LAWNDALE — City officials, expressing disappointment over the small number of jobs given to Lawndale residents at the South Bay Galleria's two new department stores, say they still expect to place at least 600 residents in jobs at the mall by August.
Patricia Carter, Lawndale's economic development coordinator, said last week that the city's program to help residents find jobs at the Redondo Beach center has been beefed up, with more manpower assigned to the task.
In addition, Carter said, the city last week mailed 1,000 applications to residents who, in an earlier survey, had expressed interest in working at the mall, and is publicizing the program to alert other residents about the jobs.
"I don't think there will be any problems in finding local people for the jobs," Carter said. "There are unemployed people looking for work, and then there are people who are employed but would rather work closer to home."
The city's involvement in the mall at Artesia and Hawthorne boulevards near the Lawndale boundary stems from an $8-million loan it made to Cleveland-based Forest City Development, builder of the $70-million mall expansion. The money, loaned for 30 years at 6% interest, came from a federal Urban Development Action Grant designed primarily to create jobs.
In return, the developer agreed to make a "diligent effort" to hire qualified Lawndale residents for about 50% of the 1,200 jobs expected to be created by the project. Under the terms of the loan, the mall's 171 specialty stores had to participate in the program, and Forest City was to do everything it could to gain voluntary participation from the department stores.
However, the program ran into immediate trouble when Mervyn's, one of the two new department stores that already have opened, began selecting temporary workers without the city's involvement, and the other store, Nordstrom, did not supply the city with the job descriptions and salaries necessary to screen applicants.
City officials were apparently caught by surprise when they learned that the two department stores were scheduled to open in March instead of August along with the smaller specialty shops. The city did not find out that the two stores were to open this spring until last October and did not have time to set its jobs program in motion, said Paula Burrier, the city's grant administrator and coordinator of the jobs program.
"About 445 jobs were created by those two department stores, and essentially 42 Lawndale people were hired," Burrier said. She added that the department stores were probably reluctant to work closely with the city because the stores have their own hiring and training programs.
When Lawndale officials complained in January that Nordstrom was not participating in the hiring program, company officials said they would seek to "reach out into the community of Lawndale" to find qualified employees. The store declined to comment last week.
Officials at Mervyn's could not be reached for comment last week.
However, a company official said in January that the firm had no knowledge of the jobs program until earlier that month.
Burrier said the city is running a more aggressive program with the smaller shops to obtain jobs for Lawndale residents. Besides hiring a full-time aide and advertising on cable television and in the city's newsletter, which is mailed to all Lawndale residents, it has contacted local high school students.
Moreover, the city has enlisted the help of its other merchants, many of whom are telling job applicants at their stores about the mall jobs, Burrier said. While she declined to identify them, she said many of the mall's small retail merchants have embraced the program because for them it eliminates many tasks, such as screening applicants.
"Some are thrilled to be working with us," Burrier said.
Carter said jobs available will range from maintenance workers to sales clerks to assistant store managers. Those residents who fill out an application will have their work histories compiled on a computerized list that will be used to match job seekers with available positions. Applicants are not guaranteed a job.
Lawndale residents interested in applying for a job at the mall should call (213) 542-0824.