PICO-UNION : Office Helps Ease City Hall Business

Pico-Union residents no longer have to trudge Downtown to fight City Hall or wander its corridors looking for the right office to deal with their complaints. Now there's an outpost that brings government to the neighborhood, a one-stop center for answers and service.

The Pico-Union Multi-Service Center was opened in June by City Councilman Mike Hernandez under the management of Rafael Gonzalez, a field deputy who previously worked in the councilman's Lincoln Heights field office.

"I used to have to come down from Lincoln Heights, so having the office here saves a lot of time," Gonzalez said. "I'm more in touch with people now, and we can get a lot more done."

Representatives from city departments and an officer from the Police Department's Rampart Division visit regularly to meet with residents and take complaint reports.

"People can speak directly to someone in charge of street lighting or trash removal or about problems in their apartment building," Gonzalez said. "It's all about access and making government responsible."

Volunteers from El Rescate, CARECEN, Cal State Northridge and the neighborhood help Gonzalez run the office, answer phones and respond to complaints.

Among the regular volunteers is Johnny Garcia, 72, a longtime resident and activist in Pico-Union. "This is my home, and I would like to see this area like it was back in 1956 when I came here. It was beautiful," Garcia said.

"A lot of people don't want to get involved, or they are afraid or they don't know how to speak English," Garcia said. "There's always something holding them back. But I tell them I'm ready to go fight for them. If they have a problem we can take care of it."

Sometimes it's a simple request, such as deciphering a water bill. Other times the problem is more serious, such as drug dealers on neighborhood streets. Garcia investigates such complaints and notifies the police. If they don't respond, he lets Hernandez know.

"I tell him: 'Please put the machine in motion,' " Garcia said.

The owner of the mini-mall property donated the space, and local businesses, organizations and individuals have donated equipment and furniture, Gonzalez said.

The staff has fielded hundreds of phone calls and meets with an average of 10 people a day who walk into the office.

Garcia said he would also like to see people come to the office, which is also used for community meetings, to find out how they can improve their neighborhood.

"The minute some people have a problem they come down here and want us to do something and jump around like rabbits," said Garcia. "But when we ask them to come down to help us fight on some other issue in the community, they're too busy watching TV or something."

The office, at 1107 S. Alvarado St., is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

Representatives from city departments are available at the office at the following times:

* Building and Safety, 1 to 3 p.m. Monday;

* Street Lighting, 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday;

* Sanitation, 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday;

* Street Maintenance, 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday.

A representative from the office of Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) is also available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month to address federal matters.

Information: (213) 368-7234.

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