The Birth and Death of L.A. — City Hall’s Ultimatum to the Merchants of Olvera Street

It seems fitting somehow that at least one of the death
blows to the City of Los Angeles should be struck where it was born — at El
Peublo on Olvera Street, a short walk from City Hall.

During the last two decades when the city was pouring
billions of public dollars into providing tax breaks and subsidies for luxury
hotels, offices and sports and entertainment complexes, it has allowed one of
its few authentic attractions to drift into chaos without a vision or

Yet, two million visitors a year come to Olvera Street
with its four museums and 78 shops, to experience a small taste at least of
what it was like 230 years ago when the American colonies were fighting for
independence and the City of Angels was coming to life as a colony of Mexico.

Operating month to month on out-of-date leases without
rent increases for years, the shopkeepers of Olvera Street suddenly found
themselves facing massive rent hikes and evictions as City Hall, in its
desperation to protect special interests and cover up its fiscal mismanagement,
squeezed them for more money than some could afford to pay.

It is just one front in City Hall’s war against the law
abiding, against middle class and working class people, who are forced to pay
the full cost of everything they get from trash pickup to water and power while
business gets tax cuts and tax holidays, and the entertainment industry gets
anything it wants.

From the point of view of the city’s leadership, El
Pueblo ideally would look more like LA Live with chain restaurants and shops
surrounded by digital billboards than a small-town Mexican plaza with local
vendors. After all, artificial amusement parks bring in a lot more money than
historic monuments, money that officials need so badly to pay for their profligate public lifestyle.

That’s why operations like those of Camacho’s Inc., the
political-connected firm that runs restaurants at LAX, Ontario Airport, AEG’s  Staples Center and Home Depot Center, and
Dodger Stadium — in recent years has been able to move into El Pueblo with promises of
higher rents and profit sharing for the city.

When the city tried to double rents and sharply increase fees for common areas in 2009, LA Business Journal Editor Charles Crumpley questioned the city’s action and its ability to run a private enterprise when it does such a poor job running a public enterprise.

city’s rationale … given the city’s budget deficit, it’s time the
merchants pay their own way. So deadbeats, hit the road. This is painful to watch. I mean, how many ways is this wrong?”

It took two years of dickering to work out the details of
a concession agreement t
hat greatly favors big operators over small ones. It
runs 49 pages and is filled with dozens of clauses and elaborate details that
can be used over the 20 to 40 years of the lease agreements to drive out any of
the small shop owners who fall into disfavor with those in power.

On May 31, the City Council unanimously approved the agreement and gave
the tenants just 30 days to waive all rights and claims against the city and
sign long-term leases laden with these rules and regulations — or else.

Irritated by questions raised by the Olvera Street
Merchants Association about storage space and the city’s demands for extensive
paperwork proving their ownership of the lease site, the city made it clear
that the concession agreement was a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

The city was done talking to these annoying little people
and set about making it clear who was in charge.

Documentation of site ownership by some merchants was
rejected as invalid at the last minute because it was only signed  the
general manager of the El Pueblo Department and not the commission – even during
periods when there was no commission overseeing the department.

Some of the leaseholds go back to 1930. Some have changed
hands. Some were signed for the city by staff of the department. The rights of
six operators are still in dispute so they are facing eviction or running their
businesses at twice the rents of others and doing so on a month to month basis
as they all have for so many years.

The response from the liberal-minded city leadership is
what you would expect from the coldest-hearted capitalist pig – the iron fist
is their faces.

On Friday, without public notice, a special agenda motion was introduced at the end of the meeting on behalf of Jose Huizar, the councilman who
represents the Olvera Street area but was absent.

It contained seven points which were variously described
to Council members as a few or three or four technical points to clear up any
questions about the lease agreement, variously described as entirely favorable
to the tenants or almost entirely favorable to the tenants.


In fact, the conditions were unilaterally being imposed
by the city after cutting off negotiations and put the six tenants at risk of
eviction and others facing disputed charges.

El Pueblo General Manager Robert Andrade, Assistant City
Attorney David Micheaelson and Deputy Chief Legislative Analyst Sharon Tso did
their best to deflect concerns of some Council members by offering non-answer
answers and defaming the tenants.

A handful of tenants somehow made it to the meeting and
offered emotional objections to what was going on without proper notice,
without a hearing, without negotiations. All they got from Andrade, the general
manager, was a scrunched up look of imperial disdain.

Still, it was
enough to make Paul Koretz queasy, to make Richard Alarcon offer himself as
protector of all things Mexican and Janice Hahn, in a rare Council appearance,
to want nothing to do with a controversy that could cost her votes in her race
to succeed Jane Harman in Congress.

They blocked adoption of the seven-amendments, which wasn’t
that hard since only 10 members were present under Garcetti’s job sharing
program that only requires a minimum number for a quorum to be present and rarely
produces all 15 members of the best paid, staffed and perked city government in

It will be back on Tuesday’s calendar crowded with
financial tricks and gimmicks to cover up the structural deficit being carried
over until next year as well as various sleights-of-hand to create secret pots of
money for various pet projects.