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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Valley Business World Reacts Slowly, Firmly to Attack

These days word spreads fast. Emotions lag a little behind. Those of us already awake and tuned into the news at about a quarter until 6 last Tuesday morning were among the first to hear about the World Trade Center disaster. Less than three hours later, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley convened a long-planned, much anticipated “Vision 2020” event at the Airtel Plaza Hotel. Somewhere around 170 of the 200 people who had RSVPed showed up. Of the 25 to 30 who were scheduled to speak or appear on one panel or the other, only two canceled at the last minute and they were city officials whose work called for them to change plans. None of which means anybody’s heart was in or mind was on what they had come there that morning planning to do. Later on, Economic Alliance President Bruce Ackerman told me that when he learned of the disaster from one of the main forces behind the visioning process, Bob Scott of the Civic Center Group, he said, “I thought Bob was trying to get my attention.” I have a feeling he really meant he thought his friend was trying to pull a joke on him, but he didn’t want to see that kind of sentiment attached to his name in a newspaper column (which is fair enough). Nevertheless, Ackerman went on to tell me he hardly hesitated before deciding to go on with the event. “If we’d cancelled, 10 minutes later everyone would have been in front of a TV,” he said. “That would have been informative, but it’s not the best use of time.” Which is not to say there was a lot of whole-hearted planning for the future of the San Fernando Valley going on that morning either but everybody has to be somewhere. I think most people at the Airtel Plaza that morning were like me: They knew what had happened in New York but they couldn’t believe it and didn’t know how to act even if they were starting to see it was true. Minutes before I got into the car to head to the hotel last Tuesday morning I watched a live picture of the second 110-story tower of the Wall Trade Center fall down. But my mind played the same trick on me as others: Business as usual. Once at “Vision 2020,” we listened to the speakers with half a mind at best, slipping out one by one as it dawned slowly on people that there were probably other places to be, other people to be with. The rest of the day, in offices and stores and plants all over the Valley, only the steeliest among us proceeded with much enthusiasm for their jobs. Most had something close to the wide open stare that typically follows an earthquakes. By Wednesday, the next day, our emotions began to take over. Human faces attached themselves to the emotions provoked by events of the preceding day. While the identities of those killed in the buildings were still mostly unknown, those on planes headed to Los Angeles and, in some cases home to the Valley, were known. By then we knew that among them were a man whose family in Chatsworth was waiting for him, a well-known CFO of one of the Valley’s biggest companies, the producer of “Frasier.” We learned that, as most suspected, radical Islamic terrorists were likely responsible. That provoked another kind of emotion, one less appropriate in a community as culturally diverse as the Valley is. That morning I witnessed an unpleasant confrontation between an overwrought customer and a clerk at a convenience store near my home in Encino. A number of businesses along that stretch of Ventura Boulevard are owned or staffed by people who live nearby. The fact they are often Iranian Jews or Pakistanis, not Islamic terrorists, is meaningless to some: The resemblance is close enough. Late on Tuesday evening, most of us watching television saw City Council President Alex Padilla’s appearance at a press conference. Because Mayor James Hahn was trapped in Washington D.C. by the shutdown of the country’s airline industry, the 28-year-old from Pacoima whose youth captured our imagination two years ago when he was first elected to office was the acting mayor of the second largest city in the United States. He spoke with confidence to the city about the precautions taken to make sure New York’s fate would not fall upon Los Angeles. And when he had spoken his peace in English, he said it all over again in Spanish. He spoke in two languages to a city that tries to accept its reality, sometimes relishes it and attempts to move on. This is a city where many languages are spoken, where there are many ways of understanding the same message and where the need and desire to move forward supercedes antiquated ideas of who is an American. America, and indeed American business, dwells on the past just long enough to learn which parts of it needs to change, and then moves on past disaster, tragedy and bigotry. Michael Hart is editor of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal He can be reached at mhart@sfvbj.com.

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