A coalition of organizations Monday accused the Monterey Park City Council of racism in rejecting a Taiwanese-backed housing project for the elderly, instructing police to cooperate with immigration authorities and supporting the adoption of English as the nation's official language.
Li Pei Wu, president of the Taiwanese American Citizens League and head of a coalition called the Committee Against Age and Racial Discrimination, charged that the council's decision against a proposal by Taiwanese immigrants to build a 43-unit apartment complex was racially motivated.
Members of the council, which was recently reconstituted with a new majority, denied the charge.
Later, about 400 people marched in front of Monterey Park City Hall in a demonstration called by the coalition of Taiwanese organizations.
As council members met inside, marchers chanted, "Stop racism!" Many carried American flags and signs bearing such slogans as "U.S. Was Built by Immigrants" and "End Monterey Park Apartheid."
'No Doubt It Is Racism'
"I have no doubt that it is racism," Wu said in an interview before the demonstration, although he noted that council members cited other reasons for rejecting the housing project.
"Nobody would say, 'I'm against new immigrants,' " Wu said of the council. "They would know better than that."
But Wu said that the housing decision, reached in April, coupled with the council's adoption June 3 of a resolution instructing police to cooperate with federal immigration agents and endorsing the adoption of English as the official language of the United States, reflects hostility toward immigrants.
"There is an undercurrent there," he said.
Councilwoman Pat Reichenberger, who voted against the housing project and for the June 3 resolution, denied Monday that the council was motivated by racism in either case.
"I don't consider myself a racist at all," Reichenberger said, adding that the apartment complex for senior citizens was rejected because "it's in the wrong area and the design is lousy."
She said the proposed building was a "very discouraging, depressing type of structure," and the location, on Whitmore Street, near New Avenue, is too far from bus stops and shopping areas.
Reichenberger is one of three new council members elected in April, replacing incumbents who they accused of allowing the city to become congested with traffic and overrun with ugly condominiums and cluttered mini-malls.
One defeated incumbent, David Almada, said the election campaign exploited a resentment felt by some longtime residents against Asian immigrants who have moved to the San Gabriel Valley city in large numbers over the past decade, opened new stores, built new homes and now comprise 40% of the city's 58,000 residents.
Reichenberger said she deplores the tendency to analyze council decisions in racial terms.
But Mayor G. Monty Manibog, who opposed the resolution on immigration, blamed the council for causing racial difficulty.
"There's nothing that has caused more polarization than this resolution," he said.
The mayor added, however, that he is "not going to judge my colleagues on their motivation."
Late Monday evening, leaders of the protest formally asked the council to rescind the resolution and reconsider the senior housing project. Manibog made a motion to rescind the resolution, but it was defeated on a 3-2 vote. The council ignored the matter of the housing project and went on to other issues.
Wu, a bank president who lives in Glendale, estimated that as many as 10,000 Monterey Park residents are from Taiwan. He said the Taiwanese Affiliated Committee on Aging raised $4 million to build the senior citizens complex, and had secured unanimous approval of the city Planning Commission before the council rejected the plan on a 4-1 vote, with Manibog dissenting. The complex would have been open to all races.
Joining with four Taiwanese groups in making the racism charge was the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park, comprising 70 people of various ethnic backgrounds.
Michael Eng, a co-chairman of the coalition, which was organized last year to defeat a proposed initiative that would have declared English the city's official language, said the council's actions have "divided the community along racial lines."
He said the council's instruction to the police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities has had "a chilling effect" on immigrants. And both Wu and Eng said they have heard unconfirmed reports of people being asked by police to show immigration cards.
Police Chief Jon Elder said department policy in handling immigration matters has not been changed by the resolution.