Residents on neighboring streets of single-family homes and apartment buildings have characterized this section of Garvey as a hot spot for prostitution, gun violence and drug dealing. While there is a fair amount of gang activity, most violence isn’t directed at bystanders, said Heidy Lopez, 27, who moved to El Monte three years ago from South Los Angeles.
Lopez, her husband and their two children live in a one-bedroom apartment about a quarter-mile from the Siesta Inn. Lopez, who moved to Southern California from Nicaragua, said she has bonded with other Central Americans living nearby.
“I’ve felt safe here,” Lopez said. “We are part of a community, and we look after each other.”
Last year, there were six homicides in El Monte, compared with eight in 2020 and four in 2019, according to the L.A. Times Homicide Report.
The city’s success at diversifying its economy and reducing its reliance on auto dealerships, including the sprawling Longo Toyota facility, has been patchy.
Several major employers — a Japanese food importer, some e-commerce warehouses and a factory for a U.S. military contractor — have moved in. But big-box businesses, including Walmart, have committed to the city and then withdrawn, with the pandemic complicating efforts. Those shifts, and the specter of a recession, have left working-class residents on edge as they struggle with soaring gas prices, rising rents and inflation.
When Cosme Jimenez, a retired telephone repair technician, moved from Hermosillo, Mexico, to El Monte in 1965, the city was home to outlets of Sears, JCPenney, Thrifty drugstores and other notable brands.
The once predominantly white town quadrupled in size, from about 13,000 residents in 1960 to nearly 70,000 a decade later, according to U.S. Census figures. The population is now 63% Latino and 31% Asian.
“People wanted to move to El Monte,” said Jimenez, 77, as he sipped a lemonade at Denny’s. “Now we’re having trouble getting businesses to come and stay.”
The El Monte Shopping Center’s many vacancies are proof of the city’s struggles to attract investment, he said.