Housing activists on Thursday again called upon state officials to remove California Highway Patrol officers from vacant Caltrans homes along the 710 Corridor in El Sereno, Pasadena and South Pasadena and relinquish the homes to local residents.
More than 150 houses have been left vacant since decades-old plans to extend the 710 Freeway officially came to an end in 2018. Hundreds of homes were seized by the state through eminent domain more than 50 years ago to make way for the freeway extension.
A group of homeless housing rights advocates moved into 20 of the homes in El Sereno before being evicted by state officials the night before Thanksgiving.
Tenants Together Southern California regional coordinator, Pasadena Tenants Union organizer and former Pasadena City Council candidate Ryan Bell said he’s seen the situation up close, as his home in Pasadena is neighbored on three sides by Caltrans-owned properties, at least two of which are vacant. He was among the activists and community leaders who offered remarks during an online news conference.
“Now, since just before Christmas, it appears that I live in a police state,” Bell said. “On my daily walk around the neighborhood, I encounter no fewer than five, sometimes six CHP vehicles parked in the driveways, engines idling, protecting, allegedly, these homes.”
“This is an outlay of hundreds of thousands of dollars of state money to ensure that vacant homes remain vacant and homeless individuals remain homeless. This is apparently the state’s priority,” he said. “Meanwhile, there are hundreds of Pasadena residents without homes.”
Officials with the L.A. Tenants Union estimated that the cost of the law enforcement guard of all the homes along the former freeway corridor amounted to $2 million per month.
Caltrans should turn over control of the properties for local residents in need to use, Bell said.
“They’re ill-equipped and apparently don’t care about being good caretakers of the property that they own, and they’re hoarding it, to the destruction of the community,” Bell said.
“We hear constantly about the need to build new housing, and this is true,” he said. “But more importantly, and more immediate, is the fact that we have housing and it’s sitting empty in our neighborhoods. Not only that, but the state is employing its police power and the threat of violence to make sure these homes stay empty. This is the state’s priority.”
“The solution is staring us right in the face. We have homes, and we have people without homes,” Bell said. “And many of the people without homes are the very people that used to live in these exact homes, and simply want to return home.”
Among those who spoke at Thursday’s conference was Emille Tokich, who was among the members of the group Reclaim and Rebuild Our Community, RROC. Tokich was evicted from one of the Caltrans-owned homes in November. She said she fell into homelessness following a divorce.
“It could happen to anybody,” she said.
“These homes are just sitting here in El Sereno for 20-some years,” Tokich said. “I’m a taxpayer, My family is a taxpayer. And I felt I deserved to live in a home, and I do.”
Tokich disputed assertions that the families that moved into the home were not local residents, saying she was a lifelong El Sereno resident.
“I was raised here by my indigenous grandmother. Shame on you. I’ve been here since the early ’60s, and I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
“RROC and [Reclaiming Our Homes] are very organized, and there’s this narrative that’s circling that we’re low-lives, we’re no good, we want to leach and that is negative,” she said. “Shame on those people who are stating that about us. All we want is a home to live in.