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Urban Growth : Huntington Park Studies Impact of Annexing Florence Area


SOUTHEAST AREA — The houses are dilapidated, the crime rate is high and much of the graffiti-scarred commercial district is gutted from fires set during last spring's unrest.

But this crowded, unincorporated 1.2-square-mile area of Los Angeles County just west of Huntington Park has stirred the interest of two city councilmen, who are pushing to make it part of their city.

The blighted area, they say, is a filthy eyesore that shrinks property values in neighboring Huntington Park. They also say it is a growing source of drug- and gang-related crimes that spill over into their city.

"These little pockets have been ignored for years," Huntington Park Mayor Raul Perez said. "They are always the last to get police protection and economic help."

Perez and Councilman Ric Loya, contending that an improved Florence district would benefit their city, recently persuaded council colleagues to allow city staff to study the effects of annexation.

A combined Huntington Park/Florence district would have an area of 4.2 square miles and a population of at least 90,000, which would make it one of the largest cities in the Southeast area.

"A lot of (Florence residents) say they want to be part of Huntington Park," Perez said. "They like what our city can give them."

For example, Huntington Park would be able to provide safer streets and cleaner neighborhoods, Perez said. The city could build new affordable housing and offer regular street cleaning and graffiti removal.

A local police department also would offer better service, according to Perez and Loya. The area is patrolled by the county Sheriff's Department, which will move its Florence/Firestone Substation to Lynwood later this year.

Huntington Park would also benefit financially from annexing the Florence area, Perez said. He said the city could improve its tax base by redeveloping a burned-out warehouse district along Slauson Avenue, as well as developing other commercial and industrial areas.

Perez said a strip of run-down commercial property on the western edge of the Florence area, next to South-Central Los Angeles, would be a prime target for redevelopment. The U.S. Postal Service recently built a large mail-sorting center with nearly 5,000 employees there. But the surrounding neighborhood includes rows of used appliance and auto parts stores, a run-down ironworks shop, a boarded-up social club and a couple of liquor stores.

"Where can (those employees) eat lunch or shop around there?" Perez asked. "There's nothing. They have to stay inside to eat."

Perez envisions a redevelopment project similar to the city's Pacific Avenue project, a bustling, hugely successful shopping and eating area in the center of Huntington Park.

Although the council approved the staff study, the annexation plan has drawn a cool response from the other three council members. They point out that Huntington Park is already struggling with widespread poverty, a high unemployment rate and a high crime rate--the same kinds of problems that plague the Florence area.

About 25% of Huntington Park's 56,000 residents and 35% of the Florence-area's 35,000 residents live below the poverty level, according to 1990 Census data. Both areas have unemployment rates of about 12%, compared to the 10% unemployment rate for Los Angeles County. "We can't even take care of our own people, let alone theirs," Huntington Park Councilman William Cunningham said.

Huntington Park Police Capt. Dan Leili said his 65-officer force would have to be expanded significantly to serve Florence's troubled neighborhoods.

"We'd almost have to create a whole new department," he said. "More patrolmen, more jail facilities, everything we do we would have to multiply."

Indeed, some of the Florence-area residents say they are puzzled by the plan to annex such a troubled area.

"This is a bad area, there is so much crime," Florence resident Lupe Gomez said. "I think (annexation) would make things worse for them, not better for us."

Gomez, who works at La Mexicana grocery and deli on Florence Avenue, said she doubts that annexation would bring improvements. "The only difference would be the name," she said.

Some Florence residents echoed her sentiments.

"We'll still have crime and we'll still be poor," said resident Dallas Turner, 74. "And they'll still ignore the old people."

Some of the area's business owners seemed more receptive to annexation, particularly if it means local police patrols.

"It would be good to have our police under city control," veterinarian John White said. "We would feel safer." The neighborhood around White's animal hospital is so crime-ridden, he said, that his staff is afraid to leave the office for lunch.

Others in the business community said they are concerned that the area may not receive the close attention under new County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke that it received from her predecessor, Kenneth Hahn.

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