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Ueberroth Takes Share of Blame for L.A. Riots

July 29, 1992|CARLA RIVERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The man charged with leading the reconstruction effort in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots said Tuesday that his own business practices had contributed to conditions that ultimately erupted in violence and looting in the city's poor areas.

Peter V. Ueberroth, speaking to delegates at the 1992 Urban League convention, said corporate America for decades has consciously neglected America's inner cities, and he implicated his own successful travel business for part of the failure.

"For 40 years, corporate America, and I'm part of that, has moved every decent job out of the inner city," Ueberroth said. "I had 300 offices and not one was in the inner city."

Ueberroth's comments came during a forum focusing on the survival of America's urban areas. Other panelists included state Sen. Diane E. Watson (D-Los Angeles), Los Angeles Urban League President John W. Mack, and the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, T. Willard Fair.

Ueberroth called America's inner cities a cancer and said that if conditions of joblessness, crime and despair are not corrected, "the whole patient will die."

Speaking of Los Angeles, Ueberroth said simply rebuilding that which had already existed would be an outrage.

To that end, he said Rebuild L.A., the group of private and public figures charged with revitalizing South Los Angeles and other areas struck by rioting, would be known as RLA. He pronounced it "our L.A."

Ueberroth also spoke personally of the differences between himself and the vast majority of inner-city constituents he is charged with assisting.

"I live in Laguna Beach, a mostly white area," he said. "But I know that the people of South-Central must have a chance to have jobs, hope, to pay fair prices for food, everything the suburbs have but that the inner city does not have."

In speaking of the need to revitalize Los Angeles and other urban centers, Ueberroth said that even his neighbors, most of them Anglos, realized that the task must be handled differently.

"They want to line up and help," he said. "This time it is different because the world has changed. The wall came down in Germany. The Soviet Union is now the former Soviet Union. For America to think we're so smug that we can sit here and not change will ultimately hold us back."

Ueberroth said the riots must provide the spark for other cities to repair their urban ills as well.

But he cautioned that Los Angeles and other cities cannot afford to repeat mistakes that were made after the Watts riots of 1965--mistakes made by both the state and federal governments, the business community and the community as a whole.

Watson took aim at Gov. Pete Wilson for proposing budget cutbacks that she said would exacerbate conditions that led to the riots.

"Welfare has become the scapegoat not only in California but across the nation," said Watson, whose district includes much of South Los Angeles.

"Our homeless rate, our joblessness rate, our rates of dropout are among the highest in the state," she said.

Since the riots, several prescriptions for revitalizing urban America have been ordered. In an address to Jordan High School students in May, the Rev. Jesse Jackson touted a plan that created a Domestic Development Bank, funded by slashing the military budget in half.

Funds would be used to invest in a "job fair" program, day care, prenatal care and other social services. Such investments would reduce jail and welfare costs, Jackson contends, and the prescription would work to rebuild not only Los Angeles but all of America's inner cities.

The Urban League has recommended its own Marshall Plan as a cure for urban ills. The federal spending program would direct $50 billion per year over the next decade to combat poverty and structural decay in urban areas.

"The Marshall Plan is not a cure for a riot but it is an investment to get America's economy going," said Urban League President John E. Jacob. At an address to Urban League delegates on Monday that elicited an enthusiastic response, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton compared the plan favorably to his own "Rebuild America project that would redistribute post-Cold War defense dollars into such areas as health care, education and job creation."

Also on Tuesday, Jacob called for a committed response from both government and the private sector to contribute time, money and effort to restore America's urban centers.

"I think they understand that stability is vital to this nation," he said. "It's just unfortunate that this has to be a reaction to such a crisis."

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