YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

1991: A Look Back : Review: The Rodney G. King beating, development battles and a tempestuous political scene were all part of life in the Valley.


In 1991, the ghosts of years past came calling for the San Fernando Valley.

The bludgeoning by police of a black motorist in Lake View Terrace brought long-simmering resentment against the Los Angeles Police Department to a boil and sparked a wide-ranging probe into racism and brutality under color of authority.

Developers, who for years had seemed to put up buildings and houses as quickly as sandcastles, found themselves pinched by a recession and weak demand for their projects. Meanwhile, homeowners, no longer able to readily cash in on rapidly expanding equities to flee neighborhood ills, attempted instead to change the names of their communities.

And longtime politicians, from City Council members to state lawmakers, were made to answer for their past actions by lawyers, investigators and a disenchanted electorate.

Playing itself out in the present, the past forced Valley residents in 1991 to take stock of the future.

Seared into the minds of residents throughout Los Angeles were the videotaped images of the beating in March of motorist Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers.

That oft-replayed tape, and the scrutiny of the Police Department that followed, confirmed long-held community concerns about the department and resulted in Police Chief Daryl F. Gates agreeing to step down in April.

True to the Valley's conservative roots, many community leaders and city officials, including Councilmen Ernani Bernardi, who represents most of the northeast Valley, and Hal Bernson, whose district is in the north Valley, staunchly supported Gates in the face of calls for his resignation. But the Valley also became the laboratory for changes that may affect the entire force.

Seeking to repair its relationship with the community, the department instituted "community-based policing" at the five stations in the Valley. In May, more than 30 officers were assigned to meet with residents, merchants and religious leaders in an attempt to build rapport.

The pilot project has been particularly successful in the Foothill Division, where the King beating occurred, and where 10 new minority supervisors, including the division's first Latino captain, have been assigned.

"It has made a world of difference," said the Rev. James V. Lyles, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Pacoima. "The fear has almost gone from 100% to zero."

The new program was spearheaded by Deputy Chief Mark A. Kroeker, the top-ranking police official in the Valley, who took over his post the same day that four officers were indicted in the King beating.

Kroeker has since emerged as one of the most visible public figures in the Valley and, in November, he announced his candidacy for chief of police. He is considered a long shot but has helped restore confidence in the department.

Even as the Police Department's problems unfolded on television and in newspapers, crime increased dramatically. Once regarded as a refuge from urban crime, in 1991 the Valley seemed to belie that image.

Robberies in the Valley increased far more rapidly than in other parts of the city, reaching 6,638 by mid-December--up 40% from the previous year. Homicides also hit a record high: 142 as of Dec. 10, compared to 124 for all of 1990.

Hidden in that statistic were shocking multiple killings: the November slaying of a family of four in Granada Hills; the stabbing and shooting deaths of five North Hollywood catering-truck employees this month, and the June killing of two longtime teen-age friends at a sandwich shop in Northridge.

Even the Valley's upscale areas were not immune from crime, and some residents responded by banding together into Neighborhood Watch groups and volunteer foot patrols.

"My first reaction was to move, but then I thought, 'I'm going to fight before I get pushed out,' " said Becky Lohnes Leveque, organizer of Operation PROTECT, or Porter Ranch Organized to Eliminate Crime Together.

Leveque and her crime-weary neighbors mobilized their forces in October, and by November had reduced residential burglaries by 87%.

Elsewhere, homeowner and neighborhood groups in the Valley fought, with mixed results, a new plan to allow increased growth in Warner Center, a city proposal to rezone certain areas to allow greater density and create more affordable housing, and the final details of a city agreement with Porter Ranch developer Nathan Shapell.

The Porter Ranch development agreement, approved earlier this month, exempts Shapell's 1,300-acre housing and commercial project, one of the largest in city history, from most future growth-control laws for 20 years. In return, Shapell, who first proposed the development in the late 1980s, agreed to pay $2.5 million toward two major traffic improvement projects in the northwest Valley and other public works improvements.

Los Angeles Times Articles