September 30, 1993 - From the September, 1993 issue

Cities Reinvent Community Development Departments

by Elizabeth Bar-El

As another year of recession and declining city budgets continues redefine the agenda for most cities in the Los Angeles area, Community Development Departments are being forced to consolidate their staffs, re-examine their priorities, and look ahead to a whole new way of doing business. Focusing on three diverse cities - Santa Clarita, Inglewood, and Culver City - a picture emerges of the situation today confronting the smaller cities in Los Angeles County, and the strategies that they are developing to place themselves in position to attract the new leaders of the California economy who will emerge by the end of this century. 

Adapting to Falling Revenues 

Falling revenues have meant budget cuts in all three cities' CDD's, impacting both staff levels and activities. Santa Clarita's drop was sharpest - down about $1.4 million this year to $4.432 million as development that until recently progressed at a frenzied pace has greatly slowed down. 

"Department-wide we have frozen and not funded 14 full-time professional positions, which we will not get permission to fill this fiscal year,” said Lynn Harris, Santa Clarita's Deputy City Manager/Community Development. "In addition to eliminating consultant services, which we are doing in-home now, 5 p1anning positions have been frozen." 

Despite this, Harris was pleased that the department managers were able to avoid layoffs by doing “a juggling of resources.” “We have been able to move people around the organization and have not had to layoff anyone, and that was the goal. And we have also been able to make a match between people's interests and what we had available. It worked out real well.” 

Budget-balancing did not work out so well for Inglewood, where the General Fund component of this year's CDD budget is $l,320,204, down nearly $800,000 from last year. "The Planning Division has lost 2 full-time positions as well as suffering one demotion. Building Division has lost 6 people. Also we have no money in our budget for any consulting services in planning," said Inglewood Planning Manager Lori Parcells, adding that, ''From a personal perspective, the hardest part of this is affecting human lives by taking their livelihoods away by laying them off." 

Culver City, whose CDD budget is down $314,000 to $4,041,000, escaped layoffs this year after eliminating some positions last year. In addition, according to Marie Winogrood, Culver City's Director of Community Development for the last year and a half, positions are being left unfilled, and the CEQA position is now on a part-time contract basis. Yet, Winogrood stressed that they still have an avenue that has made public development projects possible: redevelopment. "Because we have a very successful Redevelopment Agency, we are able to underwrite (many of our activities) through this channel. The RA has been able to increase its assistance to the city by focusing more time and people on redevelopment activities during this tough period. We have spent a good deal of time in the last 18 months helping other divisions and departments understand where they are eligible for reimbursement so that the agency can legitimately help to underwrite their costs." 

The Redevelopment Agency is a tool that has softened the blow somewhat in Inglewood as well, since its budget is unaffected by local factors. Under Director Jesse Lewis, the Inglewood RA is working on comprehensive strategy for revitalizing downtown. "We are interested in determining what is economically feasible, particularly on the retail side," said Lewis. "We are at the final stage of the study which is being done by a consultant. The final product should identify preferred options and the economics of each option.” 

Inglewood's RA also receives funds for a noise abatement program from the Department of Airports and the Federal Aviation Administration to clear sites under LAX flight paths and recycle them to compatible industrial or commercial uses. “As we go through this process, resulting developments can create employment opportunities within the Inglewood community," Lew added. “Jobs creation is very important to us, so we are looking for development that will be as labor-intensive as possible." One example is the Vons superstore, a city initialed deal that has recently been consummated and is now under construction. 

An additional tool available to Inglewood is its designation as a "Los Angeles Revitalization Zone" as a result of the disturbance a year ago. The designation provides stare incentives for businesses that meet certain criteria and are located within its boundaries. The zone strengthens the RA's ability to provide business management and technical assistance to businesses to help them improve existing operations or to expand their businesses. 

Santa Clarita, incorporated just five years ago, does not have a Redevelopment Agency, but has been able to implement an aggressive economic development program, aided by its positive image as a growth center. Recent reimbursement agreements with Price Club and Home Depot have brought those superstores to the city, and a 986,000 square foot industrial park specific plan on the east side of town has just been approved. "The work is in the commercial, the retail and a little in the industrial. We're into jobs creation now. We're trying to round out our base here, now that we have the residents," Harris said, adding that "one of the things that we're seeing is that some of the largest developers in L.A. County own land here and are aggressive about this area. They believe in it." So in this slow period in which small developers have all but disappeared, a corporate headquarters and the first six-floor towers to be allowed in Santa Clarita have been approved. Large-scale developers are going through the permit approval process and the city is even looking to establish a tourism base for itself. 

