Vowing to breath new life into riot recovery efforts by focusing on small business development in impoverished neighborhoods, RLA's new leadership team of Arco Chief Executive Officer Lodwrick M. Cook and former Deputy Mayor Linda Griego was officially elected Tuesday by the organization's 96-member Board of Directors.
"It's a great city for most of us, but it isn't for a lot of us," said Cook, who will serve as volunteer chairman of the oft-criticized private agency, which was created as the city's chief response to the 1992 civil unrest. "If we can create jobs and services in these communities, it will be beneficial."
Although further acknowledging that no agency is "going to solve all the problems of our community overnight," Cook said he believes that community and corporate goodwill can make a difference in poor neighborhoods with high unemployment. "The city has had a lot of hard knocks in the past year or two," he said. "People want to see positive things coming out of our area."
Griego, who will run the day-to-day operations of the agency, said she plans to serve foremost as an advocate for the 115,000 small business owners in riot-scarred neighborhoods who could expand their businesses and provide new jobs if they had better access to capital, a more streamlined governmental permitting process and an increased ability to tap into new markets.
"RLA needs a bottom-up economic development strategy," said the Downtown restaurateur, who finished fifth among 24 candidates in last year's mayoral primary. "Businesses are going to tell us what they need. The community is going to tell us what it needs."
One focus, she said, will be to link businesses in neglected areas with more successful ones elsewhere for the purpose of joint ventures. Another focus, she said, will be to encourage major businesses to create after-school and summer apprenticeship programs for inner-city high school students.
The selection of the two well-known community leaders solves the most immediate threat to the nonprofit agency's continued existence.
More than three months ago, RLA decided to reorganize by abandoning its cumbersome four co-chair leadership in favor of a single unpaid head. At the time, Cook, 65, was asked about taking the post by Mayor Richard Riordan but declined, saying he did not have the time.
Later, five other top corporate leaders whose names were floated by the Riordan Administration as candidates all said they were too busy with other commitments.
Cook said Tuesday that he finally decided to accept the chairmanship after RLA's executive committee--on which both he and Griego serve--agreed to again restructure the top post so that the pair could split the leadership duties.
Griego, 46, will earn $150,000 a year as the full-time chief executive officer. Cook plans to devote less than a day a week to his volunteer duties.
Riordan's office issued no comment Tuesday on the unanimous selection of Cook and Griego, who served as deputy mayor for economic development under former Mayor Tom Bradley. But Cook said that Riordan has informed him in recent days that he is "all for" the new leadership team.
RLA, which has long defined its mission as revitalizing neglected areas of Los Angeles County through "the creation of new jobs, economic opportunity and pride," has struggled to meet its goals since being formed in the wake of the riots by 1984 Olympics czar Peter V. Ueberroth at the request of Bradley.
RLA's early estimate was that an investment of about $6 billion and the creation of 75,000 to 94,000 jobs would be needed to turn inner-city neighborhoods around, but the group says it has attracted roughly one-tenth of that sum in private investment.
With the city's attention now focused on earthquake rebuilding, RLA faces a daunting task in regaining momentum.
Cook acknowledged as much Tuesday, telling reporters that "as dramatic events happen, over time they fade from people's memories--but the problems and the issues are still out there."
"Our job is to try to . . . continue to work on those things that help out," he said.
As they do so, the new leaders said, RLA will significantly reduce its goals, concentrating on small business expansion and development rather than a panoply of social, housing and economic issues.
"We're going to reorganize," Griego said. "We're going to downsize. We've got limited resources, and we have a lot to do with those limited resources."
In coming days, she said, the 25-member paid staff will be trimmed in order to conserve the $2 million in funds that RLA--which is chartered to stay in operation until 1997--has remaining. Although Griego began work immediately Tuesday, two of the agency's paid co-chairs, Bernard Kinsey and Linda Wong, will continue on the payroll for several weeks, an RLA spokeswoman said. The only other paid co-chair, Tony Salazar, will resign in the near future.
RLA will also scrap task forces composed of board members that have concentrated on such issues as affordable housing, racial harmony and urban planning, Cook said.
Board members at Tuesday's meeting expressed enthusiasm at the appointments of Griego and Cook, saying the two leaders can help renew flagging interest in rebuilding efforts.
"The problems of the inner city are more long standing than ones created by an earthquake," said attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. "With the new leadership we have, this will return the focus (to RLA)."
Ueberroth, who has remained on RLA's executive committee since stepping down as co-chair last year, said Cook and Griego will provide the agency with "a major jump-start."