In many ways, it is the future of Los Angeles. A paradox of wealth and poverty, of gleaming skyscrapers and cardboard shelters, tree-lined streets and trash-ridden tenements. The inner city is all of these things. And because of that, it is as much a view of where Los Angeles has been--and may go--as any part of the sprawling city.
So as the candidates for mayor crisscross this metropolis, promising more jobs, safer neighborhoods and tighter spending at City Hall, an obvious question is: What would they do for Central Los Angeles? And what would they do to bring jobs and hope to an area that for years has had little of either?
Not surprisingly, with many neighborhoods still scarred by last spring's riots, several candidates say no economic plan, no infusion of public programs or private dollars can succeed in the urban core unless its communities--from Boyle Heights to Baldwin Hills, Watts to Little Tokyo--are made safer.
"Fundamental to any economic development plan has got to be making the city safe," said Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar), one of 24 mayoral candidates on the April 20 ballot. "Until the (inner city) is safe, banks won't invest there . . . and people won't want to come there. And it will be hard to create jobs here unless people feel safe."
Added another, City Councilman Nate Holden, whose district includes Koreatown and much of Mid-City: "You have to make people not only feel safe, but be safe."
And while the candidates describe Central Los Angeles as a place of great economic promise, they also say the riots--which hit hardest there--show it to be a place of great economic peril.
"I think most people recognize that people don't riot for the fun of it. They riot for good reason," said attorney Stan Sanders, another candidate. "And part of the reason is the persistence of poverty in Los Angeles. We are the homeless capital of the world. We have hunger in this city you wouldn't believe."
With the future of the inner city so vital to Los Angeles as a whole, City Times asked the 11 major mayoral candidates to outline their economic plans for a part of the city that many agree has been overlooked for years.
Some of the plans have been borrowed from the past. Some, borrowed from other cities. Regardless, the proposals suggest that most of the candidates have given more than passing consideration to Central Los Angeles.
The plans range from major shifts in spending priorities and creation of business enterprise zones to proposals for city-funded development banks and loan guarantees for entrepreneurs. Indeed, several candidates believe that small businesses hold the key to the inner city's future and pledge to focus on aiding their development.
One candidate, Nick Patsaouras, envisions the city's core as a hub for high-tech, transportation-oriented industries. Another, Julian Nava, has a proposal to transform gang members into small-business operators, thereby giving them a financial stake in their communities. And many others--from Katz to former Deputy Mayor Linda Griego to Councilmen Joel Wachs and Michael Woo--outline multifaceted agendas to bring economic rebirth to the inner city.
Most of the candidates agree the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, in its zeal to transform Los Angeles' skyline, has abandoned the more important mission of revitalizing blighted neighborhoods. As such, Councilman Ernani Bernardi says, the agency should be disbanded, with its responsibilities transferred elsewhere.
Although other candidates are not willing to go that far, they do say the inner city's future, in large part, hinges on new priorities for the cash-rich CRA.
"No. 1, I would redirect the CRA away from subsidizing high-rise buildings and shopping centers to instead revitalize the industrial base, especially small businesses and environmentally clean industries," Woo said.
Added attorney Tom Houston, a former deputy mayor: "The CRA did a good job Downtown. They just overdid it. There are a lot of empty buildings now."
Like several other candidates, Houston said he would redirect the CRA's spending to low-income housing development and manufacturing projects. The first such project, Houston said, would be a new slaughterhouse and meat-packing facility that would provide employment for as many as 4,000 people in Central Los Angeles.
"The meat-packing industry was in South-Central . . . it moved to the Midwest where there were no unions," Houston said. "Now there's a great demand for fresh meat--meat in stores within a day of slaughtering. So there is a place (here) for the meat-packing industry."
Ironically, the centerpiece of Houston's jobs program is a project on which he would face a conflict of interest as mayor because one of its participants--Southern Pacific Transportation Co.--is among his clients. The project is the Alameda Corridor, a proposed $1.8-billion transportation link between Downtown and the Port of Los Angeles.
Houston is not the only one to sing the project's praises. Griego views the Alameda Corridor as just the sort of labor-intensive undertaking needed to stimulate employment in the blue-collar, heavily immigrant neighborhoods surrounding Downtown.
But Griego and several others quickly add that the economic vitality of Los Angeles, and particularly its urban core, hinge more on small businesses than big-ticket projects.
"My emphasis is on small businesses . . . those that have not had access to funds," said Griego, a restaurant owner.
Added attorney and entrepreneur Richard Riordan: "Think small- to medium-size businesses. Don't try to hit home runs. Hit singles and doubles."
