. Yes, you read that correctly.

In addition to daily protests led by Black Lives Matter and GroundGame-LA calling for the mayor to ‘be kept in’ L.A., the Garcettiville website is accepting submissions from L.A. residents as to why the mayor should not be allowed anywhere near a public office, let alone a national one, for which the last two decades have shown would lead to nothing short of a complete dereliction of duties.

After nearly 20 years as an elected official, starting in 2001 as a council member for District 13 in Los Angeles, and then since 2013 as mayor, under Garcetti’s leadership the city of L.A. is on track to landing more than 50,000 bodies on its streets and sidewalks within the next year alone, even while there are tens of thousands of luxury housing units in L.A. that can be commandeered in lieu of expanded powers for mayors due to the emergency presented by the pandemic, but which have just sat there aimlessly, accumulating nothing but dust.

This is because while Garcetti has done everything in his power to open up the city for business, that is, for bcaig banks and transnational corporations, he’s done it by no less than trading in the rights of workers, immigrants, and Black Los Angeles to live in a more equitable city. Despite myriads of protest, civil rights advocates, and other leaders calling for him to do better, the mayor has proven unwilling to serve as an actual mayor for every resident who actually resides and pays the taxes which fund his salary each year.

As a result, whether Garcetti leaves office in 2021 or 2022, by almost every measure, since the start of his tenure in 2013, Los Angeles has become a poorer, more unhealthy, and ultimately more hostile city towards its working-class communities, which will take decades to undo.

This is also not just a viewpoint from the “radical” left. In 2017, professor Philip Alston, assigned by the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said of his visit to Los Angeles:

“In June 2017, it was reported that the approximately 1,800 homeless individuals on Skid Row in Los Angeles had access to only nine public toilets. Los Angeles failed to meet even the minimum standards the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sets for refugee camps in the Syrian Arab Republic and other emergency situations.”

The writing is on the wall, and people all over the world can see: Garcetti is not fit to serve in any public office in Los Angeles, let alone a national one in Washington D.C. Visit the new Garcettiville website and tell your side of the story regarding why this elected official is not fit to serve Los Angeles, let alone cities all over the United States over the next four years.

J.T.

A homeless encampment in East Hollwood, Los Angeles

Los Angeles is not represented by its elected officials. It is trembling on the knees of the dying men & women of its sidewalks

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 90)

Earlier today walking through the city I witnessed something like never before in my nearly thirty years through Los Angeles, which almost took my breath away. As I made my way through a sidewalk, a gray-bearded, African-American man, who couldn’t have been less than 65 years of age, sat on his knees in the middle of the sidewalk, his penis sticking out.

Before I knew it, as my legs crossed in front of him, the man began to pee. I turned my head in his direction then, almost in disbelief, but he did not return the look. He seemed almost unconscious. Of course, from the outset it was clear that the instance was nothing malicious on his part, but that it was from a pure need to relieve his body at a time when public restrooms in Los Angeles have been severely reduced in number, affecting most of all the unhoused.

What did feel malicious was that Mayor Eric Garcetti, the L.A. City Council, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office, and more of our elected officials have allowed this throughout Los Angeles after decades in public office.

In particular, history wont be kind to Mayor Garcetti. “In real time,” meaning right at this very minute, under Mayor Garcetti the rate of unhoused people in L.A. is on track to reach more than 100,000 bodies on the streets over the next few years, up to nearly 700 civilians shot and killed by police, and well over tens of thousands of more empty high-end lofts than occupied affordable housing units.

In turn, by the time Garcetti leaves office in 2022, Los Angeles will likely be a poorer, more unhealthy, and thus more hostile city for its working-class than when he became mayor in 2013. For yours truly, this begs the question:

What is it to truly love Los Angeles?

I contend that it is not to love Dodger baseball, or to follow Lakers basketball, or to adore Kings hockey. And I contend that it is not to build luxury lofts, or to celebrate Hollywood films, or even to promote its multiple ‘cultures,’ notwithstanding those of its working-class masses.

