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When General Motors and Firestone Tire...

When General Motors and Firestone Tire closed their South Gate industrial plants in the early 1980s, the city reeled from the loss of about 3,000 manufacturing jobs. For the next decade the Southeast Los Angeles community struggled with declining revenues and double-digit unemployment.

But things may be looking up. Voters this year approved a sewage rate increase to help fund repairs of the city’s seriously eroded sewer system. A tenant has moved onto the former General Motors site, and the city is hoping for additional revenues from a bingo emporium slated to open next year and the expansion of the Towne Center shopping development.

Question: What problems does South Gate continue to face and how will they be resolved?

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Henry Gonzalez, city councilman

Shortly after I was elected in April of 1994, sewers started collapsing all over the city. As with many cities, we didn’t have any money. So we went out to the community and discussed the problem we had, the lack of funding and that we needed to do something. We had photos at City Hall, we discussed it at council meetings and went to the newspapers and publicized the pictures of the collapsed sewers.

If we had just gone ahead and increased the [sewer] rates, people would have been on our backs, because everything goes on the back of the taxpayers, in their opinion.

People came to the meeting and said, “Look, you need to bite the bullet, we agree.” In fact, they said, “Why don’t you raise [the sewer rate] even more to try to take care of the whole problem?”

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Jim Biery, director of public works

Most cities used clay [ceramic] pipe, but back in the 1920s, South Gate made a conscious decision to go to concrete pipe for all their sewers. And unfortunately that was a decision that cost them in the long run. The tops of the sewers have worn away with the acids and gases that accumulate in the sewer system; they actually disintegrated.

When I got to the city five years ago, one of the things I noticed was that periodically we’d have street collapses, and they accepted it as a fact of life that streets would collapse every now and then. They actually had a little line item in their budget for repair of street collapse. I said, “Well, that’s not typical.”

Then it became more of a problem when we had that heavy rain last year. We’ll be getting authorization to bid in two weeks for an initial $350,000 [sewer] relining program. We come in through the manholes rather than have to tear up whole the street. You gain an additional 35 to 50 years. This method we’re using right now is about 50% cheaper than tearing up the street and putting in a new line.

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Retha Champion, auto dealer, president of Firestone Business Owners Assn., president-elect, Chamber of Commerce

Firestone Boulevard needs some attention because it has a lot of absentee owners. Just the fact that we have trees now planted was a major improvement. Ninety-thousand cars a day pass through there.

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Our whole goal as an association is to get people to start looking left and right at storefronts and seeing things. And get them to say, “You know, that’s a new store there. Maybe we should stop there and see what they have to offer.”

The underlying thing is that you have citizens who have lived there so many years, and they love South Gate. When you look at your service clubs and the things they do, it’s amazing the amount that happens in South Gate where people’s needs are met.

Interviews by ANNE COLBY for The Times.


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