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Making a Commitment to Skid Row Redevelopment

Times Staff Writer

In an unprecedented move by downtown charitable and business forces, a blue-ribbon committee has been formed to act as a watchdog of the city’s commitment to its Skid Row redevelopment plan.

Announcement of the Select Committee for Housing and Services for Skid Row Residents is expected in the next week. Among well-known names on the extraordinarily diverse committee are business types such as Arco President Robert E. Wycoff and Robert B. Egelston, chairman of The Capital Group, a multinational investment management corporation, attorneys Warren L. Ettinger and Ron L. Olson, and people involved in social-service delivery--Alice Callaghan of Las Familias del Pueblo, Jill Halverson of the Downtown Women Center, Jeff Dietrich of the Catholic Worker and Sylvia Drew Ivie, director of the National Health Law Program.

The Select Committee has signed on to ensure that a long-established community redevelopment plan--with its guarantee that 6,000 to 10,000 people could continue to call Skid Row home--actually will be implemented. The poor and mentally ill people now living on Skid Row are rescued from total destitution by a long-established “communal safety net"--the soup kitchens, free or cheap shelters and medical clinics that are part of an ongoing commitment by church and nonprofit groups.

Reflecting what is often acknowledged as Arco’s more than decade-long commitment to its poor neighbors in the downtown community, Wycoff said in a telephone interview that the committee’s primary duty is to protect the thousands of Skid Row residents. That protection, he said, means the committee must represent people on Skid Row, “people who otherwise would not get the best representation.”

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Skid Row, with its strategic location at the heart of downtown L.A.--and downtown development--has long held the attention of land-hungry downtown developers. The plan--developed over a 12-year period by the Community Redevelopment Agency, the development arm of city government--calls for the city not only to preserve but also to upgrade existing housing for present Skid Row inhabitants. Under the promise held out by the CRA plan, emergency shelters have been created and, more importantly, eight hotels are being renovated, most of them using CRA money.

A rough-draft copy of the organizing statement of the new committee warns that the city’s continuing announced commitment to poor people will be “all sheer rhetoric if, in the crunch of competing commercial and political interests, the CRA plan is abandoned.”

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW--The decor at the April 12 dinner for the Municipal Elections Committee of L.A. is promised to be very 1930s. But the number of elected officials showing up to this, the primary fund-raiser for the premier gay-rights political action committee, is very nouvelle. Turning out at the Century Plaza will be Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), sponsor of the gay civil-rights bill in the U.S. Senate, along with local political lights such as Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, Rep. Henry Waxman (he’ll be honored), City Atty. James Hahn, Secretary of State March Fong Eu and City Council members Michael Woo, Zev Yaroslavsky, Marvin Braude, Pat Russell and Howard Finn. MECLA co-chair Larry Sprenger says the solid response by elected officials proves his group has earned “a position of political responsibility in the community by its solid record of achievements. No small order in view of some of the controversial and bold stands taken this year.” Among those also to be honored--attorneys Diane Abbitt and Roberta Bennett, as well as KCBS-TV news.

NOVEL ENCOUNTER--At Chaya Brasserie, Robert Westbrook was introducing his new murder-in-Bev Hills novel. Also getting reintroduced to the L.A. whirl was Westbrook’s mom, the still-glamorous Sheilah Graham. The onetime gossip columnist and love of F. Scott Fitzgerald is working on a new book in Palm Beach, and is still a little piqued that her recent book, “Hollywood Revisited,” which was “much more naughty” in England, was tidied up in its American version. And who is her most memorable Hollywood personality? Why “Bob Hope. He’s really unique. Just as kind as when he was afraid his contract wouldn’t get picked up by Paramount, back in the ‘30s.” . . . Stopping by the book party was Joan Fontaine, busy these days with her cable talk show, but anxious to get back to acting. The role she wants? Why one of “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,” in the miniseries adaptation of Dominick Dunne’s best seller. Fontaine said she entertained Elsie Woodwood, the grande dame on whom Dunne patterned the elder Mrs. Grenville--and that she even gave a dinner party welcoming Elsie to the West Coast. Ah, Hollywood.

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WHOOPS--Must have been some printer’s devil--or in this case, a fallen angel--that made us identify the Senior Citizen Nutritional program as being at Good Samaritan Hospital. When, of course, we know that it’s at St. Vincent Medical Center. Sorry.

OPENING GAMBIT--It was the second-in-two-years L.A. opening for Barbara Rush in “A Woman of Independent Means.” No matter. The audience--including Henry and Ginny Mancini, Roz Wyman, Peg Yorkin, Olive Behrendt, Sylvia Kaye and Barbara Eden--was only outdone in its enthusiasm by Rush’s former spouse and now steady, Warren Cowan. The veteran publicist for the first time in memory left his seemingly favorite client, Danny Kaye, to escort Rush around the after-show reception. Guess she’s got an inside track.

GOOD NEWS--Nancy Powell, director of development for Community Counseling Service, isn’t going to let a good idea slip by. So once again, she’s scheduled the Phantom Ball for June. “At least once a year, people should dedicate a day to improving their peace of mind,” she said, explaining that the fund-raiser would once again be a non-event. Participants are encouraged to send in contributions--and they won’t have to come to any party, sit through any dinner, listen to any dance band or speeches or even wait for valet parking to bring up the car. Last year the non-ball Ball raised $32,000. Among those on her committee this year: Ed Carter, Nancy Livingston, Susan Maguire, Ann Petroni, Marcia Weisman and Dr. Hal Millstone . . . Coming up, the annual Associates for Troubled Children membership luncheon at the Trident Room. Look for Mickey Purcell, Joanne Magidow, Karen West and Stephanie Rosenbloom . . . Dr. Ruth Westheimer guests at the spring luncheon of the Golda Meir Club of Israel Bonds at Beverly House on Friday.


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