Dolly Cepeda and Sonja Johnson, two stories seldom told about Dodgers Stadium or Chavez Ravine
With the 50th anniversary anniversary of Dodgers stadium, people are remembering the stadium’s history. Here is the LA Times cover story: Decades Later, Bitter Memories of Chavez Ravine. I think the reporter did a great job here describing how the Dodgers franchise is loathed by the older family members who remember being uprooted versus the younger folks who love the Dodgers.
I always get in trouble whenever I discuss Chavez Ravine because I tend not be able to avoid debating it in exactly those terms. The Dodgers now have a huge, enthusiastic Latino fan base; it’s a brown team, just like this city is a brown city, when people get real and look at the numbers.
But if you’re a justice person, you’re supposed to express your moral outrage at what the city did. And that’s right. But it’s not 100 percent of what’s there.
So let’s look at it.
I’ve always hated eminent domain in general, no matter where it’s used. I don’t know why libertarians aren’t more interested in it. Property rights are important to justice–anybody who doesn’t think so hasn’t studied history. It’s the selective respect for property rights that has caused scores of injustice throughout the world–the refusal to respect indigenous, collectively held property rights of Native Americans or Native Africans that started the ball rolling with colonialism and western expansion. Modern regimes that seize property without due process are never good ones. Eminent domain may be a lite version of that behavior, but it’s still a variant that planners and developers should use only with fear and trembling. Instead, I usually encounter planners and developers who are annoyed because they think they should be able to use eminent domain more freely for their projects because the “social good outweighs the individual losses.” Uhuh.
Chavez Ravine exemplifies the misuse of eminent domain, but the LA Times story also captures my hesitation to completely bullyrag the Dodgers because, despite the stadium’s terrible history, the Dodgers themselves are a team that many in the Latino community enjoy and take pride in now, as does the son in the LA Times story. I think that means something, too, in the calculation of justice. You can’t undo or justify the injustices of Chavez Ravine, but…you can’t treat the history that Latinos have created at Dodgers Stadium since Chavez Ravine like it doesn’t matter, either.
As to whether the housing project mentioned in the story wouldn’t have been more useful to the Latino community in LA: housing projects throughout LA have been pretty uniformly wretched. We as a city aren’t good at delivering housing. If the housing had been decent, I’m pretty sure that Elysian Park would be today yet another gentrified community like Silverlake, with the housing bubble shoving out Latinos for gentrifiers. At least that way, the homeowners would have gotten some wealth created from it. If the housing had been as lousy as most housing projects in LA…I think that Latinos are better off with a sports team.
Two stories I wish people would remember a little bit more, however, are seldom ever told. I’m always sad when I go to Chavez Ravine/Dodgers Stadium because I think of Dolly Cepeda and Sonja Johnson. Dolly was 12, and Sonja was 14, when they were abducted by Ken Bianchi while they were walking home. Bianchi and his partner, Angelo Buono were together known together as the Hillside Stranger. Everybody remembers the stranglers; few people remember those girls. I do, and I think about them every time Dodgers Stadium comes up, as the girls’ bodies were dumped on a hill outside of Dodger Stadium, surrounded by the trash and refuse that always blows around Los Angeles despite how little wind we really have. How scared the girls must have been, and how devastated their families must be still. I hope the two friends could comfort each other a little.
Dolores (Dolly) Cepeda