March 30, 1993 - From the March, 1993 issue

Ridley-Thomas: An Economic Vision for a New L.A.:

L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas provides his economic vision for the City of Los Angeles that takes into account the new demographics of the city. 


"The City and State must retool their views of economic development to include social services, housing services, community redevelopment and access to capital."

On February 11th, the Community and Economic Development Committee of the Los Angeles City Council began a series of hearings entitled, “An Economic Vision for a New Los Angeles,” which will continue through April. 

I have great hope that these unprecedented hearings, along with the California Assembly’s “California Economic Summit,” will help us accomplish a goal which is long overdue — the drafting of a coordinated economic development plan for the City of Los Angeles and, in turn, the State of California. 

Upcoming Hearings 

“An Economic Vision for a New Los Angeles” consists of six hearings being held throughout the city which will receive broad public input from community activists and public experts. This testimony will be used to draft an economic development plan for the city which coordinates the resources of all city departments. Hearings have been scheduled for the San Fernando Valley, West L.A., the Harbor, South Central and East L.A. areas of the city. 

The economic development hearings follow six-months of fact finding by the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Recovery following the devastation of April’s upheaval in Los Angeles. The Recovery committee, which I also chair, cited the urgency of stepped-up city efforts to promote economic development and jobs to address some of the causes of the social unrest. 

At our first hearing on February 11th, Jack Kyser of the County Economic Development Corporation presented the startling fact that 55% of the job losses in California occurred in Los Angeles County. The City and County of Los Angeles desperately need a coordinated vision which will reverse those trends. 

A “New Los Angeles”

The City of Los Angeles is currently experiencing significant and chronic structural challenges to its long-term economic well-being and prosperity. The effects of a national recession, defense industry cutbacks, the cyclical nature of the construction industry and an unfriendly business environment have contributed to the downturn in our local economy. 

Through shifts in wealth and population, what has emerged from this bleak economic picture is “New Los Angeles.” The citizens of the “New Los Angeles” have needs far greater than merely employment — they have inadequate education, inadequate transportation, and inadequate access to those things which provide a decent quality of life. This alienation from the rest of Los Angeles’ economy is, I believe, one of the primary causes of the dissatisfaction and anger that sparked the April civil disturbance. 

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The foundation of our vision should be to generate an economic strategy which will enhance all communities in this City. The only economic vision that will create permanent solutions is the one that can constructively address the deep-rooted social problems which affects the quality of life for all of our citizens. 

Our New Demographics 

Let me describe some of the chal­lenges presented through the compel­ling demographics of "the New Los Angeles" (from 1990 census data):

  • 94,000 families with children are below the poverty level
  • 8% of the City’s Census tracts have poverty rates over twice the City average
  • Per capita income for the City was $16,188
    • White: $22,191
    • Asian: $13,875
    • African-American: $11,257
    • Latino: $7,111
  • Of the 2.1 million persons over the age of 25, 33$% had neither a ninth-grade education nor a high school diploma
  • 44% of all households spend more than 30% of their income on housing
  • 15.6% of all dwelling units constitute severely overcrowded households — more than 1.5 persons per room.
  • 22% of all families are single parent households
  • 76% of these households are headed by a female
  • 16% of all residents speak English not well or not at all
  • 26% of the City is 18 years or younger
  • 50% of the City’s youth population are living in 31% of the census tracts

These data reveal the need for economic development strategies which begin al the social and housing service level and expand toward job training and business incubation. But in order to address these multi-level structural needs, the City and State must retool their views of economic development to include social services, housing services, community redevelopment and access to capital.

The City of Los Angeles has begun this task by dedicating itself to revitalizing Los Angeles through a combined effort of the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Planning Department, the Community Development Department, and the Housing Preservation and Production Departments. But they have not been able to provide the economic vision that isneeded to coalesce their separate talents into an effective whole. 

I believe that the financial incentives for economic growth provided by the state and federal government are the key to this coordinated economic vision. 

The City of Los Angeles is a vibrant city of diversity which can and must meet the challenges of the New Los Angeles head-on to ensure our future collective well-being. The leadership and citizens of Los Angeles share the spirit and intelligence to find a common vision for a New Los Angeles which will help focus our resources for the betterment of all. I am urging our best citizens to come forward and provide their valuable input. 

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