By Shirley Hawkins
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A year has passed since the state closed the Employment Development Department office at 54th Street and Crenshaw Boulevard due to a dispute with the property owner that has ended up in court.
At a town hall meeting Sept. 27 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, residents learned that the state is trying to find a suitable location for a new office, but otherwise there was nothing new to report.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell, who represents most of South Los Angeles in Sacramento, conducted the town hall meeting and brought Patrick Henning, the director of the state Employment Development Department, with her from the state capital to address residents.
Mitchell said that the EDD office closing has left community residents feeling disenfranchised.
“The black and brown communities have a sense of the diminishing resources,” Mitchell said. “They are feeling invisible, underrepresented and underserved and there is a growing sense of frustration.”
Los Angels City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson was even more strident in his tone.
“The Economic Development office should not have been closed without talking to residents,” Harris-Dawson said, adding that he has received numerous calls from constituents about the closure. “Even today, people are showing up to that space hoping to receive services. I look forward to them reopening an office in South L.A. soon.”
“I know the community wants services,” Henning told residents. “I have to work with the city. I want to make sure to provide services that will continue to provide for the community.”
Connye Thomas is one of the members of the newly formed Community Action Mobilization Team that is working with Mitchell and the community to help restore services.
Thomas worked at the Crenshaw EDD office and is now the program manager at the Inglewood EDD office. She recalls what happened last year when the office closed on Oct. 5, 2017.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “Our administration received a three-day eviction notice at the Crenshaw EDD office to vacate or quit. We were told we had to move because the landlord gave the office an eviction notice.”
Thomas said that she felt sorry for job seekers living in the Crenshaw district.
“They have to travel to the Inglewood EDD office or to the office in Culver City. Every day we have people coming to the Inglewood office who used to walk to the Crenshaw office, but no more.”
The property where the building stands is owned by a local family that is locked in a contentious legal battle with the state. Although the state had a 20-year contract with the owners, the owners declined to renew the lease.
“They didn’t want to sign the lease and the state took them to court,” said Ron Hasson, a member of the NAACP’s national board, who was at the Sept. 27 meeting. “The state won, but the family appealed the decision.”
The property is in litigation until the appeal is resolved.
In the meantime, residents looking for work or to use other services are left scrambling to locate EDD offices far away from where they live.
“We have gotten at least 50 calls from community residents who are wondering what has happened to the Crenshaw EDD,” said Ron Hasson, national board member of the NAACP. “Residents have to travel miles to get service.”
Community residents who arrive at the site are stunned to find the building vacant and a fence erected around the premises. No signage is visible to explain the closing.
“We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state of California,” said Mike Davis, president pro tem of the Los Angeles Public Works Commission and a former state assemblyman. “While we support an increase in public safety and increasing government services, nothing is more critical to our community than to have employment development opportunities.
“We are pleased that the state of California, which is responsible for providing these services, has agreed to help restore them.”
Mitchell said that the Urban League and the NAACP will be doing outreach in the community to let residents know about the EDD returning to the community.
“It’s not about others doing the outreach for us — it’s up to us to reach out,” said Mitchell, who urged attendees to sign up for newsletters to keep informed about when a Crenshaw EDD office will reopen.
“I think we can get the best results when we come together and uplift everyone,” Henning said. “I promise to work with a legal team to get billboards placed at that Crenshaw site and I will look into transportation and providing mobile units.
“I’m more than happy to make sure that our people are available whether it’s at a church or some other facility,” he added.
“I was so happy that the representative from EDD office came out,” said attorney Cheryl Turner, who was also a member of the Crenshaw Action Mobilization Group. “He seemed passionate and committed to the community. This is our first attempt to restore services that were lost to the community. We will continue to go forward to address community concerns and to make sure that the community has access to services.”
“I want to reach constituents about this matter through the Urban League newsletter and the black press,” said Mitchell, who urged attendees to sign up to join the Crenshaw Action Mobilization Group. “It’s up to us to convene and to hold a conversation. I’m willing to do the work, I hope you are, too. It’s about the community showing up for the community.”