“Exclusively for White People” campaign comes to Austin in time for SXSW

It was reported last week that Jordan French and Darius Fisher, the owners of Austin-based F&F Real Estate Ventures, had one of their properties bulldozed to make room for more SXSW parking. This, in and of itself, probably wouldn’t have made the news, if not for the fact that the bulldozed building was home to a neighborhood piñata store, the owners of which had not been informed of the demolition. That’s right… in spite of the fact that the business owners, Sergio and Monica Lejarazu, had rented the space for eight years, and had a lease until 2017, the building was torn down with their inventory, cash registers, and personal property still in it.

jumpolin1The building’s new owners, it would seem, were in a hurry to tear the building down as they’d rented out an adjacent building for an event catering to tech entrepreneurs on the second evening of SXSW. (The store was torn down on February 12. SXSW started on March 13. And the upscale party for tech entrepreneurs was scheduled for March 14.)

The building’s owners have since said that they were justified in tearing down the building as the owners of the Jumpolin piñata store hadn’t paid their February rent. A quick check of their demolition permit, however, shows that they’d requested approval to bulldoze the building on January 22, well before February rent was due. Furthermore, Sergio Lejarazu, perhaps sensing that the new owners of the building that he rented were douche bags, had the presence of mind to videotape himself writing out his February rent check and drop it at their office.

Building owner Jordan French, when asked about this, likened his former tenants, who are of Mexican descent, to cockroaches, saying, “Say you have a house that was infested by roaches. You have to clean that up.”

He also speculated that Sergio and Monica Lejarazu were likely selling “uncontrolled substances” from the piñata store. “They weren’t making a living selling piñatas; they were selling something else,” French said of the couple.

The company that had rented the space next to Jumpolin for their SXSW party, for what it’s worth, quickly backed out once the backlash began. Here are the final two paragraphs from their public letter on the matter.

…As Dr. Tane Ward stated, with respect to the ongoing transformation of East Austin, “The dominant narrative is that unless there is a yuppie condo going up every day, the Austin economy will collapse. In reality, the poor and working people’s economy has been collapsing precisely because of this development trend.”

The historically Latino, working-class neighborhood of East Cesar Chavez is considered one of the most highly-gentrified areas in the nation. While the demolition of Jumpolin has sent shockwaves through our city, this tragedy is only a symptom of the larger displacement of poor communities in Austin to make way for newer, wealthier residents, and development that predominately serves them.

So, with all of that said, I wasn’t really all that surprised when I read yesterday in the Daily News that someone had vandalized a number of new, high-end Austin businesses with “Exclusively for White People” stickers.

Screen shot 2015-03-22 at 9.10.58 PM

Lest anyone think, like the folks at the Daily News, that this might be the work of racists, Austin attorney Adam Reposa just came out today, taking responsibility for the stickers, and explaining that it had been done in response to the city’s ever increasing gentrification.

I know I don’t have very many readers in Austin, but I thought that this might strike a chord with some of you in the Ann Arbor area with whom I’ve discussed similar issues in the past.

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40 Comments

  1. Eel
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    No problem. They can have their Segway riding ambassadors take them down in no time.

  2. Alex
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Austin was number 3 (number 1 for population over 1 million) on the list of most economically segregated cities, Ann Arbor was number 8. With the ambassador program it seems like we are standing on the edge of a cliff looking at our future.

  3. Sabra Briere
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Fascinating. Had a talk with my daughter in law yesterday about gentrification – how to acknowledge that there is a significant advantage to urban homesteading – decreasing derelict buildings, increasing neighborhood engagement, for instance. But at some point, it just becomes replacement politics – and the people who already live there are forced out by circumstances, economic realities and those out to make money off property. ‘Daring’ becomes ‘chic’ becomes gentrification.

  4. deleuzean
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Does anyone have any references to articles or books about cities or parts of cities in the US where planners and developers have successfully managed “urban economic development” (as opposed to what is derogatively termed “gentrification”), and actually maintained or improved class/race/ethnic diversity in a given area while also bringing real improvements in terms of increased economic activity, lower crime, improved usage of under- or unused property, higher property values, etc.?