I contend that loving Los Angeles is loving its most vulnerable, represented most of all by our nearly 70,000 unhoused, the last count of which was released by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority just a week ago. What a name, for that matter, with the word ‘authority’ in its title.

What authority can a city-funded organization tasked with serving its unhoused legitimately claim, when its efforts have failed to serve the thousands of bodies, overwhelmingly African-American, abandoned on the city’s sidewalks?

Make no mistake about it: In the same amount of time that the city drove tens of thousands of its residents down to helpless tents over the barren concrete, elected officials like our L.A. City Council members have taken home millions in taxpayer dollars.

They were not alone, joined by other officials tasked on paper with the public good. Take police like chief Michel Moore, for example, who, in 2018, retired briefly to collect $1.27 million in taxpayer dollars, to be rehired by Mayor Garcetti just a few weeks later. Our elected representatives were also joined by non-elected big wigs such as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which, in 2018, contributed over $1,000,000 to then-candidate Newsom’s campaign for governor.

In the end, however, the fact is that such men are still small fries compared to billionaires like the real estate tycoon Geoffrey Palmer, a known Trump supporter, whose “Da Vinci” apartments in downtown Los Angeles go towards funding a $21 million mansion of his in Beverly Hills, not to mention properties in Malibu, St. Tropez, France, and more.

Palmer is one of a generation of men who, over the last twenty years in Los Angeles has benefited tremendously from a cataclysmic “transfer”–but more like high-jacking–of wealth that will play a decisive role in determining the next eighty years for our city & country, that is, unless something is done about it, and brazenly fast.

What will we do, then, Los Angeles, while a handful of men sit atop empires? Will we stand by as only more of our neighbors, and as more of our families, collapse under their weight? Is such a loveless city, and country, what we want history to remember us by?

The choice is ours.

J.T.

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East Hollywood, Los Angeles, as seen from Manzanita street

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 65

This weekend is another that will go by without meaningful action from the city’s elected officials to address the crisis posed by tens of thousands of unhoused people lingering on the streets while COVID-19 continues battering our communities.

It’s also a weekend that will go by with Jose Huizar retaining his seat at L.A. City Council even as the world can see that his commitment to Chinese real estate tycoons disqualifies him from being able to meaningfully serve his constituents in the 14th district.

The weekend is also one in which Jose Huizar’s successor, Kevin de Leon, will once again fail to make a meaningful statement condemning the Huizar case’s embarrassing exposure of the L.A. City Council during this critical moment for Los Angeles. De Leon is seen by many as likely running for mayor when Garcetti is termed out in 2022, and so it’s probable that the future candidate doesn’t want to stir the pot regarding real estate’s endemic connections to decision-making at L.A. City Hall.

Is this the best that Los Angeles can do?

A few years ago, during an LAUSD board race for the 5th district, a panel was held at Los Angeles City College featuring the various candidates vying to represent the area’s constituents on the board. For the panel’s moderator, a high school student who couldn’t have been more than 17 years old was chosen. We can call her Monica.

The candidates seated for the panel were adults of various walks of life and credentials, and thus people with much to say. As a moderator, especially one still in high school, Monica would have been forgiven for being overly polite, or for making a few too many mistakes in her facilitation of the discussion. But that was not the case at all.

Monica read each question for the candidates clearly, and stood at the podium facing the candidates emitting nothing but confidence. Most of all, when it came to the strict time limits for each candidate to make their statement, while even another adult might show some flexibility for the limits out of respect for the candidates, or simply to let them finish what they had to say, Monica, by contrast, was fearless.

At every indication that their time was up, it didn’t matter that most of the candidates making their statements were more than twice her age. And it didn’t matter if they spoke with conviction or if they spoke with experience.

Fair was fair, and Monica stuck to her moderation of each statement so consistently that by the end of the discussion, it was clear she had upstaged the candidates for the evening and left many people wondering when she would run for public office.