To create jobs, Griego said, the city must focus on helping manufacturing firms succeed. "When you deal with East Los Angeles and South-Central, you have a lot of . . . light- to medium-sized manufacturing firms" producing everything from machine parts to picture frames, she said.
With such an "entrepreneurial base" already in place in the city's central core, Griego said, it is vital for Los Angeles to do what it can to accommodate small businesses. "Rather than wait for them to leave and acknowledge there is a problem, it would make sense to approach them, industry-by-industry, to see what can be done," she said.
Similarly, Bernardi and Holden argue that the inevitable first step toward improving the inner city is determining what businesses can compete.
"First of all, somebody has got to make a survey of what kind of services or what kinds of products we use in this city that we are not now providing," Bernardi said. "Otherwise, how long will (businesses) last if they are making things that could be made somewhere else?"
On that score, virtually all of the major candidates argue that Central Los Angeles is a prime location for manufacturing the rail cars, electric buses and other vehicles that are certain to be purchased in this region over the next 20 years, when a mass-transit network will take shape at an estimated cost of $150 billion.
The idea of turning Los Angeles into a mass-transit mecca has long been championed by businessman Nick Patsaouras, for years a board member of the Southern California Rapid Transit District. Among Patsaouras' ideas: building a regional transit facility that would be jointly developed by the public and private sector, with government agencies becoming equity partners by donating lands and providing tax-exempt financing for businesses.
The city, Patsaouras said, needs an industrial policy to create manufacturing jobs in advanced transportation technologies--clean-fuel vehicles, electric cars and buses, high-tech highways. Such endeavors, he said, could create thousands of jobs in the inner city.
Further, Patsaouras said, government officials could spur new employment and better neighborhoods through mixed-use developments similar to an RTD project moving forward near Downtown. The project, spanning a city block near Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado Street, would include 350 units of low- and moderate-income housing, a supermarket, child care center, transit police station and a five-screen movie theater.
Like Patsaouras, several candidates suggested transportation-related plans as worthwhile ventures in the inner city.
Houston, for example, said there are several projects--including a proposed Downtown-to-Santa Monica light rail line along Exposition Boulevard--that would offer significant development potential and jobs to an area battered by last spring's riots.
Meanwhile, Holden said he is discussing with an unspecified party the possibility of bringing a Hyundai automobile assembly plant to South-Central.
"And since we are buying so many damn rail cars," Holden added, "there's no reason in the world we can't require that we build rail cars in Los Angeles. . . . You could start a whole new industry . . . and we can do it right here in the inner city."
That sort of start-up industry also is on the mind of Councilman Joel Wachs, whose 17-point economic plan for Los Angeles leans heavily on proposals for manufacturing in the inner city with ethnically diverse work forces. Wachs also has called for recruiting large firms to invest in targeted inner-city neighborhoods and making seed money available for neighborhoods to grow through innovations such as community development banks.
"I see Downtown as a hub," Wachs said, arguing the city must be more active in "grass-roots economic" assistance to communities through such approaches as loan guarantees for businesses and local job-training programs.
Woo also sees great opportunities for launching new businesses--with city help--in the urban core. Borrowing a proposal that was successful in Michigan, Woo said Los Angeles should launch a business-loan program in which about $5 million in city funds could be used to secure $100 million in new business loans from private lending institutions.
Establishing enterprise zones--in which tax incentives are used to lure businesses into poorer neighborhoods--is at the center of a wide-ranging program offered by Katz for revitalizing the inner city. Katz said he also favors a city contracting policy that, especially in the transportation area, provides incentives for companies to focus their hiring efforts within Los Angeles. "And a way to do that is by deducting . . . when calculating the lowest bid, the amount of wages, taxes and goods and services bought into Los Angeles" by companies competing for a contract, he said.
Katz added: "I don't care where a company is headquartered, I want to put people to work in Los Angeles."
Noting that a state pension fund has successfully invested in new public developments, Katz said he would also support a City Charter change enabling the investment of pension funds to create new low- and moderate-income housing.
Many of the candidates say the lack of local job opportunities, while caused by many factors beyond the reach of local politicians, still can be traced partly to City Hall's inefficiency--and occasional antagonism--toward business.
"City Hall has been an enemy, particularly of small business people," said Riordan. "You go throughout the inner city of Los Angeles and you will hear time and again that minority businesses have been hurt worse by anti-business attitudes at City Hall than anything else."
Beyond that perceived friction, the inner city--and the possibility of new jobs--have been hurt by plain old bureaucracy, many of the candidates said.
