Merli Albizures grabbed a megaphone at the end of April, looked at the more than 80 people in front of her at Biancini Park in Bell and felt a shake of déjà vu.
In 2010, she joined other residents of the small, working-class town to revolt against the officials and politicians who were bleeding the city’s coffers. There were rallies, speeches and a reminder that ousted most of the city council members and brought stability and a sense of hope for better days.
The scandal made community activists across the country believe they too had a chance to take down entrenched politicians. Albizures remains proud of what she and her neighbors did back then – which is why she joined them on a blustery afternoon to start all over again.
“2010 continues,” the 46-year-old Guatemalan immigrant told me, turning on the megaphone and taking a breath. “¡El pueblo primero!Albizures yelled, as the crowd cheered. “¡El pueblo manda, señores! “
People first. The people rule, ladies and gentlemen.
The residents growl at Bell again. This time, however, they say the tables are turned compared to ten years ago. They claim that city officials paint them as a threat to Bell’s financial future.
The Bell and Florence Village mobile home parks are involved, two city-owned properties with 259 owner-occupied units occupying leased space. Bell bought them in 1995 to try to increase the supply of affordable housing. Now the city’s leaders are looking for a way out.
At a December city council meeting held in Zoom two days before Christmas, a staff report offered a grim assessment of the situation. The city was still paying a $ 20.8 million bond it made for mobile home parks in 2005. The shutdown of redevelopment agencies in California in 2012 permanently hampered the city’s finances, which shrank. deteriorated last year due to COVID-19. More and more residents of the mobile park are not paying their rent, and City Atty. David Aleshire told board members he doubted they would ever do so because they were “very aggressive” in enforcing the code in the past.
The report offered three options, according to a PowerPoint presentation: Immerse yourself in the city’s reserves to save mobile home parks, but put its “ability to provide its 39,000 residents with greater peril.” Increase rents – they currently range from $ 330 to $ 800 per month – by 135%, although California law currently only allows a 5% annual increase. Fully sell mobile home parks.
The city council is leaning towards the latter option, but has not yet made a final decision.
“The Council is sensitive to the concerns of residents and we want to find a long-term solution that offers protection to residents,” whatever the future, Council member Ali Saleh said via email. It was part of the reform slate that came into operation. “We hope residents understand that this is a process and that they have a role to play in the process if they choose to participate.
They participate – with protests.
They created mind-blowing memes on social media and blasted Saleh and his colleagues at board meetings. To raise funds for the poorest among them, rallies sold t-shirts, masks and even churros.
“None of us have a clue of what’s to come,” said Antonio Robles, 53. He wore a t-shirt with the name and logo of “The New Dawn of Bell City,” a group formed by mobile home residents to fight for their trailers and even explore a park purchase offer. “To start over? Where would we go?
“How come they want to throw us away like garbage?” said Miriam Arista, 43, who has lived in the village of Florence for over 20 years. “[Councilmembers] have their own home – what about us?
“They want to send us at the fregada [to hell]Said Enrique Perez Gonzalez, 66, who showed up to the rally while on chemotherapy. “That they are not bad like those of 2010.”
Albizures, accompanied by a son and a daughter, traded the megaphone with other activists. She has lived in the Bell Mobile Home Park for 23 years. “I like to do justice,” she said, “and I want them to treat us fairly.”
Activists gathered around 1 p.m. at the corner of Gage and Atlantic avenues to plan an afternoon of popular theater. A rally at the busy intersection. Walk down Gage for about a mile to the Bell Mobile Home Gardens. And the grand finale: a picnic with speeches, eloterosand a punk band suitable for children.
Participants retouched canvas banners that read “Bell Not 4 Sale”, “Dare to Struggle Dare to Win” and “Antes Muertxs Que Vendidxs(“Better dead than a sale”). They handed out pamphlets with information and suggested chants – the smartest was “No More SELAouts,” a play about the acronym of Southeast Los Angeles.
“This city council is using the fact that it is not the one in 2010 to do what it wants,” said Pepe Perez of SELA Chisme, a coalition of anti-gentrification activists. “That’s why people are there today. We know our history. “
“It’s so stupid to fire us,” said Isaac Albizures, Merli’s 20-year-old son. “Dude, even the homeowners aren’t safe in this town anymore.”
After a few speeches and a short occupation of every street corner, the rallyers took control of the eastbound lane of Gage and made their way to the Bell mobile home park. Even though they tied up traffic for about half an hour, no commuter seemed to care. Many honked in support, as if to let muscle memory take over.
The walk ended at the entrance to the Bell Mobile Home Park, an oasis of trees and lawns amid a row of used car dealerships and medical clinics. The mansions looked worn but neat. Plants hung from the porches. The children ran everywhere.
Rallies felt right here when two police cars pulled up with flashing lights. Three officers came out and didn’t flinch as the protesters shouted “Pigs Go Home!” and other less polite things. One of them made a quick turn down the aisle, told Albizures to make sure no one was crossing the street for their own safety, got into his car, then took off. This officer returned 15 minutes later, now armed with a smartphone with which he silently filmed the crowd.
The atmosphere has become even hotter than before. Some activists blocked his view with a banner; others slapped the trunk and the side of the car as it sped away. Suddenly, 82-year-old Hilda Rodriguez chased her until she slowed down. She shouted something at the officer, offered him the sign of the cross, then gave a kiss.
I asked what she told him. “I’m a Republican, so I think protesters can be nicer to the police,” she said in Cuban-accented Spanish. “But I told the police to let them protest!” Let them be. I don’t live here, but I can’t imagine how I would feel if I was told I had to leave my house.
She thinks about it a bit. “Yeah, I would be angry too.”