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Has L.A. Forgotten the Party?

The city lobbied hard to get the 2000 Democratic National Convention. But now that it's just weeks away, City Hall still is surrounded by plywood, downtown plazas reek of urine and even the U.S. flags on public buildings are faded and torn.

May 21, 2000|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Los Angeles is the Entertainment Capital of the World. Home of our nation's most creative talent, images to be re-created throughout the globe originate here. These same artisans will apply their talents to the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The very studios that have charmed the world with motion pictures and television programs, creating an economic giant in Los Angeles, will ensure that the images of the convention are immortalized."

From the official proposal to host the DNC 2000,

submitted April 17, 1998

*

Image. It's supposed to be everything in L.A.

But when the Democratic National Convention convenes here Aug. 14, delegates and the world media may well think we forgot they were coming.

City and county government plazas are littered with broken monuments, broken fountains, broken walls and broken lights. Trash is piled up in corners and torn flags hang limply from some government buildings.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday May 22, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 2 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
FDR and JFK--Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated at the 1932 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia and went on to win the second of his four terms as president. Also, John F. Kennedy was nominated at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Roosevelt's term and Kennedy's name were misidentified in Sunday's Southern California Living.

Only a few blocks from the downtown hotels booked for delegates and media are boarded-up buildings, empty lots surrounded by razor wire and highway murals tagged as high as the arm can reach. City money that had been pledged for tree lights, plantings and benches isn't going to be released.

Even the city's most recognizable symbol, City Hall, won't shed its blue plywood walls and scaffolding in time, a captive of long delays and cost overruns in a $299-million earthquake retrofitting and modernization project.

And, finally, scores of ragged men and women with no other recourse roam downtown, sleeping in parks and doorways at night. The panhandlers among them beg for money during the day, sometimes intimidating passersby.

The situation is in sharp contrast to the ambitious promises in the city's convention bid and the enormous prize at stake. The convention, only the second ever held in the nation's second-largest city, is expected to generate at least $150 million in revenues. And if the convention buzz is favorable, tourism and business officials say it could produce billions more in coming years.

But more than just money, the convention is about image. The eyes of the nation and much of the world will be on Los Angeles as some 5,000 delegates and 15,000 members of the media converge to see Al Gore anointed as the party's standard-bearer. The last time the city commanded this much attention was 1992, when rioters were burning it down, and in 1994, when the Northridge earthquake devastated large sections of the region.

"It's vital that the city put its best face forward," said Michael Dear, director of USC's Southern California Studies Center, which tracks regional and sociological changes in the area. "It's always been a struggle for people to take Los Angeles seriously."

With fewer than 100 days to go, there's reason to question whether the city that lobbied so strenuously for the convention will rouse itself enough to make a good impression. After all, recent events inspire little confidence. Rain and cool temperatures emptied most of the city's New Year's Eve events, and then Mayor Richard Riordan and comedian Jay Leno lit the Hollywood sign, a millennium nonevent that quickly became a civic embarrassment compared with the spectacles of Paris, London and New York.

"It was a huge disappointment. We were the subject of jokes across the country," said City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose call in January for an audit of the $1.3-million event may finally be answered at the end of May. "[The event] certainly didn't bode well for the next major event that will put us in the international spotlight, the Democratic National Convention."

Officials with LA Convention 2000, the local host committee, say permanent improvements such as the $112-million face lift at LAX and the $15-million cleanup at the Venice boardwalk, neither of which may be completed by convention time, are receiving full attention. Temporary fixes, like planting flowers, aren't a priority.

"In the past, hosts have taken hits for spiffing up and making their city some wonderland that isn't real," said Ben Austin, communications director for the host committee. "We didn't want to create a city that wouldn't exist a week after the convention left town."

And while the city's convention bid seems to promise some Hollywood glitter, organizers say there are no firm plans yet, although talks with the studios and other industry entities are continuing.

For its part, the city has no specific budget for beautification projects for the convention, according to Riordan's office. Its main task is to provide security and to ensure conventioneers can travel easily between Staples Center and their hotels, says the mayor's office. The city promises that the roadwork, which has disrupted downtown traffic for months, will be finished.

"Our secondary consideration will be things like tree lights, which are intended to promote a festive image," said Peter Hidalgo, a Riordan spokesman.

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