Posts by Author: Alejandra Molina

This Fast Growing City Has Major Concerns about New Investor Tax Break

The Texas Capitol and downtown buildings fade into the fog in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A new federal tax break encouraging investment in poor communities has some Austin officials and residents worried about potential development that could price out the very residents it’s claiming to help.

Mark Rogers, who builds affordable housing through Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, says some residents “are sick and tired of all the investment … making things less affordable.”

Now, more investment could be pouring into the city.

Tucked into last year’s tax overhaul bill is a provision that offers capital gains tax breaks to investors in exchange for investing in poor neighborhoods across the United States. Under this program, governors designated a limited number of low-income census tracts in their states as “opportunity zones,” where investments eligible for tax incentives would take place. Although the idea for the program had been floating around for several years, the tax break’s inclusion in the tax reform bill was a surprise to many, igniting a scramble to understand what it is and how would it be regulated by various agencies including the Internal Revenue Service.

Projects that opportunity zone investment can finance are broad, according to the nonprofit Urban Institute. Through “opportunity funds,” vehicles created under the law to channel investment into opportunity zones, opportunity zone investors can finance commercial and industrial real estate, housing, infrastructure, and existing or start-up businesses, the Urban Institute says.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott submitted and designated 628 census tracts in 145 counties as opportunity zones, according to a city report. Twenty-one of those tracts are in Austin, including four the city submitted. Public and private entities could provide nominations to the governor.

The program has not yet provided guidelines requiring investors to consult and work with local officials and residents, the city says. That worries city leaders, who, despite concerns, nominated the four Austin census tracts to be considered as opportunity zones.

“[The program] could lead to supporting businesses that aren’t really assets in our community,” says Christine Maguire, the city’s redevelopment division manager. “Often, it’s not a lack of capital. It’s the lack of the right kinds of capital in fast-growing areas like Austin.”

In Austin, a city that has twice been deemed by Forbes as “America’s Fastest Growing City,” hundreds of residents have reportedly faced displacement threats because of redevelopment plans. As Next City previously reported, Austin recently became part of the initial cohort of the “All-In-Cities Anti-Displacement Network.

In a June 2018 letter to the Internal Revenue Service, the city urged the agency to craft regulations requiring investors to work with local stakeholders.

“As it stands, the City fears that these local stakeholders will not necessarily have an opportunity to work with Opportunity Fund investors, fail to meet local needs and priorities and could possibly exacerbate existing problems or impose hardship on the communities the legislation is intended to help,” the letter reads.

The letter also notes how the city’s recent growth has disproportionately impacted low-and-moderate-income people, “the very people Opportunity Zones are meant to help.”

Maguire says the city is hopeful that national advocates will be able to positively influence the way the new program is handled.

Rogers is less optimistic.

“Those folks that want to make money will feel like they’re doing a good thing by eliminating vacant land … and bringing in better-paying jobs, and the people who are there will get washed away in the tidal wave,” Rogers says.

To Rogers, the best solution is simply not to have opportunity zones in Austin.

Such development projects, “need to be done with the existing population,” he says. “I do not see these opportunity zones doing that.”


This Inland Empire Community Says Enough with the Warehouses

A 2012 Amazon warehouse opening in San Bernardino, Calif. (Eric Reed/AP Images for Amazon)

Nearly 10 years ago, Carmen and Enrique Jaime decided to sell move from their Los Angeles County home and move 50 miles east to Bloomington, an unincorporated area in California’s Inland Empire that offered spacious homes, panoramic views of the mountains, and enough tranquility to spend their retiring years.

“We were attracted to the everyday life (of Bloomington) … large terrains and access to the mountains,” says Enrique Jaime, 74. “The tranquility here is not something you find in other places.”

Now, that ideal life is under threat.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 21 will vote on a plan that would rezone 17 acres of land from residential to industrial in order to make way for a 344,000 square-foot warehouse. It would be about half a mile away from the Jaimes and their neighbors. The county planning commission, in a unanimous vote, already approved the project in June.

The proposed facility is described as a “high cube” warehouse, which means it would have a ceiling height of 24 feet or more and would be primarily used to store goods prior to distribution to retail locations or other warehouses. It would be built near Bloomington High School.

It’s not the only such facility in Bloomington. Last May, county supervisors approved a nearly 680,000-square foot warehouse not far from an elementary school.

“It’s becoming chaos,” Jaime says.

“What are we going to leave our kids? A house surrounded by warehouses?” Jaime adds. “This is affecting our children, too.”

Bloomington has been referred to as a type of place where residents ride their horses. About 24,000 people call this area home and roughly 84 percent of residents are Latino, according to 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income between 2012 and 2016 was about $49,200, according to census bureau estimates.

Residents in Bloomington worry this project would bring additional pollution, traffic, and noise. But county officials see this project as a profit-making source for the local economy.

Nearly 300 jobs are expected to be created by this facility, according to a county report. County officials say this project will generate additional tax revenues, including an estimated $5.9 million in property tax by 2029. Additionally, county officials say the developer, would annually contribute $30,000 toward road maintenance and other enhancements for the Bloomington community.

As an unincorporated area, Bloomington has no Mayor, city council, or planning commission of its own to whom residents can plead their case. Unincorporated areas can make for some interesting political situations, like those in East Los Angeles.

