We Need to Start Talking about LA’s Water Crisis Now

Map from US Drought Monitor, May 6, 2021

Most people who live in LA are probably already aware that this year has been an especially dry one.  We’ve gotten less than half of our average rainfall.  But it’s really important to say that it’s not just LA and it’s not just this year.  Actually, much of the Western US is dangerously dry, and there’s an increasing amount of research which seems to indicate that this could be a long-term trend.  In other words, it’s likely that things will continue to get drier and hotter in LA, California and the West. 

I’d been wanting to write about this for a while, but LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik saved me the trouble.  He recently wrote an excellent piece laying out the serious challenges California is facing, both in the near term and the long term.  To put it briefly, all of California’s water resources are declining.  The snowpacks that feed our rivers and lakes are shrinking.  We’ve depleted much of the groundwater that was so plentiful at the beginning of the 20th century.  And because western states have been taking more water from the Colorado River than is actually available, we’ll probably continue to see reduced deliveries from Hoover Dam for the foreseeable future. 

This is all very bad news. 

Whether or not this dry spell is partly the result of cyclical changes in the weather, research increasingly shows that climate change is going to take a serious toll on LA and the West.  It seems inevitable that some farmland will have to be taken out of production, though that will be a difficult and hugely controversial process.  Many species of California’s trout, steelhead and salmon will probably be extinct by the end of this century.  And while we’ve all seen the horrific damage that wildfire has caused in California’s vast natural forests, we should also be worried about the less visible but still serious impacts to our urban forests.   

Here in LA we may be spared from having to take immediate action to deal with this crisis.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Metropolitan Water District have been managing our resources carefully, building up reserves that could see us through the next few years.  But I’m afraid this is creating a false sense of security.  The way it looks now, it’s not just a matter of riding out a few dry years until things go back to normal.  This is the new normal.  Even if annual precipitation stays roughly the same in the future, shrinking snowpacks and the decline of the Colorado River mean water deliveries to the LA will continue to fall, and we have limited groundwater resources.  Unfortunately, our local leaders don’t seem to want to deal with this situation.  LA’s Mayor and City Council have been silent on this issue, and I don’t hear anything from the Board of Supervisors, either.  Maybe they think that if they just ignore the problem it will go away. 

This problem isn’t going away.  We need to start dealing with it.  Hiltzik explains how serious and how widespread the challenges are.  The time to act is now. 

Water Created California and the West. Will Drought Finish Them Off?

Fighting the Eviction of the Seniors at Sakura Gardens

On Saturday afternoon a crowd of protesters gathered in Boyle Heights to push back against the pending evictions of seniors from Sakura Gardens by Pacifica Companies.  The battle has been going on for months, but time may be running out.  While Pacifica’s first relocation plan was rejected by the State, they’ve come back with a second plan which is still being considered.  And as the pandemic winds down, the current eviction moratorium will probably expire in the next few months.

Protesters gathered to lend their support.

While the Japanese American community has been leading the charge, many other communities have lent their support.  On Saturday a diverse group of speakers from a range of groups railed against the inhumanity of evicting seniors from this intermediate care facility, especially given the lack of alternatives that offer the same level of care.  According to Save Our Seniors, most of the residents are over 90.  And anyone who’s dealt with the challenge of seeking a care facility for an elderly parent knows how hard it is to find the right place at a price you can afford. This becomes even more difficult when the parent’s primary language is not English.

Speakers representing a range of groups showed up to decry the evictions.

At the protest I ran into a friend, activist Grace Yoo, who helped organize the event.  As we were talking about the insanity of displacing seniors with significant health problems, Grace asked, “How can this be happening?”  Unfortunately, the answer is simple.  Greed.  Pacifica knows they can make a lot more money by getting rid of the seniors and redeveloping the property.  While this is a particularly brazen assault on a fragile community, if you’ve been following the news in LA over the past decade, the story is a familiar one.  Pacifica doesn’t care about people.  They care about profits. 

If you want to learn more about the situation, Save Our Seniors offers lots of background and frequent updates.  They also explain how you can get involved.  Please think about taking action.  These seniors and their families need your help.

