April 29, 2000 - From the April, 2000 issue

A TPR Exit Interview With John Molloy: L.A.'s CRA–LA Rear View Mirror Perspective

John Molloy left his position as Administrator of Los Angeles' Community Redevelopment Agency last year amidst disagreement with the CRA Commission over budget and staffing levels. But underlying that dispute was a larger debate about the agency's role in the City as well as the outlook for its future. TPR was pleased to speak with John recently about his views of the agency, why he left, and why the Agency is still vital to the City's future.

John, you've been awfully quiet since leaving as Administrator of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency last year. Please now share with our readers your candid thoughts on the conditions that led to your leaving, and your assessment of the Redevelopment Agency's role looking forward?

Essentially, I had a series of disagreements with several members of the Commission that oversees the Agency as well as individuals within the Mayor's office over the Agency's budget. They wanted me to further reduce the Agency's size, and I didn't think that was necessary. We had a fairly substantive financial plan that could have carried us forward without further cuts. It was purely a policy disagreement, but sometimes these types of disagreements can't be resolved. The Agency's role remains important.

The Redevelopment Agency has cap limitations Downtown and less than needed tax increment flow Citywide. Nevertheless, it is taking on new responsibilities-for example, in the Valley. From your new perspective as ex-Administrator of the Agency, what's your assessment of the Agency's capacity going forward?

The real estate depression in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s severely hurt the Agency's cash flow. For example, the Hollywood and Koreatown Project Areas, among others, have been trying to dig their way out of that, and the artificial cap imposed on the Downtown Project Area in 1975 has never really been lifted. These are serious limits, but they should not be allowed to solely determine the Agency's program. We have to envision the City's overall redevelopment needs and take the long-term perspective-and that might mean developing new project areas, even though they won't have much cash flow for a number of years, in order to create a usable resource later.

The new Administrator, with whom this newsletter has done an interview, has a significant private sector real estate management resume, but no redevelopment experience. Have you seen, as a result of the change in leadership, any differences in the Agency? Or is Scharlin plagued with the same challenges you had?

I've always said that the Agency staff is very skilled, with a great reservoir of development talent. But organizing that talent effectively is the challenge. You can rack and stack the organizational structure in many different ways, but at the end of the day, you have to get the talent you have to produce results. That was my challenge, and I'm sure Mr. Scharlin's challenge as well.

Many assert that Mayor Riordan, in the seventh year of his Administration, has never articulated a clear view of the role and function of either the Redevelopment Agency, or other such agencies-Community Development, Housing, etc.-that have roles in redevelopment. In hindsight, having left City government, what's your take on the Mayor's leadership here? And what can we expect in the next year from those agencies?

The Redevelopment Agency, the Community Development Department, the Housing Department and the Mayor's Office of Economic Development have never been as well-coordinated as they could be. I don't believe that expectations have ever been placed on those departments that would sufficiently motivate them to realize their full potential.

We continue to need a serious look at consolidation of our economic development and housing functions, with a set of expectations to match.

Los Angeles' real estate market has clearly rebounded, and you're moving into it professionally. Address what you see as possible in this new market. And, given the housing shortage facing the L.A. Basin, what are the opportunities, both public and private, that you are pursuing?

I remain as enthused about the future of Los Angeles as I was when I first came here from Sacramento in 1995. And even though I'm no longer at the CRA, I will continue to pursue the same goals I worked on there.

For example, I have a strong interest in Downtown-I still think it has a tremendous future. I'm currently working on a number of private consulting assignments-including renovation of the old Pacific Electric building on 6th and Main-that are all focused on the same redevelopment issues I worked on at the Agency.

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There are also opportunities in South and South Central Los Angeles which have yet to be capitalized upon and the Hollywood opportunity remains a golden one. I also believe that the Agency's efforts in the Valley will ultimately bear fruit, despite continued criticisms from some people in North Hollywood.

I'm also having a great time discussing all of these issues in my redevelopment class at USC.

We recently had a housing roundtable in The Planning Report and include in this issue a new citizens' Task Force report on affordable housing. Los Angeles clearly faces a crisis, with demand far exceeding supply. What's your take on both the challenge and the opportunity to meet L.A.'s housing shortage?

The demand for virtually every kind of affordable housing far outstrips supply in just about every major metropolitan area. Los Angeles' crisis is perhaps more acute, but it's a nationwide problem.

With the demise of several important housing programs, HUD has lost some of its "oomph" over the past decade. The Internal Revenue Service is essentially now the nation's housing department through its tax credit program. That's a decent program, but it hasn't received the full support and level of funding it deserves at the national level over the last 10 to 15 years.

Los Angeles is a reflection of the national paradigm in which we collectively just do not put sufficient emphasis on affordable housing-and that's across the board, from the homeless to moderate-income working people.

The campaign for the next Mayor of Los Angeles is already starting, more than a year before the election. What would you like to hear in the campaign speeches of the leading candidates re: redevelopment and housing and economic development? What message would most resonate with your experience with what L.A. needs today?

Unfortunately, we tend to hear the same tired euphemisms repeated again and again in that area-the argument over the Arena's subsidy, for example. But that's not where the debate belongs. We should be looking at the City's communities-its neighborhoods-and figure out what revitalization is needed at the grass roots level. That's often different from what we hear in the mayoral debates. For instance, I'd like to see a much greater focus on affordable housing, but that's hard to do with issues like Rampart and Belmont that seem to grab all the attention. The issue of consolidating our economic development functions also deserves further discussion.

Long Beach has just finished its strategic plan, which proposed new infrastructure investments for schools, parks, libraries, etc. as the building blocks of revitalized neighborhood centers. Would such a strategy work in a City as large and dispersed as Los Angeles?

It could work very well. I've always lamented the fact that the school and park construction programs, among others, seem so divorced from overall planning and revitalization efforts in Los Angeles. We could certainly use those public investments as the basis for renewal in many of our neighborhoods.

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