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Ice Cream Is In Again Under Eastwood Rule

Times Staff Writer

True to his word, Clint Eastwood has made Carmel safe for ice-cream cones.

Indeed, in his first six months as mayor, he also has made Carmel safe for tourists and merchants while at the same time reassuring townsfolk that he wants to rein in the unbridled hype that once threatened to turn Carmel-by-the-Sea into Clintville-by-the-cash-register.

One of his first acts after taking office in this seaside town was also one of his most symbolic: He sought to soften a city ordinance that effectively forbade the sale of ice-cream cones--and won Carmel national exposure as “Scrooge City.”

He also speeded construction of the city’s second set of public toilets, pushed through a decades-old plan for a library annex, ordered up a new General Plan, abolished an agency that policed Carmel’s architectural uniformity and summarily fired four planning commissioners who had once blocked his plans for a small office building.

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He did most of this while shuttling between Carmel and Los Angeles, where the 56-year-old actor spent five weeks this summer filming his next movie, “Heartbreak Ridge.”

“I’m enjoying it; it’s a challenge,” he said, easing his rangy frame behind the desk of a borrowed office in Carmel’s quaint City Hall. “I like trying to change the city so that it’s more helpful and not so domineering.”

Speaking softly and thoughtfully, Eastwood the mayor seems both shy and self-assured. His style in meeting a visitor--on the spur of the moment, in the nearest office handy rather than in his own tiny, utilitarian office--reflects his informal, straightforward manner.

Behind the gavel at the monthly council meetings, with his reading glasses and tweed sport coats, he could almost pass for any other small-town mayor. He runs meetings casually, and sometimes waits for a long silence to tell him that everyone is talked out and the time has come to call for a vote.

“He’s a man of action,” said Lee Chamberlin, executive manager of the Carmel Business Assn., the local chamber of commerce. “He doesn’t talk a lot. But when he says something, he means it.”

Other residents, however, have complained in letters to the weekly newspaper, the Carmel Pine Cone, that their mayor is a beacon for tourists, who then in turn encourage the sale of cheap souvenirs, jam the city switchboard with calls and loiter in front of City Hall. Tourists also pack the regularly scheduled monthly council meetings, which have been moved to the 250-seat Carmel Women’s Center from the cozy 50-seat council chamber.

Even with Eastwood in the starring role, however, few tourists stay for very much of the once-a-month municipal matinee, with its routine City Council votes on street repairs and debates about how to pay for the annual “Long-Timers” Breakfast.

Eastwood looks on the bright side of his ability to draw a crowd.

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“Nobody’s nuts about having tourists at the meetings,” he said. “But if it (his presence) means bigger participation by the people in Carmel, that’s great. In the past, there were some meetings where no one was in the room.”

No one knows if more tourists now come to Carmel, or if any increase can be traced to factors other than the mayor, such as lower gasoline prices or renewed interest in domestic travel.

Most other tourist barometers this summer were equally unclear. Tour buses, for example, did not routinely include council meetings on their schedules, as some feared, but a few have wandered off the tour-bus route to disgorge their camera-laden passengers in front of City Hall.

The tide of City Hall mail, which flowed in by the barrel immediately after the election, has ebbed to about 40 letters a day. Volunteers sort the mayor’s mail to avoid burdening city staff; fan letters are forwarded to Eastwood’s regular fan-mail service, and the rest is read by his personal aide, Sue Hutchinson.

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Hutchinson, an Orange County political analyst who ran Eastwood’s campaign, has temporarily moved to the Carmel area for the duration of Eastwood’s two-year term. Her salary is paid by the mayor.

Telephone calls for the mayor also are screened; unsolicited calls are politely refused. Some callers sidestep City Hall by ringing the Carmel Business Assn., where Chamberlin said she recently settled a bet between two Boston men concerning Eastwood’s height. For the record, she lists the mayor at 6 feet 4 inches.

Souvenir sales did mushroom after Eastwood was sworn in, with one shop, Clintville, opened exclusively to peddle Clint-for-Mayor T-shirts, campaign pins, bumper stickers, tote bags--even Clint-for-Mayor panties.

Split With Charity

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Proceeds from the sale of such items are, at Eastwood’s request, split with the mayor’s favorite charity, the Carmel Youth Center. The Clintville shop alone has generated more than $20,000 so far, but Eastwood wants it to stop.

His lawyers have written to local merchants asking them to get out of the Clint business as soon as their supplies are exhausted. Most have agreed to comply, urging shoppers to snap up the few remaining “collector’s items.”

“At first it seemed nice to donate money to the Youth Center,” Eastwood said, “but it has gotten out of hand--people are suing each other over the use of the name ‘Clintville.’ ”

He shook his head and scowled. “Besides,” he added, “I have the feeling that people here don’t like it. I think it’s time to end it.”

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Despite some of the problems posed by their superstar-mayor, a casual sampling of residents at the hub of the city--the Post Office, where everyone must go to pick up their mail because regular street addresses are forbidden by law--indicates that Eastwood still enjoys the popular favor that swept him into office with a 3-1 electoral majority.

Called a Businessman

“He’s a businessman and he’s getting things done,” said John Rennels, a 33-year resident. “He handles the city in a very businesslike manner; he is trying to get everybody to work together, and he is listening to the public.”

“I think he is doing a very good job,” said 14-year resident Olga Neri. “He is kind and considerate and . . . trying to do the right thing, trying to please everyone.”

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Not everyone in town is pleased. Several residents have written letters to the editor of the Pine Cone calling the mayor “arrogant” and “rude,” particularly when addressing opponents on the five-member City Council.

But most people seem to side with Councilwoman Elinor Laiolo, an Eastwood ally. “There is a whole new feeling in Carmel,” she said. “Things are happening, and they are happening fast--things people have been waiting up to six years to happen.”

But not even Eastwood’s determination can overwhelm Carmel’s chronic water shortage, and supplies got so tight this summer--the city is using 99.99% of its running allotment under a regional water-sharing agreement--that the council had to impose a building moratorium.

Avoids Conflict

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Ironically, the moratorium precludes the office building Eastwood wants to develop next to his popular restaurant, the Hog’s Breath Inn. Because of his personal interest in the water shortage and its effects, he excuses himself from all council hearings on the issue.

However, he has not avoided other touchy issues, and created some serious political heat with his decision to appoint a new majority to the Planning Commission.

“Most everybody was enthusiastic over that,” he said. “The commission . . . had a rude, ruthless attitude. For every complaint (about the firings), I have 20 letters in support.”

There have been other, lesser political battles--"squeaks on the hinge,” as he put it--but he shrugs them off in the laconic fashion one of his film fans might expect.

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“This can’t be a popularity contest,” he said. “You have to do what’s best for the most people.”


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