Gentrification and the Poor in Los Angeles !

Major developments started at Downtown and as land became scarce developers started looking for more land into other communities throughout Los Angeles.  Not long ago the "Reef Development" was approved in which developers just sailed through the process with no major obstacles. Even when some activists argued that this Reef development was going to displace at least 40,000 poor renters.  The Councilman and many other community-based organizations they all embraced said development.

Now, a new project called  Macarthur Park luxury development-"The Lake on Wilshire."  has started its process.  This ambitious development is near McArthur Park and Westlake area and it will build "a 41-story, 478-unit, luxury apartment tower, and a 220-room luxury hotel." The development has gotten the blessing of the councilperson who represents that area.  It has also gotten the green light from prominent non-profit organizations located in this neighborhood.  Some of them have written letters of support on behalf of the development and attended the public hearing held in City Hall.

This process on the surface appears to be open and inclusive in which community leaders truly engaged and scrutinized the benefits of such development.  Not so, community meetings were held just to project an illusion that a robust dialogue took place among different stakeholders. It was all merely a facade. It is a standard process in which the interest of developers usually tips the scale. Poor renters had no chance.

Advocates who truly represent renters in McArthur and Westlake's neighborhoods fear that the project above will in some way either directly or indirectly lead to evictions of poor renters.  These neighborhoods have a large percentage of renters, more than 80% living in these communities are renters. And the median income for a family of four is about $24,000. It truly is difficult to fathom as to how a non-profit organization in this area would support or even celebrate this development. These community organizations are conflicted and they are selling out the overall interest of these communities.  A leader with the basic ability to think critically could actually see no benefits from these developments going to the poor people whom they are supposed to represent.

Los Angeles is known as a bastion of social progressivism, one might think that poor renters would have been defended against the powerful economic interests that have been radically changing the physical landscape of the city. As developers tried to cash in the next project whether by building arenas, stadiums, theaters, museums, lofts or condominiums.  Poor renters in Los Angeles were being aggressively displaced and the so-called "liberal" or "progressive" politicians at city hall and many progressive organizations that included labor just looked the other way.

Los Angeles has really become a case study where social justice activists appeared to have turned against the very people who they supposed to protect.  Developers have a lot of resources and they effectively use them to influence politicians at city hall, community-based organizations, consultants and the poets and artists who constantly are looking for gigs to survive in this city.

Developers had it all figured out as to how they can successfully push for developments in Los Angeles.  Any developer who wants to build anything in LA, he or she will first have to see the councilperson who represents the area.  Usually, developers have developed a relationship with the councilmembers. It is rare a fundraising event that they don't attend.  They also hire consultants who guide them with community groups.  Then, the councilperson makes the case to these developers that the development must have support from the community organizations in the community.  They hint the developers that they need to identify the community groups and that they need to use their resources to have these non-profit people on board. These are starving non-profit organizations that are constantly struggling for funding.  They are too conflicted that they care less if they have to sell-out the very people who they are supposed to help.

These non-profit organizations are the ones that ultimately make the case that development is good for the overall interest of the community.  Some of these people who are behind these non-profits have no qualms in taking humble poor people to testify to city hall on behalf of these developments.   The house of labor is as guilty as these non-profit organizations, developers just raise the flag of jobs and offer unionized construction jobs and labor in LA just rollover. It has been difficult for activists who still lookout for the best interest of the poor to disrupt this corrosive process in which developers dictate whatever they want.

In addition, many evil landlords also concoct well-coordinated schemes to evict renters.  So, a different class of individuals with the ability to pay market rate's rents could move into their units. Displacement of poor renters in many cities here in California and the nation might really be the civil rights issue of our times.  It disproportionately affects poor Latinos and poor African Americans. It must be traumatizing for these poor renters being forced to leave a community where they had roots and where their children have been raised.

Los Angeles' landscape has radically changed-there has been this kind of physical renaissance in the city, the Staples Center, the Disney Concert Hall, LA Live, the Broad Museum, and all those luxurious lofts and condominiums have been built in the last two decades.  The promises made by civic leaders that these developments were going to increase civic participation, heal divisions along racial and ethnic lines and bridge the gap in wealth and income facing Angelenos never came to fruition.

