WILMINGTON — Charging that the City of Los Angeles has neglected northeast Wilmington and that Harbor area industries have been "bad neighbors," about 75 residents have organized a citizens action group to demand local improvements.
Meeting Tuesday night to launch the Northeast Wilmington Community Organization, residents discussed with obvious emotion their desire to confront those who, they believe, have contributed to such neighborhood problems as excessive truck traffic, lack of street sweeping, high crime, toxic waste and inadequate sewer systems.
"There are a lot of problems in this town," said Trinidad Godinez, who was elected president of the group. "The city and the big companies have not acted to resolve the problems. . . . If we organize, we can go a long way. If we stand alone, we will not get anywhere."
The northeast Wilmington residents, crowded into a small classroom at Holy Family Grammar School, agreed that they have waited too long for help in their low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood.
"Things are getting worse all the time," said resident George Garcia. "Everywhere I go, I say I live in Wilmington and the reaction from people all around is that Wilmington is a dump site. . . . We cannot let this go on the way it is."
Said Maria Elena Hernandez, "We need to get things done. It can't get any worse than it is here."
Encouraged by the statewide Citizens Action League to organize as a league chapter, residents loudly applauded the suggestion that they needed to "demand, not just ask for" answers to their problems. The 10-year-old league has helped mobilize residents in areas as diverse as Compton and San Francisco on issues from substandard housing to utility rate increases.
Residents also nodded in agreement when a speaker told them that their strength would emanate, in large part, from the number of citizens they get involved.
Calls for Unity
"People united will never be defeated," called out one member of the audience.
"That's right," another responded.
The residents spent much of their meeting discussing an agenda for the group.
"The crime that we have in Wilmington is pretty bad, namely drug pushers that are affecting our kids," said Juan Navarette.
"Most of the vacant lots don't get cleaned," Maria Perez told the group. "They stay dirty all year round. They are a health hazard. They breed mosquitoes and I've also seen rats."
Said one resident, who attended the meeting with several small children, "There's already been one death of a little girl on McFarland (Avenue) because of these big trucks that are always coming down our streets. I'm tired of Wilmington being overrun with trucks."
Excessive truck traffic--which residents say not only poses safety problems, but gives the community a disorderly image and contributes to air and noise pollution--drew the the most response from the audience, which agreed to tackle the matter as its first project.
"We have so many problems that it's hard to know where to start," said Juan Ortiz, a resident who worked with the Citizens Action League during its two months of preparation for the founding meeting. "We thought we'd pick out one problem that affects all of us. We'll take this on, we'll see the results and we'll continue meeting."
Some of the northeast Wilmington residents already have arranged a meeting with the owner of one of the area's many trucking companies to discuss traffic problems. Originally set for tonight, the meeting has been canceled because of a labor dispute at the company, Express Intermodal Transportation. However, Regional Manager George Michelback said that as soon as his plant reopens he will meet with the group.
Residents plan to ask Michelback to reroute trucks away from neighborhood streets. They also will request that he instruct his truck drivers to obey traffic laws, construct a fence around his facility and order that late-night industrial work be conducted in the area of his plant farthest from homes.
They also hope Michelback will agree to meet with them every other month so they can discuss his progress in meeting their demands.
In an interview this week, Michelback responded, "I would be happy to meet with them and discuss whatever they have on their minds."
City officials, too, say they are willing to hear the residents' complaints. Harbor-area Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores said in an interview this week that she realizes that the community is beset with many problems, but she believes she has been responsive to them.
"If they've addressed concerns to my office and we haven't responded to them, or tried to within budgetary constraints, I'd like to know about that," Flores said.
In addition to beginning their first project, residents started their first fund-raiser by selling raffle tickets at the meeting.
"You have to get started now because if you don't nobody else will," said Sally Pacheco, a community organizer involved in a South-Central Los Angeles Citizens Action League project. "If you people organize yourselves, we'll pull through this together. . . . We have to fight for the rights of the low-income people."