76.7 F
San Fernando
Saturday, Jun 10, 2023

Pacoima Finally Drawing Attention

Pacoima Finally Drawing Attention By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter “Hey, did you see our new sign?” a local businessman asked a visitor to Pacoima. The slab of granite just installed to welcome visitors to Pacoima’s central business district is the sort of gateway marker found at the entranceway to town centers everywhere, but in Pacoima its significance extends far beyond the row of businesses that lines Van Nuys Boulevard. It is a sign not just for business, but for a whole community too long neglected and too often dismissed, and a message that runs deeper than the words of welcome inscribed. For many residents of this Northeast San Fernando Valley community, this marker says, here we are, not the place of gangs and poverty and hopelessness you may have heard about, but a place where families work and dream and hope for a better life for their kids, much like they do in neighborhoods everywhere. “If I had a dime for every time someone asked for that monument,” said Antonia “Becky” Villasenor, community manager for Pacoima Partners, the lead organization that administers the Neighborhood Block Grant responsible for many of the recent improvements in Pacoima. “People want something that establishes an identity for Pacoima.” Though it sits at the intersection of two of the city’s most used freeways the Golden State (I-5) and the Ronald Reagan Freeway (SR-118) Pacoima has arguably been one of the most forgotten neighborhoods in L.A. When Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton visited Pacoima a few months ago, it was the first visit by a police chief in 30 years. And for nearly as long, Pacoima was bypassed when city officials were passing out grant money and other public funds. “One of the first hard lessons I got was when the city submitted an application to (the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development) HUD for a youth program grant and the Northeast Valley was left out,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla whose district includes Pacoima. “I had to kick and scream to establish the same youth programs.” That has changed dramatically in recent years with the city’s new focus on neighborhood empowerment and the election of city officials like council members Padilla and Tony Cardenas, and state legislators like Richard Alarcon and Cindy Montanez, all of them residents of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. Pacoima-based businesses have begun receiving tax incentives provided through federal and state programs. The U.S. Dept. of Commerce has earmarked a grant to help with the redevelopment of the former Price Pfister manufacturing facility and a city-sponsored Community Development Block Grant program is helping to provide a number of improvements to the neighborhood. “Up until three years ago you didn’t see federal investment in Pacoima,” said Roberto Barragan, president of the Valley Economic Development Center, which provides financing and technical assistance to small business owners. “Pacoima has been lost in the shuffle with L.A.’s South Central. Only in the last three years have we begun to change that.” Funds, other assistance The VEDC has launched an incubation project that has so far provided $1 million in business funding and obtained another $6 million in loans for local businesses, notwithstanding the other funding sources it has accessed to clients to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Other of the agency’s programs have supplied training and employment services to some 1,500 residents along with business consulting and assistance to businesses seeking government contracts. In the 10 years since the VEDC began working in Pacoima the number of businesses has increased from about 1,250 to about 2,000 currently. And there are signs of increasing stability. According to Pacoima Partners, an amalgam of community groups including Pacoima Beautiful, VEDC, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services, the turnover of businesses in the area has been low. About 17 of the approximately 250 businesses in the town center area left since 2002 but were replaced by another 24 businesses that have come in since then. The storefronts along the town center are nearly 100 percent occupied. Since $3 million in block grant funding began flowing into Pacoima in 2000, Pacoima Partners has cleaned and spruced up the neighborhood. Two hundred three trees were planted along a two-mile stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard bordered by Glen Oaks Boulevard and the I-5. The facades of 10 businesses in the town center between Telfair and Hadden streets have been given a new coat of paint, landscaping and other fa & #231;ade improvements. A median along the boulevard was constructed and landscaped, and there are now streetscape plans in place that will help begin the task of giving Pacoima a uniform, pedestrian friendly design to replace the patchwork of storefronts and antique power poles that now mark the landscape. “We hired an architect and a landscape designer who developed a plan for bus stops and street furniture and a vision for the street including