Wants 10% of Renewal Funds : Woo Again Seeks Social Service Aid

Times Staff Writer

After scuttling a controversial proposal to exact a fee from developers to pay for social service projects, Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo now wants to commit 10% of Hollywood's redevelopment financing to support them.

Like the earlier proposal, the 13th District councilman's new suggestion for the Hollywood redevelopment plan has no precedent in Los Angeles' complex redevelopment process. In past revitalization projects, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency has spent millions of dollars on social service needs. But the agency has never guaranteed a certain percentage for those programs.

The Hollywood plan has been shaped by the redevelopment agency and citizen advisers over the last two years. It still needs final approval by the City Council and the redevelopment agency's governing board. That approval is expected by late April.

Woo's proposal would guarantee that once the Hollywood redevelopment project gets under way, at least 10% of the redevelopment agency's annual financing would be placed in a "social projects trust fund."

"I want to make sure that there will always be dollars available for social needs," Woo said. "The CRA (redevelopment agency) has spent a lot on those needs in the past. What this proposal would do is make a commitment up front that the money would be spent."

The redevelopment agency obtains almost all of its financing from tax increment funds. Under state law, a redevelopment project area's tax base is frozen once its revitalization plan is adopted. In Hollywood, that base is currently estimated at over $1 billion. From that point forward, any increases in tax revenues--called tax increments--in the project area can be used to finance redevelopment.

Private Contributions

Under Woo's plan, at least 10% of the agency's tax increments would be placed in a trust fund. In some years, the redevelopment agency could increase the percentage, according to Woo, who said he hoped private contributors would add to the fund.

"We want to be sure that the 10% is only a minimum figure," Woo said. "I want to be careful that it's not set in stone, so that government bodies won't look at that figure and then use that to reduce what they're already giving to social service agencies in Hollywood."

Although redevelopment agency officials said they do not know how much money in tax increments will be available in coming years, they have projected that they will build at least $570 million in new development projects in Hollywood over the next 30 years. Those projects will include new offices, theaters, parks, hotels, homes and apartments.

Many Hollywood community activists have long demanded that some of the funds which will be used to redevelop the area's 1,110-acre blighted core go toward human problems such as caring for runaways, the homeless, immigrants, senior citizens and poor families.

Last month, the city Planning Commission added a provision to the Hollywood plan that would have exacted a 1% fee from developers aided by the redevelopment project. The fee, which has been used only for art projects in the past, was earmarked for social service projects.

Compromise Criticized

But the Planning Commission's compromise was criticized by art enthusiasts, who complained that they would have to share a limited resource, and social service proponents, who said their programs needed a greater financial commitment.

As a result, Woo scuttled the Planning Commission's compromise two weeks ago and set to work on his new proposal.

Woo's 10% social service guarantee, unveiled last week, was immediately acclaimed by some Hollywood community activists and social service providers.

The Rev. William Thom, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church on Sunset Boulevard, said he was pleased by Woo's new ideas. Thom is one of several Hollywood religious leaders who have joined in a coalition to build a shelter for the area's homeless and runaways.

"I was happily surprised by it," he said. "I think 10% is going to mean a lot of help."

Doreet Rotman, a coffee shop owner who is a member of the redevelopment agency's advisory Project Area Committee, also expressed delight. "I love it," she said. "I think his plan answers the prayers of a lot of people."

But both Rotman and Thom, who had helped organize a petition campaign for a detailed social service commitment in the redevelopment plan, said they expect Woo's suggestions to come under fire from business interests.

No Champagne Yet

"I'm not having a glass of champagne yet," Rotman said.

Indeed, some influential members of the Project Area Committee worry that Hollywood will suffer cutbacks from present social service funding levels if the agency guarantees funds for human needs.

"I've been concerned that the funds we're getting now will be displaced by any CRA commitment," said Norris Lineweaver, director of the Hollywood YMCA and a member of the Project Area Committee.

To answer those questions and other concerns, Lineweaver was asked this week by Project Area Committee President Marshall Caskey to look into Woo's proposal.

Caskey and several other members of the committee also expressed uneasiness about the impact of Woo's plan. "It's inconsistent with this committee's position," Caskey said. "We felt it was undesirable to allocate portions of the tax increment financing to any specific purpose at this stage of the game."

Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Bill Welsh said the 10% social service guarantee was "getting away from the purpose of the redevelopment plan. We're diverting the CRA from their most important task, which is creating more housing and development in Hollywood."

Welsh also expressed fear that the 10% social service guarantee--coupled with a mandatory state guarantee to use 20% of tax increments on housing for low-income and moderate-income families--would drain funds that should be used for development projects.

"This is the camel's nose under the tent," he said. "Once we set aside money for social projects, are we going to have (other( people clamoring for their slice of the pie, too?"

But Woo and his aides say they intend to stick by the latest proposal. They point to statements made recently by City Councilman Howard Finn, who heads the council's Planning and Environment Committee. At a recent committee hearing on the Hollywood plan, Finn said he wanted to see "more teeth" in social service commitments.

While announcing his latest proposal at a brief press conference last Friday on a blighted stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, Woo even found support in the angry yell of a passing motorist. As Woo began to talk about his proposal, a man leaned out of his car window and bellowed: "Hey, Mike! Why don't you clean this place up already?"

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