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Many Houses in San Fernando’s Barrio Called Beyond Repair

Times Staff Writer

The oldest Latino neighborhood in the City of San Fernando is an extremely blighted area where more than half the homes need major rehabilitation or are beyond repair, according to a report released this week.

Only four of 188 structures used as residences in the barrio were in good condition, the report said. In the worst cases, residential units “were nothing more than shanties made of assorted materials,” it said.

Mayor James B. Hansen said the 52-page report “painted a more severe picture than I had expected. But I believe it is truthful.”

Used as a Guide

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The report, by GRC Redevelopment Consultants of Claremont, will be used as a guide by the City Council and residents in the long process of determining whether to include 55 acres of the aging neighborhood in a redevelopment zone. The irregularly shaped district, bounded generally by San Fernando Mission Boulevard and Kalisher, Truman and Woodworth streets, includes a strip of commercial buildings, but the report dealt mainly with housing conditions.

Last October, the council proposed including the area in the city’s downtown redevelopment zone. The proposal has stirred heated controversy in the small city.

Many residents fear that redevelopment will force them from their homes through eminent domain procedures. Those procedures give the city the power to condemn property in a redevelopment zone and force owners to sell at market value to make way for new construction.

Awaiting Recommendations

Hansen and other council members have said they will support recommendations for the redevelopment zone to be proposed by a newly formed neighborhood advisory committee, whose 30 members are scheduled to discuss the report next week. State law requires creation of a citizens’ advisory committee when a redevelopment proposal could force relocation of property owners.

“We want the community to read the document and tell us what they want to do about the problems,” said City Administrator Donald E. Penman, who also is executive director of the redevelopment agency. “What this report does is document the conditions.”

The report paints a picture of a neighborhood deteriorated by a “hodgepodge” of small and odd-shaped lots, where many illegal dwellings have been built in back yards. Researchers, who conducted a parcel-by-parcel survey of the 188 homes, found many garages and sheds are used as homes. These makeshift dwellings often lack heat, plumbing and bathrooms, the report said.

According to the report, 34% of the structures used as homes need major rehabilitation and nearly 18% are so dilapidated that they are beyond repair. About 45% of the structures need overall maintenance, the report said.

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Rot, Sagging Roofs

Many dwellings have inadequate roofing material and walls made of such materials as corrugated metal. Many buildings have active wood rot, sagging porches and roof lines and failing foundations, the report said.

The problem of deterioration is compounded by absentee ownership in the neighborhood that is estimated to be as high as 50%, according to the report.

“It is likely that individual property owners lack the incentive to improve their properties when adjoined or nearby properties remain in poor condition and in need of repair,” the report said.

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Poverty Level

Using 1980 U.S. Census data, the report said about 17% of the population in the area lived below the poverty level. More recent estimates of the number of people living below the poverty level were unavailable.

City water lines to homes are more than 60 years old and are rusting inside. They are too small to provide adequate water flow to fire hydrants, according to the report.

San Fernando Councilman Jess Margarito, who has long advocated housing improvements in the area, said the report “puts in clear perspective the type of challenges we face in that part of town. Whether we like it or not, this speaks to us loud and clear about what we are dealing with.”

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