- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES The Democratic National Convention has closed the courts and given most government workers in downtown Los Angeles a weeklong holiday.

The time off is a byproduct of city planners' attempts to prevent hopeless gridlock because of the convention, now in full swing in the Staples Center at the junction of the Harbor and Santa Monica freeways.

The plan appears to be working, just as similar plans did during the 1984 Olympics. Traffic sped along at 65 mph at 5 p.m. Tuesday, normally the height of the evening rush hour on the Santa Monica, officially the world's most crowded roadway.

The normal 45-minute commute between the Staples Center and beachfront Santa Monica took just 18 minutes in light traffic. All because of the convention.

Longtime Angelenos who watched traffic vanish after warnings of hopeless gridlock were not surprised that reality for the political convention has been the same as during the Olympics.

After all, the warnings were practically the same. The motorcades bearing dignitaries are much the same.

With a been there, done that sense, many residents have left town on vacations deliberately scheduled for this week or switched to other routes that go nowhere near Staples and the closed off-ramps in its vicinity.

In fact, life in most parts of Los Angeles went on this week almost as if 35,000 Democratic delegates and media personnel had never showed up.

The usual gang rode exercise bikes and lifted weights at the 24 Hour Fitness gym in West Los Angeles. "I don't work downtown, and I don't have any reason to go near there this week," said Beverly Hills lawyer Frank Tomayo, a regular at the gym. "They've delayed the whole docket in the courts down there."

"Hasn't changed my life a bit," said computer programmer George Lissauer.

Even at Windy's Donuts, just two blocks east of the Pershing Square staging area for most of the week's demonstrations, things are "just the same as ever," said Pablo Hinojosa, the counterman. Although protesters carrying picket signs constantly walk past his shop en route to the square, Mr. Hinojosa said they're not buying. He's still selling almost all his baked goods to the regular clientele homeless men and women from the surrounding Skid Row area.

Some of the loudest bleats over convention-related inconvenience came from members of the posh Riviera Country Club in leafy Pacific Palisades, site of several U.S. Opens and a regular stop on the PGA golf tour. They pay $85,000 to join the club and $590 a month dues.

But they were thrown off the course Sunday when California Gov. Gray Davis staged a $15,000-a-foursome outing for contributors to his re-election war chest. The function raised $400,000 and the hackles of some longtime duffers.

"Darn Democrats taking over the place," groused one member, who asked to remain nameless because the club's owner has the right to expel anyone. O.J. Simpson, who formerly played the course every day, is the most famous expelee.

Meanwhile, most emergency plans the city put in place for the convention have not been used. Year-round schools near Staples were prepared to provide overnight shelter for as many as 2,000 kindergarten and elementary school children in case of major disturbances, but so far they've all gone home at night.

Hospitals stocked up on antidotes to biological and chemical warfare agents because of worries about terrorism. There has been nothing of the sort.

In fact, life goes on as usual for most Angelenos.

Said Jay Berman, a lifelong Los Angeles resident and a retired journalism professor, "This town handles things like the convention very well. Always has. We had more traffic where I live from a women's tennis tournament with Martina Hingis and Serena Williams last weekend than we do from the convention."

On Sunday in Pacific Palisades, Monroe and Selma Wities renewed their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary and Russian immigrant Rina Serebryannik was buried in Burbank. The Dodger game in Atlanta was televised and drew far better ratings than political talk shows.

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