The Office of Assemblymember Santiago is situated very close to Grand Central Market. District 53 represents Boyle Heights, and one of the staffers at the office reminisced that Grand Central Market “was a completely different place fifteen years ago”. Gentrification is a huge issue in Downtown Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. When we walk through Grand Central Market, how much of that “instagrammable” food is a result of someone being pushed out of the area? When the flashing lights and neon signs are gone, who suffered for what it is today? When someone takes a snap of a fifteen dollar pizza, who benefits? Not the community. More than likely, it’s the poor and underrepresented who are hurt as Downtown LA becomes heavily gentrified.
It’s hard to feel connected to the larger issues while writing memos and attending meetings with property owners, especially when it comes to issues of development. Downtown Los Angeles is divided into several Business Improvement Districts, or BIDs, and I’m constantly wonder who they’re improving this district for. Property values skyrocket, but minorities get pushed out. Listening to property managers talk about how many new high rises are going up in their district, or how to deal with the transient (homeless) population on their properties makes me a little bit frustrated. Chalk it up to youthful idealism, but I had always thought that people would be more hands on in dealing with these issues. Instead, it seemed like they were just trying to dust their hands off and pass them off to authorities or other government officials. In a sense, I can’t blame them. Their job is to maintain their property value, and that means cleaning the streets around them. But when I step out of the thirty-story air conditioned high rise with a perfect view of Los Angeles, and pass a homeless man on a cracked sidewalk with torn pants, it feels like the officials are simply turning a blind eye. How can we be better? How can we help all Angelenos, including those who remain unaccounted for?
I don’t know. But it’s okay not to know.
If anything, my cohort gives me hope when I’m frustrated with the intricacies of government bureaucracy. A group of dedicated, silly, passionate people, who listened to my frustrations and gave me advice. While working on our PSA group project, I knew that we were all working towards the same goal of enacting change in our communities. Just because something currently is, doesn’t mean it always has to be. We can “CAUSE” (pun intended) change, but that means never turning a blind eye to the issues around us. Instead of looking at how a picture of Angels Flight or Grand Central Market pizza will look on social media, we need to dig deeper into the issues that haunt our city. Because behind the pizzaz, the flashing lights, and the beautiful architecture, there is a homeless individual in the corner of the frame taking shelter in the shade. And they deserve our help and attention too.