August 30, 1997 - From the August, 1997 issue

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard: Regional Value of a Civic Center

The L.A. Civic Center is home to offices from all branches of governments—local, State and federal. As such, the Civic Center Authority, a joint powers authority of the City and County of L.A., is hoping to increase the representation of State and federal government on its Board. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-L.A.), whose district encompasses the Civic Center, is currently serving on the Authority as an appointee of the Chair. But upcoming structural changes could bring her and a State representative on as Co-Chairs of the Authority. TPR is pleased to present the following interview with the Congresswoman on the Authority’s vision for the Civic Center, and the importance of a healthy urban core to the entire region. 


Lucille Roybal-Allard: “We now have the opportunity to save a tremendous amount of money and make Downtown a very exciting and functional place.”

In the February issue of TPRIra Yellin is quoted as follows: "[Los Angeles has] a historic, once in a lifetime opportunity to create a great Civic Center under the auspices of the newly constituted Civic Center Authority. In the next ten years, millions of square feet or new, restored or rebuilt space incorporating federal, City, State and County government facilities will come on line." How realistic is Ira's assessment of the Civic Center's potential? 

It's very realistic. It is very important to make sure that the Civic Center Plan becomes a reality. It's important to the entire City to have a revitalized Civic Center and to foster connections among all the various levels of government. Right now government offices are Downtown, but they don't connect to each other. We now have the opportunity to save a tremendous amount of money and make Downtown a very exciting and functional place at the same time. 

What is your role in effectuating this developmental vision?

As a representative of the federal government, I have been asked to sit on the Civic Center Authority, and I am hoping to get a permanent seat. My role is to make sure that the federal government participates. We are key to making this Civic Center a reality. 

We are one of the largest employers. We have several government agencies, like the INS and the court houses, that are vital to making this Master Plan functional and the dream a reality. Without the federal government's participation, a vital link would be missing link and the Plan would be incomplete. 

As the Congresswoman representing Downtown, please give our readers the essence of the developmental vision. What is the opportunity presented by a master planning process for the civic/governmental center in Downtown Los Angeles? 

My vision goes back to the time when I was just a little girl. I was born and raised in Boyle Heights and would come Downtown on business with my father, who was a City Councilman. As a family, we would do our shopping, go out to dinner and go to the movies Downtown. Everything was happening Downtown. 

Part of my vision is to see the entire Downtown area become the hub of activity once again. It should and will be a place where people will want to come—not just for business, but because it will be a nice place to spend the day. On weekends or after work hours it should be full of activity and life because Downtown Los Angeles is the center of the City. 

By virtue of its cultural, social and governmental activities, it is the only place where all segments of our community to come together—the heart of the City, if you will. 

Enlighten us on the mission and efforts of the Civic Center Authority. Why was it created and what are you hoping this joint powers authority will accomplish?

The Authority was created back in the 1940s. Its 1963 Master Plan resulted in Parker Center and the expansion of City Hall East. It then remained dormant until about 1993, when there was talk about revitalizing the Civic Center and the Historic Core. The City and the County reactivated the Authority and got people involved, and it has been very successful. 

In these two years since become active again, the Authority has completed approved the new Civic Center Master Plan. And through their efforts the federal courts are now committed to stay here, the L.A. Times has committed to stay here, and the head of GSA has expressed real interest in helping us in any way he can. In the two short years the Authority has been active they have done a tremendous amount of work.

“It appears the new Civic Center Plan will attempt to balance government buildings with cultural facilities, vibrant commercial streets with dignified open spaces, and vehicular movement with an enhanced pedestrian experience." The latter quote is from the Civic Center Master Plan. Are its pronounced expectations realistic? 

Absolutely. The plan is very realistic. All of the components are there. It’s only a matter of connecting and improving them. 

We have also learned from earlier plans to revitalize Downtown. The reality is that they have been individual and isolated efforts. Never before have all the various groups and components come together in support of a common plan. And that is why it will work this time. 

How do you respond to the critics of a Downtown civic/governmental center? A recent Sunday Daily News headline is but one example: "Downtown's $3 billion Secret". Such an editorial reflects, does it not, a perception that Downtown is really irrelevant to many Angelenos. Why should most Angelenos care about a well-planned, centrally located governmental complex in Downtown Los Angeles? 

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First of all, that's an interesting headline, considering the revitalization plan has never been a secret. I guess it just made for a good headline. 

In terms of significance to the region, the Civic Center is the government core. We have the City, the County, the State and the federal government all centralized here. We are trying to tie it all together so we can share resources and facilities and make it more user friendly. 

And why should anybody care? Many reasons. The parochial thinking that says that what happens in one part of the City has no effect on any other part—that you can isolate yourself from other areas—is not reality. The reality is that revitalization of Downtown is going to have a ripple effect into all parts of the City. 

A great example is the expansion of our Ports and the Alameda Corridor. Los Angeles is a center for international trade. More and more people are coming to L.A. to do business but they don't stay in the Downtown hotels. The revitalization of the area can make Downtown a real business and tourist attraction, where people will stay and easily visit places like Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, Chinatown, MOCA, the Music Center, etc. And all the revenues from this activity will increase the entire City’s tax base—it's going to benefit everyone. It's in the interest of every part of our City to make sure that the Down plan is successful. 

Are all the governmental partners to this cooperative effort being equally cooperative? As cooperative as you suggest the federal government is being? 

I would say even more so. When I was on the State Legislature, we got the State interested and involved in staying Downtown. My role is to do the same with the federal government—to get them interested and committed to the Civic Center Plan. 

How different is this experience, getting the federal government and other governmental agencies to work together, from what you experience in securing funding for the MTA from Washington? 

We can't compare the two. The MTA and transportation are fragmented, politically charged issues. 

Are there any lessons in intergovernmental cooperation we can draw from your experience with the Civic Center Authority?

I'm hoping that this is going to be a prototype. It is very important for everyone to realize—whether we are talking about government agencies or the regions or the ethnic groups that make up Los Angeles—that we all have common goals, and we can only achieve them if we find ways to work together. We must respect each other's differences. But we also need to put our energies into working together to achieve common goals and have a better life for everyone. 

If we continue to be divisive and fight each other, we are all going to lose. If, in terms of this Plan, there is not the recognition of the role that Downtown plays—and can play—in the betterment of this City, then we are all going to lose.

Again, the lesson is the importance of working together cooperatively for common benefit. If we fight each other, ultimately nothing gets done. 

What are the milestones ahead for the Civic Center Authority and the Civic Center Plan that the public can be watching for? 

An expanded Civic Center Authority, a commitment of the INS and the federal courts to stay within the Civic Center, and the presentation of the plan to the City and County for approval. 

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