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90049 is the recall's hip ZIP

August 05, 2003|MARY McNAMARA

Last week, political gadfly Arianna Huffington gathered a few dozen friends and advisors in her Brentwood home to discuss the possibility of her entering the gubernatorial recall race. A few miles away, her former husband and failed senatorial candidate Michael Huffington was having similar conversations in his Brentwood home.

Meanwhile, political troops gathered at the Brentwood home of former Mayor Richard Riordan, after rumors built that former body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger would not run -- a decision likely to be made after much consultation and discussion in his -- all together now -- Brentwood home.

Thank heaven Bill Simon lives in the Palisades or you'd think something weird was going on here.

Why, it seems like only a matter of time before the curbsides of Sunset just west of the 405 are dotted with enterprising youth lounging beneath beach umbrellas and hawking Maps to the Homes of Those Contemplating Running for Governor in the Recall Race.

Which would have to include the childhood home of the man they're trying to unseat: Although he was born in New Jersey, Gray Davis was reared nowhere else but Brentwood.

When exactly did Brentwood become Hyannis Port west?

Sure, it's always been considered a tony Westside neighborhood, divided like many tony Westside neighborhoods into the hills and the flats. North of San Vicente -- the hills -- are the homes; south of it are the condos and apartments -- the flats.

(And if you think residents can't immediately place you by your street address, you're wrong.)

So the very term "his Brentwood home" conjures a specific image, quite different from that evoked by, say, "his Echo Park home" or "her house in Downey."

The Los Angeles Basin is not so much an urban area as it is an extended family -- each neighborhood and town has its own distinct personality, often admirable, often annoying.

Some, like those of the beach and foothill communities, are rooted in geography, others in income and resident notoriety level, crime statistics or shopping venues.

Brentwood's persona is a combination of all of these things. Income, of course, is primary. There was a time when professors at UCLA could afford to buy homes in the hills, but that time has passed -- although not every house is a mansion, most have mansion-like prices. So unless you're lecturing in the hall your daddy built, you're looking at the flats.

In the public imagination, Brentwood is Brentwood Park, where "shopping" means buying the mansion next door and tearing it down to put in a desert garden or a tennis court.

Brentwood is where you may suddenly come upon a sign saying you cannot proceed up the street without express permission of the homeowners.

Brentwood is where the only things that outnumber the gated communities are the Andy Gumps and contractors' vans because, presumably, there is no such thing as too much remodeling.

Brentwood is also where O.J. lived, and Nicole. Just recently the doctor who lost his medical license for writing Winona all those painkiller prescriptions was accused of performing cosmetic medical procedures on patients at his Brentwood home. While, no doubt, consulting with them about whether he should run for governor.

But if Beverly Hills still carries its tackified cross of "swimmin' pools and movie stars," and Malibu preens despite its reputation for celebrity compounds and beach-access lawsuits, Brentwood has managed for many years to maintain a Steady and Significant Rich Folks rep.

Esa-Pekka Salonen lives in Brentwood; Cher does not. David E. Kelley and Michelle Pfeiffer live in Brentwood; the Osbournes do not.

With less flash and trash than other monied quarters, Brentwood is a bucolic sort of community -- a year-round Hamptons, as it were.

Yes, Picassos hang in the guest bathrooms, but Brentwood residents still like to walk to the Vicente Market or hang out at Dutton's ... even when their good friend Gore Vidal isn't giving a reading.

Cradle of the revolution

Now, of course that image has been destroyed, destroyed utterly. Now we know all about the plot to take over California, possibly the world. Now we know that those impeccably sporty matrons power-walking around the golf course are busy consulting with friends and advisors about whether they should run for governor, instead of trading penuche recipes and unlicensed cosmetic surgeons like they're supposed to.

Illusions shattered, we must face facts. If Brentwood is trying to position itself as the political community of the new millennium, it might be nice to know what sort of place we're actually dealing with.

Technically if not spiritually part of Los Angeles proper, Brentwood is home to about 35,000 souls, a large majority (75%) of them white, more than half of them homeowners and most of them living well above the poverty level -- according to Claritas, a marketing information firm, the average household income in the 90049 ZIP Code is $184,000, and 93% of the homes are valued at $500,000 and above.

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