Losing Historic Filipinotown


John Marisco is a Filipino immigrant who has lived with his wife in an apartment in Historic Filipinotown (HiFi) for twenty years.1  In November of 2013, Sally Keifer purchased the apartment complex where he lived.2  Shortly thereafter, Ms. Keifer applied to the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) for a rent increase beyond the 3-percent cap.3  In order to qualify for a just and reasonable increase, landlords must prove by clear and convincing evidence that earlier financial records are not reasonably obtainable when they have failed to provide them.4  Ms. Keifer merely offered a signed statement declaring she was unable to find it.   Despite her failure to comply with the evidentiary standard, HCIDLA granted Ms. Keifer the just and reasonable increase.  Seemingly overnight, Mr. Marisco’s rent increased from $995 to $1408.78 per month – a 47-percent increase.5  Mr. Marisco appealed his case multiple times and eventually reached the Los Angeles Superior Court, which ruled in his favor and remanded the case back to HCIDLA.  After a two-year battle over the rent increase, HCIDLA again granted the rent increase after Ms. Keifer provided evidence she initially failed to present.  Today, Mr. Marisco is still fighting to live in the home he has made for himself in HiFi.

Mr. Marisco’s story is not new.  Because of misinformation, fear, and lack of organizational efforts to educate Filipino residents on their housing rights, many Filipinos have been victimized by the predatory practices of investors, developers, and landlords alike.6

Mr. Marisco was the last holdout tenant in his complex.  The other tenants had left as a result of being priced out, lacking knowledge of their options, or simply having neither the stamina nor the time to fight such predatory practices.  They’ve moved on, some settling in the Inland Empire and others relocating to another state entirely.7  But why is this happening?  In this piece, I argue that HiFi is ripe for development, and the city’s proposal for a North Westlake Design District makes it poised to become the next site of gentrification.

I. Historic Filipinotown

As noted by Joseph Bernardo, PhD, Filipino enclaves in Los Angeles have historically been “expendable, susceptible to gentrification and redevelopment, both exemplifying and perpetuating [the] process of colonial erasure.”8  Largely living in bachelor communities until the late 1940s, Filipino families finally settled in homes in an area known as Temple-Beaudry, which was then considered a dilapidated section of LA.9  In 2002 the LA City Council officially named this neighborhood Historic Filipinotown.10

a. Current Demographics

HiFi is a low-income, majority-minority neighborhood.  In 2012 HiFi had an estimated population of 25,000, and despite its formal designation, 60 percent of its residents were Latino while only 25 percent were Filipino.11    A majority of the residents are immigrants, a large number of them undocumented.12  Although Filipinos are in the minority, HiFi remains a site of a significant concentration of Filipinos as well as a source of vibrant civic engagement for the Filipino community, with over 400,000 Filipinos in Southern California coming to the neighborhood to converge for cultural and religious events.13

The residents in HiFi are among the lowest earners in the City and County of Los Angeles, with a median household income of $26,757.14  The percentages of households that earn $20,000 or less and $20,000 to $40,000 are high for Los Angeles County.15  In terms of housing, HiFi is the second most dense neighborhood out of the 272 neighborhoods in the city.16  In addition, 94.9 percent of residents are renters, while only about 5.1 percent are homeowners.17

b. Developers’ New Interest

In 2014 the Los Angeles Times reported that HiFi was garnering serious interest from real estate developers.18  In the article, David J. Shophet of Sharp Capital, a development firm, commented that HiFi is a “little pocket has been kind of neglected for some years.”19  Despite the community already residing there, Shophet claimed that developers are “filling a gap in the marketplace which has been . . . dormant for years.”20  In his words, HiFi was an area “ripe for development.”21  Shophet himself built an upscale apartment complex on Temple Street with sixty-seven newly built units, with sixty-one of those units being rented at market rate.  The smallest unit started at $1500 a month; only six units were reserved for low-income tenants.22

This development boom can perhaps be partially explained by HiFi’s proximity to heavily gentrified neighborhoods like Echo Park and Silver Lake.  Developers, like Shophet, aspire for HiFi to become an “extension of Silver Lake” for young professionals who are priced out of these expensive and hip neighborhoods.23  In fact, developers have gone so far as to market HiFi as “South Silver Lake.” 24   tenant who moved in memorialized the occasion with a snapchat filter, only to figure out that the apartment was not located in Silver Lake.25

However, a more acute analysis reveals that the driving force behind HiFi’s development boom is the abundance of modest older homes and aging apartment buildings subject to the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), otherwise known as rent control.  Approximately 620 of the buildings in HiFi are subject to the RSO.  Though the RSO was designed to protect renters from rent increases, it now serves as a lure for developers who see opportunities for profit in what they deem to be undervalued properties.26  Because of the RSO, rent in HiFi is far below market rate.  David Bramante, a real estate investor and landlord of a property in HiFi, said that some of the tenants in his newly acquired building are “paying a couple hundred dollars . . . the most is maybe $800-$900 . . . .  [If rented at] market rate, it could be [worth] over $2,000.”27  Thus, the RSO creates a perverse incentive for developers to buy up RSO properties and push tenants out.  Once they do, they will no longer be bound by the RSO and can therefore rent the units at market rate.

II.  Design District / CDW

Accompanying the rapid housing development in HiFi, the City of Los Angeles has proposed a new ordinance for a Design District in HiFi. Though the proposed ordinance appears to make only cosmetic changes to the neighborhood, its provisions threaten current business owners to comply with the new demands at a cost that may not be sustainable, thereby pushing out current business and accelerating gentrification.

a. Proposals

Coinciding with developers’ new burgeoning interest in HiFi, in July of 2014 the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (LADCP) released their proposed North Westlake Design District Ordinance.28  Two of the proposed ordinance’s purported goals were (1) to preserve the distinctive character of the neighborhood and (2) to provide neighborhood-serving amenities.29  But the Ordinance proposed prohibitions were at odds with the current character of the neighborhood.  Such prohibitions would have stripped the neighborhood of its amenities for its current residents and had an adverse impact on racial minorities.  For example, drive-through restaurants were prohibited by the proposed ordinance, which would have impacted the McDonalds located on Glendale Boulevard and Alvarado,30 a local landmark where elderly Filipinos come to congregate and gossip.  In addition, the proposed ordinance aimed to prohibit auto repair shops, which are scattered throughout the neighborhood and largely owned by Latinos.31  Eventually, the proposed ordinance lost steam.32

In 2017 the LADCP revived the Ordinance with a few changes.  For starters, the list of prohibited uses was eliminated.  Instead, the LADCP focused on promoting “pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use corridors.”33  However, there are certain sets of restrictions in the new ordinance that would still negatively impact the local community.  The first concerns the types of commercial signs to be allowed.  As in the 2014 list of prohibited uses, certain design types the ordinance supported implicitly outlawed current forms of signs in the neighborhood.  The second set of provisions requires new commercial buildings to have an average ground floor height of fifteen feet and regulates the character and attractiveness of buildings’ exteriors.34  Lastly, the LADCP proposed parking be unbundled, meaning parking spots could be rented and sold apart from rental units and commercial spaces “in perpetuity,” indefinitely creating more competition for space.35

Thus far, the ordinance has been framed by the LADCP as a policy that merely brings about cosmetic changes to the neighborhood without effecting any real substantive change to the character of the neighborhood.  And yet, the prohibited uses in both iterations of the ordinance outlaw the current uses or designs that exist throughout the neighborhood.  Further, the LADCP has incorporated severe substantive changes to property rights with respect to the permanent unbundling of parking space.  By disaggregating the properties, it allows for the creeping commodification of the entire neighborhood – one parking spot at a time.  In this low-income neighborhood, which is renter-rich, it will be hard for these tenants to pay for both their monthly rent and a separate parking fee.  Like its former iteration, this proposed ordinance implicitly but unequivocally serves to further displace HiFi’s current residents, including its remaining Filipino population.

b. Coalition to Defend Westlake

The Design District proposal has been met with opposition.  Cristina Lugo, a community organizer with the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU), stated that not every resident received a flyer circulated by the LADCP, nor was the flyer’s language accessible to every resident, as it was not translated into Spanish or Tagalog.36  Arturo Garcia, a community activist with the Justice for Filipino Veterans, is concerned that the Design District is “in the name of progress but actually what they don’t care [about is] if people are misplaced, what they care about is how to make more money . . . .  Sometimes in the name of progress you lose cultural heritage.”37

To get a bigger turnout at the Planning Department’s Open House regarding the proposed ordinance, LATU canvassed HiFi and translated the flyers for the community.38  In addition, LATU created a petition against the Design District and canvassed it through the neighborhood several times.  They spoke with neighborhood residents and collected about 150 signed petition statements before personally delivering the petition to the LADCP.39

LATU partnered with Kabataang maka-Bayan (KmB), a progressive Filipino organization located in HiFi, to organize against the Design District, eventually forming the Coalition to Defend Westlake (CDW).40  They launched a new campaign to have community members call their local councilman to “#DroptheDraft.”41  CDW has met some success – after the campaign was launched, the LADCP announced they had decided to work on a new draft for the Design District.42

Even though the City has agreed to create a new draft, this has largely been behind closed doors.43  As Lugo aptly puts it, this “represents yet another attempt for the city to decide what is best for the community in a top down matter,” thus excluding the local community most impacted by the process.44  Because of this, an outgrowth of CDW supporters have now formed the North Westlake Community Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) to have community members come together to write a community-focused plan as an alternative to the city-written plan.45 South Los Angeles’s recent success in creating a community plan the City later adopted46 creates optimism about the future of North Westlake.


At CPAC’s inaugural meeting, it became clear that the community’s priority is not for the neighborhood to become more pedestrian-friendly.  Rather, CPAC’s members demanded the decriminalization of the people of color in the neighborhood, an increase in the affordable housing stock, the maintenance of cultural heritage sites, and more social-service providers.  HiFi’s residents are not trying to stop development altogether ­– they are demanding their own radical inclusion into this planning process and believe that development should address their current needs of their residents.  In this way, HiFi residents will be able to collectively take ownership over their neighborhood and effectively combat the threat of gentrification they face today.

