Ronald Kartoon Antwine is a lifelong resident of Watts who has survived the riots of 1965 and 1992 not to mention the gang warfare and Cocaine epidemic which he states added to the conditions and mentality of a forgotten community.
Ronald Kartoon Antwine has resided on Monitor Ave in Watts since 1971 after his mother had a spacious 4 bedroom 2 bath and two car garage built from the ground up.
More than four decades our family has looked out our front door, stood on the porch, sat in the yard or exited a vehicle only to look less than 200 feet and see the remnants of Billionaire Slumlords. This partial of land which spreads 1.4 acres has been a blighted eye sore to this community for decades. This land was owned by Union Pacific Railroads whose tracks run adjacent to MTA's Blueline tracks which remain operational today.
Residents complaints about the illegal dumping constantly went unheard, Kartoon stated years ago weeds would grow as tall as seven feet with trash scattered throughout. Others used this plot of land as their personal landfill in the early morning hours.
After contacting Union Pacific Railroad using every means available only to be ignored. No one wanted to come out to Watts and clean up the mess on their property. Fed up, Kartoon decided to take it a step further, file a small claims case to get compensated for the flat tires of his vehicle, the excessive dust and dirt in his home, the rodents who ran rampant. It was in the small claims court he met a lawyer who was willing to take a look at his complaint. The lawyer saw the rubbish, weeds and lack of concern and not only represented Antwine, she represented all those impacted by the blight. More than 30 residents received from $17,000 to $55,000 from Union Pacific Railroad with conditions we wouldn't be able to sue in the future. Kartoon's anger frustration and perseverance made many of his neighbors smile from just their signature.
I learned that Union Pacific Railroad never had intentions of cleaning up their property, in fact we learned that the City of Los Angeles would eventually clean up the lot and charge Union Pacific Railroad $10,000 which is nothing for a multi billion dollar company. In the mid 70's my mother complaints went unheard and through her frustration she made a frantic phone call and reported there was a dead body in the field, after police officials combed the area the city cleaned up the lot.
Years later Kartoon never knew he would continue his mother's fight. I was rolling with a true lifelong-friend Greg Brown who wanted to stop by the Watts Neighborhood Council meeting. We enter the meeting which was dimly lit, someone was doing a slide show presentation. I scanned the room to see who I was in here with when I heard the presenter say "these people don't even care about their community, they walk right outside their homes and throw trash into this field." Curious, I wanted to know what low life's did that. I looked up at the screen and their was a picture of my neighbor ours house and I knew damn well Ms. Suzie didn't live like that. There was a picture of my house followed by a picture of my other neighbor. I lost it and disruptive this presentation given by a developer Rodney Sheppard. "You're a damn lie, we have never threw trash over there, it's you mofo's from other communities who dump shyt in the middle of the night, don't be lying on us like that."
The Developer was seeking approval from the Watts Neighborhood Council to build 30 plus shotgun houses. I didn't give a damn because none of these members lived on our side of Watts. I stood my ground and stated my truth as I told the developer and WNC that NO HOUSES would be built in front of my house, we want a park, you will be met with opposition.
I learned that Union Pacific Railroad sold the partial of land after paying us pennies from their long bank account. Rodney Shepard of RSS Developement needed more approvals from the Planning, Zoning and Los Angeles City Council along with more investors to commence his project. I learned about zoning, environmental impact studies, planning commission and you better believe I attended each and every meeting along with a member from the WNC who constantly opposed the ideal of a green space and has never resided in Watts.
Every step of the way my cries were dismissed and my voice meant little which only added fuel to my fire. My out of pocket expenses increased and caused delays in him moving forward. My organizational skills became of paramount importance and the mindset was forward forever, backwards never. I refused to give up and backing down was not an option. We were not having houses built in our community while so many were left abandoned or perhaps set ablaze for insurance money.
I went home and made flyers about the developers plans in both English and Spanish for I know many were unaware and hadn't even heard of these plans. My friend Darnell Harrell and his son Lil Darnell assisted me delivering flyers from door to door, up one street and sown another from 111th to Imperial Highway, the sweat was worth it.
Rodney Sheppard and members of the WNC heard of and witnessed me in action, to them I was a threat. They called their own meeting in an entirely different part of Watts which has never been impacted by the misuse of this land.
When My best friend Greg Brown informed me of their meeting at Rev. Popes Church at Bethel Baptist Church on 109th and Compton Ave, I became infuriated. I attended the meeting which was made up of people from outside of our community and spearheaded by the WNC. Rodney Shepards was again spreading his vicious lies during his presentation as he tried to gain support for his project. Once again I became the thunderous voice of reason with conviction as I let it be known no houses would be built and they would be met with opposition.
I met with Rev. Mason at Macedonia Baptist Church which I was a faithful member of and told him of my fight, he totally agreed that our community would benefit from have a park opposed to homes on that partial of land. I asked if we could hold a community for I he said yes. Back to my computer to make more flyers and back up and down the streets inviting neighbors to attend the meeting.
I was really surprised that many members showed up, yes, the word had spread and now it was time for action and more action. The meeting was scheduled for 6:00 PM and as usual members began arriving at 6:15 PM. Rev. Mason became the facilitator and by the end of the meeting many members were well informed as to what was going on.
