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Business Leaders Relish New Mayor's Attention : Government: For the second time in less than a week, Riordan visits the community that wants to be the 'door to Los Angeles,' not the doormat.


WESTCHESTER — To hear Westchester residents and business people tell it, former Mayor Tom Bradley was a frequent visitor to their community. The only problem was that he never stopped on his way to the airport.

On Thursday, in an attempt to smooth some of the previously ruffled feathers of Westchester's business and civic leaders, Mayor Richard Riordan lent them his presence for the second time in less than a week, acting on an invitation tendered Sunday and visiting with them over lunch at the Westchester Chamber of Commerce.

The meeting was part of the new mayor's effort to leave downtown and reach out on an informal basis to people throughout the city. The day before, Riordan had visited a Jewish retirement home in Reseda where, introduced by comedian/talent agent Marty Ingels, he shared his concern over street crime and delivered jokes and anecdotes.

Westchester's business leaders clearly relished the attention.

"The question has always been whether we've been the door to Los Angeles or the doormat," said Kathleen Zimmerlin de Paz, vice president of development for the Howard Hughes Center. "The answer has always been, 'The doormat.' "

Jerry A. Saunders, vice president of planning for Continental Development Corp., agreed. "It was just encouraging for the mayor to take the initiative to come out so early in his Administration."

Striding in at noon, and wolfing down a turkey sandwich on a French roll, pasta, fresh fruit and chocolate mousse, Riordan fielded questions and plaudits during his 50-minute visit. Though he did announce that he intends to recommend screenwriter and movie producer Gary Ross ("Dave") to head the city's library commission, what the nearly 30 business and community leaders really wanted to know was how business-friendly the mayor will be.

The answer is "very." He made no concrete proposal on how he will aid business growth, but Riordan stipulated several times that his Administration will not be an impediment to business growth.

"Sometimes the best thing the government can do is get out of the way," he said.

That seemed to satisfy the assembled, all of whom were eager to shed the image of Westchester as simply the area people drive through on the way in and out of town.

Still, Los Angeles International Airport is an overwhelming fact of life in Westchester, and much of the discussion centered on LAX and the master plan under which the airport's capacity is to rise to 65 million passengers a year by 2000 from about 45 million now.

Riordan offered cautious approval of the effort to extend the Metro Rail Green Line from Aviation Boulevard to Parking Lot C of the airport, but he declined to comment on whether the line eventually could be extended into Westchester to boost area business.

"That is the worst political hornet's next you've ever seen," he said to a smattering of laughter.

Riordan was more emphatic on the need to develop shopping areas to serve Westchester's approximately 50,000 residents. He said that he has not come across a viable plan to revitalize Westchester's business district, but that efforts are needed to beautify the area around the airport, since Westchester is visitors' first impression of Los Angeles.

"It's so ugly when you come in" to the airport, he said.

In the end, it was the fact of the mayor's presence, not his words, that left the biggest impression. Nodding his approval after the mayor's exit, accountant Richard Moon gave the mayor kudos for coming to hear the problems of local communities.

"He said he's a problem-solver," Moon said. "My concern is that he's operating within the business structure of the city. I hope he can be as effective as he wants to be."

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