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Memorable Events We’d Rather Forget

So here it is, the last day of 1996 and the forecasters say it will go out like a wet dishrag. Mother Nature seems determined to drench Colorado Boulevard. Soggy floats seem so sad.

But perhaps it’s fitting that 1996 will end with more of a whimper than a bang. Think about it: By this decade’s standards, this has been a fairly wimpy year. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Instead of something like the Gulf War, American troops went on peacekeeping missions. Instead of putting on a race riot, Angelenos (pretty much) got along.

The San Fernando Valley did not serve up another cataclysmic earthquake and this year’s firestorms weren’t as punishing as those of years past. The trials of O.J. Simpson moved from criminal to civil.

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Even the Valley events that made national headlines were largely the work of visitors. The Menendez boys, formerly of Beverly Hills, were finally convicted in Van Nuys. A bad ol’ boy from Louisiana drew dubious attention to Cal State Northridge. And a man, “just a man,” from Kansas came here to salute the Brooklyn Dodgers.

An exception was Michael Ovitz, the Birmingham High grad who took the practice of “failing up” to a higher level with a reported $90-million severance package from Disney. Nothing wimpy about that.

Oh, 1996 had its moments, but tomorrow it will all be yesteryear’s news.

So with a quick glance back and another look ahead, I invite readers to raise a glass of Andre and offer a few toasts for the new year.

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To Thelma and Louise and the MTA’s other underachievers:

Get it? “Under” as in underground. And underachievers as in underachievers.

Anyway, I can’t remember if it was you, Thelma, or you, Louise, that got stuck tunneling under the Hollywood Hills en route to North Hollywood. At least we know it was humans who were at fault, not you heavy-duty earthmoving machines.

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But whoever gets the blame, 1996 was an absolute sinkhole of a year for the MTA. Construction problems and political questions cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars in federal support. Criticism prompted its top administrator to offer a bitter resignation. All of this would be a bigger controversy but for one fact: No matter how many billions are spent, the vast majority of Angelenos know that they’ll never get out of their cars and commute via mass transit. It’s not that we don’t think mass transit is a terrific idea--just that it’s a terrific idea for somebody else.

And so, a toast: May Mayor Riordan, the most powerful member of the MTA board, provide the leadership and wisdom to build a rail system that gets the biggest bang for our bucks (so that I’ll see less traffic on my drive to work).

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To Blenda Wilson and all the gang at CSUN:

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We’ll never forget this past semester, will we? When ex-Klansman David Duke came out for that debate on affirmative action, few people predicted just how educational this event would be.

Why, it was almost like a little time travel back to the heady campus life of the ‘60s, complete with outside agitators and the LAPD in riot gear. If, as many expected, student leaders thought this would help defeat Proposition 209, it proved to be a painful lesson indeed. (Free prediction: 209 will survive legal challenges.)

And let’s not forget how the Proposition 209 brain trust, with absolutely no evidence, accused President Blenda of political chicanery and how she was ordered up to Sacramento so Assemblyman Bernie Richter (R-Chino) could ask her if she was under the influence of drugs. Richter thus provided another history lesson, inspiring memories of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s 1950s redbaiting.

And so to everyone at CSUN, a toast: May you live in less interesting times in 1997.

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To Paula Boland, freedom fighter, and her fellow Valleyistas:

Well, we had a lot of fun with all those debates over the True Meaning of Democracy. Sometimes the rhetoric really hit the fan, what with the routine cries of “tyranny” and references to the colonists battling King George.

Paula, you got a lot of ink from all this, plenty of name recognition, and I was almost as surprised as you were when you lost your bid for the state Senate. The good news is that it helped Valleyites become organized to advance political causes. The bad news is that they are still struggling with the concept of one person, one vote in their quest to divide Los Angeles.

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And so, a toast: May your efforts promote meaningful change in ’97 and not just serve as a vehicle for Valley kvetching--a vehicle that just keeps spinning its wheels.

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To the denizens of Sin Cit--um, I mean Burbank:

Whew, what a year. Burbank, you’ve always prided yourself on being a motherhood-and-apple-pie kind of place, a close-knit Midwestern kind of town where everybody knows everybody else’s business. So naturally everybody soon heard about the sex scandal that rocked the school district and then the (utterly unsubstantiated) sexual assault allegations a certain city councilwoman made against a certain newspaperman. (Not me.) As if that weren’t enough, a member of a prominent Burbank family married Richard Ramirez of San Quentin, Calif.

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To think Johnny Carson thought Burbank was such a bore.

And so, a toast: May Burbankers resume their boring ways--or at least keep their scandals to themselves.

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To the Mark A. Kroeker Fan Club:

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Yes, LAPD Deputy Chief Mark A. Kroeker won a lot of friends when, not long after that famous videotape was shot in Lake View Terrace, he took command of the Valley Bureau. Kroeker, now commanding the South Bureau, is widely considered one of the LAPD’s finest. Why, he even inspires admiring comparisons to Dudley Doright of the Mounties.

It’s easy to understand why you’ve written letters to the Police Commission pointing out that Kroeker would be a fine successor to Chief Willie L. Williams. But as Kroeker has noted, the timing is premature. It must make for some awkward moments at Parker Center, and Kroeker must be thinking, “With friends like these. . . . “

And so, a toast: May the Kroeker-for-chief movement get a better sense of timing. (And--who knows?--if Williams is retained and Sheriff Sherman Block retires, would a Kroeker-for-sheriff movement be such a bad idea?)

My space is almost gone. See you next year.

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Scott Harris’ column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Please include a phone number.

Instead of putting on a race riot, Angelenos (pretty much) got along. The San Fernando Valley did not serve up another cataclysmic earthquake . . .


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