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HUNTINGTON PARK : City Battens Down for Mexico Match

July 03, 1994|BOB ELSTON

Twice in the past two weeks, merchants along Pacific Boulevard have had to close their businesses to protect their inventories from crowds celebrating the achievements of the Mexican soccer team in the World Cup.

While the Mexican team prepares to take the field Tuesday in New Jersey, businesses, city officials and police in Huntington Park are preparing to prevent trouble by putting most of the city's 68 officers on the streets on game day, closing down the main drag and imposing a 10 p.m. curfew for the entire city.

"I think the city has become more aware of (what can happen) through the excitement of Mexico winning," said Gilda Gonzalez, a member of the Huntington Park Chamber of Commerce, which has an office on the boulevard.

Last week's volatile situation "started out with celebration and people exerting their happiness . . . but it was amazing how fast it turned into a total disaster."

City officials are preparing to implement crowd control plans and to barricade streets, but many merchants are worried about losing money and another day of business.

Many noted that they will lose money even if celebrations are peaceful because revelers would be on the boulevard solely to show support for the soccer team, not to shop.

"It might be reasonable to close down the boulevard," said Larry Noble, store manager at the J. C. Penney branch on Pacific Boulevard near Gage Avenue. "But I am concerned that this will be costly to us. . . . Our business was pretty much at a standstill" Tuesday, even before the boulevard was closed.

Last Tuesday, thousands celebrated the Mexican national team's 1-1 tie with Italy, which allowed Mexico to advance to the round of 16, by pouring onto the boulevard to wave the red, white and green flag of Mexico and honk their car horns.

Some unruly members of the crowd tossed bus stop benches into the street, hurled fireworks at passing vehicles, and threw rocks and bottles at police officers in riot gear.

Police responded by using "stingballs"--non-lethal, softball-sized grenades that release rubber pellets--and by forming a "skirmish line" to methodically force the crowds to clear Pacific Boulevard from Florence to Slauson avenues throughout the day Tuesday and into early Wednesday morning.

Most merchants evacuated customers and employees from stores and locked the doors.

Authorities reported 17 arrests and one injury but little damage to businesses.

One business--a collapsible fireworks stand at Pacific Boulevard and Belgrave Avenue--was looted of $10,000 worth of fireworks.

The previous week, crowds celebrated Mexico's 2-1 win over Ireland by congregating on Pacific Boulevard. That day's celebration was interrupted when some in the crowd started hurling various projectiles.

Police exercised similar crowd control measures by pushing revelers off the street.

If Mexico continues to win World Cup matches, the celebrations will only intensify, said many of those who took to the city's streets last week.

"It is party time and this has just begun," said Eric Morales, who watched the Mexico-Italy game at his Alhambra home, then drove to Huntington Park to join in the celebration.

"The next (win) will be even bigger."

Next time, though, police and city officials plan to have the boulevard closed before Mexico's second-round match is decided.

"We need to be prepared," Gonzalez said.

"People have to know that you are allowed to celebrate but not to destroy things."

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