Griego, for example, noted that almost three years after city voters passed a bond measure to finance seismic safety work on public buildings, little work has taken place. This could provide thousands of jobs citywide, many in Los Angeles' older Downtown areas, she said.
Beyond using funds or programs already in place, most candidates also urge new ventures.
Sanders, for example, has called for creation of a city development bank with $1 billion in equity capital for small- and medium-sized businesses that locate in the city. The bank, he said, would provide start-up funds for ventures that may not qualify for traditional commercial loans and is patterned after successful venture capital markets worldwide.
"We would raise money as a venture capital fund, except in this sense we are saying, 'Look, the inner city of Los Angeles is a good investment precisely because no one else is investing and there are markets to be set up to seize opportunities.' "
A more unconventional proposal has been advanced by Nava, a former Los Angeles school board member and U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Nava has suggested the city encourage gang members to participate in local businesses.
"Since it costs anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 annually to incarcerate someone, we could identify redeemable gang members and those that normally are put on parole anyway and work with their (groups) which are like nation states . . . to identify those business enterprises that these young people could handle," Nava said.
With public and private funding and help from business advisers, Nava said, the city could bring jobs to Central Los Angeles and ease tensions if gang members develop a financial stake in neighborhood coffee shops, carwashes, dry cleaners and other businesses.
Similarly, Nava calls for the city to establish a multibillion-dollar urban development fund--underwritten by public and private sector treasuries and trust funds--that would finance projects through the public sale of stocks in selected ventures, such as garment factories.
Amid concerns about the inner city's future, of too few jobs and dreams dashed by last year's riots or everyday despair, some candidates for mayor still find reasons for hope.
Sanders, for example, envisions Los Angeles--particularly its urban core--as a pilot project of economic renewal for the 1990s, just as New Haven, Conn., was the prototype in the 1960s for President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs.
"Because of our politically strategic position to California and the Clinton Administration . . . and because of the very serious economic downturn in the Southern California area, it is very right for Los Angeles, the scene of the '92 revolt, to be the pilot project city for the Clinton Administration," Sanders said.
Even if that does not occur, many candidates say the city's core can rebuild itself.
"I actually think we have a bright economic future," Wachs said. "As I have surveyed what has happened in our city, I think we need to look at the new reality of what exists in Los Angeles, of what Los Angeles today is really about.
"It is about a lot of ethnically and religiously diverse people who are highly motivated and highly talented.
"People," Wachs said, "who are trying to accomplish things that our parents and grandparents came here for."
On the Cover: Candidates for mayor include (clockwise from top left) Councilman Nate Holden, Councilman Mike Woo, attorney Stan Sanders, Councilman Joel Wachs, former Deputy Mayor Tom Houston, former school board member Julian Nava, businessman Richard Riordan, Councilman Ernani Bernardi, Assemblyman Richard Katz and former Deputy Mayor Linda Griego. Pictured in center is businessman Nick Patsouras.
The candidates have put forth a variety of plans for bringing economic growth to Central Los Angeles, ranging from enterprise zones to city-funded development banks to loan guarantees for entrepreneurs. Several candidates think that small businesses hold the key to the inner city's future.
Most of the candidates agree that the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, in its zeal to transform Los Angeles' skyline, has abandoned the more important mission of revitalizing blighted neighborhoods.
But a number of candidates also said economic programs are likely to fail unless the streets of Central Los Angeles are made safer.
Positions on the Issues Here are the positions of the major candidates in the Los Angeles mayoral race on issues that have cropped up in the campaign: 1) Do you support voting rights for legal Non-citizens in local elections? Tom Houston: No Linda Griego: No Julian Nava: Yes Nick Patsaouras: No Richard Riordan: No Mike Woo: No Richard Katz: No Ernani Bernardi: No Nate Holden: No Joel Wachs: No Stan Sanders: No *2) Do you support the April 20 ballot measure to raise taxes for more police? Houston: Yes Griego: Yes Nava: Yes Riordan: No Patsaouras: No Woo: Yes Katz: No Bernardi: No Holden: Yes Wachs: Yes Sanders: Yes *3) Do you support the breakup of the Los Angeles Unified School District? Houston: No Griego: No Nava: Yes Patsaouras: No Riordan: Yes Woo: No Katz: No Bernardi: No Holden: Yes * Wachs: Yes Sanders: No * into two districts *4) Do you support a trash collection fee to help balance the city budget? Houston: Yes Griego: No Nava: No Patsaouras: No Riordan: No Woo: No Katz: No Bernardi: No Holden Declined to answer Wachs: No Sanders: No