  5. Cricket
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    In Ann Arbor it would be a graphic of a white guy patting himself on the back with a thought bubble saying, “I am supportive of the concept of poor people of color.”

  6. Jean Henry
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Burlington Vermont, through it’s City Economic Development Office, directed economic development to suit the city’s local business, diversity & inclusion and sustainability objectives. There is no reason why a city can not direct it’s own future with intention. Standard economic development strategies only measure economic impact in dollars– not the distribution of those dollars or the community impact of those dollars. Burlington placed an ombudsman whose job it was to attract small manufacturing to older industrial buildings– rather than convert them to high end housing. They also built affordable housing and have home purchase and rehabilitation programs for workers. There are also models in Washington State. You can look to New York and San Francisco before rent control was gutted too. Michigan does not allow rent control apparently, but it worked in those places for years. Only greed disrupted it. The idea that nothing can be done is a convenient cop out. I heard the same about sustainability. It’s simply not true. Out governments just aren’t looking for answers, and our citizens are not applying enough pressure to do so. There would be an office of diversity and inclusion in every city to hold those places accountable to outcomes. I find it amazing the Ann Arbor does not have one. And telling. http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/CEDO/Diversity-Equity-Initiatives

  7. Greg McGuire
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Good reporting Mark. A couple of thoughts, no solutions:

    My wife and I grew up in Ann Arbor, lived in Austin for 6 years before coming back home 4 years ago. Living in East Austin we were right in the middle of all the gentrification (and not without blame I suppose.) We lived in the historically Dutch section, where minorities were prohibited from buying property as recently as post-WWII – another piece of this story.

    One thing that is different between Texas and Michigan is that Texas has no equivalent of the Headlee amendment. There is a property tax cap, but it’s 10% annually. As property values increase – dramatically in recent years as Austin’s growth has skyrocketed – residents in Austin face annual double-digit property tax increases. Many residents are effectively forced into a sale of their home as they have no way to keep up with the property taxes.

    At some point Austin will bury or re-route Interstate 35, which will immediately double most property values in East Austin, and complete the gentrification of the dense part of the city.

  8. Jean Henry
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    The basis of Burlington’s affordable housing development is a Community Land Trust which removes the development of affordable housing from market forces. Ann Arbor has land trusts for open spaces and money for purchasing parkland, but none for affordable housing. I wish we did. http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0305fireside.html

  9. Dan
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Mark, you left out several key points in the story about the pinata, I’m sure they were just accidental omissions.

    “To further complicate matters, the Jumpolin owners’ credibility was already damaged. Last May, co-owner Sergio Lejarazu was arrested on suspicion of buying stolen bikes in a sting operation. Lejarazu pled guilty to a charge of attempted theft last June”

    “Sergio Lejarazu admitted to Seale that they had received a notice to vacate two days before the demolition, which belies the “We had no idea this might happen” narrative his wife set forth last week”

    “Probably their livelihood was selling helium and stolen bicycles,” French said. “They weren’t making a living selling piñatas; they were selling something else.”

    “You’re assuming we knew something was inside. Sergio was not selling piñatas at the location—he had piñatas at a neighboring location—in the weeks leading up to the demo.”

    http://www.texasmonthly.com/daily-post/demolished-east-austin-pi%C3%B1ata-shop-new-center-austins-gentrification-debate

  10. anonymous
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    So, Dan, if someone purchased a stolen bicycle, you have the right to bulldoze their business?

  11. Dan
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    did I say that anon?

    I said that mark conveniently left out several facts in the case. all of which are from the other side of the story.

