Frustrated by an unemployment rate that runs about 50% above the Los Angeles County average, officials from six Southeast cities say they want to withdraw from a county-managed federal job-training program so they can form a more effective one of their own.
Officials from Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lynwood, Maywood and South Gate contend that more of their residents would be able to find work if the cities were given direct control over annual subsidies from the federal Job Training Partnership Act.
At present, a county industry council receives about $30 million annually in federal training money, of which about $3.1 million is spent on programs that benefit the six cities. But with nearly 10,000 jobless residents living in the 20-square-mile region, city officials complain that the county does not give them any say over the kind of training provided or the organizations chosen to provide it.
"We feel that the county takes a regional approach to job training, which they should," said Maynard Law, Cudahy's assistant city manager, "but we feel we're able to better serve our local population by setting it up ourselves."
In July, the six cities asked the governor's office to let them start a separate employment training service just as cities in eight other parts of the county have done in recent years.
But county officials oppose the application, arguing that the move would weaken the existing job training network.
"There needs to be some place in the system where a strategic view is taken of how things fit together," said Dr. Dan Flaming, executive director of the Los Angeles County Private Industry Council.
Flaming acknowledged that the six cities may have been "under-served" in the past, but said the county is now willing to classify them as "prime agents," which would give them more control over job training decisions.
The county job-training system works like this: The county keeps a list of about 500 nonprofit organizations that offer training to economically disadvantaged residents. The organizations in turn get private companies to help train and eventually employ clients, Flaming said. Once someone is placed with a firm, the county uses the federal money to pay half that person's salary until the training is complete.
In their application, city officials said the cities had an average June unemployment rate of 9%. That contrasts with a statewide rate of 5.4% and a countywide rate of 5.7%.
"Just in our one city alone," said Lynwood City Councilman Robert Henning, "we have close to 12,000 people on welfare. That's a large amount of people, considering our population is 50,000."
"We're closer to this situation, we know our people better," said Bell Chief Administrative Officer Byron Woosley. "It's a home rule issue basically, we feel we can do a better job."
Flaming says the cities would have as much independence, however, if they remained in the county system as a "prime agent."
The cities would also have access to some valuable county resources, among them a specialized computer system that they would need for the program and that would be very expensive for them to purchase on their own. And the cities would be able to use a data bank that lists more than 300,000 employers.
"For each one of these communities we have a very rich data base on what's going on in their community," Flaming said.
However, some city officials view the prime agency system as unreliable. No one from the cities sits on the county industry council, said Cudahy City Manager Gerald Caton. And council officials have made no formal contact with any city's chamber of commerce.
Caton said the county also has failed to do enough with the cities' share of job-training money.
The county generally receives enough money to help from 3% to 5% of an area's economically disadvantaged residents, Caton said. That means the county should have helped between 2,100 and 3,500 people from the region last year. However, Caton said only 1,274 people actually received training.
"I think it's accurate that . . . all the six cities were under-served," Flaming said.
Right now about 14% of the $3.1 million that the cities are entitled to under to the federal program goes to the county for administrative costs. If the cities were designated as "prime agents," the county would still receive about 6% of that.
But if allowed to manage their own system, the cities would keep all of the administrative funds--about $460,000.
The governor's office is expected to make a decision on the cities' request around the first of next year.