If 2016 was the year that irritated a clear divide between two very vocal halves of the country, thanks to a vicious presidential election that threatened to drag the United States back into the dark ages regarding social issues, 2017 only opened up that divide into a terrifying chasm. Any hopes that racism, homophobia, sexism, Islamophobia and general bigotry were on their way out with every passing generation were dashed in a year of tiki torch–holding white supremacists, religious intolerance and a war on immigrants led by the Commander-in-Chief.
But there were rays of hope, too, and boy did we need them. The #metoo campaign empowered women to stand up and tell their harrowing stories. That followed the incredible Women's March back in January. Alabama voters opted for Doug Jones in favor of the diabolical Roy Moore, making Jones the first Democratic Alabama senator in 25 years. And here in California, cities across the state declared themselves sanctuaries. Overall, many people have made it clear that everybody is going to be held accountable going forward.
Through it all, L.A. Weekly has been here for you covering it all and, in the great spirit of the American alternative weekly, offering a voice to the voiceless. Southern California certainly served up enough to write about.
As ever, how to tackle homelessness was a hot topic. As 2016 came to a close, Los Angeles voters passed two ballot measures, one to expand public transit and one to fight homelessness. The latter, Measure HHH, garnered 76 percent of the vote; it raised taxes by .01 percent to pay for permanent supportive housing and shelters.
Hillel Aron quoted L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' statement: “I commend the voters in the city of Los Angeles for recognizing the homeless crisis and stepping up to provide funding for permanent housing to restore dignity to those living in utter squalor. With the passage of HHH, it's now time for the county to step up to provide critical supportive services for the homeless.”
In April, Mayor Eric Garcetti took the opportunity during his annual State of the City speech to promise to end homelessness once and for all. However, as Aron wrote, Los Angeles' total number of people experiencing homelessness was 28,464 and rising. Still, Measure HHH could only help.
“I've been working in homelessness for 20 years, and I've never seen a moment of time where we have such an alignment of resources, between HHH and H, of both service dollars and housing dollars, and there's flexibility to match them together,” Alisa Orduna, the mayor's director of housing policy, told Aron.
That sounded great, but in May Dennis Romero reported that the housing numbers continued to bring bad news, with the median rent for a two-bedroom home in Los Angeles County a staggering $2,600.
A report by the California Housing Partnership Corporation, “Los Angeles County Renters in Crisis,” concluded that the county needs an additional 551,807 affordable units to meet the needs of the lowest-income renters.
“We're in a real crisis in terms of meeting this need,” said Lisa Payne, policy director of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, which co-presented the report. “It's not complicated. People need a home. We need to invest in creating and preserving affordable homes.”
When the annual county homeless count arrived in June, there was little to feel optimistic about, with Romero reporting a 20 percent increase in Angelenos living in encampments, tents and vehicles, with a 23 percent increase in the overall number of people on the streets countywide. That theme continued into August, with Romero reporting that a further 2,000 Angelenos could be put on the streets within a year should the rent-hike trend continue.
But it's not all doom and gloom. This is California, and the people here never fail to amaze when it comes to going above and beyond. In February, Clarissa Wei reported on a group of Muslim-American friends who started the Halal Project, distributing halal food in downtown Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley.
“The project is run by a board of volunteers who all juggle full-time jobs,” Wei wrote. “While most of the board is of Muslim faith, [founder-president Zia] Qureshi stresses that the organization is all-inclusive and that its meals are simply an option for halal-abiding folks on Skid Row who need it.”
Meanwhile, Liz Ohanesian talked to fine-art photographer Ed Freeman, who aims to change the public perception of the homeless community with a series of photographs, intended for compilation in a coffee-table book called I Am Somebody: Portraits of Homelessness.
“It's an enormously complicated problem,” Freeman told Ohanesian, “but the first thing that needs to be done is to recognize people that are living on the streets as worthwhile, genuine human beings. … They're not statistics. They're not aliens. They're not scary.”
Overall, the narrative is one of widely held good intentions but statistics that continue to alarm. Stagnant downtown housing prices offer a modicum of hope, but there's clearly much work to be done in 2018.
The year kicked off with a presidential inauguration that was, naturally, overwhelmingly unpopular with L.A.'s pro-immigrant groups, who took the opportunity to protest against the president on that day.
The anger and frustration was and is understandable; the president had spent much of the campaign marginalizing immigrants, as well as women, the economically disadvantaged and just about everyone else. And that makes no sense because, as Romero reported in February, L.A. immigrants brought $233 billion to the county in just one year.
“The study speaks to something we all know intuitively,” said Kate Brick, New American Economy's director of state and local initiatives. “Immigrants are the engine that drives the local economy.”
Still, decency be damned, no time was wasted in destroying lives and tearing apart families. Jason McGahan reported in February that 50-year-old housepainter Manuel Mosqueda was taken from his apartment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at 5 a.m. as he was getting ready for work, part of the devastating sweeps conducted by ICE that saw 161 people arrested over a five-day period.
That was more than enough for many people, and that same month saw the protest “A Day Without Immigrants,” with immigrants nationwide encouraged to refrain from work, an effort to show the rest of the country just how crucial they are.
