Photo by Debra DiPaolo

Important admissions are best tendered with discretion. Cardinal Roger Mahony took the trouble recently to sit down for a low-key discussion that recognized many serious past divisions with the local Jewish community. The Germans have quietly acknowledged that they are finally looking back, even before both World Wars, to assess the immense damage their colonial army did in Africa.

But sometimes such an acknowledgment can be too subtle. You saw this locally last week, when, on a TV news show, anti– Playa Vista leader Marcia Hanscom remarked that she didn’t really “care about the little entertainment complex on the 59 paved acres” of Playa Vista. What she really objected to, she said, were the project’s thousands of proposed new residences and the tons of pollutants that thousands of car trips per day, into and out of the area, would create.

In other words, she still didn’t like the 2-square-mile mega-development, but she no longer cares about its notorious DreamWorks segment. Say what?

The subject being discussed on KCET’s Tuesday Life and Times show was, in fact, the long-delayed contractual consummation of the Katzenberg-Spielberg-Geffen entertainment-media complex. The show’s three guests (Hanscom, Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo and myself) had about a minute or two apiece, and discussion was via the moderator. So no one asked Hanscom: “Wait a minute, for four years, you’ve been telling us that Playa Vista is California’s major environmental atrocity and movie mogul Steven Spielberg is our prime-time, frog-murdering villain; now you’re saying that his DreamWorks project isn’t important and isn’t even being built on wetlands anymore?”

As often noted here, the fictitious assertion of DreamWorks-on-the-Wetlands has been Hanscom’s rallying cry for nearly four years. On it she’s built her own dreamworks — the entire rationale of the opposition coalition now calling itself the Ballona Action Network, with its anti-DreamWorks demonstrations, elementary school skits, general vituperation, and litigation. Of course, as anyone who’s ever been to Playa Vista or even glanced at the Thomas Guide could tell you, DreamWorks is actually being built on a site on the area’s eastern side that was occupied for around 60 years by a major factory complex and an airport big enough to serve a middling city. Before that, it was a pasture. This land is wet only when it rains.

But sometimes the world wants to be deceived. Hanscom’s linkage of one of the world’s most famous entertainment figures to a nonexistent wetlands rape gave her a sharp publicity hook she might never have otherwise obtained. As she donned the armor of righteousness, Hanscom further demonized Spielberg by wafting the DreamWorks project on the winds of propaganda over to the Ballona Wetlands on the proj-ect’s western rim, thus styling the hapless Spielberg as the prime devastator of the entire 1,087-acre Playa Vista proj ect.

Hanscom’s tale initially sucked up tankcarsful of sympathetic ink in the lazy local and alternative press. The high-water mark of her geographic sleight of hand came two years ago when a magazine called Vanity Fair proclaimed that Spielberg’s purported environmental viciousness had put him in bad odor in the film community.

While never true, the charge was superficially plausible. Someone like Spielberg is almost too easy to demonize; he is a rich, powerful, public man, a category from which we’ve come to expect all possible evil, a category which almost anyone can now defame with impunity. We progressive types tend to trust the little guy marching around with the placard over the big guy with the full-time PR department. Thus, if you disagreed with the Hanscom version, you were defending riches, fame and sprawling development.

But now that TV footage of the actual DreamWorks site is being shown on the evening news, the DreamWorks/wetlands myth is getting tough to sustain. So Hanscom has declared, with Nixonesque niceness, that her trademark falsehood is inoperative. This may be a ploy to get herself a place at the table where the future stages of Playa Vista policy will soon be negotiated. Or perhaps — all things are possible — Hanscom’s even had a trace of genuine conscience.

But it’s one thing to unlink yourself discreetly from your own dishonesty. It’s another to admit that you’ve advantaged yourself by untruthfully damaging someone’s reputation. And so far, Hanscom hasn’t found it in herself to admit that she’s even been, let alone done, wrong.

I’d never actually met Hanscom before I was on that KCET panel. She comes on as a gentle soul, and I wanted to believe that she’d sustained the Spielberg/DreamWorks/ Wetlands fable because it was so useful that she just couldn’t bring herself to admit it wasn’t true.

But now, assuming that she wants a continuing role in the Ballona debate (or further, apropos of J. William Gibson’s piece last week, a more prominent role in the local Sierra Club), she also badly needs fresh credibility. And in order to secure this elusive commodity, she should now admit that she’s falsely charged Spielberg with raping the environment, and then apologize.

Otherwise, she should be permanently shunned by everyone who still considers public honesty a personal virtue.

A Charter Thought

for This Week


“At bottom, the appointed commission’s [charter] proposal is a politically driven rather than policy-inspired document designed to maximize success at the polls by offering a little something to everyone.”

Thus wrote Steven P. Erie, of UC San Diego, and Kevin F. McCarthy, of Santa Monica’s RAND Corp., in their Sunday op-ed piece in the L.A. Times on the Appointed Charter Commission’s 5-inch-thick November 16 charter proposal. In which draft, by the way, I found quite a lot to like, from its Department of Neighborhoods to its additional six council members to its 50 percent charter-paperwork reduction to its integrated Finance Department.

The op-ed statement at first seemed awfully critical. Then I thought about it for a bit. Erie, who’s made many appearances before both charter panels, is a major policy wonk. McCarthy works for the West Coast’s single major policy-sausage factory. They don’t seem to think the commission heeded enough of their suggestions; so it’s not surprising to see them berate the consequent charter proposal for being light on their own hallmark policy stuff.

But stand a bit further away from that paragraph, and it looks inadvertently optimistic. What Erie and McCarthy are actually saying is that the appointed commission’s new charter proposal actually has enough political curb appeal to gain the voters’ approval.

This is exactly what the appointed and elected commissions were charged with doing by the Los Angeles City Council and the voters over two years ago. In that context, Erie and McCarthy are — however unintentionally — really congratulating the appointed commission for a job well done.

Gardena Conguero


I’d seen plenty of air guitar but never before saw any air conga drumming — which basically means slapping your seated knees in time. Yet that’s just what I saw a roomful of Amestoy Elementary School kids doing in Gardena the other week. As a former teacher, I know that getting 70 percent awareness from a roomful of 300 preteeners is pretty tough. At this assembly, there was solid 100 percent attention. It was all the doing of Tex-Mex conguero Poncho Sanchez and his seven-man band, who were showing the kids how to play the timbales, bongos, horns and congas that make salsa.

The show was a promotion, of course — brought to us by the audio firm of Harman International, whose founder Sid Harman’s largess also helped bring us the brief political career of his wife, Jane. But this little event had happier results: The school got a new, $2,000-plus Harman sound system, Harman got a bit of publicity. While 300 kids and teachers got to slap their knees in time to some incredible music they might otherwise never have heard.

And I got to give thanks for being able to live in a city where, on a dull Thursday morning, something as wonderful as this could happen to a big roomful of inner-city schoolchildren.

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