LOS ANGELES — A county commission voted down a grass-roots movement's effort Wednesday to make East Los Angeles its own city, blocking a years-long effort to give democratic control to the cultural home of Southern California's Mexican-American community.
The Local Agency Formation Commission voted 8-1 to deny the incorporation request after finding that it wasn't financially feasible for East L.A. to become a city, executive director Paul Novak said.
For four and a half years, cityhood proponents have complained that East L.A. — an unincorporated swath of more than 7 square miles of county land with about 126,000 residents — is little more than an afterthought for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Outsiders may know East L.A. as a punchline in Cheech & Chong comedies, often used as shorthand for a gang-plagued and poverty-ridden area. But residents say the area possesses cultural and political symbolism for Mexican-Americans who have made their home there, and cheer it as the birthplace of the lowrider, Los Lobos and Oscar de la Hoya.
Cultural significance aside, the area's revenue is projected to be $28 million, while it would cost $40 million to run it as a city, Novak said. Cityhood proponents say those numbers are off mark, underestimating revenue and overestimating costs, particularly in law enforcement.
"Unfortunately, there are some things that impact what East L.A. can get" in terms of revenue from property or sales taxes, Novak said.
Novak cited a fiscal analysis conducted by an outside consultant that found a lot of the land in East L.A. doesn't garner any sort of tax revenue.
Notably, 25 percent of the land is consumed by roads, freeways and public thoroughfares, Novak said. Another 15 percent of land is used by non-tax paying facilities like the East L.A. Civic Center, churches, cemeteries and recreation facilities.
Furthermore, businesses in the area tend to be humble mom-and-pop operations, not big businesses that boost tax coffers, like car dealerships or big-box stores, Novak said.
Humble or not, cityhood proponents say the area must become incorporated and democratically independent in order to grow and serve its population.
"The community of East L.A. has the right to self-govern and to determine their own fate at the ballot box," said Ben Cardenas, president of the East L.A. Residents Association and cityhood proponent.
More than 16,000 residents signed a petition for cityhood, saying a more localized government would take an interest in necessary and overdue development.
Cardenas said the fiscal analysis the commission relied on grossly overestimates law enforcement costs for East L.A. to be $31 million a year. Nearby Norwalk, a similarly sized city, pays about $10 million a year for sheriff's services and has a similar number of service calls and residents, he said.
"What is so unique about East L.A. that we have to pay 40 percent more for law enforcement costs?" Cardenas asked.
Cityhood proponents will likely ask for reconsideration of the decision within 30 days, he said. Barring that, they must wait a year to petition for cityhood again — and it's likely they will, Cardenas said.