Reacting to sharp criticism of their choice for a school site, Los Angeles school officials Tuesday promised several hundred Bell residents that they will seek other alternatives.
The Los Angeles Unified School District assured three busloads of mostly senior citizens from the Del Rio Mobile Home Park and the Little Oak Trailer Park in Bell that they will look elsewhere to build a new school, one of three planned in Bell. The residents--who appeared before the district's Building Committee during a two-hour meeting in the Board Room in district headquarters in downtown Los Angeles--say they will be homeless if forced to leave the trailer parks.
However, the district stopped short of telling the residents they will not raze the two trailers parks to make way for the school designated as Bell Elementary No. 3. As proposed, the school will be built between Florence Avenue and Little Oak Street at the Los Angeles River.
"We are not committed to taking it and we are not committed to not taking it," said Byron Kimball, the district's building director, in an interview. "We are actively looking at alternative sites."
Final Approval Delayed
The district postponed a March 30 meeting to give final approval to 13 new school sites, including the Bell site. Kimball said the meeting has been rescheduled for April 27 to allow more time to complete the necessary environmental documents. He said if an alternate site is found for the school, it will be pulled out of the current construction schedule and delayed until studies are done for it.
With many residents near tears, one by one they recounted fears of ending up on Los Angeles' Skid Row because they would have no place to take their aging trailers. Residents said they could not afford higher rents at other trailer parks, even if the parks would take their trailers.
"There is no place for us to go. Our doctors, our hospitals, our churches and friends for many, many years are in the city of Bell," said Baron Powers, a 59-year-old resident of Little Oak Trailer Park. "We are asking (the district) to help us prevent a tremendous injustice. The site chosen was an error in judgment. It's the worst possible site for a school of any kind."
Bell Mayor George Cole, along with Councilmen George G. Mirabal and Rolf Janssen, told district officials that the city is concerned about not only the displacement of senior citizens but also the reduction of low-cost housing.
"The problem with the site being proposed is it takes out an area of low-income housing for a large group of senior citizens," Cole said. "We feel this is probably the group in our community that can least afford a move at this point in their lives."
The trailer park residents have found widespread support in their quest to keep their homes.
David Silva, a representative of the National Union of the Homeless, said senior citizens are one of the groups hardest hit by construction projects and eventually end up on the streets.
"If you evict these people, a host of them will become homeless," he said.
Leticia Quezada, a trustee of the Los Angeles Community College District, and Walter Backstrom, an aide to state Sen. Bill Greene (D-Los Angeles) also joined in solidarity with the seniors.
"Leave these elderly people alone. You wouldn't want to put your grandmother out?" said Backstrom, directing the question to board member Larry Gonzalez.
While many of the trailer park residents oppose the school site, they said they understand the need for new schools.
"We're not against schools. We want schools for all children," Marie Baker, a Del Rio Mobile Home Park resident, said in an interview. But "we want our homes. We can't afford anything else."
'We'll Be on the Streets'
"If every one of us get put out of here, we'll be on the streets. We don't have many years left and they should leave us in our homes," said Baker, 73.
Baker, who could not attend the meeting because she has trouble walking, said the trailer park is a close-knit community where neighbors help each other. She said the camaraderie among residents is one of the reasons why she chose to live there.
"There is a feeling of togetherness in the park. Nowhere else are you going to get that kind of friendship," Baker said.
Ray Moore, whose mother, Pauline, lives in Del Rio Park, said several of the residents have become physically sick over the thought of having to move.
"This has caused a lot of stress. All they got going is this little complex," Moore said.