During the Great Recession a decade ago, El Monte was in danger of losing much of the ground it had gained.
The working-class suburb lost four auto dealerships. Its city government laid off more than 100 employees, including 17 police officers, and slashed youth sports and after-school programs.
These were painful blows for a tightknit city that had become known, after a rocky period in the ’80s and ’90s, as one of the safest of its size in the country.
But El Monte clawed its way back and was starting to prosper until the pandemic, which put some development projects on hold and hit essential workers and Latino residents particularly hard.
Most recently, on June 14, two El Monte police officers — homegrown boys — were shot and killed while responding to a domestic-violence call at a motel on the city’s south side.
Bisected by the 10 Freeway, El Monte is the kind of place that most people drive past — unless they’re headed to Longo Toyota. The city’s partly empty shopping centers are not a draw for outsiders.
But for its 115,000 residents, El Monte feels like a small town, where people meet for breakfast to plan Easter egg hunts and talk about how to improve things, carpenters volunteer to build tiny libraries for kids, and former residents call the mayor after a tragedy to ask how they can help.
“They’ve reached out to say they miss El Monte,” said Mayor Jessica Ancona, the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a lifelong resident, who has fielded calls from people across the country after the officers were killed. Though the city is often portrayed as a place for newcomers, she said, bonds can go back decades.
Ancona and Councilmember Victoria Martinez Muela played on the El Monte Fillies softball team together. The city prides itself on having police officers who grew up in El Monte and still live there.
That sense of community was on display at a candlelight vigil Saturday for the two officers, Joseph Santana and Michael Paredes, both El Monte natives. Santana, 31, had been on the job for less than a year; Paredes, 42, was his training officer and came up through the department’s cadet program.