MONTEREY PARK — When City Councilwoman Lily Lee Chen was mayor last year, she looked in the window of a gas station that had gone out of business and saw a sign that said: "Will the last American leaving Monterey Park please take down the American flag."
Chen, who was born in China, said she was so upset by the sign, which seemed directed against immigrants who have raised the city's Asian population from 3% in the 1960s to about 40% today, that she wrote a letter to the station owner denouncing the sign as "racist."
The letter is now the subject of a $2-million libel suit filed by Edward Aljian, the station owner, against Chen and the city of Monterey Park. The suit is in a preliminary stage in Pasadena Superior Court but already has generated so much friction that City Atty. Richard Morillo recently obtained a court order delaying a deposition by Chen until Nov. 6 to allow "ill feelings" to dissipate.
Aljian's attorney, Raul R. Granados, said Aljian did not put up the sign and was not responsible for it. Granados contends in the suit that Chen libeled Aljian by suggesting in her letter that he was responsible for racist, un-American statements.