taking out overhead poles,” said Villasenor. “Once you pull a permit it triggers design guidelines, so new standards have been set.” ” that actually have some bite,” said Joshua Stehlik, a staff attorney for LA County Neighborhood Legal Services, finishing the sentence for Villasenor. Next up the group plans to add a security team that will patrol the area on bicycle. Large facility The Community Redevelopment Agency along with Padilla have been actively overseeing the redevelopment of the former Price Pfister facility, which will be anchored by a Lowe’s home improvement store. Officials recognize that replacing the jobs available at Lowe’s will be a poor substitute for those eliminated when Price Pfister closed. But they hope to play a role in making Lowe’s what they call a stabilizing force in the community by exploring such alternatives as living wage scales and even targeting the chain’s merchandise selection so that it does not directly compete with some of the smaller merchants. “It’s unrealistic to expect a big factory will come in with union wages,” said Villasenor. “Those factories go outside the country now. Small business is the future, so let’s build a foundation so that these small businesses can operate.” Then too, the old plant sits in an area that is surrounded by residential development, and retail and other service companies would be a better fit for the neighborhood, some say. “We need to create higher quality, higher paying jobs,” said Padilla. “That doesn’t mean there’s not a need for retail services. I hear people complaining all the time about having to drive to Northridge and Burbank to shop. One of the main reasons I’m open to retail use is it’s part of that overall balance.” Indeed, the emerging community in Pacoima is even beginning to attract new investors, those like Victor Alexandroff, who recently acquired property in the town center. “What happened to North Hollywood is going to happen in Pacoima,” said Alexandroff, who was raised in Pacoima and decided to make his first real estate investment there. “The city has taken a position that we have neglected this part of town for decades and we are now turning our attention to this part of town. Over time, Pacoima will turn around.” Still, Pacoima’s economic ills are staggering unemployment stands at 12.6 percent, 23 percent of its residents live in poverty, the highest in the San Fernando Valley, and more than 40 percent of its residents earn incomes under $15,000. Against such odds, Pacoima Partners’ budget $3 million over three years and even the VEDC budget (which includes programs throughout the L.A. area) $4.5 million annually, is a drop in the bucket. To get an idea of just how small, consider that the spending of those two groups together in Pacoima is less than half what Wells Fargo, one of the few banks to invest in a Pacoima location, spent in charitable giving, $10 million, in the greater Los Angeles area last year. Despite efforts by the VEDC to attract banks and credit unions, Wells Fargo is one of only two banks located in Pacoima and the only one to build a bank from ground up. And the VEDC is now working to establish a credit union in the area after being turned down by established organizations. “They don’t see the market the way we see it,” said Barragan. “Pacoima has this reputation that has always been a problem with financial organizations.” Education problems Perhaps worst of all, the area’s high school drop out rate stands at an unthinkable 55 percent. Various agencies have created a number of programs to provide vocational training and even to help families become computer literate, but officials point out that without a high school diploma, much of Pacoima’s youth will be relegated to what’s come to be called persistent poverty. Many place the blame squarely on the Los Angeles Unified School District. “If there’s one entity that’s really been neglectful about the Northeast Valley it’s been LAUSD,” said Barragan. “I don’t think it’s been benign neglect. I think it’s been unacceptable tragic de-prioritization.” At the same time, many say the improvements over the recent years are substantial and noticeable, providing hope that even the most chronic of problems can be tackled and overcome. “Go down Van Nuys Boulevard,” said John Hunger, board president of Pacoima Beautiful and president of the area’s coordinating council. “Look over at all the trees and the sidewalks and the trash cans. It’s been tremendous.” Beautification might seem an odd place to begin to revitalize a community as impoverished as Pacoima, but the program is working not just to improve the appearance of the area, it is also energizing residents and business owners and persuading them to play a more active role in their destiny. After years of believing they can’t fight city hall, residents are coming around to the notion that they can make a difference. “Pacoima and Sun Valley have been dumping grounds,” said Tony Torres, the owner of Black & White Towing in Pacoima, and a member of the city’s newly reorganized planning commission. “No one would police it. I see that changing now. I’ll say talk about it. Get a group together because you’re heard now.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles