LOS ANGELES: Construction of Gentrifying Verizon Tower Postponed After Protest

Photo: Boyle Heights residents protest construction of new Verizon tower in front of community garden.

By Bill Smith

On August 25, community members in Boyle Heights mobilized to resist the planned construction of a new 5G cell phone tower on the site of a community garden and cultural center, which residents say will accelerate gentrification.

Telecommunications firm Verizon was originally planning to begin construction the following day, but it has been halted for two more weeks after the small protest and once Verizon received written complaints from neighbors and gardeners in the immediate range of the tower.

Opportunist NGO the East Los Angeles Community Corporation (ELACC), which owns the land the tower would be built on, has been negotiating for months with Verizon while keeping Boyle Heights residents out of the loop. Even gardeners who visit the site every day said that they have only recently heard about the plans.

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The lot where Verizon plans to build its new tower, currently home to a community garden and a cultural center.

After the small protest, attendees went into the Casa Del Mexicano meeting hall, where ELACC representatives had been hiding from the people. They were visibly uncomfortable whenever people took the microphone to ask tough questions. One-by-one, attendees pointed out problems and apparent contradictions with this new 5G tower.

One person asked the crowd, “Who here has the newest iPhone?” Only three people raised their hand, “This tower is not for us.” The latest mobile phones can cost upwards of $1,000 and the planned tower’s 5G connection is only compatible with the new wifi cards.

A working-class mother whose son had been killed by the police echoed that the tower was not “for us” but “for the new police drones they wanna fly around and spy on us with.”

“They want to be able to see every little thing a person does so they can send people to kill innocents like they did with killing my son,” she said.

Attendees chanted, “Gardens yes, Verizon no!” and demanded that ELACC back away from the contract with Verizon which allows the company to legally construct anywhere they please. Residents fear that the existing garden at the site will be razed and that even the Casa Del Mexicano itself could be demolished, which is adorned with murals and other artwork portraying the history of the Chicano nation oppressed by US imperialism.

“ELACC wears the face of community organizations doing good for the people but behind the scenes they are just ‘social justice’ instruments of gentrification,” a member of revolutionary organization Defend Boyle Heights told Incendiary. “[This] is just another clear example of why we must not trust nonprofits. We stand with the farmers, community and tenants who demand that the tower not be built.”

Following the meeting, people cooked food from the garden that is under attack to collect donations to fund resistance to the tower. DBH agitated with the masses on the issue of gentrification, the deceptiveness of NGOs, and the necessity to organize collectively against Verizon and the ELACC. Some of the gardeners spoke from personal experience about how they had organized another small collective garden and had run a different NGO out of town despite police repression.

“We won there, we can do it here too,” as one of the gardeners stated.