Simi Valley Looks to Reagan for an Image Upgrade

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Still trying to rid itself of the stigma from hosting the first Rodney King beating trial, Simi Valley is turning to Ronald Reagan for help.

A majority of the City Council wants to adopt an official city slogan: "Home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library."

If the plan goes forward, city stationery would be reprinted to incorporate the slogan. Welcome signs at the city's entryways would bear the motto. So would the city's Web site. Perhaps, one council member mused, some local entrepreneur might even roll out a line of T-shirts and bumper stickers for tourists.

Councilwoman Barbra Williamson said she proposed the idea for the Reagan library slogan after years of defending her city to outsiders who assume it's a racist community.

"People think we're a bunch of rednecks here," Williams said. "They think we only tolerate white Anglo-Saxons of a certain living style, and that's not true at all.

"It's time to get rid of that stigma once and for all and replace it with something really positive," she added. Reagan is "certainly one of the most beloved presidents we've had. And, frankly, I'd like to see us get some mileage out of that."

But one lone member of the all-Republican City Council disagrees that adopting a Reagan slogan is the way to go.

Councilman Paul Miller, the city's former police chief who describes himself as "a registered Republican but not an enthusiastic one," thinks the city's close attachment to the movie star / governor / president is already apparent.

The stretch of California 118 that connects Los Angeles to Simi Valley was officially named the Ronald Reagan Freeway years ago. And signs for the presidential library are posted throughout the city.

Moreover, Miller points out, the library is not actually inside the city limits: "The driveway is in the city," but the property itself is in the county's jurisdiction.

Even if the city were to adopt the Reagan slogan, it would hardly erase some strongly held perceptions, said John R. Hatcher III, president of the Ventura County chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

"They can name it whatever they want to name it, but people will still see Simi Valley as Simi Valley," Hatcher said. "It's institutionally racist."

The city's image problems began in 1992 when the Rodney King beating trial was moved out of Los Angeles by an appeals court. The jurists believed that excessive publicity and a highly charged political climate made it impossible for the four white police officers involved to get a fair trial in Los Angeles.

After the jury acquitted the officers, the city found its image tarnished and continues to this day to be the butt of jokes and put-downs by late-night comedians, politicians and Hollywood scriptwriters.

City officials said the Reagan library, which has played host to celebrities and world leaders ranging from Margaret Thatcher to Mikhail Gorbachev, has helped shore up the city's image.

Before moving ahead with the vote on adopting a Reagan library slogan, however, the City Council will take a month to solicit feedback from the public. But officials are sure the response will be positive.

"It's really a source of pride for the community," Councilman Glen Becerra said, "whether you like Ronald Reagan or not."

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