The Year in Review

Imagine the South Bay's newsmakers of 1991 in a room together: a father who goes to high school with his son, a modern day patriot who risks arrest to fly Old Glory during the Persian Gulf War, an 80-pound alligator and a flock of squawking peacocks.

It was a year of triumphs and tragedies, controversies and comedies. There was a zany prankster elected to office in Hermosa Beach and a couple from El Segundo who took sponge baths to save water during the drought. Along with celebrities like Magic Johnson there were less recognizable names: Dennis Fetts, Ken Malloy, Nelvolia Collins.

What a gathering it would be. Here is a look at some of them, compiled by Times staff writers Marc Lacey and Kim Kowsky.

THE PRICE OF PATRIOTISM: While U.S. troops prepared for battle in the Persian Gulf, Torrance patriot David B. Shaw fought for the right to keep a 51-foot flagpole in his front yard.

It's not that anybody begrudged the 37-year-old concrete contractor his support of the war. The problem was that Shaw's towering flagpole blocked the ocean views of some of his neighbors. And some said the flag's flapping was as loud as a train.

At first Shaw agreed to take down the $75 pole. But when Cable News Network began piping home pictures of U.S. soldiers, Shaw defiantly resurrected it, and city prosecutors charged him with zoning violations.

Less than a week before he was to stand trial, Shaw finally decided to take it down. It seems he just couldn't afford the $2,000 in fines he would have had to pay if convicted--much less the possible year in County Jail.

"I'm a businessman," Shaw explained.

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL: Throughout the year, South Bay schools seemed stung by news of racial brawls and gang violence. But educators were buoyed last year by a Gardena father who made an unusual commitment to help his son do better in school.

Freddie Jenkins Sr., a night security officer at a nearby church, had tried everything to prod Freddie Jr. into improving his failing grades at Gardena High School, including grounding him and suspending his telephone privileges.

But it wasn't until Jenkins made good on a threat to accompany his 16-year-old son to class that Freddie Jr. began to bring home A's and Bs.

After his father took a brief hiatus from school last quarter, however, Freddie Jr.'s grades once again started to slip. And now Jenkins says he will be back in class when school starts again in February.

"It's tough, but I got to do what I got to do as a parent," Jenkins said.

OF FOWL AND MEN: The South Bay may well epitomize urban sprawl, but some interesting creatures crawled into the news last year.

Long before there was a city of Carson, there was Papa, the pet alligator. So, when Nelvolia Collins' 80-pound reptile was seized in March by Carson officials for not having proper permits, residents got snappy.

Sympathetic neighbors circulated "Free Papa" petitions, and other residents flooded City Hall with complaints about the seizure. The six-foot Papa had been living at Collins' Ackmar Avenue house long before state and local anti-alligator laws were enacted. Faced with a growing protest, council members conducted an emergency meeting and approved an ordinance welcoming all alligators that "lived continuously" in town since 1968. Papa, which wasn't on the city's list of approved pets, had been legalized.

In Rolling Hills Estates, the yelping of peacocks so infuriated some homeowners that the city hired an expert on the plumed birds to silence their squawking. Dennis Fetts, an Iowa peacock farmer, has promised to end the squabbles between homeowners over the exotic but pesky birds. Working for $200 a day plus expenses, he will hold public seminars on the habits of peacocks and lure them away, Pied Piper style.

PASSING: In an area known for its gritty industrial development, no one was more famous for bringing parks and other greenery to the harbor area than Ken Malloy. An environmentalist long before the moniker became commonplace, Malloy dedicated much of his life to preserving nature. And his crowning achievement locally was Harbor Regional Park, a onetime cow pasture where Malloy could be found almost every day, for two decades, tending to a campground that became a sanctuary for area residents and inner-city children.

Today, plans are nearly complete to rename the 320-acre park--the third largest in Los Angeles--for Malloy, who died Jan. 10 of a heart attack at the age of 79.

CULTURE CLASHES: U.S. Census figures released last year proved what everybody knew all along: The South Bay is becoming more ethnically diverse, a transition that is not always smooth.

Lawndale city officials found themselves under attack by local artists when they forced Carlos Marin, owner of Fine Car Exteriors, to remove an eye-popping mural that covered his auto shop's facade. Supporters of the graffiti-style mural accused the city of bias against its growing Latino population, but city officials denied the accusations, saying the painting was really a sign and needed a permit.