Save Our Seniors

LAPD Turns to Media Suppression

Photo by Brian Feinzimer for LAist.

More bad news.  There were early reports that members of the media were held by the LAPD during the protests over the removal of the Echo Park Lake homeless encampment.  It’s now clear that at least four reporters and an unknown number of legal observers were detained by the LAPD.  Two reporters were actually taken to jail before being released.  The journalists who were detained identified themselves as members of the press when they were taken into custody.  Actually, it seems like that’s the reason they were taken into custody.  The LA Times offered this account by reporter James Queally….

Eventually the two officers detaining him called over a sergeant, and Queally again said that he was a working reporter. The sergeant told him that it didn’t matter, Queally said.

“He was less than interested with the fact that I was press,” Queally said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? We really doing this?’ And he said, ‘Yes, this is the policy tonight.’”

So the sergeant knew that Queally was a reporter, and stated that his detention was in line with the “policy” the LAPD was following that night.  It would be really interesting to know who established this “policy”.  Was it LAPD Chief Michel Moore?  Was it Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, in whose district the police were operating?  Was it Mayor Eric Garcetti?  The LAPD’s actions were clearly restricting free speech, preventing the press from doing their job.  We need to know who formulated this policy, which is clearly an effort to suppress the media.

It is interesting that two Councilmembers, Kevin De Leon and Mike Bonin, both criticized the LAPD’s detention of journalists.  Nithya Raman posted a statement on Twitter decrying the use of force in ejecting the Echo Park homeless community, but didn’t mention the treatment of the press.  I couldn’t find any other comments by Councilmembers on this issue. 

A link to Saturday’s LA Times’ story is below.  Apparently the National Lawyers Guild and the ACLU have both come out with strong statements. 

We shouldn’t let this slide.  This week’s meeting of the LA Police Commission has been cancelled, but this needs to come up at the next meeting.  When journalists who are clearly identified as journalists are detained by law enforcement without having committed a crime, it means the government is trying to shut the media down. 

Reporters, Legal Observers Cry Foul after Being Caught Up in LAPD’s Mass Arrests at Echo Park Protest

Showdown in Echo Park

Photo by Elizabeth Chou, Southern California News Group

The conflict over the homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake seems to be over.  For now.  After months of growing tension, things came to a head this week when the City of LA announced that it planned to close the park and that all persons living on the premises had to leave.  Protests began on Wednesday morning.  Later that day city workers showed up and began erecting a fence, while the LAPD announced that those remaining inside the park would be cited.  Representatives of the LA Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) offered temporary housing for those who wanted it, and while there were many takers, some declined. 

After a couple of chaotic days, the LAPD announced on Thursday night that anyone remaining in the park would be subject to arrest.  Apparently by Friday the park was closed and all those who had been living there were gone. 

Of course, this is just the latest episode in the ongoing story of housing and homelessness in LA.  Nothing has been resolved, and really there’s no reason to think anything will be resolved any time in the near future.  The forces that are driving LA’s homeless epidemic are still at work, and the LA City Council is doing nothing meaningful to change the situation.  A renter relief program and a temporary eviction moratorium are just band aids on a gaping wound.  As long as the City Council continues to prioritize the wishes of real estate investors over the needs of LA’s renters, things will just keep getting worse. 

As an LA Times editorial pointed out earlier this week, while LAHSA’s stats show that in 2019 an average of 207 homeless people were housed each day, the daily average of people who become newly homeless was 227.  There are a lot of different factors that lead to people living on the street, but the biggest factor is that they can’t afford housing. 

While Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council constantly tell us that their number one priority is providing housing for the people of LA, the facts tell us something completely different.  According to the LA Department of City Planning’s Housing Dashboard, from July 2013 through December 2020 the City approved 162,706 new units.  Of those units, 87% were for Above Moderate Income households.  The remaining 13% is the total for Moderate Income, Low Income and Very Low Income households COMBINED.  During this period, the City of LA has produced more than double the number of Above Moderate Income units required by the State’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).  It has not come anywhere near meeting the goals for the other three RHNA categories. 

