By LAURA BURDICK-SHERMAN Contributing Reporter Business has always taken a back seat to residential issues in Arleta, nestled between the juncture of the Golden State and San Diego freeways. There has never been a main street and the only real signs of commerce are a few strip malls, each anchored by a supermarket. The commercial landscape has a bare-bones, almost industrial feel. While not much in the way of commercial development has occurred, demographically this bedroom community has undergone dramatic changes since its early years in the 1950s. The early population was largely white, and many of the early homeowners were employees of Lockheed Corp. or General Motors Corp. With the evaporation of aerospace and auto manufacturing, many former residents have left and the demographics of today are far more diverse. As of the most recent census poll in April 1990, about 24,000 people reside in Arleta, 64 percent of them Latino, 20 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 7 percent African American. Arleta’s median age is 27.9 years, its median household income is $32,635 slightly more than the citywide median of $30,925 and the median sale price of a single-family home was $118,000 for the 12-month period ended Nov. 30, up about $1,000 from the year-earlier period. Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose Seventh District includes Arleta, grew up in the area and remains optimistic about the community. “Arleta is on the upswing,” he said, pointing to the community’s designation as part of a state revitalization zone following the 1992 riots. The state’s revitalization zone program offers hiring-tax credits, sales-and-use credits, and business-expense deductions to businesses operating within the zones and employing residents of the zones. But Randy Steinberg, business development representative for L.A.’s Business Team, says the current zone designation will soon expire. Some consider the zone’s success in fueling economic growth questionable, but extension of the program beyond its initial five-year life is important to the community’s future, said Alarcon and Steinberg. Assembly Majority Leader Anthony Villaraigosa, D-Mount Washington, introduced legislation last year (AB 82) to extend the zone program another five years and institute mechanisms to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. The bill passed the Assembly but got stuck in the Senate, where it was kept alive as a two-year bill. It will be reviewed by the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee when the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 5. One Arleta site that could benefit from the zone program is the 12.5-acre property at 14210 Van Nuys Blvd., which has been in escrow since Dec. 5. The parcel, commonly known as the “Gemco property,” contains a 117,000-square-foot former Gemco store that was shut down in the mid-1980s. Sale of the property has been complicated because the site is owned by a number of individuals and Dayton Hudson Corp., parent company of Target stores, inherited Gemco’s lease as part of its bulk purchase of several Gemco assets. A laundromat and Unocal gas station still operate on the site under a sublease agreement, but the majority of the property is vacant and unattended. The Bland Co., which stores surplus office equipment, has been using the old Gemco building as a storage facility under an agreement with Dayton Hudson. Steve O’Hara, of the real estate brokerage firm S.S. O’Hara Inc., represents the nine-member group of individuals selling the property. According to O’Hara, escrow will close shortly after the Bland Co. vacates, presumably by the end of December. O’Hara says the purchaser is a Los Angeles County resident who plans to redevelop the property into a retail center. O’Hara said the buyer, whose name he would not disclose, is already negotiating with a supermarket chain and other smaller retail tenants interested in leasing space there. The most visible commercial enterprise currently in Arleta is the Lucky Savon store, which opened in August 1996. Containing a huge array of products and services clothing, toys, gift items, a flower shop, a pharmacy, a bank, a Chinese restaurant, a yogurt shop and a dry cleaner, it is the closest Arleta comes to having a mall. Judie Decker, a spokeswoman for Lucky Savon parent American Stores, said the store caters primarily to Arleta’s large Latino population by featuring an expanded selection of Mexican specialty foods. Also operating inside the store, under lease agreements, are an L.A. Cellular kiosk and a Marbles Entertainment video store. Besides further commercial development, another issue Arleta boosters say is key to their community’s future success is breaking free from neighboring Pacoima. The two communities share a common zip code, which some Arleta residents say results in higher insurance rates. Residents also maintain that Pacoima has far more public services than Arleta. Arleta has no post office, library or police station to call its own, while Pacoima has all three. Louise Oliver, president of the Arleta Chamber of Commerce, plans to meet wtih postal officials in Washington to discuss the long-standing issue of getting Arleta a zip code independent of Pacoima. “I want to find out why the Post Office has been so reluctant to change the zip code,” said Oliver.