State Senate approves funds to study East L.A. cityhood


State lawmakers on Monday jumped into the decades-old campaign to give residents of East Los Angeles their own city, advancing a plan to bail out the financially struggling movement even though Republican legislators said it was not the state’s business to do so.

Three previous attempts at cityhood failed in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the latest proposal to incorporate an area with 130,000 residents is in jeopardy because of a lack of funds.

The state Senate approved an emergency bill to provide money for a study to determine whether cityhood is financially viable before the idea can be submitted to voters.

Cityhood backers, who face a deadline Thursday to come up with the money for the study, said they were optimistic about its prospects in the Assembly but are writing letters to the governor in hopes of getting his required approval as well.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not taken a position on the loan, a spokesman said Monday.

“We’re almost there,” said Benjamin Cardenas, president of the East Los Angeles Residents Assn. “We’re very excited that the bill is moving.”

The Local Agency Formation Commission, which processes cityhood plans, determined in January that the residents group had turned in enough signatures to trigger a new cityhood process.

The citizens have raised about $100,000 to pay for the financial studies, to be conducted by the commission. But the legislation is needed to provide the remaining $45,000 to meet the cost of the analysis, according to state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles).

Romero noted that about 10 million people in Los Angeles County are represented by five members of the county Board of Supervisors. “It’s no wonder people have come to say, ‘We would like local control, self-determination,’” Romero said.

Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) said he supports the right of people to form new cities. “However, these efforts must be community-based and have local community support,” Cox said. “This is a local process that should remain local. The state should not be a source of funding.”

Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) said that if cityhood proponents can’t come up with $45,000 to study whether a city would be financially viable, that failure answers the question.

“They can’t afford to become a city,” he said.

But Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) said the area seeking cityhood is one of the poorest in the state and was still able to raise significant money in the middle of an economic downturn.

“What price democracy?” Cedillo asked before the loan measure squeaked by with no votes to spare.

Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Montebello), who wrote AB 711, noted that this was not the first time the Legislature had helped a cityhood drive.

In 1999, the state provided $1.8 million for a financial study on a cityhood proposal by the San Fernando Valley. Voters later rejected the Valley cityhood measure.

A preliminary analysis of the East Los Angeles cityhood plan, paid for by the residents group and conducted by financial analysis firm Burr Consulting, indicated that it was financially viable, according to Romero, and said the area would generate about $51 million a year to pay for services.

Romero said the state has a legitimate interest in helping the cityhood drive because the culture of East Los Angeles is part of California’s identity around the world, Romero said.

“East Los Angeles is internationally recognized, so we think it’s something for which there is a statewide interest,” she said.