To Jaime, it’s hard to separate this issue from race. He’s seen residents with respiratory issues in tears, urging county supervisors to ban this project that they fear would affect their health due to the pollution the additional trailers would bring to their community. But despite being the largest county by land area in the lower-48 states, San Bernardino’s Board of Supervisors has only five members, and only one is Latinx. (There is also one Native American currently elected to the board, the first ever.) The Latinx member, Supervisor Josie Gonzales, voted to approve the other 680,000-square-foot warehouse, although two of her fellow supervisors opposed it.

“Because we are Latino, they think we don’t have any rights,” Jaime says. “They want to build warehouses because they want to make money.”

Carmen and Enrique Jaime. (Photo by Alejandra Molina)

The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice began advocating against the 344,000 square-foot warehouse about two years ago when residents went to the organization for help.

“We decided that it was of high importance for us to push against this project and hopefully begin to set a tone for local elected officials as well as developers, so they don’t think that coming into communities of the Inland Empire would be easy when it came to develop projects of this magnitude,” says Ericka Flores, an organizer with the Center of Community Action and Environmental Justice.

Flores says this kind of warehouse would only add to the “disastrous air quality that we already have in the Inland Empire.”

San Bernardino and Riverside counties, parts of which make up the Inland Empire, ranked as the top two of 25 counties most ozone-polluted counties where people are at risk, according to the American Lung Association State of the Air 2018 report. Often synonymous with “smog,” ozone is harmful to breathe because it aggressively attacks lung tissue, the American Lung Association says. Children, elders, and people with asthma are most at risk.

“Residents are fully aware, educated, and informed [of] the health impacts,” Flores says.

County officials in their report said the projected daily and yearly emissions generated by the land use change will meet regional air quality requirements.

Flores says organizers are not anti-development or are trying to ban warehouses, which are part of a growing e-commerce economy.

“The issue with this is the irresponsible placement of these industrial facilities so close to homes, schools, and community hubs,” she says. “If this warehouse were to be somewhere else … away from community, we would not be as tormented and appalled by this.”


What It’s Like to Open a Locally-Owned Coffeeshop in Compton

Patria opened in May. (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Martinez)

It’s not so unusual for tourists to flock to Compton to get a glimpse of the hip-hop culture with which the city is still largely associated.

Not long ago, Geoffrey Martinez, 39, of Compton, came across two tourists visiting from the Netherlands who wanted to see the city they knew from references in the Grand Theft Auto video game.

They wound up at the independent coffee house that Martinez recently opened in Compton.

“When they were there, they were shocked,” says Martinez. “This is not what we thought we would see,’” he envisions them thinking.

Martinez opened Patria — which in English translates to “homeland” — in May, after years of roasting coffee from his Compton garage. It’s thought to be the first independent coffee house in the city. Martinez says he would often have to drive out of Compton for a decent coffeehouse experience and would think, “Why can’t we have one in our city?”

“I waited years for someone to do it and I realized no one was doing it,” he says.

“It becomes a quality of life (issue) where we lack destinations or communal spaces where we could walk or ride our bicycles to,” he says.

Martinez already had a location in mind — a 950-square-foot space he would often pass by on his way to work. It’s in a small shopping strip on Alameda Street, next to a hair salon and near a park. Martinez liked that it was close to homes and green spaces.

He created a crowdfunding page on Indiegogo and raised more than $14,000 to help open up shop. He also took out small business loans, received private donations, and used earnings from selling the coffee he would roast. It cost him about $75,000 to open the coffee shop, which included getting plumbing and electrical work done along with other necessary permits.

Opening the coffeehouse in Compton was a process, Martinez says.

The space never had a certificate of occupancy, Martinez says. He had to make the necessary improvements to bring it up to certain building codes and California energy efficiency standards.

Martinez envisioned getting local contractors who would hire employees typically shut out of the labor market. It was tougher than he thought. He found there was a shortage of licensed contractors in the city, and other contractors he sought from other cities wouldn’t follow through once learning the project was taking place in Compton.

“There’s a stigma,” he says.

About three months in, Patria has six employees. Martinez says he was intentional about hiring people of color. Most of the people who walk into Patria are from the community or nearby cities, he says.

“I wanted to hire people who look like us in the community,” Martinez explains.

Martinez also started an apprenticeship type program teaching baristas how to operate an espresso machine and other techniques. To Martinez, it’s important that the people of Compton get a quality cup of coffee.

“That’s part of giving people a service with dignity, not just treating them nicely but bringing quality product,” he says.

Martinez, who was born in Los Angeles, spent his childhood living in his mother’s native Guatemala. His single mother, who in the 1970s emigrated from Guatemala to the U.S., had Martinez and his younger brother live with his grandmother for some time. They eventually reunited with their mother in the U.S. once she became a legal permanent resident, after being granted amnesty under the 1986 immigration reform legislation.

They settled in South Los Angeles, with Martinez living in different cities across L.A. as an adult before buying a home in Compton in 2010, after he got married.

It was his childhood in the rural coastal region of Escuintla that Martinez learned about coffee in its fruit form while playing at his best friend’s backyard in Guatemala. He remembers how important freshwater sources were for the campesinos (farmers) and their families who live in the countryside where coffee is grown.

That’s why Martinez and his shop specialize in serving organic coffee. He gets their coffee from a distributor in Oakland.

