Down and Out Ranking Rankles

Times Staff Writer

Banning, Blythe and Barstow no longer qualify as "distressed" cities under federal guidelines, nor do Adelanto, Lake Elsinore or Loma Linda.

But Beverly Hills does.

According to a new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development list, Beverly Hills can apply for about $56 million a year in business development grants reserved for small cities suffering "physical and economic distress."

Federal officials called the listing a fluke and said it is highly unlikely that glamorous Beverly Hills, where the median household income of $38,000 is among the highest in the state, will ever receive such a grant.

No Plan to Apply

A Beverly Hills spokeswoman said that while her city does have a sizable population of elderly poor, it has no plan to apply for grants as a distressed city.

"We have not paid a whole lot of attention to this whole program because it's not suited to our particular needs," said Audrey Arlington, grants specialist for Beverly Hills.

Still, local officials who compete for the special grants--designed to create jobs for low-income residents--are scratching their heads over the eligibility of Beverly Hills, a city known for its mansions, exclusive shopping and chic restaurants.

"This has got to be the all-time example that there is something wrong with the method they use to determine eligible cities. It's kind of bizarre," said Ronald Lindsey, assistant redevelopment director for Maywood, which was excluded from the distressed city list two years ago.

Bobbette Glover, community development grants manager for Los Angeles County, said she was most surprised with the comparative rankings of Beverly Hills and Maywood, a predominately Latino community with a household income about 40% that of Beverly Hills.

Criteria Questioned

"Based on general knowledge of those two cities, one would think that any criteria that was supposed to measure distress would have ranked Maywood higher," she said.

Yet, after a partial statistical evaluation of about 10,000 eligible cities, Beverly Hills was at the 49th percentile and Maywood the 87th on a 100-point system where 1 indicates the greatest distress, confirmed Jack Flynn, a Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman.

Lindsey noted that Beverly Hills also made a 1985 list of economically distressed cities, while Maywood was passed over and could not apply for grants until reinstated last month.

He said Beverly Hills' status as a distressed city indirectly points out what many western cities see as an eastern bias in the eligibility criteria for HUD's 9-year-old Urban Development Action Grant program, which will award about $225 million to large and small cities this year.

Like Beverly Hills, eastern cities tend to be older and slower growing than those in the West, and rank higher in those categories of distress, he said.

To be eligible for the program, a city must meet minimum standards in three of six categories. Opinions about cities' relative needs cannot be considered, Flynn said.

"We've got to use standardized data. It's probably the only way to be as close to fair as possible," he said.

How They're Ranked

Once on the list, cities are given a percentile ranking based exclusively on data about housing age, population growth and poverty. Beverly Hills scored high in two of the categories, Flynn said.

But a subsequent "distress ranking," which includes the unemployment and income data, would probably have knocked Beverly Hills out of consideration for a grant even before the merits of the city's proposal were considered, he said.

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