Cityhood for East LA: Yay or Nay?

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I grew up in an incorporated area of Los Angeles County called South San Gabriel. I never really understood what unincorporated meant until recently. I just knew we didn’t have our own school district or police department, and not a lot of services existed where I’m from. It’s no wonder drug use was high and the only actual “service” was an abortion clinic that attracted creepy old men who would picket outside on Sundays. (For fun, I’d drive by and yell, “It’s a woman’s choice ass&%$#!”) Ironic that I ended up settling in another unincorporated area called East L.A. Yes, folks, Cheech was born in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County too. But what does unincorporated mean and why is East L.A. fighting for cityhood?

I asked an East L.A. rep from the county (bad move) who explained that back in the day when L.A. was becoming a city, some areas never went through the process of being included. (I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but it was almost 5 p.m., so she was probably just trying to get out of there.) Unincorporated areas have no immediate city government, so the county steps up to take care of local needs like law enforcement, zoning, libraries, parks, and street maintenance. Unlike city folk, unincorporated residents can’t vote for who represents them or on measures that deeply impact them.

Miguel Haro, a 27-year-old business student, full-time utilities worker, and organizer (damn, dude must be exhausted!) for the Cityhood for East L.A. movement put me up on game. Miguel’s been volunteering to help East L.A. become a city for the last four years. The East Los native managed to find time to answer my questions. Check out why he thinks becoming a city would be the best thing to happen to East L.A. since the Gold Line (King Taco’s too obvious).

What are the biggest benefits of becoming a city? Having a voice on what happens in our community. There are 126,000 residents in East L.A. represented by one Supervisor—Gloria Molina—who represents 2 million others. We’d be able to elect a city council and bring up issues at city council meetings. There’s no place to bring up problems. The county’s quick to make decisions on our behalf, but slow to take responsibility. Another benefit of becoming a city is retaining tax money. If we become a city, taxes that we’re currently paying will stay in our community. This will increase services in East L.A.

What’s the argument against becoming a city? Many opponents think it would raise taxes or reduce services, but raising taxes is a last resort. If we can get the Vehicle License Fee passed, renegotiate our contracts with the Sheriff’s department and other contractors, negotiate a revenue neutrality with the county, we can become a city without a increasing taxes.

Sounds tricky. The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) was supposed to determine the fate of East L.A. becoming a city on Wednesday. What happened? We asked LAFCO for a continuance, which would allow more time to review the proper documents before any major decision is made. This will benefit everyone because there’s some discrepancy with numbers. It would also allow more time to see what happens with Vehicle License Fee bill that could bring over $10 million towards a future city of East L.A. They’re going to make a decision on February 8.

Any last words? If you’re happy with the way East L.A. is now, then don’t support the effort, but if you want to make it better for future generations, join us.