A New Emphasis on a Proactive Role 

While their characteristics vary both geographically and socio-economically, one challenge facing all three cities is their ability to take on a proactive planning role that will facilitate economic development. Streamlining the permit process and interdepartmental cooperation are viewed as critical needs. All three cities have forums for evaluating major development proposals before they have been formally submitted to discuss potential problems in order for the developer to amend them before application. And the "one-stop shop" is in great demand. “I believe that in order for a city to be successful competitively in the next 5-10 years, it has to get out of the regulatory mode," Santi Clarita's Harris emphasized. "We're not here only to regulate development for health and safety reasons the community desires. We're also here to facilitate development when it's development that our General Plan wants, that the community has identified as a priority. So facilitative development as opposed to regulatory development is the focus for planners."


One way Culver City has sought to ease development restriction is through eliminating parking requirements in older buildings in the Downtown planning area by building a public parking facility. Planners have also looked at parking demands along East Washington Boulevard and in the industrial Hayden Tract, and concluded that much revitalization and change-of-use could be allowed in those areas within the existing parking, providing a great incentive for developers. 

For Inglewood, part of the challenge involves forging a new image. "The impact of the disturbances that we have seen in Inglewood is in the perception of the desirability of this community as a place to do business,” said Lewis. "We have to overcome that somewhat less attractive perception in order to attract the types of developments which will enhance the city's economic condition." 

Changing Strategies: Looking to the Community 

The slowdown in building has resulted in a pause during which CDD's have had to review their priories and develop economic strategies. Believing that new strategies should involve the whole community, all three cities have sought ways to develop partnerships with the community and involve the public in the early stages of major development projects. 

“Our whole approach has been to view the economic crisis as an opportunity to broaden the community's perspective and understanding about economic issues," said Culver City's Winogrond. “It is very propitious that the general plan is being done simultaneously because people have a much greater willingness to have a much broader perspective on the separation between commercial and residential. While on the one hand they continue to work vigorously to protect the residential, they much more clearly understand the role of the commercial areas as the engine that creates the revenue that creates the services that protect the quality of residential neighborhoods." Winogrond noted that a cross-section of 145 community members joined in a four-day charette process to plan a strategy for downtown which is now being implemented. 

In Inglewood, Lori Parcells is encouraging community-based planning as the best way to bring together the community and creating a sense of positive growth following the destruction in last year's riots. Inspired by a Social Equity Forum held last year, which highlighted many cities' successful outreach programs, she said, “The department decided to embark on a program like that for Inglewood. The natural vehicle for providing a purpose for these meetings is that our land-use element needs to be updated. It was last done in 1980, and, of course, things have changed. So my feeling is that if we use this as our vehicle, we can go out to the community in workable neighborhood areas, rather than citywide, and show them what was planned in 1980 and where we’ll be if this plan is put into effect and show them some of the constraints and opportunities that exist today in terms of what they could ask for." 

The effort will vary between neighborhoods because “some are very organized and others are very fragmented. So we’ll be using the existing leadership in terms of block club captains, church leaders and people like that and try to organize neighborhoods that aren't." Parcells noted that, although this is a priority, the division has virtually no budget for it, particularly since its training budget has been slashed dramatically. But since her arrival in 1986, Parcells has seen “a shift in the focus in the community to become more involved in their government (which) has motivated our desire to reach out with community-based planning." 

Neighborhood groups organized for specific actions have also been able to address issues for which the city would not otherwise have had the staff. For instance, Culver City has been suffering from an onslaught of graffiti while the city has had to reduce the graffiti contractor budget by l0 percent for two years in a row. As a response, the city has instituted and expanded a volunteer program in which volunteer groups like the Rotary and two neighborhood groups help to remove graffiti. 

Santa Clarita has been aided by community volunteers in fighting the proposed Elsmere Canyon Landfill, a project on the east side of town that many believe is ecologically unsound and will ruin the access on I-14 to the Antelope Valley. While the city has provided the funding for activities, the project depends on volunteers in the community. “We could not do the effort that we do and get our word out as often and to as many people as we do without these volunteers," remarked Harris. 

Tight working relationships - community-wide as well as inter-departmentally - and more flexibility are advantages that the smaller cities have over the large bureaucracy of Los Angeles. They must try to use them to their advantage in the next few years in order to pursue an improved economy and a better quality of life for their communities.


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