    But more towards you question, if you serve eviction notices to your tenants and they fail to address the issues, then yes you have the right to bulldoze your property. One sides claims they have served several eviction notices, the other first claimed they drove by one day to see the building gone with no notice, but then later admits that they in fact did receive notice.

    it’s not hard to prove if rent was paid and if notices were served. If they had a legal case, they would pursue it

  12. Dan
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    and stolen bike thing was to point out the justification that the owners had to suspect something illegal was being sold there. Police set up a sting for stolen bikes with the owner for a reason. It wasn’t because they had nothing better to do and randomly did so to all business owners in Austin

  13. Meta
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    From the article you supplied as evidence, Dan.

    It’s also worth reiterating that Lejarazu has not been convicted for anything related to stolen bicycles, and that the helium French mentions doesn’t require a permit to sell.

    I prefer to believe the local shop owner who was in the space for eight years more than the real estate developers who bought the property in October and applied for a permit to tear the building down in January.

  14. Posted March 23, 2015 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    I’d read about him having been charged with the purchase of two stolen bikes. It was unclear to me, however, what, if anything, could be gleaned from that. Did he know they were stolen? Did he purchase them with the intent to resell them? Was he at the center of a huge stolen bike ring, or did he just unknowingly buy a few stolen bikes for personal use? The facts may be out there, but I didn’t see them. All I saw was that “Lejarazu has not been convicted for anything related to stolen bicycles.” So, yeah, I didn’t mention it. Does my not having mentioned it invalidate the rest of the post? They had a signed lease through 2017 and their rent had been paid. Sure, they may have known that the building’s new owners wanted to flip the property and force them out out, but how does that change anything?

  15. Stupid Hick
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    A source is not cited, and no claim about whether proper eviction process was followed, but this article (published by the most trusted news source in America, no less) claims the pinata store was on a month to month lease:

    http://www.myfoxaustin.com/story/28107711/new-information-in-east-austin-jumpolin-piata-demolition

  16. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 23, 2015 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Check out Reposa’s commercials on YouTube: “I am a lawyer”. I wonder what motivates this guy!

    I wonder if the stickers…and admitting to the stickers is a Saul Goodmanesque marketing ploy.

  17. Dan
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Mark,

    He plead guilty to, I believe, a lesser charge (attempted theft vs theft by appropriation) in the bike sting.

    “The informant said he had used bolt cutters to get both of the bikes, implying they were stolen, the document said.

    Police then followed Lejarazu to a Southeast Austin storage facility where they watched him exchange money with two other men for the bikes, the document said.”

    “Austin Police and Department of Public Safety officers worked together on an operation addressing bike thefts in the city.”

    http://kxan.com/2014/05/19/affidavit-business-owner-arrested-for-purchasing-stolen-bikes/

  18. Stupid Hick
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Dan, bike stealer or not, what does it have to do with bulldozing the store?

  19. Dan
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    like i said hike, Mark’d original story told the “poor minority business owner dozed over for no reason” story, and he left out many important details from the other side of the story.

    He said “He also speculated that Sergio and Monica Lejarazu were likely selling “uncontrolled substances” from the piñata store. “They weren’t making a living selling piñatas; they were selling something else,” French said of the couple.” without posting the quote from the property owners that prefaced that, about how they were probably making their living selling stolen bikes.

    regardless, my post was basically just to help tell the rest of the story, as Marks post painted only the evil land owners taking advantage of innocent minorities and bulldozing their building with no notice or reason. Which, according to all of the other links, is not the case

  20. Dan
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    *hick

  21. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    “If the media is painting you as the victim of racism, then you better call Reposa.”

  22. Lynne
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Ah yes, the “perfect minority”. It seems to me that whenever a minority is a victim of some horrible injustice, some people go out of their way to find something…anything…with which to malign them. So let me spell this out. The bike thing doesn’t matter. It does not give the landlord more of a reason to illegally and unjustly evict this business. The only reason to bring it up is to make the victim of this crime look less deserving of sympathy. It is like pointing out that a rape victim was wearing sexy clothes.

  23. Dan
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Lynne,

    Why do you assume that the tenant was illegally and unjustly evicted? If he was, then he would have a huge legal case on his hands. With the publicity this has gotten, some attorney would surely take the case.

