September 1, 2003 - From the September, 2003 issue

Mayor Hahn's Deputy Leaves City Hall for CRA/Harbor Duty

Between the numerous city departments, CRA, MTA, and LAUSD, Los Angeles is made up of a complex web of governmental entities. As such, communication and coordination among the various departments, agencies, authorities and districts is crucial to effective city planning and land-use policies. While this coordination has not always taken place, Jonathan Kevles, former Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and newly appointed CRA Deputy Administrator, believes that things are changing for the better. In this interview Kevles discusses his new job and the state of inter-governmental relations in Los Angeles.

Give our readers a sense of your new CRA responsibilities in the Harbor redevelopment area? What's the attractive challenge for you personally?

There is tremendous potential in the Harbor area, and a tremendous opportunity for the CRA to work more collaboratively with the Harbor in order to realize this potential. In the waterfront area, which is probably the least expensive ocean view real estate around, we can add value to the area and still maintain a lot of the existing affordable housing. The Watts area has a lot of commercial corridors that present a huge potential for some nice urban village-type developments-a different type of development than you've seen in that community before, but one that the community will embrace. Of course, we'll work with the community in designing all of these projects.

In the short two years I've spent so far in the Mayor's office, I've gotten to know numerous city departments, which will allow me to leverage the resources of all those departments to help bring about the revitalization that's so needed in the harbor area. It's that inter-departmental collaboration that will allow these improvements to succeed, because the challenges are too large for any one organization, any one agency or department to accomplish on their own.

What do you leave unfinished in the office of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development?

When I was presented this opportunity by the mayor, I was worried that I would leave unfinished a lot of the projects that I've started, such as the MOU with LAUSD, the CRA, and the city, the Industrial Development Policy Initiative, the MORE (Maximizing Of Real Estate) city-owned land-oriented initiative, and development reform. Yet, I quickly realized that in my new position, I'll be able to put those policy initiatives and projects into play directly with the staff of the CRA. So I don't feel like I'm leaving behind any of the policy and development projects that I've been working on because I'll be one of those who actually gets to implement them and utilize all the thinking that people have contributed to these policy initiatives in the last year or two.

Let's return to the potential of interagency collaborative efforts that you assert are necessary to realize the mayor's vision for the Harbor and CRA. How difficult is such an agenda?

It is difficult, there's no doubting that. But the way I talk about it when I work with General Managers and staff is that you can accomplish your mission more quickly and effectively if you help others achieve their missions. Ultimately, all of our missions are related-that's why we're a city family. So there isn't resistance on the part of the city staff or the various departments, yet it's just a new way of doing business that people are still trying to figure out.

We started it off pretty well when Jane Blumenfeld led a project with me in which we asked 18 different departments in the city, including the CRA, to map out all of their planned and proposed capital investment projects-be it a park, a library, a housing development that we subsidized, economic development/job creation project, or a bureau of engineering related public works investment. We mapped all of those and provided the data to LAUSD so they could make more informed decisions when selecting their next school sites. In that process, the city departments realized how useful this information was to them, how it would allow a new level of inter-departmental coordination and understanding. The advantage is that rather than having city investments occur by accident, spread out all over the city or all over a certain neighborhood, you can help revitalize the built environment of a neighborhood by making those investments in a concentrated geographic area. That way you can achieve some economies of scale in that investment. You end up having so much investment that you reduce the perceived risk of the private sector, which ultimately is the goal of the CRA-to bring that private sector back into play in CRA project areas.

Attention to detail and consistency are incredibly important to realizing the economic leverage that you envision resulting from your CRA work. Who, after the press conferences are completed, will see to it that the useful data you referenced will actually be turned into collaboratively planned projects of consequence?

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We have set up a Neighborhood Development Cabinet, which consists of seven departments/agencies: Building and Safety helps with code enforcement, General Services knows about city-owned land acquisition and disposition, Planning sets the foundation for what can happen, Community Development, Housing, Transportation, and the CRA. As projects move along, other departments, such as Recreation and Parks and the LAUSD, will come in as needed. In fact, the idea that turned into an MOU with LAUSD, the CRA and the city probably inspired the creation of this Neighborhood Development Cabinet.

We have chosen a pilot area for the Neighborhood Development Cabinet so we can learn how we work together, and we keep a history of our conversation so we can replicate and institutionalize this effort. We picked a pilot project area in CD 14, in partnership with Councilmember Villaraigosa, where we are looking at the Boyle Heights neighborhood. This neighborhood, which was recommended by CRA Administrator Bud Ovrom, is ideal because of the huge investment by the MTA in the Gold Line extension going down 1st Street, and there's a new school there. This is an area that needs some reinvestment, and is getting a lot of public investment, so our goal is to coordinate so we can ultimately help turn around that neighborhood and improve the quality of life for the residents and businesses who are there.

What should our readers be paying close attention to in order to judge whether these efforts are bearing more fruit than publicity?

One measure is that the CRA has a history of doing projects that are very parcel specific rather than neighborhood specific. When we look a neighborhood, we have to have a bigger plan than just parcel by parcel-we need to look holistically at the area. I'm hoping that for my position as Regional Administrator for the Harbor area to have a couple of RFPs out and responses to them within a year. These RFPs would speak to a larger block of land so that we can really help turn around neighborhoods, all the while taking the time to develop the RFP so that the community is intimately involved in helping design its own future.

The mayor has been on radio and TV praising new collaborations with the school district. The mayor and City Councilman Reyes have been very supportive of New Schools-Better Neghborhoods' efforts to collaboratively master plan new school facilities, open space and housing in Westlake/Pico Union. But, it is common knowledge that it's very difficult to for the school district, city and community groups to collaborate. What needs to be done to encourage such collaboration and planning?

The key right now is that the minute that LAUSD is considering a site, or even a general neighborhood, they call us. That didn't happen before. LAUSD has changed a lot of the people working there, in most cases for the better, and there's an openness there and a realization that you can get more done if you start communicating early. On the city side, we have to be ready with responses and definitive positions from the elected officials that we can communicate to the LAUSD. We can give our opinion on a site as rapidly as possible, giving all parties involved a greater opportunity to affect the project.

The first step was that MOU, because now LAUSD is at the table with us. People like Jane Blumenfeld and Sharon Meyer are helpful in all that. Organizations like NSBN can help us have information ready for a prospective site selection or community planning process, depending on how wide a net you want to cast. So I think the first step is LAUSD knows that they should call us, which they are doing, and that's a change. Second, we need to anticipate their call and respond quickly.

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