Conflicted over how to react to projected traffic tie-ups and protests during this month's Democratic National Convention, some downtown businesses are closing their doors while others, including some of the area's biggest property owners, are urging their tenants to show up for work and welcome delegates to town.
Among those preparing to shut down their downtown offices and send employees elsewhere are the Gas Co. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps is one of many government agencies downtown, including the federal courts, that are either closing or significantly altering their operations during the convention. Other businesses--including downtown law firms--are staying open, but suggesting options that might ease difficulties.
One attorney said he and his colleagues have been urged to try to work from home while the convention is underway; another said his firm is recommending that meetings with clients be held outside of downtown.
Other businesses are taking different precautions, according to police. Some are arranging for deliveries late at night, when traffic will be light and demonstrations are not scheduled.
At stake in the various plans for convention week are conflicting notions of safety, security and the city's image. Convention planners and city officials see the gathering as an opportunity to show off Los Angeles to the world, and dread the prospect of television cameras panning across a deserted downtown. At the same time, those officials and others are wary of inevitable traffic snarls and possible violence.
At the Gas Co., spokeswoman Denise King would not reveal just how many employees will be affected by the move, saying only that headquarters workers represent a "small percentage" of the company's 6,400-person work force. Still, the utility is the largest tenant in its downtown building, taking up 17 of 52 stories.
Employees will be encouraged to telecommute, report to satellite facilities or take vacation time, said King, who said that utility consumers should be unaffected by the move.
Some occupants of the Gas Co. tower have received questionnaires about their plans for the week. Parking is likely to be the biggest headache for them, as many park beneath Pershing Square and that lot is being shut down during the convention.
Anxieties over what to expect during the convention were stoked in part by briefings held by some LAPD officers. In sessions with businesspeople, some LAPD officials suggested bringing in extra food and water; one businessman said the LAPD representative in at least one meeting suggested the safest course for workers would be to leave town for the week.
"It's almost like a tornado," LAPD Det. Darryl Butler said in one briefing, attended by a reporter from Associated Press and widely reprinted. "You can see it coming, but you don't know where it's going."
That type of rhetoric spooked some businesses and has been disavowed by LAPD officials, who stressed in a meeting with business leaders last week that they want companies to stay open and downtown to be vibrant and bustling. According to Cmdr. David J. Kalish, the department is not asking anyone to stay home.
"This is a good opportunity to review your safety plans," he said. "But don't overreact. Don't panic. . . . If you see demonstrators, it doesn't mean they are terrorists trying to dismember you."
In addition to businesses, some residents of downtown have taken the warnings to heart.
At Skyline Condominiums, a 200-unit building at the corner of 9th and Flower streets, the homeowners' association plans to spend thousands of dollars for extra security during convention week after Los Angeles police warned members of the potential for violent protests in the area, said board member I. Hassan.
Rioters smashed windows at the complex in June after the Lakers' championship game at nearby Staples Center. So when police talked of the possibility of mayhem on a grander scale, the board didn't hesitate.
"They got our attention, I can tell you that," Hassan said. "They kind of put everyone on a state of high alert."
Without trying to discourage safety measures, some businesspeople are urging a different approach.
Robert F. Maguire, managing partner of Maguire Partners, has led the campaign to calm downtown executives and their employees. His firm, which owns 6 million square feet of office space in downtown Los Angeles, sent memos to tenants warning of possible traffic congestion, but downplaying prospects for violence.
"Everybody worked really hard to get the Democratic National Convention for Los Angeles," Maguire said. "Now we should enjoy it."
Some See Signs of Overreaction
Colin Shepherd, senior vice president of Hines, agreed. Shepherd, whose company owns the Sanwa Bank Plaza, said some tenants have emerged from meetings with city officials deeply concerned about the possibility of disruption to their businesses during convention week.