WATTS — You can smell the hamburgers on the grill as you drive along Imperial Highway headed to Hawkins House of Burgers.
The Hawkins family has operated at the corner of Imperial and Slater Street for more than 80 years and was recently threatened with the prospect of having to tear down the business due to a land dispute with a state agency.
Cynthia Hawkins is currently operating the family business, which has been a staple in the Watts community for decades. She was blindsided by the state Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) assertion that her family’s business was encroaching on state land, which Caltrans was trying to sale.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” Hawkins said. “We’ve been here for over 80 years, on the same property, and now you’re telling me I have to tear part of my building down?
“They initially said they would sell to me, then changed their mind,” she added.
The Hawkins family put out a community alert on social media pages seeking donations to purchase the land from the state.
On June 18, Hawkins received a letter from Caltrans officials notifying her that a portion of her building was encroaching on an adjacent state-owned parcel. She was told she had 60 days to remove a portion of her building that includes a corner of the restaurant’s kitchen.
“That property is considered excess land, meaning it benefits the state to sell it,” Peter Jones, the public affairs officer for Caltrans, told Fox 11 News.
Hawkins caught the attention of Assemblyman Mike Gipson, who grew up in Watts and represents the area and pledged his support to ensure the business remains open.
“Watts residents strongly support Hawkins Burgers and I stand with them,” Gipson said. “I have invited Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin, [state] Senator Steven Bradford and L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell to meet with Cynthia Hawkins and myself at Hawkins Burgers for lunch and to discuss solutions that Caltrans is working to execute. I feel confident that we can resolve any issues in a timely manner.”
Jay King, the Sacramento-based chief executive and president of the California Black Chamber of Commerce and member of Caltrans’ Small Business Council, feels confident the issues can be resolved and as of now, Caltrans has rescinded its 60-day notice to the Hawkins family as they work to resolve the land issues.
Hawkins remains leery.
“They’re saying they’re trying to work out a solution,” Hawkins said. “We’ll see. I can’t just take their word for it at this point.”
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood areas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.