June 30, 1996 - From the June, 1996 issue

LANI: A Neighborhood-Based Revitalization Program That Works

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative (LANI), a community-based neighborhood revitalization program, was awarded a $1.6 million grant in May by Transportation Secretary Federico Peña for its innovative efforts to “humanize transportation” in eight Los Angeles neighborhoods. The two-year demonstration project has received high praise from both the public and private sector for its ability to empower community residents and facilitate inter-agency cooperation.

TPR is pleased to present an interview with Joyce Perkins, LANI’s Executive Director, and Joe Hubbard, Chairman of LANI’s Board of Directors.


Joyce Perkins: “Residents know their neighborhoods better than anyone else. The residents know what they need, whether the issue is transportation, business, or housing.”

Tell our readers about the Los An­geles Neighborhood Initiative. What are the program's goals? 

Joyce Perkins: The Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative is a neighborhood revital­ization project sponsored by Mayor Riordan. Funded primarily by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through its grantee, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), LANI was created from a challenge by Secretary Federico Peña, U.S. Department of Transportation.

In the aftermath of the 1992 civil unrest, Secretary Peña approached Mayor Riordan with the concept of "humanizing" transportation in Los Angeles, and asked what the U.S. Department of Transportation could do to help. Rae James, who was then Deputy Mayor of Transportation, was working with members of the Los Angeles Transit Partnership, a citizen's transportation advocacy group Joe and I belong to. We were invited to work on the LANI organizing committee, a collaboration of government agencies and private citizens working together. Eight neighborhood demonstration projects were created for the initial proposal. 

The foundation of LANI is citizen participation. Residents know their neighborhoods better than anyone else. The residents know what they need, whether the issue is transportation, business, or housing. Using very limited transportation dollars, we ask the community how they would use this money to improve their transportation and help revitalize their community. We have developed a model for delivering those services as interpreted by the community. 

How can LANI be used as model for other communities?

Joyce Perkins: In fact, we are developing a national model for what I call "neighborhood scale revitalization." It's not a typically large redevelopment project but what I call baby steps that are very important. The reason they are important is because we have asked the communities what they want. 

Within this model, we have the citizens participate in the development of their community workplan, and in the selection of architects, contractors and other professionals to implement the plan. This has been very empowering for the LANI Communities. We did not just develop a planning exercise. LANI funded the projects. When citizens made decisions, the decisions were translated into action. They actually saw those things done; that is empowering. 

LANI has gone a long way in developing and implementing this citizen driven model. In doing so, we have also helped to dispel a lot of the cynicism between citizens and their government 

because the citizens have seen what they have asked for actually come to fruition. 

Recognized Community Organizations (RCO) appear to be at the foundation or LANI. Elaborate. 

Joyce Perkins: Each project area has a neighborhood advisory board, which we call an RCO. The RCO is composed of residents, business and commercial property owners, community-based organizations, and institutions within the LANI neighborhood. 

Most RCO members were appointed by the host L.A. City Council office. The eight demonstration areas are located in different Council districts. Many of the members were appointed from representative groups. However, some RCOs were created differently. In Council District 13, for example, Jackie Goldberg's office held elections. 

Spotlight one of these districts and tell our readers how it has been successful. How has LANI has made a difference in the community? 

Joe Hubbard: It is difficult to pick one of the eight because they all are successful. However, a good example is Boyle Heights. The RCO chose to further develop a pocket park that was already in existence.

They wanted to expand the park by closing off the street, and building a monument. They decided that they would focus 90% of their energy on that particular project. By comparison, another project, Jefferson Corridor focused on trees, pedestrians, lighting and banners to celebrate the development of their area along Jefferson Boulevard. 

Every area has its own take on how they want to approach revitalization. The key is that we have empowered these communities to do what they think the community wants to see happen, and to do it on their own terms. 

Joyce Perkins: LANI is a catalyst program. I call it a "priming the pump program". It is not the be-all-end-all of revitalization. In some cases, these communities have taken LANI dollars and leveraged them. A good example is North Hollywood. 

They had a vacant corner lot that was owned by the Los Angeles CRA. They took LANI funding and partnered with other endeavors in the community, such as the CRA and Metro Rail North Hollywood station. They set up a lease with the CRA for that vacant lot and created a transit art park. They now have a request for proposal out to put in a vendor to sell coffee and sandwiches. 

The North Hollywood LANI has created a desirable public space on a vacant lot by using resources from both the CRA and MTA. It is a matter of using these few LANI dollars and creating partnerships. In some cases they have even partnered with private industry. 

Texaco brought in $15,000 for tree grates. By bringing money in and letting the community decide how it is going to be spent has been the key. I cannot think of one recommendation that the communities have made that the LANI Board of Directors has not supported. 

What are the long-term implications of LANI and empowering citizens through this community planning process?

