June 30, 1992 - From the June, 1992 issue

Rebuilding L.A. After the Riots: What’s Been Done So Far?

This special issue of The Planning Report focuses on what should be done to “rebuild” Los Angeles. But what have government agencies, community groups, and the Rebuild L.A. committee done so far? The first month of the healing process has brought a flurry of local proposals and programs, described below.

Yet despite the activity, the first month of recovery has only underscored that Los Angeles has not resolved its longer-term structural problems, such as inter-agency coordination and inter-ethnic squabbling, which threaten to swamp the programs’ good intentions.

The Response of Government Agencies

The Los Angeles City Council has placed all of the City’s efforts under the direction of the Ad Hoc Committee on Recovery and Revitalization, chaired by Mark Ridley-Thomas. The Committee’s other members are Zev Yaroslavsky, Richard Alatorre, Rita Walters, and Hal Bernson — each of whom chairs another Council committee that is critical to the rebuilding process. The committee is now meeting each Thursday afternoon at 2:00 and plans public hearings around the city beginning in June.

The Planning Department, usually noted for its slow response times, reacted quickly in the aftermath of the riots by steering to Council passage an ordinance expediting the reconstruction of damaged properties. The ordinance defers fees, creates a simplified hearing procedure for temporary uses, and simplifies reconstruction of destroyed structures. Heeding the objections of community groups to the quick reconstruction of liquor stores, city agencies are now examining incentives for liquor stores to change uses.

With the focus still on “recovery” rather than revitalization, the Planning Department’s longer-term role remains unclear. The department’s leadership has sought input from the Southeast/South Central Task Force, a group of about 20 planners (many of whom grew up in the community) who were already authorized to spend 10% of their time on a special work program for that area.

Building and Safety is coordinating the damage assessment and the cleanup of hazards. The City Administrative Officer (CAO) is the lead agency in developing the financial resources for the revitalization.

A Public Works Emphasis

Other agencies are looking to good old fashioned public works projects to spur employment. Although little housing was lost to the fires, the City’s Housing Preservation and Production Department (HPPD) has developed a recovery program, aimed at tapping the potential for housing construction to create jobs. HPPD is redirecting over $20 million of its resources to generate 1,000 inner-city construction jobs this summer.

Like the Housing Department, the L.A. County Transportation Commission (LACTC) is focusing on job creation. The Commission’s Planning and Mobility Improvement Committee has recommended that the LACTC accelerate Metro Orange and Red Line construction by postponing the “local match” requirement of the federal funding. LACTC also hopes to accelerate other transit projects and look for joint development opportunities around transit stations in the affected areas.

Redevelopment and Recovery

The Community Redevelopment Agency originally approved $20 million for relief on May 1st, as part of its budgetary gambit to stave off a City Council’s raid of its coffers. The City Council later scaled back that program to $9.5 million in emergency grants to rebuild small businesses. The CRA has galvanized to position itself as the agency best poised to spearhead the revitalization process.

Korean-American business leaders, confronting the heavy damage to Koreatown, are lobbying for the creation of a new redevelopment area for Koreatown. Stuart Ahn of Ko-Am Construction has been elected as Chairman of a “Korea-American Emergency Task Force,” an umbrella organization composed of about 40 different Korean-American organizations. The Task Force was formed to support the CRA’s Disaster Recovery Redevelopment Plan.

Community Responses

PLAN/LA, the umbrella coalition for homeowner/neighborhood groups around the city, is emphasizing that rebuilding must focus on the elements of community, such as dry cleaners, bakeries, and public facilities. PLAN/LA is also using the opportunity posed by recent events to transcend the insular, parochial image of homeowner groups. Bill Christopher, organizer of PLAN/LA, says that the group intends to create bridges between Los Angeles communities by starting a “sister association” program.

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The Los Angeles Community Reinvestment Committee (LACRC), which includes representatives of banks, S&L’s, community groups, and City departments, is accelerating work on its South Central Pilot Project. The Project, consisting of 12 programs for addressing credit and financial service needs, is designed to go beyond emergency relief to strengthen the economic foundation of the community. At least 30 financial institutions are being asked for contributions totalling $1 million for this program. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas is urging that additional financial resources be made available through a well-capitalized Multi-Bank Community Development Corporation, as described in the April issue of The Planning Report. 

The Los Angeles chapter of the American Planning Association has received a $10,000 grant from the national APA to infuse ideas into the local rebuilding efforts. The Los Angeles riots have also led to the creation of a national APA working group to craft a national urban agenda.

Meanwhile, a grass-roots planning initiative is bubbling up from the local community. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), along with groups of minority architects and planners and community groups such as Concerned Citizens of South Central, have been developing a comprehensive neighborhood planning process. These groups are organizing a 60- to 90-day intensive planning/charrette process in nine communities, stretching from South Central to Pico Union. The idea is to generate planning visions and “neighborhood plans” that the Planning Department can quickly incorporate into the community plan revision process.

Rebuild L.A.

While some local leaders are hopeful about Rebuild L.A.’s potential to attract investment, the organization has been slow to coalesce and difficult to find despite Peter Uebberoth’s personal visibility. “We came in having to respond to a huge outpouring from the public,” said Jackie Dupont-Walker, who is on loan to Rebuild L.A. from the Ward Economic Development Corporation. “We’ve been spending most of our time responding to that backlog so that people don’t feel ignored.”

Dupont-Walker said that Rebuild L.A. will have a land-use task force made up of a cross-section of community members. Uebberoth has already called on some planning professionals, academics, and community leaders for meetings and tours of affected areas, though their ultimate work product remains unclear.

An Assessment

Despite the creation of a Council Ad Hoc Committee and a strong authoritarian leader in Ueberroth, many are wondering who is in charge of the rebuilding effort. Said one city official, “the response of city agencies thus far has been confused at best.” A community leader added, “I’ve had lots of discussions about who’s running the show and no one’s figured it out yet.” “Whether LA’s rebuilding process is manageable by a hierarchical business elite is an open question as well,” said another civic leader.

City officials are saying privately that well-intentioned recovery programs are increasingly becoming political pawns in larger struggles over resources between L.A.’s ethnic communities. These fights have been exacerbated by other inter-community power struggles being played out simultaneously — first over the City's budget and later over City Council redistricting.

The ultimate success of “rebuilding,” then, may hinge not on Peter Uebberoth or on any set of local programs, but on the City’s ability to address its structural illnesses.

By Ken Bernstein, Editor.

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