El Pueblo Financial Ills Mostly Repaired

Times Staff Writer

City Controller Laura Chick said Wednesday that the Los Angeles Department of El Pueblo has largely righted itself from the “financial disaster” it was immersed in last year.

The department runs Olvera Street, in the downtown Los Angeles area considered to be the city’s birthplace. It consists of several museums, a public plaza, restaurants and gift shops. More than 2 million people visit each year. In a scathing audit in spring of 2004, the department was found to be dysfunctional.

“It was horrible, it was in a shambles and we had to pick it up piece by piece,” said Rushmore Cervantes, the general manager of the department who was dispatched by then-Mayor James K. Hahn in May 2004 to clean up the mess.


According to that audit, the department ran up a staggering list of ills: Cash was found stuffed into drawers, there was no accounting of money taken in by city parking lots, more than $300,000 in bills were past due and at least 60 of 76 tenants didn’t have a lease with the city.

In her latest audit, Chick said the department had largely fixed its problems and that Cervantes had gained control over the department’s cash flow.

Also, the City Council is expected to soon approve a master lease that can be taken to El Pueblo’s tenants, most of whom are paying the city a month-by-month concession fee.

“I think it’s a first that I’m calling out the name of the general manager in the cover letter [to an audit] and praising him,” Chick said.

But the city overall has a long way to go, she said.

“The city of Los Angeles is not a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, best-practices, role-model city,” she said. “The good news is we could be, and [El Pueblo] would be an example.”

In a departure from her usual practice, Chick delivered some of her remarks in Spanish, a language she said she is learning to speak because she believes that the state should be bilingual.