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PERSPECTIVE ON REDEVELOPMENT : An L.A. Institution Reinvents Itself : A city agency once vilified for unresponsiveness is now a primary resource in a time of great need.

August 07, 1994|LINDA GRIEGO, LEON RALPH and CHARLIE WOO | Linda Griego is president and chief executive officer of RLA . Bishop Leon Ralph, of the Interdenominational Church of God of America, is president and CEO of the Los Angeles Opportunities Industrialization Center . Charlie Woo is a businessman and chairman of the Central City East Assn. and

"Voice Where It's Needed Most" is how The Times described a plan for the Community Redevelopment Agency by Ed Avila, CRA administrator, in January, 1993. Avila had issued a New Year's resolution calling for the redirection of the resources and energies of this powerful institution to communities most in need.

Has Avila's promise to remake the CRA been fulfilled? Or are the stories true that the CRA no longer has a useful role, that support for redevelopment is gone and the organization is being quietly killed by popular demand and political will?

We believe that reports of the agency's demise are the product of uninformed opinion. Such tales stand in stark contrast with our experience working day to day in communities throughout Los Angeles, communities in which the CRA is playing an important and welcome role as a partner in making a difference.

The CRA has repositioned itself to respond to the difficult challenges of Los Angeles today. The fact that the CRA is involved in some way with all of our lives makes an important statement about the current role of the agency and demonstrates the transformation in this organization over a relatively short period time.

Why the spurious accounts of the CRA's demise? Perhaps because it is no longer recognizable to people who cling to images from the past. Redevelopment has a certain place in the history of our city, including the building of a world-class Downtown with hundreds of thousands of jobs and working in neighborhoods from San Pedro to Watts to North Hollywood. But as our city changes--demographically, economically, environmentally, politically--we can only expect a major institution such as the CRA to change with it.

Change is difficult. Sometimes an organization can be caught behind the curve or lose touch, as the CRA may have done in the late 1980s. At that time, controversies seemed to be constantly erupting, earning the agency labels of "rogue," "embattled," "troubled" and "beleaguered." Public confidence eroded, bringing into serious question whether redevelopment was truly serving the best interest of the community. But this is 1994: What we must ask now is where we are today with respect to one of the most potentially powerful resources available to help revitalize our city, community by community.

From our vantage point, this is what can be clearly seen:

Hundreds of inner-city leaders, residents and businesses are meeting each week in areas from East Los Angeles to Westlake/Pico Union, from South-Central to Koreatown, from the San Fernando Valley to Downtown, planning for the revitalization of their communities in partnership with the CRA.

Negotiations were successfully completed to lift the tax-increment cap on the Central Business District Project, which, if approved by the court, will allow substantial resources to flow to support communities and people in need. A monumental achievement, given the often competing interests of the mayor, the city, county Board of Supervisors, school board and other taxing entities that had to reach consensus.

Small and medium-sized businesses in Central City East, employers of thousands of blue-collar workers in burgeoning Downtown industrial areas who were once skeptical of the CRA, are now working with the agency to expand their operations and work force.

The CRA has played a pivotal part in recommending actions for city leadership in the critical arena of economic development. Because of its expertise and capacity to respond, the agency is now being considered as the organizational core of a new citywide economic development agency, which is urgently needed to bring focus and additional resources to city efforts to expand economic opportunities.

In tribute to delivering on these promises, the agency has been asked to do even more, in some cases by those who have been its harshest critics. For example, earthquake-ravaged communities in the San Fernando Valley are considering the bold step of partnering with the CRA in their rebuilding. This is a remarkable achievement.

What happened? How did an institution once vilified for being unresponsive to the community become a primary resource in its times of greatest need?

Through painstaking and deliberate actions, Avila has made good on his promise to redirect the agency's activities and restore public confidence in redevelopment. In hundreds of meetings with community members, local organizations, businesses and elected officials, the CRA listened and responded to community concerns. At the City Council, Avila brought a new way of doing business in a more collaborative and open fashion. It was this leadership that created a level of coordination and cooperation needed to meet the difficult challenges ahead.

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