An Open Letter from Wlcac to Councilman Joe Buscaino

Councilman Joe Buscaino, CD 15, City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, Carolyn Hull, General Manager, EWDD Danielle Brazell, General Manager, Cultural Affairs


Dear Councilman Buscaino;

Timothy Watkins

This urgent letter of protest is filed by the Watts Labor Community Action Committee in objection to the ongoing 1845 East 103rd Street Request for Proposals Process (Mafundi RFP). The Mafundi RFP is in fact an invitation for bids to demolish a site of historic and cultural import for the City of Los Angeles, if not the nation: The Mafundi Institute, which includes the Watts Happening Coffee House. Among the many hindrances to achieving best use caused by this RFP is its title. The use of only the property address without reference to the widely recognized building and business names for the RFP is misleading and downplays the importance of the nature of the project by obscuring the historic value of the site.

This is one example of how the lack of transparency, rushed timeframe, absence of community input, and cookie-cutter RFP language indicate the property and its buildings are disposable and unworthy of protection. This marks a need for intervention.

The Mafundi Institute (also referred to as the Robert Pitts Center) is a national example of art as activism, and one of the few remnants of cultural expression evolved in the aftermath of the Watts Revolt of 1965. It also represents evidence of numerous promises made by the City of Los Angeles to preserve evidence of the Black experience in Watts by honoring its legacies and protecting cultural assets.

WLCAC is among many other stakeholders in the Watts community who have expressed outrage at this failure to protect a site so vital to Watts’ cultural heritage, and countless hours of meetings, protests, letters and phone calls made no impact on the process.

Following are snaphots of the various reasons we recommend the Mafundi RFP be rescinded and revisited to allow an opportunity for community participation in a thoughtful, deliberate consideration of possibilities best suited for the final disposition of the site.

  1. The RFP allows for proposals to demolish existing buildings. This is unacceptable for such a historic site and its overreach is grounds enough for rescinding the RFGP.
  1. An unprecedented system of barriers to critical site information such as site inspections, earth science reports, as-built plans, or timely responses to questions raised by proposers. This project and all its processes are subject to provisions of the Brown Act.
  1. The fact that there was no community input in the process again suggests that the Council Office was moving unilaterally under cover of the pandemic and without regard for the gravity of the project.
  1. The City did not hold a Bidders Conference because of COVID and instructed Bidders to send questions through an incorrect email address. The City failed to respond to questions “weekly, as needed”, instead answered questions on October 6, less than two days before the deadline.
  1. The City did not provide pertinent information for the bid (plans, rents, tenant info, square footage, site walk)
  1. The RFP shows preference for fast tracking the development even after award, raising the question again of why due process is being skirted.
  1. Om contrast to Watts’ community and housing needs, the RFP allows for affordable or market rate housing, offering incentives for proposers to avoid using housing set asides for increased affordability.
  1. The RFP encourages development of dense new housing without accompanying space to develop talent, support community organization, business or to encourage commerce.
  2. There was no specificity in terms of guidance for preservation of the African American experience.
  1. Watts already suffers an inordinately high residential density rate and extraordinarily low green space per capita.
  1. Diminished evaluation weight for local developers.
  1. Local residents nor operators that work at or patronize the Watts Coffee House or the school housed upstairs were notified by the City regarding its plans prior to the release of the RFP

Also, in addition to the community honored name “Mafundi” being absent in the RFP language, the historic and community value of the Watts Coffee House and school are erased, mentioned only as occupants the development may or may not choose to include as tenants.

The erasure of these elements ion the RFP reflects a disregard for the history that may result in the demolition and erasure in the Watts neighborhood. This only further illuminates the lack of cultural and historic sensitivity within the City of Los Angeles towards its Black residents and businesses.

  1. In light of this alarming precedent, WLCAC advocates for the immediate ownership transfer of the Mafundi Institute, the Historic Fire Station, the Historic City Hall, the Cultural Crescent and Historic Train Station to a Community Heritage Land Trust operated by the people of Watts.
  1. We demand immediate cessation of all current efforts to advance the destruction of or development of such historic treasures in the absence of community input and control.

Local, home-grown strategies for self-sufficiency in Watts are possible now. There is something to be said for the New Movement underfoot in Watts. Watts will pave the way to the future with a National Model that takes the one thing that Black and Brown communities across the nation share in common: their regional and national collective historic experience. Watts can show the nation a bright new sustainable solution to inner city growth and development that capitalizes on, rather than seeks to abandon, the unlimited potential of its rich cultural heritage. The City of Los Angeles should make itself a more predictable and reliable partner in that regard.

If there are questions that you would like to address to me, I can be reached at 323.864.2549.

Respectfully Submitted,

Timothy Watkins
President and Chief Executive Officer

Tags: Carolyn Hull | CD 15 | City Attorney Mike Feuer | City of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti | Councilman Joe Buscaino | cultural affairs | EWDD Danielle Brazell | General Manager | Mafundi | New Movement | The Mafundi RFP | Timothy Watkins | Watts Labor Community Action Committee