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Community News: Mid-City

PICO-UNION : Breakaway Group to Pursue Cultural Goals

November 20, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

After more than two years together, several members of the Pico-Union Improvement Assn., a multiracial community group formed after the 1992 riots, have branched off to pursue their own agenda.

Calling themselves Pico-Union Residents for a United Community, the fledgling group consists of more than 30 members of the original 400-member association.

Unlike the Pico-Union Improvement Assn., which dedicates itself primarily to crime prevention, the new organization hopes to turn the neighborhood into a hub for cultural events in hopes of encouraging economic development, something they feel is as vital to cleaning up their blighted community as fighting crime.

"We want to put Pico-Union on the map," said Jim Jones, a former block captain with the Pico-Union Improvement Assn. and vice president of the new group. "When people think of Pico-Union, they just think of drug sales and illegal aliens. We don't want to have that image."

The members of the new group said they decided to leave their parent organization after an election they had requested for new officers was delayed.

Mike Hoy, coordinator of the Pico-Union Improvement Assn., said he originally tried to plan elections in August, but the need to establish the group as a nonprofit corporation, which has still not occurred, took precedence.

Members calling for elections decided to take the matter into their own hands and sent a notice to other members for an election to be held at the end of the month. But the association's board of directors, which includes Hoy and eight others, disagreed with their plan.

"They were not following the guidelines established by the group," said Richard Alonso, principal of Leo Politi Elementary School and a member of the board. "We felt they were doing this in a clandestine way. They did not notify the board of directors."

The members who had been calling for an election went ahead with their election, however, and at the same time decided to secede. Although the leadership of the parent group attempted to hold an election about two weeks later, the minds of what Jones calls "the separatists" had already been made up, along with their new agenda.

"We still want to work with police," he said. "But we need more restoration and education. Fighting crime is purely reactive, and there's only so much you can do on that end."

In addition to planning public events to highlight the area's ethnic diversity, the new group hopes to bring free English classes to the community, as well as bilingual support services for residents, volunteer English tutoring for schoolchildren and regular graffiti paint-outs as they canvass the neighborhood for new members and, like their parent group, seek out grant funding to further their activities.

Although the leaders of the Pico-Union Improvement Assn. are sad to see part of their membership go, they plan to stick with their own community improvement plans.

"Our thing is to do community marches and cleanups, and to fight crime," said member Gloria Soto, who served until recently as joint coordinator of the group. "We don't have a problem with social activities, but most of our members are here because they want to fight crime, and they're perfectly happy with that."

Hoy said he would like to be able to patch things up with the offshoot group and bring them back into the fold, but he respects their decision to move on.

"I don't object to anyone starting their own group," he said. "It's their right."

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