2 Department Stores Say They Didn't Know of Plan : Job Program for Lawndale Mall Snagged

Times Staff Writer

A city program to help local residents find jobs at the new South Bay Galleria mall has run into trouble with Mervyn's and Nordstrom, the two department stores that will anchor the shopping center--along with the existing May Co.--at Hawthorne and Artesia boulevards.

Mervyn's conducted a week of job interviews virtually without city involvement and is now selecting the 300 temporary workers who will set up and open the store. When a permanent work force of 180 is chosen, it will be from the 300, according to the Mervyn's executive office in Northern California.

Nordstrom, which will begin screening job applicants Feb. 11 and plans to hire up to 325 people, is participating in the program but not to the extent the city desires, according to city officials.

Two job training consultants hired by the city are conducting workshops to screen and coach Lawndale residents for job interviews as sales clerks, custodians, secretaries and warehouse workers at the mall. Residents are entitled to special consideration for about 600 jobs because of the city's financial involvement in the Galleria, which is in Redondo Beach just across the street from Lawndale.

Consultant Ron Tate said Nordstrom so far has not supplied job descriptions and salaries necessary to pre-screen applicants, determine their eligibility for jobs and and refer them to the store.

Cody Kondo, Los Angeles regional manager for the Seattle-based chain, said that the information will be given to the city. But he said that while Nordstrom welcomes people sent by the city, he does not want them pre-screened by the city for specific jobs.

"Everyone goes through our pre-screening and interviews," he said, adding that Nordstrom's philosophy is to hire "the best, most enthusiastic people for the jobs" no matter where they live.

Kondo said, however, that Nordstrom will "make an effort to reach out into the community of Lawndale" through advertising in a community newspaper. He added that if a Lawndale applicant and someone from another city are equally qualified, "theoretically, we would suggest to our people to give the edge to Lawndale people."

Lawndale's involvement in the mall stems from an $8-million loan the city made to Cleveland-based Forest City Development, builder of the $70-million project. The money came from a federal Urban Development Action Grant designed primarily to create jobs. In return, the developer agreed to make a "diligent effort" to hire qualified Lawndale residents for about 50% of the new mall jobs. The city also will receive 6% interest over a 30-year period--using the income in part for housing and economic development--and will get a portion of mall profits.

The 171 mall specialty stores must participate in the program, and Forest City was to do everything it could to gain voluntary participation from the two department stores, according to officials.

Although the jobs plan was made public more than a year ago, Mervyn's and Nordstrom officials responsible for opening the new South Bay stores say they knew nothing about it until a Jan. 9 meeting at City Hall.

Kondo said his office had no knowledge of the jobs program until that meeting, and Bob Freckman, employee relations director for Mervyn's, said the same thing.

Forest City, however, said the jobs program was written into agreements negotiated 18 months ago with the two department store chains. "They (local offices) may not have known at their level, but the corporate people certainly knew," said Brian Jones, vice president of Forest City Rental Properties.

"There has been poor communication from the start and some jobs may have been lost because of that poor communication," said Mark Winogrond, city community development director.

The city faults the developer for not explaining the plan fully to the department stores, Winogrond said, but Jones said the blame lies with the stores for not communicating with their local offices. "When we learned of Nordstrom's and Mervyn's hiring, we called the (City Hall) meeting," Jones said.

"We came into this thing kind of late and it would have been helpful had we been brought in sooner," said Marilyn Walker, the city's other job trainer. The city hired Tate and Walker on Jan. 7 and their first one-day workshop for job seekers was held Jan. 21--the day after Mervyn's ran newspaper ads announcing that interviews would be held that week.

Tate said that about 40 people went through the workshops that week and, while some of them may have applied to Mervyn's, there is no way to judge the impact of the program because interviews started on the day of the first workshop.

Officials are hoping that lessons learned with the department stores--both of which are opening in March--will ensure that the program works as it is supposed to with the specialty stores when they begin hiring later this year.

Jones said that when Forest City concludes leases with the tenants, they will be given a packet of information about the Lawndale jobs program. A brochure will be sent to all Lawndale residents spelling out the jobs that will be offered and the availability of the the city training program.

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