Last month the Downtown LA Industrial BID hosted “Coffee with a Cop”.
When LA CAN and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition showed up they found staffers of disgraced City Councilor, Kevin De Leon, posing for photos with LAPD. The person taking the photos was the executive director of the BID, Estela Lopez.
So just how cozy of a relationship does the City of Los Angeles, LAPD, and the BIDs have with one another?
This is an excerpt from Part 3 of Automating Banishment published by Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.
How does LAPD collaborate with Business Improvement Districts?
In December 2018, Tia Strozier sent an email to George Yu: “So nice to meet you this morning! I look forward to working with you soon. Letʼs plan on doing a walkalong in Chinatown sometime during the week of January 7th if that works for you. Have a great day!” Strozier is the City Attorneyʼs “Neighborhood Prosecutor” for LAPDʼs Central Division, and Yu is a real estate developer who runs the Chinatown Business Improvement District (BID), which over the past few years has spent millions of dollars on a private security force to patrol Chinatown. A couple months after that email, Strozier wrote to Yu again, saying she would “like to attend your next BID board meeting” and asking for a calendar of future events.
As Strozier and Yu got to know each other, their communications took on more specific targets. In May 2019, the two strategized on how to harass unsheltered Chinatown resident and activist Theo Henderson. Strozier offered her officeʼs powers to remove Henderson from the neighborhood, and Yu arranged for Elizabeth Ortega, LAPDʼs Senior Lead Officer for the Chinatown area, to tell Henderson that she would be “pursuing stay away orders” to banish him from a public park. A few months later, Yu emailed Strozier and Ortega photographs of another unhoused Black man, referring to him as “male transient EDWARD.” The next day, Ortega responded: “We did facial recognition and found out his info.” She also noted that “he appears gravely disabled,” to which Yu responded: “I fully understand the current rules of engagement and will remind all when Edward is either struck by a vehicle or something catches on fire.”
These examples illustrate how BIDs make use of LAPD relationships to localize and narrow the focus of policing against individuals. BIDs have been present in Los Angeles since 1994, currently numbering around 40. While BIDs appear to be public entities, they are in fact privately run. Funded through 501(c)(3) organizations that depend on tax-deductible donations from real estate developers, BIDs form direct communication links between police, prosecutors, and real estate developers. Many BIDs hire private security that double as a personal police force for local property owners as well as an auxiliary police force for LAPD. As the example of George Yu and facial recognition above shows, BIDs help expand the reach of LAPDʼs architecture of surveillance, and they embed policing even deeper in the property interests of developers, businesses, and landlords.
The majority of BIDs in Los Angeles are “property” BIDs, meaning their membership is property owners rather than the merchants of the area. These members pay assessments to the BID, and they sometimes pass the costs to their tenants. This structure is deliberate: concentrating the BIDʼs power within those who own the property rather than those who own the businesses within means that developers are the ones policing the street. BIDs are a way for these developers to use both public and private police forces to remake Los Angeles in their image.
George Yu and other members of the Chinatown BID are predatory developers who do not represent the interests of Chinatownʼs longtime residents. Yu himself is a vice president of Macco Investment Corporation, which manages Far East Plaza, promoted as a “Hipster Food Heaven.” These restaurants and new businesses are not intended to cater to the community, instead fueling the displacement of existing working class, multiracial, immigrant communities who are gentrified out of the community. Development like this “raises the price of living and operating for the neighborhoodʼs original working-class tenants and businesses who are eventually priced out, displaced, and forced to live and work elsewhere.” Other members of the Chinatown BID include Jennifer Kim, a representative of the developer that built Blossom Plaza, a massive 237 luxury apartment complex in Chinatown; Jenni Harris, a representative from Atlas Capital Group, which is in the process of developing a massive 700-unit luxury building with no affordable housing right outside of the Metroʼs Chinatown station; and Thomas Majich, a representative from Red Car, which has bought and flipped multiple plots of land in Chinatown.
The deep relationships between the Chinatown BID, developers, and LAPD has allowed these entities to work in tandem to displace Chinatownʼs working class, immigrant communities. BIDs also exchange surveillance, including by hiring the same private security firms (such as Allied Universal) and through LAPD networks. For example, in 2018, LAPD monitored the social media accounts of Code Pink activists and forwarded that information to two downtown BIDs and Allied Universal Security. In addition, BIDs received regular lists of hot spots from PredPol, and, as discussed in part 4, a set of LASERʼs anchor points around Skid Row were marked by LAPD as “BID Anchor Points.”
BIDs also fight back efforts at community empowerment. When Skid Row residents organized to create a Neighborhood Council separate from the two existing downtown Councils, two BIDs mounted an aggressive opposition campaign, which included an unprecedented move to take voting online. The efforts of BIDs in harassing unsheltered people extends beyond what goes on in the streets, directly into the systems through which state power is distributed. In the next part of the report, we examine these fights in Skid Row, where the community has long been fighting back coordination between police, developers, and BIDs to displace them from their homes.
A zine created by Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED).