The controversial church that claims Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Priscilla Presley as members now can lay claim to a public street as well, with Tuesday's vote by the Los Angeles City Council to rename a one-block stretch of Berendo Street in Hollywood after L. Ron Hubbard.
Despite passionate protests from a handful of residents who derided Hubbard as a fraudulent, gay-bashing cult leader, the council voted 8 to 3 in favor of the name change, a testament in part to the power of council President John Ferraro, who represents the area and recommended the switch.
Support far outweighed opposition on the block where the Church of Scientology has had its international headquarters for four decades and owns 55% of the property; 183 neighborhood residents wrote to City Hall to applaud the change, while nine complained.
"I'm not here to try and fight or to try and defend or condemn any one person," Councilman Richard Alatorre said. "The fact of the matter is, this is the leader of this church that has been a long-standing member of the community. They are involved in positive work--they have a lot of members."
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 3, 1996 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Metro Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Scientology--An article in Wednesday's Times incorrectly stated that the Church of Scientology's international headquarters has been on Berendo Street in Hollywood for four decades. In fact, the church moved there in the 1970s from its original home in Glendale, church officials said Wednesday.
Council members Marvin Braude, Ruth Galanter and Mike Feuer voted no, but none rose to criticize Ferraro's proposal from the microphone. Council members Laura Chick and Jackie Goldberg were absent, and Nate Holden and Joel Wachs were out of the chambers when ballots were cast.
The dissenters, along with critics from the public, questioned whether Scientology is a legitimate religion and took note of the IRS' investigation into accusations that Hubbard skimmed millions of dollars from the church. That probe was dropped when Hubbard died in 1986.
"I believe that L. Ron Hubbard was a manipulative [and] dishonest [man]," Galanter said in an interview after the vote. "He's a cult leader. We don't name streets after cult leaders."
During an hourlong public hearing on the name change, resident Don Slater cited passages from Hubbard's landmark work "Dianetics" that refer to homosexuals as perverts. Slater also described the proposed honoree as a "bigot," a "charlatan" and a "crackpot." Graham Berry, a frequent critic of the church, shared stories of friends who have "escaped from the buildings on Berendo Street," and he begged the council not to change the street's name.
But council members and name change proponents focused on Scientology's anti-drug and anti-graffiti programs, and tried to downplay the importance of renaming such a small slice of street.
"We have, literally, thousands and thousands of streets named for people, most of whom I have no idea who they are," Councilman Richard Alarcon said.
Fred Shaw, who described himself as a minister from Compton, said he is involved with a Scientology-backed literacy program that has helped 600 inner-city youths.
"When we see the lives of young people restored, when we see the hope back in their eyes . . . we think the work of L. Ron Hubbard should be honored," Shaw said.
The Rev. John Woodruff, executive director of Scientology's Los Angeles branch, called Tuesday's vote a "fantastic victory."
"This is a kind of small thing in a sense. We're talking about 250 yards of street, but it's an acknowledgment of what we've done and what Mr. Hubbard has meant," Woodruff said. "There's controversy in all great things. What we saw today was that the City Council and the general response from the population was overwhelming in favor of what we do, a few naysayers notwithstanding."