“Organic coffee is harder to source,” he says. “I feel that it’s in line with some of the values we’re trying to practice.”

To Martinez, the coffeehouse is not meant to be a profit-making source. He says he breaks even operating Patria. His source of income comes from the coffee he roasts and sells.

Instead, Martinez says, he wants to facilitate community enrichment. Patria recently raised money for a nonprofit helping the people of Guatemala after a deadly volcano explosion. Students and professors from nearly public colleges are among his customer base. Martinez is also seeking to make connections with artists and authors.

But there are also people in the city falling on hard times, living out of their cars in parking lots. If they come into Patria, they can use their restroom, get a cup of water or ice, or even coffee if they have extra, Martinez says. He also keeps coffee drink prices affordable, between $2.30 and $4.50.

“We try to treat everyone with the same respect no matter age, appearance … That’s one of our values to treat everyone with dignity,” he says.


Rent Strike Wave Comes to Highland Park in Los Angeles

Avenue 64 Apartments, where tenants are currently on a rent-strike to protest living conditions and exorbitant rent hikes. (Photo by Alejandra Molina)

For more than a year, Gerardo Urbina and his family have had to place a bin in the middle of the bathroom floor to absorb water dripping from the upstairs apartment.

They’ve had to kill centipede-like bugs that emerge below the bathroom sink, observe rats darting from the apartment complex dumpster, and withstand the smell of gas that permeates their home while they use the kitchen stove.

These are all issues Urbina, 44, and his family has been dealing with for months as other empty units in their complex were renovated under new ownership. Upgrades haven’t been made to units already occupied by tenants.

That’s why Urbina was taken aback when in March he received notice that rent for his two-bedroom apartment would be raised from $1,160 to $1,860. He found out he wasn’t the only one. Tenants living there between five and 20 years were informed their rents were going up by $500-$700 per year, the L.A. Tenants Union says.

Now, Urbina and eight other families, are among the latest group of Los Angeles tenants who are refusing to pay rent as a form of protest. Led by the L.A. Tenants Union, tenants organized a rent strike until their landowner negotiates what they describe as fair leases and addresses the habitability issues in the building. July is their first month on strike.

Rent strikes are emerging across Los Angeles and across the country as the price to live in cities continues to rise. More than a handful of rent strikes are occurring in neighborhoods across Los Angeles alone. Many renters say they’ve been inspired by a group of mariachis living near Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights who successfully reached an agreement with the building’s owner to remain in place after going on rent strike. As of now, median rents in Los Angeles stand at $1,360 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,750 for a two-bedroom, according to a report from Apartment List.

“It’s a lot of stress,” Urbina says.

He says his 11-year-old son has asked him, “Are we going to live in the street? … Are we still going to have a home?

Urbina and the other tenants — who are mostly working-class Latinx households — live in a 24-unit building in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. The complex is now owned by Avenue 64 Apartments LLC, which is listed as having the same address as the Silicon Valley-based Interstate Equities Corporation, the company that sent Urbina the rent increase notice. Online real estate records show the building was sold for $6.7 million in late September 2017.

Soon after, the company made superficial renovations to the complex, repainting the building’s façade and replacing the carpeting and cupboards of all the non-occupied units, the L.A. Tenants Union said.

Next City reached out to Interstate Equities Corporation but did not hear back from the company.

From the outside, the building on Avenue 64 now mirrors the assortment of flipped homes (houses that are purchased, renovated and resold for profit) across Highland Park. What used to be a white structure is now a gray building with colorful orange doors and minimalistic fonts. This design pattern has been referred to as the “Ikea-fying” of Los Angeles.

The renovated units are listed at monthly rents of $1,699 for a one-bedroom and $2,250 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Highland Park is a largely Latino community that’s been described as one of the most gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhoods. Vogue in 2017 published an insider’s guide to Highland Park, “where elote vendors sit at curbs across from record stores.” Famed chef Nancy Silverton recently opened a pizzeria in Highland Park.

The way the L.A. Tenants Union sees it, the Silicon Valley corporation is “invading” a community of largely low-income Latino renters by treating their housing “as assets to bring profit to their shareholders rather than recognizing them as homes,” says Julian Smith-Newman with the L.A. Tenants Union.

The rent strike is a “pretty drastic, strong, and courageous step,” Smith-Newman says. The Northeast Local chapter of the L.A. Tenants Union helped the renters form an association, which newer tenants of the building have also joined. Tenants were then encouraged to post fliers on their windows to protest rent hikes and living conditions in the complex.

“Greedy Owner = Displaced families and children” one poster reads, and “STOP PRICING US OUT OF OUR HOMES!!!” another one declares.

Attempts have been made to negotiate, but the corporation has continued to refuse, Smith-Newman says. Additionally, the apartment complex does not fall under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which only pertains to units built before October 1978. This November, California residents will vote on a ballot that would expand rent-control options for cities across the state.

The rent strike, at this point, is the only tool that remains available to them, the L.A. Tenants Union says.

“It feels worse than ever to live here,” says Rosemary, a tenant who lives there with her elementary school-aged daughter. (She requested to withhold her last name for privacy.) “A lot of my friends here, they’ve had to say goodbye to a lot of people who have been priced out of the community.

