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Fresh Faces, New Voices on Pomona Council : Willie White Wants to Rename Neighborhoods and Bring More Blacks Into the City System

March 24, 1991|MIKE WARD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POMONA — Say goodby to Sin Town, if Willie White has his way.

White, who will take office next month as the first black member of the City Council, says he would like to spruce up the city's image by renaming some neighborhoods, starting with Sin Town in northwest Pomona.

"Who'd want to live in a place named Sin Town?" White asked.

Renaming neighborhoods, White said, is something residents can do themselves. He said he will urge people living in Sin Town, The Islands and other neighborhoods with nicknames identified with gangs or crime to pick new names, post signs and rebuild pride in Pomona.

Other items on White's agenda include:

* Creating a commercial zone in the Sin Town neighborhood--also known as Valwood--along the San Bernardino Freeway, if an undetermined number of residents of the area are willing to trade their houses for new homes elsewhere in Pomona.

* A plan to ease traffic congestion by creating one-way streets.

* Buying and reopening the Pomona Valley Auditorium and turning it into a teen center.

* Bringing more blacks into the economic and political system.

"The black community has always felt it was excluded," he said. "All you have to do is look around. You see a lack of black businesses, a lack of black involvement."

But whether any--or all--of his goals will be accomplished depends on actions by the City Council, on which White will have just one of seven votes, and on the success of White's efforts to spur volunteerism and community participation.

White said he hopes to stimulate community participation by his own example. He wants to organize a work day to fix up homes of senior citizens. He also wants to visit families in high-crime areas to motivate students, create awards for parents of successful students and persuade businesses to "adopt" youngsters, guaranteeing them jobs if they get the required education and meet other established criteria.

White, a 54-year-old father of six and grandfather of eight, is a burly, amiable man whose devotion to the community is reflected in the dozens of trophies and plaques that fill a table and line a wall at his office at the Pomona Valley YMCA.

Born and raised in Mississippi, White was working as a lab technician in Pomona in the late 1960s when he became deeply involved in community work. His employer, Xerox, gave him a year's paid sabbatical for community activities, but at the end of the year, White left Xerox to work for the YMCA. The job change reduced his income and altered his lifestyle, White said, because he could no longer afford a motor home, boat and long family trips.

But, he said, he decided that "helping people meant a lot more than money." White founded and runs a "junior police program" that gives police-academy-style discipline and training to 300 youngsters every summer. He started a food bank eight years ago that is serving about 200 needy families.

"Everybody likes Willie," said his longtime friend, Pete West, director of the Mt. San Antonio College education center in Pomona. "He operates aboveboard. He is what he seems to be."

West said White's election is the culmination of years of political work by White and others interested in increasing minority representation in the community.

White was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that challenged Pomona's election system, arguing that electing council members citywide deprived minorities of representation. The lawsuit failed. But the council put the issue on the ballot last year, and voters changed the system to district elections.

White, who was making his third try for the council, said he owes his election this year to the new district system. He was elected in District 6, which includes the portion of Pomona north of the San Bernardino Freeway. The district population is one-third black, compared to a citywide population that is 15% black.

White said his support of Councilman C. L. (Clay) Bryant, who was removed from office last year in a bitter recall battle, might have cost him the election if he had run citywide. But in District 6, White said, Bryant retained his popularity as a defender of the disadvantaged.

Besides, White said, "I'd rather lose an election than turn my back on a friend of mine."

But White is not expected to emulate Bryant on the council. Bryant used council meetings as a platform to attack his political enemies. But White said that's not his style.

"I won't participate in personal attacks," White said. "There's no way I'd do that."

In fact, White is so cautious politically that he has declined to endorse candidates in the mayoral and council runoff elections April 16, so as not to offend anyone he might have to work with on the council. "I want to do everything I can to build unity and work as a team," he said.

White said his strength as a councilman will be his knowledge of the community.

"I want to be the guy on the City Council with common sense," he said. "I know those people out there. I understand a lot of their needs."

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