December 30, 1997 - From the December, 1997 issue

Jerry Brown’s Nightmare: Blakely Runs for Oakland’s Mayor

Edward Blakely is preparing to square off this June against former California Governor Jerry Brown in Oakland's mayoral race. As a result, he is resigning his post as Dean of USC's School of Urban Planning & Development, an internationally renowned center; known for training many Southern Californian leaders and for its major impact on the region's cityscape. LA. and USC will miss Blakely's commitment to inner city development and his keen recognition of entrepreneurship—both public and private—as a key to achieving a balanced, prosperous region.


Edward Blakely

“[W]e need to develop locations, particularly near the most disadvantaged communities in Southeast Los Angeles and other parts of the County, where people can take advantage of international trade to develop new enterprises around their linguistic capability and skills.”

You're stepping down as the Dean of the USC School of Urban Planning & Development to devote yourself to your campaign for Mayor of Oakland. Before we get to that issue, elaborate on the legacy you leave behind at USC and what you hope to see arise out of your work.

The most important legacy for Los Angelenos is the clear connection between the school and Southern California, particularly Los Angeles. In my four years here, we've developed an outreach program to do projects in the neighborhoods. We’ve made clear linkages with all the policy organizations in the City—housing, economic development and the like. And we have a fine relationship with the Southern California Association of Governments.

Our relationship with the real estate community in Southern California, too, couldn’t be better in terms of direct activities we have done with them, such as conferences and workshops with the Urban Land Institute. Our research programs are very strong, as well, supporting the industry with important services such as forecasting.

Could you speak to the pending consolidation of the two USC graduate schools—public administration and regional planning—and how different this merger is from that recently implemented at UCLA?

There’s a very big difference between what we’re trying to do here and what was done at UCLA. Theirs was a top-down, directed merger of various schools—I believe they started out with four and ended up with three. Ours is an internal development, a recognition that combining our school with the School of Public Administration could forge something bigger and stronger than existed separately.

It was also related to the strong international mission that we’re taking on. To pursue this mission while keeping the schools true to their local community had meant that we had to subdivide our efforts. Now we can optimize our efforts with a larger pool of faculty and resources.

Let’s turn to the essential mission of a school looking at regional governance. In a Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy report entitled “National Strategy Session of the Metropolitan Initiative,” the first paragraph on Los Angeles reads, “For decades, the Los Angeles region has been a living example of sprawl. And while L.A.’s needs for regionalism could hardly be greater, the area’s lack of effort suggests that it won’t shed its sprawling image any time soon.” Share your reactions to that report’s conclusion.

I think that statement is simplistic. Sprawl connotes unplanned, unfettered, and disorganized growth. There’s an awful lot of planning that goes on here—perhaps more than anywhere in the world. And we have several nodes, just not the center, spokes and wheels the cities of the East Coast provide. 

But I do agree with some of the sentiments of the statement. We have not been able to marshal our resources centrally to address the public service issues that growth entails. Now services are often just spread like peanut butter across the surface. For example, in transportation and health care we just have not developed the institutional framework that corresponds with our modality of growth and development.

From your experience advising the Mayor of Oakland re the development of its port, what does L.A.’s position as the “Gateway City to the Pacific Rim” offer in the way of economic development?

Clearly, we must develop an infrastructure for our emerging international presence. The Port of Los Angeles is one piece of that infrastructure, and the Airport is another. But we also must realize that our city frame is not designed to be conducive for the movement of ideas and goods. We need spaces as San Francisco, Emeryville and Oakland have had to incubate new ideas and new media that are emerging. And we need to develop locations, particularly near the most disadvantaged communities in Southeast Los Angeles and other parts of the County, where people can take advantage of international trade to develop new enterprises around their linguistic capability and skills.

L.A. Is still a little bit inward-looking, although we’re now an international metropolis. I’ve been trying to contribute some of my time and my staff’s time on projects like the Alameda Corridor, which is not just physical infrastructure but an economic development opportunity.

Address for our readers the progress of the Alameda Corridor Project thus far. What’s going on and what isn’t going on… that should be pursued?