“Highland Park, we’ve been hit so hard,” Rosemary says. “We really need a win for the people here.”

As for Urbina, who works as a dishwasher, he’s the main provider of his home and can’t imagine affording to live elsewhere. He has lived in that complex for 20 years with his partner and three children.

“My kids have their lives here, their friends and their schools,” Urbina says. “They don’t know any other place. They’ve lived here all their lives … I don’t know where we’d end up if we leave.”


Who Do You Imagine When You Imagine Biking in Cities

First held in 2010, CicLAvia has become an annual event in Los Angeles, attracting tens of thousands of participants to ride streets closed to cars for a day, and helping build public support for biking policies and programs that take into account bike riders of all demographics. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

José Umberto Barranco was a 32-year-old Orange County man killed in 2007 by a drunk driver who struck him as he was riding his bicycle home from work at a Denny’s in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

He was one of many working-class people, day laborers, and Latino immigrants who ride bicycles as a necessity.

That incident helped one Chicana activist from San Juan Capistrano realize bicycle advocates weren’t discussing the needs of riders like Barranco, who in the transportation world are considered as “transit-dependent” or “captive riders.”

“What Jose Umberto Barranco’s death said to me was that this wasn’t just a matter of vehicle choice, bikes versus cars … Race and class hierarchy were mixed up in how we traveled and whose safety mattered,” writes Adonia Lugo in her new book, “Bicycle/Race.”

Lugo, 34, opens her book with a tribute to Barranco, but much of what follows is her own journey of coming to terms with race and class identity as she navigates biking advocacy and racial justice spaces. Neither side, she found, was guaranteed to be open to the other.

Lugo’s biking activism began in Los Angeles, the city that taught her about being Mexican-American. The term ‘Chicana,’ was not one she heard growing up in a Latino enclave of mostly first-generation immigrants in Orange County’s San Juan Capistrano, Lugo tells Next City in an interview.

Lugo, who has a Mexican father and a white mother, became a bicycle rider after moving to Portland, Ore., for her undergraduate studies. She came back to Southern California and lived in the L.A. area while attending graduate school at the University of California Irvine. On bicycle, Lugo has traveled across Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, and Bogotá, Colombia, to conduct research.

The way Lugo came to see it, bicycle culture was focused on people who opted to be “car-free,” meaning those who could afford to drive but chose not to. Discussions centered around attracting new riders and funding for new bike lanes and public space that would, in turn, increase a community’s property values. It was about trendy urban design, she says.

Funding for bike lanes wasn’t the answer she was looking for. What was needed on the street level were bike crews at high schools and stipends for those repairing bikes for kids in the neighborhoods — human infrastructure around biking. Also, she makes a case that poor people should get compensated for using bicycles “and being part of the growing network through which more sustainable transportation cultures could flow.”

As Lugo immersed herself in the biking scene in L.A., she began envisioning an open-streets event in the city, inspired by the “ciclovía” (bike path) culture of Bogotá, where major thoroughfares are closed to car traffic on Sundays.

It was a process that took years getting buy-in from local transportation and elected officials. What helped jumpstart the event, Lugo says, was an injury then-L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa suffered while bicycling on a congested Venice Boulevard. A motorist pulled out in front of the mayor who hit the brakes and fell off his bike. He fractured his elbow.

For Lugo, the event, dubbed CicLAvia, was a way to create a shared space for both the so-called “captive” bicycle riders and those who chose to be car-free. “I wanted to provoke dialogue on the wiggle room between official infrastructure and everyday street life,” she writes in her book. “What seemed genius to me about bringing the ciclovía to L.A. was that it would show who was already there on our streets.”

The first CicLAvia event was held in 2010, and as Lugo recalls, about 40,000 people rode bikes through historically Chicano Boyle Heights in East L.A., through Little Tokyo and Downtown L.A., into Central American neighborhood of MacArthur Park, and Koreatown, and ending in East Hollywood’s bicycle district, a hub for the cycling community in central Los Angeles. Now an annual event, organizers say it has led to the creation of more than 140 miles of open streets across the L.A. area.

Lugo also writes in her book about her time as managing an equity initiative for the Washington, D.C.-based League of American Bicyclists, hoping to build a “multiracial movement” within the bicycle advocacy world.

“I was worried because I was a Chicana anthropologist focused on human infrastructure, not a white person with a planning degree ready to fight for bike lanes,” she writes.

Her worry turned out to be warranted. Seeking to make connections in the D.C. equity landscape, she attended events related to racial and environmental justice to find collaboration opportunities.


“But when I chatted with other kinds of advocates, what I heard was that they saw bicycling as something for white men, not a cause for people of color,” she writes. “The image of the white entitled cyclist … obscured the reality of bicycling as a survival strategy for the same communities of concern that were the focus of transportation and environment justice”

Meanwhile, in her workplace at the League of American Bicyclists, Lugo faced scrutiny in the tone she used when talking about racial equity. Later, her scope of work changed to focus on Vision Zero, a strategy that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities. Lugo thought this plan problematic given its emphasis on police enforcement of traffic laws.

“The timing for Vision Zero seemed way off,” she writes. “This was right when the Black Lives Matter movement had made racialized police violence into national news.”

Leaving D.C., Lugo returned to L.A., where she now works with the group People for Mobility Justice. She’s also part of The Untokening, a network of people with marginalized identities who work in transportation.