  24. Lynne
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Maybe. It is possible for many reasons that the owners simply have not yet filed. They may yet file a law suit and I hope they do. I don’t think a failure to file a law suit is an indication that they were justly evicted. Not to mention that in a lot of places, evictions happen legally but unjustly. I don’t know the ins and outs of Texas law but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it favors landlords. Even so, this JUST happened and it may be that their attorney is working on gathering as much information as possible before suing.

    Why do I assume that the tenant was unjustly evicted? Well, usually if a building is demolished with all of the occupants stuff inside, that is a good indication that the occupants did not receive adequate notification. If it turns out that this was legal, that seems like a good indication that the law must be changed. I guess the business owners are just more credible than the landlord especially after that remark about “cockroaches” but also if one considers the incentives each party has to lie.

  25. Dan
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    They’ve admitted that they were given notice at the beginning of the year

  26. Lynne
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Right, but that doesn’t mean that the notice was legal. If it wasn’t, the tenants may have had their attorney looking into it as they did with the most recent notice. It does look like they have filed a law suit, btw. I hope they get punitive damages for this one . Also, I’ve seen some internet backlash against another company the landlords own, one that specialized in online reputations ironically. That part of the story actually kind of makes me laugh. I guess if you are in business of handling online reputations, maybe it isn’t a good idea to publicly demolish a minority business and then call the tenants “cockroaches”? Because their online reputation is pretty much trashed right now.

  27. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I think, even if there isn’t a case, many attorney’s would love to have the case, because of the big-time-publicity.

  28. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    A couple of things about the video of the piñata shop owner paying his rent:

    1) Why did he shoot the video?
    2) Why was it first posted on YouTube March 15?
    3) Why was it not clear on the money order what the actual date was? Some sort of evidence of the actual date would be nice if you are going to the trouble of videotape yourself paying rent on a specific date, right?
    4) He claims it is February 1st when he is writing the check….ok, but did anyone else notice the cases of Easter eggs in the background? It is likely part of their business but isn’t having Easter eggs, already painted, laying on a countertop, almost 2 months prior to Easter a little odd? A little early? Maybe the video of the check signing did not occur on February 1?

    I really don’t know…I just find the Easter eggs odd on February 1 ( supposedly)– very odd. Any thoughts?

  29. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    Ahhhh, Mark reported the wrong date in this article.

    The shop was bulldozed February 12th not March 12th.

  30. Posted March 24, 2015 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I’d read that it was torn down March 12, but it looks like you’re right, FF. I will edit the post immediately.

    While I’m doing that, here’s a clip from an Austin CultureMap article I just stumbled across about what transpired.

    …Sergio admits that they had received a notice from the building’s owners to vacate the premises two days before, which they immediately handed over to their attorney, Doran Peters. “But I swear to God, they never gave us a notice they would demolish.”

    According to ACI Design Build, a demo notice was placed on the building once the permits were obtained, which the city verifies were properly filed. But Peters, a partner at Hajjar Peters LLP, asserts that an order to vacate the premises and a demolition two days later is far from due process of law.

    “You can’t demo somebody’s building unless you get a court order for eviction. It’s the most basic, fundamental principle of law there is. The Lejarazus had a right to that premises; after a notice to vacate, then you have to go to court and get a court order and provide proper legal notice to my client. They didn’t want to do that because they knew they were going to lose, because my client did not default on the lease.

    Here’s a link to the article:
    http://austin.culturemap.com/news/city-life/02-15-15-east-austin-pinata-store-jumpolin-demolition-property-owner/

    I’ll admit that it’s a complicated situation, but, given the totality of the evidence, I feel pretty comfortable with my assessment that the building’s owners were the bigger douches.

  31. Stupid Hick
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Dan, I dunno. I don’t read the point of Mark’s post as a “poor minority business owner dozed over for no reason” story. Even if it were, “hey, don’t sympathize with them! they stole bikes!” is pretty weak.

