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Los Angeles: City of Hopes . . . and Fears

Phyllis Ann Akerberg of Pasadena writes that when she was born “a few years ago” in Good Samaritan Hospital she had no idea that she was being delivered into an “abomination"--a city whose influence on other cities is abhorred as “Californication.”

We have encountered that word here before. I believe it first turned up in Oregon, where the natives, alarmed by the intrusion of disenchanted Angelenos, cried that they were being “Californicated.”

Mrs. Akerberg also sends a clipping from the Star-News with a Bainbridge Island, Wash., dateline, reporting the despair of Doug and Stacey Wilson, lawyers who left their high-cost, high-stress lives in Santa Barbara a year ago to enjoy the tranquillity and natural beauty of that island (a 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle) only to find that no one would hire them because they were Californians. They might as well have had the plague. Now, their $40,000 in savings gone, they have moved to Florida.

“People are so narrow-minded,” said Stacey Wilson, “they seem to be threatened by our presence, like we’re the evil demons.”

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A Seattle job recruiter explained that “Seattle employers are looking for a different set of values than those considered relevant in California. There’s much more company loyalty here than there is in California. Up here, people stay at a job 10 or 12 years. They are much more stability-prone.”

Stacey Wilson called it “institutional hypocrisy.”

Michael Zeilenziger, author of the article, notes that “fear of Californication” has produced a “Lesser Seattle” sentiment aimed at limiting that city’s growth and especially keeping Californians out.

A clipping from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reveals that architect William Murtagh, a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii, has warned against the Californication of Honolulu. I’m afraid he is locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.

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Californication is hardly the word for the rape of Waikiki. What once was a pleasant, unhurried, trade wind-swept seaside community, with lawns and flowers and beautiful houses, has become a nightmare of high-rise hotels, crowded together like cows in a stockyard, choking one another, blocking every vista, erupting throngs of tourists onto the streets, crushing forever the island’s romantic image.

To say that the vulgarization of Waikiki is an effect of Californication is to somehow blame California, or more specifically, Los Angeles, for the insatiable greed of its entrepreneurs and their insensitive exploitation of what once was Paradise.

Murtagh is right, though, in complaining that the “stark international style” of downtown Los Angeles skyscrapers is inappropriate for Hawaii. “It may be right in California to do buildings that have no windows that open, but I think it’s wrong here.”

We lived in Waikiki through 1941 and never had our windows shut. I’m not even sure we had windows. Though Honolulu can have tropical rainstorms, we were all conditioned to think of rain as liquid sunshine.

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Not long ago I noted here the almost paranoid fears of San Diego that it was about to be “Los Angelized.” Since San Diego itself is in California, it could hardly identify its bugbear as Californication, so it identified Los Angeles specifically as the beast whose hug it feared.

San Francisco, strangely, though its citizens are reputed to despise Los Angeles, has never expressed a fear of becoming like us. That eventuality is evidently regarded as too absurd to be taken seriously. San Francisco, on the other hand, is afraid of becoming “Manhattanized” and has voted for city initiatives to prevent it.

There is something typically snobbish about San Francisco’s fear of becoming too much like New York, which it will never be, while it imagines itself secure from the ogre to the south.

New York City itself, meanwhile, is so unique, so impervious to outside influences, so secure in its image as No. 1, so self-adulatory, that it has no fear of being changed by any other city. No one has seriously tried to penetrate its facade of cynicism and self-love since King Kong failed.

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A recent poll shows that Angelenos rating Los Angeles as “one of the best places to live” dropped from 73% in 1985 to 49% this year.

The sooner those who don’t like it here go elsewhere the better off everyone will be, except, of course, those who live in Elsewhere.


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