[1] Brief for Petitioner at 3, Marisco v. Hous. & Cmty. Inv. Dep’t of L.A. (2016) (docket number omitted and names of the parties changed in case title and text to protect identity).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Judgment Granting Writ of Mandate & Issuing Peremptory Writ of Mandate at 6, Marisco v. Hous. and Cmty. Inv. Dep’t of L.A. (2016).

[5] Brief for Petitioner, supra note 1.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Joseph A. Bernardo, From “Little Brown Brothers” to “Forgotten Asian Americans”: Race, Space, and Empire in Filipino Los Angeles 8 (2014) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington) (on file with author).

[9] Carina Monica Montoya, Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown 8 (Arcadia Publ’g, 2009).

[10] Id. at 91.

[11] Yosuke Kitazawa, Filipinos Are the Minority in Historic Filipinotown and L.A.’s Japanese Population in Steady Decline, KCET (May 15, 2012), https://www.kcet.org/history-society/filipinos-are-the-minority-in-historic-filipinotown-and-las-japanese-population-in.

[12] See Connor Johnson, Norali Martinez, Eric Romero & Mariana Zamboni, Searching for Home: A Snapshot of Immigrant Renters in Westlake/Pico Union 3 (UCLA Luskin Sch. of Pub. Affairs 2015), https://www.labor.ucla.edu/publication/searching-for-home-a-snapshot-of-immigrant-renters-in-westlakepico-union-2/.

[13] Bernardo, supra note 8, at 270–71; Kitazawa, supra note 11.

[14] Mapping L.A.: Westlake, L.A. Times: Local, http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/neighborhood/westlake/ (last visited Sept. 16, 2018).

[15] Id.

[16] Mapping L.A.: Population Density, L.A. Times: Local, http://maps.latimes.com/neighborhoods/population/density/neighborhood/list/ (last visited Sept. 16, 2018).

[17]  Mapping L.A.: Westlake, supra note 14.

[18] See Andrew Khouri, Northern Edge of Westlake Finally Getting Developers’ Attention, L.A. Times (Dec. 3, 2014, 6:28 PM), http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-property-report-westlake-20141204-story.html.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Khouri, supra note 18.

[24] Elson Trinidad, L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown Turns Ten: What’s Changed?, KCET (Aug. 2, 2012), https://www.kcet.org/socal-focus/las-historic-filipinotown-turns-ten-whats-changed; see also Silver Lake South? Developers Discover Temple Street, Eastsider (Aug. 28, 2013), http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2013/08/silver-lake-south-developers-discover-temple-street/.

[25] There Goes the Neighborhood: I Didn’t Want to Evict You, WNYC Studios (Sep. 28, 2017), https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/i-didnt-want-evict-you.

[26] Khouri, supra note 18.

[27] WNYC Studios, supra note 25.

[28] Ordinance Proposal of North Westlake Design District, L.A. Dep’t of City Planning (2014), https://planning.lacity.org/Code_Studies/NorthWestLake/NWLake_DesignOrd.pdf

[29] Id.

[30] See id.

[31] Telephone Interview With Rachael Lucky, Member, North Westlake Community Plan Advisory Committee (May 30, 2018).

[32] Id.

[33] Ordinance Proposal of North Westlake Design District, L.A. Dep’t of City Planning (2017), https://planning.lacity.org/ordinances/docs/NorthWestlake/Ordinance2017.pdf.

[34] Bianca Barragan, Creating a ‘Design District’ in Westlake Is Bound to Cause Displacement, Activists Say, Curbed: L.A. (Jan. 17, 2018, 8:45 AM),  https://la.curbed.com/2018/1/17/16885712/westlake-design-district-historic-filipinotown-gentrification.

[35] Id.

[36] E-mail From Cristina Lugo, Cmty. Org., L.A. Tenants Union, to author (May 29, 2018, 12:07 PM) (on file with author).

[37] Jennifer Velez, Why Locals in Historic Filipinotown Are Bracing for Gentrification, L.A. TACO (Feb 26, 2018), http://www.lataco.com/locals-historic-filipinotown-bracing-negative-effects-gentrification/.

[38] E-mail From Cristina Lugo, supra note 36.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] See id.

[43] See id.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46] See Jon Truong et al., The People’s Plan: Equitable Development in South Los Angeles, UNIDAD (Apr. 26, 2017), http://www.unidad-la.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/peoples-plan-report-FINAL.pdf (discussing the People’s Plan, a community plan created by South LA residents designed to ensure equitable access to healthy opportunities such as affordable and health housing, economic development and employment opportunities, and environmental and health protections).

About the Author

Filipina American born and raised in Los Angeles; 2019 UCLA School of Law JD Candidate; enrolled in the David J. Epstein Public Interest Law and Policy Program & Critical Race Studies

By uclalaw