Photo: A community barbecue in January held to organize tenants fighting against SandPiper Property Management
By Serran Soledad
In the past month, tenants at the Casa Valencia Apartments in North Oxnard have seen gains in coming together against owner harassment and their poor living conditions. The slumlord management has retaliated against these efforts, in one instance threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on tenant leaders. Despite the threats, tenants have remain committed to resistance alongside local activists.
In late January, following a community barbecue that brought tenants together to organize for the first time, a reactionary tenant not only filmed the event but sent the footage directly to property manager, Darlene Kempema of SandPiper Property Management.
Kempema immediately responded by attempting to single out one tenant as a leader, phoning him over twenty times and leaving a voice message with the threats to call ICE. In a copy of the recording sent to Incendiary, a woman’s voice, identified as Kempema’s, can be heard saying, “Yo llamo la migra, bye, bye. (I am calling ICE).”
A video provided by activists of Kempema’s threats against tenants
Unfortunately, the targeted tenant took the dangerous course of filing a police report in response to Kempema’s threats. The police officer’s condescending and intimidating advice to the tenant was that he should keep his head down and quit organizing. Nonetheless, the tenant has defiantly expressed his intention to continue fighting.
The police are an arm of the bourgeois state, whose primary role under capitalism is to protect the ruling class and private property, not the working class nor immigrants from oppressed nations, and it is no surprise that they tell workers to ‘keep their head down’. In most cases, they will simply take the route of blatant reactionary violence to suppress workers and the people. Immigrants particularly should not trust the police, as local police forces regularly collaborate with ICE despite their attempts to appear independent or sometimes even sympathetic to immigrant communities.
ICE’s presence is well-known in Oxnard, an agricultural town on the Southern California coast, with a population of 200,000 people; 80% of the residents are of Chicano heritage or Mexican immigrants. Tenants have often seen ICE in the neighborhood, striking fear in those who are undocumented, motivating them to lay low and silently suffer through the abuse and conditions they are put through. One tenant named Alfredo said he had been approached by ICE in the past, as they searched for someone in the alleyway behind the two Sandpiper properties.
Kempema, along with Sandpiper president, Justin Egerer, have allowed poor conditions at Casa Valencia and neighboring complexes to fester. Tenants cope with black mold, cockroach and bedbug infestations, broken plumbing, gas and electrical problems, rising rents, on top of Kempema’s consistent attempts at intimidation.
Many of the children at Sandpiper properties suffer from asthma and other health problems, exacerbated by bug infestations and mold caused by broken plumbing. One four-year-old child is forced to take nightly breathing treatments before bed.
At the barbecue that kicked off organizing in January, banners hung in the courtyard, in English and Spanish read “Tenants United Against Sandpiper.” Around two dozen tenants spanning multiple complexes gathered to socialize and outline their plans, facilitated by activists from Oxnard Revolutionary Study (OxRevStudy), who helped organize the event.
Residents of apartments located just across the street also joined, interested in starting their own struggle after dealing with similar conditions and mistreatment from their own landlord.
Tenants ate home-cooked carne asada (grilled meat), and activists shared examples of housing struggles and fights against displacement from around the country.
Onlookers standing on the balcony listened in as other tenants angrily shared their own experiences with Kempema of her verbal abuse, harassment, threats of eviction, and throwing away children’s toys left in the courtyard. Failed attempts in challenging Sandpiper through the legal system had previously left tenants disillusioned, but the barbecue’s overall call for militancy brought a new found optimism.
The sun set as the event concluded, with youth playing on an old mattress thrown over the second floor by maintenance. Tenants who had gone years as neighbors without speaking, bonded around their shared experiences and readiness to fight back.
This growing solidarity and fighting spirit is what brought on Kempema’s threats of using the fascist ICE agency against tenants, but activists have only emphasized it is good to be attacked by the enemy.
“We forced their hand to do this,” said Natalie, with OxRevStudy, “but we’re not gonna just sit and wait for their repairs.”