Jumpolin & Gentrification Backlash
Jumpolin owners fight back against landlord demolition
The owners of the demolished Eastside piñata store Jumpolin scored an early legal victory in their lawsuit against the property owners who allegedly demolished their shop without notice: a temporary injunction forbidding new development at the cleared site until the case concludes. Meanwhile, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, is expected to file a bill later this week that would protect renters from demolition without notice.
After eight years of selling party supplies at 1401 E. Cesar Chavez, Jumpolin was demolished Feb. 12 by property owners F&F Real Estate Ventures, who claim they were owed back rent – an allegation Jumpolin owners Sergio and Monica Lejarazu dispute. According to property records, F&F Ventures purchased the property on Oct. 17, 2014 for $700,000. Almost immediately – by Nov. 26 – they filed for a demolition permit while concurrently applying for a permit to stage an event at the space during the period of this year's SXSW. (See "Gentrification Refugees," Feb. 27.)
The Lejarazus sued for damages soon after they discovered their business had been demolished – with their inventory still inside. Judge Karin Crump of the 250th District Court granted a temporary injunction March 3 and scheduled a July 20 trial date. Part of the evidence presented during the hearing was a videotape of the Lejarazus paying their rent – a safeguard they had taken after their new landlords previously claimed they were in default.
"It is good news," said the Lejarazus' attorney, Doran Peters. F&F Ventures co-owner Jordan French attended the hearing; his business partner, Darius Fisher, did not. The company hired to perform the demolition, ACI Design Build Contractors, was also named as a defendant.
The injunction is the latest post-demolition setback for F&F Ventures. New York City-based Splash Inc. – bowing to community pressure – canceled its plans to host the SXSW-timed party at the site (see "Jumpolin Supporters Claim a Victory," Feb. 27). City officials subsequently confirmed that F&F Ventures wouldn't be able to find a replacement host, since the deadline has passed to apply for permits. A backup plan for the now-cleared site – to develop it into a food truck park – was rebuffed. As the Chronicle previously reported, Tony Yamanaka of Food Trailers Austin told the landowners, "It's not a good idea for us to get involved." (See "News Roundup: Never Give Up," March 2.)
The Lejarazus have temporarily relocated to 4926 E. Cesar Chavez, and are in the process of rebuilding the inventory destroyed during demolition. Their plight has reignited Austin's gentrification debate. Indeed, post-demolition, the predominantly Hispanic Eastside has emerged as ground zero, while the pair of Vanderbilt University-educated, would-be real estate tycoons have become the face of out-of-state gentrifiers capitalizing on ever-rising property values at the expense of established neighborhoods.
Among those responding is Rep. Rodriguez, who's drafting a bill that would increase the amount of damages wronged tenants are able to recover. Compensation would derive from the market value of properties found to have been unlawfully demolished, which he hopes might create a better deterrent. His proposed legislation would increase the current penalties of $200,000 or two times the economic damage to a tenant, whichever is greater, to 25% of the market value of affected properties.
A longtime advocate for residents negatively affected by gentrification, Rodriguez lives four blocks from the former Jumpolin site; he's called the neighborhood home since 1999. "The details have yet to come out, but what remains clear is it was unjust and something that really wasn't fair to the tenant," he said. "I believe it was clearly done because the owner of the property wanted to maximize the money they could make on the property."