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Neighbors Rally Round a Community Center

Pomona school district says it will no longer house the project. Residents stage sleep-ins.

August 26, 2004|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Guadalupe Lopez and her teenage daughters are not homeless, but for the last week they've gathered their belongings and slept on the floor of a neighborhood community center in Pomona.

The Lopezes and about 20 other families are protesting the closure of a place they consider their second home.

"They can't get rid of us so easily," Lopez said. "This is the only way we'll get their attention."

For three years, the Angela/Chanslor Center has provided after-school programs, job training, civic and leadership skills and health screenings for residents of the heavily Latino community in south Pomona. The center was funded through a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The grant is administered by a partnership consisting of Cal Poly Pomona, the city of Pomona, the local school district and library, and two small local colleges.

Cal Poly Pomona has responsibility for administering the grant, and the Pomona Unified School District houses the program at one of its buildings on Garey Avenue.

Last week, local parents were blindsided when telephones were disconnected and a property manager informed them that the school district would no longer be providing space for the program.

The $200,000 annual maintenance cost at the center was too much for the district, said district spokesman Richard Martinez.

"We're in a financial crunch," Martinez said. "We have not determined what we're going to use the building for, but we certainly can't afford to continue to keep the air conditioning on, the lights on and maintenance people there every day."

The families, borrowing from some of what they learned at the center's civic lessons, are trying to pressure Cal Poly and the school district to find a new home for the center. For the last eight days, about 20 members of the center's leadership group have camped out at the center night and day.

They've brought in food, coffee, soda, blankets and pillows, and their children and spouses often join them at night. They say they're willing to stay until someone finds a location for the center, and that the sit-in is the only way they can ensure that their concerns are heard.

"We'll be here until Cal Poly finds us something else," community organizer Indelisa Torres said.

District officials have not called the police because they hope the matter will be resolved soon, Martinez said.

"This can't continue forever, but we're trying to avoid police intervention because that's not going to look good," Martinez said.

"These are parents of our students," he said. "They're well-intentioned."

Barbara Way, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at Cal Poly Pomona, said the problem was miscommunication between the school district and the college.

"We simply didn't move fast enough," she said. "The program is still intact."

The school is looking for new locations and hopes the situation will be resolved in three weeks, she said.

The matter is not negotiable with the school district, but the center will remain in the community, she said.

"If some of them would take the time to read the grant, they would see that it says it is specifically for that neighborhood," Way said. "We can't move it anywhere else."

To outsiders, the center might not seem like much, but it is the place where one woman took cosmetology classes, where another learned to navigate the confusing path to American citizenship, and where dozens of children can hang out after school.

"This is one of the few things we have in this community and it took a lot for us to get here," said Lupe Flores, 28. "Last night, there was a shooting right in front of my house. This is a very needy community."

Flores, who is raising her 15-year-old nephew, showed the women at the center three shell casings to make her point.

"These women are like a family," Flores said. "We need this here."

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