Rodney Shepard, his associates and the WNC heard of our meeting and arranged a meeting in our community at Macedonia Baptist Church. I later learned that not only was Rodney Shepard scheduled to attend, our Councilwoman Janice Hahn was attending. Her and I didn't see eye to eye and she know why.
More flyers were made and distributed, this was the show down between the developers and the community they wished to build in.
I arrived at the church early and no one from the community was there.
Within minutes Rodney Shepard and his crew arrived followed by Janice Hahn and her aides. I saw them all as the enemy attempting to tell our community what their plans were instead of asking us what would would like.
Eric Brown approached me and sarcastically said "well Toon, I guess your people are not coming." As I looked into the distance approximately 50 Hispanics turned the corner headed our way. "well, Eric, I guess my people are showing up after all." Cars began to park, residents were jogging to the meeting and my heart was so full of joy.
Rodney Shepard did his presentation as members blurted out "we want a park." Janice Hahn took this moment to sell her ideals on us which appeared to fall on deaf ears. She tried to convince us that their was no money to build a park and these houses would beautify our community. When Rodney Shepard sense this was not the reaction he was seeking he stated "look, there are a lot of people in this community who want the houses" he began to unfold some papers as he stated "these are people who signed a petition for these houses, he began to read names with an attitude, as he read the names the meeting became an uproar as more and more residents jumped up calling him a liar, "I didn't sign nothing, you are lying on me.." Rodney was reading names from the sign in sheet at Bethel Baptist Church. This tactic certainly backfired on him. By the end of this meeting only one member voted for the houses and she was a cousin of Rodney Shepard.
I attended more meetings and the final meeting which was held at Los Angeles City Hall amongst the Los Angeles City Counsel. Even here one member of the WNC showed up to oppose the park. I was given 2 minutes to state my case and I felt very disrespected as I observed members of the city counsel engaged in conversations, walking around as some never even looked up to see me not to mention the ones who didn't even show up for roll call.
After I spoke Janice Hahn attempted to belittle me with her lie "oh, that's just Kartoon, a disgruntled resident, I talked to my constituents and they all want the houses built. The counsel called for the vote and I was dumbfounded as the all voted to approve the construction of houses in our community.
This became war for I would make sure these developers would meet opposition every step of the way and they would know who Kartoon was. Many mornings I would exit my home to see white men in suits taking pictures of the blighted land. I would first grab my camera and take a few shots to document their visit. I walked up to them as I ask "are you guys here for the houses, we don't want any houses we want a park, you guys will be met with opposition?" They would hurriedly get in their cars and out of our community.
Every time I heard cars on the opposite side of the street I would look out of my house to see yet another investor who gave less than a damn about our wants as a community, they were all concerned about their profit margin. There were moments when these investors would drive up as several neighbors would be standing front of my house and as we approached them one would say"you must be Kartoon?" Yes, I am Kartoon and if you're here for these houses, you and Rodney Shepard will be met with opposition, not one damn house will be built on that lot.
I learned that the investors began to pull out leaving Rodney Shepard by himself. He was merely a mouth piece making a profit off of others money.
At the onset of this David and Goliath fight I met a wonderful lady named Torrie Parks from the Trust and Public Land Office. They are resourceful in finding money to build pocket parks and green spaces.
Torrie told me Rodney Shepard was selling the land since his investors didn't want to compete with Kartoon who going nowhere soon. She told me he was trying to sell the property for much more than it was worth.
I came out of my house one morning and got into my SUV, I had just put my seatbelt on and rolled down the driver window when a black Lincoln Navigator came towards me at a high rate of speed. I watched the Navigator get in to my lane traveling the wrong direction. I really thought this was an early morning drive by, the Lincoln Navigator slammed on brakes and I found myself staring into the eyes of Rodney Shepard. He looked as though he'd been on an all night binder.
He rolled down his window and held up a piece of blank writing paper as he said "kartoon, please sign this" what I is that. It's nothing on that paper I responded. "it's a petition for the houses, these people listen to you, they see your name, they will sign, it's a lot of money in it for you and me."
At that moment if I had an ounce of respect for Rodney Shepard, it was lost. "let me tell you something, I have NEVER sold out my hood and I'm not starting now, get the fu$& from in front of my house." I said as I watched him turn the corner and fade away.
This once arrogant man found out that everyone in Watts is not a sell out. He finally succumbed to the opposition of a forgotten community and sold the partial of land to Trust and Public Land who has relinquished it to Recreation and Parks.
Developers and contractors for the park have been to our community allowing us to have input in the designs. Though other continue to come through and empty their trash in the early morning hours, I now contact Torrie Parks our angel and the clean up campaign begins. Though I am one man with one voice and one vote, I was heard. My fight generated 5.8 million dollars, monies that others thought they were going to pocket.
Our children will have a skateboard park, we will have our own walking trails, their will be weather resistant exercise machines yet more importantly we will have greenery which produce oxygen and serenity helping us all to live in harmony. Thank you Ted Watkins for saying "Don't move, improve." I thank my mother Ruby Joyce who started a fight that her first born finished......
Ground braking is scheduled for Jan 2014.