Jensen, also a minister, has allowed Lomas to use his accountants and marketers. The team, he said, believes the tours could generate $1 million in profit in the first year, and that it would compete for customers with operators of celebrity-home tours in Hollywood.
"I think this will be a destination tour," Jensen said. "I think people will come to Los Angeles to take this tour."
Jensen acknowledged that customers will have to sign a watertight legal waiver. He said that's why it's important to spread the word through affected neighborhoods that the tour is coming -- and, eventually, generating jobs, grants and loans. For example, Jensen said he'd like to see some early profits send a graffiti "tagger" to art school.
"We all know that the day somebody gets hurt, it's over," he said. "We're counting on the fact that the gangs aren't going to mess in their own beds."
There is another reason to spread the gospel: Lomas hopes to use the tours to foster peace on the streets.
In recent weeks, The Times was granted access to a series of "sit-downs" -- meetings -- seeking understandings between gangs that have historically warred: Florencia, 18th Street and Grape Street, the dominant gang in the Jordan Downs public housing development.
Other gangs are being added to the talks and will shape tour routes down the road. Lomas, for instance, hopes to include the South L.A. bus stop where five children and three adults were shot in gang crossfire last year, but needs the local gangs to sign off, giving him "safe passage."
One "sit-down" took place in a Jordan Downs apartment that serves as the hub of the small nonprofit empire of Fred "Scorpio" Smith. The 38-year-old Smith said he joined Grape Street when he was 11 and recently completed a 13-year prison term on drug charges. Influential in Jordan Downs, he now runs a charitable organization, including a program for kids who have dropped out or have been kicked out of local schools.
A small group, led by Lomas, went to the apartment seeking approval to run the tour through Jordan Downs. At first, Smith sounded skeptical.
"A tour?" he asked incredulously. "Of the 'hood?"
Lomas offered to hire two teens from the housing development as part-time tour employees.
"I'm not saying you have to stop shooting each other," Lomas said. "Just allow me a certain time in the day. . . . Just let the bus go through."
"Safe passage is a guarantee," Smith said.
Lomas and Smith discussed a host of delicate issues: tension between African Americans and Latinos; a recent skirmish between Florencia and Grape Street. They discussed building a phone tree to open new lines of communication between their neighborhoods.
But the long-term goal, Lomas explained, is economic viability.
"People around the world have stereotyped us," Lomas said. "I'm talking about sustainable change. But it won't work unless we have unity."
"The people on the ground doing the work," Smith replied. "That's cool. That'd be cool."
About this series
This is the latest in a series of reports about public safety, changing demographics, inventive social programs and other aspects of life in South Los Angeles.