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South-Central L.A. Project

December 03, 1995

* The brouhaha over the 81st and Vermont Avenue mixed-use project is fueled more by rhetoric than reality. Talk of empowerment, economic development and high government subsidies by the opposition are powerful buzzwords. These interests often conflict and are hard to reconcile. Yet, they have been effectively balanced in the First Interstate project.

Private sector financing--equity and debt--for commercial development is virtually nonexistent for inner-city retail projects. A stand-alone commercial development, therefore, requires public financing greater than the proposed project and beyond what is currently feasible to get. This mixed-use development offers a financially sound alternative, and serves as a prototype for balancing the housing and retail needs of the inner city.

Attention to community concerns impacted both design and cost of the 81st and Vermont project. It is 36 as opposed to 65 units; ownership as opposed rental housing; and, consequently requires a higher housing subsidy than if built-out to its highest and best use.

Concerned about economic development, the project also builds personal and community "wealth" through homeownership, business development through on-site technical assistance by USC's Business Extension Network, and local contracting and equity participation in the project.

As a juror on the First Interstate design competition, I have no doubt that this is a flagship project. It is the type of public-private investment needed to catalyze the come-back of the Vermont/Manchester community. It is a project born out of a yearlong, deliberate process of regular community meetings, design excellence and financial prudence.

DENISE G. FAIRCHILD, Exec. Dir.

Community Development Technologies

Center, Los Angeles

* Bill Boyarsky's Nov. 26 column ("Flunking the Lessons of City Hall 101") criticizes Mayor Richard Riordan and his staff for not negotiating with the City Council over a city-subsidized housing and retail project being considered for Vermont Avenue and 81st Street in South-Central Los Angeles. In his zeal to politicize the situation, Boyarsky drastically misses the mayor's most basic point: It is not a good financial deal for the city.

We should applaud the mayor's veto of any project that would require $90,000 of city subsidy funds for each housing unit--a sum which reflects only about half the actual construction costs per unit. This is not "low-cost housing" by any means: At nearly $180,000 per unit, the future tenants could easily be allowed to purchase existing houses in the neighborhood and simply make payments on them.

The mayor is on very solid economic footing by first questioning the project in a letter to council members and, later by his veto of the ill-conceived financing plan. His veto is merely a part of the political process. Anything less from the mayor would be avoiding his own responsibility as an important counterweight to the mutual back-scratching of the City Council members.

RICK REIDY

Hollywood

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