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Rocking Rhythms Remind Los Angeles That California Living Isn't Half Bad

IT was not unexpected, this aerial shot of downtown Los Angeles that flashed across the TV screen as regulars at the Third Street Promenade polished off their hash browns. This is, after all, the land of O.J. freeway chases and "skycam" coverage of a seemingly never-ending procession of riots, fires, floods, and earthquakes.

But instead of panicked reporters advising residents on what emergency numbers to call, a hard-driving rock rhythm was accompanied by upbeat lyrics:

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"Together we are shining, together we're the best; Our future's so much brighter, Los Angeles...."

An authoritative voice intoned: "We've got the busiest ports in America ... the entertainment capital of the world, the 15th largest economy on earth...."

"At first I thought it was silly," says coffee-shop patron Jennifer K. of the ads airing regularly on all major TV and radio stations since June 7. "Then I thought, maybe this is just what we need."

A broad coalition of public and private enterprises has declared war on Southern California-bashing by arming its residents with, well ... facts.

Buffeted since 1990 by every calamity but a plague of locusts, the thinking goes, residents here have forgotten the good stuff - and that's been bad for both morale and business.

"All our surveys showed that people had gotten so far down in recent years that they no longer remembered the assets," says Jack Kyser, director of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, one of seven original partners that sparked the idea eight months ago.

"When your own citizens are running the area down, it doesn't project a good image," Mr. Kyser says.

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Enter the New Los Angeles Marketing Partnership (NLAMP), an umbrella of private industry, government, community, and labor leaders who launched the five-year community-outreach program, titled, "Together We're the Best Los Angeles." Now blanketing the Los Angeles region, the effort is meant to unify the county's 88 cities as never before and then reach national and international audiences.

Ten-, 30-, and 60-second video ads show Asians getting married, blacks on a yachting pier, workers in the garment district, and crowds at Dodger Stadium. But organizers want more than the feel-good images they associate with other city campaigns.

"Once we arm Angelenos with the facts, we'll have millions of informed local spokespeople to spread the word about Los Angeles to family, friends, and co-workers," says Mary Chambers, NLAMP's executive director.

By tuning into the commercials or phoning an 800 hot line, residents will be armed with such factoids as:

* Los Angeles has the largest concentration of college graduates anywhere in the country.

* Los Angeles is the nation's largest trade center, home to the US's largest port.

* Southern California has more computer and software jobs than Silicon Valley, less crime than Seattle or San Francisco, and the richest diversity of food, clothing, architecture, entertainment, languages, religions, and world views than anywhere in the world.

According to Ms. Chambers, the 800 number drew 2,000 calls in the campaign's first week, 90 percent of which were "overwhelmingly positive."

MANY feel the money might be better spent on more substantive campaigns, aimed at retaining the city's two football teams: the Rams, which recently left for St. Louis, and the Raiders, which announced this week they are moving back to Oakland, Calif. Others say the campaign is ill-timed with the Long Beach Naval Yard targeted for closing and Los Angeles County threatening more layoffs than at any time since World War II.

But Joel Kotkin, senior fellow for the Denver-based Center for the New West, says the idea is better late than never.

"By not doing this before, Los Angeles has allowed others to control the debate, because the Eastern-dominated media has most of the weapons," he says. "Right or wrong, a pervasive negative image can be ruinous to business."

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