December 30, 1994 - From the December, 1994 issue

Inglewood: Urban Planning & Economic Development in Pursuit of Investment

Often described as a city of contrasts, the City of Inglewood's unique location and history make it one of the few fully-urbanized cities on the western edge of Los Angeles. The Planning Report presents a joint interview with Lori Parcells, Planning Manager, and Jesse Lewis, Redevelopment Director, for the City of Inglewood, on the various opportunities and challenges that face Inglewood as it untangles the perceptions and realities that surround planning and community development in the city. 

As managers for planning and re­development in the City of Inglewood, a city clearly in transition, share with us the City's goals and objectives for planning and economic development?

Lori Parcells: From the perspective of the Planning Department, and we work very closely with the redevelopment agency, we are part of the urban core, a fully urbanized city with only in-fill opportunities for new development, and I think the instructions we are receiving from our City Council are to create a business-friendly environment in order to enhance business opportunities and to improve the quality of life for our residential neighborhoods. 

Jesse Lewis: I agree with Lori's statement; we need to carefully examine which business opportunities we want to bring into the community. We have a particular interest in expanding our retail base, as well as labor-intensive businesses. We are also looking at residential opportunities, trying to provide a variety of housing choices for the residents of Inglewood. Basically, our City Council is asking us to fully utilize the available tools in order to bring about economic vitality in the community. 

What are the most useful tools available to the planning and redevelopment departments?

Parcells: In planning, the tool we use most often is the zoning code. We view the zoning code as a living document, as any city should. We are constantly revising and modifying the code to realistically reflect existing conditions and future needs without sacrificing quality of life. 

The revisions are frequently the result of public input at the counter, from the City Council and at community meetings; not something we craft in an "Ivory Tower"; those days in planning are gone. More often than not, the changes result from the on­going interaction with our clientele, the public.

For example, if the issue of mixed-use were raised, what would you expect to be the reaction from the neighborhoods? 

Parcells: I would say there is community support, but there isn't support from the financial institutions and that is the biggest obstacle. 

Lewis: Not only is there the problem of support from the financial community, but also finding the particular developer who can put together a successful project. We have held several focus groups as well as a community-wide meeting to talk about the proper mix for downtown revitalization, and mixed-use has been part of those strategies. Basically, I think the community support is there, we are just looking for the right opportunity to develop a successful project.

Presently, there are major discussions in the City of Los Angeles and at the State level regarding the re-invention of redevelopment agencies. Are Inglewood's redevelopment tools adequate? 

Lewis: Frankly, the rules and tools change so frequently that often it is hard to tell. Redevelopment is basically the ability to work with a developer to assemble property and structure a financial package in order for a development to proceed. With recent changes in AB 1290, and possible future changes by the State Legislature, our tools are now restricted to a certain degree. What we have to do is recognize that change is constant and adjust accordingly. 

How do you use your local resources to compete with other jurisdictions in the area, all of whom are battling for job creation investment and reinvestment? What does Inglewood bring to the table in such competitions? 

Parcells: First of all, we have a ready-made labor pool due to our strong base of affordable housing - a labor pool for tourism or manufacturing, whatever the market needs. Our advantage over cities not so favorably located geographically, is immediate access to a number of transportation modes - LAX, multiple freeways, and hopefully rail. I think we are very well positioned in terms of the South Bay and Los Angeles in general with respect to labor, transportation and housing. 

Lewis: Also, people forget that Inglewood is a destination center. We have the Forum, Hollywood Park and the Casino. There isn't a city in close proximity that has these types of venues to attract people to their community. We do have certain advantages. 

Again, what can Inglewood bring to the competition for investors or developers, each of whom have a choice to invest in Inglewood or other cities in the basin? 

Parcells: One thing that I don't think other cities can bring to the table that we have in Inglewood is an extremely developer-friendly staff. Our staff has a positive, "can-do" attitude. Developers have told us many times what a pleasure it is to do development in Inglewood because we really facilitate a team effort in this city to get the job done. Our processing schedules are a fraction of the time a developer will experience in Los Angeles; however we can't compete with Los Angeles because of its diversity and huge geographical size. We have a small town, hands-on approach to development, and we make it as comfortable an experience as possible. 

Lewis: Inglewood is attempting to create its own niche with its entertainment venues. No one else has what we have in terms of entertainment venues. The question is really, how do we expand this entertainment niche to make it work even better for this community and make it attractive for developers to locate here. 

Let's switch topics for a moment to the planning issues arising from the growth of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). What is Inglewood's interface with LAX? 

Parcells: We've been working closely with LAX since the early 1980s when the Federal Aviation Administration began to give grants for airport noise mitigation with matching grants from the Los Angeles Department of Airports (DOA). However, most recently, we have been finding DOA less cooperative in terms of releasing funds we feel that we have earned. We are in conflict with LAX at the moment. Whatever LAX does in the master plan process has immediate effects on Inglewood because we are their immediate neighbor. The aircraft noise and traffic that congest LAX spill over to Inglewood. Yet many of our business opportunities occur by virtue of our proximity to the airport, so it's a mixed blessing.

