Boyle Heights Councilman Responds To Gentrification Protests
In response to growing gentrification battles in Boyle Heights, most recently around the new Weird Wave coffee shop on East Cesar Chavez Avenue, City Councilmember José Huizar has posted a statement deeming "race-based targeting or vandalism of any kind" as "completely unacceptable." In a statement, he goes into detail about the rise in anti-gentrification protest efforts in Boyle Heights levied against new businesses and art galleries in the area and claims his constituents must redirect their activism towards what he deems as "tangible solutions."
Huizar says that when activism involves "destroying property, or violence of any kind, or targeting people solely based on race," it "goes against everything Boyle Heights stands for." He expresses solidarity for the anti-gentrifiers and for other targets of racism, like sidewalk vendor Benjamin Ramirez whose elote cart was knocked down in a viral video, but wants to focus the efforts on policies that focus directly on promoting affordable and equitable housing in the neighborhood. This includes providing information on tenants' rights and establishing a Housing Department office at the Boyle Heights City Hall.
Boyle Heights has a history of anti-gentrification activism, and it has ramped up in recent months with the closure of PSSST Gallery back in February. Boyle Heights activists often protest galleries, deeming their presence as "artwashing" the neighborhood, and the graffiti and active protesting at PSSST eventually forced the year-old gallery to close. The gallery itself opposed the activists' choice to target their space, claiming it "resulted in the mischaracterization of PSSST as being fundamentally in opposition with the varied intersectional communities we aimed to support."
The most recent battleground for anti-gentrification has been Weird Wave Coffee. The small coffee shop opened last month to immediate protests, with Boyle Heights activists claiming it represents colonization and the start of a gentrification process that could become as extreme as that of the nearby Arts District. A protestor named Gregorio Inés told LA Weekly that a place like Weird Wave is meant to appeal to higher-income clientele when Boyle Heights needs affordable resources like grocery stores and laundromats instead.
When the coffee shop opened, Defend Boyle Heights posted a statement to Facebook saying,
They're not not just there to make a living, but to make a living at the expense of the working class renters and others who have called Boyle Heights their home for generations! [...] Are we against white people? No. But we are against white supremacy, white ignorance, white privilege, and the basic concept of whiteness.
Elizabeth Blaney of Union de Vecinos mentions how Councilman Huizar has made a list of "things he's trying to do to support tenants in the neighborhoods" but they all require going through the City Council process, which could take years. "In the meantime, what is going to happen to thousands of tenants during the years it'll take to get the policies changed?" she asks, adding how Huizar "should be thinking about what he can do now to help the neighborhood."
She adds that "we do not support the vandalism, we do not support the violence," while adding that "people are not understanding the violence of throwing someone out of their homes and taking a home away from them," and how "that's a more aggressive act than breaking a window."
Weird Wave Coffee is owned by John Schwartz, Mario Chavarria, and Jackson Defa, three friends who live in West Adams. When protests first began outside their shop, they told Eater that "[w]e recognize the role a coffee shop plays in a community, both as an advocate for that community but also as a vendor who's role in the local economy is impactful." They keep a small menu, with regular coffee going for $2 (compared to the $3-$5 cups at most coffee shops around the city). Sandwiches hover between $6-$7 and pastries run between $2-$2.50.
Story has been updated with comments from Union de Vecinos.