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Charges of Racism Greet Plan to Close Busy Thoroughfare : Traffic: Complaining that too many cars pass through their neighborhood, some residents of El Dorado Park Estates want Pioneer Boulevard closed at the border with predominantly Latino Hawaiian Gardens.

April 18, 1993|RICK HOLGUIN and SUZAN SCHILL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LONG BEACH AREA — A nasty dispute has erupted, replete with allegations of racism, over a proposal to close Pioneer Boulevard where it crosses from a poor Hawaiian Gardens neighborhood into a more affluent residential area in Long Beach.

Most of the residents calling for the closure complain that a stream of cars comes off the freeway and cuts through the quiet streets of El Dorado Park Estates to homes in Long Beach and Rossmoor.

But others plead for the street to be closed to stop thefts, graffiti and other crimes in the predominantly Anglo neighborhood that they attribute to residents of predominantly Latino Hawaiian Gardens.

An El Dorado resident, who lives near the border with Hawaiian Gardens, said food from a freezer and tools have been stolen from her garage. And she has twice found drunk drivers parked on her front lawn.

"I don't live in East L.A.," a tearful Patricia Rhodes said last week at a community meeting on the issue. "My property taxes don't reflect that I live in East L.A. Why do I have to deal with this?"

Such comments have angered Hawaiian Gardens officials, who have not taken a position on the proposal to close Pioneer Boulevard just south of 223rd Street.

They acknowledge that the Hawaiian Gardens neighborhood, with apartments and small houses with bars over their windows, is poor compared with its Long Beach neighbor. The larger homes in El Dorado Park Estates have manicured lawns with brick planters and bright flowers.

But Hawaiian Gardens officials say their residents are not responsible for the crime in the Long Beach housing tract.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department supported that assessment, saying El Dorado Park Estates has one of the lowest crime rates in Long Beach, and Hawaiian Gardens residents do not account for an inordinate number of the crimes that are committed.

Hawaiian Gardens officials did not speak at the community meeting. But they said in interviews that the move to close Pioneer Boulevard is aimed at keeping Latinos out of the predominantly Anglo housing tract.

"I think it's a very racist attitude of a few people in El Dorado Estates that they want to be separated from a Hispanic community in Hawaiian Gardens," Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas said.

But Long Beach officials and residents supporting the closure say that racism is not involved.

And traffic, not crime, is the main reason for the proposed closure, they said.

Proponents report numerous incidents where pets have been run over and children nearly struck by cars.

"We get a tremendous amount of traffic through here," said David Biele, 37, who lives in El Dorado Park Estates with his wife and two children. "If you had little kids, you couldn't have them out here for more than half a second."

A traffic study conducted about two years ago by the city indicated that the number of vehicles using Pioneer Boulevard in Long Beach was about three times more than the street was intended to handle, said Dick Backus, city traffic engineer.

Long Beach officials did not close the street previously because they thought state law prevented them from doing so. But a recent opinion from the state attorney general's office indicated that the city could close the street.

Councilmen Les Robbins and Warren Harwood, who held the neighborhood meeting Wednesday, said they favor closing Pioneer Boulevard to cut down the traffic.

But residents who live in the southern part of El Dorado Park Estates showed up in force at the community meeting to oppose the closure. The sign-toting opponents said the closure would end up rerouting more traffic onto their streets.

"No one wants additional traffic," said Hap Wood, who lives in the southern part of El Dorado Park Estates. "There are many small children, balls, wagons."

After more than two hours of heated testimony, Robbins said he soon would take the issue to the full City Council. Robbins' district includes El Dorado Park Estates.

But first a study will be performed to verify suspicions that many of the cars on Pioneer Boulevard in El Dorado Park Estates are coming from outside the neighborhood.

If so, Robbins plans to ask the council to close the street temporarily. A study would then be conducted to determine whether the closure would hurt other neighborhoods. If not, the street would be permanently blocked off.

"There's a lot to be gained by closure for the quality of life there," Robbins said. "It will make it a nicer, quieter place."

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