Five community leaders formed the WCLO in late 1990. The dramatic increase of the Latino population in Watts created a special need that was not adequately addressed by existing public institutions or communlty organizations. ln short, Latino participation in the civic life of Watts was minimal.
The catalyst for establishing the WCLO was the great need to create a sustainable voice for Latinos on public policy issues; particularly on the economic development expansion plans of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). During the summer of 1990, the CRA held public hearings and encountered great opposition from the African American community. Although Latinos already comprised approximately 50% of the population in Watts at the time, only a handful of Latino residents attended these meetings. As a consequence, the CRA, like other public and private organizations, neglected the economic development and social welfare needs of Latino residents.
The founders of WCLO recognized that this situation resulted from two key factors. First, CRA outreach and public education to the Latino community in Watts were virtually non-existent. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Latinos lacked the organizational infrastructure and the requisite resources to ensure more accountability from public institutions such as the CRA. Hence, WCLO was formed to address these realities.
lnitially, the WCLO founders met with CRA officials to identify the agency's shortcomings and to work cooperatively to resolve issues with the Latino community in Watts. The work with the CRA brought the founders together more regularly. Meanwhile, given its growing visibility, Latino residents began to ask the group for assistance in dealing with a wider range of community concerns such as public safety, community services, street and alley conditions, and poor street lighting.
ln recognition of these great community needs and the emergence of leadership willing to advocate on their behalf, in 1990 the San Miguel Church generously donated space to establish WCLO's first office. For eight years, the space served as a resource center for the development and implementation of WCLO's various initiatives and service programs including parental involvement in school reform, leadership development, school and community safety, public education, food distribution, and community clean-ups.
ln 1998, WCLO purchased an abandoned liquor store and converted it into its organizational offices and community center. Since then, the organization has forged ahead to become the leading community development and service organizations for Latinos in Watts.
Between 2002 and 2003, WCLO operated with a modest operating budget of just over $30,000. As it has grown from a primarily volunteer grassroots effort to a creative and resourceful non-profit organization, WCLO has cultivated successful partnerships with a wide range of local and national foundations and corporations allowing the WCLO to operate with a current budget ten times greater than in 2002-03.