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Revision Cuts Past Dispute on Redevelopment

City Council approval advances the proposal for the eastern end of downtown with the blessing of some of the project's earlier critics.

November 16, 2002|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The debate surrounding a new plan to redevelop industrial areas on the eastern end of downtown Los Angeles might have left some City Hall observers feeling that they had heard it all before.

As with the controversial City Center Redevelopment Plan approved earlier this year, city officials said the Central Industrial Redevelopment Plan would generate tax revenue and attract private investment, all while providing housing and jobs.

Once more, advocates argued that the plan would do little to benefit the low-income residents and homeless people who live in or near the area. Once again, there was talk of a lawsuit.

But on Friday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the new redevelopment plan -- and it did so with the support of some of its earlier critics.

"We've achieved a real win-win," said David Farrar, chairman of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency's Board of Commissioners.

Technically, the council didn't change the redevelopment plan -- a potentially lengthy process. But it did revise a key document that will guide that plan.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry said the revisions should address concerns about displacement of current residents. The project will help by providing jobs for those with low skills.

"This plan is critical," said Perry, whose district includes part of the project area. "It is the right thing to do."

The new plan is, in many ways, the sister of the City Center Plan. But where the City Center redevelopment project area encompasses a mixed-use area, the new plan covers an area -- 738 acres -- where 61% of the land is being used for industry and less than 3% is residential.

Officials say the area has been left behind. Only 3% of the industrial buildings meet contemporary size standards. The buildings offer few amenities and 89% of the industrial buildings were constructed before 1980. The area's narrow streets make transport difficult. Businesses and jobs have left for modern industrial parks.

"We intend to assist businesses in the area by modernizing their infrastructure," Farrar said in a statement. "For the businesses and workers in this area, this [plan] is desperately needed and long overdue."

Officials estimate that, over 45 years, the plan will generate $575.3 million in "tax increment" -- money that would go toward the redevelopment projects. Under the plan, $140 million would be set aside for affordable housing. An estimated 1,500 units of housing would be created.

The goals of the plan include upgrading buildings; improving area traffic flow; increasing the stock of permanent affordable housing, with support services where possible; and housing for residents at all income levels, as well as artists.

At a joint meeting Nov. 6, the City Council and CRA's board of commissioners heard testimony from supporters and critics of the plan. Echoing the views of several speakers, Victor Franco Jr. of the Central City Assn. urged the council to adopt the plan. "In order to successfully eliminate blight," he said, "we believe public intervention through the redevelopment project is necessary."

The plan's supporters include the Central City Assn., Central City East Assn., and some local artists, developers and architects.

But several advocates and downtown residents testified at the hearing that the plan should provide housing affordable by current area residents, including the homeless and those on general relief and Social Security. Speakers also pressed for specific goals for hiring local residents.

The Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness estimates that at least 2,700 adults and children live in the area. Organizers also estimate that a significant number of people live on the streets and in encampments.

In the Skid Row/Central City East region of the project area alone, there are at least seven emergency and transitional housing facilities. The area also includes 16 supportive housing projects operated by nonprofit developers and at least six privately owned residential hotels, according to the coalition.

Barbara J. Schultz of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles said the current plan falls short. "Fifteen hundred new units is nice, but it's not nearly enough, especially considering the displacement," she said.

Still, Schultz said, the plan approved Friday had been improved by the council's actions and her clients were "generally quite pleased that the council heard the community's input and added more specificity."

Don Spivack, a CRA spokesman, said modifications approved Friday "specifically address the concerns that many people had" about ensuring the "preservation of the existing housing and adding to the housing supply, particularly."

The new plan also calls for providing housing affordable by people classified as having extremely low, very low and low incomes.

In addition, it includes the goal of encouraging and facilitating access to employment for low-income residents. It now provides for the involvement of local social service agencies in the development of programs to train and place residents in jobs.

Pete White, executive director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said the negotiations between the city and organizations that led to the plan "set a precedent for the value of communication among all the stakeholders."

White said that while the changes do not represent total victory, they bring the Central Industrial Redevelopment Plan closer to what the community needs.

White and other advocates can't say as much for the other project downtown.

"We feel the same sort of thinking should go into resolving the City Center plan," he said. "If we can recognize the housing needs in a clearly industrial area, we can clearly recognize the need for housing and jobs in a heavy residential area."

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