UPDATED, 2:12 p.m., Feb. 11, 2021: “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family!”
For hundreds of hours in late January and early February, that “Barney & Friends” theme song blasted in an endless loop across a secluded stretch of San Pedro, aimed directly at an encampment of homeless people.
The source was a former banquet hall turned “multi-use filming space,” owned by Jerico Development. The landlord, whose headquarters is near that stretch of Ante Perkov Way, was seeking to roust the couple of dozen homeless people from tents they had set up on both sides of the street in front of the building.
Last Friday, Street Watch LA — a homeless rights group — brought attention to Jerico’s tactics in a series of tweets:
In San Pedro, neighbors have stated that a vacant property owned by Jerico Development LLC. plays the Barney theme song at all hours of the day and night and most recently this building added flood lights. Video taken 1/22 pic.twitter.com/cUiIq0i5C8
— Street Watch LA (@StreetWatchLA) February 5, 2021
“Anti-homeless actions exist in forms of harassment and in this case, hostile music,” the group said, noting that flood lights had also been added to the building recently. “The Barney song playing not only makes it harder for folks to sleep or have a quiet space, it infantizes the violence this building is inflicting on our neighbors.”
The group, started by the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, encouraged its followers to contact Jerico and demand that it stop the music.
That effort succeeded.
In an apology emailed to individuals who had reached out, Jerico said it had stopped the music on Friday morning.
“We are deeply sorry for the lack of consideration we’ve shown our unhoused community,” the statement read. “We allowed our frustrations to lead and took the wrong action around this complex issue. That is inexcusable.”
Noting that the company has “the resources and the willingness to do better,” Jerico said it intends to review its actions and seek ways to repair its relationship with the community. Street Watch LA, for its part, is now demanding that the developer house people in the property.
In a followup statement to The Real Deal on Thursday, Jerico said it plans to “develop and execute a monthly arts program” in partnership with homeless shelters in the area. Jerico added it was also coordinating with local groups to “provide essential items and services to those directly impacted by our actions,” and has established a community liaison position at the company. It also said the Ante Perkov Way property “is currently occupied by a tenant.”
Street Watch LA did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite Jerico’s apology, the choice of the Barney theme song was highlighted in Twitter posts. It has come to be known as a “torture song,” favored by U.S. government agencies like the CIA for the purpose of breaking detainees’ resistance. The innocuous lyrics supposedly serve to heighten the sense of “futility” for those subjected to it over an extended period.
Two years ago, officials in West Palm Beach, Florida, deployed a similar tactic to discourage homeless people from sleeping at a city-owned waterfront pavilion. It repeatedly played the song “Baby Shark” on a public address system.
The San Pedro Barney music episode comes amid the backdrop of an ongoing homeless crisis in L.A. and California as a whole. L.A. County’s homeless count reached 66,500 as of the last tally, conducted before the pandemic. In December — with additional federal funding — the state extended Project Roomkey, a program to temporarily house the homeless in hotels.
The L.A. City Council recently discussed proposals that would ban homeless encampments in parts of the city. Under a 2019 proposal, homeless people would be barred from sleeping in front of the Jerico property due to its proximity to San Pedro Plaza Park, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.
Founded in 1984, Jerico Development is an active developer in Los Angeles with a track record of restoring historic properties in San Pedro and Long Beach. The firm acquired the property at 727-733 Ante Perkov Way — formerly a popular restaurant owned by Croatian immigrant Ante Perkov — for $3.6 million in 2014, property records show.
And in a joint venture with the Ratkovich Company, Jerico is embarking on a long-anticipated $150 million redevelopment of the San Pedro Public Market. The duo won approval from the Port of Los Angeles for the project early last year. The project’s name was recently changed to “West Harbor” following a legal challenge from a tenant, according to Jerico CEO Alan Johnson. The project will no longer feature a public market because of the pandemic. Construction is expected to begin this year.