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Plywood . . . Just in Case : King trial: No one wants to predict a new outbreak of violence. But many businesses are taking precautions ahead of the verdicts.

March 19, 1993|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Stocking less. Insuring more. Changing delivery routes. Piling up plywood. Making emergency plans.

As the federal civil rights trial of four police officers in the beating of Rodney G. King continues in Los Angeles, many businesses are hoping for the best but are planning for something decidedly other. No one wants to predict a flare-up of the kind of violence that hit the Southland last spring, but no one wants to be caught unprepared again.

Of course, not every business is buttoning down for the possibility of rioting. But the strong undercurrent of concern is undeniable, and not just in neighborhoods where looting and burning occurred after the officers were acquitted in a state trial a year ago.

For some business people, the concern translates into little more than a heightened awareness of security procedures. Some are debating whether to pay frightened employees who might not report for work, how to change delivery routes through affected areas and whether to carry less inventory in case looters strike again. And how does an employer feed workers who are unexpectedly stuck at the job site?

Many companies have tried to ease the threat of any future violence by working on their relationship with the community and keeping in closer touch with their customers.

But others believe that they must go much further by fortifying their buildings with rolling steel shutters, hiring more security guards, keeping plywood on hand to board up windows and buying guns. Many buildings have risen from the ashes with hard-to-burn concrete and bulletproof glass.

One business executive, who rebuilt his burned-out southern Los Angeles manufacturing company into a virtual fortress with an armed security force, declared: "It's not going to happen again."

Even talking about their fears is a sticky problem for some company officials.

"We don't comment on our security procedures, nor do we want to contribute to the speculation," a Sears spokesman said. Sears' Hollywood store was destroyed during last year's riots but was rebuilt within months.

The possibility of a flare-up is on the mind of David Lizarraga, and he finds that worrisome.

"If you talk enough about it--and I don't think a day goes by that we don't talk about the problem--it's almost a self-fulfilling process," said Lizarraga, president of the East Los Angeles Community Union, a private economic development corporation commonly called TELACU.

Still, "for us, it's business as usual. We're taking all the normal precautions at our properties, but I don't anticipate anything negative happening," he said.

Samy Kamienowicz, who was able to reopen his burned-out mid-Wilshire camera store within two weeks at a nearby location, said he thinks about more upheaval all the time. If it happens, Kamienowicz said he would probably do what he did last time--lock up the store and send his employees home.

"There's not much we can do," he said, "except make sure our insurance is paid up." Kamienowicz said he has increased his insurance coverage about 60% since the riots, which caused nearly $11 million in damage to Samy's Camera, the largest photo supply house in the West.

Many companies are calling their insurers to verify that their policies cover riot damage or are increasing the size of their policies, said Javier Rodriguez, a South Gate insurance agent and head of the Hispanic Agents & Brokers Assn. The prospect of unrest "is a good selling point, and I've been using it," he said.

Business is also up for those who provide security.

Pinkerton Security, the largest in California, reported that about 40 big companies in Los Angeles and even Orange County have asked for more security officers in recent weeks.

"Our first responsibility is to our clients," said Thomas W. Wathen, Pinkerton's chairman and chief executive. "Those companies that call for security at the last minute will be hard-pressed to get anyone to help them."

Convenience store owner Ki Park has had a security guard at his shop on Western Avenue since last spring's rioting, but he is depending on good community relations instead of guns for protection. Park said he is against guns, and hopes that federal gun-control legislation is approved.

"If I buy a gun, I'll have to kill somebody," he said. Park said he has learned that the key to business success is to "be familiar" with his customers, many of whom are black or Latino.

The Vons supermarket chain suffered relatively small losses from the riots, partly because the company, the largest market group in Southern California, has few stores in southern Los Angeles. But the riots shocked the company into accelerating an urban redevelopment program already in the works.

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