    To me the point is more like, wow, check out the boldness of the “ownership society” blossoming in Texas. The turds won’t wait until their tenant’s lease ends, and won’t be bothered to follow due process to evict. Nope, their SXSW plans were hatched in Fall of 2014, and they’re not going to be stopped by an inconvenient contract.

    Why? Because, fuck you, what are you going to do about it? “When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

  32. Dan
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    of course they didnt buy the property with intentions of keeping a pinata store on it. They bought it because they knew they could make big profit on it, and it had a tenant that would be easy to force out. obviously. No one is denying that. Thats how the world works. There is no grand revelation here about the rich and powerful taking advantage of situations that the rest of us can not. I just find it disingenuous to paint a picture of some poor minority being bulldozed over in the middle of the night with no warning, when that is apparently not what happened at all.

    one can write a post on the evils of gentrification without trying to play up a specific situation that only told one half of the story (and apparently many half and zero truths on that side).

  33. kjc
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    the example of portland.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/24/how-the-whitest-city-in-america-appears-through-the-eyes-of-its-black-residents/

  34. Lynne
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    ” I just find it disingenuous to paint a picture of some poor minority being bulldozed over in the middle of the night with no warning, when that is apparently not what happened at all.”

    Ok, they got two days notice. *rolls eyes* Actually though, they didn’t really get any notice. They got an illegal notice which they rightly took to their lawyer and before they could take the appropriate action and with no legal notice, the place was torn down. There is nothing disingenuous about the picture painted here.

    Seriously though, this is a good example of why citizens must be vigilant about laws which protect people. One of the big flaws of capitalism is that when power becomes unbalanced, it becomes too easy for those with capital to stomp on those without it. This example shows that even with laws in place, firms will still do such things. Heck, I think that GM thing with the ignitions proved that even when people’s lives are on the line, people will still put profit first. Frankly, I would support laws which make this kind of behavior criminal. I think the landlords in this case should go to jail.

  35. kjc
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    “Seriously though, this is a good example of why citizens must be vigilant about laws which protect people. One of the big flaws of capitalism is that when power becomes unbalanced, it becomes too easy for those with capital to stomp on those without it.”

    but if you’re not of those unfortunate people, you can just say “that’s how the world works” and point out from your easy chair that exploited people aren’t perfect anyway so why shed a tear?

  36. Dan
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    “The couple admits they were notified by the new owner to vacate by the first of the year and according to Monica they didn’t really realize their time to move out, had run out.”

    http://www.myfoxaustin.com/story/28107711/new-information-in-east-austin-jumpolin-piata-demolition

  37. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    I have entered into month to month leases in gentrifying neighborhoods. While I lacked the security of being able to stay there long term at my discretion I was aware that I was receiving a very good deal. It is a gamble and I was aware of the gamble. It paid off for me because I was able to live in a very cool spot and it was affordable. I moved out before The owners started pushing people out. The place is completely upscale now….probably 5 times more expensive…No regrets.

  38. Lynne
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    There seems to be some confusion about the lease. If it actually was a month-to-month lease, that is one thing. If they had a lease through 2017, as stated in an earlier story, that is quite another. I am sure the courts will sort it out.

  39. Frosted Flakes
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Yep. It seems contradictory to have a month to month lease “through 2017”.

  40. stupid hick
    Posted March 25, 2015 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Dan, it doesn’t bother me that the owners want something other than a pinata store on their property. It bothers me that they don’t wait until the lease is up. There are many contradictions in what has been reported. Was it month to month, or was there 2 more years on the lease? Was process followed or not? Hard to tell here in Michigan, all the way across the internet from Texas. The story is like a Rorschach test. Your bias tells you to seek an interpretation that what happened must have been by the rules and the pinata people are lying; my reading tells me the owners are probably dishonest douchebags trying to cut corners and probably calculated that the worst that could happen is they might have to pay a low 5 figure settlement. Cost of doing business, time is money, and after all how much could some poor peasant’s trinkets be worth?

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