LA City Councilman Wants To Annex Portion of East LA

Tom LaBonge wants a serious discussion on annexing Whiteside neighborhood before cityhood efforts continue.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Unincorporated East Los Angeles is currently undergoing the  fourth attempt to make it a city, but over the years neighboring cities have chipped away at it’s revenue generating sources, including East Los Angeles College, nearby shopping districts, and the industrial areas that are now part of the City of Commerce.

Read this story IN SPANISH: Concejal Quiere que Los Ángeles Anexe Parte del Este de Los Ángeles

Now, a Los Angeles City Councilman is eyeing a portion of unincorporated East Los Angeles for its revenue creating potential. He has proposed the City of Los Angeles annex some of the land included in the latest effort to incorporate East LA.

At the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) meeting on Aug. 10, Councilman Tom LaBonge (CD-4) suggested East LA’s Whiteside neighborhood be removed from the proposed new city’s boundaries so it can remain within the City of Los Angeles’ Sphere of Influence, confirmed LAFCO Executive Director Paul Novak.

“It is very important to look at it in the sense of its relationship to the City of Los Angeles,” LaBonge told EGP on Monday.

He noted the proximity of LA City Fire Station #16 on Eastern Avenue, and the LAPD De Leon Hollenbeck Police Station that already services the neighboring area. It makes sense to have a serious discussion about what jurisdiction the neighborhood should belong to, he said.

The heavily Hispanic area is currently part of the joint LA City and County Eastside/Whiteside Redevelopment Project. The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has targeted the area for redevelopment as part of the BioMedical Technology Corridor, an effort slowed by the economic downturn.

LaBonge acknowledges the area has a lot of financial potential. “One day it will be a golden mile between USC County [facilities] and Cal State LA,” LaBonge told EGP.

The councilman, whose district includes Silver Lake and Los Feliz, said the redevelopment area could lend itself to a multi-year agreement; it could be “shared gains,” he said.

It would be shortsighted not to take a serious look at it, LaBonge added.

LaBonge emphasized that he has tremendous respect for the East Los Angeles community, and doesn’t want the annexation discussion to break the spirit of residents trying to “organize the 89th city in the county.”

“Whatever happens … East LA will always be East LA,” and the residents will be proud either way, he said.

LaBonge said while he respects other municipalities — his district borders four neighboring cities — “I always look for what’s best for the City of LA, that’s my job.”

Fellow LAFCO member, County Suoervisor Gloria Molina declined to comment on LaBonge’s unexpected proposal.  However, in 2009, she voted to support the merger of the Eastside and Whiteside redevelopment projects. And while she supported a previous failed incorporation campaign, Molina has this time around remained officially neutral on the topic,  though she did say at a recent East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce event that she believes the area is capable of governing itself.

Image by Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles

According to LaBonge, Molina did not appreciate his suggestion coming so late in the incorporation process, but he explained he just recently became a voting member of the LAFCO board; he was previously a board alternate.

LaBonge said he is scheduled to speak to the applicant, the East Los Angles Residents Association (ELARA), but the group’s president on Tuesday said he has not yet heard from the councilman.

ELARA remains committed to the cityhood proposal as it was submitted four years ago, ELARA President Benjamin Cardenas told EGP.

“Although, we know the idea has been generally presented by the Commissioner, it has not been directly presented to ELARA, nor do we understand the full scope of the suggestion. We respect the Commissioner’s ideas and will kindly listen to his suggestions if asked to,” Cardenas said in a email to EGP.

A major step toward incorporation is the completion of the Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis (CFA), a study on whether the area has enough financial resources to sustain itself should it become a city. East LA’s draft CFA was released last month and LAFCO is currently accepting public comments on the study to include in the final report.

The CFA includes the Whiteside area and Cardenas said his group recognizes “the value of the area for our future City,” and added they “are moving forward with the original proposal as it stands.”

The report contains data related to revenue sources and the estimated costs for services such as Sheriffs, sanitation, sewers, libraries, parks, recreation, planning and road repair, as well as other municipal service costs.

According to the report, the 7.5-mile area with 126,000 residents would face a $11-19 million deficit in the first year alone. While East LA has a large number of small, mom-and-pop businesses, it does not have large revenue generating sources like the casinos in Commerce and Bell Gardens, or a national retail shopping mall like the one in Montebello.

Property taxes generate nearly half of unincorporated East LA’s revenue.

The CFA examined the unincorporated area as a whole and did not distinguish revenue sources or costs regionally. Property values for the Whiteside area—described as a primarily older industrial area by Novak—were not available from LAFCO.

While LAFCO continues to work with the maps submitted by ELARA, which include Whiteside, the commission does have the authority to change the boundaries of the proposed city should it decide to do so, Novak said.

He also said, to the best of his knowledge, La Bonge’s statement supporting annexation does not make him ineligible to vote on East LA’s incorporation, but added he had not consulted legal counsel on whether LaBonge’s interest may represent a conflict of interest.

LaBonge told EGP he thinks incorporating East LA will be difficult to achieve because of the cost, but added cityhood supporters “should be able to pursue their dream.”

East LA Cityhood: Have a Say

The public comment period on East LA’s CFA ends Aug. 29. Residents can submit comments to LAFCO via U.S. mail, fax, or e-mail (pnovak@lalafco.org).

AFCO prefers written comments because the records will be utilized in the Public Hearing CFA and/or the Executive Officer’s Report, Novak said.

Residents who want to submit comments through other means, can call LAFCO at (818) 254-2454.

The final CFA is scheduled to be made public on Thursday, Sept. 8, about a week in advance of the LAFCO public hearing on Sept. 14 when the commission could make a decision on whether to allow the incorporation effort to continue.

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August 18, 2011  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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