That panel was held a little over three years ago, which means that soon, probably as early as next year, Monica should be graduating from college. As I look around at Los Angeles, I know that the city will benefit greatly from leadership like hers and that of her peers, but also that such things are easier said than done. 

Even with all her talents, Monica and other young professionals like her cannot reshape the city’s politics alone, and much less so if they only inherit those politics in their current form, which, as so many of our current elected officials make clear: are not only antithetical to fairness, but steeped in loyalty to foreign capital and the interests of the more powerful.

As Monica demonstrated in her moderation, fair is fair no matter whose name it is, but it will take something special before Los Angeles can reach such fairness under the current circumstances. We the people have got to demand it.

J.T.

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An encampment outside of Union Swap Meet on Santa Monica boulevard in East Hollywood, Los Angeles

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 49

At the middle of the week, I am staring well and long at days into the future. For a moment I see myself as a sentient being on earth here temporarily before I sojourn towards other celestial bodies. At another moment, I think I’m more like a machine, in need of a tune up before my parts tumble beneath my head like a sack of potatoes.

But I am only as ambitious as those who came before me. I am only filled with as much wonder as the minds of those who wandered before mine.

I look at the streets of my vicinity for a moment, however, and I’m drawn back to reality. I can still remember the first college essay I turned in when I was only a fresh-faced seventeen year old at Pasadena City College. Believe it or not, I wrote about walking through Los Angeles. I wrote about travailing past encampments along Vermont and Prospect avenues before boarding the Metro 181 bus to Pasadena, which took over an hour. And I wrote about the endless disconnection with the great wealth of my city, which seemed mostly to go to waste. I also wrote about the fountain spring of my mother’s strength, and how her cuento helped bridge my way forward past any impediment over the concrete. Professor Kennedy let me know that he enjoyed the essay, and I felt more than affirmed. I felt at home.

I’m not sure if a person is supposed to “know” their destiny, but I do know that they’re supposed to believe in it. I also believe that as any first great hit can be a young rap artist’s last, it’s also true that any one of these brief meditations can be my final consolidation with the world.

That said, I’m happy to note that I’m finally putting together the final touches for Episode 16 of J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast this evening, which, if the laws of rewards for great efforts continue in service as they usually do, should mean for readers and listeners that the episode will be available sometime tomorrow. I will feature it here on the site, as well as on Apple, Spotify, & Google Play.

“Know your worth.” Another saying that comes to mind. I don’t know if I fully yet grasp the worth of J.T: The L.A. Storyteller Podcast, but I can definitely tell you how much I believe it’s worth. Yet that’s a cuento for another time.

Today also marks one full month with the new Quien Es Tu Vecindario web-page for families, workers, the disabled, and more in East Hollywood. The site now has over 24 “bulletins” for the community with links to nearby resources and other extensions of support. Tomorrow’s post is the 25th.

Tell your friends, Los Angeles. JIMBO TIMES is neither a bus nor a train nor even a spaceship. It’s a planetary wavelength of over 3.5 billion years’ worth of music, ricocheting marvelously through every end of the galaxy, as far as time and space will allow us to go.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 21

I tried something a little different today, making my way out to Koreatown, followed by some time past MacArthur Park. I saw a city voided of its usual color and character, marked only by what’s been left behind.

I.

First, there was Koreatown, where I decided to pick up a cup of coffee for old time’s sake. On spotting a 7-11, I walked up to the doors, took a napkin from my pocket and clasped it between my fingers, then pulled the handle to enter; before the door would close behind me, a man in front of the counter, on seeing me, launched into a tirade.

What the (expletive) are you looking at?” he groaned in my direction.

I had had my sunglasses on, and had just lowered them beneath my chin to scan the store for the coffee station in the instant the man yelled out. On hearing his voice in my direction, and sensing his stare, I realized he was yelling at me.

I looked up perplexedly in the man’s direction, made eye contact briefly, then quickly looked away, walking more hurriedly towards the end of the store to take my distance, as well as since the coffee station is usually found at the end of the sotre.

