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Business owners accuse protests of eroding progress in DTLA

Los Angeles police officers and Occupy LA protesters clashed at ArtWalk, leading to 17 arrests and four injuries.
Los Angeles police officers and Occupy LA protesters clashed at ArtWalk, leading to 17 arrests and four injuries.
Eric Zassenhaus/KPCC

Downtown business owners asked the City Council Tuesday to step in and "do something" about what they called an assault on years of improvements in the district. Specifically, speakers accused Occupy L.A. and the Los Angeles Community Action Network of making areas of downtown dirty and unhospitable to residents and visitors, shaking the fragile advances the area has made.

Some, like Emma Chavez, were upset about the recent scuffle between protesters and police during ArtWalk on July 12th. Chavez, whose family has owned Ensenada Restaurant on Spring Street for 25 years, told the council her family has "seen the ups and downs of Downtown LA. We're very, very happy that the downtown has turned around."

However, she said, the events that night turned off customers who thought a riot was about to break out. "Artwalk is a very big night for our restaurant," she said. "We need it to make ends meet." As a result of the melee, she said, the restaurant served 50 customers that night instead of their usual ArtWalk crowd of 200.

Others were concerned about the ongoing protest outside the offices of the Central City Association at 626 Wilshire Blvd. Michael Barker, who owns the building, said the LACAN group camping outside has made his tenants miserable. "They block access to our garage, they create accidents," he said, including pretending to get run over by cars.

"I'm not here speaking against homeless people," Barker said. "However, if you had these people camping in front of your house, you might think very clearly about it."

Russell Brown, of the Pershing Square Advisory Board, said LACAN and Occupy L.A. are putting downtown programs such as ArtWalk, the summer concert series, and a famer's market at risk

Tom Gilmore, one the original developers who helped spur Downtown L.A.'s current revival, said the more radical LACAN has managed to "co-opt" Occupy L.A., presenting "a new threat to downtown's continued progress."

"I heard the word 'co-opt,'" Cheryl Aichele, an active Occupy L.A. member, said later. "We're not going to let another group come in and force upon us their ideas. There are some people who are part of both groups and there are some that are part of whichever group they prefer. I think it's a talking point they're pushing. That we're co-opted, that we're together, that somehow they're puppeting us."

Aichele called the attacks on Occupy L.A. a "smear campaign." She said during the July 12th ArtWalk, members of Occupy L.A. were trying to de-escalate the situation, not provoke police. She said the chalking event was supposed to be a fun, inclusive event, not a protest.

LAPD has said officers on the scene acted appropriately when they moved in to arrest sidewalk chalkers and break up the crowd. The Police Commission is expected to review the incident in the next month or so. 

As of yet, the Central City Association and dowtown businesses have not asked anything specific of the City Council.