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Reichenbach, though, maintains her detractors don’t understand her. She says she’s compassionate about the homeless, but takes a tough-love approach. “I think anyone who thinks I’m heartless isn’t paying attention,” says Reichenbach. “People are shocked to know that I am a liberal progressive, but the deal is I want what it is best for the homeless, and those are the homeless who want to get better and are willing to work and get better and they will play by the rules. Some people just want to be on the street. This project on Gower is the wrong project for the wrong target community.”
Despite her detractors, Reichenbach has made some strong allies in the Hollywood community, including former Los Angeles Police Department Hollywood Division Captain Mike Downing, who is now a commander at South Bureau. While stationed in Hollywood, Downing was a regular guest at Reichenbach’s Christmas parties.
Florentine Gardens spokesman Bill Hooey got to know about Reichenbach’s friendship with Downing when she sent Hooey an e-mail about excessive graffiti on the sprawling nightclub’s walls.
“You don’t know Captain Downing since you are new here but he is the type of person that wants to know if part of the system is down,” wrote Reichenbach. “Don’t take it personal. It is the way business is conducted in this neighborhood and always will be. We also realize that the city is tapped regarding resources and we are now asking the owners of the property to be responsible neighbors and to step up to the plate and paint over graffiti as it happens.”
On another occasion, Reichenbach sent Downing a fearful, if not downright paranoid, e-mail after Hooey had admonished her for complaining about the nightclub to local authorities.
“His tone is rather menacing,” she wrote. “He feels that I have done him a huge disservice by reaching out to you. He obviously doesn’t understand neighborhood empowerment or protocol. Hubby thinks that this guy has the capacity to do harm. Hooey’s tone demonstrates that he has something dark running in the background. Hubby also is concerned that this guy might get drunk or high sometime and take a drive to get it off his chest and find himself at our home. This is the risk one runs for doing the right thing. Perhaps you and I should meet with him so that he can understand that this is nothing personal and also maybe he can understand that you are going to protect me. Let me know what you think of all this. Curious about his background now.”
Three years ago, the corner of Garfield Place and Hollywood Boulevard was the home of the Velaslavasay Panorama Gallery, an eclectic boutique and gallery, and an outdoor studio that sold gigantic movie props, including a 6-foot-high Styrofoam statue of the Aztec god of rain. Now, the site is a vacant lot, is fenced off and littered with beer bottles and empty chip bags. A garbage bin filled with palm fronds sits in the middle of the lot. Just outside the fence, a homeless man begs for change while a Latino man hangs secondhand clothes for sale on the fence. Nearby, a shopping cart brims with plastic bags and empty soda bottles.
“We get a lot of vagrants here now,” says Shaila Mulji, the manager of the recently renovated Hollywood Downtowner Inn, as she looks toward the 2.5-acre parcel between her business and the Gershwin Hotel across the street. “The fact that it is vacant is adding to the problem. My husband has to hose down the place regularly. I have seen some pretty bad things. We have had to chase people off the property. It is a huge problem.”
On a boulevard famous for its Walk of Fame and, more recently, for its new upscale, high-rise developments, nightclubs and trendy restaurants, this little stretch of Hollywood, which is made up mostly of mom-and-pop grocery stores, a porn shop and a few Thai restaurants, has seen precious little change.
Over the past few years, the lot has had its suitors and been the object of heated protests and public battles. The first brouhaha began in 2002, when fire officials made plans to replace the outdated Fire Station 82, on Bronson Avenue, on the lot with money from a $533 million bond measure approved by voters in 2000. The Garfield Place site was large enough to accommodate a training facility and was in the middle of the Fire Department’s service area.
The proposed plan included buying a couple of parking lots used by apartment dwellers as well as one 16-unit and two 13-unit apartment buildings. At the time, Council Member Tom LaBonge was onboard, assuring affected residents that they would be reimbursed for their troubles.
Under the tutelage of Reichenbach, a group of 10-plus area residents formed the Eastwood Coalition in 2003 to block plans to build the new fire station on the Garfield Place lot. They worried that it would cause too much noise and would stunt hopes to make the area more of a destination for artsy types.