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ROBIN ABCARIAN

When Two Visions of One City Collide

July 28, 1996|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Taylor-Maid Do-Nuts sits on a barren, sun-bleached corner east of downtown Pomona. The passing traffic kicks up enough grit to dust the top of your coffee if you sit on the picnic bench in front of the shop long enough. To say the business is frozen in time is no exaggeration--the last big innovation occurred four years ago, when the owners introduced two new kinds of doughnuts, honey wheat and sour cream.

The little shop, with its peeling paint and rusty fans, seems an unlikely site for a political showdown, but a struggle is being played out here that is a microcosm of the larger clashes that have racked the city of Pomona--and in fact, all of California, in the last several years--as new demographics topple old power structures.

For seven weeks now, Taylor-Maid Do-Nuts has been the target of a boycott organized by a Latina politician and local activists, who say they are fed up with racially tinged remarks made by Judy Bredenkamp, a 52-year-old former Nebraskan who has owned the doughnut shop for 22 years with her husband, Boyd. Bredenkamp also happens to be a parking commissioner for the city, an unpaid position to which she was appointed by the mayor.

In May, Bredenkamp complained to the Pomona City Council that nearby trees, poles and parts of the doughnut shop had been plastered with Spanish-language fliers. "I really thought there was an ordinance that no posters or fliers are supposed to be on the poles or on city property," she said. "Why do we let this go on. . . . It's looking like Tijuana out there. . . ."

Not a smart choice of words, certainly.

To Councilwoman Cristina Carrizosa, a 53-year-old bilingual teacher who emigrated from Mexico 34 years ago, the words were an outrage. Bredenkamp, a regular who often speaks her mind at council meetings, had stepped over a line. Carrizosa has demanded that Bredenkamp resign or be removed from the parking commission and has helped organize the Taylor-Maid boycott to that end.

"From my perspective," said Carrizosa, "every 15 days for the last three years [at council meetings] she has always found some fault with the Latino community. A year ago, she accused us of running Pomona like the corrupt Mexican government. . . . These words are abuse. When you do this to a community, the effects are devastating. I believe she has a right to speak her mind, but she is a public official. . . . She chooses to embarrass the council and everyone involved."

An outsider can only wonder: Is Carrizosa a political neophyte who is sincerely exercising newfound muscle on behalf of her constituents? Or is hers a typical overreaction in the age of PC? And what of Bredenkamp? Why would a businesswoman who says her shop has fallen on hard times so mindlessly give offense to some of the very people who keep her afloat?

*

Three years ago, for the first time in its 108-year history, Pomona citizens elected a Latino majority to their City Council. In 1980, the U.S. Census put the city's Latino population at 31%. Ten years later, it was 51%. Today, city officials concede it is probably far higher than that.

"Pomona was ruled many years ago by the old business people, the growers," says Nell Soto, a longtime councilwoman, civil rights activist and wife of Phil Soto, one of the first Latinos elected to the California Assembly in this century. "The business people made the decisions about what happened in the community, but that power is gone. Now there's a lot of turmoil."

The doughnut shop boycott is surely a manifestation of that turmoil. Though the Bredenkamps can hardly be said to represent old, moneyed Pomona--the family can no longer even afford health insurance, Judy says--they are longtime business owners worried about worsening business conditions and competition from unlicensed street vendors.

"Anyone that is an Anglo has a tremendous amount of power over a disenfranchised community," says Carrizosa, sitting in her office at Philadelphia Elementary School.

This may be true for the poorest Latinos and the newest immigrants, but it is a blithe assertion and sheds some light on how Carrizosa has alienated people too.

Soto, a sixth-generation Californian who is very much empowered, has told Carrizosa publicly that she ought to "cease and desist" the boycott. Soto says her council colleague ought to work instead on "improving the quality of life for the citizens of Pomona, a really worn-out phrase but the only way I can express it."

Carrizosa might not be so quick to take offense at Bredenkamp's perceived slights, says Soto, if she had, like Soto, grown up in a Pomona that refused to allow "Mexican" children to use the public pool on certain days, and forbade them from sitting anywhere in the local theater but the balcony.

For all the city's faults, says Soto, Latinos are far better off in Pomona than they once were.

*

So here they are, two grown women, both living versions of a sometimes tarnished American dream. One sees the city where her business once flourished going down the tubes; the other sees it as a place of powerless people who need zealous defending against racial slights. Both have a point. But they are pitted against each other in a proposition with no upside. Neither is willing to compromise, to conciliate, to educate.

Says Bredenkamp: "Would I make the first move? No."

Says Carrizosa: "What is there to mediate?"

Too bad for Pomona.

Too bad for everyone.

* Robin Abcarian's column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. Readers may write to her at the Los Angeles Times, Life & Style, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.

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