And let’s take this further.  The Housing Dashboard says that the total number of affordable units approved during this period was 20,591.  But according to the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project (which gets its data from the City of LA), during roughly this same period, January 2014 through December 2020, 9,444 rent-stabilized (RSO) units were removed from the market under the Ellis Act.  This leaves us with a net gain of 11,147 units accessible to Moderate and Low Income households. 

Right about now some of you may be saying, “Well, if we just ramp up allowable density the free market will solve our housing problem for us.  We need to upzone LA.”  My response is, take a look at New York City.  New York City has been on an upzoning binge for the past decade.  What have they got to show for it?  A bunch of super-tall skyscrapers that have created a massive glut on the luxury housing market, while the Coalition for the Homeless reports that in 2020 there were 122,926 different homeless men, women, and children who slept in New York City’s shelters. 

Getting back to Echo Park Lake, about the only positive thing I can say is that there was some really good reporting by the local press.  I was impressed by Elizabeth Chou’s work for the Daily News, and I’d like to link to the story, but it’s restricted by a paywall.  LAist also did a solid job.  Actually, one of the best commentaries on this mess was in an e-mail I got from LAist, their Morning Brief written by Jessica P. Ogilvie.  I couldn’t find it on their web site, so I’ll quote an excerpt….

The Echo Park tent community has found itself at the center of several heated debates over how to handle the city’s dire housing crisis. In January of 2020, a planned sweep of the encampment, which can lead to residents losing their belongings and being left with no place to go, was met by protesters who blocked city vehicles and stood near tents.

The following month, protesters once again joined residents to defend their right to be there.

Many who oppose officials’ plan to clear the area say that it’s a public relations maneuver, and blame the area’s city council representative, Mitch O’Farrell, for not doing more to ensure the safety of those living in the encampment.

Recently, officials and advocates have announced plans to ease the plight of L.A.’s unhoused residents by building community land trusts, making it easier to construct granny flats, and establishing communities of tiny homes.

But these efforts, while no doubt well-intentioned, are only the latest in an exhausting series of projects to get the problem under control. Some ideas have also included government-funded campsites, vacant hotel rooms, empty parking lots, neighborhood shelters, new legislation, emergency shelters, RV parks, prevention efforts, and more.

Mitch O’Farrell claims he cares about the homeless and wants everybody to have secure housing.  But this is the same man who recently voted to approve the hotel project at 1719 Whitley which involves the demolition of 40 rent-stabilized units.  And all the rest of his fellow Councilmembers, with the exception of David Ryu, joined him in voting to greenlight the project.

That should give you an idea of how much the LA City Council really cares about solving our housing problems.

Still from video posted on Twitter by Services Not Sweeps

Just Upzoning the Suburbs Won’t Solve Our Housing Problems

Anybody who pays attention to the news knows that there’s a heated, ongoing debate in LA, and across California, about how to solve our housing problems.  There are lots of different proposals floating around, but the message we hear most often from elected officials and the development community is that we have to upzone to allow a whole lot more density.  The argument goes that it’s just a matter of supply and demand.  If we upzone our cities and upzone our suburbs, that will unleash the power of the free market and we’ll have plenty of cheap housing for everybody  

One idea that’s especially hot right now is the proposal to upzone areas dominated by single-family homes (SFH).  Some State legislators have embraced this approach, resulting in bills like SB 1120.  The City of LA hasn’t yet made a move to upzone SFH areas, but the concept is popular among local progressives who believe we just need to build more housing.  Heated debates have erupted over the topic on social media.  At a recent hearing on the Hollywood Community Plan Update (HCPU) some members of the public expressed enthusiastic support for ending SFH zoning. 

It’s easy to see why the idea is popular.  Young people, especially young people of color, are finding it difficult or impossible to afford housing these days.  Whether you’re renting or buying, prices are sky-high.  If you accept the argument that just creating more supply will drive prices down, it must seem insane to maintain zoning that only allows single-family homes.  The argument is that older, affluent homeowners are selfishly defending their own turf, shutting out young people who struggle to make ends meet.  Proponents of upzoning SFH areas also point to the history of racism that used tools like zoning to promote segregation.

