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L.A. Refocuses on Basics: Rebuilding the Inner City : Economy: In the year since the riots, successes have been mixed with frustrations in revitalization effort.

April 22, 1993|PATRICK LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now that the verdicts in the Rodney G. King civil rights trial are history, attention once again has turned to a fundamental problem underlying last year's urban unrest--the persistent economic privation of the inner city.

"It refocuses the city's attention--and the rest of the nation's attention--on the real job, of reinvesting in the inner city and generating investment opportunities for people," said Barry A. Sanders, co-chairman of Rebuild L.A.

It has been nearly a year since riots rocked Los Angeles and the nation, setting in motion what is perhaps the most ambitious--and daunting--experiment ever conducted in urban economic revival.

How is it working?

Urban planners and academic experts say the efforts since the riots constitute the biggest mobilization ever made of capital in an inner-city area. Thousands of jobs have been created and hundreds of millions of dollars in private money has been committed to the inner city, according to Rebuild L.A., the nonprofit organization formed last May to spearhead revitalization.

Job-training programs have been created, new stores have opened, small businesses and community entrepreneurs have emerged and bank branches have been added. From the communities have come new deposits in community banks, strengthened local agencies and a renewed sense of purpose.

There is hope that in the coming years and decades, efforts will begin to show even more substantial results--in creating quality jobs and new prosperity. "This is a long-term effort, and long-term efforts don't show their products short-term," said Sanders, noting that the revitalization efforts aim to reverse 40 years of neglect.

At the same time, however, community leaders, corporate executives and academics agree that progress has been frustratingly slow and that there has been little noticeable change in inner-city areas. Recovery efforts have been hampered by continuing job losses and recession in the state. Federal assistance has been stalled along with President Clinton's larger economic stimulus package.

"We don't see new start-up businesses, nor the ones there expanding," said U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) whose district encompasses many of the riot-affected communities. "There's a need for new capital, investment and joint ventures. I don't see that in any appreciable amount, and the commitments we've seen . . . could be better coordinated."

Moreover, progress has been difficult to gauge because there is no reliable standard by which to measure it. Inner-city America boasts few economic success stories and certainly nothing on the scale of the revival being attempted in Los Angeles.

At the heart of Rebuild L.A. leader Peter Ueberroth's strategy for economic recovery is a triumvirate in which government, private corporations and the community shoulder the burden together. As the end of their first year of work nears, here is an analysis of how each has performed:

GOVERNMENT'S ROLE

Robert D. Taylor, a principal with the management consulting firm of McKinsey & Co., told Rebuild L.A. that it would take $4 billion to $6 billion in investment and the creation of 75,000 to 94,000 jobs to bring the unemployment level in inner-city areas up to par with the rest of the county.

Public help was to come in the form of federal enterprise zones, infrastructure rebuilding programs, strict enforcement of reinvestment laws, establishment of community development banks, and crime, education and family service programs.

But major public efforts have stalled.

A federal urban aid package targeting South-Central Los Angeles and other impoverished areas expired last year after post-riot interest in Washington waned.

The state, facing another massive budget deficit, has held up passage of several post-riot economic development proposals, including a temporary statewide sales tax increase to finance rebuilding efforts, tax incentives for small businesses and a bill to create revitalization zones in the city.

Meanwhile, President Clinton's summer jobs program, infrastructure rebuilding program, job training and other programs, aimed at benefiting Los Angeles as well as other U.S. cities, remain stalled in Congress along with the rest of Clinton's economic stimulus package.

Compounding the challenge is the region's persistent recession. Unemployment is higher than ever. In Los Angeles County, the unemployment rate, not adjusted for seasonal variations, was up to 10.4% in March from 9% a year earlier. Unemployment remains highest in inner-city neighborhoods.

The pace of rebuilding riot-damaged areas has been painfully slow. Estimates of business losses due to the riots top $1 billion.

In the city of Los Angeles, 1,036 sites suffered damage in the rioting, with a value of about $378 million, the city estimates. About half suffered major damage. But in the last year, only 160 permits have been issued for rebuilding or major repairs, said Nick Delli Quadri, a senior structural engineer with the city's Department of Building and Safety.

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