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toward EQUALITY : EXPLORING A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE : Cities vs. the Suburbs : Urban Living Means Ongoing Battle for Needed Services

February 13, 1989|CAROL BRADLEY SHIRLEY | Times Staff Writer

In December, 1987, I bought a house in South-Central Los Angeles and moved there from the Fairfax District.

I expected my life to change. I was a new homeowner in a neighborhood with not the best of reputations. With the newspaper stories about gang and drug problems in mind, I was braced for problems with the people who would be my neighbors.

Instead, I found that my real problems were with the city.

Services I took for granted in the Fairfax District were nonexistent in my new neighborhood. While city street sweepers kept my old neighborhood relatively clean, litter remained untouched on my new street. After weeks of watching the street sweeper roll down the middle of the street, brushes up and idle, I began making about two calls a week to the city to complain. After four weeks of calls, the brushes did touch the pavement, but most of the street went unswept because of abandoned or illegally parked cars, none ticketed.

So again I took to the phone. Sanitation told me that they couldn't sweep if cars were illegally parked, and that the cars were not their problem. Transportation told me they couldn't ticket the cars because there were not enough signs restricting parking and the signs were not their problem. So with my phone book in hand, I tracked down who was responsible for posting signs. It only took a couple of weeks to get more signs posted. Two more weeks of trash piled up.

With that accomplished, I got in touch with transportation once again to let them know that they could begin ticketing and to request--for what seemed like the hundredth time--the removal of a car that had been abandoned by the previous tenants of my house. They said they would begin ticketing and mark the tires of the abandoned car "in a couple of weeks." After marking the tires of an abandoned car, the city has to wait 72 hours before removing the vehicle.

Well, cars started to get ticketed and the street got swept, but getting the abandoned car removed was another matter. After weeks of calling, I was totally frustrated. In one last effort I called transportation and told them if the car was not removed by the end of that day, I was going to pay to have the car towed to Mayor Bradley's or Councilman Farrell's house. Four tow trucks showed up that afternoon, and the car was removed. So much for being diplomatic.

Parking is only one of the problems that residents of my area have to deal with every day. There are no decent grocery stores, department stores or parks or playgrounds in the area, although liquor stores, nail salons and mini-malls abound. The ice cream trucks that travel the streets night and day are known to sell more than just push-up sundaes.

Car insurance, while high-priced for most in Los Angeles, reaches astronomic proportions in South-Central. In the first three months I owned my home, my homeowners insurance was cancelled twice in spite of having passed loan inspections and having a burglar alarm. The companies didn't give reasons but did say I could write for an explantion. But there is little time for corresponding with insurance companies when you are threatened with foreclosure, which is what happens when you don't have insurance. My neighbors tell me that my experience is not uncommon. I and a number of my neighbors have had our homeowners insurance canceled for no apparent reason.

Just going to the grocery store is a reminder of the area's status. There is essentially one grocery chain in the area, and in survey after survey its prices are the highest in the city. People in the Westside would be shocked at the lack of variety and the poor quality of the products, to say nothing of the stores' dirty conditions and lack of service. The standard joke where I live is that Boys gets its produce in Vons' alley. Of course it's no joke when you are the one buying the produce. The people who are lucky enough to have transportation go out of the area to shop, which is both time-consuming and inconvenient.

Zoning violations are rampant especially in multi-unit buildings. It is common to see one-bedroom apartments with up to 20 people living in them. I have heard the arguments that it is racist and elitist to enforce zoning regulations in poor minority areas. My answer to that is that it is racist and elitist to believe that those of us who live in South-Central don't have the right to have our quality of life protected by zoning regulations.

There are many who live in the area who take pride in their homes and neighborhoods and are working to improve them. It is discouraging to see council members seeking higher office argue that those of us who live in redevelopment areas, designated such because of blight, should bear the burden of most of the of low-income housing for the city. We have more than our fair share of poverty and its resultant problems, few of which I witnessed on the Westside.

I have gotten to know my neighbors while we have been out working in our yards or sweeping up trash out on the street, and I have great respect for them. They are people who want better lives for themselves and their children in spite of what sometimes seem insurmountable odds. These are people who work hard all day and spend their leisure hours meeting in groups to find ways to get rid of drug-trafficking and prostitution and devote weekends to painting out graffiti. While many people blame the residents of South-Central for the area's problems, I see many who are trying to be part of solution.

Every neighborhood--regardless of the color of the people, the number who speak English or who are citizens--deserves equality of services. The normal trials of everyday life are enough. We should not have to fight the institutions that are meant to serve us as well.

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