July 30, 1994 - From the July, 1994 issue

Promises Made, Promises Kept: LA/CRA’s Quiet Revolution

Mayor Riordan has proposed to consolidate the CRA and other economic development agencies into one large agency. Ed Avila, LA/CRA Administrator, pushes back on this proposal by highlighting the CRA's evolution over three years. According to Mr. Avila, LA/CRA has become a key agency in addressing various development and economic issues in Los Angeles.

It's time to set the record straight on Los Angeles redevelopment. Contrary to headline reports and pronouncements of the CRA's imminent demise, a quiet revolution from within has transformed one of the city's most powerful local agencies. 

This revolution, which has redirected the energies and focus of the CRA, is evidenced by the hundreds of inner-city leaders, residents and businesses in areas from east Los Angeles to Westlake, from South Central to Koreatown, from the Central Business District to the San Fernando Valley, who have been empowered to plan for the revitalization of their communities and neighborhoods. 

It is also evidenced by the substantial investment of resources poised to flow to these and other communities in need to assist them in revitalizing their neighborhoods and fostering economic vitality. Likewise, this revolution is evidenced most specifically by small businesses expanding their entertainment industry facilities in Hollywood and their manufacturing products from recycled materials in Wilmington; by the hundreds of affordable housing units built by community-based nonprofit developers; by the proposal of an economic development agenda ready to be acted upon, and by the State of California's decision to consolidate its offices in the downtown Historic Core. And further, by the many communities in the Valley and other earthquake-ravaged areas that are taking the unprecedented, bold move of considering the Agency as a partner to assist them with renewal in their time of need and crisis. 

These are the real stories that define today's CRA. These stories don't make splashy headlines, and critics may choose not to acknowledge or believe them. But they are in fact testimony to the redefined role of CRA in meeting the needs of a rapidly changing city. 

How did this happen? How did an agency that was once perceived as arrogantly independent and out of control make such a dramatic turn­around? How did it become an agency called on by civic leaders to help the city in its most desperate times of need, to assist in solving its most urgent problems? 

The answer is simple: redevelopment itself was never the problem; after all, it's only a set of tools. The real issue centered on how the tools and resources of redevelopment were being put to use. The real problem was that the public doubted that redevelopment was serving the best interests of the community. Without restoring this public trust, the tools of redevelopment, no matter how beneficial or needed, could not be employed productively within the City.

That was the charge I was given when I was appointed Administrator three years ago. I pledged then that the Agency would meet the challenges facing Los Angeles in the 1990's. With the problems facing the city today different from those of the past, the solutions had to be different, and the CRA had to change. My charge was to refocus CRA on job expansion; strengthen the economic base, empower communities to determine their own futures, and redirect the resources of this powerful institution to communities most in need. And, the charge included the mandate to do so in close cooperation with the communities affected.

Many advised me that this was a noble but foolhardy task. The Agency was in a time of great turmoil. Coming on the heels of one of the most publicized and expensive contract buy-outs of a top bureaucrat in recent civic history, and an explosive and embarrassing rebuff of the Agency's expansion into Watts, the Agency had become increasingly enveloped by an ominous crisis of confidence in its ability to serve our communities. The City Council responded by enacting tough oversight measures to ensure itself and the public at large that the Agency would be accountable for its actions. Widely held opinion was, that under these circumstances, the Agency would retreat; it's noted ability to "get things done" would be lost; and, its role would be diminished, if not eliminated.

But I did not see this as inevitable. I did not believe that the agency that had so effectively given Los Angeles a new, booming world class downtown and the hundreds of thousands of jobs and tax resources that such growth produced, would fail to survive this crisis. What was needed was to rebuild confidence in the CRA's tools. The public needed to once again appreciate that the tools that had done so much to help build the city were worth saving, and, even more importantly, could be trusted to do much more. 


Working collaboratively, community by community, council office by council office, and in hundreds of meetings with community, business and civic leaders throughout the city and region, we went about the job of fulfilling these promises, and to listening and responding to concerns about the Agency's past, present and future. We streamlined operations, worked more closely with neighborhood groups, small business, and other city departments, and adapted to City Council oversight.

The results of this process are clear: When the City experienced the most devastating civil disturbances Agency to work with those affected communities in a partnership for change and hope. Literally within a few days, the agency had adjusted its priorities, shifted resources and created a grant program for small businesses to reopen their doors immediately. Once City Council approved a recovery planning program for longer term solutions, the Agency was reorganized in two weeks to accommodate the needs of each of the new communities served. After the January 17, 1994 Northridge Earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in history, again the City called on the Agency to make available its services. 

With the City encountering a growing fiscal crisis, it turned to the successful downtown redevelopment project for help in delivering community resources to its poorest neighborhoods. Through an unprecedented collaboration among the City Council, Mayor, County Board of Supervisors, Board of Education and other taxing entities, an agreement was reached to lift the tax increment cap on the Central Business Redevelopment Project to capture the continuing benefits of redevelopment for the neediest communities. 

And with the local economy continuing to take a beating, the Agency has been looked to, because of its expertise and capacity to respond, to become the core of a new, sorely needed economic development agency to lead the City's economic recovery efforts.

Thus, far from being dismissed in the City's time of need as an entity too controversial to deal with, or too out-of-control to entrust with the delicate task of restoring hope to a wounded city, the Agency has been called on by the City's leaders and communities to take on an even greater leadership role in helping the City to rebound. Far from the "long reign" of the Agency having ended, the Agency has been solicited for help by the very communities that were once its fiercest critics. And the Agency's responsiveness has, in fact, increased, not decreased, by having developed much closer ties and greater and more direct collaboration with communities and their elected representatives. 

So when you read exaggerated, patently false headlines announcing the Agency's imminent dissolution, or obsolete references to subsidies for big downtown developments, or a "lingering distrust that prevents the CRA from pursuing the long-delayed task of assisting inner-city neighborhoods" - think twice. Think about the hundreds of community leaders that sit during any given week, in South Central or East Los Angeles, or Pico Union, working in partnership with the Agency to revitalize their neighborhoods. Think about the City Council members from across the city who represent the broadest spectrum of our economic and social diversity - from the far reaches of the Valley to Broadway and Manchester Avenues only minutes from the flashpoint of the civil disturbances ­ who now see the Agency as an ally in combating some of the most intractable problems facing their districts. 

Far from the obituaries announcing CRA's demise, CRA has undergone a quiet rebirth. Stories of unsung partnership efforts of rebuilding define CRA today. An agency that in only three short years has undergone a collaborative process with leaders of our communities to reshape itself to respond to the changing demands of an increasingly diverse urban metropolis. 


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.