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No Mas: Casa de Sousa Eviction Upheld

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, August 26, 2009, at 06:20PM
Coffee House Ed Fuentes

Olvera Street's Casa de Sousa last week lost an appeal of its eviction notice.

The eviction of an Olvera Street coffee house is proving that action from the City to make El Pueblo Historical Monument sustainable will be swift.

It also made clear that sentiment is no longer a comfort zone for long-time merchants behind on rent; even if they have the dreaded 55-year lease, as did Conchita Sousa, who inherited the retail space left by her father, Benjamin Sousa.

Casa De Sousa owed six months rent totaling $13,000. "We had the money," said co-owner Fernando Cruz, who admits to playing catch up with partial payments through the years. "They just want us out."

It's not your father's Olvera Street.

The cafe was served with an eviction notice last month –– two months after a June audit of the monument was released. Last Friday, Sousa and Cruz listened to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge rule in favor of the city, upholding the eviction "due to lack of evidence."

While witnesses spoke on behalf of the City and El Pueblo Historical Monument, witnesses present for Casa De Sousa did not testify. "The judge handed down the decision before they were allowed to say anything," said Cruz the day after the hearing.

Councilmember Jose Huizar supports the need to have El Pueblo, a department of the City located in his district, be self-sufficient. Yet, a spokesman adds that "It's also important to see that the department is doing all they can to ensure the merchants are serviced well as tenants."

That push for a balanced cash flow is unraveling vague and antiqued concession agreements made at the facility through the years.

Out with the old. In with the new.

El Pueblo had already been seeking ways to maintain itself without having had to depend on further subsidies from the city before this eviction took place.

The same June 2009 audit documents that on July 8, 2008, an RFP led to the most recent lease agreement for Olvera Street: a coffee house and retail store. It includes a base rental rate that will top out in the fifth year at $2 per square foot, plus a percentage of gross revenues.

City Council approved the RFP for a "coffee house and retail store with tourist information" for 103 Paseo de la Plaza –– the Simpson/Jones Building -- on June 24, 2008. According to the L.A. Times, the vote came at the recommendation of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointees at El Pueblo.

The new coffee house will be operated by Camancho's Inc.. The firm began its successful empire with the 1984 purchase of Olvera Street's El Paseo Inn. Their eatery portfolio includes Downtown's Liberty Grill and providing menu items at Staples Center and Dodger Stadium, as well as leasing space at LAX.

As for evictions, it appears a tenuous relationship between merchants and management is anticipated. As Sousa and Cruz took the DASH to the Stanley Mosk Court House for the hearing, they saw El Pueblo Management walking to the courthouse accompanied by city security.

El Pueblo General Manager Robert Andrade and Camancho's Inc did not return calls by the time this story was published.

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