After more than a decade of being divided among representatives, much of the Southeast area now has one voice in Congress--Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), who wants to tap Washington's vast resources to benefit her predominantly Latino constituents.
Elected to the House from the 33rd Congressional District in November and sworn in seven weeks ago, Roybal-Allard is developing a two-year plan that she said will bring key Cabinet members to the area and provide essential services--including workshops on obtaining citizenship and small-business assistance programs--to those she represents.
"When people come to Los Angeles . . . the Southeast corridor always gets ignored," said Roybal-Allard, 51. "But we aren't going to be ignored any longer. That's just a fact."
Invitations went out last week to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and Transportation Secretary Federico Pena to tour the district, which includes South Gate, Cudahy, Bell Gardens, Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood, Downtown and parts of east and northeast Los Angeles.
Roybal-Allard and her staff hope the tours, tentatively planned for early April, will help attract federal funds for affordable housing and transportation projects.
For example, she said officials are seeking funds for the Alameda Corridor, a $1.3-billion rail and truck route planned from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to Downtown. During a recent meeting with Southeast city and business leaders, Roybal-Allard said she also hopes to persuade the chairmen of the two House committees on which she sits--the Small Business Committee and the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee--to hold hearings in the district.
Roybal-Allard said her plan for helping her constituents, the details of which are to be released next month, will emphasize "political empowerment." The plan is particularly important in a district where Latinos are the vast majority--477,975, or 84% of its 570,943 residents--but only 48% of its 86,991 registered voters, she said.
Members of Roybal-Allard's staff say that is why they will focus their attention initially on workshops to help residents apply for citizenship, as well as on follow-up voter registration drives. They also will set up "satellite offices" so that fieldworkers can help arrange services such as Social Security and veterans benefits, as well as immigration documentation.
In addition, staffers plan to conduct seminars to teach merchants how to obtain Small Business Administration funding and how to certify businesses with various state agencies, among other things, said Yolanda Chavez, Roybal-Allard's chief of staff.
And the plan will call for periodic meetings between Roybal-Allard and civic leaders, business people, parent groups, senior citizens and others in the district, Chavez said.
"We need to make the people in the district aware of how they can push for policies and empower themselves," said Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman elected to Congress. "There is this terrible sense of helplessness out there, people saying that they are only one voice. But there is tremendous power in one vote and in people advocating on behalf of their community."
Until a court-ordered reapportionment plan was handed down in 1991, the district Roybal-Allard now represents had been divided among five representatives, including her father, who retired from his seat last year after 30 years in office.
As a result of the reapportionment, state Assembly and Senate districts also were drawn that overlap much of Roybal-Allard's district. Previously, the Southeast area also had been fragmented among several state legislative districts.
Assemblywoman Martha Escutia (D-Huntington Park), who was elected in November from the 50th District, represents Bell, Bell Gardens, Maywood, Cudahy, Commerce, Huntington Park, South Gate, Vernon, Walnut Park and part of East Los Angeles. State Sen. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) now represents those communities and other parts of the Southeast area, including Montebello, Santa Fe Springs and Pico Rivera.
The districts were consolidated in an effort to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, which required legislative bodies to redraw districts so that representation for minority groups would be maximized.
Although Roybal-Allard represented much of her present district while serving three terms in the Assembly, she said she sees her mission in Congress as more "proactive." While in the Assembly, Roybal-Allard said, she spent much of her time successfully fighting proposals to build an incinerator in Vernon and a prison in East Los Angeles, projects she termed "environmentally hazardous."
Although Roybal-Allard is less than two months into her two-year term--she took office Jan. 4--many local officials said they are hopeful that her presence in Washington will translate into increased political clout for the Southeast area.