While her work in the bicycle advocacy world has had its difficulties, Lugo says she’s grateful for current discussions taking place now surrounding white supremacy.

“It was socially acceptable for white people to deny that they had been somehow complicit in racism,” she says. “I think it’s really neat that, as difficult as my work felt a few years ago, this is a time when our country is working on having those same conversations.”


Competing Public Visions over Large Vacant Lot in South Los Angeles

Plans have been made for a mixed-use development, that includes some retail and a boarding school for the county’s child welfare and criminal justice systems, to occupy this 4-acre site on the corner of South Vermont and Manchester Avenues in Los Angeles. (Photo by Alejandra Molina)

In the 20 years Rosalind Farr has been living in South Los Angeles, she has seen investments and improvements materialize in surrounding cities while her own neighborhood remains the same, she says.

“This community has been like this since the riots,” Farr says.

Farr would like to see more grocery stores, restaurants and retail fill abandoned lots that have been vacant since the 1992 riots erupted in protest of four police officers being acquitted in the beating of Rodney King. Farr says her community is being left behind while neighboring cities like Inglewood have seen retail development and renovations to The Forum, turning the former home of professional basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers into a concert venue. The city is also undergoing construction for a new NFL stadium complex.

Now, one of the largest tracts of vacant land in South L.A. has been the focus of attention as residents and county leaders ponder the role it can serve to revitalize the community.

Plans have been made for a mixed-use development, with 180 affordable apartments, a public boarding school for the county’s child welfare and criminal justice systems, a transit careers training center, open space and 50,000 square feet of retail space, to occupy a 4-acre site on the corner of South Vermont and Manchester avenues.

The county of Los Angeles, through the use of eminent domain — which allows for privately-owned land to be seized for public projects — was in April granted control of the site that housed a swap meet (also called a flea market) before it burned down during the riots. In December, the county sued to acquire the property from developer Eli Sasson, who had left it largely vacant for 26 years. Sasson’s firm, Sassony Group, planned to build a shopping mall dubbed the Vermont Entertainment Village, but delays emerged due to a lengthy process in buying the necessary parcels to build the project, Sassony Group representatives have said.

The county set aside $15.7 million for acquisition of the site as part of the eminent domain transaction — so Sassony Group isn’t at a complete loss.

“This project is about economic development — the kind of sustainable, ongoing investment this community has long deserved,” County Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area, has said.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said that with the land acquisition “revitalization is finally on the way.”

On a recent weekend, residents went to the vacant site for a community meeting aimed to gather insight about the kind of businesses that should move into the lot. Many people chose a small grocery store and a job training center, the county says.

“In the last month, I’ve seen more action on this site than I have since I was a child,” said Moises Rosales, president of the Southeast Neighborhood Association. “I’m hoping it’s going to be a catalyst for all of Vermont.”

Not everyone is happy about these proposals, however, including Farr.

At a meeting Wednesday, July 11, more than 50 gathered at Community Coalition, a nonprofit space a few blocks away from the vacant lot.

Farr and other residents envisioned a more retail-oriented use of the land and expressed concern over the lack of resident input on whether the school would be the best choice. They expressed fears their community could be defined by housing and a school with foster kids that could potentially bring disciplinary issues to a neighborhood that has seen its share of violence.

The way Farr sees it, why should she and her neighbors have to venture to other communities like Inglewood to do their shopping?

“We want a Starbucks in our area. We want a decent grocery store that sells decent food,” Farr says. “Why should we have to leave out of our community to drive down to Crenshaw and Century to patronize that community?”

County representatives say the land must serve as public use because it was acquired through eminent domain. The school and housing units would not only fulfill that use, but also address the needs of the community, they say.

Sassony representatives have criticized the county’s move, saying it came came less than a month after the company finally secured the remaining site parcels. Sassony officials could not be reached for comment, but in a Los Angeles Business Journal story said the county’s decision “might have more to do with the proximity to Inglewood’s new stadium complex.”

To Farr, when people get off the 110 Freeway, “They’re going to fly right through ‘the ghetto’ to get to Inglewood, to get to The Forum, to get to those stadiums and we’re still missing money right here on this end.”

“We deserve to have revenue come back here, too,” she says.


Texas Cities Exploring Creative Ways to Protect Residents from Deportation

In this Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, Georgia Cordova of El Paso, Texas, center, joins other protesters as they take part in a rally to support the rights of immigrants and oppose a border wall and support sanctuary cities at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

After a federal appeals court largely upheld the Texas ban on so-called sanctuary cities, Austin City Councilman Gregorio Casar and other city leaders quickly realized they had to get creative in order to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation.​

Texas Senate Bill 4, commonly referred to as the “show me your papers” law, allows police officers to check immigration status of those they arrest. The law has faced several legal challenges, but remains in effect.

“We recognized that we need to go beyond the normal idea of a sanctuary city in Texas,” Casar says.

In Austin, this has emerged in a set of recent city council resolutions that address racial disparities in law enforcement arrests and that target the way police officers interact with the immigrant community.

Specifically, Austin City Council in mid-June gave unanimous approval for the city manager to work with Austin police to end what’s referred to as discretionary arrests, which occur when an officer decides to arrest a person for an offense that could have been handled by issuing a citation. The other policy calls for police officers to make sure that, if they ask anyone about their immigration status, they also inform them of their have a constitutional right to refuse to answer the question.

