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Struggling to Attain Harmony : Pasadena's Coalition for a Non-Violent City was formed amid outrage over the slayings of three teen-agers. A year later, the politically potent group has raised funds for youth programs but lacks a cohesive vision.

November 24, 1994|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The early morning sun had yet to warm the gray stone walls of All Saints Episcopal Church. But inside a conference room, 15 members of the Coalition for a Non-Violent City steering committee sat at tables littered with empty plastic-foam coffee cups.

They were 35 minutes into a full court press by Pasadena City Councilman Isaac Richard. With his trademark angry rhetoric and political moralizing, he urged them to back him when he proposes that the council ban concealed weapons at all city-sanctioned public meetings.

The group's members, however, were wary of entangling themselves in Richard's personal political battles.

One coalition member asked politely: Did the councilman have someone on the seven-member council to second his proposal?

"If the coalition shows up, I'll have seven votes!" Richard shot back.

The incident illustrates the clout carried by the year-old anti-violence coalition. Spawned by outrage over last year's Halloween-night killings of three boys mistakenly gunned down by gang members, the Coalition for a Non-Violent City has rolled through Pasadena like a downhill snowball, picking up money, support and influence.

During the past year, the group incorporated as a nonprofit agency, raised $360,000, spent $40,000 on a giant community meeting, put 1,100 people on its mailing list and opened offices in Old Pasadena.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 1, 1994 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part J Page 4 Zones Desk 2 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Civic groups--A story about the Coalition for a Non-Violent City published Nov. 24 in the San Gabriel Valley section incorrectly identified Rena Dyson and Sharon Anderson as co-founders of the We Care Coalition. They are currently We Care's co-chairs. We Care was founded by Shirley Adams and Alan LaShaw of the Pasadena-Foothill branch of the Los Angeles Urban League.

Yet, in some ways, the coalition still is struggling to coalesce.

Members argue, sometimes in tears and anger, over whether it should offer traditional, social work-type programs or address racism in society. The coalition's unwieldy, Hydra-headed committee system lacks an overall game plan. Some have rejected the group's meetings as elitist talkfests that are short on action. Others, many of them young people at risk on the streets, know nothing about it.

Those most involved are not disheartened, pointing out that although people are arguing, at least they're talking to each other. Many of them are from such different walks of Pasadena life that, under ordinary circumstances, they probably would never have even met each other.

"The coalition represents a movement, not a program," insists the group's co-founder, Shirley Adams.

With almost missionary zeal, Adams recounted a recent meeting that brought together the mother of a slain child, an Altadena gangbanger, a high school principal and a Junior League member.

"There's a whole level of discussion going on in the city that has never taken place before," said Adams, head of the Pasadena-Foothill branch of the Los Angeles Urban League. "The coalition could be one of the most significant structures put in place in Pasadena."

*

Indeed, in the coalition's early days, the governor's office sent a query to the group asking what it was working on, after it looked like an unusual movement was afoot in Pasadena. Residents had organized quickly in the wake of the shock and outrage that gripped the city after three young teen-age boys, mistaken for gang members, were gunned down by gang members on Halloween night, 1993, in central Pasadena.

A first meeting of 12 community leaders called by George Regas, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, was followed by a second meeting of 50 participants; hundreds more began attending as meeting after meeting took place. Participants included city department heads, social-service agency workers, community activists and residents.

The coalition initially focused on gun control. But as more people got involved, the group increasingly turned its attention to the roots of violence: lack of job opportunities, run-down schools and housing, and racism directed against large segments of Pasadena's population, Adams said.

The group focused particularly on the Northwest Pasadena area, where many of the city's low-income black and Latino residents live and which is plagued by gang violence.

More than $360,000 has been raised, including $100,000 from the Irvine Foundation and $250,000 from the city of Pasadena. With part of the money, a coalition office in the Dodsworth Building in Old Pasadena was opened and three staff members were hired.

The coalition also spread $75,000 among 17 grass-roots agencies and individuals that provide programs for young people, from theater projects and on-air radio and television training programs to drill and drum team performances and an overnight trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

An Oct. 1 conference held by the coalition at the Pasadena Center drew more than 800 people. At the conference, which cost $40,000, attendees were fed a free breakfast and lunch while they attended seven different workshops on violence. A follow-up meeting Nov. 1 resulted in the creation of six independent task forces. Each task force is devising a plan of action. Another citywide meeting is planned for March 15.

The group is trying to decide how to spent the remaining $150,000 in city money.

Yet, as it begins a second year, serious fissures have erupted in the coalition's image of unity and momentum.

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