WILMINGTON — Charging that Wilmington has long had no voice in government decisions that affect it, about 35 residents have started a homeowners association in the hope that it will bring the community clout.
"There are a lot of people in Wilmington who think about the problems here, but nobody knows whom to complain to or how to take action," said Peter Mendoza, co-founder and interim president. "We have to organize and provide the community with a unified voice that truly represents Wilmington. We want to be heard. We have been overlooked for a long time."
To be modeled in part after San Pedro's 11-year-old South Shores Homeowners Assn., the Wilmington Home Owners group is hoping eventually to enlist more than 1,000 members to tackle issues such as land-use conflicts, traffic congestion, overcrowded schools and what they consider inadequate police protection.
Several other groups have recently formed in Wilmington, mobilizing on issues ranging from truck traffic to toxic waste, but Mendoza said he believes the new group is the first comprising primarily homeowners. Many longtime homeowners said they believe they will have influence with Los Angeles city officials and other government leaders by virtue of their stake as property owners and their votes.
Power of the Vote
"Homeowners are stronger than other groups for one reason: Homeowners are voters," said resident Tom Martinez. "Let's make a noise and let people know we're together. Let it be known to whomever that we mean business."
At the founding meeting last week in a school, members selected their first target--the proposed development of a 189-unit apartment complex in east Wilmington.
The complex, to replace a lumberyard in the heart of east Wilmington, would aggravate school overcrowding and create numerous problems for an area already troubled by land-use conflicts, minimal city services and excessive truck traffic, the homeowners maintained. The development, for which a zone change is needed, is to be discussed before a zoning hearing examiner Monday in San Pedro City Hall.
"Every single school in Wilmington is identified as overcrowded," said resident Olivia Cueva-Fernandez. "The teachers have no space; they teach in the back of auditoriums. Education is the most important thing. I don't see how this is going to help our community."
"The apartments will bring in additional crime," added resident Mickey Chapman. "Who's going to provide the additional services?"
A city-appointed planning advisory group has expressed support for a revised version of the proposal, which would allow about 132 units on the 6.16-acre site.
"Residents who live near there say they'll move out if it gets built," Mendoza said. "This project will signal that the east side of Wilmington is going to filled with apartments and low-income, high-density housing projects."
Residents have long complained that Wilmington's many stacks of shipping containers and expansive trucking operations have created problems in their neighborhoods, but many homeowners said the apartment development would be worse.
'Cure Worse Than Illness'
"As much as the residents here hate the containers and industrial development in their neighborhoods, they hate this even more," Mendoza said. "The cure is worse than the illness. . . . The city and the developer are telling us you either get industrial development or you get high-density apartments. I say that is no choice."
The owner of the property, Norma De Britz of De Britz Lumber Co., denied that the project would be bad for the community.
"The people apparently want to get businesses out of here and this is a very lovely apartment complex," De Britz said. "It's beautiful. The plans have a pool . . . a child-care center and trees. It's going to have its own parking facilities. . . . It's better for the community than this old lumberyard."
In addition to providing Wilmington with what he sees as a high-quality apartment complex ($600 for a two-bedroom apartment, $750 for three) developer Steve Grace, president of Cash Flow Equities, said the project may spur further improvement in Wilmington. Its tenants, he said, will likely be "working class people who earn a couple thousand a month."
Residents Suggest Alternatives
"I got involved because I thought it would be a desired improvement for the community," Grace said. "Maybe an additional 200 families in the community will give developers an incentive to build and give the community more clout" with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city.
Residents, however, say that instead of the apartment complex, they would like to see affordable single-family housing or apartments for the elderly on the property is at 755 East L St.