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BIG FISH TO FRY

Landing a one-on-one interview with a director so enigmatic, imaginative and generally elusive as Tim Burton [“You Ain’t From Around Here, Are Ya, Boy?,” December 19–25], you would think that the fresh minds of L.A. Weekly would’ve been able to assign a reporter with more tact and direction than Dave Shulman. What did I learn about Burton that I didn’t already know? His first date was at a Clockwork Orange/Deliverance double feature at a Van Nuys drive-in — not exactly hard-hitting investigative stuff we’re talking about. Shulman’s sophomoric subconversational style and constant references to himself (the fan) throughout the piece was such a waste of your readers’ time (and seeing how Burton reacted in the article, his time too). Next time, get a high school intern to do the interview. At least they would have the enthusiasm and respect to spend more than five minutes putting an article together.

—Cassie Carpenter
West Los Angeles

WELCOME TO THE STATES, LAND OF THE INSECURE

We have a friend from Australia we have known for over 20 years. He has come to the U.S. many times. He just had an experience very similar to the one depicted in your story [“Coffee, Tea or Handcuffs?,” December 19–25] and was sent back to Australia by U.S. Customs. He got a new stamp on his visa. (He was never told previously he needed anything other than what he had when he entered.) He then had to pay for another flight to return, this time to San Francisco, where he was again questioned but allowed in. I think you should expand this story and get it out to the AP, etc. We are horrified at how he was treated, and he had the same experience with seven guards watching TV while he and a few others were sitting up after 24 hours of flying. Thanks for the good article.

—Maryann Pearson
Mill Valley

In the story about Sue Smethurst, she seemingly had a temper tantrum in the airport which you missed in your article. I am not sure that the oversight was on purpose, but if I wanted to slant the article to make “homeland security” or “airport security” look bad, I would leave out the part where she has the tantrum and throws her sandwich and coffee against the wall while being detained for not having the correct visa. Just thought I should bring this to your attention.

—John Johnson
Palatine, Illinois

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Mikulan responds: I did in fact mention this incident and cited an official description of it as a “tantrum.” I also solicited the Customs and Border Protection bureau’s perspective of Ms. Smethurst’s attitude (“abusive”) — all of which appeared in the article.

SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

Because I started at L.A. Weekly as sales manager in 1980 and wound up as chairman of the board in 1993, I am in a unique position. I know a lot about the Weekly on many levels. I am writing both to add an additional perspective and to correct some of the inaccuracies of your special issue on the 25th anniversary of the paper.

When I arrived at the Weekly, it was a year and a half old and struggling financially. The Weekly and The Reader were both publishing about 48 pages a week and were ferocious competitors. Jay Levin, who was founder and president of the Weekly, had hired me and David Cohen, then associate publisher, to replace the sales staff with more competent, professional and motivated people who “got” what the Weekly was all about. The hiring was done with Jay’s active collaboration. Jay understood that a first-class sales staff with strong leadership is the difference between life and death at a free newspaper — and he was relentless in seeing that we built one.

Your piece [“In the Beginning,” December 12–18], while acknowledging that Jay was the visionary and the vitality and the core of the paper’s soul in that first decade, dismisses Jay’s astute business sense in launching the Weekly and, with the help of many other creative and hard-working people he consciously gathered around him, making it into a permanent fixture in the L.A. media landscape. The “consensus” your writer cites in her strange comment is nonexistent in that it excludes and runs counter to the opinion of the core business staff of the Weekly at the time. Consequently, your piece glosses over Jay’s grasp not only of the Weekly’s place in the geography of L.A.’s rapidly changing history, but also how, concretely and specifically, he made the Weekly a tremendous business.

As just one of numerous examples, Jay foresaw the financial and editorial value of Best of L.A. special issues early on and understood better than anyone else the absolute short- and long-term gain from beating our competitor, The Reader, to the street and with a higher-quality product. Under tremendous deadline pressure, he used his management and catalytic skill to lead and motivate the entire newspaper staff, getting all departments to work well with one another 24/7 under stressful but very often fun conditions. Best of L.A. became a major element in the Weekly’s financial picture. Jay was a relentless competitor who knew how to win. He demonstrated another side of his grasp of the publishing business a few years later with L.A. Style magazine by audaciously upping the sales price at the eleventh hour by over 50 percent and getting it.

Jay also was described in your piece as “socially inept” and as a manager who did not “know how to deal with employees.” In my experience, the opposite captures the truth. Throughout the paper and not just in the editorial department, Jay hired a fascinating, diverse, creative and innovative group of employees, whom he managed with respect even if he did not always agree with ‰ their points of view. Jay was seen by me and by most others as a man of exceptional honesty and integrity, someone who cared about his staff, who protected them when possible, who was tolerant, open-minded, and who nurtured aspiring, talented young people in a variety of vocations. And when the Weekly was sold, Jay gave the employees a bonus out of his own money.

Jay, like all of us, has his weaknesses as well as strengths and has made his share of errors. However, in summary, your article inexplicably and weirdly denigrates his accomplishment at running a complex, paradoxical but viable business.

Best wishes for continued success.

—Karen L. Fund
Beverly Hills

WEHO’S WOES

Your article on West Hollywood’s strong rent-control laws, “Founding Fathers and Renters: Why West Hollywood still matters” [December 12–18], states that the city of West Hollywood is a “progressive government at work,” but the reality of what 20 years of strong rent-control laws has left us with is quite different.

Twenty years later, we now know that we are left with crumbling and deteriorating apartment buildings that landlords and owners refuse to properly maintain due to the low rents the city forces them to charge. We’re also left with virtually no new fair-market apartments built in the city of West Hollywood. Developers would have to be crazy to invest and build in such a hostile climate.

Additionally, rent control has trapped people living in West Hollywood in their crumbling apartments until they die. It has also basically forced landlords and tenants to treat each other with incredible hostility. We are left with an overcrowded situation, with many poor people living here who cannot afford to patronize our own businesses, and those that do want to come here and shop have no place to park.

It would also be useful to know that the people who wrote West Hollywood’s strong rent-control laws didn’t do it out of any “progressive higher mission,” but rather for their own selfish reasons of paying undermarket rent. Decades later, many of the original rent-control supporters are still living in their undermarket rent-controlled apartments, and yes, many of them are millionaires. Is it any wonder that no other community that I know of has modeled its cities on West Hollywood’s experiment and model of failure?

—James Fuhrman
West Hollywood

WE STAND CORRECTED

Marc Cooper [“The Killing Years,” December 12–18] misidentifies one of the “Jesuit martyrs” (the six priests massacred at Central American University in San Salvador in November 1989). Mr. Cooper refers to “Juan Ramon Medrano.” The priest’s name was Juan Ramon Moreno Pardo.

—Carlos Colorado
Downey

 

In our interview with author Alexandro Jodorowsky in the Comics issue [“In the Heart of the Universe,” January 2–8], Jodorowsky was cited as an almost-85-year-old when in fact he is an almost-70-year-old. (Oh, to be young again.)

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