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ANNIVERSARY OF THE RIOTS : Aid: Merchants, city officials complain that many promises for financial assistance, investment and training have not materialized.

April 29, 1993|EMILY ADAMS and JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

COMPTON — The flames of last spring burn in memory in different ways. For city leaders, they have taken on the color of broken promises. Others see them as opportunity, or a warning.

Even before the blackening smoke cleared from Compton's skies last May, the pledges had begun. Jobs, economic renewal, local tax breaks: All this was promised by politicians riding through town with the car windows rolled up.

Federal and state officials spoke with urgency of enterprise zones and new businesses.

But after a year of hopes being raised with rumors of new programs and funding for the inner city, leaders now say that little has changed.

"You always want to be hopeful, but the hope went out the window very quickly when I saw (the government) wasn't really going to do anything," said Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton) who, as mayor last year, stood on the front line in receiving political promises.

But Candido Palmero, owner of a restaurant and market on Rosecrans Avenue, took advantage of the riots even though his business suffered $100,000 in damage. After noticing that his neighborhood didn't have a butcher, he included a meat counter in his market when he rebuilt.

"I knew I couldn't expect anything from anyone or the government. I had to do it myself," Palmero said.

He didn't bother asking for a federally funded small-business loan. The process was too complicated, he said.

Using a commercial bank credit line, he cleaned up, put in the meat counter and is still rebuilding the front of his store. Graffiti--"Black Power" and "Rodney King Lives"--still covers the walls of his back room like a hangover from the riots.

It was one year ago today that civil unrest broke out after the not guilty verdicts against four officers tried in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

After the smoke lifted, Compton had nearly $100 million in damage. Two people were killed: One in an officer-involved shooting, the other, a man shot for the beer in the back of his pickup. That case remains unsolved. Prosecutors filed 215 felony cases, most of them involving burglary and theft. Of the 63 buildings destroyed, many of them housed several businesses. At last count, 14 of the structures were being rebuilt.

The Small Business Administration, meanwhile, did not keep track of loans by city, making it difficult to determine how many Compton businesses have been helped.

Local officials asked the government for new business loans, job-training and small-business seminars, saying the root of Compton's rage was lack of economic opportunity. They asked for legislation forcing banks to invest in the inner city and outlawing insurance companies from charging exorbitant prices.

The government gave Compton $280,000.

Some corporations have been more willing to invest. Southern California Edison donated a job training center on Bullis Road, where dozens of graduates have trained for better-paying jobs, mostly in automotive repairs.

And Taco Bell opened a restaurant management program at Compton College this week, offering six months of training and a certificate to hopeful fast-food managers and owners, said Councilman Omar Bradley.

"This is an important program because, when (rioters) burn down a Taco Bell, they don't feel anything because they don't own it, nor do they feel they ever have the possibility of owning it," Bradley said. "We are trying to change that."

To encourage other small businesses, the city will celebrate the grand opening today of its Business Assistance Center. With the $280,000 in federal money given to Compton--a grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development--the center will pay consultants to teach prospective entrepreneurs how to start and run a business.

That grant, however, will keep the center operating only six months, said city grants manager Tim Iverson. After that, center officials can only hope that more public or private funding becomes available, Iverson said.

Although the city has not gotten everything it wanted, there has been progress. Gateway Plaza, a sprawling pink shopping center and symbol of economic hope before it burned in the riots, has been nearly rebuilt. Not every business returned to the plaza, but shopkeepers are happy with the new stores and say business is fairly good.

"Business slowed a little (after the riots), but we couldn't think of the negative," said Joyce Foster, owner of Compton Travel Service. "I feel like you just have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get back on track."

Foster, who operated her business out of a trailer in the parking lot during reconstruction, said a lot of good came from the fire. She said she is happy with the remodeling of her business, including new stainless steel and mauve furniture.

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