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Inglewood's All-American day

The city, one of 10 honored annually for creatively solving civic problems, celebrates its prestigious municipal award, which it won despite the mayor's and police force's legal problems.

August 05, 2009|Esmeralda Bermudez

The city's Police Department is under federal investigation for use of deadly force and its mayor faces charges of conflict of interest and misappropriation of $500,000 in public funds.

Still, on Tuesday night, Inglewood found reason to rejoice -- with red, white and blue balloons, kettle corn and a singer dressed in Dorothy's ruby slippers who declared that the city has changed and "it knows where it's going."

The community of 110,000 people won the All-American City Award, beating dozens of other cities nationwide and leaving many scratching their heads as to how a city so seemingly embroiled in controversy could nab such an honor.

The award, touted as the civic Oscar of municipal prizes, is given annually to 10 cities nationwide that find creative ways to organize the community to meet local challenges such as job creation, environmental sustainability and neighborhood revitalization.

In its application, Inglewood officials outlined three improvement projects: the transformation of a dilapidated drug and crime-infested area know as The Bottoms into The Village at Century, a retail development that now employs more than 600 people, 50% of them Inglewood residents; a years-long noise-mitigation program that helps insulate the homes of residents affected by the Los Angeles International Airport; and a job training program that uses city fleet cars to teach youths about auto repair.

It is not clear whether judges at the National Civic League, the nonprofit organization based in Denver that picks the winners, were aware of the negative headlines Inglewood garnered in the last year from the fatal shootings and the resulting community protests. Previous winners in California have included Cerritos, Santa Rosa, Canoga Park and Santa Clara.

League spokesman Mike McGrath said the panel was impressed by the city's dramatic turn-around with the retail development and airport noise problems.

"Some people might think Santa Monica is a much nicer place to live," McGrath said. "But in this case, you had three strong projects that showed great strides."

Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, who pleaded not guilty last month to accusations stemming from a low-interest loan program originally intended to help Inglewood employees live in town, said he had no doubt that his city would stomp the municipal competition.

"Drive through Inglewood and you will see the progress," Dorn said. "You will see everything thriving."

The 72-year-old, in his third full term, said he looks forward to his trial and said "there is no question in my mind that I will be exonerated."

Longtime Inglewood residents such as Denise Warren are waiting to see what will become of the city's leadership.

Like others, the administrative analyst stood by during the last year confused about the back-to-back shootings and accusations against the mayor.

"I have a lot of questions, a lot of things I don't understand," Warren said.

"But I don't think things done by other people should reflect on the city as a whole," Warren said.

"We continue to live here because we believe it's a good place to live," Warren said.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson greeted the good news with mixed feelings.

The president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and former resident of Inglewood said that he applauds the positive changes.

But he said he still expects that the Police Department will be held accountable for officer-involved shootings that left five people dead.

"This award does not absolve the city of its responsibility to take seriously the issue of police reform and timely citizen response," he said.

"It does not wipe the slate clean," Hutchinson added.

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esmeralda.bermudez@latimes.com

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