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Forum Calls for Healing, Preparedness : Tensions: Panelists convened to address fears of new unrest after King verdicts say the inequalities and frustrations that sparked last year's violence can be eased.

April 08, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Keep a close eye on your family, stock up on plywood for your business and follow the news closely as the federal Rodney G. King beating case nears a verdict, a forum of panelists told concerned San Gabriel Valley residents last week.

But behind the tactical advice offered at the emergency preparedness forum--organized by Chinese community leaders in an effort to allay fears of renewed civil unrest--came a deeper message: Work to heal the misunderstandings and inequalities that lie at the root of ethnic tensions.

Ted Jones, of the Pasadena branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, posed a challenge to the audience: "Having heard from people here what will happen in the schools, what will happen with fire and safety, I have to ask . . . What about you? If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, there's a lot more that can be done at the community level."

The panelists included fire, safety and school officials, community leaders, mayors and council members from Azusa, Rosemead, Monterey Park and El Monte and the deputy director of the governor's Office of Emergency Services. The forum drew an audience of about 50 to the Rosemead Community Center.

Jones' sentiments were echoed by Monterey Park City Councilwoman Judy Chu, who sits on the board of Rebuild L.A., which was formed to mend the physical damage caused by last year's rioting while addressing some of the root inequalities and frustrations that sparked the disturbance.

She noted that tensions in the western San Gabriel Valley are less severe, in part because of better communication among ethnic groups and good community policing.

"I'd have to say in comparing Los Angeles to the western San Gabriel Valley, I think we're way ahead," she said.

The San Gabriel Valley suffered little damage during last April's riots, and Chu's heavily Asian city suffered none.

The idea for the forum originated with the Chinese American Coalition, a fledgling San Gabriel Valley organization that aided Asians who lost family members or businesses during last April's rioting. The group's leaders hoped to provide practical guidelines for dealing with any major disturbance, be it an earthquake, flood or civil uprising.

Forum participants delivered divergent messages: Garvey School District Supt. Anita Suazo assured the audience that the district has stocked up on hard hats and lanterns, and Azusa Mayor Eugene F. Moses recounted his experiences assisting the town of Watsonville after the 1991 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Other panelists, however, steered clear of the broad topic of disaster readiness to home in on the main reason people had come to the meeting: mounting anxiety and fears of renewed rioting after verdicts are handed in the King case.

"Why am I here? It starts with a Rodney and it ends with a King," said Gil Galvan, 50, of Pasadena, who heard about the forum at his Pasadena church. Galvan said his law enforcement friends warn that trouble is looming on the horizon.

"My own opinion is that there are going to be a lot of problems," he said of the aftermath of the trial.

"We live in San Marino, very close to Pasadena, where there were problems last year," said Terri Lo, who attended the forum with her husband, Michael. The building next to his Alhambra law office was burned during last year's unrest. "We're very serious about this and worried too," she said.

Forum organizers had scrambled to put the event together, and although they had placed 800 leaflets at chambers of commerce, city halls and public libraries several days before the event, turnout was low.

The event drew an ethnically mixed crowd, but quite a few in attendance were members of other community groups or representatives of public officials who had been invited and could not attend. Louis Kuan, one of the organizers, said that while the small crowd was disappointing, the forum gave community leaders, politicians and law enforcement officials a chance to meet and, Kuan hopes, develop lasting ties.

Only about 20 people lasted until the end of the three-hour forum, but those who did got some answers to their questions.

School officials assured audience members that their children would be safe on school grounds and that they would be released only to parents or guardians in the event of a civil disturbance.

Temple City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Marianne Milch suggested that business owners elect block captains and stock up on plywood in the event of any disturbance or disaster that could leave them with shattered windows.

Paul Flores, deputy director of the governor's Office of Emergency Services, appealed to business owners to keep copies of all important documents in a safe place.

But panelists also stressed that business owners and residents have to take responsibility for their own level of preparedness.

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