There were no TV cameras in Room 561-A of City Hall on Tuesday morning. But less than three hours after Damian Monroe Williams was sentenced in the Criminal Courts Building across the street, a new, more harmonious piece of post-riot Los Angeles history was unfolding at a sparsely attended hearing of the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The session was called to air a battle between South-Central Los Angeles residents and Korean American businessman Daniel Whang, whose liquor store was destroyed by arson during the riots.
But by the end of the hearing, Whang, who had already agreed to convert his business to a coin-operated laundry, was shaking hands with his African American neighbors and discussing the possibility of a groundbreaking ceremony by year's end.
The residents termed the coin-operated laundry planned for 89th and San Pedro streets a solid first step toward reviving what one referred to as a crime-ridden area.
"Every business (in the neighborhood) except a church and a jail attracts criminals," said resident Elizabeth McClellan, a member of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment. "This has got to stop somewhere and this is a beginning for us.
"We hope this sends a message that there doesn't have to be decay out there just because this is South-Central Los Angeles."
At issue were specific elements of Whang's plan to build the O-Matic self-service laundry on the former site of his Ma's Liquor, which went up in flames on the first night of the rioting last year.
At a September news conference, Whang, 42, was flanked by city and community leaders who praised him for being the first businessman seeking to take advantage of a new city policy providing financial incentives for replacing inner-city liquor stores with alcohol-free businesses such as restaurants or laundries.
But neighborhood residents reacted with concern when a zoning variance granted to Whang included no written provision that a full-time attendant be on hand while the business is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The residents appealed the variance to the zoning board, which listened to the matter Tuesday morning after a hearing on a plan for a Sunset Strip restaurant to serve dinner into the wee hours of the morning.
"All we want is safety for our children and our residents," said McClellan, one of five neighborhood residents who addressed the city board. "With an attendant, there will be no nonsense on that corner."
That, replied Whang, who speaks in halting English, is something he could hardly find fault with.
"I'm willing to provide the attendant," Whang, who immigrated 11 years ago, told the board. "(After all), I'm investing a lot economically."
"I think that's great," board Chairman Peter M. Weil said. "It sounds like a happy ending."
The board voted 4 to 0 in favor of the request.
With a zoning variance in hand and a commitment from the city to waive $130,000 in sewage hookup fees for 60 washing machines, Whang is hoping to break ground as soon as city planning inspections are completed later this month.
Whang, who received a disaster recovery loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration, won approval earlier this month for $300,000 in equipment purchasing loans through the Community Financial Resources Center, a nonprofit organization of bankers, city agencies and community organizations.
Whang had initially applied for financial help from the newly established Rebuild L.A. Community Lending Corp. But he changed his mind because RLA's lending terms proved far less financially attractive than those offered by the CFRC.
Architectural drawings in hand, Whang shook hands with neighborhood residents at noon Tuesday. Then he offered to show them the design of his new building. "It's beautiful," he said.