A tough week across the street from convention

LOS ANGELES - Gabriel Rubio is having a lousy week.

On Saturday, he was told that because he and his family live across the street from Staples Center, he would have to move his car half a mile away. The Democratic convention was coming to town.

On Sunday, after he worked the graveyard shift at a packaged salad plant, television and police helicopters buzzing above his one-bedroom apartment kept him from sleeping.

And then on Monday, as demonstrators and police clashed in the street below, pepper spray drifted through the living room window, sending the eight relatives who live with him into coughing fits.

No one is getting much sleep this week in the cramped apartment. The scream of sirens keeps everyone on edge. Each afternoon, as demonstrations reach a crescendo outside the convention center, police shut down the street and block residents in behind their gate.

''Some of the laws make sense, but the way they enforce them, or make rules, it's strange,'' said Rubio, gazing out his bedroom window at conventioneers, police and media across the street. ''Why would they have this convention here when they know people live here? Why not have it somewhere else?''

Rubio, one of thousands of low-income residents who live in the glare of the convention center, said he and his neighbors could do without the glamour and drama across the street.

He was surprised to hear that at the glistening Staples Center Democrats promised to aid low-income minorities like the people who fill the dilapidated housing nearby.

''I don't really think they know about my life,'' he said.

Rubio's family lives in The Baker, an 87-year-old former hotel where one-bedroom apartments now rent for $500 a month. He works two jobs to cover that rent and support an extended family of siblings, nieces, nephews and children.

Eight-year-old nephew Antonio, who threw up on the night of the pepper spray, said the neighboring convention is frightening.

''There are police and angry people and trouble,'' he said.

Other residents hardly know what's going on.

''This is something for the president,'' said Miguel Ortiz, 20, who installs screens for a living.

His cousin, Salvador Contreras, 18, said his apartment managers turned their parking lot into a moneymaking venture this week, kicking residents out and inviting delegates and press to pay $25 a day to park there.

''This is some Republican committee meeting,'' said Contreras, also a screen installer. ''I don't really understand what they're doing, but I know I don't like it. The police come and the protesters and there's lots of trouble.''

Los Angeles Police Cmdr. David Kalish said he realizes residents have been ''truly inconvenienced'' by the convention.

''Hopefully though, if we look at the benefits this city has received from the convention, they outweigh the difficulties residents have gone through,'' he said.

Inside the convention, some delegates and other visitors seemed surprised they were in someone's neighborhood.

''There's people living out there?'' said Nnena Nchege, a consultant from Atlanta.

But Michael Weinberg, a volunteer from Bethesda, Md., said he walks past residents each morning and has noticed the conditions they live in.

''The goal of the convention isn't to make life uncomfortable for people who live here,'' he said. ''The goal is actually to nominate a candidate who can help them.''

Not all of the Staples Center neighbors are low income.

At the Vista Montoya Condominiums two blocks away, dentists, lawyers, and government workers living in the 180-unit complex are troubled by the constant, hovering helicopters.

''We all come out on our balconies and stare upward, wishing our thoughts could bring those people out of the air,'' said Diane Wales, a self-employed typesetter who works at home.

Wales said Staples Center is a mixed blessing, and she's willing to swallow occasional traffic and parking inconveniences in exchange for the more upscale businesses the facility attracts.

But she said this week her equanimity has been tested.

''There are times I can't even hear the telephone ring. They're flying so low I can see the pilot's mouths,'' she said. ''I talk back to them. I hope they can see my mouth. I'm telling them to go away.''


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