60 Yr Olvera Street Tenant to Be Evicted

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60 Yr Olvera Street Tenant to Be Evicted

Postby Steve Tepperman » Tue Aug 25, 2009 8:12 pm

Olvera Street Tenant to Be Evicted

After 60 Years, Casa de Sousa Ousted for Owing $13,000
by Richard Guzmán City Editor
Published: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 12:24 PM PDT
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - After more than 60 years in business, Casa De Sousa, a coffee shop and gift store on Olvera Street, may become only the second tenant in the attraction’s almost 80-year history to be evicted.

At a hearing Friday morning at the Stanley Mosk Court House on Grand Avenue, Conchita Sousa, whose father Benjamin Antonio Sousa began doing business at Olvera Street in 1932 was given a court order to move out of her store for failing to pay rent on her 2,000-square-foot business.

“We’re going to see if we can appeal, if it’s what we can do. We’re not just going to roll over,” said Conchita Sousa, owner of the business and daughter of Benjamin.

The ruling followed years of back and forth. Robert Andrade, general manager of El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, the city department which oversees Olvera Street, said Casa De Sousa’s owners were six months behind on their $1,900 rent, and after failing to comply with a repayment agreement, owe the department about $13,000.

Casa de Sousa is not alone, as nine other Olvera Street merchants are behind on their rents, said Andrade. The issue of rents has been heated in recent months, following moves to look at raising lease rates for the dozens of merchants who pay well below-market rates.

In the past, merchants who fell behind on their rent often benefited from lax oversight, said El Pueblo officials. Now, they are more likely to face consequences.

“The ability for the general manger to evict tenants that could not pay rent has not been there for a long time,” said David Louie, a member of El Pueblo’s Board of Commissioners. The board must approve payment plans for delinquent tenants as well as any potential eviction.

“There’s a long history of El Pueblo not being attentive and doing what would normally be considered standard protocols for managing a property and holding their tenants to compliance,” he added.

Eight other tenants, whose rents range from $169 to $2,000 a month, are at least a month behind on their rents, owing the city a total of $8,500, said Andrade. Another tenant is four months behind and is set to enter a repayment agreement this week to pay back the $2,000 he owes.

Andrade said his goal is not to evict people, but to get tenants behind on rent back on track.

“Sometimes miraculously, they come through with the money. That’s happened on more than one occasion with Casa the Sousa,” he said.

History of Problems

Sousa’s problems began following an illness and the eventual passing of Benjamin Sousa, who started doing business on Olvera Street in 1932. He opened Casa De Sousa in 1949.

Fernando Cruz, managing partner at the business, said that problems began around 1996, when Benjamin got sick, leading to $140,000 in rent owed.

They were given five years to repay that amount, but Cruz said they repaid it in two months. Then they fell behind again, this time due to slow sales.

Deputy City Attorney Annette Bogna said Los Angeles officials have been working with Casa de Sousa for years.

“They have a consistent pattern of not paying rent on time or making only partial payments,” she said.

Cruz maintains they met their payment plan. He said that in April he went to El Pueblo management to make his monthly payment and to ask for a reduction in the repayment plan, but instead was told to pay for two months.

“They declined to accept that rent payment. They asked me for double the amount,” he said.

Cruz and Sousa, who have a 55-year lease, said they feel they are being targeted by management, possibly due the department wanting to get a new tenant in their spot to pay more rent.

Andrade said that the issue comes down to properly running a city department.

“My goal is to have the best-run small department in the city of Los Angeles,” he said. “We represent the city of Los Angeles, the mayor and the taxpayers and we owe it to them to run a department the way it should run.”

Dubious History

Bogna and Andrade said that they recall only one only other tenant being evicted from Olvera Street. That came in April 2008, after a glass blowing business that had been there for 34 years stopped paying rent.

The issue is raising concern for many in the area. Jesus Hernandez, whose family owns a “puesto,” one of the small center-aisle shops, and the famous donkey where children take pictures in sombreros at the top of Olvera Street, is four months behind on his rent. However, he said he does not plan on being the next in line to make dubious history.

Hernandez said he will be working on a repayment plan that is scheduled to come up for Commission approval this week.

“The economy is bad so yes, I’m behind four months,” he said. “But management is open for negotiations. They’re not going to want to evict me because if they start evicting people left and right what the [expletive] are they going to run?” he said.

“It’s not my first time falling behind and I’ll catch up…. It’s what you have to do. I’m not going to lose my business. That would just be stupid.”

Meanwhile Sousa said they are still waiting for El Pueblo to give them a date to move out while also looking into the possibility of appealing the decision.

“It’s not fair, a family that’s been on Olvera Street for over 60 years to have this sort of treatment is just not right,” Sousa said.

But appealing may be an uphill battle.

Bogna said the ruling gives El Pueblo officials the authority to have the Sheriff’s Department remove Sousa from the premises.

“We don’t foresee that (an appeal) having any sort of effect on our intent to proceed with our intent… having the sheriff take care of the move out,” Bogna said.

Contact Richard Guzmán at richard@downtownnews.com.

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Postby nichols » Wed Aug 26, 2009 12:33 pm

I'm not up on this particular case, but those tenants have had free reign over that place for years.. It's not what Christine Sterling imagined at all.

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