With less than a month remaining before the opening of the South Bay Galleria, the city of Lawndale's efforts to find jobs at the mall for its residents is finally paying off.
Eighty Lawndale residents have been hired and more than 100 others have been told tentatively in recent weeks that they will get jobs at the mall, said Paula Burrier, Lawndale grants administrator.
"This is the main crunch," Burrier said. "A lot of employers are interviewing."
Sixty-nine stores at the mall, which opens Aug. 27, are holding interviews for 790 jobs--and Lawndale officials are determined that their residents will get the lion's share of them.
Burrier said the city's campaign of publicizing job openings is attracting more and more people, including many high school students like Lawndale resident Chintamani Vamanrav.
Wants Cashier's Job
Under the glare of the midday sun recently, Vamanrav, 17, hunched his wiry frame over a folding chair that served as his desk at the Lawndale Galleria Hiring Project's mobile offices just south of the mall, laboriously filling out a job application form.
The Leuzinger High School senior was hoping to get work as a cashier at the Miller's Outpost clothing store.
"I want to be independent," said Vamanrav. "Every time I need something, I have to ask my dad."
The hiring program is the result of an unusual agreement involving the federal and state governments, Lawndale, Redondo Beach, stores at the mall and the mall developer.
The city of Lawndale is providing $8 million in federal redevelopment funds, known as an Urban Development Action Grant, to help finance the $70-million conversion of the old South Bay Shopping Center into the Galleria. The money is intended to create jobs for city residents.
But the mall, located at Hawthorne and Artesia boulevards, is actually in Redondo Beach, which lacks the low-income areas needed to qualify for the money.
Lawndale's federal jobs money will be paid back to the city by the developers over 30 years with 6% interest. The city and the developer, in turn, promised the federal government to make a good-faith effort to fill half the jobs at the mall with Lawndale residents.
"It is a real positive program," said Lawndale Mayor Sarann Kruse.
"This is a good example of the state and local government working together with private companies."
The current success in matching residents to jobs represents a turnaround for the program, which got off to a faltering start when the mall's two largest stores, Nordstrom and Mervyn's, which opened in March, filled 445 jobs but hired only 42 Lawndale residents. By the time Lawndale officials became aware that the two stores would open before the rest of the mall, it was too late to set up a hiring program.
To make up for the slow start, Lawndale officials this summer mailed applications to 1,000 residents who had indicated an interest in jobs at the mall. The city then followed up with additional notices and announcements at public events.
In recent weeks, more than 70 residents a day have been coming to the three trailers that serve as an interviewing center.
In one of them, a giant bulletin board lists every store in the mall, the number of job openings and the number of hires. Outside, applicants fill out forms and wait their turn for interviews.
Alice Lamb, vice president of All My Muffins Inc., which will offer freshly baked muffins, likes the program.
"It has made it very easy on me. I told them what I wanted and they set it up," she said. "All of them were clean, neat. Some of the high school boys were wearing ties."
City officials "pre-screened all the applicants," she continued. "I interviewed about two dozen people. They had a place for me to interview. They had the time lined up for me. I just went down on one day and interviewed all those people."
All My Muffins hired six, all but one a Lawndale resident, she said.
Wages range from $3.50 to $4.25 an hour. The jobs are counter sales, she said.
Most of the jobs will be similar, Burrier said--sales clerks, waiters, waitresses, clerical support and assistant managers. That explains why no avalanche of job applicants materialized and why many who come for the interviews either are youths or people already working in similar jobs, she said.
A $4-an-hour wage means an annual income of $8,320--well below the Lawndale household median of $19,331.
"It is hard to live on that," Burrier said.
If Lawndale officials reach their goal of 600 jobs for Lawndale residents at an average $4 an hour, the program will produce about $5 million for Lawndale pocketbooks.
Burrier said the program will continue after the mall opens at the end of August until all the space in the mall is rented, possibly as long as a year.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which awarded the $8-million grant to create jobs for Lawndale residents, is closely monitoring hiring at the mall.
"It would disturb us" if only 150 Lawndale residents were hired for 1,000 positions, said HUD spokesman Fred Stillions. He said HUD will check the employment situation in mid-September. Burrier said a HUD official came out to the hiring headquarters and said he was satisfied that Lawndale was making every effort to find jobs for its residents.
In response to a question, Stillions said preferential hirings for Lawndale residents could lead to civil rights complaints from residents of other cities, although no complaints have been received.
Burrier said the terms of Lawndale's contract with the federal government insist on preferential treatment for city residents, but the city program refers people from other areas to jobs if no Lawndale resident can be found to apply.