Archived: Cityhood Effort Should Include More Civic Engagement

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In your article East LA Cityhood Glamour Fades In Recession, July 16, 2009 you wrote about the fundraising problems with the incorporation effort for East Los Angeles (ELA). As a longtime resident of ELA, raised and invested here, it was a shock and disappointment for me to hear the East Los Angeles Residents Association (ELARA) announce recently that funds for the required Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis (CFA) were short $110, 000 and due in just days! As a consequence, an “emergency” was declared to “come up with the money by July 22 or apply for an extension.”

Yes, I believe that the CFA needs to be done. It would provide a much clearer picture of where we stand financially as a community, incorporated or not. Shouldn’t every healthy community know what it earns and what it spends?

So, I applaud ELARA for notable achievements in promoting the CFA despite sizable challenges through its grass root activities. I am, however, at odds with some aspects of the strategy pursued thus far by ELARA. It’s mission calls for “civic engagement,” yet it refuses to actively engage the community in a discussion of the “issues” facing ELA. That is, community forums or town hall meetings are desperately needed to clarify the issues affecting residents, establish the foundations for such a significant change, and form the links to the current efforts.
Going door to door telling residents that ELA will have “better services” if we incorporate is one thing, but having open conversations with residents on what their lives are like here, how they feel about their community, and what would make their homes a better place goes far deeper into the heart of what this whole issue is about. It is sort of like gazing at the stars without having your feet planted firmly on the ground.

Ostensibly, political identity and economic feasibility have been the call to arms for proponents of cityhood since the failed election of 1961. Perhaps the reason that and later efforts have failed is because proponents have prematurely rallied some receptive segments of the community while others remain unmoved – unmoved to vote, unmoved to donate, and unmoved to commit to the matter of incorporation.

For example, in its grass root activities, the ELA business segment, large and small, has largely been untapped and not brought in to the discussion in any serious way by ELARA. How can proponents speak of making such a serious change to the community in the current economic climate without being inclusive of the business community at-large? How can they hope to raise $110, 000 dollars on short order without them?

The same goes for homeowners. Not engaging all segments of the community early on has proven fatal in the past and stands to happen again if ELARA is remiss and parochial in its civic engagement. That requires transparency, not surprises.

The real issues of our community will be the drivers of the outcome. The rest is just buzz.

(C.J.) Cesar J. Salgado is a resident of East Los Angeles.

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