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The Papal Visit : Pope's Ride Downtown : Gates Dismisses Fears of Massive Traffic Tie-up

September 15, 1987|MAURA DOLAN and JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, dismissing dire forecasts of traffic congestion, predicted a relatively trouble-free time for the masses who come downtown today to greet the motorcade of Pope John Paul II.

"I want to hype this," Gates said at a Monday news conference. "There's been too much gloom and doom."

The police chief said he hoped more than 1 million people line the 7.2-mile route of the motorcade, which starts at 10:30 a.m., and added, "I think that might well happen." Archbishop Roger M. Mahony has said he hopes the crowd tops 2 million, a figure that traffic planners say would spell trouble.

Gates' optimism followed complaints by papal planners who blamed police predictions of traffic snarls and uncomfortable crowding for lighter than expected turnouts at papal events in each of the five cities John Paul has already visited on his nine-city U.S. tour. Apparently anxious not to be blamed for scaring people away in Los Angeles, Gates dismissed earlier warnings of massive traffic jams and emphasized the positive.

Recalling the smoothly flowing traffic on Los Angeles highways during the 1984 Olympics, Gates said of today's motorcade, "You'll get in in a reasonable period of time and you'll get out in a reasonable period of time." The streets will be congested, but it will be manageable, he said.

Officials have asked workers to be downtown no later than 7 a.m. to avoid the crunch of spectators along the route. Nine freeway ramps near the procession were to be closed, beginning as early as 6 a.m.

In preparation for John Paul's arrival, police rousted nearly two dozen transients and arrested an activist for the homeless in pre-dawn sweeps Monday outside St. Vibiana's Cathedral, where the Pope will stay. Seven downtown blocks around the cathedral were cordoned off with red, white and blue water-filled barricades and yellow police tape, causing some congestion in adjacent streets, particularly during the evening rush hour.

Gates called the removal of the transients "simply one of those difficult security issues. We have no way of making sure who's a terrorist and who's not," he said. "People can blend into any group."

Breakfast First

At the Union Rescue Mission next door to St. Vibiana's, 385 men ate a breakfast of eggs, bread and coffee before they were told to leave at 7 a.m. so the Secret Service could cordon off the streets. Carrying knapsacks and paper bags, the men left through a back door to an alley, many of them headed to a warehouse nine blocks away where they will be housed until the Pope leaves Los Angeles.

"For some of us, it doesn't make much difference," said a burly, middle-aged man named Dennis. "We move around a lot."

But Fred Knox, 31, complained: "I don't think it's fair. They want all these changes for him. What about all the people that's here?"

Mission workers, who moved 425 chairs and food, hymnals, a television and other supplies to the warehouse, spent much of the day stuck on 3rd Street in stop-and-go traffic, a product of the street closing. Officials had arranged the move at the request of the Secret Service, which is protecting the Pope.

Secret Service agents arrested homeless activist Ted Hayes, 36, who had been holding a hunger strike outside St. Vibiana's as a protest against the relocation of the transients. Dressed in a hooded white robe, Hayes said he would continue his fast, which he began last Tuesday, until the Pope leaves or the mission is reopened.

"We advised him to move," said Garry Jenkins, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office of the Secret Service. "He was right in front of the cathedral. We gave him an hour to think about it. Everybody else left without grumbling. He wanted to make a statement and he wouldn't move."

A federal magistrate set bail at $1,000 and ordered Hayes to remain at least one block away from the cathedral when he was released.

Along the papal motorcade route on Broadway, merchants began posting welcome signs for the Pope. At the Midas Muffler shop at Olympic Boulevard and Serrano Avenue, a "Welcome Pope" message in Spanish and English covered the sign normally reserved for prices, and a car leasing firm at Pico Boulevard and Western Avenue posted a "Welcome to Los Angeles Pope John Paul II" sign. On Western, a hair salon put up a welcome message in Spanish and signed it "Guatemala and Mexico."

The Roxie Theater on Broadway was getting its customers in the appropriate mood with the film "El Nino y el Papa (The Boy and the Pope)," which was double-billed with "Two Tough Guys Who Bark but Don't Bite."

Meanwhile, in one of what is expected to be a series of protests, about 150 Holocaust survivors and their supporters marched through the Fairfax District on Monday night and held a rally. Many carried signs protesting the Pope's recent meeting with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who has been accused of complicity in Nazi war crimes, and some dismissed the Pope's meeting with Jewish leaders last week in Miami.

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