Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Closure of Los Angeles City Council Office in the Harbor Gateway Sparks Outrage Amongst Officials Who Wonder Where all the Politicians Have Gone Just Two Short Years After the Infamous Shooting Death of 14-year-old Cheryl Green

By Diana L. Chapman

Despite political promises to change the Harbor Gateway region where the infamous shooting of 14-year-old Cheryl Green took place, a new storm of rage has gathered there as Los Angeles closes its only City Council office that serves the community.

Officials from two of the neighborhood councils that represent the area said they are outraged by the move that leaves them hanging and forces them to drive to San Pedro or Watts to work with the staff of Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn.

The fervor reflects what seems to stem from failed political promises that much would be done in the area to help the residents receive better city services and to reduce crime – particularly hate crimes after Cheryl Green, who was standing on the corner with three friends was gunned down by a Hispanic gang members in December 2006 because she was African-American.

While the facility has been used by Harbor area officials for 16 years, ominous budget cuts and difficulties working with the landlord forced the councilwoman to close the office, located at 19401 S. Vermont Avenue, said her Chief-of-Staff Courtney Chesla Torres. The city is expected to save $28,000 a year and will hunt for a new facility.

At this time, however, the lowest amount they could rent a space for was $54,000 a year. The council office will officially close at the end of December leaving Harbor Gateway South to move it's records along with the Harbor City/Harbor Gateway Chamber of Commerce, which shared the space.

The budget woes have not appeased many in the Harbor Gateway-Harbor City area who consider it a reinforcement that they continue on as a “step child.”

Adrienne O’Neill, president of the Harbor Gateway South Neighborhood Council, said she and many others are furious over not just the closure of the field office, but by the way it was handled.

They were not notified by the councilwoman , she said, and they were confused by what was happening, they said. The council office, however, says they did give the council's notice.

The move has sent Adrienne searching for a new council candidate.

“We are less angry about the closing than we are in the manner in which it was done,” the council president contended. “We were all notified by a third party – not by Hahn or her office. She stated in City Watch that her office was working with us to find a new space for our meetings. What a bunch of bull crap! Pardon me. But other than a response to my email regarding the closing, we have heard not one thing from her office.”

As the council office pulls out due to budget cuts, Katy Carlson, the vice president of Harbor Gateway South Council, said they are frustrated by the closure and what day the office will officially shut its doors. This council uses it for its meetings and has no place yet to go.

“Her (the councilwoman’s) field staff, Reginald Zachery is in the Watts office now and we have to call him there,” Katy said. “Some one said they thought it would be 60 days, but we have no idea from what date they’re counting from. This is where we have our board meetings every month.”

The office will close at the end of December, Courtney said. She added that her staff had been in touch numerous times with Adrienne and has been searching area businesses for a new location. The lowest cost a year has been $54,000.

The budget crises has led the city of Los Angeles to sell its surplus property across the city and each council member was asked to review their leases. City officials were not pleased by the conditions at the current location and with an “uncooperative landlord,” the decision was made to close the office, the chief-of-staff explained. .

"The decision to close the office was not an easy one,” Janice Hahn said. “We were on a
month- to-month lease at our current location… In trying to find a new
location, we found the rent to be at least twice as much. The community should not notice any change in service just because our community advocate does not have a desk located in the gateway any longer. In fact, I want my community advocate to be out and about
attending meetings and working with constituents every day.

“Again, there should be no change in the delivery of services from this council

The council office will seek new arrangements for the neighborhood council meeting, she added.

Rosalie Preston, recording secretary for the Harbor Gateway North Neighborhood Council, said her council unanimously voted Oct. 28 to express their dismay about the office’s closure. While they don’t hold their meetings at the location, she said, “it just seems like another symbolic slap in the face. Our board voted to express our disappointment.

“We aren’t as impacted, but it’s just the idea.”

Doug Epperhart, a neighborhood council veteran who serves on the Coastal council in San Pedro, said he sympathized with the councils in the Harbor area because the board volunteers work hard in a community that has a giant swath of renters, rather than home owners.

“It’s so hard to get people organized here,” he explained, noting that even homeowners don’t want to get involved due to their busy lives. “Bluntly, what kills them is they have so many renters. I feel bad for them. They always feel: “Pedro gets everything.’”

The Harbor Gateway, a thin, rectangular strip that connects the entire Harbor area to the south section of Los Angeles has complained for years that they receive less services than other areas of the city. It is the single strip of land that keeps the Harbor region, which touts the world Port of Los Angeles, a city cash cow, tied to the apron strings of Los Angeles.

Attempts to break-away from the city have failed miserably.

The area, residents said, was becoming an increasing hotbed of shootings between African-American and Hispanic gangs vying for territory. When Cheryl Green, not in any gang, became a household name after being gunned down on a Friday afternoon near 206th Street and Harvard Boulevard, police immediately called it a hate crime.

Media coverage descended on the area sparked by the shooting and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the councilwoman vowed to help clean up the area and bring more programs together to keep the children out of gangs.

Cheryl’s killing was also the reason the councilwoman campaigned so hard on Proposition A, a $36 a year parcel tax that would have provided $30 million to the city to fight gangs and to create programs to keep youngsters from joining them.

The proposition votes are still being counted. If it passes, it remains unclear whether the money would come at to the Harbor Region. The mayor’s gang reduction plan cut Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway and San Pedro from funding because those areas didn't have a high enough rate of gang violence to merit funding as other sections of the city.

Officials of the third neighborhood Council, Harbor City, could not be reached for comment.