For much of the world, the word “Hollywood” conjures up the stuff of dreams--scenes of magic, glamour and excitement. For others, it creates something more like a nightmare--streets overrun with homeless runaways, prostitutes and decay. Yet, if Hollywood is a state of mind, it is also very much a place. Home to a million Angelenos, it is neither the star-festooned Tinseltown of movie myth nor the torrid red zone of made-for-TV movies. It is, in fact, an urban neighborhood, with many of charms and defects of its less well-known neighbors.
For decades, city leaders wrung their hands about what to do about Hollywood, but no one did much of anything. Then, in the past five years, the area has rebounded. The subway, connecting Hollywood with downtown and the Valley, is nearing completion. A number of impressive office, retail and housing developments have been completed, with more in the planning stages. The economy has solidified, the streets are cleaner and crime is down. In a recent speech, Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan proudly pointed to improvements in Hollywood as an example for the rest of the city.
While the mayor can take some credit, the area’s councilwoman, Jackie Goldberg, is considered by many to be the major catalyst of the change. A former student activist, teacher and school-board member, she was elected to the City Council in 1993, and quickly took on a host of issues designed to improve safety, the economy and the quality of life in her district, which also includes Echo Park, Silverlake and Atwater Village. Using techniques of community activism, she helped organize residents and property owners to fight crime, grime and to revitalize an important tourist center for the city. If she is straying from her socialist heritage in the process, she reveals no trace of inner conflict.
Yet, Hollywood and its environs still have vexing, systemic problems. It remains plagued by high unemployment, sub-standard housing and underutilized commercial space. Meanwhile, Goldberg’s constituents in the neighborhoods around Dodger Stadium are fearful of changes that may come about should media tycoon Rupert Murdoch or someone like him buy the baseball franchise from the O’Malley family, who brought the team here from New York in the late 1950s.
Rather than being daunted, Goldberg, 52, says she tries to take these problems one by one, focusing on solutions that involve both government and individuals. The first openly gay person elected to city office, she makes her home in Echo Park, where she lives with a longtime companion and where she raised her adopted son, Bruce. In a conversation occasionally interrupted by the barking of her dog, Montana, Goldberg talked about the difference between perception and reality in Hollywood, the importance of organizing at the grass roots and the future of one of this city’s most storied districts.
Question: There’s a sense that Los Angeles is in a recovery, with the economy turning around, crime going down, and people expressing optimism. How is this turnaround affecting people in your district?
Answer: There is a notion that a rising tide raises all ships, but it doesn’t seem to be doing that in my district. Certainly, things are improving dramatically in the entertainment industry in Hollywood. And real-estate values have begun to improve, although I think we have a couple more years before we really see the big change. But there are a lot of people who were working in Echo Park, Silverlake, Atwater and Hollywood who were employed by small industries that fed the defense contractors. Those folks have not recovered. I got a call today from a family, saying that the gas was being shut off. This is an unusual thing in my district. These are people who are not used to having one person out of work, or at least underemployed for a long time. So the recovery has been spotty. Those folks who are connected to the entertainment industry are beginning to feel the upturn. Those who have still not recovered are the folks who were the second or third jobbers for the defense industry.
Q: What can the economy of the Hollywood area offer these displaced workers?
A: Lots of these folks do not believe that they have the skills to make a switch. But they do. The whole key for them is training. These are folks who did very technical jobs, but they weren’t at a computer terminal, they were at a drill press or a lathe. These are very skilled workers. They could obviously do a variety of technical things. We need a way to retrain people like them, people who are very skilled, who are used to getting up every day and going to work, who are hard workers, but who can’t find a niche for themselves. The kind of training out there is primarily for people who have no skills of any type, and is designed to get them to the point where maybe they can take a Civil Service exam. That’s not who’s underemployed, for the most part, in my district. I think it can be accomplished, we just have to figure out the method of matching up these skilled workers with the growing needs of the entertainment industry, which desperately needs technical people.
Q: There’s a popular sense that the entertainment industry is moving away from Hollywood. Is that Tinseltown myth, rather than reality?
A: Oh, yes. We still have Paramount, which is one of the biggest studios in the area. We still have Sunset Gower Studios, which does a tremendous amount of work. We have a huge amount of pre- and post-production, and it’s not leaving. We still have a lot of the sound dubbing, the mixers, the foley stages. We have Color By Deluxe--there’s hardly a movie you see that they didn’t print. These companies provide very technical, high-paying jobs. We also have a tremendous music industry in Hollywood--A&M; records, EMI and Capitol records. And we have the largest concentration of multimedia artists in the city.
I would say the exodus stopped two or three years ago. We have several office buildings in Hollywood being completely refurbished, at least in part because of the earthquake, which has actually had some positive effects. These buildings have been completely rewired with the latest electronics. They’re calling them smart buildings, where production people can just come in and plug in their fancy equipment without needing to wire anything. They’re being completely redone because there’s so much technical work in Hollywood now. This stuff is moving into the area, not out of the area.
