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City Smart | Community Profile: Irwindale

May 17, 1996|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

Irwindale is probably best known for its great depressions: the mammoth holes in the ground from which has been extracted the gravel that has gone into the concrete holding much of Los Angeles together, and the depression that swept over the tiny, scandal-plagued municipality when the Raiders football team decided not to locate there, but still kept the city's $10 million that Raiders owner Al Davis had demanded as the price of negotiations.

Before Irwindale failed to fill the 65,000-seat, never-built "Raider Crater," it had one previous brush with national attention, an embarrassing affair that became known as the "spiked enchilada caper."

In 1971, in an unsuccessful attempt to blackmail then-Mayor Richard Diaz into supporting legalized gambling, political opponents fed him a plate of drug-soaked enchiladas, rendering him unconscious, then posed him in compromising positions beside a nude woman and took pictures. A city councilman involved in the plot was recalled and three others either pleaded guilty or were convicted of attempted blackmail.

As long ago as 1961, only four years after Irwindale was incorporated, a next-door newspaper snidely dubbed the city "a study in dust and dejection . . . as attractive as a goiter."

To an outsider's casual glance, Irwindale looks like it isn't worth fighting over: Apart from a dam and a park, the city's 10-square-mile area is scarred by sand and gravel pits and dotted with industry.

Houses line only about a dozen streets, many of them cul-de-sacs within walking distance of City Hall. The working-class town of about 1,050 grew by only 20 people in the 1980s. Four powerful Latino families--the Mirandas, the Brecedas, the Barbosas and the Diazes--have run the city for decades, and account for much of its population.

City coffers swelled after a redevelopment agency formed in 1976 and officials began wooing industry and corporate headquarters. Miller Brewing Co. moved in first, paving over the Irwindale Drag Strip in 1978, and land where mushrooms were grown with pig manure was turned into an industrial park.

Irwindale's close-knit families have carved out a pleasant life amid its gravel-pit lunar landscape. There are no gangs; burglaries tallied a modest eight in April; the city, patrolled by its own police, logged three rapes and no murders last year.

Residents here consider themselves downright pampered, with free haircuts and piano lessons for senior citizens, free tutoring for students, home improvement grants, low-cost prescriptions and a scholarship fund.

To help maintain these perks, casino advocates recently promised the city more than 500 jobs and $3 million annually in taxes from a proposed card club. But most of the city's 760 voters rejected the offer, many invoking religious standards against an industry they feared would bring prostitution, other crimes and headaches for a peaceful city.

Pedal to the Metal: Engines will soon be revving at the new $4.5-million Irwindale Raceway, featuring a 6,500-seat stadium and clay and asphalt tracks for stock, sprint and midget-car racing. The speedway is scheduled to be completed next February on a 65-acre site on Live Oak Avenue. It is expected to draw about 5,000 spectators every weekend.

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By The Numbers

City Business

Incorporated: Aug. 7, 1957

Area in square miles: 10

Number of parks: 1

City employees: 61 full time, 60 part time

1995-96 budget: $8 million

*

People

Population: 1,050

Households: 266

Average household size: 4

Median age: 27

*

Ethnic Breakdown

Asian: 2%

Latino: 86%

White: 12%

*

Money and Work Median household income: $33,000

Median household income / L.A. County: $34,965

Median home value: $150,900

Employed workers (16 and older): 472

Percentage of women employed: 52%

Percentage of men employed: 76%

Self-employed: 15

Car- poolers: 99

*

Retail Stores

Number of stores: 88

Number of employees: 1,088

Annual sales: $152 million

*

Families:

Married couples with children: 40%

Married couples with no children: 21%

Non-family households: 13%

Other types of families: 26%

Source: Claritas Inc. All figures are for 1990. Percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

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