Gerald A. Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, was admonished this week by a city planning official for making comments at a public hearing that the official said were racially insensitive.
On Tuesday, Silver fought back, blasting city hearing examiner Larry Friedman for misinterpreting his comments and for bringing a "racial mind-set" to Silver's testimony at the Sherman Oaks hearing. But he was also conciliatory: "If there was anybody who was offended by my remarks, I would extend my full apologies."
At the Monday hearing, Silver, 63, was explaining his opposition to the Sherman Oaks Galleria's proposal to undertake a $30-million renovation project that includes tripling the number of movie screens there. One of Silver's remarks had to do with a proposed redesign that would change the mall's frontage along the San Diego Freeway from a solid wall to a partly glass exterior.
"We like the refurbishing of the facility--that's the good thing," Silver said, according to a tape recording of the meeting. "I'm not sure the Galleria is going to be happy after the next riot, the next racial strife, that we have in the city. They'll wish they hadn't taken down some of those concrete facades that now protect the mall."
Later in his testimony, Silver said:
"We have some conditional support on some increase in the theaters, but not 4,000 seats. I hate to think what will happen in two or three years, when Spike Lee has his next film, everybody gets out at 2 o'clock or 1 o'clock in the morning and pours out into the street--and that's what they're going to need to do, to make this work."
Spike Lee is a prominent African American filmmaker.
At the end of Silver's comments, Friedman, who has been a hearing examiner since January, said, "Mr. Silver, I just have to comment. You've injected two comments bringing up the race card. I would appreciate it if you would not do that in the future." Friedman's comments were applauded by the audience.
Friedman declined to discuss at length the comments that he made, saying that he didn't want the issue to overshadow the project or his role. Friedman must must make a recommendation to the city Planning Commission on the expansion proposal.
But the planning official did say, "I clearly felt that he was typecasting people, whether it was gang members or African Americans. In light of some recent history in Los Angeles, I felt that I couldn't tolerate those comments."
He said that in his nine months in his present job, he had heard racially insensitive comments, and remarks that were insensitive to poor people, but not to the degree that he heard on Monday.
Silver said Tuesday he was merely trying to point out that, in this day and age, civil unrest is a possibility that mall designers should take into account. In addition, Silver said, he mentioned Spike Lee not because he is black but because he makes movies that appeal to a young audience.
"What I had in my mind was the kind of unrest that you see at Universal CityWalk," Silver said. "It could have been a Schwarzenegger film."