October 18, 2006 - From the October, 2006 issue

Downtown L.A. Nears ‘Critical Mass' During Jan Perry's Tenure

L.A. City Council Member Jan Perry represents a district like no other. While some council districts are nearly indistinguishable from each other, Perry's Ninth District encompasses two unmistakable communities: Downtown and South L.A., which both pose deep, unique, challenges. TPR was pleased to speak with Councilmember Perry about the promise of Downtown development and her approach to revitalizing the communities that lie in its shadow.


Jan Perry

As the representative of L.A.'s Ninth District you've championed the revitalization of Downtown. What is being built? What is planned? And what challenges remain?

As a result of many years of work, a critical mass of cultural institutions and mixed use developments now exists, and these facts on the ground reinforce a common vision that Downtown should be the center of arts, culture, and commerce. People have finally decided to invest and work with government and the private sector to bring these dreams to reality, such as LA Live, the Convention Center hotel, Grand Avenue project, etc. Each of these investments is critical for transforming and redefining Downtown.

We do this interview following a weekend in October that perhaps signifies the changing nature of Downtown. You had on one beautiful Saturday, a USC football game with 100,000 people, a Dodger playoff game, the Grand Avenue Festival, and the Detour Music Festival. Is this confluence of events in downtown emblematic of the future?

I would say so. And as good as it was, it was better than I even expected. I was walking around that day and it was pretty stunning. I also drove-I came in from the freeway-and it seemed to work. But I think, to build on Saturday's experience. Also, given the allure of Downtown as a destination and the challenges of traffic, we must have a better rapport with Film L.A. on the coordination of the film shoots so they can be viewed as a positive experience, not a negative experience.

With gentrification and new investment downtown, planning challenges arise. How does the city strike a balance between residential needs and regional use of regional facilities?

We have to continue to preserve a certain amount of housing for people who are at great risk, people who are frail, elderly, disabled, or on fixed incomes, and to create new housing for people who are mentally ill and require support services. Then we need to balance that with amenities for people across the spectrum of incomes, such as grocery stores, open spaces, and green spaces.

Much of the district is a redevelopment area. While we haven't always been able to use all of the tax increment, any time a developer makes a discretionary request it is an opportunity to require 20 percent affordable housing. It is also an opportunity to work with the Housing Department and the county to leverage housing dollars and public health dollars, and to work with the top-notch nonprofit housing developers to create more permanent supportive housing.

Last month CRA/LA CEO Cecilia Estolano commented on the challenges arising from growth projections in the region and its rather unfriendly business environment. She said, "We need to be strategic about creating job zones in the city. A huge part of that is the land-use industrial work we have been doing with the Planning Department." What is the value of such job-focused planning?

We need to create opportunities for environmentally friendly jobs and use industrial land for higher and better uses. As you go farther south many industrial uses have been grandfathered in and should never have been there in the first place, and some of these unregulated activities, such as plating and light assembly, pose great risk to people's health and well-being.

As you probably know from reading studies on air quality, South Los Angeles is rife with residents suffering from allergies and respiratory diseases. I work hard to remove those industrial activities that pose a risk to people's health. Some of the light-industrial land can be reused in ways that are not only a better use, but are also more beneficial to the community and create jobs that don't pollute. These policies have also reduced the housing that occupied many of these areas before rezoning for industrial. Housing is needed in communities like South Los Angeles.

CRA's Cecilia Estolano continued, "In the vast city of Los Angeles only eight percent of the land area is zoned industrial, of which only half is actually is used for manufacturing. And our industrial zoned properties are below a two percent vacancy rate." You've always promoted job growth; link the two in light of your previous statement.

To enhance or attract industrial jobs you should look at the evolution of technology-related jobs. Those jobs should be cleaner, safer, and they should even pay a competitive wage. I would like the city to attract businesses that have to do with goods movements and logistics, because we have the Alameda Corridor and other infrastructure to support these jobs.

