Despite protests, the Los Angeles City Council last week extended the life of the North Hollywood Redevelopment Area another decade and agreed to a sixfold increase in the project's spending cap--bringing the total to a whopping $535 million. The project faces serious obstacles as it tries to revive a perpetually shabby part of the San Fernando Valley, but the council was right to keep it alive.
At their best, redevelopment projects give cities unparalleled power to move in and, over many carefully coordinated years, put a declining neighborhood back on track. Look at the success of Burbank's downtown shopping district--a busy and popular cluster of shops, restaurants and movie theaters that took years of creative and aggressive action by city officials to create. Redevelopment areas work because government helps pave the way for private enterprise by minimizing some of the risk. Sadly, though, too many cities treat redevelopment agencies as cash cows that divert municipal money but fail to accomplish their true goal of restoring the housing and infrastructure. These changes are necessary to attract the private investment that makes a neighborhood self-sustaining.
That's the rap on the North Hollywood redevelopment project, which critics contend does more harm than good in the 75 acres centered roughly around Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards. It's tough not to sympathize with their complaint. Although the project area was created 18 years ago, many parts of it look as shabby as ever. Vacant lots await development. Showpiece projects have noticeable vacancies. Despite all the talk of a North Hollywood arts and entertainment district, its most popular and tangible element remains its catchy name: "NoHo."
The 1992 riots, the 1994 earthquake and a recession that socked regional property values all have hindered North Hollywood's resurgence. To its credit, the Community Redevelopment Agency has refurbished or built 3,000 housing units and more than 450,000 square feet of commercial, retail and parking space. And there is the potential for much more. With the rapid growth of the entertainment industry in recent years, demand for office and production space in the southeast Valley is at an all-time high. The natural place for it to move is into North Hollywood, as many companies are quickly learning. New businesses, in turn, generate demand for housing and amenities like shops and restaurants--making the NoHo arts district concept viable.
To end the North Hollywood redevelopment project now would be to pull out just as success is more likely than ever. To end now would be to fulfill the critics' prophecy of disaster. City Councilmen John Ferraro and Joel Wachs have built safeguards into the expanded project to prevent the abuses feared by critics. Plus, opponents of the CRA's tactics enjoy a majority on the citizens panel that helps oversee the project. They should do their part to work with the city to create a neighborhood that lives up to its potential. If the North Hollywood Redevelopment Area succeeds, it will be through a thousand small projects--shops, houses, small businesses--rather than a few monumental ones. The CRA has suffered financially and politically over the past few years and is no longer the almighty bureaucracy it came to be known as in the 1980s. In North Hollywood, residents should not fear the CRA, but learn to work with it.