By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Carl Houston, of Compton’s Municipal Law Enforcement Services Department, could not confirm the crime drop, but from anecdotal stories he hears around town, he thinks it’s true. He could, however, corroborate Nabavi’s impression about the dumping. “It’s subsided,” he says, “and it’s slowing down even more.”
And yet for all the good the task force has done, when I attended one of its meetings in July, the group seemed rudderless and unfocused. At several points, both regular attendees and mere visitors called for the appointment of a project manager so challenge grants wouldn’t go unmet and funding opportunities wouldn’t slip away. William Ordeñez, of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, went begging for more trees to complete the bike-path landscaping. Mary Edwards, of Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald’s office, complained that a timeline promised to her a year ago had yet to be delivered. “I’m sitting here thinking in my mind, ‘Who is accountable?’ ” said Edwards. She referred to a $13 million fund McDonald’s office had assembled from various sources, money that was supposed to have been funneled through the Army Corps for creek restoration. McCarthy brought up a $120,000 contribution that was supposed to have come from Southern California Edison, presumably for lights. It was on paper, but no one knew where the money actually was. “How can I go asking for more money,” asked Edwards, “when we don’t know where the money we’re supposed to have has gone?”
Still, “the bike path didhappen because of this task force,” said Vladimir Jefferson, of Compton Planning and Economic Development. That much, at least, seemed to augur a better future.
But Gateway Towne Center completely missed the attention of the task force. Edwards thinks the news may have come through somebody’s office, “you know, like a piece of paper you put aside and think ‘I’ll get to that later,’ but you never do. I don’t know how it happened.” Arceneaux herself rarely attends the meetings (she will, however, ask the committee’s members “How’s my creek?” when she sees them), and because she never saw the development as a threat to the task force’s work, she alerted no one when the environmental studies were in process. By the time anyone heard there was a new mall about to be built along a significant soft-bottom stretch of their creek, it was too late to have a hand in shaping the development. The environmental-impact report had been published, and the 60-day public-comment period required by California law had come and gone, as had the 30-day period after final approval in which it’s possible to file suit on the grounds that the site wasn’t adequately studied. Alamillo wonders about that secrecy. “If this is such a feel-good project,” he says, “then what’s the problem? Why didn’t they put the project in front of the task force and ask us what we think?”
It’s easy to see the controversy over the Gateway Towne Center as one of mostly white environmentalism running headlong into the harsh realities of the inner city, or conversely, one of an African-American city government unsympathetic to the benefits of ecological and aesthetic issues — the embodiment of what Carl Anthony, founder of the environmental group Urban Habitat, has called an “apartheid of consciousness.” In the inner cities, Anthony said in an interview with journalist Sarah Ruth Van Gelder, “people have tended to see jobs and economic development as a social, political and economic issue, and not as an environmental issue. And environmentalists tend to see their issues as being separate from the social- and racial-justice issues.” It is a problem almost as old as the environmental movement itself: How do you persuade the managers of a city with a soaring murder rate to value a riparian corridor where the egrets hang out? With a city budget shredded by a decade of corruption — last year both the former mayor and the former city manager went to jail — Compton can’t even afford its own police force. Instead, it pays $13 million a year to the Los Angeles County Sheriff for 75 officers to patrol its 10 square miles. How is it possible, then, for the people who make decisions about its future to include in that future a waterway where you can sit peacefully in the evening contemplating the connectedness of all things?
But among the people most enraged about the development is Edwards, a jocular black woman with a big laugh and sparkling brown eyes who exists in a state of near-constant exasperation with the inefficiency around her. “Of course, they should have told us what they were building on our creek,” she insists. “What if they just put a big, high wall up along the bike path? You’re biking along, looking up at a big wall — how would that feel to you?” And as Heal the Bay’s James Alamillo points out, Prism, an Orange County developer, is just as much as an outsider as any environmental group. Although local black hero Vince Evans, former USC and L.A. Raiders quarterback turned industrial real estate manager, is a partner on the project, Prism seems to be calling the shots in the 48-acre parcel’s layout and design. Besides, in the 2000 Census, Compton was well over half Latino — as Councilwoman Lillie Dobson admitted at a recent council meeting, “We have a lot of people in this city who don’t speak English.” It’s unlikely anyone involved them in the process.
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