Caltrans orders activists to leave illegally occupied homes in El Sereno amid COVID-19

On Tuesday, Caltrans ordered activists to leave state-owned homes they illegally occupied in El Sereno. The activists moved in about a week before Governor Newsom's stay-at-home order was implemented due to the coronavirus.
EL SERENO, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- On Tuesday, the California Department of Transportation ordered activists, from the group Reclaiming Our Homes, to leave state-owned homes they illegally occupied in El Sereno about a week before Governor Newsom's stay-at-home order was implemented due to the coronavirus.

"My daughters and I were unhoused and we had to do whatever is necessary to be able to keep ourselves safe," said Martha Escudero, an activist who occupied one of the empty homes. "We chose to occupy a vacant home because we felt the government was not doing its job fast enough, especially during a pandemic."

The group has occupied 12 homes in the area, according to Escudero.

"According to the laws right now, it is unlawful for me to be there," said Escudero, holding the notice in her hands.

"However, I do feel it does leave room for some negotiation and some dialogue that we may have regarding how to obtain these houses legally," Escudero said.

Caltrans confirmed with ABC7 it sent the notice regarding the homes illegally occupied.

The state-owned homes in the area were initially purchased by Caltrans to demolish in order to expand the 710 freeway, but that stalled in 2018 after decades of controversy.

"They don't have a legal right to be in those homes. They know it," said California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo. "And they're doing an action, right, to bring attention to the issues."

According to Senator Durazo, who represents El Sereno, the activists have been in contact with her office.

"We're in conversations, both with Caltrans, with the governor's office with the City of Los Angeles and with the County of Los Angeles, and so that we could figure out who's actually going to manage these properties," said Senator Durazo.

Down the line, Senator Durazo said she is confident these state-owned homes will be a good opportunity for more affordable housing.

"Caltrans needs to step up and do something about the squatters," said Luz Lopez Uribe, a resident who's against the activists' actions. "The way to fix this is sell the homes."

In the notice, Caltrans said it will work with the occupants to lawfully rent the homes.

"I don't want to leave this house," said Escudero. "However, it doesn't necessarily state in this letter that we need to evict immediately. So maybe there's some room for negotiations."
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