Taking the last point first, there’s no question that racism has been a huge factor in housing policy in LA (and across the nation).  There’s a well-documented history of real estate interests working with city officials to favor whites over people of color.  It’s naive to think that racism doesn’t still play a part in the housing market today.  Beyond that, it’s completely understandable that young people who can barely afford to pay the rent would look at the suburbs and ask why some people own single-family homes when they’re just a step or two away from homelessness.  And there’s another reason the idea of upzoning SFH areas is attractive: It’s simple.  If just building more homes will allow everyone to have housing, how could anyone argue against it? 

And that’s the problem.  The way case is being stated is too simplistic.  It assumes that all we have is a problem of supply and demand.  But the 21st century housing market is far from simple.  There are many reasons why housing is so inaccessible for so many people.  Zoning is a factor, but it’s just one aspect of the problem.  The biggest factor, one that’s often ignored in heated housing debates, is that real estate has become a global industry powered by trillions of dollars in investor cash. In The Vacancy Report (SAJE/ACCE/UCLA Law, 2020) researchers point out that in recent decades housing has rapidly become financialized.  Private equity and corporate entities have come to dominate the housing market, and they’re only interested in getting the highest rate of return as quickly as possible.

So if we’re talking about upzoning, it’s important to say up front that the value of urban and suburban land is determined by how much you can build on it.  As soon as you upzone a parcel, its value increases.  The more you can build, the more it’s worth.  If you take a parcel that’s zoned for one single-family home and upzone it to allow four, eight or more units, you’re actually making the land much more valuable and therefore much more costly.  The cost of land in LA is already extremely high, and increasing allowed density will drive the cost even higher. 

If the key issue is the lack of affordable housing, upzoning by itself does nothing to solve the problem.  As Patrick Condon points out in his book Sick City, when a city just increases allowable density, it’s really increasing the cost of the land, and that additional cost is ultimately paid by the household that’s renting or buying.  The benefit goes to the landowner, not the renter or buyer.  For a solution, Condon holds up Cambridge, Massachusetts, where city officials adopted an ordinance that allows increased density but only for the construction of permanently affordable units. 

This is a radical solution, and one that probably has no chance of being adopted in a city like LA.  The first people to object would be real estate investors, who would argue that they can’t possibly make a profit by building affordable units.  Exactly.  Because the Cambridge ordinance includes strict affordability requirements, it increases allowable density without jacking up the value of the land.  This opens the door to not-for-profit affordable housing developers who can build what we most need: housing accessible to middle-income and low-income people.  California legislators claim that bills like SB 1120 will help solve our housing problem just because they increase density, but without an affordability requirement, we might as well just be stuffing cash in the pockets of real estate investors.  

And now back to the Hollywood Community Plan Update.  The HCPU Community Plan Implementation Overlay (CPIO) is also based on the idea that increasing density will solve all our housing problems.  It offers generous incentives for residential projects in Central Hollywood that include some affordable housing.  Projects that offer between 10% and 23% affordable can receive a 100% density bonus, along with other incentives like increased floor area ratio (FAR) and reduced setbacks. 

This is actually a rehash of the Transit Oriented Community (TOC) Incentives, a program that’s already in place.  The City boasts about the affordable housing created by the TOC program, but what they don’t mention is that many TOC projects involve the demolition of existing rent-stabilized (RSO) units.  The City does require replacement units to be built, but it allows the developer to count replacement units toward the affordable total.  So a project recently approved at 4629 W. Maubert includes 17 new affordable units, but it also involves the demolition of 14 RSO units, meaning we have a net gain of 3 units accessible to low-income households.  The TOC approved for 1920 N. Whitley includes 3 affordable units, but replaces 3 RSO units.  No gain there.  At 1341 N. Hobart the approved project offers 7 affordable units, but will erase 9 RSO units, meaning a net loss of 2.  These projects will produce dozens of new high-end units, but there’s no shortage of those.  What we really need is housing accessible to low-income tenants.   

