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Pasadena OKs Armenian Poll Over Protests of Minorities

August 31, 1989|VICKI TORRES | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — A scheduled count of the city's Armenian-American population for use in affirmative action hiring has spurred concern among Latinos and blacks that they could be harmed by the survey.

The Board of Directors approved a $98,642 contract Tuesday with SC Communications for the population count.

Many Armenians from the Soviet Union are expected to immigrate to Los Angeles County this year, a large number of them ill-prepared to adapt to life here, said Suzan Berberian of the Armenian Culture Foundation.

The immigrants need such social services as job counseling, temporary housing, translation services and child care, Berberian said.

People 'Not Aware'

"This is a side to the Armenian community many people are not aware of," she said.

But after Tuesday's vote, minority leaders said they are concerned that Armenians could end up receiving a larger share of city services based on their true numbers, while blacks and Latinos, who maintain that they are under-counted, would receive a smaller share based on low population estimates.

John Kennedy, head of the Pasadena chapter of the NAACP, said he will ask the group's regional attorney in Los Angeles to determine if the Armenian-American survey will affect other groups covered by the city's affirmative action policies.

"We're especially concerned when it comes to parity," said Tony Stewart, president of the Altadena branch of the NAACP. "Once they're put in the door, you can't refuse them promotions."

The possibility of legal action against the city's Armenian-American survey was raised in previous board meetings by Director Chris Holden, who worried that the city could be legally vulnerable if a similar count of other minorities were not performed.

'Question of Equity'

"In the 1980 Census, (Latinos) and blacks were drastically under-counted, yet we're making a special count for Armenian-Americans," Holden said at Tuesday's meeting. "It's a question of equity I'm asking."

Because of his concerns, Holden abstained from voting on the contract, leaving Director Jess Hughston to cast the sole negative vote. Hughston also cited the equity issue, saying his office had received "considerable constituent opposition" to the survey.

Approval for the Armenian-American count grew out of a 1985 recommendation by the city's Affirmative Action Commission that Armenian-Americans be included among groups under affirmative action hiring goals: blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and women.

Hiring goals are partially based on population parity: representation in the city work force is tied to makeup of the area's population based on the U.S. Census. However, after discovering that only limited 1990 Census data would be available for Armenian-Americans, the board in April approved an independent count by the city.

SC Communications, a public relations and marketing firm headed by Armenian-American Serge Samoniantz, was chosen from among three companies submitting proposals. SC plans to use Armenian organization lists to mail a survey to all Armenian-American households in Pasadena on Nov. 15. The results will be completed by March 31.

Unlike U.S. Census data, which includes numbers from the Los Angeles and Long Beach areas that are used to set minority promotion goals, the survey of Armenian-Americans in Pasadena will only be used to help set goals for entry-level positions for Armenian-Americans. But it could also determine the level of city services provided to the 15,000 Armenian-Americans estimated to live in Pasadena, said Mayor Bill Thomson.

Low Count Feared

Many who spoke at Tuesday's meeting were concerned that, because of acknowledged under-counting of Latinos and blacks in the 1980 Census, those minorities could again be under-counted in the 1990 Census at the same time Armenian-Americans are being accurately counted by the city.

Stewart questioned the methodology and accuracy of the SC survey and asked for a projected rate of error, which Samoniantz could not provide.

Larry Johnson of Haug International, a competing firm, also questioned the ability of SC Communications to conduct an accurate survey.

"SC Communications is not a research firm but a PR firm that specializes in electing local officials," Johnson said after the meeting.

SC Communications provided $1,000 worth of services in Director William Paparian's election campaign, Samoniantz said. But Samoniantz said the firm has had little contact with Paparian since the election and pointed out that SC was chosen by city staff members in a competitive process and approved by five directors.

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