October 30, 1993 - From the October, 1993 issue

Deputy Mayor Rae James Assesses Community Development Strategies

Michael Keeley, Deputy Mayor for the City of Los Angeles, responded in last month's Reader Responses to a question posed to the new Riordan administration with, "The Mayor has said that we need to get more 'bang for the buck' in housing. He is concerned about unit cost, about per unit subsidies, and I think he has instructed Rae James, deputy mayor for housing and transportation, to really assess how we are spending our housing dollars very carefully to make sure we are getting as much as we can."

TPR interviewed Deputy Mayor Rae James on how the Riordan adminsitration will pursue affordable housing, new transportation policy, and more. 

As one of Mayor Riordan's five deputy mayors, could you share with our readers the breadth of your oversight responsibilities? 

My responsibilities include the Housing Department, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the human services side of the Community Development Department, Planning Department, Department of Transportation, liaison to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Building & Safety, the Board of Zoning Appeals and Environmental Affairs. Fortunately, coming from the Chief Legislative Office, I have the benefit of knowing all of these departments from a legislative side and knowing all the general managers. It's not really a difficult transition at all. The general managers are willing and eager to work with the Mayor. 

Given the new arrangement with the increased number of deputy mayors and the relationship between the deputy mayors and the general managers, what ideal are you working towards in those relationships?

We’re more or less using this time as an assessment period before picking up on any of the past administration's activities. 

Concerning affordable housing, what policies will the new administration pursue, and could you comment on the priority affordable housing will have for the Mayor?

Let me give you my personal perspective. I think affordable housing is a cornerstone in this administration's agenda. My charge is to very quickly assess what the barriers are to getting affordable housing built. There have been many, many studies, concept papers and suggestions, so we don't want to do that anymore. What we are trying to do now is to make affordable housing actually happen through a series of demonstrations and models. We are going to start implementing things. But we must keep in mind that different models work for different communities. There is no simple model for affordable housing. Affordable housing is one on my highest priorities, as well as one of the mayor's highest priorities. It's what makes this city friendly as far as he is concerned. The safe and friendly city extends to providing affordable housing.

But, this also means that one has to look at where the costs are coming from. If it comes from delays in a bureaucratic malaise that the developer has to go through to get housing, that's very costly and we are looking at reducing those costs. If it comes from the public subsidy that is perhaps inefficient because of an over zealousness to reach a goal and units that can be as much as $220,000 - which is absolutely insane – we will be looking at that. The mayor's office is interested in how the public dollars can best be leveraged, and also in backing off the public dollars to allow the existing market to develop where you get to the point that "but for the public sector financing," the housing won't be there. And that's where we want to put the public local dollars. We also want to make sure that the for-profit developers as well as the non-profit developers joint venture where possible. I just don't think everything is going to work everywhere, you just can't apply the same strategies across the board. 

At a time of scarce public resources in the city, there is much discussion about transferring funds from the CRA to the General Fund. ls that going to affect the viability of new CRA initiatives in underserved Council Districts? 

First of all, one of the first demonstration projects I'd like to work on is in Pacoima doing some housing projects with Councilman Richard Alarcon who is very ready and willing, if fact screaming "help." The Valley in some cases needs radical attention. It's not the same attention that South Central Los Angeles needs, it's not the same attention the Eastside needs, but again we customize implementation to meet the needs of a community. I think the city and the people have already spoken saying we want change now, so I don't think we are going to find a lot of resistance. 

In the spirit of reinventing government, is the mayor's office looking into any substantive reorganization of the city government? 

That's one of the things that we are not sure is broken, so does it really need fixing? We are looking at everything. We want to make sure that the city departments continue to do their job, and are getting the support from the Mayor's office that they need to continue doing it well. We have not made a decision regarding the organization of the city government. 

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Regarding the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) transportation land-use policy presently before the city, could you comment on what direction that policy is currently headed? 

There are several key policies out there right now that are in the process of adoption: the Downtown Strategic Plan, the Transportation Land-Use Policy, the Density Bonus Ordinance. What this mayor has encouraged and what I feel committed to continue is to promote more of an interaction between the commissions, so that the CRA Commission understands what the Planning Commission is doing, and the Planning Commission understands what the Transportation Commission is doing. When we are looking at a policy, we are trying to get all or the commissions to review it and understand the implications for each of their individual areas. The transportation land-use policy is one that is going to have to undergo that process. For example, if you believe that transit corridors are how this city needs to grow, you are going to buy into high-density housing along transit corridors, and you are going to have to buy into economic development around transit stations. There is a lot riding on this kind of policy.

Currently there are many discussions regarding who should be coordinating the city's economic development strategies: the CRA, the Community Development Department, perhaps a new commission. What is yourperspective on this dialogue?

The implementation of economic development is under Deputy Mayor Al Villalobos, but because so many efforts and departments relating to economic development are under my authority, AI and I have a very close working relationship. Economic development as well as affordable housing are the cornerstones of the mayor's safe and friendly city. All the Deputy Mayors meet on a weekly basis with Chief of Starr Bill McCarley, asking everyone, "Are we still working for a safe and friendly city? Is our goal still a safe and friendly city?" Although we are all very new, the economic development strategy is something we are all very sensitive to. We always looking at how we can bring in more jobs; how can we make sure that businesses are not fleeing the city. But I have to tell you, in the last two weeks, the general managers have been saying, "We can do this better." They are understanding how it's not just planning, redevelopment or transportation, but they are doing economic development. There doesn't have to be a department called "economic development" to play onthe field or economic development. They are beginning to see how they impact on each other.

One of Mayor Riordan's campaign pledges was to streamline the city's development process. How is that going at the moment.

First, you need to distinguish between project streamlining and permit streamlining. What we are doing now is trying to get our hands on the process. We will be establishing internal task forces in order to bring to the table very quickly what we know and what needs to be fixed. Next, the Mayor plans on taking it out lo the community, and saying, "This is our best shot at how to do this." An ivory tower approach to designing a process that quite frankly impacts everyone but us,would not do anybody any good. So by taking it out to the community and saying, “This is our best shot, what do you think?" Hopefully, we can get some validation out there.

We talked about the relationship between the deputy mayors and the general managers. The third leg of the stool are the Commissioners. What is the nature of the relationship between these three groups?

The Mayor has told each of the commissioners that the commissions will not micro-manage their departments. Previously we had commissioners who had badges, who had access, some who even had staff. They would come in and tear apart whatever the manager was doing and start directing staff. The mayor has instructed the commissioners to take more of a policy direction role and not a management role. I think that is why you've seen such a broad sweep of change in the composition of the commissions. I think the mayor probably thought it was easier to start from scratch rather than try to reeducate everyone. The Deputy Mayors have a dual function in that we have responsibility for the oversight of the general managers, but also we make sure that the policies the commissions set is in line with what the mayor feels that this office can encourage. Because we are all a brand new bunch, there are the rough edges of getting started. Lastly, I’m also meeting with the commissions collectively on a regular basis.

Also, how do these relationships between the deputy mayors and the general managers extend to the City Council?

Again, in the city of Los Angeles you have the Council as the governing body, then you have the mayor's office almost like a Chief Executive Office. Therefore, it's imperative that the mayor's office maintain good relations with the Council. I have the benefit of knowing most of the City Council previously, so I feel very comfortable working with the Council. I also know their concerns and constraints, but also there is a relearning with the new administration. This mayor more than any other has included the Council to discuss ideas which I think is sometimes very healthy, and I believe it's a breath of fresh air that in the long run with work very well. Mayor Riordan wants to work with the Council and the Council has shown that it wants to work with him.

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