Behind me, the man kept yelling, though not necessarily in my direction anymore, but out-loud into the open. It became clear to me then that the gentlemen was unwell, yet somehow, I still kept my mission through the moment: searching for the coffee, for which there was neither a single cup nor jar at the station. I saw a sign: for coffee, I needed to ask the attendants.

My mind diverged in two ways at that instant. I knew I had to speak with one of the attendants, but also realized that doing so would mean I’d have to be closer within range of the gentlemen again, who was still yelling, although by then, less than a minute after shouting at me, it sounded like he had redirected his ire towards the store clerks opposite of him at the counter. I went ahead and walked up to the reception area, where I spotted one of the clerks, a tiny, Bengalese woman, whom asked her for a cup of coffee. Over the yelling still going on, I had to ask her to repeat her question to me over which type of coffee I’d like.

Regular, or hazelnut?” she said behind her face-mask.

I asked her for the regular, with two regular creams on the side. The woman handily served my coffee, and provided me with two creams, two sugars, and a stirring stick. A handful of feet away at the reception area, the confrontation with the gentlemen reached its bittersweet end.

I’m sorry, sir. That’s all we can do right now.

A nanosecond later, the gentlemen left, taking all the bitterness of his scornful growling with him. The store clerk then saw me, and apologized on his behalf. It turned out his EBT card had just been declined.

I let the lady know there was no need to apologize. Behind a face-mask over her mouth area, she looked to be an African-American woman, perhaps somewhere in her mid-forties. The woman then told me that it was her second escalation of the day.

“At another store, a man spit at me,” she said, “then threw his coffee on the floor.

I replied that it was clearly a difficult time for the city’s most vulnerable, with nearly no public restrooms being available, nor many places they could rest, or even the nearby welfare office for them to take their grievances to.

She agreed, but also said the day had made her rethink which line of work she should be in. Even so, a part of me couldn’t hold back from insisting,

There are better days ahead,” I told her. As I left the store with my coffee, once again, I used a napkin to push the handle outward. Although just when those better days would arrive, I realized afterwards, I couldn’t dare to try and say.

II.

On reaching the west end of MacArthur Park, I put my camera to work, snapping a few shots while cupping my coffee between my left arm and left side. I pointed my camera upward towards the sky, in reverence of architecture I once again saw with fresh eyes after a long time far away from the area.

After a few clicks of the shutter, when I fixed my sight towards the ground-level again, I saw a familiar though somehow changed setting: ahead of me stood the city’s myriad of unhoused Angelenos, whose tents and voices seemed to loom larger than they ever had over the sidewalks .

I also saw the scores of central-American men whom had little to nowhere else at the moment. Some of the men wore masks, while others looked as they would any other day navigating past grass grown only longer due to more rain this year.

The difference this time, was that the stores were missing, and deeply missed. Mama’s tamales was shuttered, as was the MetroPCS store. The Pollo Campero was closed, as were its neighboring shops. There were no central-american families to be seen waltzing through the sidewalks, nor even the usual police cruisers typically scanning the area nearby.

All there was, was an air of unknowing, which to be sure, was an air that was always present amid the landscape, ruminating underneath the day’s more familiar hustle and bustle of people, but which this time consumed the whole of the park and its surroundings no matter how brightly the daylight after a night of rain shone.

I walked patiently with my camera, searching all around me for what scenes would give. Across the street from me a dozen or so men stood near a blue tarp with earphones, chargers and other miscellany for sale. There weren’t many passersby to solicit, though. Farther ahead of me, a man and woman walked in my direction with face-masks on. They walked with more certainty than most of the other people I’d come across by then, and I moved aside to make way and not to discomfort them with my camera. Then, back in the direction of the park, I spotted a paletero. He was also searching as he walked through the trail of the park, ringing the bells of his cart within reach of other loners nearby whom had no response. A few more clicks of the shutter.

It felt like a deeply missed day for Los Angeles.

J.T.