Hooray for Hollywood

Even with a housing bust and bad court verdicts, the show goes on.

Brown and Jackson appeared stunned. They refused to call a vote. "Half the association left!" Brown said.

When all else fails, mastery of the rules comes into play.

The two sides shouted at each other, each hurling accusations that the other was corrupt. Over the din, Commissioner Furr challenged Brown: "You have to vote. There's a motion on the floor. Are you all afraid to take a vote?"

Cynthia Berman-Miller
C. Katz
Cynthia Berman-Miller
South-side activist Maria Jackson suspects foul play.
South-side activist Maria Jackson suspects foul play.

Association member Helen Chervin muttered bitterly, "Backdoor Beam. He's at it again."

Berman-Miller was the only one in the room smiling.

After checking the association's bylaws, Brown allowed the vote. The nine who voted in favor of the project were not enough, Brown said, to constitute an association majority, and the motion failed. The association's official stance against the project remains.

Berman-Miller refused to speak with New Times, but Gottlieb, in an arrangement brokered by a public relations firm, agreed to a highly structured interview — composing answers to questions relayed through his media representative.

The opposition to Metro Hollywood is being blown out of proportion by "one very small but vocal group of individuals from the United Neighbors of South Hollywood that have been making character assassinations and throwing stones at our partners and our project" is the way Gottlieb summed up the situation.

The October 18 meeting of the Hollywood City Commission had all the makings of a showdown. This was the first since the arrest of Commissioner Wasserstrom for his role in a wastewater treatment contract, a deal that to the regular cast of critics looked fishy from the get-go.

Mara Giulianti has mastered the art of diverting the opposition. The commission's critics turn out in force to pour out their venom during the "public comment" portion of the meeting. By the time public comment rolls around, though, many critics have left in frustration.

The meeting's first two hours are a barrage of awards. City Manager Cameron Benson unveils the Hollywood Strategic Plan video — an homage to the city employees and to the mayor's vision that Giulianti calls "uplifting." The Firefighter of the Quarter Award winner is praised for his "wonderful attitude," and a few others are simply "terrific."

Toward the end of the awards procession, Giulianti quips, "There are some folks here who believe the hype about how the City of Hollywood never does anything right, and so it's a pleasure to see you hand out these awards."

When finally the time for citizens to stand up and speak arrives, the meeting is three hours behind schedule. "I can't remember when we've been this far behind," Giulianti marvels.

Only the most devoted commission critics remain: grim, unyielding folks waving signs that "Say No to CBM" — referring, of course, to Berman-Miller.

The feisty Howard Sher has spent most of the meeting pacing the room's back aisle, like a restless matador. Dressed in his trademark ensemble of golf shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals, Sher chastises Giulianti for losing track of the e-mails she sent from her personal account relating to the Schwing Bioset contract. Sher — whose commission meeting harangues deserve a YouTube medley — somehow ends by saying, "No, Mayor, I didn't start the war in Iraq!"

"Howard, the problem is that you think you did," Giulianti cracks.

The mayor makes little effort to mask her contempt for her critics. She looks at them stone-faced, though she betrays a twitch on the right side of her face when a comment apparently upsets her. She can't entirely resist taking not-so-subtle swipes at her opponents.

When a friendly face, that of Audrey Joynt, moves toward the lectern rather than the expected Mara-despiser Pete Brewer, "You don't look at all like [Brewer]," Giulianti quips. "And thank goodness!"

The evening's most poignant moment is provided by an elderly woman, Pat Smith, who came to the meeting to bid her city farewell. She is moving to Tennessee. "I thought that I would be sad to leave Hollywood," Smith says. "I've lived here all my life."

The Radius condo tower project in Young Circle and the planned development along Dixie Highway, Smith says, are "monstrous, out of scale with the existing neighborhood."

She closes with a warning: "Be careful what you do in the future, because if Hollywood is being destroyed for me, it will be destroyed for other people."

Giulianti strikes a completely different tone two weeks later, at a meeting of the Hollywood Beach Business Association, whose members include hotel operators and restaurateurs. The tough dame who presides over commission meetings becomes deferential — almost apologetic. These are wealthier constituents than at the commission meeting.

Beach commerce has suffered from heavy construction — it's currently impossible to get to the beach from Hollywood Boulevard — and yet the costs of property taxes and insurance have forced business owners to raise their prices past the point their customer base can afford.

Giulianti's speech is full of caveats that act as winks to her audience: "What you have read in our not-so-accurate newspapers...," for example. But the reality is that she can't offer the tax breaks this audience desperately wants.

"My taxes were $8,000 in 2000," says another woman who owns a business on the beach. "Now they're $23,000. You can bet my revenue didn't go up that much."

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