Los Angeles – On August 12th, 2014, thirty Asian Pacific Islander (API) community leaders met with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti including Chanchanit Martorell, Executive Director of the Thai Community Development Center, as part of the Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Roundtable. In preparation for the meeting, Martorell and the community leaders agreed to present to the Mayor, three issues that they felt were of highest priority, and to request his support for them. The three priority issues were:
1. The impact of transit oriented development on Asian American neighborhoods
2. Sustainable living wage jobs
3. Immigrant rights
On the impact of transit oriented development on Asian American neighborhoods, Remy de la Peza, Staff Attorney for Little Tokyo Service Center, was designated to voice the group’s concerns. Because Los Angeles continues to invest heavily in transit infrastructure, presenting an opportunity to transform into a more connected and greener city, both research and first-hand neighborhood experience has shown that potential benefits of “smart growth” are not automatic, do not flow to existing residents and stakeholders without coordinated and strategic policies and planning.
Many of our neighborhoods experiencing transit investment are seeing substantial increases in market rate housing development and housing costs that are not affordable to existing, lower-income residents who make up the city’s core transit ridership. This trend in housing costs is exacerbated by loss of rent stabilized and at-risk subsidized affordable housing units near transit in the City.
The Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies report released this June was cited as showing that housing is unaffordable to almost half of LA households (the highest rate of unaffordability of any city in the USA). For example, in Little Tokyo, recently developed market rate apartments just began leasing up and their 600 square foot studios are starting at $2,000/month.
Similar to residential displacement that can be triggered by transit expansion, small businesses are also highly vulnerable. Direct displacement occurs as a result of new transit construction or indirect displacement due to lack of business during long construction periods or increases in commercial rents.
The UCLA Study on Transit Oriented Development Business Impacts in Four LA Asian American neighborhoods (Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo & Thai Town) showed the following:
1. Small business growth in Asian American TOD neighborhoods lagged behind overall small business growth in the County
2. Asian business growth in Asian American TOD neighborhoods lagged behind overall Asian business growth in the County
3. Level of real estate activities in Asian American TOD neighborhoods was higher than that for the County
In addition, there is also a layer of cultural displacement in ethnic enclaves and traditional Asian American neighborhoods.
The group asked for a Citywide policy strategy from the Mayor to make transit oriented development more equitable since it is not efficient or effective to fight gentrification neighborhood-by-neighborhood. A citywide policy is needed to focus on ensuring equitable transit oriented development – where housing opportunities remain affordable to existing and lower-income residents who are also transit riders; and where existing small, neighborhood-serving and culturally relevant businesses can remain in place.
The Mayor and his staff can start by looking to examples of existing neighborhood/specific planning efforts that include progressive land use planning and policies addressing issues of equity and displacement in transit areas, such as the Vermont/Western Station Neighborhood Area Plan (2001) for the Metro Redline in East Hollywood as studied and researched in depth by the Thai Community Development Center, the Cornfield Arroyo-Seco Specific Plan (2013) in Chinatown; and to what worked with former redevelopment policies, like affordable housing production and replacement requirements, as well as efforts in the last administration to better coordinate departments within the City and Metro with the community on the issue of equitable TOD, such as the establishment of a Transit Corridors Cabinet.
A Citywide funding strategy was also requested from the Mayor. The Mayor and his staff need to be creative and increase public funding available to address gentrification, including funding for the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (such as setting aside City’s redevelopment boomerang funds) and developing a plan to compete for new State Cap & Trade funding.
On sustainable living wage jobs, Sissy Trinh, Executive Director for Southeast Asian Community Alliance, was designated to voice the group’s concerns. They included the following: –
- Too many of our families are working hard but can’t make ends meet
o The median income in Chinatown is $19,000/year–you can’t raise a family on that!
o Working poverty is very high in our communities—having to work super long hours, or 2 or 3 jobs, degrades the quality of life for our families
- A big reason for this is that many of our community members work in industries where wage theft is the norm
o For example, many Asian immigrants work in the garment industry where they’re getting paid $0.10 a piece which is equivalent to $3.00/hour
o Even as we celebrate the increase in the minimum wage, because of lax enforcement, many workers did and do make less than the minimum.
o Without enforcement of labor laws, workers often do not speak out because they need their jobs, knowing retaliation is the outcome
- Wage theft and lax enforcement hurts the many businesses who want to do the right thing by giving an unfair economic advantage to violators of labor laws
o Employers who cheat feel they can do so with impunity. “There is no overtime [pay] in Koreatown,” said a restaurant manager in July 2014
The Mayor was then asked to support the City of LA Wage Theft Ordinance.
Related to sustainable living wage jobs is the issue of good job opportunities. It was expressed to the Mayor that we also want to work with him on increasing job opportunities and economic mobility strategies for our communities.
We asked the Mayor for the following:
o Create a solid pipeline into sustainable jobs for all low-income communities
o Our organizations are grounded in our communities and can identify greatest needs and specific solutions
- One example is the Metro Construction Careers program – where there is a partnership between Metro, the building trades, and local Worksource Centers to hire residents in South LA
The Mayor was asked to work with us to create a good jobs pipeline like the Metro Construction Careers, possibly with other major public investments such as the LA River, green economy, technology, and small businesses.
On the issue of immigrant rights, Trina Lei Pasumbal, an undocumented youth from Dream Summer and ASPIRE-LA, was designated to speak on our behalf.
The Mayor was thanked for reinstituting the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), which has been a great help to us as well as the new Los Angeles Police Department No Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer holds, the letter that the Mayor sent to President Obama on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals expansion, the discontinuation of the SECURE communities, and the Mayor’s humanitarian response toward the Central American Refugees.
This issue was raised for the following reasons:
- There are 1.3 million undocumented Asian American Pacific Islanders in the U.S., with 400,000 in California and the largest number in Los Angeles — all of whom are directly impacted by the immigration system and the 2 million deportations.
o We conveyed to the Mayor that it is important that with the President’s upcoming announcement that Administrative Relief be as inclusive as possible.
That’s why we are advocating for minimum or no continuous residency requirements, and for any requirements to be as inclusive as possible to ensure a stop to all deportations and greater family reunification.
We emphasized not just relief for the youth but for as many undocumented immigrants as possible. They include parents, family members, and workers, also keeping in mind people who came here by themselves with no family or ties whatsoever, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer community, and people with past convictions.
It was then conveyed that we look forward in working with him and the MOIA on implementing the policy that would include:
- Flyers in many different languages
- Workshops with his office
We see the importance of partnering with the Mayor’s office because of the great fear of coming out of the shadows in the API community.
When community members see the Mayor’s office working alongside our organizations, our community would be more willing to come out to seek help.
The meeting then concluded with the Mayor expressing his appreciation to all of us for bringing forward all of these issues which he indicated are also important to him. He will assign a staff member to work with us on these issues and have us meet with him again in six months. He also wants to institutionalize an annual meeting with this AANHPI Roundtable.
Thai CDC Executive Director, Chanchanit Martorell, states, “I look forward to working with the Mayor on addressing these issues as they are critical to the welfare and advancement of the Thai community.”