What type of relationship would you like to see between Inglewood and LAX? 

Lewis: Basically, I think what we are seeing is a change with a new mayoral regime in Los Angeles and a new board of airport commissioners. It takes time for the new board to foster all types of relationships. During the previous administration we had an excellent relationship and we could count on a certain level of funding for our mitigation programs. It appears that with the change in key positions at the City of Los Angeles, we haven't yet worked our way through the conflict that we are currently experiencing. We need to continue working with LAX to mitigate the impacts of aircraft noise. 

Parcells: Part of the LAX master plan is a reconfiguring of business development. The proposed freight-oriented development is in direct competition with our own. It appears that Westchester Parkway is poised to serve as a major artery for freight development and that gives me some cause for concern. However, we have multiple assets that can be used to off-set competition. 

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In the City of Los Angeles, the central focus of redevelopment is being redefined - less real estate-based and more job growth-based. Given the tools at your disposal, how well positioned is Inglewood to engage in economic development?

Lewis: The lines are blurring between redevelopment and economic development. You have to cut around the barrel heads the best you can. We have business attraction and business retention programs, but we are obviously looking for opportunities to assemble land to get higher and better uses. We try to balance as best we can while realizing that we don't have the necessary resources, including staff, to have an extremely active economic development team. 

Share with our readers the state of current revitalization efforts in downtown Inglewood? 

Lewis: Our downtown plan is an attempt to focus new retail activity in the downtown area. If we have retail as well as cultural and entertainment uses in the downtown, then I think we will have the type of pedestrian traffic that most communities enjoy to begin revitalizing the area. We adopted our plan in February and we are now in the process of selecting a developer for one of the key sites. Once that is done, we'll get some sense of what will be the anchor for the northern portion of our downtown and we'll proceed with the implementation of the plan. 

Parcells: Again, we need to find a special niche. If you look around the region and the country, you'll see downtowns and retail areas that have revitalized by finding a particular niche, and I think that our natural niche is the incredible diversity in the area. We have a wide range of ethnicities that have great potential for establishing new restaurants, boutiques, music venues, and because our downtown is relatively inexpensive, there are excellent entrepreneurial opportunities. If we could tap our international ethnicity and create an international marketplace in our downtown with outdoor dining, plazas and exciting events, then we'll have the kind of synergy that could carry our downtown for many decades. 

Inglewood has a unique base of private affordable housing. What other housing initiatives, if any, is the City pursuing? 

Parcells: As you mentioned, Inglewood's affordable housing has largely been developed by the market place without any public assistance. 

Lewis: We use our 20 percent set­asides from our redevelopment plans and have also gone after HUD funding for affordable housing opportunities, but interestingly enough, we are not actively engaged in tax, credit projects, nor have we been in the past. 

What lessons, if any, is Inglewood learning other cities’ efforts to manage change in the basin? 

Lewis: I guess the key is to be patient. We tell community members that change is not going to happen overnight, but if you are methodical, progress will take place and we'll see the type of uses the community wants to support. 

Parcells: In terms of other cities that have a large, vacant land base, there isn't a lot to learn because we don't have those types of opportunities. However, one thing that we've recently learned is the concept of livable cities embodied in the Ahwahnee Principles, such as paying special attention to the site/street interface, and a better balance between pedestrian and automobile uses for our streets. However, strategies to implement these ideas are only available on an infill basis. 

Lewis: We're a built-out city so when opportunities arise, you want to get the maximum benefit 

What new proposals, if any, can we expect from your departments in l995? 

Parcells: We are offering for adoption a mixed-use ordinance. Also, last year we began a community planning process to update the Land Use Element of our General Plan. I hope that it will provide a vehicle to break down barriers between city government and the many diverse groups in our community. We completed the community planning for Council District 1 and will be continuing district by district.

Lewis: In terms of redevelopment, we are looking at the five implementation plans that are required by AB 1290, and hopefully they will give us added direction relative to development opportunities over the next five years. 

Getting back to comments by both of you regarding the transition that Inglewood is experiencing, how are neighborhoods reacting to change? Is there a framework within which such issues can be addressed by the community? 

Parcells: I don't think we dare to plan for change, but rather to catch up with what has happened. Communities change de facto, then the politicians and the staff react. 

Human beings are generally resistant to change by nature and if city staff were to stand up at a community meeting and pronounce what is going to happen, there would be nothing but resistance. However, if staff reports what exists in the present and what that trend is leading toward, we can begin to catch up and offer options for the future. 

Lewis: Regarding neighborhoods in transition, we work with the neighborhoods through established groups such as PACs and block clubs. What you might have had in place in a different era might be inappropriate at this time, and you have to revisit issues within an existing framework. We try to accomplish this through these established linkages. 

Parcells: There must be citizen input, we can't be telling the communities how we want them to change. We have to get support and input from citizens to make planning work. Most of our code was written for a community that no longer lives here.

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