East LA Cityhood: Is the Journey Ending?

By Gloria Alvarez and Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writers

Often called the birthplace and center of Mexican, Mexican-American and Chicano social and political activism, East Los Angeles has long struggled with the idea of what self-determination should look like at home.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Ciudad del Este de Los Ángeles: ¿El Esfuerzo Llega a un Fin?

While many past and present elected officials have roots tied to East Los Angeles, either by birth or political support, the unincorporated area in the County of Los Angeles has only one directly elected representative, First District County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

For some that’s a problem.

But for others, the situation has been a windfall in services and developments in the mostly Latino, working class community.

Three previous attempts to incorporate East LA—1960, 1963 and 1971—have failed.

The latest effort, started in 2007 by the East Los Angeles Residents Association (ELARA,) now appears to be in danger of repeating the past.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles Local Agency Formation Commission (LA LAFCO) Executive Officer Paul Novak released LAFCO’s Executive Officer’s Report” for the Proposed Incorporation of East Los Angeles, and in it he “recommends that the Commission disapprove the incorporation request.”

According to the report, state law requires that a new city should have “sufficient revenues to provide public services and facilities and a reasonable reserve during the first three years of incorporation.

“East Los Angeles does not generate enough revenue to sustain a healthy and financially sound city,” states the report, which based its findings on the results of an independent  “Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis (CFA)” completed last year, and an audit of the report by the State Controller’s office. Both concluded East LA would have a deficit of $19 million in the first year following incorporation, and between $12 million and nearly $19 million in each of the next 9 years.

Proponents of the cityhood effort have repeatedly challenged those studies. ELARA argues the studies have not been forward looking, and are based on past funding priorities. As a city, they say East LA could create it’s own priorities and find ways to generate more revenue.

Next Wednesday, LA LAFCO’s Commission is scheduled to consider Novak’s recommendation. “As outlined on Page 35 of the Executive Officer’s Report, the Commission has three options: disapprove the requested incorporation (the staff recommendation); approve the incorporation, and direct staff to prepare findings and determinations necessary to approve it; or continue the matter,” Novak told EGP Wednesday by email.

On Tuesday, ELARA submitted a letter to LA LAFCO requesting that the Jan. 25 public hearing be continued for four months to allow more time to examine other potential fiscal remedies on the grounds that costs in the financial reports have not been properly “vetted” as required under the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act.

“We have faithfully met every bureaucratic hurdle put before the Cityhood effort, and a decision on this issue next week would be premature and irresponsible,” ELARA wrote in an e-mail to supporters. ELARA contends there are still too many unanswered questions and discrepancies in the financial data that need to be resolved, adding East LA residents deserve real answers.

Novak told EGP that it would be up to the Commission to decide whether to continue the issue to a later date. He suggested that ELARA and others attending the Jan. 25 hearing, and who are in favor of an extension, tell the Commission that during their testimony.

Novak says the agency recognizes the incorporation effort has been “an arduous undertaking … for which the proponents are to be commended,” and the CFA conclusions “do not, in anyway, minimize the tremendous efforts by ELARA.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina echoed those sentiments on Wednesday, telling EGP that the “dream of cityhood” is an important one, and that the process has been long and hard, but worthwhile.

Both supporters and opponents asked her to take a position, she said, but she felt that would be unfair, and that “we needed to see the data, and let the process play out.”

Molina acknowledged she was worried the data would not support the financial viability of cityhood at this time, and said she suggested to ELARA about two years ago to hold off on the CFA given the impact the poor economy was having on municipalities everywhere. “But they didn’t want to wait, they wanted to proceed,” she said.

Also devastating the area’s financial resources was the governor’s signing of a bill to eliminate the payment of motor vehicle license fees (VLF) to any newly incorporated city, which since 2004 provided a substantial “bump” in revenue to new cities during their first five years of incorporation. Had Gov. Jerry Brown not signed SB89, East LA would have received $6 to $9 million dollars during the first five years of incorporation, according to LAFCO’s Executive Officer’s Report.

ELARA told EGP by e-mail that it “laments the Executive Officers recommendation for disapproval as the fact finding mission is not over yet.” In their request for an extension, they note that there are efforts underway in the State Legislature to address the negative impact of the VLF funding decision, but more time is needed for it to be completed.

“The question is not whether the City of East LA is feasible, but under what conditions,” ELARA writes in its request for an extension.

The letter goes on to detail some of the other areas they believe would improve East LA’s financial feasibility, such as: reducing the city’s transition period to 7 months instead of 12 months; reconsidering law enforcement, parks and library costs; including a solid waste fee in the city’s revenue stream; and, as a last ditch effort, placing a utility user tax increase on the ballot along with the incorporation question.

Molina says the area needs more tax revenue generating businesses in order to be able to support the cost of services, but just saying we should attract national retailers is not the answer.  “We need to get everyone involved in that conversation,” she said.

ELARA is hoping for a big turnout at the LA LAFCO meeting on Jan. 25 when Novak will present his report to the Commission.

“We can no longer afford to be silenced by the pro status quo establishment; the community deserves all parties to work together to achieve feasibility as there are many fiscal venues to do it,” ELARA President Ben Cardenas said.

“The East L.A. taxpayer has the right and deserves an up or down vote on Cityhood.”

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January 19, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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