And although Carson city officials refused to rename Winfield Scott Park after late Samoan chief Harry T. Foisia, debate over the proposal helped give rise to a newfound activism among the city's Samoan community. When the council decided to name the emergency operations center in the basement of City Hall after the chief, Samoan leaders began picketing city offices.

IN THE LIMELIGHT: People everywhere gasped in disbelief when Laker superstar Earvin (Magic) Johnson announced at the Forum that he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS. The news hit especially hard in Inglewood, where Johnson made frequent appearances at local schools and was considered a local hero.

In Torrance, city officials raised some eyebrows when they announced that Susan Anton would be the headliner on the opening night of the city's $13-million Cultural Arts Center. "Susan Who?" was the refrain among some residents, who did not think the model-singer-actress was quite cultural enough.

THE WRATH OF NATURE: Whether it was earthquakes, droughts or landslides, Mother Nature would not leave the South Bay alone last year.

June's Sierra Madre earthquake prompted the city of Redondo Beach to shut its 61-year-old seaside library at Veteran's Park and haul the books to a nearby mini-mall. The old library will be renovated and turned into a community center, a decision that angered some residents who enjoyed gazing into the Pacific while relaxing with a book.

A lingering drought forced all area cities to impose water conservation measures. But just about nobody took the situation as seriously as Pauline and Douglass Crombie. The El Segundo couple cut their water use to 50 gallons each per day, well below the 140 gallons used by the typical California resident. The Crombies emptied their Jacuzzi, put drought-resistant plants in their garden and, in the ultimate sacrifice, took sponge baths five days a week instead of full baths or showers.

The precarious Portuguese Bend landslide area of Rancho Palos Verdes continued to suffer erosion last year but nothing like the crush of controversy that city geologist Perry Ehlig sparked when he suggested that developing part of the area was OK. A moratorium prohibiting building in the area has been in place since a series of landslides in 1978 damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

BIDDING ADIEU: Retirement usually elicits images of gold watches and tearful goodbys--not protests and investigations. A handful of South Bay newsmakers, however, stepped down from their jobs by--what else--making news.

Due to an error by city officials, Manhattan Beach's longtime city manager, David Thompson, retired with an annual salary of $139,000 a year--more than $50,000 more than he made on the job. When chagrined City Council members learned of the mistake last May, they voted to take the extra money back. Thompson has remained silent during the controversy and the city has been bracing for a lawsuit that has, so far, yet to materialize.

Torrance Police Chief Donald Nash entered private life with no less of a stir. He stepped down as the district attorney's office investigated his underpayment of sales tax on a Jaguar sedan he had bought after it was seized in a drug raid. Prosecutors found no criminal intent.

HEREEEE'S BURGIE: Now that "Burgie Live" talk show host Robert Benz is a Hermosa Beach councilman, one of the hottest television shows in the city is the cable TV broadcast of City Council meetings.

In his popular cable show, Burgie has microwaved a cockroach and goldfish on the air and laced his shows with biting sarcasm of civic affairs. He is the sponsor of a Fourth of July drinking fest on the beach and once suggested that the city impose a tax on couples for each sexual position they use in a night. He explained in an interview: "I think the fact that I get loose on the Fourth of July or that I like beautiful women is a testament to the fact that I'm a romantic at heart. That's where our politicians have lost it. They can't unwind."

Although some residents feared Benz would bring his zany talk show antics to the staid City Council meetings, Benz has not brought shame to City Hall. He has emerged as a strong advocate of local businesses, a critic of lavish government spending and a forceful questioner of city staff. And his quips do bring a lot of laughs. City Hall observers, however, say Benz's challenge for the coming year will be to build a consensus with his more Establishment colleagues.

BOSOM BUDDIES: They were two strangers chewing the fat as they cast their reels off the Hermosa Beach pier, but in just a few days Frank Rembert and Rick Wilson became far more than fishing buddies.

Wilson, a father of two, donated one of his kidneys to his ailing friend, dramatically improving his health. Once the act was publicized, the two South Bay men were hounded by movie and television producers stunned by the generous act.

Said Wilson: "I just had this driving force to help that man. I don't know why I had no reservations. To me it still seems insane."

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