The Darby-Dixon neighborhood in Inglewood has the necessary ingredients for an urban nightmare: street gangs, crime, drugs, decaying apartment buildings, joblessness, unrelenting jet noise and overcrowded conditions in which as many as 20 men may live in a single apartment.
The city's solution was straight out of Vietnam--save the village by destroying it.
To save this area, directly under the Los Angeles International Airport flight path, the city proposed to wipe out a substantial portion of the apartment houses to build a Home Depot store.
Now the Home Depot is headed to another location in Inglewood and the city doesn't know what to do with the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the city is not using available funds to insulate the apartments from airport noise.
"It's frustrating," said Darby-Dixon resident Iris Hall. "Ideas outside of Darby-Dixon get all kinds of good plans. But nothing seems to be able to happen in Darby-Dixon to improve it."
Darby-Dixon has defied solutions.
It is a six-block area of Inglewood, just south of the Hollywood Park racetrack and casino. It's called the Bottoms because it is at the bottom of sloping terrain. About 1,500 black and Latino residents live there.
In addition to the failure of the attempt to attract Home Depot, there has been only limited success for a court injunction against the local street gang.
The proposal to demolish many of the structures appealed to the residents because it would have given them a chance to obtain better housing elsewhere. Other amenities, including a new park, were planned. The project would have been paid for by federal and Los Angeles airport funds received by the city to mitigate jet noise by either clearing away blighted structures or insulating them against the roar of the jets.
The city is aggressively working to insulate about 20% of all the homes in Inglewood against the jet noise, at an average cost of $23,000 each.
Apparently deciding they couldn't wait 18 months or more while Darby-Dixon was cleared, Home Depot officials recently found a suitable parcel for a store on Hollywood Park land on the north side of Century Boulevard. Construction could begin by the end of the year.
The disappointed folks in Darby-Dixon are hoping for another project, but they aren't holding their breath.
"We need help," one Spanish-speaking resident said. "A lot of us went to City Hall to tell them to help us. But I don't know that they will."
At City Hall, no definite plan has emerged to replace the Home Depot solution in Darby-Dixon. Reaching a consensus has been slowed, insiders say, because Garland Hardeman, the councilman who represented Darby-Dixon, was defeated in the June municipal election.
The subject of the Bottoms is a delicate one, with some at City Hall cautious about saying anything publicly. Redevelopment Director Jesse Lewis didn't respond to repeated requests by The Times for an interview.
"What to do about Darby-Dixon is probably the hottest political football in town," one Inglewood insider said.
There's no disagreement that Darby-Dixon needs help.
The community of two-story apartment houses and duplexes has been a longtime stronghold of the Crenshaw Mafia street gang. Gang-related crime grew so severe in the streets and alleys there that city officials obtained a permanent court injunction in 1998 to keep gang members from hanging out together in public.
But the effort has not had much success. During the year the court order was obtained, for example, the number of aggravated assaults in the area declined only slightly from the previous year.
Despite the statistics and even though gunshots are still common there, some say the crime problem has improved. Neighborhood Watch groups say there is less crime, and Inglewood Police Officer Rudy Castanon said a single patrol car can handle virtually all calls for help in the Bottoms.
"When I first got here [in 1981], you always needed backup in Darby-Dixon. It's not that way anymore," said Castanon, who is the lead officer for the area.
But absentee owners of the apartment buildings rarely come to make repairs and trash routinely piles up in the alleys, residents say.
Some won't complain because they are recent immigrants and are mistrustful of English-speaking authorities.
Since it is under a flight path for the south runway at LAX, a casual conversation outdoors is virtually impossible.
Residents at times react impatiently when an outsider stops in mid-sentence to squint at a jetliner passing overhead.
"You get used to it," 15-year-old resident Abraham Ortega said.
There are demographic changes in the Bottoms that add to the tensions.
Twenty years ago, like the rest of Inglewood, Darby-Dixon was predominantly African American. At the time of the 1990 census, about 52% of Inglewood's 109,602 residents were black.