Since the vast majority of housing in Central Hollywood consists of RSO apartments, the hefty incentives offered by the HCPU are basically putting a target on the backs of renters who live in the area.  For instance, a developer buys a property containing a rent-stabilized four-plex where existing zoning would allow 20 units.  Taking advantage of the HCPU density bonus, they propose a new building with 40 units, including four extremely low income units to satisfy the affordable requirement.  The developer gets a huge profit as a result of doubling the allowed density.  The RSO tenants get an eviction notice.  And there’s no net gain in low-cost housing.  In other words, by jacking up density in Central Hollywood the HCPU incentivizes displacement.  And it gets even better for developers.  Under the Plan’s CPIO, City Planning can approve the project without holding a single hearing.  There’s no requirement for community engagement, and no possibility of appeal.  If the project meets the CPIO’s requirements, it’s a done deal. 

If just increasing density made housing more affordable, Manhattan would be one of the cheapest places on earth to live.  It’s not.  It’s one of the most expensive.  New York City has been on a building binge over the past decade, with massive upzoning leading to a swarm of super-tall skyscrapers.  What’s the result?  A glut of units at the high-end of the market, while middle-income and low-income households are still struggling to keep a roof over their heads, in spite of inclusionary zoning requirements that were supposed to deliver affordable housing. 

Increasing density can bring benefits, but only when coupled with careful planning.  Sweeping proposals to upzone large swaths of urban or suburban land will do nothing to increase affordability.  They’ll just funnel more money into the bank accounts of real estate investors.  And upzoning urban land can be especially dangerous.  Without strong protections for tenants (which the HCPU does not have) density bonus measures will likely lead to even more displacement. 

There are no simple answers.  Upzoning by itself will not solve anything.

Seniors at Sakura Gardens Face Displacement

Photo from Los Angeles Conservancy by John Sequeira

Yet another story about displacement in LA, this time involving elderly residents at the Sakura Gardens senior care facility in Boyle Heights.  Last year members of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council (BHNC) learned that owner Pacifica Companies was planning to build a new multi-family residential complex, and that they’d be phasing out the intermediate care facility on the site.  The plans sparked outrage throughout the community, and the BHNC voted to oppose the project.  You can read their statement here.

Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council Statement

And because many of the current residents are of Japanese descent, the local Japanese-American community was also appalled by the proposed project.  This is just the latest insult.  A hundred years ago Little Tokyo covered a good deal of territory on both sides of the LA River, but the City of LA has been cutting it up for decades.  Just a few years ago a number of Japanese-American artists with deep roots in the area were evicted from 800 Traction.  Now yet another developer with yet another project is ready to push dozens of senior citizens out of Sakura Gardens.  Here’s an article from the Rafu Shimpo.

Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council Opposes Pacifica Proposal

If you see a problem with this, there’s a petition you can sign.

Stop Pacifica from Closing Sakura ICF

This is a discretionary project.  The LA City Council could vote to reject it, and they should.  This year they’ve put forward a number of motions aimed at dealing with homelessness, but they don’t seem to understand the most basic issue here.

The best way to keep people from becoming homeless is to stop evicting them.

Should Bank of America Share the Blame for California’s EDD Payment Scandal?

Graph showing California unemployment numbers from CalMatters

There’s been widespread reporting on the thousands of fraudulent unemployment claims filed with California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).  Less has been written about Bank of America’s (BofA) role in the scandal.  For years the State has contracted with BofA to handle payments via debit cards.  Now questions are being asked about whether the bank failed to implement adequate security measures. 

Unemployed Californians with legitimate claims are facing severe hardships because they haven’t been able to access unemployment payments.  In this story CalMatters asks what went wrong, and why wasn’t fraud detected sooner.

How Bank of America Helped Fuel California’s Unemployment Meltdown

Happy New Year?

Artists painting murals during the protests in Hollywood this year.