Joe Hubbard: The eight RCO's have actually become citizen planners and community developers. They have gone through a process whereby they came to understand what they need to do to make their communities work. 

The approach has been very effective. They all are enjoying a great deal of success. Our hope is that they will continue this long after the LANI process has ended.

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Joyce Perkins: One of the foundations of LANI has been maintenance and sustaining these improvements once the project is over. In 1994 when the eight LANI communities developed their work plans, they had to let us know what legal entity they planned to evolve into in order to maintain these improvements and to go after future dollars. They look a very important step this year when they actually formed those entities. 

Many of the areas have allied themselves with existing entities and some have even formed new non-profit organizations. They have taken a very important step towards independence. When LANI takes off the training wheels we want them to be able to ride. 

What financing mechanisms are you using to fund development activities? 

Joe Hubbard: Prior to this current, independent phase, where the RCOs arc going to be either their own independent, non-profit or merge with an existing non-profit, LANI has had the fiduciary responsibility. LANI receives the dollars from federal grants and City grants. We administer those dollars. Future grants will be sought and administered by these independent non-profits. 

Joyce Perkins: The new legal entities will receive a $15,000 operational management contract from LANI that will start them on their way to handling their budget. They will also receive a $25,000 transit store grant from the MTA. 

Secretary Peña was in L.A. last week and announced our new $1.6 million grant. We will administer that federal grant. Eligible RCO legal entities with receive a transit store grant directly from the MTA.

The transit store is an innovative project whereby the RCOs will set up online transportation information centers in their areas. To date, there is only one transit store in L.A. and that was just opened in Lincoln Heights. Management of these contracts and grants provide a way of developing financial capacity so that the RCOs are able, once the demonstration sunsets, to continue to go after grants.

LANI has been the clearinghouse for not only funds for physical improvements, but also for providing technical assistance. For example, LANI participants have been given fundraising seminars, and experts have come in to talk about business improvement districts, merchant associations, and other ways to help develop capacity. 

How does the LANI program differ from anything that came out thirty years ago? What lessons have been learned, and what strengths or weaknesses are inherent in this structure? 

Joyce Perkins: Inherent strengths are the links that have been created between the neighborhoods to encourage collaboration, as well as the contact that has been made with City, County and the private sector. What we realize is that the government cannot do the job by itself and neither can the private sector. They need to communicate and cooperate. 

Many revitalization projects up until now have been top down. The money is handled outside; the decisions are made outside; and the community is very often left with the feeling that what they have said does not matter. 

Each LANI improvement requires a maintenance plan that has to be developed by the community. RCOs are having to take responsibility and ownership. I think that is the key difference. Success will vary depending on the kinds of partnerships they set up with the business, private sector and the public sector. 

Joe Hubbard: The key to LANI is that the people who are affected are involved in the decision-making process. Thirty years ago people did not have the opportunity to make key decisions. 

They have been involved in all of the meetings and the selection of each consultants. The LANI program started off with guidelines. Each RCO had to develop a plan. After the plan was developed, they had to select an architect to design that plan. After selecting designers, they had to participate in the selection of contractors to carry out the construction of that plan. This is not typical. 

How do you translate this neighborhood empowerment into behavior on the part of City agencies, such CRA, DOT, CDD, Public Works, and proprietary agencies such as DWP?

Joyce Perkins: Every one that you mentioned has been involved with this process. We started dialogue with the DWP, CDD, and Public Works in May of 1994, when we were just beginning to form the RCO's. We have representatives from those departments and they have cooperated in numerous ways. LANI was the first developer to go through the Mayors new Case Management program as a part of Development Reform. LANI's a project manager, Ray Chan, has played a key role in these connections. 

Does LA's governance structure encourage or discourage neighborhood empowerment? 

Joe Hubbard: How do you get peoples' visions to the point where they can see the vision become reality. It is very difficult to find participation if the people do not feel the program is going to be successful. How do you empower communities, yet not get bogged down with the required process? 

Sometimes I spend 25 hours a week on LANI, and this is not a paying job. So one thing you have to do is encourage people to want to do that. How do you do this? You give them a stake in it and let them see that something is actually happening. The lesson for us is that if everyone has a stake in the project, then you have everyone's involvement. If you can get people involved then you can turn your community around. We have seen this. 

Lastly, what is the governance formula for encouraging people to feel like a stakeholder? 

Joe Hubbard: The problem is not the system, but the leadership. With LANI, Mayor Riordan is successfully working with eight council districts, the federal government, the state government, the MTA, and most importantly, the community. It's the leadership that counts. Any form of government can make people feel like stakeholders, if the leaders hold to that vision. 

In the Crenshaw community, where I've been an activist for many years, Councilwoman Russell was beaten by present Councilwoman Galanter who exercised the virtue of listening to a community that had finally started making its wishes known. Ruth created the first citizen planning group in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, and present Councilmember Ridley-Thomas has expanded the concept of community participation with his Empowerment Congress.

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