The rail system, the physical planning and some of the environmental works are all moving ahead. Also, the berthing of the ships is well organized. But what’s not going on is dealing with development of the feeder industries in Compton and Willowbrook and the surrounding southern cities who could take advantage of this infrastructure. If this isn’t done, all these jobs are going to be swished right out of Los Angeles and probably end up in Nevada. 

You've done extensive research into fiber optic infrastructure in L.A. and the Southwest and how it could become a catalyst for the growth of technology firms. Elaborate on that work, and are your findings like those of Joel Kotkin's?

Yes, my work is like Joel's. But my focus has been on development of some central nodes in the southern part of the City around USC so we could incubate these new industries closer to the people who need the new jobs. The real difference in our work is that I'm not making appeals to the economic free market that would concentrate these jobs all on the Westside. 

I'm trying to find new ways to move some of the jobs around, a process that's been very successful in the South of Market area in San Francisco and other places. I'm not talking about trying to force people to move, I'm trying to produce the infrastructure so that they will locate close to the human resources that already exist. 

A major theme that arose in the New Los Angeles Marking Partnership's Economic Action Summit this month was highlighted by LA. Times Business Editor Jim Flanigan, who said, "If the mantra for real estate is location, location, location, the mantra for economic development is education, education, education." I wonder if you could talk about your thoughts on the role education is and is not playing in this region economic development strategy.

In this region, we are just now matching our educational system with our economic development goals. The schools have been large-scale, child-care services instead of aiming at producing work forces related to the new economy. But the L.A. Unified School District seems to have the right idea now, and it's becoming ingrained in the system.

As you know, I was involved in the Belmont Learning Complex. Rather than building a high school, we built a learning complex aimed at jobs. We are going to train people to fill those jobs. With the support of Mayor Riordan and many others, we're starting to educate a work force but not in the traditional vocational sense—we're giving people the problem-solving skills they will need to fit in to the new world of work. These include the basic skills—reading, writing and arithmetic—but also new kinds of problem-solving skills, bringing math and science together.

Many people don't know that the District's going to build some 3000 K-3 classrooms throughout the City using the existing framework, so that the kids won't have to be bused to school. The real opportunity arises in that they'll be small schools—150 or 200 students—schools which will enable the young people and their parents to be part of the learning community. With these skills and close attention, these kids will be much better prepared than you or I were when we went to school.

Changing direction, please address the promise of the Sports Arena and the Coliseum. You said last year in our L.A. Mayoral Platform series, "Pacifying the citizens with new stadiums or arenas is not possible. You must pay attention to their immediate needs." Considering what's happened since, with respect to both the Sports Arena on Figueroa and the New Coliseum, do you take the same position? Do you have additional advice for our political leadership?

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I think it's interesting that—in accordance with my advice—the deal is not one of those typical civic giveaways. The deal is now structured so that the City is not at risk and the sports franchises must pay for it. Also, the City plays the appropriate role by providing the basic infrastructure using its bonding capacity. LA is not risking its resources like Oakland did when its taxpayers had to see their money taken away from the schools, police, and other basic resources to pay for a stadium.

My additional advice on the Sports Arena and the Coliseum development is to develop more jobs than just athletic jobs. Let's simplify this: Most of the jobs inside the Sports Arena are going to be selling popcorn and refreshments. You don't raise a family on that kind of money. We're going to have to develop new jobs along Figueroa Corridor, as well as to the east and west sides of the new complex. They may be sports-related jobs, even sports equipment manufacturing, or just jobs related to the basic needs of the community. Sports can be a vehicle for the creation of good jobs. We shouldn’t settle for the altitude that we're going to attract visitors and see their headlights coming in and their taillights going out. We need to capture dollars all day long in or near the sports complex.

In that same article, you talked about the importance of streamlining government, including possibly the merger of the City of L.A.'s Planning, Community Development, and Redevelopment departments under a single administrator. Councilman Ridley-Thomas and others have made motions toward those ends with little success. Do you take the same position, and what do you think stands in the way of this consolidation?

