Renewal of Area a Question of Time

Times Staff Writer

Over the last 10 years, Los Angeles has poured roughly $200 million into Hollywood revitalization efforts, noticeably improving key aspects of that community’s quality of life but leaving some people convinced that the city has misspent much of the money.

The city has ousted slumlords and helped pay for the construction of 1,000 housing units for seniors, residents with special needs and others. Streets are cleaner; drug dealers less in evidence. The number of homicides has steadily dropped, from 30 in 1990 to 17 in 1998 to 15 in 2000, the most recent year for which the Los Angeles Police Department has statistics.

Today, a new mall and entertainment complex sits at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, while at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, a 300-unit apartment building is under construction, marking the first major housing development aimed at high-income tenants in decades.

Gene La Pietra, the main backer of the Hollywood secession initiative, Measure H on Tuesday’s ballot, said this week that “there are great improvements in Hollywood.”


But he and other Hollywood cityhood proponents say that Los Angeles could have revitalized Hollywood faster. They also contend that the Community Redevelopment Agency concentrates too much on big projects, such as the $615-million Hollywood and Highland shopping and entertainment complex, instead of providing seed money for the hundreds of small merchants who line Hollywood Boulevard.

Moreover, La Pietra says, Los Angeles is strapped for money and may not have the resources or political will to keep the revival going.

“The city of Los Angeles no longer has deep pockets,” La Pietra says.

The debate over how much Hollywood has improved -- and how far it has to go -- helped put the secession proposal on the ballot. And whether secession wins or loses, Hollywood’s economic health will remain vital to Los Angeles’ well-being after the votes are counted.

To those who argue that an independent Hollywood would fare better, secession opponents maintain that revitalization is well on its way. They also contend that without the attention of a sizable city government such as Los Angeles’, it would be difficult to plan and pay for the mix of small and large developments that would make the area an attractive place to live and work.

“This city has knocked itself out for Hollywood,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), who spearheaded the revitalization effort as a city councilwoman representing Hollywood. “We invested funds in Hollywood that were invested nowhere else in the city for the past 15 years.”

The city’s biggest investment by far is the Hollywood and Highland complex. Touted as key to the area’s revitalization when it was proposed, the glitzy complex was supposed to attract Asian tourists and conventioneers. But it opened shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Asian tourists, on whom many of the development’s financial projections had been based, stayed home.

In addition, the city, which owns the parking garage at the complex, initially charged high parking fees that kept local patrons away, fueling a financial loss that last spring was as high as $500,000 per month.


Many of the retail stores in the center are struggling. Trizec Retail and Entertainment, which owns Hollywood and Highland, has said it will sell the property, and has taken a write-down on it of about $200 million.

Tomas Lagos, who manages a souvenir and candy store on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Highland, credited the project for driving away the drug dealers and other “bad people” who congregated on the blighted site before the complex was built.

But he said the huge development has done little to spur business, which remains depressed due to slow international tourism and the struggling economy.

“Right now I don’t have any customers,” Lagos said. “Maybe all day, 100 people. It used to be 1,000.”


Still, the overall effect of the project has been beneficial, said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. He cited the Kodak Theatre, new home of the Academy Awards, which has hosted a number of awards shows, as well as the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, which has brought in $30 million in the year since the complex opened, according to its owner, Trizec Retail and Entertainment.

It took a large project like Hollywood and Highland, Gubler said, to encourage developers to invest in the smaller projects that will fill other needs in the community.

Such work is popping up all over Hollywood, from renovated storefronts to new shopping centers and apartment complexes.

Hilda Evans has lived in the eastern part of Hollywood, near Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue, all of her 31 years.


The entrance to this part of town from the west is marred by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire near where the Hollywood Freeway splits the community in two, and signs covered with graffiti.

But the storefronts along this stretch of Hollywood Boulevard are clean, and many shops look trendy and new. By day, at least, there is no sign of the drug dealing and prostitution that Evans and others say were ever-present just a few years ago.

“It’s safer,” said Evans, who four months ago took a job bagging groceries at a new Ralphs supermarket at Hollywood and Western. “There are more police.”

The Ralphs store -- which has a deli and tables for outdoor dining -- is part of a new development that combines retail establishments with subsidized apartments for seniors.


Besides the supermarket, the honey-colored complex contains outlets from Starbucks, Jamba Juice, Ross Dress for Less and Shoe Pavilion.

Marshall Moton, security director at the 120,000-square-foot project and previously a supervisor at the Hollywood and Highland development, said that this shopping and apartment complex, which is across the street from a Red Line stop, “has brought a little closeness to the community.”

By comparison, he said, the Hollywood and Highland project draws tourists more than locals.

Karen Heckler, a freelance writer who rents a house near Hollywood and Western, said she can still see drug dealers and thieves from her window at night. Her mostly immigrant neighbors are so afraid of the police that several recently chose not to call the police about a prowler. “They called each other, but they didn’t call the police,” she said.


Still, she said, the neighborhood is improving. She enjoys the new shops and restaurants, and worries that if the area becomes too gentrified, rents will rise.

Ferris Wehbe, the chief petitioner on the Hollywood secession proposal and a longtime activist and business owner, says that a Hollywood city would make sure that developments meet the needs of residents and small businesses. He complains that 16 years after the Community Redevelopment Agency formed its Hollywood arm, there is still no master plan for the area.

“The big developers ... control the agenda,” Wehbe said.



Times staff writer Kristina Sauerwein contributed to this report.