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Residents Say They See Only Industry's Ugly Side

October 06, 1985|DONNA ST. GEORGE | Times Staff Writer

In some cities dominated by major industries, companies lead community improvement efforts.

In El Segundo, for example, corporate officials have developed a five-year computer program for the school district, donated educational equipment to local campuses, taught math classes, renovated vandalized Girl Scout facilities and financed child-care studies.

Industries there say it comes with "being part of the family," as a Chevron USA Inc. official put it.

But in Wilmington, industry is often a distant third cousin, many residents charge. They say many large companies that make money in Wilmington don't invest it in the community. For an area saddled with heavy industry's unsightliness, pollution, noise, truck traffic and toxic waste, many residents say they are getting little in return--in some cases, not even jobs.

Variety of Responses

"The companies come to Wilmington, make their money and run," said Trinidad Godinez, a 30-year resident. "I don't see that these companies have done anything for the community."

Corporate officials in Wilmington have a variety of responses. Some say they make charitable contributions, but not always locally and sometimes indirectly-- through the United Way, for example. Some say they have not been asked to help, a point many residents concede. All say they contribute to the community with their payrolls, subcontracts and taxes.

And some industry leaders say it's not their job to improve a community.

"The industries here use the community," countered George De La Torre, co-owner of Harbor Canning Co., a Wilmington business since 1946. "I believe here, right here where they operate, they should give. It doesn't take much to see that the community needs help."

Many residents and workers assert that if a company is doing well in a community, it has an obligation to share at least some of its wealth--by providing financial contributions, expertise or material donations.

Actually, some Wilmington industries have contributed to the community. About 10 years ago Exxon U.S.A., which owns 300 of Wilmington's 655 oil pumps and a petroleum collection station, provided the land and some materials for the development of a baseball park. De La Torre's business, Harbor Canning, also has made major contributions, including co-sponsorship of Wilmington's annual fiesta and regular support to several social service agencies.

In the last several years, other industries have contributed more than $100,000 to the Wilmington Boys' Club and, to a lesser extent, money for scholarship programs at Banning High School, Wilmington's only secondary campus. Many industry officials say they also contribute to United Way Inc., which in turn assists some community programs.

Debt Owed

But many residents say industry owes Wilmington more. Contributions have been infrequent and too often provided by only a few companies, they say. In a nine-square-mile community dominated by 1,000 businesses--about 30% of which have 50 employees or more, according to a Wilmington Chamber of Commerce estimate--corporations should play a significant role in community improvement, residents say.

Said Lee Anderson, chief fund-raiser for the Wilmington Boys' Club and wife of U.S. Rep. Glenn Anderson (D-Harbor City): "This is a terribly wealthy area industrially, except the companies close their doors at 5 p.m. and go home to other areas. That's a fact, but I'm not sure anyone has addressed the problem to them. . . . I think that may be starting to change."

Some corporate leaders say critics forget industry's economic impact on the community and exaggerate industry's ability to improve an area. Wilmington's major industries include three petroleum refineries, dozens of other oil-related companies, several large chemical plants and numerous port-related trucking and shipping firms.

"We'll listen to people if they make a request, but just because a group of major corporations pour money into a community doesn't mean the community is going to be better off," said D. J. Maffuccio, plant manager of Texaco Inc.'s Wilmington refinery. He added that most of the company's charitable donations go toward such cultural groups as New York's Metropolitan Opera and, closer to home, the Long Beach Civic Opera.

"Certainly if industry moved out, people would feel the losses," he added. "I think people are overlooking the impact on the economy that a company like this can have."

There is a question, however, about economic impact. Although taxes channeled into local government appear significant, Wilmington receives no larger share of services than other areas and, many residents claim, actually receives far less than it is due. Large industries may create economic opportunity for smaller firms, but some major companies do not employ large numbers of local residents.

Few Resident Employees

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