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Phone Bank's Busy Night Called a Ringing Success


A few greasy napkins attested to the four Domino's pizzas that had been donated to the cause in the early evening.

A big yellow-and-red drink container, the kind that gets football coaches drenched at the end of a game, dispensed McDonald's orange soda through the night. High in a corner, a television offered nonstop coverage of the violence in Los Angeles.

Just under the TV, littering a U-shaped table, there were the phones, eight of them--and they kept ringing and ringing. So San Diego city and county officials, community activists and neighborhood leaders kept on talking through the night, consoling, reassuring and empathizing with anyone and everyone who wanted to chat or vent or worry aloud.

Part slumber party, part group-therapy session and part community outreach project, Mayor Maureen O'Connor's phone bank project seemed wildly popular, officials said, giving San Diego residents a way Thursday to connect with police and elected officials--and to reinforce the feeling that officials here were on guard against a repeat of the violence to the north.

"It's working," said Carol Hallstrom, regional director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, who served Thursday night as unofficial project commander. "We are in the position of giving comfort--not false hope--that there is a coordinated effort to work in peace, toward peace, for all the communities in San Diego."

Announced early Thursday by the mayor, the phone bank was set up in the afternoon at city police headquarters. Due to open at 5 p.m., there were so many callers by 4:45 p.m. that the lines were opened, said the mayor's press secretary, Paul Downey. Calls remained constant for hours, he said.

The phone bank was due to stay open well into the early morning today. It was unclear whether it would operate again tonight, though Hallstrom said it might.

O'Connor answered phones. So did County Supervisor Leon Williams. Burgreen was a regular on the lines. "This community does not want to see itself burn," Burgreen said.

Many of the calls were from senior citizens fearful of the night, said Linda Lopez, president of the Pacific Beach Town Council, who answered phones for two hours.

"I was in Los Angeles in the Watts riots," she said. "I think talking about this just helps a lot. In the Watts riots, it felt like nobody in a position of authority cared about nothing that anyone else was saying. Here, in San Diego, tonight, people can talk it out. I just think that's got to help."

Burgreen said there was also a practical advantage to the project. Several calls were from people who wanted to alert police to unusual activity, and that information was immediately relayed to officers on the streets, he said.

"We are prepared for anything," he said. "But we expect very little."

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