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Turning the Tables : CRA Buys Star on Walk of Fame for Longtime Critic

February 26, 1994|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before retiring in June, Ernani Bernardi spent a good portion of his 32 years on the City Council criticizing the way the city's Community Redevelopment Agency spent the taxpayers' money.

But one CRA expenditure may be difficult for even Bernardi to criticize. The agency has footed the bill to give the 82-year-old saxophonist-turned- politician a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Bernardi, who is in a Panorama City hospital recovering from a heart attack, could not be reached for comment. But an attorney who represents Bernardi in a legal battle against the CRA was caught by surprise.

"You're kidding," Barbara Blinderman said. "That is very strange."

Bernardi, who in the 1930s played the alto sax for big-band leaders such as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Bob Crosby before turning to politics, was among 30 musicians and actors who received stars on a Walk of Fame extension that was funded by the CRA's $5-million Hollywood Boulevard improvement project.

Other big names accompanying Bernardi on the pavement include Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Irving Berlin, Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder. The stars were installed Feb. 1.

Gail Anderson, a CRA spokeswoman, said Bernardi did not seem upset about the CRA's expenditure when he attended a ceremony to unveil the stars. "I gave him a press release and he didn't yell at me," she said.

Under normal circumstances, a celebrity receives a star after being nominated and approved by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce's Walk of Fame Committee. The celebrity or a sponsor must also pay a $5,000 installation fee.

In Bernardi's case, he was recommended for a star by City Council President John Ferraro and chosen by the committee. The redevelopment agency paid the fees for the installation of his star and the others.

The former councilman's tribute is located in the 7000 block of the boulevard between the stars for radio pioneer George Fisher and "Grizzly Adams" star Dan Haggerty.

The CRA's redevelopment project includes the block-long Walk of Fame extension between Sycamore Street and La Brea Avenue, new pavement on a long stretch of the boulevard, palm trees, street lights and crosswalks. It will be completed by mid-March.

But it was just that kind of CRA project that Bernardi had relentlessly battled. He once called CRA projects a rip-off and suggested that the agency be dismantled. In October, he launched a petition drive to keep the city from lifting a $750-million spending cap on a Downtown redevelopment project. When city and county officials held closed-door meetings in November and December to discuss raising the cap, he filed a lawsuit in Superior Court.

On Wednesday, the City Council voted to spend $50,000 to hire a law firm to fight the suit and increase the spending cap. Blinderman said that despite Bernardi's health problems she will press on with the lawsuit.

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