Q: Recently Mayor Richard Riordan pointed to the progress made in your district and referred to what he called a “Hollywood renaissance.” What are the components of that renaissance?
A: He uses that word, and we don’t. Renaissance implies a rebirth, and I never thought Hollywood died. I would say that there was a lack of confidence in the future of Hollywood on the part of a lot of people who own property there. When that happens, you have a very bad situation, because the people who have the most to gain, the property owners themselves, are bad-mouthing their own area. So the first task we faced when we came into office was to get people to remember that they were sitting on, as owners, the best-known piece of real estate in the world. We got people to stop playing the semi-competitive indoor sport of who’s to blame for the problems of Hollywood, and to start doing something positive.
That was a very important change in attitude. We sat and we listened for a year to everyone who wanted to complain to us. And then we made a list of everything we could do something about as government, and we asked property owners to join with us in a partnership. We spent about three years organizing tenants and property owners, not against each other, but to work together to change the housing picture in places like the Yucca corridor. We ran out the drug dealers and the slum lords. And when you do that, you reduce the crime. The Hollywood police were absolutely fabulous during this period.
We’ve had trouble with MTA over subway construction, but now we’re near the end of that trail and we’re talking about three stations on Hollywood Boulevard. We think that’s going to be a wonderful thing for the area, though it wouldn’t have been my first choice to do it. The subway will connect Universal Studios, and all the hotels there, with Hollywood, as well as with downtown. We think that’s going to be good for the tourist industry on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard.
We think you take one step at a time, you find out what the problems are, and you address the problems. We have one big nut left to crack, and that’s parking. The surface lots just don’t hold enough cars. So we’re working on creating new public parking areas, something Hollywood’s needed for years.
Q: To what do you attribute the drop in crime?
A: Because of the tenant organizing we’ve done, there’s a tremendously higher cooperation with the police now. Before, tenants did not see the police as an ally, even though they were often victims of crime. Once we showed them they could work with the police, they were only too happy to get rid of the criminal element in those buildings. They just needed to know how to do it. The Hollywood police have worked closely with our office, and I give them a lot of credit. But I think it has a lot to do with people who were not sure if the police would respond to them as poor people, and who now know that the police will respond to their calls and will work with them. That has made a huge difference.
Q: Your district includes most of the neighborhoods around Dodger Stadium. How does the prospect of Rupert Murdoch owning the Dodgers make you feel?
A: Of course we really liked the O’Malley family, but I think it’s probably no longer possible to have a family-owned franchise anymore. So it’s going to be corporate of one type or another. They don’t need my permission, and if they asked, I would give it anyway. I don’t have any objections to Murdoch owning it. We just want him to do a good job and to be a good neighbor.
Q: What does being a good neighbor entail?
A: I think that anything that is as big an economic engine as a major league ball club should be connected to the community. The entrances and exits to Dodger Stadium go through small, old neighborhoods and they create havoc in the lives of people. We need to have some sort of traffic control, and we don’t want to lose any more park-land space. I just can’t imagine that any large organization that can afford to buy a stadium and a team and a whole operation would not be willing to be a good neighbor. So we’re looking forward to a good relationship with whoever ends up being the final owner of the organization.
Q: Given the large investment required to purchase the Dodger organization, won’t a new owner want to expand the use of the stadium, or perhaps develop new uses for the stadium area?
A: I don’t know that that’s necessarily true, and I don’t know what other uses it would be good for. I’ve been to a couple concerts there, and it’s not the greatest concert location, I can assure you. I don’t know that further encroachment in the park areas would be a good idea, and it’s not probably even possible. You would have to change the zoning to use the property for anything other than the current use of the arena, so I’m not too sure that that’s going to happen. However, I have no doubt there will be luxury boxes at Dodger stadium about 15 minutes after it’s sold.
Q: What’s the city government’s role in developing and financing sports arenas?
A: I think very minimal to none. The public is not really thrilled--and not just in Los Angeles, but all over the country--about shelling out tax dollars to billionaire owners who hire millionaire players: Why do they need public money? Only areas that think they need a professional team in order to feel like a real city are willing to put a lot of public dollars into it. I don’t think there’s a well-established city in America that’s willing to put tax money into these arenas anymore.
Q: Throughout the world, there is a perception of Hollywood--one that is primarily based on legend and myth. How does the actual place compare with that Hollywood of the mind?
A: I’d say it’s about a B, or maybe a B-plus. It’s still not what people expect. It will be, though, because we are moving in the direction we need to be going. We can see a continuing interest in tourist projects on both Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. We have a project right now that’s a favorite of mine--to relight all the neon in Hollywood. We’ve got a grant program that gives you a disappearing loan if you relight your neon, and a bunch of experts that will help you do it. I can remember standing at Sunset and Vine and seeing nothing but art deco and lots of neon. And that’s what I’m telling folks who want to do projects in my district--if you want our help, it’s got to say Hollywood.