Opinions are divided on whether gentrification is a sign of prosperity or a war on working-class people.  It is not difficult to see that all these investments that have gentrified this city having had some sort of a positive impact on the overall quality of life of Angelenos. Many L.A. neighborhoods that were infected with a crime in the 1990s have turned into more livable places.

Buildings, where the poor used to live in these neighborhoods, have been replaced by lofts, upscale newly built homes and condominiums surrounded by Starbucks, yoga studios, trendy restaurants, and bars.  Homeowners in these communities welcome the investments as they saw the fair market value of their homes skyrocketing.   Anyone who drives through Silverlake and Echo Park will see "well-heeled hipsters" as they are being called by those who are resentful as how their communities have been altered.

Our leaders in this city must internalize that the housing crisis must be a vital component of any policy decision or strategy that is taken on in this city.  One with a basic understanding of the needs, priorities, and resources of our city must have some sense that this housing crisis affects all communities in this city on all levels. For starters, this profound crisis affects the business community as employers struggle to find workers and people living in garages or in cars have adverse effects on public health safety.  Poor people unable to find housing they can afford in this city have moved to the dessert either in Palmdale or San Bernardino and have to commute every day to the city to work.  Think about that collective environmental and quality of life repercussions for LA of workers commuting for five hours daily.

Some activists have started pushing back with more militant direct actions.  And, they are targeting galleries and coffee places in Boyle Heights.  Some people including homeowners might not like these tactics being used by these activists. But they had forced a different conversation that might have included the needs of poor renters.

It is not clear how to measure success in this city.  Success shouldn't be measured by the number of state of the art arenas, theaters, museums, luxurious lofts and condominiums, and stadiums being built or by the Dodgers making it to the world series. Sucess, one fair-justice-minded individual would think,  should be measured by how well our children are doing in school and how we treat the poor.

Thank you for reading.

Sources used.
Khouri, Andrew.  "Southern California apartment rents will keep climbing, the report predicts." Los Angeles Times 11 Oct. 2017. Web. 22 Oct. 2017.

Lee, Frances. "Why I've Started to Fear My Fellow Social Justice Activists." 13 Oct. 2017. Web 20 Oct. 2017.

Novotny, Ben. "Persistent Gentrification in Long Beach Increases Student Homelessness and debt." 11 OCT. 2017. Web. 19 Oct. 2017.

Photo Credit:  Took pics on this piece with an iPhone.

Politics, Football and Trump

What a difference a week makes, last Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, might have been the biggest protest in the NFL.  Players, coaches, and even owners protested.  They protested because of the insensitive remarks made by President Trump Friday in Alabama.  There were also protests in baseball games and among basketball players. As usual, there were different reactions, those who dislike Trump were outraged but his supporters were gleeful.  And Facebook, Tweeter, and other social media sites lighted up like there was no tomorrow.  Many conversations have been held about players exercising their freedom of speech and disrespecting the national anthem or the flag. These were the exact remarks made by President Trump,“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” Out! He’s fired. He’s fired.”  Nonetheless, protests have started fading away as the President has taken on critics who are not happy with his administration's response to the calamities facing people in Puerto Rico.

Freedom of Speech is vital for free societies to function.  It is a tool used by citizens to file grievances against their government and hold their representatives accountable.  Although this citizen's right has limitations and usually just provides protection that is directly related to the government.  In other words, freedom of speech protection can't be given to employees working for a private company.  It is complicated and complex but employers can regulate speech that might jeopardize their economic interest. Companies argue that they exist for the purpose of selling a service or producing a product.  And when employees engage in political controversy during working hours, this will directly affect the company's bottom line. Therefore, this employee should be either stopped or be fired immediately.

Now, let's go back to players kneeling down in stadiums while the national anthem is being played.  It is always good for our democracy seeing a citizen taking a stand. In this instance, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling down while the national anthem was being played.  He should be commended for his courage.  Mr. Kaepernick did it to protest police brutality against African Americans in many cities. However, citizens should also understand that positions that they take will not be embraced by everybody hence there might be some consequences for their actions.  That should be fair game and citizens should have no problems paying a price for their actions.  A point of contentious in this man's action among fans and civic engaged citizens: Should a player just play football for which he is being paid and practices his civil liberties on his own time? Owners and most business people with companies argue that this man should be fired and no team should hire him. They also added that no fan who pays to watch football should be exposed to someone's political point of view that they disagree with.