Seems like everyone agrees that 2020 was the year from hell. We had a deadly pandemic spreading like wildifre across the globe. In the US we had the incredibly weird and stressful presidential election.

And here in LA? Where do I start?

While the homeless population has been growing for years, the number of people experiencing homelessness in LA County shot up by 12% in 2020. The City of LA saw an even larger increase of 16%. There were months of protests in the streets against police violence. Though not many people seem to have noticed, it’s been an unusually dry year, which should be cause for alarm since our water resources are continuing to decline.

And then there were the numerous indictments filed by the Department of Justice against current and former LA City officials. The charges included bribery, extortion and money laundering. I count five guilty pleas so far, but it’s hard to keep track. Then there are former Councilmember Jose Huizar and former Deputy Mayor Ray Chan who claim innocence. They’ll go on trial later this year. The saddest aspect of all this is that these prosecutions come as no surprise to thousands of Angelenos who have been following local politics. The acts described in the indictments sound like business as usual at City Hall. And don’t get me started on what’s been happening at the City Attorney’s office under Mike Feuer.

All of us are hoping that 2021 will be better than 2020, and really that’s setting the bar pretty low. Yeah, it would be great if Covid-19 went away and we could get back to some kind of normal. But other than that, how much will change? Most of the problems I listed above have been with us a long time in one form or another. Will the new leadership in Washington bring about a new era of peace and equality? Don’t bet on it. Will our elected officials finally agree on a way to successfully address homelessness? Nothing they’ve done so far inspires much confidence. Will LA City Hall become more transparent, open and honest? Don’t make me laugh.

But in spite of my extreme cynicism, I’m not giving up, and neither should you. This year we’ve seen legions of healthcare workers and others make huge sacrifices to care for people infected with Covid-19. In LA we saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest injustice. And even if the culture at LA City Hall is hopelessly corrupt, there are numerous community groups working hard to address homelessness, hunger and poverty.

LA will never be perfect, but it could be a lot better. We can make it better. We can give our time as volunteers. We can give our money to non-profits with a proven track record of helping people. Even just staying informed and staying engaged can make a difference. If you’re not registered to vote, then get registered. And then next time we have an election, take the time to vote. Find a news source you trust, and then subscribe to it, because supporting journalism, especially local journalism, is crucial.

The new year will not be any better than the old year unless we make it better. We can’t just sit back passively and hope everything will turn out all right. We have to get involved and stay involved.

Another Gathering Place Goes Down

Photo by Elina Shatkin/LAist

A couple days ago I came across a piece on LAist the really resonated with me. The author, John Kamp, talks about the impending demolition of a favorite hang-out, El Gran Burrito, near the Metro station at Santa Monica and Vermont. I’ve never eaten there, but Kamp’s description of this funky taco stand reminded me of so many other LA gathering places that have disappeared.

I understand the reasons why El Gran Burrito is getting bulldozed. The City has approved a Permanent Supportive Housing complex with 187 units, 105 for Extremely Low Income households, and 80 for Very Low Income households. (The two remaining units are for managers.) The City desperately needs Permanent Supportive Housing, and it makes perfect sense to build next to the Metro station so that residents will have easy access to transit. I really can’t object to the project. Still, we need to acknowledge what we’re losing.

Kamp identifies himself as a landscape and urban designer, and he’s not happy about the trend in LA toward “generic, modern, high-density apartment buildings with retail spaces on the ground floor”. He laments the loss of our “quirky, shacky spaces tucked into hillsides and between larger buildings”. I know where he’s coming from. And it’s not just the bland conformity that characterizes so many of the new buildings. The really painful thing is the loss of community. These low budget, lowbrow restaurants are where Angelenos gather and mingle. You stop in with a group of friends and run into some other folks you know, or maybe you start talking to a group of total strangers. You get to know the people behind the counter. You get to know the community.

