For three and a half decades, families lined the streets of Whittier Boulevard in unincorporated East Los Angeles to watch local community groups march, cheer students performers, wave to elected officials and celebrities, and generally enjoy the annual East Los Angeles Christmas Parade.
But the once annual parade, absent for three years now, is looking more and more like just a memory of a bygone era.
The loss of the parade means that East LA residents and Garfield High School students who for the last three years earned bragging rights after winning the East LA Classic, don’t have a holiday parade to celebrate their accomplishments.
Garfield Marching Band instructor Eloy Aldame notes that rather than performing in their hometown parade, Garfield instead marched last month in the Huntington Park Christmas Parade; their next parade appearance won’t be until mid-January, for the Kingdom Day Parade.
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East LA residents do miss the parade, acknowledged Tony DeMarco, president of the Whittier Boulevard Merchants Association, which coordinated the parade for 20 years. He told EGP that residents continue to call the organization to ask when the parade – in the past held the weekend after Thanksgiving – would take place.
DeMarco is first to admit that he doesn’t know if the East Los Angeles Christmas Parade can be brought back in 2013. He said his group has lost its funding to put on promotional events like the parade along the Whittier Boulevard Shopping District, home of the iconic Whittier Boulevard Arch and one of East LA’s most prominent commercial corridors.
“A lot of merchants are just trying to keep their doors open…it’s tough to make a profit, stay in business, pay employees and even pay light bills,” DeMarco told EGP during a recent phone interview. “Maybe in the future they can put on holiday events, [with funding help from the county] but certainly the mom and pop shops cannot raise funds to pay for street-closure permits and law enforcement.”
DeMarco says it’s not a lack of manpower but a lack of funding and support from the county that has prevented them from organizing the parade that at one time attracted as many as 80,000 spectators and featured more than 300 entrees.
Further complicating the matter, the Whittier Merchants still owe the Sheriff’s Department about $24,000 for public safety services provided during the 2010 Summer Festival. The group says it was the first time they had ever been charged for such services, adding that “egos” in Supervisor Gloria Molina’s office worked against their petition for funding help.
“Consequently, they used this against the WBMA [and] decided not to support us with the 2010 Christmas Parade,” the merchants said Monday in a written statement. They claim the supervisor’s office is blaming budget cuts for not supporting the parade, but they don’t believe that’s the real reason.
However, according to Roxane Marquez, Molina’s press deputy, the supervisor loved the parade and appeared in it regularly for many years.
For two years it was impractical to hold the parade due to the Whittier Blvd Street Scape Project construction going on, according to Marquez, who said the merchants aren’t blameless when it comes to the parade’s demise.
Marquez said the merchants association did not lose its funding for the parade because of a lack of support from the supervisor, but because of how they mismanaged the funds.
“We can’t let one groups’ misuse of federal funding prevent all of East LA from enjoying the holiday,” Marquez told EGP. “We hope to start a new tradition with East LA on ICE,” she said, referring to a new snow day type festival that will take place this coming weekend at the East Los Angeles Civic Center.
According to the Los Angeles Community Development Commission (CDC), the Whittier Merchants have in the past received Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), federal funds aimed at benefiting low and moderate-income residents.
And while the organization did have trouble meeting deadlines for required documentation of expenditures and other accounting issues in 2010-2011, the findings were eventually resolved, according to Terry Gonzalez, director of the Community Development Block Grant division of the CDC. Gonzalez said the merchants did not steal money, but their problems complying with regulations showed a lack of capacity to administrate funds in a compliant manner—which led to the recommendation that the group be de-funded.
There are, however, other larger factors that may have played a more significant role in the decision to cut CDBG funding to the merchants association.
Los Angeles County previously received upwards of $41 million in CDBG funds. Over the last few years, those funds have been slashed down to $22 million, according to CDC manager Linda Jenkins. The funds are spread among 48 agencies in LA County, Jenkins said.
East Los Angeles does still receive a share of the CDBG funds, however, Volunteers of East Los Angeles (VELA), is the only eastside organization receiving funds aimed at supporting businesses. Their CDBG funding specifically for special events and programs in one section of East LA—3rd Street, 1st Street, Cesar Chavez and adjacent streets—where businesses were directly affected by the Metro Eastside Gold Line development, Jenkins said.
“There was a time when we wondered what a parade has to do with anything…[but] it gets people in the area to shop,” Jenkins said.
Unfortunately, she said, there is not enough money to fill all the need. The CDC had to look at the areas of greatest need when deciding which organizations to fund and what organizations have the best capability to use and administer the funds, she told EGP.
Funding for next year could be worse, as legislators grapple with the federal budget for 2013, Jenkins added.
Garfield Principal Jose Huerta says no parade means students are missing out, as is the East LA community in general.
“We need to get that back because the more we expose our community to great events, positive events, the more pride there is and the more sense of ownership of the community there is, and its a beautiful thing over all,” Huerta told EGP. “You always hear the stereotypes but we need to promote the positives and there’s so many positives in this community.”