I’m interviewed in the New York Times about the human dimensions of informal housing enforcement in South Central Los Angeles. I’m grateful to the family in @FlorenceFirestone who trusted me to share their story.
On September 13th, we lost Ms. Mary Rose Cortese, one of our community elders in South Central LA’s Florence-Firestone community. Mary has joined her brother Joe Titus in the next chapter. I know they’re up there still advocating for Florence-Firestone.
Mary and Joe welcomed me into the community on Day 1 in 2009. They were honorary abuelitos to me and many others. Hug your elders. Ask them to tell you stories. Document their lives. Cherish them every day.
At the end of this #AARP session, I dedicated my presentation to Mary Rose Cortese 🙏🏽💛
Yesterday I was interviewed by an author writing a novel set in the time of the 1992 LA Uprising. I shared memories of interpreting the unrest through my eyes at the time, a high school graffiti tagger in Montebello navigating the larger LA hip hop scene. I’ll share the book when it’s published.
TODAY—I’m at @ucimurp delivering the Medina Family ADU Story in Prof. Lynda Hikichi’s class UPPP 275: Site Development. This is the 9th rendition of this public talk and the 2nd time UCI Urban Planning & Public Policy hosts it, thank you! If you’re on campus or nearby, come through: Room 3240 in the SBSG-Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway building, 11:30am—12:30pm.
ABSTRACT: This presentation puts a human face on California’s housing crisis. Through storytelling, reflection and #EmbeddedPlanning praxis, presenter Jonathan Pacheco Bell @c1typlann3r, a zoning enforcement planner in South Central #LosAngeles, presents the story of the Medina Family from the #SouthCentralLA community of @FlorenceFirestone, who built an informal backyard Accessory Dwelling Unit #ADU for extra income after the sudden passing of their head of household. An anonymous complaint triggered inspection and eventual demolition of the dwelling for code violations. Jonathan himself ordered its removal. Attendees will understand the emotional roller coaster the family endured while embroiled in this regulatory process, and Jonathan’s inner conflict with the outcome. To help himself cope emotionally and to spotlight this family’s housing struggle, Jonathan has turned the experience into a speaking tour offering takeaways for planning policy, practice, and pedagogy. Jonathan will explain the @EmbeddedPlanning approach at the story’s core. This talk will inspire emerging planners to adapt and respond to the problem of housing insecurity with empathetic, activist, street-level planning #praxis.
If you’ve been to my Medina Family ADU Story, or plan to attend an upcoming talk, you’ll see I get choked up. Happens every time. I don’t even try to suppress it anymore. This was a harrowing experience for the Medinas, and for me. My #EmbeddedPlanning praxis rejects the technocratic detachment of Rational Planning orthodoxy. When we shed tears, those tears are earned.
For the Medinas, removing the backyard dwelling built to generate income after the passing of their head of household worsened the stress that started it all. Ordering the removal after knowing the Medinas’ story made me question strict enforcement of #InformalHousing. The dwelling was not substandard—it was simply out of zoning compliance. All of this predated California’s relaxed State ADU Laws, so the only option was to demolish it. This was in 2016. After 10 years on the job, I’d finally realized that “Penalties or Demolition” was a false dilemma fallacy in #ADU enforcement. We’re trying to change this outcome for other folx.
The ending part is emotional for me. I conclude with slides featuring each member of the Medina Fam. I wanted audience members to understand the impact of rigid zoning on real people. I wanted to evoke an emotional response. And every time it works . . . on ME.
The final slide is of little Janelle. Janelle represents the future of #LosAngeles.
People’s lives are at the heart of Planning. Planners: befriend the community, get to know constituents personally, invest your heart into bettering THEIR lives and you’ll always have a righteous mission.
I could not do this series of public talks on #InformalHousing without permission & support of the Medina Family. My regulatory responsibility resulted in the removal of their informal #ADU but ironically brought us closer together. Theirs was a hard first lesson in Planning & Zoning. They knew others endure the same struggle. The Medinas permitted my public talks because they knew sharing their experience would help other residents & Other Planners understand the street realities of informal housing in working-class communities of color. They entrusted me to tell their story. They granted me a righteous mission.
Planners! We must draw inspiration from The People we serve.
The Medina Family—Flora, Josefina, Maria, and Janelle—they inspire me. Janelle represents the future of #LosAngeles. THIS IS FOR HER ♥️
Gracias Fay Darmawi for including us in the 2018 SF Urban Film Fest, SPUR Urbanist for hosting us, & SPUR’s Amy Thomson for photographing this moment.
SUMMARY: This presentation puts a human face on California’s housing crisis. Jonathan Pacheco Bell, a zoning enforcement planner in Los Angeles County, will tell the story of the Medina Family from the South Central L.A. community of Florence-Firestone, who built an informal backyard dwelling for extra income after the sudden passing of their head of household. An anonymous complaint triggered an inspection & eventual demolition of the dwelling for code violations. It was Jonathan himself who ordered its removal. Audience members will understand the emotional roller coaster the family endured while embroiled in this regulatory process, & Jonathan’s inner conflict with the outcome. Key takeaways for planning policy, practice & pedagogy will be offered. This talk demonstrates that the rules we enforce can have unintended consequences, especially in working class communities of color.
BIO: Jonathan Pacheco Bell (@c1typlann3r) is a public sector Urban Planner in Los Angeles County with over 12 years of experience in zoning enforcement. He is a fierce advocate for the unincorporated areas of South Central Los Angeles. On any given day you will find him in the unincorporated community of Florence-Firestone partnering with stakeholders to improve quality of life.
A field-based planner, Bell researches, writes, & speaks about informal housing, unorthodox community outreach, and South Central L.A. history from his unique, on the ground perspective. He calls his praxis Embedded Planning.
A product of the California public school system from kindergarten to graduate school, Bell holds an MAUP from UCLA Luskin & an MLIS from SJSU iSchool.
Read my latest piece, “Mutual Aid at Lunchtime,” published Dec. 6, 2017 in Cultural Weekly.
It’s a concise but expository look at my unorthodox urban planning outreach tactics. I cover planning in plain language, burritos, and the anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin in less than 1000 words!
The exhibits took me back to 1992, seeing the smoke plumes and ash from mom’s house in Montebello, thinking NWA had warned us this was coming again.
Today, some things are better in South Central L.A. Our SCLA unincorporated communities are rising through strong partnerships and civic engagement. But far too many structural inequalities throughout South Central remain.
Decades ago the @latimes uncritically accepted L.A. City’s “South LA” rebranding. Recall that L.A. City’s elected officials wanted to sanitize images of “unrest” that they claimed were associated with “South Central.” So they dropped “Central”… brilliant 🙄. The L.A. Times went along with it wholesale.
We hadn’t seen “South Central L.A.” in an L.A. Times headline for many years until Angel Jennings’s Nov. 22nd story on #TheReef. While it’s in reference to the Historic South-Central district within L.A. City, seeing the historically proper place name was still exciting for many South Central Los Angeles advocates. It was one long overdue step away from revisionist history.
Remember that this geography is still, and will always be, South Central Los Angeles. The “South LA” rebranding was City of LA’s attempt at revisionist history after the 1992 Uprising (much like the City’s embarrassing 2014 “SOLA” proposal that’s thankfully fizzled).
Invest in place erasure and hope the world forgets: that went nowhere. Stakeholders young and older still call it South Central LA. History matters.
And, for the record, none of the City’s revisionism ever applied in the unincorporated communities: Florence-Firestone, Willowbrook, East Rancho Dominguez, West Rancho Dominguez, West Athens, and Lennox.