By Claire Krelitz
Three well-known anti-gentrification activists in Highland Park abruptly resigned their seats on the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HHPNC) on January 29.
In a lengthy resignation letter, Yajaira Castillo, Prissma Juarez and Rosemary Serna wrote that their service had been rendered “unproductive, and therefore pointless” by the “elitist attitudes” and “personal animus” of other council members who have used “bylaws and other procedural tactics to limit our decision making power and expression.”
Stephanie Maynetto-Jackson, the president of the HHPNC, said those characterizations of the neighborhood council are not the case. In a statement to the Boulevard Sentinel, Maynetto-Jackson said that Castillo, Juarez and Serna “joined an organization with rules and they didn’t want to follow the rules—they felt the rules didn’t apply to them,” adding, “It was unfortunate, but I wish them luck.”
The resignations came after an election on January 9, in which HHPNC board members voted to choose five members to the council’s Land Use Committee, which deals with gentrification issues. The election was called late last year, in large part to give Castillo a chance to run for one of the seats. In a sign of Castillo’s prominence in the anti-gentrification movement, many community members had signed petitions and spoken up at neighborhood council meetings to say they wanted her on the committee.
In all, six HHPNC members ran for the five available seats, including Castillo, Juarez and Serna. Before the vote, all six candidates used their time to speak out against gentrification and displacement in Highland Park. But when the votes were tallied, Castillo had the fewest votes and did not gain a seat.
“I 100 percent knew they would block me,” Castillo told the Boulevard Sentinel after the vote, referring to the HHPNC board members who did not cast votes for her. She said she viewed the HHPNC as moving toward a “new, privileged community and away from the community.”
Juarez and Serna were elected to the Land Use Committee, but the absence of Castillo meant that they would be a minority of two among five HHPNC members on the Land Use Committee, a frustrating outcome for them. “It is one thing for board members to say they are pro-community and anti-displacement, but the votes and actions of the board members do not lie,” they wrote in their resignation letter.
After the Land Use Committee vote in early January, Maynetto-Jackson told the Boulevard Sentinel that she thought the process was fair, because all HHPNC board members had been given a chance to run for the committee and the votes were duly cast. “The goal is to work together for Highland Park,” she said.
For now, however, working together does not seem to be in the cards.
YOUR SUPPORT HELPS MAKE OUR JOURNALISM POSSIBLE