I talked to some people about this, and there are a couple things that are standing in its way. One is the fact that you have different personnel systems for the employees of the different agencies. There is the unionized public system in the Housing and Planning Departments. And my understanding is that people in the Redevelopment Agency don't have the same kind of union protection.

The second impediment is not having a champion. If the Mayor, or someone on the Council—or even a very strong bureaucrat—were championing this issue, that would be a help.

The third obstacle is that the business community and the neighborhoods haven't insisted on changing the system, even though they are not well served by it. If the business community stepped up to the plate, you'd find the political courage—I know those words don't seem to go together—that would be necessary to bring this about.

Let's move from Los Angeles to your new endeavor, the pursuit of the Mayorship of the City of Oakland. Tell us a little bit about what's motivating you and what your platform might look like.

My motivation is my 26 years in Oakland. These were all adult years, when I was directly involved in Oakland's policy process from the first year on. I had been in public life in Oakland until I came down here and had all the joys and frustrations associated with that.

One of the joys of Oakland was putting together the fire storm recovery plan. It is the first major fire recovery plan in the history of the United States. We rebuilt all the houses in less than five years. No other city's done that—it took Chicago 50 years to rebuild, and Santa Barbara still hasn't rebuilt! Also, I was involved in aiding earthquake recovery, rebuilding a downtown, and marshaling university resources so that public policies are better analyzed and designed.

But there's frustration when you're in the car, even as a navigator, and you're not at the wheel to steer it. And now I want to step forward with the vision I have about how the City should run. I want to provide my leadership, which comes from a vast knowledge of how public institutions work—not just in Oakland, but around the world.

I came to Los Angeles with my expertise as an urban planner. I want to take those 26 years of expertise which I developed in Oakland, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the world, and bring it back to Oakland, where it will be put into practice.

My platform is very basic, almost up-side down by today's standards. Because Oakland is a small city, I want to start by building the right kind of job structures in Oakland around its physical and human resources. Most people want to talk about crime. But I want to talk about jobs, and how Oakland has an opportunity like few other places in the country to build more jobs than they have citizens in the next two decades. These are real opportunities, and every researcher will recognize the opportunities that Oakland has in that regard.

Oakland is at the cusp of a fantastic revitalization—not a retail revitalization or a high-tech revitalization, although there'll be some technology involved—but an industrial revitalization. Oakland's impending agricultural trade program—you'd call it recycling, but I'm calling it environmental trade—involves a lot of movement of cargo, such as automobiles, that will be recombined at the Port of Oakland and transshipped to Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Right now, Oakland is at the right place at the right time. I'm going to focus on building good jobs in Oakland, bringing my urban planning expertise to the table.

Most Southern Californians don't follow the Oakland mayoral race as closely as they perhaps should, but they do know that the former Governor of California has announced his candidacy, as well. Could you talk a little bit about what the race looks like now and what differentiates you from your opponents?

There are now six people in the race. The two most prominent names being mentioned are mine and Jerry Brown's. Jerry and I have a lot of things in common, believe it or not. We were born in the same month in the same year, only two weeks apart. We have very similar educational backgrounds. We both had State-wide responsibility at the same time—I was assistant vice-president of the University of California while he was Governor. And we were both elected to public office at the same time.

He has a very, very strong orientation towards administration by what I would call “pop-off”—he goes after whatever comes into his head. He did that in the State, and you know how it worked. He is kind of erratic—that’s his style.

My style, as most of you know, is much more strategic looking at the long term, making all those steps in the intermediate to get you there, and finding resources throughout the community and nation to get things done. I’m not a lone ranger. I’m much more of a management problem-solver who works in teams and groups.

So, we have the lone ranger and the group manager. And I think the people of Oakland are beginning to see the differences in our styles.

And lastly, Ed, if people want to help you, how can they do that?

The best way people can help me, particularly my friends here in Southern California who won't be able to vote for me, is to help contribute to my campaign. They can do that by calling me at (510) xxx-xxxx and saying they'd like to help. We'll send them campaign information and provide them with whatever they need to know. We really need their help. And if anyone wants to come up to Oakland and do some walking for me or do some telephone calling for me, we really need it.

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