NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--In a recent article that trumpeted the $80-million sale of a luxury housing complex in Westlake, Los Angeles Times reporter Roger Vincent appears to champion gentrification and derisively describes our neighborhood as “blighted.” We take vigorous exception.
My brother, Manny, and I were born in Pico-Union and raised in Pico-Union/Westlake. We still proudly call it home, and we are founders of Westlake Advocacy, a grassroots organization that advocates for a better quality of life for marginalized residents in Westlake.
Most recently, Westlake Advocacy challenged LA City Hall’s approval of five alcohol licenses for upscale businesses located on the southeast corner of 7th Street and Burlington Avenue across the street from Esperanza Elementary School, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy Burlington Campus and Camino Nuevo Charter Academy Early Childhood Campus. So many establishments serving liquor should not be in such close proximity to school children. Outrageously, City Hall officials didn’t see it that way.
Then there’s the LA Times, which regularly acts as a mindless cheerleader for luxury development that displaces lower- and middle-income residents and gentrifies neighborhoods across Los Angeles. In a July 10 article, Roger Vincent wrote about the $80-million sale of Wilshire Valencia apartments in Westlake, where rents go as high as $4,300 a month.
Light on in-depth reporting, he made this troubling observation: “Gentrification is edging into Westlake from downtown after decades in the doldrums when the neighborhood was considered blighted and little development took place.” He then quoted a real estate consultant who said Westlake was turning into a “hot area.” Nothing was mentioned about the plight of longtime residents.
In fact, Vincent never explained exactly who considers Westlake blighted; how City Hall has long ignored quality-of-life issues and residents’ concerns in our neighborhood; or how gentrification negatively impacts longtime residents while developers make millions in profits by building and selling luxury-housing complexes. The reporter should have talked with us.
Westlake has been an important neighborhood for immigrants seeking better lives for themselves and their families. In short, they, like many people before them, are seeking everything that’s special and hopeful about the American Dream.
Westlake’s population is 67.6 percent foreign-born residents. Our neighborhood is a diverse and vibrant family-oriented community that’s rich in culture. Vincent correctly noted that gentrification is coming into our neighborhood, but it is destroying those important attributes, not improving them.
Los Angeles has long been the land of opportunity and a safe haven for immigrants who seek a brighter future for their children. During recent decades, Westlake became home to many political refugees — mainly from Central American countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador — whose lives were in jeopardy. We worked hard and contributed, but today City Hall and developers treat us with disrespect.
To start off, public hearings regarding all new development are conducted during business hours where City Hall officials bend over backwards to give developers zoning favors. L.A. politicians have not bent over backwards to understand the needs of longtime residents, and we cannot miss work to attend afternoon public hearings. City Hall essentially excludes us from the development approval process.
Since we are a less affluent neighborhood, developers then seduce longtime, lower-income residents with promises of good jobs. But once businesses finally open, a bait-and-switch is pulled and the employees do not reflect the makeup of our neighborhood.
In addition, apartment rents are increasing rapidly due to luxury housing buildings such as the Wilshire Valencia and other factors, and the state law known as the Ellis Act is used as a weapon by developers to wipe out affordable housing in Westlake. All of it leaves us with nothing but a bitter experience.
Westlake has made a name for itself throughout North America and Central America thanks to hard-working immigrant families. We are not obstacles for a better Los Angeles, and gentrification certainly isn’t the answer for a more livable and prosperous city for ALL Angelenos.
Developers, City Hall politicians and reporters must be mindful and respectful of the needs of Westlake’s longtime residents and the vibrancy we bring to Los Angeles. We help make Los Angeles to be one of the most unique cities in the world. We breath life into it.
Photo: Manny and Gustavo Flores, to the far right, and other members of Westlake Advocacy.
(Gustavo Flores, who recently completed a Latino Leadership Initiative fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School, founded Westlake Advocacy with his brother, Manny Flores. This perspective was posted originally at Preserve LA.)