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FRUSTRATED EL SERENO RESIDENTS CLAIM THEY HAVE BEEN FORCED TO LIVE IN “SLUM LIKE CONDITIONS” BECAUSE OF THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND NOW THEIR RENTS ARE INCREASING 10% EVERY SIX MONTHS.
By Randy Economy and Brian Hews
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is known for its’ meticulous maintenance of the state’s highways, bridges and roads managing more than 50,000 miles of California’s highway and freeway lanes, but that is not the case in the tiny neighborhood of El Sereno, where residents contend that Caltrans, who owns many of the houses in their area, is treating them like a slumlord.
Last week Hews Media Group-Community News, State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, and State Senator Ed Hernandez got a firsthand look at the “slum like conditions” that an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 residents have been forced to live in at the end of the Long Beach 710 Freeway for more than a generation now.
A tightly bonded group of residents who call themselves the “United Caltrans Tenants,” took the group on a walking tour of their hillside neighborhood to see firsthand how they have been neglected and forced to live in “substandard living conditions” by their “landlord,” Caltrans.
The group visited around a half dozen homes in the pathway of the freeway showing a wide range of problems that residents claim were “directly caused by Caltrans workers.”Some of the homes had several gaping holes in their walls, cracked or totally broken windows, uprooted sidewalks, cracked foundations, garage doors that could not be opened, and broken water pipes. One house even had a hole in their living room where you could see dirt from the ground below.
Resident Carlene Ward held her newborn child of less than eight weeks in a blanket and told the group, “I am a breast cancer survivor and I have lived here for 17 years, and my house is in shambles.
My plumbing never works properly. I would be more than happy to make the improvements myself, but we are not allowed to do any repairs or alterations without having Caltrans do them for us.”
And now the residents face the ultimate insult by Caltrans; they were officially notified recently that their rent would increase an unheard of 10% every six months.
For Ward and other residents who live in the impacted El Sereno community, the rent increases are “the final straw” in their battle with state officials.
“Caltrans stole our homes, and now they are going to rob us blind on top of it,” said Don Jones, a community activist and area resident who has been an outspoken opponent of Caltrans for just about half of his adult life.
Jones directly blasted California Governor Jerry Brown during the tour by calling him “a crack addict who is out of control.”
“When does humanity come into play Governor Brown,” Jones said while wearing cowboy hat and with a “United Caltrans Tenants” button on his lapel.
Jones said his wife passed away recently and that he had to spend her final days “fighting with Caltrans.”
“Jerry Brown lied to us when he said he cared about our community here, shame on him and his administration for continuing to put us through this living hell,” Jones said.
The tour also stopped in front of a fenced off group of three to five small bungalow style units that residents claim have been empty for at least twenty years. The off yellow units are covered with gang graffiti and are used as “shooting galleries” for drug users. The windows are nailed shut with plywood, the doors are sealed off, and the roofs are falling apart.
“This area is not safe for the children who have to live here,” said Janice Dotson, another longtime opponent and vocal critic on how Caltrans has conducted business with this project.
“It is time to start facing facts. The 710 Freeway is never, ever going to be expanded and someone needs to fix this once and for all,” Dotson said.
Mike Rivera, who has lived in one of the homes in the path of the freeway said he was concerned about “retaliation” from Caltrans officials for “speaking the truth about just how bad and corrupt” this situation has become.
“We don’t want to be retaliated against by Caltrans, we want to be educated and told the truth,” said Rivera.
At the time of the gathering, at least two cars marked with Caltrans logos drove by without stopping or acknowledging those present.
“Look, see for yourself, these Caltrans workers could care less about our concerns. We could stand in front of their moving cars here on our street and they would probably run us over if they had the chance,” said one resident who did not want to be named.
Assemblyman Gomez, who is in the middle of his first two-year term in the State Assembly, has been on record in the past as opposing the 710 Freeway expansion.
“I have consistently opposed the extension of the 710 freeway via a surface route or a tunnel. The proposed ‘solutions’ do nothing to solve our long-term regional transportation problem,” Gomez said.
Gomez was more than “alarmed” from what he witnessed.
“I had no idea the conditions were so bad here,” he said.
“We have a problem here that has gone on for far too long, and now someone at Caltrans has got to be held accountable,” Gomez told residents who stood in a circle around both him and Hernandez during the tour.
Hernandez has represented the area in the State Senate for the past six years, and even he admitted to HMG-CN that the neighborhood is in “substandard condition.”
“This is unacceptable conditions,” Hernandez said.
“It troubles me to see what I am looking at today,” Hernandez said. “I had no idea it was like this.”
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