As Hollywood's $922-million redevelopment project gets under way, two camps are battling over the historic community. Big-business interests, led by Bill Welsh and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, have been pushing for tall new buildings and extensive commercial development. But many merchants and homeowners, represented by cafe owner Doreet Rotman, are fighting for smaller-scale development to preserve more of the community's small shops, comfortable neighborhoods and historic landmarks.
At 6 o'clock every morning, Doreet Rotman arrives on Hollywood Boulevard to open the Snow White Cafe, her small piece of the American dream.
The Romanian immigrant steers clear of the drug dealers and street thugs who huddle against the morning chill. She steps over littered sidewalks and past homeless men and women--sometimes even children--forced to sleep on the hard, cold pavement of the Walk of Fame.
"I have seen children in the wintertime with no coat or nothing," Rotman said in halting English. "I have seen too many kids on the boulevard sick, with infections . . . and fathers who would rather spend $1 on cigarettes than spend $2 to take a ride" to a free clinic.
Three years ago, Rotman hoped that redevelopment would help to solve those ills. But now, like many community members, she is bitter and cynical. She charges that the $922-million redevelopment plan, adopted by the Los Angeles City Council last May, was written more to foster new commercial development than to address the real concerns of Hollywood's residents.
As president of the Hollywood Boulevard Merchants Assn., Rotman has led opposition to the plan. She says the plan contains too few provisions for helping the poor, for controlling growth, for relocating displaced merchants and for guarding against property condemnation.
Collecting Paper Work
Rotman has been gathering documents and minutes of meetings to assist with a lawsuit filed last year challenging the plan. She hopes the suit, brought by members of the community group, Save Hollywood Our Town, will lead to changes in the plan such as revisions that would reduce the land areas subject to condemnation, guarantee that historic landmarks will be preserved and increase the money available to the poor, the homeless and to merchants and residents who may be forced out of Hollywood by redevelopment.
As court dates approach, Rotman has become a lone wolf on the 25-member Project Area Committee, known as the PAC, a citizens group required by state law to help write the redevelopment plan and put it into effect. At monthly PAC meetings, often the scenes of picketing and heated conflict, Rotman wages a dogged, largely uphill battle against members of what she sees as Hollywood's big-business community.
Her fight focuses on large-scale projects such as the $150-million Melvin Simon complex, which is expected to bring a 400-room hotel, an office tower and a motion-picture museum to a site near Mann's Chinese Theatre. That project, approved by the City Council in December, is only the first of what redevelopment officials hope will be several large commercial developments on Hollywood Boulevard.
"We have (the) highest infant mortality" rate in Los Angeles, Rotman said, citing the Community Redevelopment Agency's own study of Hollywood. "Our neighborhood is poor . . . there's no child care. My common sense tells me, if we have all these problems, that a high-rise building is not going to eliminate them."
Outspoken and assertive, Rotman has repeatedly criticized the pro-development stance of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce--in particular, its president, Bill Welsh, and 11 other chamber officers who sit on the 25-member PAC. She says that big-money chamber members have lost sight of their roots in the community.
Fearful that her own small coffee shop will give way to redevelopment, Rotman has lashed out against what she calls the "Muppets of Bill Welsh" and "Bill Welsh's Mickey Mouse Mafia"--attacks that at one point drew a written threat of a lawsuit from Welsh.
As Welsh put it in an interview, "My lawyer suggested if she really thought I was a part of the Mafia, he could arrange for her to explain it to a judge. My tongue might have been in my cheek a little bit . . . but I could certainly take it out of my cheek and get serious."
Rotman shrugs off the dispute, saying she does what is necessary to protect herself and the community.
"The main goal of the chamber . . . is to run anybody who's not wealthy and famous out of Hollywood . . . (and) to hell with them," she said in an interview. "This is something I cannot lie back and take. That's why the PAC--the majority of the PAC--cannot figure me out. . . .
"I have been alienated from the PAC. . . . Nobody says, 'Hi, Doreet, how are you?' They don't even talk to me. I have been called all kinds of names, and told so many times that in America you have to be more agreeable."
Defending Property Owners