October 1, 2001 - From the October, 2001 issue

Cardinal Roger Mahony Offers Perspective On Urban Priorities

The events of Sept. 11 have caused many to pause and reevaluate how we look at life, define our priorities, and fit those individual beliefs into the greater L.A. and American communities. However, the problems that plagued us before 9/11 have not ceased simply because our focus has changed. While safety has become our newest priority, priorities of ending poverty, housing the masses, and providing healthcare are still vital to the long-term sustenance of L.A. Cardinal Roger Mahony reminds us of these undeniable facts in his address, "Closing the Gap: The Economy and The Common Good" at the Eighth Annual Public Policy Breakfast. TPR is proud to excerpt his remarks.

Cardinal Roger Mahony

The violence of Sept. 11 brought the country closer together. [And] while our attention remains consumed by these events, the challenges we were grappling with in the days and weeks prior to September 11 are still with us. Issues regarding immigration, health care, the minimum wage, and other important matters have not gone away. They have been put on hold for the time being while the nation attempts to regain its foothold.

My hope is that we will stand before those challenges with a different perspective, a changed outlook and a new resolve to ensure that as we move forward no one is left behind.

It is along these lines that the USC study Sprawl Hits the Wall poses fundamental questions about who we are and where we are headed as a region. Its projections of future population growth and the strain this growth will place on our limited resources present us with both challenges and opportunities. It forces us to look creatively at how we will integrate the region's projected growth in population into the social, political and economic mainstream.

At its core, the USC study pushes us to think in regional terms. With over 80 municipalities in Los Angeles County alone, we must look at ways to transcend these boundaries in order to forge a regional vision and identity.

In the wake of the sobering events of September 11, shoring up the social and economic infrastructure at a national and local level will require an unprecedented commitment to solidarity and a keen awareness of the requirements of the common good. With thousands of projected layoffs in the airline and tourism industry alone, we must look ahead to how we will deal with these displaced workers.

This past June, the L.A. County Federation of Labor, the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Archdiocese of L.A., with the generous support of Wells Fargo Bank, organized an economic conference entitled "Bridging L.A.'s Economic Divide."

The impetus for this gathering was the growing wealth and income gap among working families and the recognition of the serious threat this divide poses to the vitality and stability of the region as a whole. In a joint letter to Mayor James Hahn, the sponsors of that conference wrote that "[w]hile Los Angeles is known for its affluence and economic opportunity, it also is home to more poor people than any other metropolitan area in the United States. An estimated 2.1 million residents-including one of every three children-now live in poverty." As a recent report issued by the Southern California Studies Center at USC pointed out, income inequality is "the most disheartening part of the Los Angeles story today." Even so, the same publication goes on to observe that "the regional divide need not get worse – if a commitment is made to find ways to reach common ground across race, class, and geography, and to growing together."

Finding this "common ground" will not be easy. It will require reconciling the competing interests of broad and diverse constituencies while keeping the plight of the poor and most vulnerable members of society at the forefront of our minds.

Closing this gap means attending not only to traditional questions of wage and job security. While these remain as core issues, closing the gap requires us to have a broader vision. It demands that we improve other dimensions of the social and economic infrastructure that are necessary for creating livable and thriving communities.

[I] would like to point to three areas where I believe action can be taken in the short-term to move us forward on some of these concerns. While by no means do these three areas exhaust the possibilities, they certainly point a direction

Housing: The L.A. Housing Trust Fund

The Housing Trust Fund established last year by the L.A. City Council was created to expand the availability of affordable housing in the City. Mayor Hahn has made a commitment to capitalize the Trust Fund with $100 million in new funds each year. The Mayor and the City Council must now do the difficult work of identifying those sources of funding. Housing L.A., which Miguel Contreras and I co-chair, has proposed an array of possible funding sources.


The City should make this a clear funding priority. With an unexpected surplus of $64 million in the City's fiscal year 2001 budget, it would seem that a substantial portion of the $100 million could be earmarked from the general fund.

Addressing the housing crisis cannot be postponed any longer. The City must act now and fund it.

Education: Workforce Training

In order for workers to move up the economic ladder, we need to raise the skill level and job readiness of prospective employees. Towards that end, the business community, organized labor and the community college system could work jointly to create a comprehensive workforce training fund. Such a fund could link training and apprenticeship programs to address changes in key industries that are and will be the economic foundation of the region.

Given the projected layoffs we will be facing in the coming months, this type of investment in workforce education and training would be an essential, proactive step. An alliance by business, labor, and the public education system could be a powerful force for investing in the human resources of the region.

On a different note, Governor Davis has the opportunity to open the public education system to more immigrants and future workers by signing AB 540 that is now sitting on his desk. AB 540 would enable California high school graduates who have been in a California high school for at least three years, who are accepted by a state college, and who are in the citizenship process to be eligible for student aid programs. This bill would enable many immigrants, who would not otherwise be able to attend a state college, to get that education.

Parks and Open Space

Proposition 12-passed last year by California voters-provided $2.1 billion for urban parks in the most underserved communities. This includes new State parks in the Chinatown Cornfield near downtown Los Angeles, in Baldwin Hills near the historic African-American heart of Los Angeles, in Taylor Yard, and along the 51-mile L.A. River Greenway. Agreements to develop these areas as parks have been made possible by a broad coalition of leaders who recognize that open space is not a luxury but essential to revitalizing the quality of life for all the people of L.A.

With almost 80% of Proposition 12 funds now spent or committed, Governor Davis has the opportunity to sign legislation that would provide over $2.7 billion to help create more urban State parks. Los Angeles is park poor, with fewer park acres per person than most major cities and vast disparities in access to parks and recreation when comparing the inner city with more affluent parts of Los Angeles.

[I]n order for us to do this, we must make a conscious commitment to engage in constructive and substantive dialogue on the issues that confront us.

There are many challenges before us. I believe we will be stronger and better off if we commit to face them together.


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