When I stop and think about days of future past and dealing with landlords evicting my family and I from our home/apartment, I remember what it felt like. To have to turn off everything in the house/apartment to make it seem like no one was home. Getting on all floors and looking through the crevace the bottom of the door waiting for the shadows to leave all the while hearing knocking on the door and the manager say, “when are you going to pay your rent ? I know you’re in there. You need to pay soon or else I’m going to have to kick you out of the house/apartment.” I felt that same feeling of uncertainty when I was talking to Conchita Sousa and Fernando Cruz about Cafe Casa de Sousa receiving an eviction notice from the manager in charge of the Placita Olvera merchants and stores. However the circumstances and reasons for Casa de Sousa receiving that eviction notice last week still remain unclear because no one from the management has given them a proper reason for the notice, even after Sousa and Cruz tried talking to them to come to reasonable out come and work things out civily. No dice.
Since no one outside the management and powers that be that govern them, I.E. the city of L.A., there are a number of rumers and accusations going on within the Olvera merchants themselves and supporters of the cafe, buts that’s all they are, chisme. Over the last few weeks there have been stories about the rent control problems facing stores and merchants at Olvera st. Downtown L.A. News reports that part of the issue is rent control. A lot of the stores and merchants at Olvera St. have been there for generations and help make Olvera St. the tourist hot spot it is now through decades of dedication and families passing on the family business from one generation to another. Conchita, her family and the Sousa coffee house have been there since the ’30s and have established themselves as historical, cultural and authentic representaion of Mexican, American and Chicano roots.
Because the majority of these stores and shops have been around this long, the city wants to have them pay the current market value of their shops and stores and stop subsidizing them because it’s spending around a million dollars filling in the gaps from rents. Ed reports from Blog Downtown that,“Rents on Olvera street have been a hot topic in recent weeks, with the City Council looking at increases as a way to end the General Fund subsidy of the El Pueblo monument. Councilmembers criticized El Pueblo for failing to have current leases with tenants, hoping that rental agreements closer to market rate could generate an extra $250,000 per year. The eviction notice claims the space is operating without a concession agreement, which computes payments based on a percentage of sales on food and beverage. Different than the concession agreement is Casa De Sousa’s lease on the space, which Sousa’s mother signed in 1999. “It’s a complicated situation,” said Sousa, adding that the fact that her shop is not strictly retail nor strictly a restaurant has led to confusion on how it should be treated. Sousa disputed that claim, and said that she doesn’t recall any expiration date on a concession agreement signed in 1985.”
An editorial from the L.A. Times explains the rent cituation better than I can, “For nearly two decades now, El Pueblo has been a city department, charged with, among other things, recouping expenses by managing the attraction properly. It has a long way to go, according to an audit by the city controller’s office published last month, just before new Controller Wendy Greuel took office. Chief among the problems: Olvera Street merchants are paying well below market rents. It’s time to update the street, and the city’s relationship with its merchants, by letting the market set the rates. Some merchants argue that low rents make sense, given the city’s sometimes spotty record as a landlord. But the city’s performance is something the market would take into account. Others argue that their puestos, or market stalls, have been in their families since Olvera Street opened as a Mexican marketplace in 1930, and that their stewardship is what keeps the street from becoming another LA Live or Universal CityWalk. But the city can reset rents and still retain control over the street’s ambience. Longtime merchants have contributed to the monument’s history and culture, but they are not, after all, historic resources that the city has an obligation to subsidize in perpetuity.”
Now more than ever Casa de Sousa is looking to its supporters and allies for help. If anyone wants to help, you can write to the mayors and 14th District Council Member Jose Huizar and tell them that they should be helping Casa stay and help make sense of everything that is going on behind the scenes. You can also contact Conchita and Fernando att the shop or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now more than ever they need our support, but as Fernando told me, they are open to change. They know and understand that life takes us strange places and they will not let the essance and spirit of Casa fade out. Over the years Casa has been education kids on eating healthy by giving them workshops, providing a space for Eastside artist to perform and grow as artist and even going all out for Dia de los Muertos with the Muerto Tour. A double decker bus ttaking passangers from one DoD event to another, which was a huge success last year. Not only that, but they’re the BEST place to get your veggie grub on along with their DELISHIOUS chocolate. Casa de Sousa is worth its ight in gold and to let it fade out would be irrisponcible and careless of community members. So do what you can, write, volunteer to help out at Casa and spread the word, Casa isn’t going down without a fight.
You can also listen to Conchita and Fernando on Up Rising Radio talk more about what happened.