Jan 25 2013

LA Weekly: Hollywood’s Urban Cleansing

Hollywood-area City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor in the March 5 primary and has for 12 years avidly led the urban renewal in Hollywood, won’t discuss the census data, the outflow of Latinos or the area’s net population loss, none of which were foreseen by his office. But Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants’ rights advocacy group, says, “It was an economic tsunami that pushed low-income people out. There was massive displacement.”

Representing more than 8 percent of Hollywood and East Hollywood’s population, the exodus of nearly 13,000 mostly Latinos is believed to be the largest mass departure from an L.A. neighborhood since “black flight,” between 1980 and 1990. In that demographic upheaval, 50,000 residents fled the violence and shattered neighborhoods of South Central and South Los Angeles.

Garcetti and other L.A. politicians have insisted that growth is as inevitable as summer tourists, and that City Hall is merely facilitating Hollywood’s unavoidable, denser future with smart planning. But census data and the stories of those who have fled suggest that city planners and political leaders are facilitating what some criticize as the urban cleansing of Hollywood.

Father Michael Mandala, who was pastor at the landmark Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church on Sunset Boulevard from 1998 to 2011, repeatedly saw landlords drive out Latino families of three or four in order to rent the same space to one or two white tenants. “I’m wondering if the policymakers are on the mark with fixing Hollywood,” Mandala says, “or are they clearing out what they don’t want?”

In mid-July, the Los Angeles City Council approved a new Hollywood Community Plan championed by Garcetti, which wipes out height limits in parts of Hollywood to allow skyscrapers, some of which would obscure the Hollywood Sign. At tense public hearings, hundreds of residents decried the plans for a Century City skyline in their community. Business owners, led by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, were among those who cheered the City Council’s decision.

Three neighborhood groups have sued the city over the new skyscraper zoning. Brad Torgan, an attorney at The Silverstein Law Firm, which represents one of the groups, describes the Hollywood Community Plan as Garcetti’s personal “vision for Hollywood — good and bad.” But, Torgan says, “There’s a perception that the plan was created for the development community at the expense of the residents.”

Garcetti, the brainy, Ivy League–educated mayoral hopeful, revealed some of his thinking in a 2010 interview with Hollywood Patch: “We staged seminars in which we brought the New York banks to Hollywood and showed them the opportunities,” Garcetti said. “Whatever the project’s size, my philosophy is to let the creative entrepreneurs in.” He added that “what we did was to use the nightlife to bring back the day life” — restaurants such as Beso, 25 Degrees, Cleo and Katsuya and night spots such as the Sayers Club, Drai’s, My Studio and Eden.

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