Discussion with Huell Howser, founder of the CA Gold

Last Tuesday I was informed that Huell Howser, founder and host of the California Gold TV series, was about to launch a 14 segment series named “California’s Communities” that will address the topic of redevelopment statewide. It is important for viewers to know that funding of this endeavor is from the California Redevelopment Association, CRA,whose Agenda is to expand redevelopment.

I called Huell and asked him if he planned to cover redevelopment projects that were about to commence or those that were not “success stories.” To illustrate my point I mentioned the city of Baldwin Park where 100’s of homes and businesses will shortly be visited by Bisno Development’s bulldozer(s).

In our discussion Huell told me he has “no political agenda” and that he “keeps politics out of it,” a reference to his multiple TV series. He did provide an initial list of projects that will be visited. When I asked him to include redevelopment stories that were not successful, or to mention that they are not all a success story as defined by the CRA, Huell stated “they (CRA) are underwriting the series…they are paying me.” So much for fair and balanced topic coverage.

According to the CRA newsletter, local redevelopment agencies are encouraged to submit projects for consideration that “exemplifies the value of redevelopment.”

Trust me when I say that the CRA will not accept any redevelopment project that failed to live up to the hype. So don’t expect to see any of them on KCET, LA’s Public TV station, whose web site reads in part: “a forum for discourse and news…”

It is easy to do a neighborhood “drive by” from the comfort of your vehicle. But, if you turn the clock back to events leading up to that redevelopment project, especially those involving eminent domain, you might see a different picture in your camera lens.

Exactly ten years ago I was at the Capitol with (Senator) Tom Mc Clintock and a Fresno victim of eminent domain named Ronzel “Ralph” Cato. Statewide activists met Ralph when he testified on behalf of AB 923 redevelopment reform in Jan of 1988.
If you travel to Fresno today you will not find Ralph Cato’s home. It’s gone. The story get’s worse. Larry. Who is Ralph Cato?  Why do you single him out?

I would argue that every American has a dream of home ownership. Michael W. Aube, (former?) State Director, USDA Rural Development, stated it best. “Home ownership is an essential foundation upon which families build their hopes and dreams.” In Ralph’s’ case he was a fifth generation African-American who shared that same home ownership dream and was the first in his entire family genealogy to achieve it. For a brief period his family enjoyed that common dream until being notified that the Fresno redevelopment agency had other plans for his property. A Roxford Foods turkey processing plant would generate more revenue than his property taxes. Ralph did not wish to sell but he was overwhelmed by big government’s eminent domain powers. Sadly he did not have the Institute for Justice, or similar law firms, to come forward in his defense. He not only lost his home but because of his fight to save it, it cost him his marriage.
Huell. Are you planning to locate and interview Ralph, if you can find him?

Perhaps Huell will visit Dodger Stadium which is celebration it’s 50th birthday. While he mentioned many of the projects he plans to visit in our telephone call, as stated above, I will not divulge that list.

Chavez Ravine. Do any of the juice readers know the history of today’s Dodger Stadium?

Let me share that background as the locals are long gone and so are their homes.

Located in a valley a few miles from downtown Los Angeles, Chavez Ravine was home to generations of Mexican Americans. Named for Julian Chavez, one of the first Los Angeles County Supervisors in the 1800s, Chavez Ravine was a self-sufficient and tight-knit community, a rare example of small town life within a large urban metropolis. For decades, its residents ran their own schools and churches and grew their own food on the land. Chavez Ravine’s three main neighborhoods—Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop—were known as a “poor man’s Shangri La.”

The death knell for Chavez Ravine began ringing in 1949 when the Federal Housing Act of 1949 granted money to cities from the federal government to build public housing projects. Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron voted and approved a housing project containing 10,000 new units—thousands of which would be located in Chavez Ravine. Viewed by neighborhood outsiders as a “vacant shantytown” and an “eyesore,” Chavez Ravine’s 300-plus acres were earmarked by the Los Angeles City Housing Authority as a prime location for redevelopment. In July 1950, all residents of Chavez Ravine received letters from the city telling them that they would have to sell their homes in order to make the land available for the proposed Elysian Park Heights. The residents were told that they would have first choice for these new homes, which included two dozen 13-story buildings and more than 160 two-story bunkers, in addition to newly rebuilt playgrounds and schools. Some residents resisted the orders to move and were soon labeled “squatters,” while others felt they had no choice and relocated. Most received insubstantial or no compensation for their homes and property. Using the power of eminent domain, which permitted the government to purchase property from private individuals in order to construct projects for the public good, the city of Los Angeles bought up the land and leveled many of the existing buildings. By August 1952, Chavez Ravine was essentially a ghost town. The land titles would never be returned to the original owners, and in the following years the houses would be sold, auctioned and even set on fire, used as practice sites by the local fire department.

Yes, we celebrate 50th years of the LA Dodgers but we cannot stand in the way of progress. That’s the problem with only visiting cities and their projects after the redevelopment has been completed.

The following can be found on Huell Howser’s web site. Notice where he says he will travel the state with an “open heart and an open mind.”

“When Huell Howser moved to Los Angeles in 1981 from his home state of Tennessee to become a reporter for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, he had no idea he’d fall in love…with California. His enthusiasm for his new home inspired the idea for the television series that started it all, California’s Gold. Huell had a simple idea: if he traveled the state with an open heart and an open mind, a microphone and a camera, he would uncover a treasure of California stories.”

Respectfully Huell. What happened to your “open heart and open mind” which we all have appreciated for so many years?
Will you offer equal program exposure consideration for former, current and future victims of redevelopment and eminent domain and listen to their stories?

We can provide a lengthy list of California victims, from the Oregon to the Mexican borders, who would gladly share their experiences with you.

The bottom line is that this “feel good” series will not tell the whole story. Let me use another illustration.

On the radio this morning I heard a report from the Board of Realtors stating that housing prices are down 16 percent from a year agoYesterdays Dow Closed at 11,131, a decline of 20 percent from the high of 14,000 on July 19, 2007.

Think about this possibility. What if your local city government forced you to liquidate all your stock holdings yesterday? Now think about the property owners in Baldwin Park who are about to lose their homes and businesses in a down real estate market when they are not willing nor prepared to sell?

Juice readers. This is but another facet of the redevelopment cancer that Huell cannot capture in his camera lens.

About Larry Gilbert