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 at what is 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.
Apart from the fact that the bar is situated directly beneath residential housing where Latinx abuelitas and mijas have resided for decades, it is also less than 500 feet from our community’s local Lockwood Elementary school. I’ve got a feeling 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.
Because here are also a few things other than gentrification our community has witnessed where this new bar is now set up:
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 on the street. 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:
“Alma’s” disruptive presence in our community is thus not equity for our kids. It’s not of support to those 600 residents nearby on food-stamps, and 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 low-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; just 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.