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Los Angeles Times Interview : Bringing Hollywood--the
Place-- Back Into the Limelight

Jackie Goldberg

June 01, 1997|Steve Proffitt | Steve Proffitt, a contributing editor to Opinion, is vice president and director of the Hajjar and Partners New Media Lab. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg spoke to him at her home in Echo Park

For much of the world, the word "Hollywood" conjures up the stuff of dreams--scenes of magic, glamour and excitement. For others, it creates something more like a nightmare--streets overrun with homeless runaways, prostitutes and decay. Yet, if Hollywood is a state of mind, it is also very much a place. Home to a million Angelenos, it is neither the star-festooned Tinseltown of movie myth nor the torrid red zone of made-for-TV movies. It is, in fact, an urban neighborhood, with many of charms and defects of its less well-known neighbors.

For decades, city leaders wrung their hands about what to do about Hollywood, but no one did much of anything. Then, in the past five years, the area has rebounded. The subway, connecting Hollywood with downtown and the Valley, is nearing completion. A number of impressive office, retail and housing developments have been completed, with more in the planning stages. The economy has solidified, the streets are cleaner and crime is down. In a recent speech, Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan proudly pointed to improvements in Hollywood as an example for the rest of the city.

While the mayor can take some credit, the area's councilwoman, Jackie Goldberg, is considered by many to be the major catalyst of the change. A former student activist, teacher and school-board member, she was elected to the City Council in 1993, and quickly took on a host of issues designed to improve safety, the economy and the quality of life in her district, which also includes Echo Park, Silverlake and Atwater Village. Using techniques of community activism, she helped organize residents and property owners to fight crime, grime and to revitalize an important tourist center for the city. If she is straying from her socialist heritage in the process, she reveals no trace of inner conflict.

Yet, Hollywood and its environs still have vexing, systemic problems. It remains plagued by high unemployment, sub-standard housing and underutilized commercial space. Meanwhile, Goldberg's constituents in the neighborhoods around Dodger Stadium are fearful of changes that may come about should media tycoon Rupert Murdoch or someone like him buy the baseball franchise from the O'Malley family, who brought the team here from New York in the late 1950s.

Rather than being daunted, Goldberg, 52, says she tries to take these problems one by one, focusing on solutions that involve both government and individuals. The first openly gay person elected to city office, she makes her home in Echo Park, where she lives with a longtime companion and where she raised her adopted son, Bruce. In a conversation occasionally interrupted by the barking of her dog, Montana, Goldberg talked about the difference between perception and reality in Hollywood, the importance of organizing at the grass roots and the future of one of this city's most storied districts.

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Question: There's a sense that Los Angeles is in a recovery, with the economy turning around, crime going down, and people expressing optimism. How is this turnaround affecting people in your district?

Answer: There is a notion that a rising tide raises all ships, but it doesn't seem to be doing that in my district. Certainly, things are improving dramatically in the entertainment industry in Hollywood. And real-estate values have begun to improve, although I think we have a couple more years before we really see the big change. But there are a lot of people who were working in Echo Park, Silverlake, Atwater and Hollywood who were employed by small industries that fed the defense contractors. Those folks have not recovered. I got a call today from a family, saying that the gas was being shut off. This is an unusual thing in my district. These are people who are not used to having one person out of work, or at least underemployed for a long time. So the recovery has been spotty. Those folks who are connected to the entertainment industry are beginning to feel the upturn. Those who have still not recovered are the folks who were the second or third jobbers for the defense industry.

Q: What can the economy of the Hollywood area offer these displaced workers?

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