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Inter-Ethnic Ills Loom, Leaders Say : Diversity: Report warns of potential unrest without more opportunity for minorities. It calls for understanding among county's ethnic groups.

June 02, 1993|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Warning that Orange County shares many of the social and economic conditions that led to last year's Los Angeles riots, a group of 70 major business, government and religious leaders are calling for more opportunities for minorities and improved relations among the county's diverse ethnic groups.

In a report to be released Thursday, Orange County Together calls for the implementation of community-policing programs, programs that offer incentives for employers to hire a diverse work force, and a multicultural center to promote better understanding among the various races.

"We have the seeds of potential unrest in Orange County," said Harriett M. Wieder, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. "We need to address them now because once people are out of work stress comes in, and the unrest will flare up like in Los Angeles. . . . "

Wieder will be present at the County Hall of Administration Thursday for release of the report.

The group's recommendations follow a yearlong effort that included community forums, meetings with various grass-roots organizations and visits by local civic leaders to riot-torn areas of Los Angeles.

Orange County Together was formed last June to forestall the kind of social upheaval that flared in sections of Los Angeles shortly after the verdict last year in the first Rodney G. King beating case.

Fearful that similar events could be replayed in Orange County, the leaders of various sections of the community backed the effort. The group received a $100,000 grant from the local chapter of the United Way and additional support from the county's Human Relations Commission.

Entitled "Recommendations and Plans for Transforming Orange County," the report outlines 21 broad goals to foster mutual understanding among county residents.

H. Fred Mickelson, vice president of Southern California Edison and co-chair of Orange County Together, said leaders have already identified groups that would be interested in "following through with action plans."

Said Mickelson: "We don't want this to get filed and remain on a bookshelf. Without an action plan, it's worthless."

The group's recommendations include:

* Support and promote training programs to develop diverse leadership in disenfranchised communities.

* Promote grass-roots, multiethnic community organizing projects to broaden participation in the decision-making process of the institutions that affect the lives of the community's residents.

* Develop comprehensive race-relations programs in schools and curricula that will build inter-ethnic understanding among the county's increasingly diverse student population.

Mickelson warned that the county faces stark choices.

"The same ingredients which caused the civil unrest in Los Angeles exist in Orange County, and if we don't address them they could reach a boiling point," he said. "We must learn from the lessons of Los Angeles. . . . If people cannot get in the mainstream of the work force, then bad things happen."

Mickelson said he and other business leaders learned a great deal from meeting with various grass-roots groups throughout the county.

He described a meeting with a street vendor who was upset that the city of Anaheim had approved an ordinance that restricted his business.

The vendor "indicated how long he had been running his own small business, how nothing had changed on his part but suddenly the city was putting obstacles in his way," Mickelson said. "He (commented) how the city forgot that this was the way (Carl's Jr. founder) Carl Karcher started his business. That was a powerful (remark) that I'll never forget."

Wieder said the timing of the report "could not have been more appropriate" because recent census data shows that the county's demographics are rapidly changing.

The changes, the group leaders say, are reflected in the student population: In 1991, the last year for which statistics are available, minority students made up 49.2% of the 391,000 students in the county compared to 37.7% in 1986.

Other facts that contributed to the recommendations:

* There are 104,000 students with limited English skills.

* There will be no ethnic majority group in California by the year 2000.

* About 75% of new jobs will require some college education while only 50% of all new workers are likely to have gone beyond high school by 2000.

"I think the bottom line for this effort is that Orange County has an opportunity to be proactive and not reactive," Wieder said.

Improving Race Relations

Highlights of Orange County Together's plan to provide economic opportunities to more minorities and to improve race relations:

* Changing the workplace: Promote hiring a diverse work force in business, government and nonprofit organizations.

* Develop multicultural center: Provide learning opportunities among diverse groups.

* "Community policing": Start service-oriented, problem-solving partnership between law enforcement agencies and the community.

* Create partnerships: Have businesses and public schools develop programs to increase students' skills and employment opportunities.

* End the abuse: Stop vilification and hatred directed at immigrants, gays, lesbians and racial, religious and ethnic groups.

* Promote grass roots: Organize multiethnic projects to broaden base of participation in decision-making process of community institutions.

* Reduce hate crimes: Build collaboration between law enforcement and victim groups.

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