On Thanksgiving eve, California Highway Patrol evicted houseless families and arrested dozens in El Sereno. The CHP acted after organizers and community members tried to reclaim vacant, publicly owned houses. Unhoused families, which included children as young as three-months-old and adults as old as 70, were left nowhere to go and with no protections amidst a brutal pandemic, a surging housing crisis, and one of the most devastating economic depressions in history.
In response to this brutal move, Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community released a press statement describing the situation: “As of Jan. 1, 2020, the 710 Freeway tunnel has been nullified and these homes should have already been declared surplus (SB7, SB416 and AB29). Caltrans [California Department of Transportation] is legally obliged to fix, rent and sell these homes back to the community. Instead, Caltrans is hoarding more than 170 empty homes in El Sereno, Pasadena, South Pasadena, and Alhambra, making them the largest landlord in the area. To us and the general community, Caltrans is an irresponsible slumlord and corrupt bureaucracy that has a history of environmental racism — most freeways were built through communities of color intentionally.”
Community gathers to prevent evictions
To support RROC and the reclaimers, over 200 community members gathered to prevent CHP from evicting the families. After hours of a stand-off between housing activists and the police, CHP made a full retreat and disappeared into the night.
In the early hours of Thanksgiving Day, however, Los Angeles Police Department intervened as a back-up for CHP and blocked off the streets that connected the reclaimed homes. Between Nov. 25 and 26, over 60 housing rights activists and community members were arrested while LAPD used battering rams to forcibly enter reclaimed homes to remove the reclaimers.
On Friday, Nov. 27, RROC held a press conference demanding that Governor Newsom, LA City Councilman Kevin de León, Senator Maria Elena Durazo, U.S. Congressman Jimmy Gomez, and Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo direct Caltrans to put everyone evicted back into homes, drop all charges, and return all possessions that the CHP confiscated.
Caltrans purchased the reclaimed houses with taxpayer funding and through eminent domain as part of their plan to extend the 710 freeway. Six decades later, in 2018, after a long organized struggle by activists and community members, the plan for the extension was terminated. Despite this, there are still 170 of the original 600 houses kept vacant intentionally.
The RROC press statement stated: “Throughout Caltrans’ history as landlords, tenants have been bullied in a variety of ways: raising rents 10% every 6 months, total neglect of repair requests, and unjust evictions. The presence of Caltrans has been unwelcomed for more than 50 years. In recent years, rather than allowing the homes to be occupied, Caltrans has let them go into disrepair, despite attempts from the United Caltrans Tenants to purchase and utilize these homes.”
Even in the spirit of Thanksgiving, a day considered to be festive by many, the capitalist government continues to oppress poor and marginalized communities. This is often done with utmost violence from the tools of state oppression, the police, and is done to uphold the oil-profits-driven system. Yet, wherever there is oppression in the world, there will be organized resistance. The beginning of this new decade is no exception to seeing working-class people banding together to fight, not just for these reclaimers in El Sereno but for a system that eliminates the profit motive from society and instead focuses on human need.
Image: Liberations News