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Clean the House Before the Party

May 28, 2000

Memo to Los Angeles civic interests: The Democratic National Convention is coming to town in less than three months. It will be held Aug. 14-17 at Staples Center downtown, although clearly the whole city will be on national display. It's time to more aggressively pursue the sprucing-up expected when 20,000 people come calling.

A concerted effort by city and convention leaders can still make a difference. Here are some suggestions:

Downtown needs a face lift. Even obvious, simple and relatively inexpensive changes would make a big impression on the out-of-towners. Plant flowers, trim the city trees and festoon them with lights, hang banners, fix broken street lights, paint unsightly construction walls with murals and cover up the graffiti.

Let's hear no more excuses like this from one host committee official: "In the past, hosts have taken hits for . . . making their city some wonderland that isn't real. We didn't want to create a city that wouldn't exist a week after the convention left town." Why not, if it's cheap? Everyone gets to enjoy the prettification and the cleanup; those who remember the 1984 Olympics also remember that the freshening of the city lingered long after the crowds left.

The convention's opening ceremony has to be a big wow, not the yawn that was the city's millennium party. Unlike the Olympics, the Democratic convention is a party to which the public is largely not invited. The opening ceremony is the exception, and it needs to be a Hollywood extravaganza.

Convention visitors will receive a guide to the city's sights and activities. Directional signs to those sights should be clear and public transportation links from downtown easy and obvious.

No one wants or expects the city to be remade because a big televised convention is coming. Los Angeles sells itself and its own unique brand of charm and excitement. But any big city could use some polish before it goes on the national stage.

The local host committee has hyped the convention as, in the words of one official, "an occasion for a national conversation about Los Angeles." The coming weeks will determine whether that conversation will include compliments to the host.

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