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Here’s What You Missed Last Week at LA City Council

Tenants from Hillside Villa and Chesapeake Apartments fight for their housing while Joe Buscaino helps repeal COVID protections for disabled and elderly community members.

Every week, Knock LA provides live coverage of Los Angeles City Council meetings from our Twitter account. While you can follow along live, we’ve also put together this breakdown of what’s happening at the highest levels of power in our city for those who don’t have 12 hours a week to spend on City Council meetings (including regularly absent city councilmembers).

city council recap featured image collage
A collage of LA city councilmembers, art by Sandra Markarian for Knock LA

On May 4, City Council allowed the public to attend their meeting in person for the first time in over two years. City Council President Nury Martinez marked the occasion by warning members of the public that she would order them ejected as soon as they became unruly.

As the doors to City Hall opened, the phone lines closed. City Council did not allow any members of the public to call in to give public comment. Those who do wish to make public comment can do so online or must find the time and resources — and risk catching COVID — to visit City Hall on a weekday.

Chesapeake Apartments Tenants

Because City Council closed the phone lines, Diana Hernandez had to take a series of buses from her South LA apartment to remind the councilmembers of the ongoing problem of roaches, fleas, mold, and dilapidation in her home. She is 39 weeks pregnant.

Hernandez lives in the 425-unit Chesapeake Apartments, a property in South LA long plagued by major health and safety risks. Its owner, Mike Nijjar, lives in a 12,000-square-foot mansion in the suburbs and owns over $1 billion in real estate.

In a 2017 investigation, a representative from the city said on record that the property “was owned and operated in an astonishingly lax and deficient manner.” In his nearly 40 years of experience in property management, the representative had basically never seen a property “so starkly rundown, foreboding, and seemingly rudderless.”

Several of Hernandez’s neighbors joined her in public comment, saying their families were getting ill and injured from the landlord’s — and the city’s — negligence. They requested City Councilmember Herb Wesson visit the property himself and immediately work with city inspectors to address the problems.

Other Los Angeles tenants spoke of harassment from landlords, including one who sent his son, a police officer, to intimidate tenants and another who denied entry to a tenant’s visiting nurse. Tenants said the council’s tenant anti-harassment ordinance needs a mechanism for enforcement, as currently there is none. Constituents of Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson pushed him to fight displacement by adopting a neighborhood stabilization overlay (NSO).

A Tale of Two Eminent Domains

In 1989, after many low-income, immigrant tenants were displaced by the expansion of the downtown Convention Center, the city built the Hillside Villa apartment building and promised its tenants 30 years of affordable rent. When 30 years passed and the largely elderly tenants faced rent costs tripling, they organized a tenant union to demand the city protect their homes by either purchasing the property or acquiring it via eminent domain.

Two years ago, LA’s housing committee approved a recommendation to make an offer on the property, and the matter was sent to the budget committee. The Hillside Villa Tenant Association says the budget committee under Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s leadership has stalled and Cedillo has avoided meeting with them for many months — prompting tenants to protest outside the councilmember’s Highland Park office with signs declaring, “Missing: Where is Cedillo?”

On May 4, just after the City Council meeting, Hillside Villa tenants went to Cedillo’s office to once again demand eminent domain. Cedillo’s office called for the police to remove the group. Cedillo then appeared to change his mind and agreed to meet with just a small subsection of the group. He promised that the long-awaited committee report would be ready by May 16 and that, immediately after, he’d present City Council with a motion to purchase the building or acquire it through eminent domain.

During that same day’s meeting, the city approved the use of eminent domain in Inglewood due to the “public interest and necessity” of a different project: the land will be used to more easily transport travelers to and from their rental cars.

Other Housing News

In 1984, the American Caster Corporation illegally dumped 252 barrels of toxic waste near their plant in Lincoln Heights, and in 2020, City Council approved real estate developer Pinyon Group’s plans to build a five-story apartment complex there. Many neighbors opposed the luxury housing project on the grounds that it would lead to displacement in a rapidly gentrifying area, and also because the toxic waste still hasn’t been cleaned up. On May 4, City Council agreed to additional testing at the site.

On that same day, City Council approved appraisal funding for a project of 100% affordable permanent housing with an emphasis on people with disabilities and the formerly unhoused. The Mar Vista property is co-owned by the city and by the nonprofit Disability Community Resource Center, which will have an office at the new building. On May 6, the council approved $45 million in bonds for a 122-unit affordable housing building in South LA.

Revoking Protections for Disabled and Elderly Community Members

For months, CD 15 Councilmember Joe Buscaino has urged City Council to please forget that the pandemic ever happened and undo COVID-related protections for vulnerable community members. He marked one success last week when City Council repealed the requirement that grocery stores designate a shopping hour for elderly and/or disabled people. Because why protect vulnerable communities unless you absolutely have to?

LAPD Spying Lawsuits

After 14 months of CD 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz refusing to respond to a public records request, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition sued him. The coalition attempted to serve the councilmember on May 4 before the City Council meeting, but his staffer refused.

Two hours after serving the lawsuit with the city attorney’s office, the coalition says they received some, but not all, of the requested files. The coalition seeks the release of correspondences between Koretz and staff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which advocates for expanded police surveillance just about everywhere, including in schools and places of worship.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition also sued CD 13 Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, as one public commenter noted last week.

After O’Farrell ordered a militarized raid on Echo Park Lake, he closed the park to the entire community without notice. When it finally reopened, the community found the park literally fenced in, with access to the park limited to just two small sections. O’Farrell and his supporters attempted to justify the displacement of encampments and closure of the park as necessary to protect the cherished grass.

Now that the park has reopened, O’Farrell has apparently ordered armed park rangers to drive over the grass in their patrol of the park. And he has installed secret surveillance cameras.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition filed a lawsuit, arguing that secret cameras are illegal and set a dangerously invasive precedent.

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