Throughout history, African American athletes have engaged in civil disobedience to protest discrimination and unfair treatment of their own community.  Countless acts of civil disobedience have been used by black athletes to force conversations of unjust policies or traditions in American society.   They have used their sports to take a stand against a social issue that was detrimental to their own communities. Yes, from John Carlos, 1968 Olympic U.S Medalist who raised his fists in silence in a Black Power salute during the national anthem to Mohammed Ali refused to enlist and engaged in a war he thought was a war of choice.

Political theorists tell us that this country can't be the land of the free if a citizen is not allowed to criticize it.  And this can be done by taking a knee while the national anthem is being played or even burning a symbol such as the flag.  These citizens' actions are within the bounds of democratic dialogue and should be protected by freedom of speech, these people argue.  Yes, it should be okay to burn those flags that might have been manufactured in China.  This is what free societies are all about.

We should always encourage people to speak up about our injustices, but many argue that athletes sometimes might exacerbate the problem and they might just overshadow the very problem they want to highlight.  Many people questioned whether it was easier to take a knee down rather than going into the community and do the hard work. Indeed, the work of mentoring young people and helping to create opportunities for his community.  And many drew comparisons of Mr. Kaepernick with Rosa Park or Boxing legend Mohammed Ali.  It is not entirely clear if these comparisons might be fair since these legends had a robust track record of doing hard work for their communities before they engaged in symbolic gestures. The struggle for police brutality might have taken a back seat, as many think, as some see these protests as being about Mr. Kaepernick not being hired by no NFL team. It was interesting seeing NFL teams' owners taking a knee with the player and yet as of today Mr. Kaepernick still unemployed.

One might ask, in light of the major problems dealing with poverty, inequality, opportunity and daunting challenges in the international arena, why would President Trump get involved with the current controversy going in the NFL?   This is the very reason why this president was elected, uneducated whites and others felt they could no longer say things they wanted to say.  Nobody would dare to call African American Players kneeling down while the national anthem is being played, "sons of bitches" for disrespecting the flag.  Whites can always count on this president to speak for them.  He clearly threw red meat to his supporters when he entered this controversy.

No surprise for many seeing this President getting involved in any controversy that relates to "nationalism."  It was at the core of everything candidate Trump did while running for the White House.  This strategy successfully targeted anxieties of whites who really thought that their country was rapidly changing in a way that was undermining their way of life.  Yes, these whites felt economically marginalized and culturally eclipsed. Trump's populism laced with nationalism was successfully sold to whites who desperately need a presidential candidate who could finally air their grievances.

Finally, it was recently revealed that former NFL player, Aaron Hernandez, who killed himself while serving time in prison had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  It was also disclosed that the NFL was fighting a lawsuit filed by this player. Maybe we shouldn't be fighting the NFL to hire athletes rather we should be doing whatever we can to put them out of business.  Since most players end up with brain disease resulting from repeated head trauma.

Thank you for reading.


Works cited.

American President. Dir. Rob Reiner. Perf. Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox. Warner Bros, 1995 Film.

Oppel Jr. A. Richard. "Steelers' Villanueva Takes a Stand, but Might Agree With Kaepernick's Mission." New York Times 25 Sept. 2017.  Web. 25 Sept. 2017

Skelton, George. "The more Trump trumpets and tweets, the more he turns people off." Los Angeles Times 28 Sept. 2017. Web. 1st Oct. 2017

"Shield and Brooks."  Newshour. Public Broadcasting Service 29 Sept. 2017. Television.

Turner-Lee, Nico. "Protest, patriotism, and the history of black athletes in America."  ttps:// 29 Sept. 2017. Web. 1st Oct. 2017

Widener, E. Benjamin. The Frist Amendment "Playing Field": Regulating Speech in the Workplace." New Jersey Law Blog 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2017.

Photo Credit: Photo of Colin Kaepernick, Reuters photo: Jake Roth/USA Today Sports)
Drawing of Mr. Kaepernick and Rosa Park on the bus was a screenshot from a shirt being sold online.