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East Los Angeles cityhood effort suffers major blow

January 20, 2012 |  4:54 pm

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East Los Angeles’ dream of becoming a city, deferred for more than half a century, appears on the brink of collapsing once more.

A new report concluded that the unincorporated neighborhood would not be able to financially sustain itself as a city. The study found that  proponents of making East L.A. a city also underestimated the cost of law enforcement by about $10 million.

The report to the Local Agency Formation Commission, which approves the formation of cities, suggests rejecting the East L.A. cityhood proposal, which the commission is expected to vote on next Wednesday.

“The city of East L.A. would not be able to sustain itself past the first three years of incorporation,” the reported stated, adding that the proposed city would buckle under large deficits for years.

The findings are a blow for supporters of cityhood for neighborhood of 126,000 residents that has become a cultural capital for all things Mexican American, including political activism, art, music and food. Though often bustling, especially along major corridors such as Whittier and Cesar Chavez boulevards, East L.A. is  densely populated mostly with residences and mom-and-pop stores.

There have been three previous attempts to incorporate the neighborhood as a city, the first in 1960.

Critics and skeptics of the cityhood effort have argued that without major shopping centers or big-box anchor stores, East L.A. doesn’t generate enough revenue to be a full service city. But some supporters Friday said allowing the neighborhood to become a city could change that, noting that East L.A has maintained its economic limitations under the county’s long stewardship. 

“We need more development to bring in more name brands, anchor stores and to do all that we’re not doing with the county,” said Ray Abboud, an East L.A. merchant and neighborhood volunteer for 31 years. “It’s time for us to be in charge of our own destiny.”

Although the cityhood effort has gained some major political supporters, other local politicians, including county Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents East L.A., has in the past expressed doubts about its viability.

Molina could not be reached for comment Friday.

Benjamin Cardenas, president of the East L.A. Residents Assn., which for more than four years led the cityhood effort, called the report flawed. He said it was very liberal about projecting expenditures for the proposed city but conservative about accounting for potential revenue sources.

Cardenas said he and others would show up at the commission meeting next week and ask that staff be directed to work with them to come up with a feasible “blueprint” for transforming East L.A. into a city. That is one of three options open for the commissioners, along with outright rejection of the cityhood proposal and postponing a decision.

If the commission agrees, the issue could eventually go to East L.A. voters.

“This will probably the last opportunity people have to develop our own government structure, our own representation and to determine our priorities,” Cardenas said. “If the people vote against it, fine. But let the people decide at the ballot box.”

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--Hector Becerra

Photo: East L.A. at Whittier Boulevard. Credit: L.A. Times

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