The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Freeway Fire Exposes L.A.’s Underbelly

Nov 27, 2023

A massive fire on November 11 caused a section of Interstate 10, one of the busiest freeways in Los Angeles, to be shut down. For nine days, traffic in the streets around the freeway was jammed, making people’s already long commute even longer and increasing the noise and pollution in the crowded working-class neighborhoods around the freeway.

But this fire did something else: it revealed a shady side of everyday life in capitalist society.

Inspectors for the California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, were familiar with the lot UNDER the freeway, where the fire began. For years, they had been warning their higher-ups that piles of wooden pallets and hand sanitizers stored in the lot under the freeway posed a fire risk. But the higher-ups did nothing.

Caltrans was leasing this underpass lot to a company called Apex Development, which in turn was sub-leasing it to about a dozen small, makeshift businesses. The tenants—auto mechanics, recyclers, and distributors of garment shop supplies and pallets—are mostly immigrants trying to make ends meet. In the space under the freeway, they were neighbors with homeless people who camped there.

Unable to afford insurance, these tenants now have lost everything they had. But this dark underside of wealthy Los Angeles was a money maker for Apex and Caltrans. Apex was collecting $23,500 a month in rent from the struggling tenants, more than three times the amount it paid Caltrans for the lease. And Caltrans collects millions of dollars by leasing more than 600 lots under roads in California.

Contrary to what state officials claim, that money is obviously not used to improve—or even ensure the safety of—the state’s aging, overloaded freeway system, as this fire showed. Instead, politicians who run the state hand over the money they collect to big companies through tax breaks, subsidies and sweetheart deals.