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Cultural Center to fight eviction

CRENSHAW — Controversy continues to brew over the fate of the AFIBA Center, a long-standing cultural institution and popular meeting place that was served an eviction notice on Aug. 28 by the city of Los Angeles.

The community landmark, located at 5730 Crenshaw Blvd., is also the headquarters of the African Firefighters Benevolent Association. It offers tutoring services for local youth as well as health seminars and regular lectures on African and African-American history and culture. 

Although the center is officially charged $1 a year to occupy the space, Jabari Jumaane, the executive director of the AFIBA Center for 20 years, said that yearly rent is offset due to the services the center offers to the community.

“The building is actually owned by taxpayers,” he said. “What rights do we have as taxpayers and stakeholders? “We are a service organization and the city does not give us anything. People bring in water, paper towels and soap and we recycle cans and bottles. We operate under a tight constraint.”

According to reports, Eighth District Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson wants to use part of the AFIBA parking lot to erect a 12-story tower emblazoned with the “Crenshaw” logo and knock down the walls of the parking lot to build a pocket park. 

The changes are part of Destination Crenshaw, an art project that is in the planning stages that will be a major attraction throughout the Crenshaw corridor when it is completed several years from now.

Jumaane, who is also an inspector with the Los Angeles Fire Department, said that using a portion of the parking lot for a pocket park would seriously impact the number of parking spaces at the center.

“I objected to those changes. Where will people park?” he asked. “There is hardly any place near the AFIBA center to park as it is right now.  

“I was notified on August 28 by a representative of the city of Los Angeles General Service real estate division about the eviction,” Jumaane said. “They emailed me a notice to vacate [the premises] and said they wanted us out by Sept. 9. I immediately responded to their question that the benefit of the full 30-day notice should have been extended to Sept. 30.

“Two days later, the city attorney called me and said there would be no problem extending the time to vacate to by Sept. 30.”

But Jumaane disputes that he ever got the official notice in writing. 

“A letter in an envelope was thrown on the grass through a wrought iron fence and was not posted on site,” he said. “The city of Los Angeles real estate division provided me with a picture of the serving of the 30-day notice. But the gardener who does the weed whacking and leaf blowing collected the notice with the trash. Had it been taped to the post, we would have seen it and it would not have been collected with the trash.”

The city-owned building is more than 95 years old and city officials said that it is in bad need of repair.

Jumaane said that he and friends of the AFIBA center met at Harris-Dawson’s office six times to talk about the upcoming Destination Crenshaw.

“First, those meetings were to discuss the adverse impact that Destination Crenshaw was having on the Crenshaw and Hyde Park area,” he said. 

Secondly, we talked about how key members in the community were deliberately overlooked and not invited or included in the planning that will affect the community. We also felt that the economic development component that should be incorporated in Destination Crenshaw is sorely lacking and needed to benefit this community.

“All of those concerns were consistently dodged and promises were made that were not kept at this point,” Juumane said.

“It goes to credibility, lying and trying to push us out,” he said. “We have documentation of every little thing we have not received.”

Juumane and supporters of the center have appeared before the City Council twice to protest the eviction and recently held a meeting at the AFIBA Center to discuss the matter.

“People are fired up, appalled and feel disrespected,” said Juumane, who added that the center has many loyal supporters.

Harris-Dawson recently issued a statement about the controversy, stating that he has attempted to solve the dispute to no avail.

“My office and I have worked tirelessly with representatives of the African Firefighters in Benevolent Association (AFIBA), an unincorporated association, to extend an agreement with the city of Los Angeles to use a city-owned building on Crenshaw Boulevard,” it read. 

“Unfortunately, after nearly a year of repeated requests, face-to-face meetings and written communication, AFIBA representatives remain unwilling to meet the most basic requirements of using a publicly owned facility.

“First and foremost, the building must be available to the residents of our community. This includes neighborhood councils, community organizations and the City of Los Angeles (the owner) itself.   

“Secondly, the building must be opened and well maintained. Since the agreement does not require any payment by AFIBA, the expectation, outlined in the agreement, is that AFIBA would maintain the property, provide stated programming and services, and carry the necessary insurance coverage to provide for injury and/or mishaps.

“Notwithstanding these failures, I have tried to negotiate a new agreement that would allow AFIBA to continue to use the space. The requests for negotiation have been met with silence by AFIBA. 

“This week the Los Angeles city department that manages public assets was refused entry onto the property. This is completely unacceptable and inevitably triggered eviction proceedings.   

“Since AFIBA is unwilling to work through these issues, we will move forward to make sure the building can in fact be used for the stated purpose of the agreement.  All groups or activities that have been able to use the AFIBA center will be able to continue to do so after this situation is resolved.”

Juumane said that he is puzzled as to why Harris-Dawson claims that representatives from the city were refused entry into the AFIBA Center and that neighborhood councils and other community organizations were also refused entry.

“That is not true,” Juumane said. “I believe that Harris-Dawson is seriously intent on removing me as the executive director of the AFIBA Center.

“There is a legal eviction process and the city cannot come into the AFIBA Center and change the locks. They think we’re going to back down on this issue, but we won’t,” said Juumane, who said he is currently speaking to attorneys.

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer