Culture and history matter, even if it costs money. Someone should tell that to the city of Los Angeles, which is raising rents on the merchant tenants of Olvera Street, a Mexican-heritage historical site downtown that is currently undergoing privatization.

As reported in Truthdig in February, some merchants in Olvera Street are being kicked out of their stalls as they fall behind in their rent in this recession economy. Others are struggling to get by as they prepare for rent increases of anywhere between 200 to 800 percent.

Olvera Street’s management had planned to increase rents on April 1, but put the hikes off for a month. Merchants, many of whom have been at the historical monument for generations, say the higher rents will put them out of business.

The city has said that budget deficits spell the end for subsidies and that Olvera Street must be made self-sufficient. Others argue that public space matters and that budget cuts could be made elsewhere, in corporate handouts and prison spending, for example, rather than axing small but meaningful cultural locations.

What can you do? If you live in Los Angeles, go to Olvera Street and sign the Save Olvera Plaza petition. Or you can write a letter supporting Olvera merchants to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and members of the Los Angeles City Council. Or you can call the mayor’s office at (213) 473-2385. Or you can join the Save Olvera Street Facebook page here.

Visit for more info. –JCL

Below is a contextualizing piece to better understand the stakes and current conditions of the Olvera Street struggle.

Los Angeles Downtown News:

Officials who have long sought to raise the far below-market rate rents paid by many Olvera Street merchants thought their efforts would pay off this week. Now, an 11th hour move has delayed the action, perhaps for 30 days, perhaps for longer.

At a meeting on Tuesday, March 23, members of the City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee agreed to delay rent increases that were supposed to begin for more than 50 merchants on April 1. After the meeting, City Councilman José Huizar, whose 14th District includes El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, authored a motion to enact a 30 day “cooling-off” period.

The moves comes in response to a situation that has grown heated. While some say the hikes are needed to balance the department’s budget, merchants, many whose families have had businesses at Olvera Street for decades, have complained that the increases could put them out of business.

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