These are opportunities for younger people to go to a vocational school and have a low-cost pathway to a job with a career ladder with good pay. That's just one example. I think we need to rethink how the city treats areas like South Los Angeles. The old template of, "Oh, let's just preserve industrial areas for industrial jobs," needs to be rethought. We have 300 acres of industrial land in South Los Angeles (CD-9) there is no shortage of opportunity.

LAEDC CEO Bill Allen told TPR that L.A. County over the last 25 years has added 2.7 million people but only 500,000 jobs, and that the city of L.A. hasn't added a single job while adding a million people. Should the city of L.A. have an economic strategy that relates to land use to create jobs?

I think that is absolutely possible. I am currently working on a project and have discussed with potential developers a vocational component on-site, recruiting people who have the basic skills to be trained to do these jobs that are with a higher, safer technology, and that still classify as a industrial jobs. The people we are targeting will be from places like WLCAC, from Job Corps-people who would be considered low-skilled-and train them for these entry-level jobs at the beginning of the continuum of goods movement.

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You have been very forceful in addressing the challenges raised by the impacts of gentrification on Skid Row. Can you elaborate on those challenges and the need for more housing?

Let's correct a basic misunderstanding. I think it is easy for some to say that homeless people are being pushed out of Skid Row because of gentrification. Skid Row has the greatest number of units of permanent supportive housing for people who are homeless in the entire city, and I think that it would be very difficult to disregard that fact.

We're really talking about urbanization, not just in Downtown, but through the entire city. In fact, the entire city is going through an urbanization process. And as people look for areas to develop, we will see competition for space on which to build. I will continue to develop housing for people at all income levels.

I want to make sure that we preserve the single-room occupancy hotels while continuing to create new units. Hopefully, this means that housing opportunities will disperse throughout the city and county. I think that it is going to be a struggle that will continue, because as much as people say they want to help, they're still not helping.

The Downtown News' recent survey of Downtown development listed just over 150 projects, but Building and Safety head Andrew Adelman said at a recent L.A. Chamber event that he expects that many of them will never break ground. What is your sense of the prospects for development Downtown over the next decade?

I think that many of them may fall in and out of escrow, and in some cases their plans might be reconfigured because some people may find-like any business-that conditions have changed. They might not get the financing they need, or they may not want to overbuild to achieve the margin they need with the price of materials. That's already happening to some developers. But, I still expect that we will see very little space left over the next five to seven years all the way down to the Santa Monica Freeway, even construction continues to slow down.

What is happening in your district in the way of development south of the 10 Freeway?

I hope that the CRA will release the RFP for Washington Boulevard as was promised so that we can get developers to build in that corridor. I spoke at the International Shopping Center Developers Conference last week in Palm Springs, and the CRA had an event, and there was a lot of interest in Washington Boulevard. But I understand that they are reducing the scope of it.

We have a new Ross at Vernon and Figueroa, and every time I drive by there the parking lot is full. A developer has built a town house project just south of there and he already has a waiting list. I have told him to find more properties with activities that are a detriment or blight on the neighborhood so that he can build housing in its place. His property is beautiful and he has shown a lot of respect to the community.

I expect more of that to happen on the southern portion of the Ninth District transportation corridors. The Convention Center hotel being built now is going to create opportunity for people who haven't worked in a long time. And, it's affecting more interest as we go farther south. The prosperity of Downtown, I believe, is spreading south.

Land use planning in a built-out city like Los Angeles involves choosing between residential, commercial, and industrial uses, How have you prioritized and balanced these competing uses?

I look at the district: Where do the people live? Historically, where have the people lived? In South L.A. the residential single-family neighborhoods have to be protected, because they make up the fabric of South Los Angeles. We have to respect that. They give South L.A. its historical context. The opportunity for housing that is not single family, it is on commercial corridors. As for industrial, when you look south, I think you have to be careful. For years the people in South Los Angeles have been treated with great disregard for their health and their safety.

Look at Little Tokyo, look at the Arts District, and what sorts of activities are taking place there. People in the Arts District were the pioneers who went into areas where no one else would reside, and we have to thank them because they gave those areas new life. They are the reason that people are investing over there now. There is no way to create a policy that works with a cookie-cutter approach.

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