Illustration by Dana Collins

Workers at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel might have wondered if Father Guido Sarducci were making a comeback when they received a memo from management warning of a possible visit from a pro-union spokesman “dressed as a priest . . . to gain entry into people’s homes.”

It wasn’t the Saturday Night Live impostor priest who precipitated the letter, however, but rather Father Juan Romero, pastor of St. Clement’s Catholic Church in Santa Monica. Romero’s visits to two parishioners who work at Loews — one the mother of a volunteer receptionist at the parish — were not made to push the current organizing drive by Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 814, Romero says. But, he adds, “I do speak on behalf of the church in the area of peace and justice, and the church believes strongly in the right to bargain collectively.”

Romero assures us he was not masquerading as a man of the cloth, but instead has been duly ordained by the Catholic Church since 1964. About a dozen clerics of several faiths have been meeting one-on-one after work with Loews employees to discuss their anxieties about job security and ethical issues involved in the union struggle.

The pastors and many of their colleagues were outraged by the management memo, which charged the church with acting as “a political tool of the union.” Paradoxically, the letter also cited Cardinal Roger Mahony’s long-resolved conflict with cemetery workers as evidence that the church was not really pro-union.

About 20 clergy gathered at Loews to seek an apology from general manager Patricia Claremont. Then, after being told she was out of the building, they left behind several letters of protest. One of the letters, co-signed by 39 religious leaders, referenced the long history of clerical involvement in labor battles, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s last campaign with Memphis strikers and the struggles led by the United Farm Workers. It also pointed out that Old Testament prophets put the sin of “defrauding the laborer of his just wages” on a par with adultery and sorcery.

“Your behavior demonstrates exactly why workers do not trust management at your hotel,” said another note, from the Reverend James Conn, Methodist minister and former mayor of Santa Monica.

“We were mistaken and we apologized,” says Loews chain spokesman Jeff Stewart from New York. Claremont telephoned Romero and said no disrespect had been intended to him or his church, Stewart adds, and letters of apology were mailed to the other clergy. Meanwhile, the union is continuing its organizing campaign.

—John Seeley


The bride wore white, the groom a tuxedo, and both were a little nervous. But this was no typical American wedding: Tokyo banker Masaki Najima and piano teacher Mayumi Yamaguchi spoke hardly a word of English. And their luxury sedan dropped them off in the middle of the holiday shopping frenzy on Rodeo Drive.

The Beverly Hills wedding is the latest craze in Japan’s ongoing love affair with American pop culture. Each year, more than 100 Japanese couples descend on Rainbow Wedding, a glass-enclosed pagoda that functions as a wedding chapel inside the Rodeo Collection designer shopping mall.

Some of the newlyweds are tourists, hoping to duck Japan’s famously extortionary wedding prices; even with the added airfare, Rainbow Wedding’s $600-to-$3,000 fees are a bargain. Others come to enact a fantasy inspired by the Beverly Hills shopping scene in the Richard Gere–Julia Roberts film Pretty Woman, Rainbow manager Satoko Maruta explains.

“For Japanese people, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive are a big deal,” says Maruta. “After the movie Pretty Woman, it is a romantic dream for young women to get married in Beverly Hills.”

For Najima and Yamaguchi’s late-December nuptials, Maruta greeted them with a bow and a soft “Omedeto”(Japanese for congratulations). Shoppers stopped to stare as a Japanese photographer and a videographer, both hired for the event, coaxed the couple into posing for sidewalk photos.

Najima had opted for the $2,000 wedding package, which included a limousine, rental wedding gown and tux, photos, video, cake, and nonalcoholic champagne. Yamaguchi smiled nervously as Reiko Saito, the wedding coordinator, went over the English vows, ring-exchange etiquette and the proper way for Najima to lift his bride’s veil. Maruta hovered behind the bride, fixing her train.

“It is a beautiful day for a wedding,” said the minister, Pastor David Shook, as the Wedding March Processional sounded and the couple began their walk down the red carpet to the flower-adorned stage. The ceremony lasted only 10 minutes; the couple uttered their “I do’s” on cue.

The cake cutting that followed did not go as smoothly. Najima and Yamaguchi tried mightily to follow Maruta’s directions on feeding each other by hand, but succeeded only in smearing each other’s faces with pastry. (OffBeat has seen many American couples do worse.) Entwining arms for the traditional champagne toast appeared to perplex the Japanese, but it went off without a hitch. The afternoon ended with a “Kampai!” (traditional Japanese cheer).

“Any plans for the evening?” OffBeat asked. Not really, Yamaguchi replied. The happy couple returned to their hotel to relax before the long flight back to Tokyo the next day.

—Christine Pelisek


Activists fighting the proposed Playa Vista project at the Ballona Wetlands are ecstatic over state Controller Kathleen Connell’s New Year’s holiday decision cutting off the developers’ option to buy 73 acres of the environmentally sensitive land from the state.

“This is the closest the public has ever gotten to owning land at Ballona,” says Marcia Hanscom of Citizens United To Save All of Ballona, a coalition of more than 100 environmental groups.

The battle isn’t over, however. The Sierra Club and other groups are looking for a local legislator to carry a bill making the 73 acres a state park. But Playa Vista executives could introduce legislation of their own “swapping” the land, which is known as Area C, for land west of Lincoln Boulevard that cannot be developed, or try again to buy the land from the state.

“Playa Vista still expects to make Area C part of its overall development,” says spokesperson Coby King.

Connell, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, has called Ballona the “last piece of major land intact in the city of Los Angeles” and a potential park site, but she also has expressed concern for the city’s low-cost-housing crunch, which Playa Vista developers claim to address. The controller says she wants to hear from the public at a meeting on Wednesday, January 17, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at Loyola University’s St. Roberts Hall Auditorium.

—Bill Gibson

Wedding photo by Christine Pelisek; Playa Vista photo by Debra DiPaolo

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