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Crenshaw Plaza Project Must Deliver for Blacks

November 06, 1987|MELANIE LOMAX | Melanie Lomax is a civil-rights lawyer and partner in the firm of Lomax and Lattaker in Los Angeles

There has been concern in recent months that the anti-development rhetoric, coming from some segments of the city's political leadership, would strangle badly needed commercial development in South-Central and East Los Angeles. These parts of the city have not reaped the now-questioned bounty of our developers' energies. These areas are underdeveloped, to put it plainly. Few shopping malls dot them. Their fate has more likely been a 7-Eleven, at best a mini-mall. These are neighborhoods where the growth industry was perceived of as blight, where the chief export was joblessness.

But the times are a-changin'. Today the black community is being scrutinized anew by itself and by business because of the pockets of residential stability, the presence of large numbers of middle-income residents and the successful Watts and Vermont/Slauson shopping centers, opened in the past few years.

These changes make it urgent that the jewel in the community's crown to date, the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza, a $120-million shopping mall in the Baldwin Hills, View Park, Leimert Park, Crenshaw districts, not be derailed for any reason. It is equally important that blacks and other minorities predominate in the job and business opportunities stemming from it.

It can restore the atmospheric health of the area, which contains some of the finest institutions--business, professional, social, religious--in the community, and it can do for the area what Fox Hills did for Culver City, what the Topanga Plaza and the Promenade Mall did for the west San Fernando Valley and what the Beverly Center has done for West Los Angeles.

The protests in the community over how the project has been structured have merit. Blacks do not feel that their interests are being looked after in contract, retail or job opportunities. The NAACP and the Urban League are pressing for greater minority participation, as they should be. It would be a negative reflection on the city if the plaza were to be built without major black participation, in an area that houses so many of the city's black professionals who broke down discriminatory barriers in their respective fields.

The No. 1 civil-rights issue of the remainder of this decade and for the balance of the century is the economic development of black and other minority groups. How the promise of affirmative action and the resources of the civil-rights movement can be used to overcome the economic disparities between minorities and women and the white male group that controls power and money is the challenge facing the nation.

Blacks have the greatest equity in a Crenshaw shopping center. As customers, they will not only be the primary beneficiaries but their dollars will be the primary source of support. This is something that the developer, Alexander Haagen, must keep in mind. Using a local government's fear that no one would want to build in a heavily minority area, too many private developers have been able to extract deals that give them nearly everything they want and require little minority participation.

As a man of business, Haagen will find that it is better business to get with the needs and the aspirations of the people for whom he builds. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who is on record as saying that the predominantly black Crenshaw area should "get these stores and jobs," must not accept verbal reassurances from Haagen or any other private developer, whose first priority is making money. This deal and all of the city's projects must be structured in such a way as to require significant minority participation in terms of numbers and percentages. Appropriate noises made about "looking for" greater minority and black participation in this project do not guarantee results. Affirmative action must be contracted so it can be enforced.

The communities themselves must do their part. There have been many complaints of ignorance as to what is required to lease in the plaza or to become involved in a business project. Some prospective lessees in public meetings have expressed surprise and offense at such simple business requirements as financial statements. There is no suspension of the rules of good business practice for minorities simply because this is a minority community project. That is the simplest way to go bankrupt.

The Urban League, which has a contract with the city to provide the public with information on the requirements of the project, must increase its efforts to get that information out. Others who have been loud in their complaints, should be equally loud in getting out the facts and identifying potential beneficiaries for jobs or contracts.

This is a great opportunity for our city and our community. It must not be allowed to go sour.

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