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MCA Admits Attack on Disney Backlot Plan

November 12, 1987|GREG BRAXTON | Times Staff Writer

An attorney for MCA Inc. acknowledged Wednesday that the entertainment conglomerate is responsible for a series of mailers that attacked a proposed multimillion-dollar development in Burbank by its rival, the Walt Disney Co.

Attorney Daniel Shapiro said four sets of slick, professionally designed flyers mailed to registered voters in Burbank in the last two weeks were initiated and financed by MCA. The flyers, which did not mention MCA, were attributed to a group called "Friends of Burbank," which, Shapiro said, includes himself and other MCA officials.

MCA was secretive about its role in mailing the flyers because "we thought the issue would have become MCA versus Disney, which we did not want. I took a look at what it would take to get the message across."

'Subsidizing Disney'

One set of flyers said Burbank is giving more than $100 million in tax money to Disney to subsidize construction of "The Disney-MGM Studio Backlot," an entertainment, office and retail complex. Another set said the development would severely damage Burbank's environment.

"These are issues that the city has not publicized, and they should be of serious concern to Burbank residents," Shapiro said. "There are serious questions about whether the citizens should be subsidizing a Disney project."

City officials have called the flyers misleading and inaccurate.

The flyers urged readers to contact City Council members and protest the city's tentative agreement with Disney. One flyer also urged readers to attend Tuesday's council meeting, where the Disney proposal was discussed.

Shapiro and other MCA officials did not return phone calls from The Times last week, when it was said that the corporation might be behind the flyers. He said he had always intended to reveal MCA's role after Tuesday's meeting.

Six-Month Extension

At the meeting, the council gave Disney a six-month extension on revising its proposal. Disney last month submitted preliminary plans for the $611-million project, which would incorporate Disney studio facilities, a shopping center and entertainment on a 40-acre redevelopment site.

If the council and Disney are satisfied with the plans at the end of the extension, a series of public hearings will be held, and an environmental impact report will be developed. Then, the council would vote on whether to give Disney the go-ahead.

Although flyers with the MCA logo were printed, corporation officials decided to only distribute ones with the Friends of Burbank logo, Shapiro said.

The flyers were prepared by the Los Angeles political-consulting firm of Skelton, Grover & Associates.

The most recent flyer, received by voters late last week, showed pictures of Disneyland and neighboring liquor stores, souvenir stores and motels with the caption: "It's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there," the flyers commented.

Shapiro said the decision to send the flyers came from "senior management personnel" at MCA, and that the corporation had spent about $20,000 on the mailings.

"Obviously, we would have preferred to have a full discussion of the issues, but since Burbank will not do it, we decided to get the word out any way we could," he said. "We knew there would be consequences, but we are prepared to accept them."

MCA has sued the city in an attempt to invalidate the agreement giving Disney exclusive negotiating rights to build the complex. MCA, which is planning to develop an entertainment and retail complex on its property in nearby Universal City, has repeatedly claimed that it was not given the opportunity to bid against Disney.

Mayor Michael R. Hastings reacted angrily Wednesday to MCA's admission. "We haven't done anything to personally harm them, but, in return, we get slanderous and misleading propaganda," he said.

"They should have come forward and said they were concerned neighbors," Hastings said. "Now they just look like a sour-grapes competitor."

Hastings added that MCA's efforts had "tremendously backfired. People saw through them. They saw through the unauthorized piece of propaganda."

Disney's response was also blunt.

"This activity is totally uncharacteristic of any major American corporation," Michael Eisner, Disney's chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Therefore, we're at a loss for words."

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