I’m thinking of Carnitas Michoacan #3 in Boyle Heights, which got turned into a Panda Express. Longtime patrons were saddened to lose a place they’d been coming to for decades. Taix on Sunset has been purchased by a real estate investment group, and there are plans to construct a six-story mixed-use complex on the site. (The new project would include space for a scaled-down version of Taix.) One of the most depressing losses was El Chavo, also on Sunset, which was bought up by another real estate investment group. What used to be a cozy, old-school Mexican restaurant was turned into an oppressive modernist fortress. The plan was to make it into an upscale restaurant/nightclub with multiple bars. Last time I passed by the place looked like it was closed.

I also think of the way Union Station has changed. Up until a few years ago it had a great little bagel shop where you could pick up something to eat and drink while you were waiting for your train. There was also a small newsstand where you could get gum, snacks, sodas. Today both of them are gone. Instead of a mom-and-pop restaurant serving fresh bagels they now have a Starbucks serving cardboard pastries wrapped in plastic. Instead of the newsstand they now have a chain convenience store with all the personality of a concrete block.

But we also have to take the longer view. I love Union Station, but in order to build it the City razed a good part of LA’s original Chinatown. Many people were pushed out of their homes. As a compromise, the City agreed to build a new Chinatown, which is the one we know today. While many Angelenos have a real affection for the area’s funky charm, let’s face the facts: an authentic immigrant community was levelled with zero regard for how the residents would be impacted; the “replacement” was a faux-Chinese outdoor mall designed to lure tourists.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially restaurants. The City is constantly changing. If El Gran Burrito gets bulldozed to create housing for the people who need it most, I can see the justification. But in many other cases, including the ones listed above, it’s just a raw deal for the community. While fast food chains and investment groups boost their profits, neighborhoods lose gathering places that brought people together. Seems like this is happening more and more often in LA these days.

Kamp is one of the many Angelenos mourning these losses. If you’ve seen a beloved hang-out get bulldozed, you’ll want to take a look at his piece in LAist.

A Farewell To El Gran Burrito, East Hollywood’s Perfect Late-Night Pit-Stop

Now Leasing

Scene from the corner of Ivar and De Longpre in Hollywood.

I was on my way to the market when something caught my eye at the corner of Ivar and De Longpre.  Actually, it was two things.  The first was a massive new apartment building on Cahuenga, with a huge banner that exclaimed “NOW LEASING”.  The second was a homeless encampment on Ivar.  Seeing the pricey new apartments and the row of makeshift shelters so close together struck me as a perfect image of what’s happening in Hollywood these days, and really what’s happening across so much of LA.  The City keeps telling us that building expensive new housing will alleviate the housing crisis, but upscale units like these are completely out of reach for the people who need housing most. 

Part of what makes the scene so perfect is the banner shouting “NOW LEASING”. I have no idea how many of the units have been rented, and maybe it’s almost full, but I doubt it.  A June 2020 report to the LA City Council from the Housing + Community Investment Department offers data on vacancy rates in various LA neighborhoods.  While it uses multiple sources to assess vacancies, the report’s authors state that data from the LA Department of Water & Power is probably the most reliable.  Does it surprise you that according to LADWP the vacancy rate in Hollywood is 10.7 percent?  That’s 1,372 empty apartments in the Hollywood area, and I bet most of them are in new buildings like the one you see in the picture.  You know, the ones where the rent for a single starts around $2,000. 

Now, the US Census says that the average household size in LA County is 2.8 people.  So if we multiply 1,372 units by 2.8 we find that you could house about 3,841 people in the apartments that are sitting vacant in Hollywood right now.  Interestingly, the 2020 Los Angeles Homeless Count found that Council District 13, which covers much of Hollywood, has a total of 3,907 people experiencing homelessness.  (A 22% jump over 2019.)  In other words, you could fit almost all of the homeless people in CD 13 into the units that are sitting empty in Hollywood. 

Of course, none of those homeless folks could afford $2,000 for a single.  Let alone $3,000 or $4,000 for a one-bedroom or two-bedroom unit.  But the LA City Council keeps telling us that if we just keep building housing, any kind of housing, even housing that the average Angeleno couldn’t possibly afford, it will help alleviate the housing crisis. 

So they keep on approving high-end apartment complexes.  And the homeless population keeps on growing larger.