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Bill to Ease Rebuilding of Korean American Stores Fails : Legislation: Assembly committee defeats measure designed to bar the city from restricting reconstruction of liquor-selling establishments that were destroyed in riots. A key issue of dispute is whether stores are magnets for crime.

August 30, 1994|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — On a straight party-line vote, an Assembly committee on Monday defeated a bill designed to make it easier for Korean Americans to rebuild grocery and liquor stores destroyed in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The action by the Assembly Local Government Committee appeared to kill chances of passage for the proposal by Assemblyman Paul Horcher (R-Diamond Bar) before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment Wednesday.

For the past year, Horcher's bill has been at the heart of a contentious debate over whether the city of Los Angeles can block or restrict rebuilding of grocery and other liquor-selling stores destroyed or gutted during the riots.

The bill would have prohibited the city from imposing such conditions as limiting hours of operation or requiring security guards--rules that the mostly Korean American store owners described as too costly.

Last year, an earlier version of the proposal passed the Assembly. The Senate revised the bill and last week sent it back to the Assembly for concurrence in amendments. But on Monday, Horcher could attract support from only four Republicans on the committee, while seven Democrats opposed the measure.

Among the supporters were the Korean American Coalition and the Korean American Grocers Assn. Opponents included the Los Angeles City Council and several statewide law enforcement groups.

Backers maintain that of the 4,000 businesses damaged in the riots, only 200 groceries, markets and convenience stores were singled out for special treatment and prevented from rebuilding because of the imposition of unacceptable conditions.

The grocers association estimated last month that the rules were so stringent that only 10 of 175 Korean-owned stores licensed to sell liquor have reopened.

Supporters of the bill acknowledge that the city has turned down only about three building permits. But they say that by burdening pending building permit requests with conditions, the city effectively is blocking reconstruction of the destroyed liquor stores.

One key issue of disagreement is whether the stores are magnets for crime. Mehee Kim, director of the Korean American Grocers Victims Assn., said the crime problems are "strongly exaggerated," adding that "I'm a young woman. I go to the stores. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel scared."

According to the Local Government Committee's bill analysis, the City Council "has no interest in imposing conditions on stores that do not have a history of crime and violence" but believes "it is reasonable to impose some conditions on stores that have a history of as many as 215 incidents of crime in an 18-month period."

In an interview, Horcher maintained that African American lawmakers sought to derail the bill because "they want Korean Americans out of their community."

But Councilman Nate Holden, an African American who came to the Capitol to voice his opposition to the bill, scoffed at the suggestion that race played a role in the legislative debate.

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