LA Times Columnist Steve Lopez Chimes in on the City of Bell (or shall we call it Smell?)

July 20th, 2010 · 2 Comments

For anyone who has been following the City of Bell saga that has been brewing the past week, this piece by Steve Lopez of the LA Times is a must read. (Note: I think until a housecleaning occurs we should call this municipality “City of Smell” since the corruption is so rotten.) Lopez even takes to calling the fat cat $787,637 a year city manager Robert Rizzo, “Ratso Rizzo,” like the sleazy character in the movie Midnight Cowboy. Lopez went down to Smell City Hall and asked to speak with Rizzo, but as expected Ratso is evading the media.

This particular piece is worth noting because it gets to the essence of the corruption issues in LA County’s Southeast cities and also explains a bit why I think some of these cities with large Latino (and within that immigrant) populations find themselves with leadership like this:

“”They’ve awakened a sleeping giant,” Denisse Rodarte, a lifelong Bell resident and one of the organizers of the rally, told me in her home a short distance from City Hall.

But why was the giant asleep in the first place, and unaware of the plundering?

Corruption is everywhere in California and beyond, from civic centers to Wall Street. But there’s a particular strain of brazen malfeasance in south and southeast L.A. County, with a shameful history of headlines emanating from Maywood and South Gate and Compton and Carson, to name a few. Whether you’re talking to residents or think-tank types, you hear some common themes.

Those cities have largely poor, immigrant populations that are too busy working to pay close attention to City Hall, which means they can be easily exploited. Voter turnout is low, in part because many residents are undocumented and even many legal immigrants aren’t yet qualified to vote. And there’s not much media presence because of cutbacks by everyone in the industry, including The Times, so the rascals are left to steal with impunity.

“It’s a very predatory type of mentality,” said Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens resident who is an adjunct professor at USC.”

I think Lopez could even take it a step further and say that the civic culture in these cities has to change. Now that the citizens are more aware of what is happening, they are in a position to do that. But it will take education, savvy, and dedication.

We have heard “sleeping giant” analogies in Latino politics for years, with every election cycle there is some pundit telling us that the “sleeping giant” will awaken. People were saying this after the 2008 Presidential elections, in which Latinos were credited with giving Obama the edge in certain swing states. Lopez is correct that the population in municipalities like Bell is exploitable because of its immigration and social status. Until we can effectively mobilize those of us who are citizens and eligible to vote and then continue to stay politically engaged beyond simply voting, I have a feeling that we will continue to hear stories like this. Should we have immigration reform of some sort in the near future, it will be up to those of us who are more knowledgeable about political issues to educate our brothers and sisters who are new to the game so that they flex their political muscle.

Tags: community organizing and activism · Government Accountability · Immigration · Steve Lopez

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anna // Jul 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    Part of the problem too is that those cities don’t have any local newspapers. The Times can’t monitor every small city in Los Angeles County, and they will only report on something like this once it becomes an outrageous scandal, not when it starts. At the very least, Rodarte’s group should start a website to monitor city government.

    On another point, Lopez attributes the whole problem to an uninformed immigrant population. I agree with that to a certain extent, but not everybody in Bell, and certainly not all of the voters, are newly arrived immigrants. He cited Carson and Compton as trouble spots, but those cities had trouble long before this last wave of immigration.

    It’s too easy to lay the blame on people who aren’t even eligible to vote. Americans citizens who don’t participate in civic affairs are really the ones at fault. Bell is a very small city, so how difficult could it be to monitor? A smart blogger could probably keep it in check. lol

  • 2 El Anahuacense // Jul 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm


    There exists already, in fact has existed for more than 5 years I think, a blog detailing the escapades of the elected officials of the Southeast Los Angeles County cities.

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