This pair of resolutions has designated Austin as a “Freedom City,” which the American Civil Liberties Union describes as cities that not only push back against the Trump Administration’s deportation policies, but also take steps to protect others who may be unjustly targeted by the administration’s policies.

In Austin, this approach is an intersectional one that blends the concerns of organizers advocating for immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter, Casar said.

“This is really part of a national push to go beyond the sanctuary cities concept … (It) includes people that are part of the immigrant rights movement and the movement for black lives coming together against criminal justice reform,” Casar says.

Across Texas, the Freedom City movement is picking up steam as Dallas city officials are exploring a similar approach. El Paso has also reportedly been looking into these policies.

Sarah Johnson, director for Local Progress — a national network of elected officials — says she is seeing momentum for these kind of policies.

“There is an interest from all of our members in Texas and in other states across the country in really pursuing the strongest possible policies to protect immigrants at this time,” Johnson says.

Senate Bill 4, even before it took effect, has already negatively impacted the quality of life of immigrants across the state, officials say.

“[Dallas residents] are frightened out of their minds,” says Dallas Councilman Philip Kingston who is exploring similar policies in his city. “We can show that domestic violence complaints are way down. We can show that overall calls to police are down.”

“We have a definite reduction in the reporting of crime and the cooperation with police,” he says.

Sophie Torres, with the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said this heightened fear of law enforcement has impacted the regular day-to-day routines of immigrants in Texas.

“It’s that fear that Senate Bill 4 has brought on into the undocumented community that has affected the way they interact in the economy,” Torres says.

Under Senate Bill 4, it was estimated that Texas was expected to lose about $220 million in state and local taxes and roughly $5 billion in gross domestic product, according to data compiled by the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a group made up of dozens of state-based immigrant and civil rights groups.

“They (immigrants) don’t want to be out as much,” Torres says. “They don’t want to go out to their local restaurant, convenience stores … because there is this heightened security and concern that if they do, they might get stopped. They might get asked for their papers.”

Since 2017, Casar has been part of an organizing effort to ensure a statewide legal challenge against the law. Although a federal appeals court in March largely upheld the law, Casar said the court process taught him cities still have a say over how local police communicate with immigrants.

“While the state acknowledged that police officers have to be allowed to say, ‘show me your papers,’ the state of Texas conceded that police officers cannot arrest someone for refusing proof of citizenship,” Casar says.

“There were openings created by those legal proceedings to allow us to put together a package like this,” he says.

And, while the court proceedings were in motion, Casar says the city was also “part of a broader conversation about police reform and criminal justice.”

In 2017, black and Latino residents in Austin made up about 75 percent of those discretionary arrested for driving with an invalid license, despite comprising less than 45 percent of the city’s population, according to data presented by the city.

Next City reached out to Austin police for comment but did not hear back. However, Ken Casaday, who heads the Austin Police Association, told the Los Angeles Times that although the police union was in support of reducing arrests, misleading data was presented to gather support for the resolutions.

To Casar, these resolutions were a way to address police reform and deportation in one package.

“Oftentimes those unnecessary arrests and non-violent misdemeanors could result with somebody winding up in the jail and being deported,” Casar says.

Casar said both policies should be fully implemented by Sept. 1. In Dallas, Kingston expects such resolutions to be presented to the council toward the beginning of fall.

The way Kingston sees it, the policy targeting police interaction with immigrants, “is a last ditch attempt to protect the rights of people who are here either seeking asylum, or working toward a long-term permanent residency.”


Filling in the ‘Missing-Middle Skills’ Jobs Gap in Chicago

The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new two-year college of Instituto del Progreso Latino. (Credit: Instituto del Progreso Latino)

Edna Lopez has seen her mother, grandmother, and aunt suffer from cancer and understands the importance of feeling at ease in hospital settings. She’s also a Spanish-speaking Latina who has noticed concerns lost in translation due to language barriers between patients and hospital staff.

That’s why she wants to be a nurse.

“It’s just being able to care and connect … and help a person feel more human and independent,” Lopez says.

Lopez will be among the first cohort of nursing students to attend the new Instituto College, a two-year school that is a product of the nonprofit Instituto del Progreso Latino. Based in the west side Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, the nonprofit has been known for offering workforce development and career pathway programs to Latinos and others in the South, Southwest and West sides of Chicago.

Edna Lopez. (Credit: Instituto del Progreso Latino)

Classes will be held in the evening at Instituto’s existing building that’s also used as a charter school in the daytime.

The two-year college, which is expected to begin classes in late August, will offer associate degrees to prepare students in what’s described as “middle-skill jobs” that are in high demand. It’s starting with a degree in nursing this fall.

“Middle-skills” jobs are those that demand further schooling and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree. These jobs have historically served as the springboard into the middle class, with positions like nursing and sales assistants closely tied to “ladders of progression,” as the Harvard Business School notes in the 2014 report “Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills.”

“Over the past three decades, however, the United States steadily lost its capability to create and sustain enough jobs to support the realization of the American dream for millions of workers,” says the Harvard report.

That is where Instituto has worked to fill the gap. The college is a natural evolution of the organization, says Karina Ayala-Bermejo, president and chief executive officer of Instituto del Progreso Latino. For example, the organization’s Carreras en Salud program, has for more than a decade, trained low-income, low-English proficient learners for employment in nursing.

“We are responding to the needs of our students, the needs of employers,” says Ayala-Bermejo. “We know that in order to impact a community and have economic mobility that we really have to have in-demand fields that pay a well-living sustainable wage.”

To Ayala-Bermejo, training students in these fields can “start breaking that cycle of poverty.”

And, according to a 2015 JPMorgan Chase report, Chicago employers have difficulty filling certain middle-skill positions in the healthcare industry that could pay up to $22.16 per hour.

In Chicago, where the Illinois Center for Nursing also estimates a shortage of 21,000 nurses by 2020, opening this school makes sense, Ayala-Bermejo said.

The school will serve 24 students in its first semester with the goal of graduating 500 in the first five years. Aside from nursing, the college has also been approved for five other areas: healthcare leadership; manufacturing management and supervision; production and operation; networking technology; and organizational leadership. It will also offer students financial coaching and employment counseling.

There will be two full-time nursing instructors and potentially three part-time nursing faculty. Instituto College is also partnering with Mount Sinai Medical Center and Norwegian American Hospital to offer clinicals.

A $500,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase will be used as seed money to fully fund tuition for the first round of students, pay for the instructors, and help cover any other operational costs. Some renovations will also be made to the existing building. It’s part of a $40 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase to invest in underserved areas of Chicago.

The federal financial aid process is not yet available to the college. It will be applicable once the first round of students goes through the program, according to Instituto del Progreso Latino.

To Dr. Yvonne Lau, dean of academics and career pathways at Instituto del Progreso Latino, opening the school is all about responding to the needs of their students.

“What we feel we’re doing by opening the college, is really strengthening the pipeline from high school to now community college,” Lau says.

Ayala-Bermejo adds that it’s important to recognize that their “non-traditional students” want to have a pathway that immediately provides a significant change to their income.

“We believe a four-year university degree is not necessary to make those important economic mobility shifts that are necessary to happen, sooner rather than later,” she says.


Public Banking Will Be on the Ballot in L.A. this Fall

Public Bank LA advocates at Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday, June 26, when the city council voted to place a public bank measure on the ballot. (Courtesy of Public Bank LA)

The Los Angeles City Council is moving forward with a proposed ballot measure that would ask voters this fall whether they want to create a publicly owned bank.

In a unanimous vote, council members on Tuesday, June 26, gave the go-ahead to begin the process of adding a measure on the November 2018 ballot that would amend city charter in order to create a city-owned bank. The city’s code currently prohibits it from entering into a “purely commercial venture,” unless it’s approved by voters.

To advocates, this move is a historic one that can set the tone for other public banking movements happening across the nation.

“The outcome will reflect the pulse of the national movement,” says Trinity Tran with the Public Bank LA campaign.

In New York City, dozens of residents and community organizers in early June gathered in front of the New York Stock Exchange to launch the Public Bank NYC Coalition, a group calling for the creation of a New York City-owned bank. Oakland and San Francisco are exploring the idea. New Jersey and Michigan are also considering setting up state-owned banks.

A city- or state-owned bank would, for example, hold tax dollars and other fees or income for local or state governments. The Bank of North Dakota, created in 1919, holds all state government deposits and some local government deposits. Instead of competing with other banks for loans, it primarily makes participation loans — lending alongside other banks that don’t have the cash on hand to meet the credit needs of their clients. The model has allowed North Dakota to strengthen its local banks, resulting in having the highest number of banks per capita than any other state, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“We would have more autonomy and more say in how our city resources are invested. San Francisco is one of the hottest real estate markets in the world but we’ve got an affordability crisis. Why are we not investing our dollars to solve that?” San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Malia Cohen told Next City. “What I’m also envisioning is how a municipal bank could better support small businesses, financing small businesses run by minorities, women, veterans — those who don’t have access to the same level of capital.”

In L.A., the city government has been exploring the creation of a public bank since Council President Herb Wesson spoke of the idea in a July 2017 speech detailing his priorities for his final term. Wesson said municipally owned banks can help develop affordable housing and handle the money flowing from the newly legal recreational marijuana market.

It has quickly picked up momentum with city officials and Public Bank LA advocates working hand-in-hand.

The Public Bank LA campaign is part of part of Revolution LA, the organization that also ran Divest LA, which pressured the city to stop doing business with Wells Fargo, reported to hold more than $40 million in securities for the city. Divest LA urged Los Angeles city elected officials to divorce the city from Wells Fargo over the bank’s phony accounts scandal and support of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In April of this year, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party in a resolution supported the creation of state-chartered public banks.

And just this month, Public Bank LA helped launch the California Public Banking Alliance, a coalition of organizers in cities across the state including Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and Santa Barbara.

L.A. advocates envision a city-owned bank that would accept city deposits and also manage the purchasing needs the city requires. It would make loans to the city and to other sectors of the local economy, as well as investments in community banks or even credit unions. The Bank of North Dakota, until recently the only state-owned bank in the U.S., holds around $249 million in shares of local banks around that state.

However, obstacles remain for the city of L.A.