An L.A. health clinic, Clínica Monseñor Oscar A. Romero, was just one such institution that declared a sanctuary policy, after many patients stopped showing up for appointments because they were afraid to leave their homes.
“The move sends a powerful message that immigrants and their families are not alone,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Reform.
But that theme has not gone away as the year has progressed, and the fears justifiably remain. As Romero wrote in March, the stories of immigrants being arrested at airports, courthouses and schools persisted. As a direct result, immigrants were reluctant to call the authorities when crimes were committed against them, choosing to try to take care of one another within their communities instead.
June saw the president make the Trump administration's unfathomable decision to roll back DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), which could have protected 5 million people from deportation. “These parents are at full risk of deportation,” Manuel Pastor, co-director of USC's Center for Immigrant Integration, told Dennis Romero. “Because we've got a much more established undocumented population than most cities, it's going to have a super big impact here.”
Similarly, Trump ended DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which protected nearly 800,000 young immigrants from immigration, though California's response was strong, as Jason McGahan wrote.
“We're here as leaders of the state of California to say that it's important — as state leaders but also as the sons of immigrants — to put ourselves at the head of the struggle for all of the young people who took the risk to apply for the program and services of DACA. To those who took the risk, we want to tell them that it's important they know that the leaders of this state are with them. And we are going to do everything possible to defend them in court and before the public,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in Spanish, at a press conference.
It took until December, but the city of Los Angeles finally declared itself a sanctuary city.
Gentrification and development
Perhaps surprisingly, an April story by Romero stated that, 25 years after the L.A. riots, conditions in many neighborhoods are actually worse, according to a UCLA report called “1992 Revisited.”
“The report looks at the economy and employment in quadrants of South L.A. (northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest) as well as in Greater Koreatown and Pico-Union/Westlake,” Romero wrote. “The poverty rate for all but one of those areas, the southeastern portion of South L.A., has grown since the days of unrest, according to UCLA data culled from multiple sources, including the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, the Korea Central Daily newspaper and the California Department of Insurance.”
Also in April, we had to say goodbye to a Venice institution, as the Venice Beach Freakshow closed its doors for the last time after the building was sold and the new owners didn't renew the lease. Conversely, Jennifer Swann told the story of the Ron Finley Project, the South L.A. community garden that won its battle against eviction back in May.
While many people were getting excited about Los Angeles' bid to host the 2028 Olympics, Aron reported in May that the Democratic Socialists of America were not so keen.
“Our main concern is that the organizers of the Olympic bid don't have the best interests of the city in mind,” DSA member Steve Ducey said. “Their interests are running a successful Games. That's not a benchmark that is all that noble. It doesn't enrich the lives of working Los Angeles. Their interests are going to be cast aside in favor of the interest of profits for the corporations that have a vested interest in the Games.”
The casualties of gentrification continued to fall: In October, Karen Tongson covered the closing of beloved Virgil Village bar the Smog Cutter, which had been open for 77 years, after owner Nita “Mama Nita” Sevikul was stripped of her annual lease in 2015, operating month-to-month since then.
The battle against perceived gentrification heated up in Boyle Heights, as locals protested an influx of art galleries, seen as the forerunner to a hipster invasion. The actions of some Boyle Heights activists resulted in publisher Hedi El Kholti canceling an October book launch. According to Jason McGahan's story, El Kholti planned to host a conversation between author Chris Kraus and art writer and editor Bruce Hainley at art gallery 356 Mission, but the Defend Boyle Heights group promised to disrupt it. That same group has been holding similar protests at the Weird Wave Coffee Shop.
Those sentiments, dubbed “hipster bashing” by U.K. newspaper The Guardian, led to L.A. city leaders calling on anti-gentrification activists to relax, as reported by Romero.
“While I share the concerns of displacement and rising costs of housing in Boyle Heights, race-based targeting or vandalism of any kind, like what has been leveled against small businesses and art galleries, and most recently the Weird Wave Coffee shop, is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated,” said area Councilman José Huizar.
Gentrification has its good side, for some: People who own houses along the route of the Metropolitan Transport Authority's coming Crenshaw Line have seen the highest increase in value since 2014, according to McGahan.
“Between January 2014 and April of this year, three of the fastest-rising home values anywhere in L.A. were in Baldwin Village/Crenshaw (No. 1), Leimert Park (No. 3) and Hyde Park (No. 4),” McGahan wrote. “What do all three neighborhoods have in common? They're historically African-American, historically in the lower 20 percent of average income brackets and, perhaps most important, will be home to stations on the Crenshaw/LAX Line when it opens in two years.”
Unfortunately, residents in gentrified neighborhoods tend to be less patient with the homeless, and McGahan reported in October that the LAPD has been arrested homeless people at an increased rate.
“What's important to think about is that also if total arrests are declining and arrests of houseless people is going up, it might indicate resources are being shifted to target that population,” said Danielle Dupuy, the UCLA “Million Dollar 'Hoods” report's lead author.
Happy New Year
We had drama of our own, of course, as L.A. Weekly's ownership changed at the dusk of the year. Changes were made, as were mistakes. But a new year brings new hope and determination. And in 2018, we'll continue to dig up the stories that you won't find elsewhere. We'll speak out against injustice, and stand against prejudice. It's what we do.