Amid packing boxes and a moving truck, Mary Ellen Sanchez reflected on the 35 years she and her husband, Joseph, shared in the Marengo Terrace neighborhood.
This weekend, the family is moving to Montebello Heights, joining many neighbors who in the past few weeks have relocated to make way for a new hospital building at County-USC Medical Center. Their North Chicago Street home is one of several properties in the neighborhood that will be removed to make way for a parking structure near the new building's entrance.
"I feel a little sad," said Sanchez, 59. "We've lived here so long and done so much to this house. There's a lot of memories here."
For the Sanchezes, the move was inevitable. In fact, the couple, who raised four children there, were planning to relocate in a couple of years anyway because most of their friends had long since left the neighborhood after watching it decline over the years.
"It's not the same anymore," she said. "All our friends moved away, and sometimes they make fun of us because we still live in Boyle Heights."
Although the Sanchezes say they eventually want to move even farther away, Montebello Heights will be close enough to visit Joseph Sanchez's ailing father, who also lives in Boyle Heights, and for Mary Ellen to easily drive to work Downtown.
For some, however, the neighborhood was supposed to be place to stay put. And some are unhappy with the money offered by the county to compensate them for the loss of their homes.
"I have tried to keep my house the way I would like to spend my last years," said Alberto Juarez, 77, who with his wife Amparo, 76, rejected the county appraiser's first estimate on the value of their home on Cummings Street. The Juarezes, who have lived in the house more than 40 years, hired an attorney to handle negotiations.
Six homeowners and one business owner have yet to settle on an amount for their properties, said Nancy Manzanares, project administrator for the county Community Development Commission. Manzanares has handled negotiations between homeowners and the county.
So far, 21 property owners have agreed to sell and several have moved, Manzanares said. The 14 settlements approved by the county so far total $2.5 million. Seven more await the county's sign-off; no dollar figure for those settlements was available.
"They've all been sporadic," she said. "Some (people are relocating) in the city, some are close. Some are pretty far away. There are a couple going back to Mexico."
Several who were renters have left the area as well.
The county plans to build a 2.1-million-square-foot hospital to replace four of the hospitals in the complex, including General Hospital and two outpatient clinics. The new six- to 15-story hospital is expected to cost $1 billion and be completed by 2002.
The project was deemed necessary by county officials because some of the buildings do not meet fire and safety codes, and federal and state regulators have threatened to close the medical center. The complex primarily serves poor and uninsured people, with half of its patients covered by Medi-Cal; 32% have no insurance whatsoever.
The project calls for the buyout of properties east of the hospital on Cummings, Chicago, Charlotte, Cornwell and Marengo streets; more than 200 households will be uprooted to make way for the parking structure and a driveway to the new hospital.
The county has not set a deadline for the property value negotiations to be settled, Manzanares said.
After some residents moved out and left their homes vacant, vandals moved in, forcing the early demolition of three homes on Cummings and Chicago streets, she said.
"They've been demolishing houses and we figure a lot of vermin will be making their way soon," Alberto Juarez said. "There are other calamities that are worse than ours, but it's incredible that moving out of this place has caused so much hardship and turmoil."