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Archived: A Failed Strategy for East LA Cityhood

January 8, 2010 came and passed without much attention by many in East Los Angeles. I took notice only because Elvis Presley was born on that day and because a year ago, ELA buried its first time capsule to be opened in 2059. So, I thought, what would our community be like when that time comes? Would our hopes and dreams of today be realized? We can forget or be distracted so easily by the whirlwinds of contemporary life, even in ELA, a relatively simple, laid-back community without any theme parks, casinos, mega-malls, restaurant rows, dog parks, or other characteristics of more “sophisticated” locales. What enduring qualities will remain of our community in fifty years?

I mean take, for example, the current ELA cityhood effort launched in 2007 by the so-called East Los Angeles Residents Association (ELARA). After three years of growing questionable strategy, I fear their “pop” is quickly fizzing away. I’m certain part of it has to do with the bad economy, which engulfed everyone and seriously curtailed donations. Another portion has to do with simply the passage of time that erodes civic focus given our short attention spans. More importantly, however, is that their initiative simply lacked legitimacy of cause from within its ranks, poor strategy, and misplaced priorities.

In the last year, two of its key officers have effectively abandoned the organization. Back in the spring of 2009 its president, a well-regarded grass-root organizer, accepted a federal appointment in D.C. under the Obama administration, landing a heavy blow to the leadership of ELARA at a time when mobilization of community support was so critical. Then in November 2009, its treasurer was elected to the Pico Rivera City Council at a time when ELARA’s fundraising was seriously floundering and behind schedule. Jeez, what were they thinking … aren’t those key positions all about leading and raising funds for the organization? Our hope as a community has been that ELARA and its cityhood initiative have credibly been about incorporating the community for the real benefit of its residents, not simply as a fancy trope for a political action committee like “Cityhood for East L.A.- It’s time,” or as a step-off pad for aspiring politicians.

As for failed strategy, consider that at a recent meeting of the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), the regulatory body that must approve any cityhood (incorporation) for ELA, the commission voted to approve ELARA’s latest request for an extension of the deadline to pay fees, about $135,000, associated with their application to the commission to conduct a Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis (CFA), a required step for the process to continue. A final deadline was set for April 29, 2010 for the funds to be raised and paid to the commission with no further extensions to be granted in order that a contract can be entered into with a consultant who’d do the actual CFA. This kind gesture came after ELARA had previously requested an extension three times, even though they had been advised by the commission prior to their application to have the funds available up-front before applying! It’s kind of like going to the store and not having the money to pay for all the items you collected while shopping (voter signature gathering, say)-You may end up having leave and get in line again only to find your favorite good eats gone.

A lifelong resident, I believe that cityhood would be best for ELA. Regrettably, ELARA may have forgotten the true cause and lost its way. In the end, whether they straighten up, fight from the heart, and leave an enduring mark on ELA, or fade away like the proponents of the failed election for ELA cityhood of 1961, almost fifty years ago, is to be seen long before 2059.  Let’s get it right this time.

There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the best as the past withdraws.”
Goethe

C.J. Salgado
East Los Angeles