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.

Or something.

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 cepeda

Dolores (Dolly) Cepeda
Sonja johnson

Sonja Johnson

Images from Murderpedia

10 thoughts on “Dolly Cepeda and Sonja Johnson, two stories seldom told about Dodgers Stadium or Chavez Ravine

  1. I think I don’t mind eminent domain as much as some other practices (even though I acknowledge the abuses) because the landowner receives just compensation. It’s an emotional issue, but studies generally show that landowners receive MORE than fair market value. The landowners are still pissed though, because they didn’t want to sell.

    Eminent domain is much better than the alternative- the government downzoning or heavily regulating your property such that the value is significantly decreased, but you you don’t get compensated. Some complain that the specter of a regulatory taking or inverse condemnation lawsuit has a “chilling effect” on governments and that they regulate less because of this “black cloud” hanging over them. I say this is a good “chilling effect”- governments SHOULD hesitate to engage in unconstitutional and unfair activity.

  2. “I don’t know why libertarians aren’t more interested in it.”

    Huh, isn’t that kind of like saying you don’t know why liberals aren’t more interested in universal health insurance coverage? Eminent domain is a ginormous libertarian issue. The plaintiff in Kelo was represented by Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, and for several months thereafter the movement made it the main political focus. Likewise a search for “eminent domain” gets 2370 hits at and 431 hits at In fairness though this is about a tenth as many hits as you get in a search for “drugs” or “Iraq” at either site.

  3. Maybe I just don’t see a lot of libertarian writing on it because the issue is rather settled for them and there aren’t a lot of controversies on the libertarian stance against it. It’s not “special” per se in the list of topics that they address, but rather part of a bundle of ideas for which there is consensus.

  4. There is one thing in my life that is for sure, Dolores and Sonja will never be forgotten. I remember the details of that day when my freinds and I discovered them. Elysian Valley was a time in my life when I would ride my bicycle down Landa st. through its short twists and turns, It was a good memory of mine. Landa st. is now closed to through traffic, over grown brush and weeds cover the road that is hardly visible, Landa st remains visible in my mind and the childhood memories, good and bad will also.

  5. The bike rides were through out my youth living in Elysian Valley, I discovered Dolores and Sonja while playing in the area when I was 9 yrs old.

  6. I knew the two girls you mentioned above. Dolly’s brother Philip was a friend of mine, and the whole community of Highland Park mourned the death of these two young girls. We will never lose the memory of them, nor forget the tragic event of this incident, I know the families still mourn their loss, and their lives have never been the same, no matter how much they have tried. RIP Dolly and Sonja.

    And, interesting enough, my father lived in the La Loma area of Chavez Ravine as a boy, and was thrilled when I gave him a book with historical pictures that were taken of the area by a young photographer, before the Dodgers acquired the property. My dad had fond memories growing up there, even showed me the remains of the hillside stairs he would climb to get home. To his peers at school, he was known as a cliff dweller, which he hated. Later he moved to Lincoln Heights on Workman Ave., and lived there until his marriage to our mother. After that they moved to Highland Park, and he lived in the same house until his death in 2010.

  7. Sonja Johnson & Deloris Cepeda WERE NOT WALKING HOME when they were abducted by the Hillside Stranglers. Both girls were on the 83 bus going from The Eagle Rock Plaza to Highland Park & were abducted on 46th street & York blvd after getting off of the bus

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