The City Attorney's Office is cracking down on a South L.A. apartment building it describes as a hotbed for a notorious gang in the area, the Black P-Stones. But concern has been expressed over the timing: Los Angeles is in the midst of a dire housing crisis, and some folks in communities like this one, known locally as the Jungles, fear that such actions are a symptom of the kind of gentrification that is pushing minorities out of homes via increasing rents and evictions.
The real estate in the community formally known as Baldwin Village, a neighborhood made famous as a setting for the film Training Day, could be considered on the rise as Metro is working on a new, 8.5-mile rail line a few blocks from the city attorney's target. Observers say crime in recent years has been historically low in the complex's greater Southwest L.A. area, which has seen a 3.8 percent decrease in reports of month-to-month violence, according to Los Angeles Police Department data.
Cal State Long Beach professor of Chicano and Latino studies Alex Alonso has for years researched the correlation between law enforcement action, particularly gang injunctions, and gentrification. Housing prices in the area have been especially explosive. The renowned gang expert says there appears to be such a connection here.
"Crime is all-time low in the Jungles," he says. "No one is really complaining. But there is a massive redevelopment and gentrification plan in that area, the likes of which is almost always preceded by some law enforcement action to satisfy the developers."
Speaking via email, civil rights leader and area resident Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable, agreed, saying the city's action would only serve to hurt the community.
"Gang injunctions, lawsuits, police sweeps and crackdowns are the exact worst way to deal with the gang problem," he said. "This simply increases the cycle of arrest and incarceration, racial profiling and ramp-up in police power all under the guise of stopping gang activity. The injunction by the L.A. City Attorney's office is even more problematic given that crime is way down, homicides have plunged and gang activity in South L.A. has markedly dropped. The evidence that gang activity at the Baldwin Village apt complex is equally scanty. The better approach to any real gang uptick is to increase in jobs, job training and skills programs, more recreational and support services and facilities for at-risk young men, not feel-good, symbolic legal actions such as injunctions."
Harold Greenberg, the attorney for the property, says the city's crackdown is a threat to more than 1,000 people who live at the complex. "You know what the housing situation in this city is," he says.
He alleged that the city itself is a "slumlord" and that police response times to the apartments were often slow. However, he said, ownership would work with City Hall.
"My clients did not create gangs," he says. "It's a citywide problem. We have to work together to solve the problem. These buildings, prior to my owners buying it, were a hotbed of crime. It goes back 20 years. But my client is willing to work with the city to bring the property into compliance."
The city attorney's response to the criticism is documentation of a long list of alleged ill behavior by the P-Stones, an outpost of a Chicago-based gang that was established as a community organization in the area in 1969. Since 1996, the target of prosecutors' ire, the high school–adjacent, 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments at 4616 Rodeo Road has been the location of more than 2,900 arrests, many gang-related.
Prosecutors say the complex has been the location of full-on murders and "multiple shootings and armed robberies." Of course, all that could be connected to the bad old days portrayed in Training Day. But the City Attorney's Office alleges that in recent months an undercover officer has made 12 rock cocaine buys at the complex.
The city's crackdown comes in the form of an abatement lawsuit against the property's owner, Pama V Properties. It alleges that the complex is "completely controlled by BPS gang members." The complaint against Pama V Properties includes a photo of a gang member's back tattoos that include the word Jungles and an image of the postwar apartments. "The property has been plagued by crime in recent decades," the Superior Court filing states.
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"Negligent, callous management has allowed the Chesapeake Apartments to become a hotbed of terror in this neighborhood," City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement. "We’ll continue to hold property owners responsible for these harrowing conditions as we take back our communities."
The legal action against the owner calls the complex a public nuisance and seeks an injunction against gang and criminal activity at the 17-acre property. Prosecutors also want "secure fencing and gating throughout the property’s perimeter, an internet-connected video monitoring system, improved lighting, improved tenant screening and lease enforcement procedures, and armed, licensed security guards," according to a summary of the suit.
And, just for good measure, the City Attorney's Office wants a judge to order one of Pama V Properties' principals, Swaranjit Nijjar, to live at the Chesapeake Apartments until those changes are made.