- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

LOS ANGELES Less than a week before the Democratic National Convention, the mood is as relaxed and easy-going as the legendary California vibe. There are no banners in the streets, no placards in windows and nary a sign of a major convention besides a face lift to the downtown area.
Streets are being gussied up, stray animals are being quartered at local shelters and the city's formidable homeless population is being asked to stay away from the convention site.
"They told us not to be hanging around the center, because they will do sweeps and people will go to jail," said Jeff Mandel, who works at Midnight Mission, about 12 blocks from the Staples Center.
A few already have. Early in the week, four protesters were arrested after scaling the 15-story Hotel Figueroa, 300 yards from the Staples Center, where workers hammered, strung cable and polished the already-shiny floors to ready the arena. The protesters rappelled the hotel from the top and strung a 1,500-square-foot banner protesting big business.
It was a significant start to the week, in which more than 35,000 people will begin arriving in Los Angeles. Before their arrival, the weathered old angel will have one more face lift, another stab at vitality in a city portrayed by author John Gunther as "21 suburbs in search of a metropolis."
Near the convention site, at Pershing Square, city leaders, park police and merchants met to decide how to handle this confluence of protesters and the protested.
The square, a beautiful block of paved brick and palm trees, is one of five city-run parks that will serve as impromptu headquarters for the estimated 10,000 to 50,000 protesters who will come to town.
The park's buildings were recently repainted their bright canary yellow, and shrubs have been cut, although most of the people in the park were pulling up a park bench to take a morning snooze.
"We're well-prepared for this," said Armel Santens, general manager of the Regal Biltmore, which overlooks the square. Meetings have made up most of his days for the past several months. His payoff? One hundred percent occupancy for a week, making his hotel like all the others downtown.
He noted the 9-foot-high fence being erected around the International Jewelry Resources building, being put up to thwart vandals, who are threatening to break the windows of big business.
"There will be lots of police," Mr. Santens said emphatically.
In a nod to the president, who speaks at the convention Monday, the West Hollywood City Council recently changed the name of Clinton Avenue to Bill Clinton Avenue.
"We've asked the president to come by for the official unveiling this weekend," said West Hollywood Council member Steve Martin. "I mean, Bill Clinton Avenue is right between the Staples Center and Barbra Streisand's house, so he's got to pass by at some time."
The surprising lack of attention comes in a time when Hollywood and politics meet in books such as Joe Eszterhas' new best seller, "American Rhapsody," and in films such as "Wag the Dog."
"It doesn't mean much at all to me," said Takeo Susuki, a retired paleontologist from West Los Angeles. Mr. Susuki is a Democrat, but is sure the convention will do nothing for him personally.
Competition for attention is stiff in Los Angeles County, where 88 cities stretch over 4,083 square miles and hold a population of 9.6 million. A big night at Johnny Depp's Viper Room, for example, trumps even the heaviest of political events in many circles.
And if people aren't exactly captivated by the upcoming convention yet, the traffic will get their attention next week.
Look for downtown to become a parking lot, businesses are telling their workers. After all, Los Angeles gave us the word "gridlock" as it relates to traffic.
The partial street closures and detours will confuse some motorists. Add convention buses, taxis, limos and news vans to the 300,000 vehicles that traverse Highway 110, which runs west of downtown, and there is traffic-nightmare potential, acknowledged a state transportation spokeswoman.
"But only three ramps to the downtown will be shut down," said Margie Tiritilli. "We have endured these kinds of things before, with the Northridge earthquake and the 1984 Olympics, which were held at sites all over Los Angeles."
In a city that thrives on spectacle, an inscription on a wall in Pershing Square seemed to herald the coming convention. The quotation comes from an article written in 1946 by Carey McWilliams.
"It … occurred to me that in all the world there neither was, nor would ever be, another place like this City of the Angels," it reads. "Here, the American people were erupting like lava from a volcano; here, indeed, was the place for me a ringside seat at the circus."

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