A city report in February listed a number of challenges Los Angeles would have to overcome in order to create a public bank. A big hurdle would be coming up with a substantial amount of capital to start a bank, the report said. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, for example, estimated that a public bank for the State of Massachusetts would need $3.6 billion in start-up capital, according to the report.

For now, Public Bank LA will be focusing on educating voters on the issue and “galvanizing support from stakeholders in the community, including grassroots groups, students, community leaders, and labor,” Tran says. “We need to mobilize for a critical mass of support, to ensure a majority win in November.”


Women of Color Creating Spaces for Women of Color in the Food Industry

Valeria Velazquez Duenas, Jocelyn Ramirez, and Claudia Serrato founded Across Our Kitchen Tables to help connect women of color in the food industry. (Photo by Rudy Espinoza)

With a background in animation, Christiana Cunanan saw the value in storytelling through camera work, stop-motion and the editing process.

Being around the creative film process, she recognized the importance of documenting her own Filipino heritage. But she didn’t do it through film; instead, she did so with food.

Cunanan first explored using sweet Filipino flavors in the form of doughnuts but it wasn’t the right fit. She focused on making vegan ice cream, using fruits her grandfather introduced to her, like Calamansi, a cross between a mandarin and lime that grows in the Philippines.

She dove into the food world without any kind of formal training or experience. She sought mentors, reaching out to more than 40 chefs and food creatives in and outside Los Angeles, some whom she read about in the media. She didn’t hear back from most of them. Weeks later, only two replied. She was disheartened.

“I couldn’t find a community within the food space. I’m very much the kind that if you are excited and love something, you should share it and not become territorial,” says Cunanan, 26, of Pasadena.

In recent years, food businesses have been thriving so much they’ve been seen by some as “a new path to prosperity for kids of immigrants.” Women of color, however, are often left out of the industry, making it hard for food creatives like Cunanan to find a community on whom they can rely. Women of color are underrepresented up and down the food industry pipeline, from entry-level to chief executive roles, according to “Women in the food industry” a 2017 report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

In 2017, women of color made up only 14 percent of entry-level positions and only 3 percent of chief executive roles in the food industry, the report found. In comparison, white men made up 37 percent of entry-level positions and 70 percent of chief executive roles.

A 2017 Eater article highlighted the disparity in the number of women chefs featured in prominent media, in food industry conferences, and in food festivals across the nation. At the Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival, for example, there had been no progress since 2013 in the number of women chefs who took part in the event, according to the article. Women made up about 17 percent of chefs featured at the festival in 2013. That number remained relatively unchanged four years later in 2017.

The situation seems dire, but networks and coalitions of women in the industry are banding together to combat the inequality across the nation.

Bestselling cookbook author Julia Turshen this year launched Equity at the Table, a searchable directory of women chefs, caterers, recipe writes, and food event producers. The Parabere Forum was founded in 2015 and features a database listing more than 5,000 women chefs and sommelières, female food producers, scientists, anthropologists, and innovators across the world.

And in Los Angeles, a women-of-color led group known as Across Our Kitchen Tables is helping women of color in the food industry connect and exchange ideas with one another. The group is funded through grants, hosting skill shares about recipe development, food photography, and plating. They’ve held workshops on branding, marketing, and social media.

Valeria Velazquez Duenas, a co-founder of Across Our Kitchen Tables, said the food world relies too heavily on celebrity culture.

“Who is highlighted in that world and what we focus our attention on (is) sort of this celebrity chef culture or the so-called foodie culture,” says Duenas, who created her own private chef and catering project Cocina House. “We’re aiming to uplift the work of women of color in all ranges.”

Duenas said the group wants to help women of color — who may not have entered the industry with previous fine dining experience — figure out what segment of the industry they want to be involved in, whether it’s hosting culturally-based food workshops, writing a recipe book, or opening a brick-and-mortar or a catering business.

“It doesn’t have to look just like one model,” Duenas says.

For Jocelyn Ramirez, another co-founder and a vegan chef, opening her own restaurant was always the goal. She worked on a business plan for a year to help sustain herself when she left her full-time job in education. She named her plant food-based venture Todo Verde and started off small by making smoothies and aguas frescas at farmers markets. The first year was about becoming visible. Her brand took off and she expanded to catering with full dishes like mushroom mole, jackfruit fajitas, and palm ceviche.

There were obstacles starting off, like having enough collateral to secure a loan or knowing where to go for insurance. Ramirez took up consulting work to make ends meet at the beginning.

Now, Todo Verde, a women-led business, is featured in prominent food markets like Smorgasburg and the Los Angeles Times Night Market.

Ramirez also launched a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of raising $50,000 to open a Todo Verde brick-and-mortar in a part of L.A. that doesn’t have many healthy food options.

To Ramirez, these are all experiences she will share with the Across Our Kitchen Tables network.

“I have something to offer to the group,” she said. “We all have something valuable to bring to the table.”

For Cunanan, becoming involved with the group has helped combat the feeling of illegitimacy in a male-dominated space. Her ice cream business, Cheeri Cheeri, has taken off in the form of pop-up events in cafes in Los Angeles. She doesn’t want to open an ice cream shop but plans on distributing her flavors worldwide.

Now, feels she has a community behind her.

“I no longer have to be fearful if I was enough in terms of having enough coverage in the press or social media followers, none of that mattered anymore,” Cunanan says. “I’m in a space and I’m creating in that space.”


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