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YEAR 2000

L.A. Again Leads the World--This Time in Party Meekness

New Year's Eve: Low turnout at city's bashes is blamed on rain, fears of unrest and lack of a central gathering place.

January 02, 2000|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR and DAVID FERRELL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"It felt like we were watching TV the whole time," said 28-year-old Gabriella Anorve as she left the event with friends Rafael Rodriguez and Munia Bhaumik. "Like we were watching the Academy Awards. We didn't need to see Riordan kiss his wife."

The TV also triggered a universal human insecurity: that somewhere people were having a better time at a better party.

Said Munia Bhaumik, 28, of Echo Park: "Compared to Athens, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, L.A. sucks."

Plenty of Opinions on What Went Wrong

If civic party satisfaction was diluted, the spin was not. Pundits, professors and city officials provided enough opinions on Los Angeles' flaccid fiesta for an entire episode of the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."

Deputy Mayor Noelia Rodriguez blamed the rain for spoiling years of careful plans to create a decentralized celebration that would reflect Los Angeles in its entirety. Lighting the Hollywood sign was a more recent idea, suggested earlier in 1999 to the mayor by--who else--an actress, Geena Davis.

"It was the first time in the history of the city that we tried something like this," Rodriguez said. "We were taking the party to the people. Unfortunately, for the first time in 10 years--or, as the mayor is telling people, the first time in 150 years--it rained."

Al Nodal, head of the city's Cultural Affairs Department, which handled planning for the events, said officials expected "tens of thousands" of people at the parties. The city issued free tickets to the events, but by Thursday, fewer than half of the 400,000 available had been distributed.

City officials believed that crowds would build as the day wore on, but because of the rain, that prediction quickly evaporated. "We lost about six hours because of the rain," Nodal said.

"I did a lot of thinking about this on the freeways yesterday," he said Saturday.

Added Rodriguez: "We were building up to what we thought would be a big crescendo [the lighting of the Hollywood sign]. . . . You can't compete with Mother Nature."

But to LAPD Officer Trevion Stokes, the virtual boycott was evidence of a deeper communal character flaw: apathy.

"It is absolutely pathetic," he carped. "So there's a little rain."

Many city officials admitted that they did not attend any of the public celebrations either. Gov. Gray Davis went to a celebrity bash at Paramount Studios. In Los Angeles, a lot of the best social life--and architecture--is private.

Dr. Michael Singer, a psychiatrist who lives in Long Beach--where the civic fest in the downtown Pine Avenue district was canceled for lack of interest--believes that fears of millennial insecurity were a big reason Angelenos did not venture out.

Did you really want to be barreling down the 405 with cars zigzagging past you? Guns going off? What about the much-hyped fears of terrorist bombs?

"Just mentioning the word 'terrorism' " raises fear levels, Singer said. "They say, 'Terrorism is under control.' Well, that's like telling the hypochondriac, 'Well, I think your heart is all right.' "

Like a lot of his friends, Singer and his wife, Beverle, dined with three other couples but were home watching TV by 8:30, and "We felt totally safe."

They spent hours watching Hong Kong, Egypt, Paris, London, New York and Washington, D.C., celebrate the new year.

"By the time it hit Vegas, you were just about sick of it," Singer said. "We've seen it 10 times. We yawn. It's anti-climactic."

But many people in Los Angeles shed the Y2K self-consciousness, surrendered to a good time and partied like it was 1999.

Matthew Roth, who lives on the Westside, didn't know or didn't care that the Los Angeles New Year's was considered a bust.

He and his wife crowded into Babe's & Ricky's, a blues club in Leimert Park, and counted down to the new year with other regulars, many of them good friends.

"It was wonderful--one of my best New Year's ever," Roth said.

"It's funny to talk about the city as if it were one thing," said Roth, a historian for the Automobile Club of Southern California. "It's all of these things--Disneyland, the Hollywood sign. There is no mass market. It's a collection of segments."

*

Times staff writers Beth Shuster, Louis Sahagun, Mary Curtius, Jocelyn Y. Stewart and Jim Newton contributed to this story.

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