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Community Center Offers $500 Reward to Stop Vandalism

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center in Pacoima has offered a $500 reward for the vandals who have been breaking its windows and spray-painting graffiti on its walls for more than a year.

Both police and center officials said they do not believe the vandalism is racially motivated, but rather the work of adolescents--possibly gang members--from the neighborhood.

“We know that kids in the neighborhood know who is doing it, but they won’t give us any names,” said Paul Jonokuchi, president of the parent-teacher association of the center’s language school.

His group hopes the $500 reward will encourage someone to provide information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the vandal or vandals, Jonokuchi said.

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“It’s getting worse and worse,” he said, noting that the last incident at the landmark center in the 12900 block of Branford Street occurred Jan. 12. “People are concerned about the security of the children who attend classes here.”

The San Fernando Valley Japanese Language Institute conducts classes in Japanese language and writing for more than 100 children on Saturday mornings. Most of the children are third- and fourth-generation Japanese-Americans.

The institute also houses a day-care center during the week.

Sally Montanez, a teacher at the day-care center, said that when the preschool children asked about the broken windows and graffiti spray-painted on chalkboards and on classroom walls, she replied that “bad kids did it.”

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Teachers have attempted to camouflage six boarded-up broken windows with drawings of cartoon characters on large sheets of paper.

Hiroko Beckler, who oversees social service programs at the center, said that the exact cost of the vandalism has not been determined, but that some windows have cost as much as $3,000 to replace. She said three large windows in a room used for judo instruction were broken so frequently that officials decided to replace the windows with a wall.

“It’s been terrible,” Beckler said. “This is a community center for the good of the entire community. We don’t make money here. We don’t have the money to keep replacing broken windows. The parents wanted to offer more money for a reward, but we just don’t have it.”

Detective Nancy Lyons of the Police Department’s Foothill Division said there is graffiti throughout the area, which is primarily residential but close to busy Laurel Canyon Boulevard. She said the vandalism may be the work of a gang, but “there are gangs everywhere, and the graffiti could be of a gang or just ‘tagging’ by neighborhood kids.”

In addition to the broken windows and graffiti, school supplies, such as pencils and paper, have been stolen, and desks and clocks have been smashed.

Jonokuchi said members of the center, which has been at the same location since the mid-1950s and serves as a hub for the Japanese-American community in the San Fernando Valley, may take shifts guarding the school at night and weekends or hire a security guard.


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