Open Discussion: Poorly attended East L.A. meetings signal trouble for cityhood

Photo by C.J. Salgado

Relatively few people attended a pair of meetings this past weekend about the financial challenges that would await a proposed City of East Los Angeles. East L.A. resident C.J. Salgado provides his take on what the poor attendance means for proponents of East L.A. cityhood.

By C.J. Salgado

This past weekend, two community meetings were held in East Los Angeles to present the findings of the recently completed independent study to determine the fiscal viability of incorporating East L.A.

Attendees at the meetings were informed that the study determined that the proposed City of East Los Angeles would “not generate sufficient revenues to cover projected operating costs unless anticipated revenues are augmented…” Basically, it projected that the proposed city would be in the red for at least the first ten years. What is the implication for a solution? Raise taxes or cut costs. Nowadays, having to do both is ever more likely.

Surprisingly, the most notable aspect of the meetings was not the negative findings of the study because one could see that coming years ago on the basis of the state of the local economy. Rather, it was the community turn out, or lack thereof, that told a tale of the ailing effort to incorporate ELA. In fact, this latest round in the incorporation effort may have effectively signaled the end of the cityhood drive begun in 2007.

This study was the result of an application in 2009 to Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for the County of Los Angeles by the East Los Angeles Residents Association (ELARA), the main proponents of the incorporation effort, as a necessary step in the process seeking to obtain “cityhood” for the unincorporated community of East L.A.

This year  marks the 50th anniversary of the earlier, failed incorporation attempt in ELA of 1961. You’d think that after such a long incubation period for this long-sought political goal, the auditorium would be packed with residents and business people from this community, known historically for its activism of the Chicano movement, clamoring for local independence.

Instead, fewer than 100 people attended, total for both meetings! Worse, at least half of that count included representatives of ELARA (the proponents), county staffers, some media, interested parties, and other “regulars” who follow this issue. One attendee, Martha Jimenez, commented that “there were more chairs than people.” Where was the average resident?

When you consider that East L.A.  has a population of 126,000 according to the 2010 Census, the poor showing at the LAFCO meetings amounts to a civic participation rate of less than a tenth of a percent! Surely, that is not community engagement. Statistically, it is zilch, nada, the big Z. Although, the proponents often speak about a cityhood “campaign,” in fact, the weak turnout at these meetings suggest that their four-year old effort has been largely disconnected from the mainstream population in East L.A, unable to sustain a focused, committed following.

Those few that did attend expressed a range of views. Jesse Luna, a long-time resident of East L.A., appeared not convinced by the incorporation proposal, noting that East L.A. “has no business infrastructure” (East L.A. is mostly residential) to support a city. Another speaker during the public input portion, Sophia Quinones, expressed concern that the county was already “over taxing” East L.A.. Acknowledging that the economy was impacting cities all over, Arnulfo Delgado, an incorporation supporter, suggested to LAFCO that it consider opting for the use of more part-time staff in the expenditure projections provided in the financial study, called a Comprehensive Financial Analysis.

One specific point of contention was the estimated contract costs with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide services to the proposed new city. LAFCO utilized an annual cost estimated at $21.1 million. However, the Sheriff’s own proposal came in at a higher $31.2 million. Given that the CFA projection assumed “reduced levels of staffing” for the Sheriff’s contract, it was hard to see how such a proposed city would offer any real advantages over existing law enforcement services when many would hope a city could do better over the county. “Expanded” levels of staffing would be more to their liking.

The county provided the data used in the CFA projections for LAFCO. Yet, although ELARA had announced, “we remain committed to this fair and transparent process…We thank LAFCO for all of their hard work on this matter, in particular the professional and fair way this process has been handled,” distrust seemed to abound at the meetings. Cindy Rivera, a cityhood volunteer, testified that “the numbers need to be audited.” Denise Navarro, another speaker who made public input, questioned “all the figures provided by the county.”

Toward the end of one of the community meetings, the lights in the auditorium momentarily went dark, a technical problem, but also possibly a harbinger of what’s to come for this cityhood effort. At the conclusion of the meetings, there were no standing ovations or no animated clapping, just a quiet retreat from the somber findings of the CFA. The auditorium emptied quickly, as it was only at 5% of capacity.

Gone, too, were the following of local politicians who often made their presence known at incorporation meetings of the past, and vocally pledged their support. Now, under the cold reality of the CFA and the lack of community engagement, East L.A. cityhood may have lost its luster for many. In fact, a group of attendees wore “green ribbons,” marking their solidarity in opposition to cityhood.

Even LAFCO seemed to have shunned the proposal. Only one Commissioner, Lillian Kawasaki, an Alternate Member, showed up for a meeting. Gloria Molina, the County Member of LAFCO and 1st District Supervisor for East L.A., did not attend, although a staffer for her office did. Looks like many have already made up their mind about the incorporation proposal. At least those who know about it…

Related posts:

  • Is East L.A. ready to be a city? EGP News
  • East L.A. residents would have to pay more for cityhood. The Eastsider
  • Open Discussion: Is the price of East L.A. cityhood worth it. The Eastsider

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