Los Angeles could receive up to $100 million in federal funds to revitalize riot-ravaged communities if urban aid legislation proposed by President Clinton is approved, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros said Wednesday.
Speaking on his first visit to Los Angeles since becoming head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Cisneros said that the Clinton Administration would like to use Los Angeles as a testing ground for many of its urban programs.
Clinton has proposed a five-year, $8-billion program to establish 10 "empowerment zones" nationwide that would receive extensive federal help, including tax breaks of up to $5,000 a year for businesses that hire workers from within the communities.
Other funds would go toward job training, drug prevention, child care and housing.
"Los Angeles will have an excellent opportunity to apply for one of the largest empowerment zone grants," Cisneros said at a news conference at First African Methodist Episcopal Church. "It will provide an opportunity for a truly intensive, experimental, innovative program."
Los Angeles officials have already indicated that they will apply for the aid, which must still must be approved by Congress.
After stopping off at the church, where he was greeted warmly by its pastor, the Rev. Cecil Murray, and Rebuild L.A. Co-chair Tony Salazar, Cisneros took an hourlong bus tour of neighborhoods hardest hit by last spring's riots.
Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, was already familiar with many of the areas. After violence engulfed the city, Cisneros said, he called Mayor Tom Bradley to offer assistance and spent three days speaking mostly in Los Angeles' Latino communities, urging calm and compliance with the curfew.
Cisneros said the city has made some strides since then.
"It was disconcerting to see empty lots still around, but I am very impressed that a good deal of progress has been made," he said. "It's especially heartening to see local leadership and the nonprofit community committing resources to rebuilding."
Cisneros will spend two more days in Los Angeles, meeting with civic and community leaders to identify ways to aid local rebuilding efforts.
Murray, a leading voice in the city's healing process, encouraged the HUD secretary to focus on short- and mid-term needs of residents and riot victims, such as job creation, business development and help in cutting through insurance industry red tape.
"We have a big job to do and not much time to do it but we're going to be right there with you" he told Cisneros.
Cisneros told Murray he would take his suggestions back to Washington.
"My task will be to return from this trip . . . and identify how we can bring the resources you need together," he said.