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Plan aims to boost economy

Villaraigosa's special committee says the city should focus attention on LAX, the port and South L.A.

January 23, 2008|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

An influential group of Los Angeles business and civic leaders will call today for a virtual Marshall Plan to reinvigorate a local economy that has shed thousands of jobs over the last decade.

The leaders want to revitalize South Los Angeles by redeveloping city-owned land. They want to modernize Los Angeles International Airport to lure more tourists and improve safety.

They are eager as well to expand the city's busy port and to keep film companies from fleeing to cheaper locales.

However, the group's 130-page report offers little to suggest how city government might pay for the billions of dollars in public improvements, some of which would be highly controversial. A copy of the report was made available to The Times. At 10 a.m. today, the report will be posted on the committee's website, www.laejc.org.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and members of his Los Angeles Economy & Jobs Committee will unveil at a City Hall news conference this morning 100 recommendations for nurturing investment in a city desperate for new revenue.

At the heart of the plan is a call for the city to strengthen key industries and cut red tape that the committee says impedes business. For example, business executives told the committee that the permitting system is duplicative and slow, employees in some departments refuse to talk to workers in other departments, some computer systems are incompatible and the city's website is difficult to use.

"These are all practical solutions, within the power of the city for the most part," said Russell Goldsmith, chairman of City National Bank and head of the committee that Villaraigosa launched in 2006. "Once achieved, they will make this city more prosperous, with a better environment, more jobs and [greater] tax revenue."

The 26-person committee led by Goldsmith is a diverse group that includes Steven B. Sample, president of USC; Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor; Bryan Lourd, partner and managing director of Creative Artists Agency; and Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum.

The economic report arrives at a bleak moment for Los Angeles city government. The city is facing a $79-million shortfall in the current fiscal year and is bracing for an estimated deficit of $250 million or more in the year starting July 1.

The city also expects to lose $270 million in cellphone user taxes that are the subject of litigation. Officials are promoting a measure on the Feb. 5 ballot -- Proposition S -- that asks voters to adopt a new user fee to replace most of that revenue.

The committee report emphasized the increasingly tenuous nature of Los Angeles' economy.

Los Angeles, it says, has lost nearly 30,000 jobs since 1995, and more than 106,000 manufacturing jobs over the last 17 years, many of them in aerospace and other high-tech industries.

The committee identified three priorities for the city's attention: LAX, the port and South Los Angeles.

It noted that LAX saw an 11% decline in international travel between 2000 and 2006 and a 10% drop in domestic flights from 2000 to 2007 -- even as all other major American airports have had increases in both categories.

The committee called for increased flight and passenger capacity at the Tom Bradley International Terminal and endorsed construction of a proposed midfield concourse to accommodate larger, more fuel-efficient jumbo jets. It also recommended giving the airport agency, Los Angeles World Airports, more money to promote the hub in Asian markets. And it called for separating the airport's two north runways by an additional 340 feet to improve safety. The runway proposal has been floated before, only to draw a storm of opposition from residents in Westchester, a community on the airport's north border.

The report also called for expanding rail facilities at the port to accommodate the phenomenal increase in goods flowing through the facility and to avoid what it called a "potentially severe crisis of capacity within the next few years." The report also said that the port's growth must be tied to plans that reduce emissions, particularly from the trucks working there.

In its economic blueprint, the committee urged city officials to create additional vocational training programs, update zoning regulations and speed approvals for the area's expanding universities. It also calls for Los Angeles leaders to secure the city's fair share of state and federal money, to preserve industrial land for manufacturing and to create a commission that would review the City Charter every decade to ensure that government is productive and efficient.

The committee said city leaders also need to remake the municipal bureaucracy into a friendlier operation. The business community currently perceives it as having a "difficult, if not hostile, business climate with departments staffed by employees focused on regulation rather than facilitation and problem solving."

The committee conducted a "secret shopper" study as part of its 15-month investigation on that point: Interns posing as prospective businesspeople called Villaraigosa's "business team" and the city Community Development Department to inquire about moving to Los Angeles. "Sadly, the committee has yet to receive a response from the mayor's business team," the report states.

Dan Grunfeld, Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff for policy, said the report represents a starting point for city government to improve the economy and the standard of living for Angelenos.

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duke.helfand@latimes.com

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