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How to Rebuild L.A.--Everyone Must Pitch In : Garcia report is an exceedingly useful reality check

One year after the riots, Los Angeles is deep in self-reflection. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Rebuild L.A. An internal report, sort of a self-report card on this nonprofit group’s struggles, is raising valuable if discomforting questions about RLA’s strategy--and about the government’s woeful abdication of its share of responsibility for the city’s recovery.

RLA board member Dan Garcia, the chairman of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and a real estate attorney for Warner Bros., compiled the admirably candid report, which concludes that the vagaries of RLA’s rebuilding objectives (should it directly help riot victims or not?) have provided officials with “a convenient way to rationalize inaction.”

TOO MUCH DUCKING: In the face of such a substantial critical observation, the temptation in some quarters may be to hunker down and go on the defensive. That would be a tragic error. Instead the focus should be on looking ahead and concentrating on proactive measures identified by the report. After all, the Garcia report includes the results of a riot victims survey that echoed many of the criticisms leveled over the last year at RLA, the mayor, the City Council and various governmental agencies. RLA points to more than $500 million in riot area investments and the creation of several thousand jobs since the upheaval. But the fruits of those efforts have been barely visible amid burned buildings and abandoned businesses.

Garcia’s report contains important recommendations for a better defined and executed public-private partnership between RLA and government that could help not only riot-damaged areas but businesses throughout the city. The report concluded that there was “no rhyme or reason” to government policy in riot-damaged areas--a failure that enormously complicates the comeback process for firms that want to rebuild. Needed for the long term is a comprehensive local-state-federal strategy to defuse existing ethnic tensions and facilitate the ultimate recovery.

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In the meantime, efforts must be made to expedite help for businesses stymied in their rebuilding efforts by government red tape, limited access to loans and inadequate insurance settlements. In a good idea for whoever is to be the new mayor, the report recommends that City Hall set up a rebuild desk; provide more streamlined summaries of governmental programs for victims; develop more accurate listings of riot-damaged property and be more efficient in city demolitions.

NOT ENOUGH TEAMWORK: It was never realistic to expect RLA and chairman Peter V. Ueberroth to be the salvation for Los Angeles. That job is just too big for any one group, and probably too big even for local government to do alone. The federal government must help, for now by reviving the Clinton Administration’s proposed summer-jobs bill. The Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson must persist in their effort to make California an easier place to do business, too. And community activists must keep working to help meet the needs of the neighborhoods they know better than anyone else.

As for RLA itself, even in one year it has shown an admirable willingness to change and retool as needed. It has unveiled new lending programs for riot victims and has just appointed its fifth co-chair, Linda J. Wong, the first Asian-American and woman among the group’s top leadership. It must keep up the good work and take criticism like Garcia’s in the constructive spirit in which it is clearly intended. Let’s keep working.


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