Bell res­i­dents cel­e­brate ar­rests

As news spreads across the city, peo­ple flock to City Hall. Some say it’s the start of a new era.

Los Angeles Times - - Front Page - Paloma Esquivel, Ruben Vives and My-Thuan Tran paloma.esquivel@latimes.com ruben.vives@latimes.com my-thuan.tran@latimes.com

‘One by one they’re go­ing to fall un­til this city is clean again.’

En­rique Martinez,

fur­ni­ture store owner in Bell

The news spread quickly among neigh­bors, fam­ily mem­bers and or­ga­niz­ers in this work­ing-class city that for months has been thrust into the na­tional spot­light. Some phoned each other or chat­ted on the street, while oth­ers headed to City Hall to spread the news: eight for­mer and cur­rent Bell of­fi­cials had been ar­rested.

Among res­i­dents, many of whom rose up in an­gry protest amid rev­e­la­tions about a huge salary and loan scan­dal, there was a sense of cel­e­bra­tion and re­lief. Some saw the ar­rests as a piv­otal moment that would al­low the city to move for­ward, while oth­ers won­dered what would hap­pen next.

Even be­fore Los An­ge­les County Dist. Atty. Steve Coo­ley of­fi­cially an­nounced that he had filed charges al­leg­ing that the eight of­fi­cials mis­ap­pro­pri­ated $5.5 mil­lion in pub­lic funds, res­i­dents flocked to City Hall buzzing with news that ar­rests were un­der­way.

They were ebul­lient, shout­ing “si, se pudo!” (yes, we did!) amid cheers. One man used a bull­horn to broad­cast the Queen song “An­other One Bites the Dust.”

An­other held up a card­board sign with il­lus­tra­tions of City Coun­cil mem­bers look­ing like movie mob­sters in dark over­coats and fe­do­ras.

“Steal­ing us blind since day one!” it read.

Across the street at Pa­cific Fur­ni­ture, owner En­rique Martinez watched on one of his big screen TVs as the district at­tor­ney an­nounced the charges.

“The lid fi­nally blew off and they’re start­ing to fall,” Martinez said, smil­ing and point­ing at mug shots on the screen. “One by one they’re go­ing to fall un­til this city is clean again.”

On his desk sat a stack of blue fliers call­ing on busi­ness own­ers to or­ga­nize and fight cor­rup­tion in this city of 39,000. He planned to pass them out later in the day, he said.

Down the street, Jose Vazquez, owner of Savas Tires, said he saw the ar­rests as the start of a new era.

“We’re go­ing to make some­thing pos­i­tive of this,” he said. “Be­fore this no­body — not even peo­ple in other parts of the county — knew about Bell. Now ev­ery­one does…. So what do we do with that? It’s up to us to say, here we are, and we’re not leav­ing. We’re go­ing to stay here and lift up our city.”

But a few blocks from City Hall, Leti­cia Gon­za­lez, 22, a life­long res­i­dent, said she was not sure the ar­rests and all the scru­tiny of Bell’s of­fi­cials were war­ranted.

She said she would never move from the city and plans on rais­ing her young son there, where her par­ents also live.

“They were mak­ing a lot of money, but I don’t have an is­sue with it be­cause they were tak­ing care of us,” she said. “We have a clean city, good parks, no graf­fiti. It’s very safe…. I’m not say­ing the salaries and other things that were go­ing on were fair, be­cause they weren’t, but it’s not like they were get­ting paid a lot and not do­ing a good job.”

Dr. Mary Romo, an ob­ste­tri­cian and gy­ne­col­o­gist who prac­tices in Bell, had a dif­fer­ent view. Not only were the ar­rests mer­ited, she said, but more were prob­a­bly needed.

“This is a small step to jus­tice,” she said. “And the com­mu­nity can cel­e­brate this.

“But there are still other links in this in­ves­ti­ga­tion — the Po­lice Depart­ment, the tow­ing of ve­hi­cles, the way they were treat­ing busi­nesses,” she said. “There’s much more.”

When com­mu­nity ac­tivist Marcelino Ceja ar­rived at City Hall, res­i­dents cheered and gath­ered around.

“We will make this a bet­ter place!” said Ceja, a 17year res­i­dent. “I was wait­ing for this moment so I can cel­e­brate to­gether with all my res­i­dents.... To­gether we will get these guys out and will go ahead and be suc­cess­ful.”

“We did it!” shouted an­other.

Al Seib

CEL­E­BRA­TION: Jaime Luna, left, and Su­sanna Vil­lela cel­e­brate the ar­rests at a City Hall demon­stra­tion. They were among about two dozen peo­ple who took part in the im­promptu gath­er­ing. Par­tic­i­pants were shout­ing “ si, se pudo!” (yes, we did!) amid cheers.

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