NORTH HILLS : Redevelopment Plan Gets Mixed Reception

A proposal to set up an emergency redevelopment zone in quake-ravaged North Hills generated lukewarm reaction Tuesday from community leaders.

But members of the North Hills Community Coordinating Council, who discussed the proposal with Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Bobbi Fiedler, said they would not rule out the option.

"I don't think that the CRA is necessarily the answer," said council president Harry Coleman, who leads the non-governmental advisory panel. "But we want to explore every avenue."

Earlier this month, the Community Redevelopment Agency suggested that North Hills and five other areas be considered as emergency redevelopment zones to help repair earthquake damage. The CRA is expected to make its final recommendation to the City Council in November. Under state law, such emergency zones would be created without the time-consuming expense of environmental studies traditionally required. Property tax generated from new construction sites within the zone would pay for improvements such as new parks, streets and loans to quake victims.

But the concept is controversial because, as Fiedler pointed out, control over the zone would be out of the hands of the public and in the hands of CRA officials, who have the ability to seize blighted property under the power of eminent domain.

"You're bringing something in that has tremendous power," Fiedler said. "We're allocating a lot of money to that agency without the public being able to get involved. Be sure to stay involved in that process."

Other concerns aired Tuesday included a CRA policy that 20% of agency funds within a zone be used to develop low-income housing.

Coleman pointed out that the area already has 19,000 units crammed into a six-square-block area. Forty percent of those units are vacant, and many are low-income housing, he said.

"We already have a substantial amount of low-income housing in the area," Coleman said. "That is part of our problem."

But Fiedler did see ways that North Hills could benefit from such a zone, such as using CRA funds to restore buildings to enhance outreach efforts in the community.

After the meeting, however, Fiedler said privately that she does not recommend a CRA zone for the North Hills area.

And while Coleman also conceded that he is leaning against the proposal, he said it will be discussed at a meeting of the group's housing subcommittee in two weeks.

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