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Democrats keep East L.A. cityhood dreams alive

State lawmakers are moving to jump into the decades-old campaign to give residents of East Los Angeles their own city. Legislative Democrats have advanced a plan to bail out the financially struggling movement even though Republican legislators say it's a local issue that is none of the state's business.

Three previous attempts at cityhood failed in the 1960s and '70s, and now a proposal to incorporate an area with 130,000 residents is in danger of falling short because of a lack of cash. On Monday, the state Senate approved an emergency bill to front money needed to pay for a study to determine whether cityhood is financially viable enough to submit to voters. The bill must also win approval of the Assembly and governor.

Backers of cityhood have until Thursday to come up with the money or see their campaign die for the year. They turned in enough signatures in January to trigger the financial viability study, but do not have the $45,000 need to pay for the review by the Local Agency Formation Commission.

Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) said he supports the right of people to form new cities. "However, these efforts must be community-based and have local community support," Cox said. "This is a local process that should remain local. The state should not be a source of funding."

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said it was not just a local issue. The state as a whole has a legitimate interest in helping the cityhood drive because the culture of East Los Angeles is part of California's identity around the world, Romero said.

"East Los Angeles is internationally recognized so we think it’s something for which there is a statewide interest," she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position yet on the loan, a spokesman said Monday.

Attempts to incorporate East Los Angeles failed in 1961, 1963 and 1974. The local agency determined in January that the East Los Angeles Residents Assn. had turned in enough signatures to trigger a new cityhood process. To get the question on the ballot, the local agency must conduct a study that shows whether the proposed new city would be fiscally feasible.

Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello), who authored AB 711, noted that this was not the first time the Legislature has helped a cityhood drive.

In 1999, the Legislature authorized a $1.8-million grant to pay for the financial study required of a proposal for the San Fernando Valley to secede from Los Angeles and become its own city. Voters later rejected the Valley cityhood proposal. That money was not required to be repaid to the state, according Tom White, the chief of staff to Calderon.

-- Patrick McGreevy

 
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