November 30, 1993 - From the November, 1993 issue

L.A. Community Redevelopment: What Could Be Done?

By Dave Wilcox, AICP, a Senior Vice President with Economics Research Associates.

It is time to call the city planners to account for the scheduling and delivery of key implementation plans which have been under way for some time. 

The City has come through a mayoral transition and some extraordinarily difficult reputation bashing over the last two years. Its charge is now to proactively present the positive realities of economic development and implementation capability to its many publics. This will restore faith in the City's will to seize its future and create the quality which its current residents and its oncoming new arrivals all seek. 

Three plans have been in process for a very long time; some of the circumstances of their initiation have now passed by and new elements of challenge confront the planning parameters which were initially laid down as the cause for the planning activity. These three plans are: 1. The Downtown Strategic Plan; 2. The Framework for the City's General Plan; and 3. The Recovery Redevelopment Plan.

There are, of course, other plans that have to do with the City and its region, including the rapidly disappearing "30-year plan" which was much heralded by the prior management of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but has turned out to be in some ways a mere wish list. 

This writer thinks that the three plans discussed below probably need to be shaken, not stirred, in order to generate the political consensus and the will to decide to pursue honest-to-God economic development at the scale which this City must deliver. The Mayor and the City Council really are accountable for seizing and leading these three plans to decision and to implementation commitments.

The Downtown Strategic Plan

Begun around 1988, this long-time- information planning process had its initiation at a time when the market was delivering exceptionally high volumes of new built space. The Redevelopment Agency and City leadership were concerned that the tax increment cap on the Downtown Redevelopment Project would be reached quite quickly and knew that a highly focused strategic plan for the downtown would be necessary to identify the limited additional initiatives which the Agency and City could take together as well as justify the social equity concerns which had quite rightly come to the fore as issues discussed widely by numerous public interest and private development groups. The Downtown Strategic Plan, in essence, sought to recenter the Los Angeles core competitively in the marketplace as the dynamic single location attracting rapidly growing Pacific Rim economic activity. 

At the same time, the serious dislocations which the public had previously perceived regarding favoritism toward large commercial office developments in the downtown needed to be adjusted to induce substantial reinvestment in housing and community facilities in and around the regional axe. These several goals, if the body politic would agree, should form the reason to lift the $750 million tax increment cap on the Downtown Redevelopment Project.

 The strategic plan process is now five years old. It has been confounded by a national recession whose downtown Los Angeles version resulted in 6 million square feet of vacant available high-quality office space, the withdrawal from active financial participation of several sets of lenders, a continuously tightening series of limitations on redevelopment implementation by the State Legislature, and the seriously damaging effects of the Rodney King and Reginald Denny events and trials. Despite declarations of economic development intentions, the last municipal election was essentially all about public safety needs which are spread throughout the City's 465 square miles.

Today we are faced with an even stiffer challenge to recenter. Remarket and  reposition all of the components of the downtown area. This must happen with or without the raising of the tax increment cap. Los Angeles needs to take heed of some dramatic achievements which have been caused by new public-private organizations in central cities such as, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. The Downtown Strategic Plan, in its final form, which we should expect in the next three to six months, should be as much a marketing and capability delivery implementation program as it is a menu of needs and desires.

The Growth Management Element

Many readers will be surprised to note that what we currently describe as the "framework plan" actually began in the late 1980s in concept as a growth management element when it was perceived that the City's planning approvals processes and General Plan guidelines were not in balance. With the onset of the recession in the real estate markets, after "top of market" in October 1989, the focus of the growth management clement began to change, as well as its justification for further attention by policy makers.

It is relatively safe to say that the framework plan is not a matter of general discussion among the primary policy makers of the City, nor its editorial commentators, because it is virtually unknown. Yet it is probably the largest single ongoing consultant and staff activity in the Los Angeles City Planning Department. It is not clear whether it is essentially masquerading as a wide-ranging technical adjustment to the City's General Plan or basically setting the schedule for much tighter and tougher implementation procedures for the now and future City planning processes in Los Angeles.


The Recovery Redevelopment Plan

The Redevelopment Agency has had wider way for some time a series of focused project area analysis in South Central, Southwest, and East Los Angeles. The onset of the 1992 riots more sharply focused the need for use of the redevelopment technique, if it can achieve the trust and the partnership of the many neighborhoods which have suffered the serious damages. Local areas the Agency has since 1991 include the following: Broadway-Manchester, the Lanzit Corridor, the newly starting Watts Commercial Corridors analysis, the Crenshaw Redevelopment Project expansion, the East Los Angeles Feasibility Study Area; this is not an exhaustive list. There are other areas, including Koreatown. 

The Agency has not enjoyed significant public trust for some time. The pitched battles in Sacramento have been evidence of the regional discontent with the Los Angeles CRA. But the need for a large-scale, proactive redevelopment strategy of partnerships with neighborhoods and owners is evident in vast portions of central Los Angeles. If the CRA has to give up eminent domain, then do it! If the Mayor and the Agency need to find common ground with the new and evolving City Council, then do it! 

Please permit the writer to review the City's prior experience in the Watts Redevelopment Project. Watts burned in 1965. The Agency began planning for a redevelopment project in 1965. The Redevelopment Plan was not approved by the City Council until 1968. The Federal Government did not fund the initiation of implementation until 1969. Four years was too long to wait for plans and financing commitments to be made by the only partners in sight at that time, which were the City and the Federal Government. 

Today the circumstances are entirely reversed. It is totally up to the City of Los Angeles to craft the community and City Hall promises and commitments which will allow a tax-increment oriented large and regional-scale redevelopment project or projects to proceed forward in the immediate future. It is now eighteen months since the April 1992 riots. How long will Los Angeles wait for the Recovery Redevelopment Plam? 

You may think that the writer targets the elected leadership and the administrative elite as the primary doers in the decisions which must flow immediately concerning these three key plans. Not so. The city planners and consultants can be the mandarins just as much as their clients. Processes and the cost of waiting lurk in the contractual relationships which have evolved over time between a wary city and its wary consultants. 

These three plans have much to do with the manner in which the City, its neighborhoods, its ownerships, and its futures will be deliberately improved over the next decade. The City's planning leadership and its elected leadership must press forward urgently despite the limitations which appear to confound our determination to progress. The effect of AB 1290 may not be as serious as first thought. The fact that we have not adopted a new redevelopment in Los Angeles since 1986 should not dissuade us from moving forward rapidly and deliberately now. 

Los Angeles does have a collective political will to adopt deliberate implementation plans. The public is tired of hearing that the recession has melted the markets and that the state budget shifts have robbed the City of the revenues with which it can go forward to devise economic development partnerships. Let us bring these three plans to the decision table, communicate them well, take the decisions which we can get, and move to implementation immediately. And, let us be sure that these are plans for the future, not remedies for the past.


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