Likening the poverty in New Orleans that shocked the nation to that in his own city, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed a new seven-member redevelopment commission Monday and directed it to reverse years of city neglect in blighted communities, including South and East Los Angeles.
The mayor announced the panelists at the ceremonial opening of a new South Los Angeles office for the Community Redevelopment Agency, which is responsible for bringing development to impoverished areas.
“The events around Hurricane Katrina, the images, showed America a very dark underbelly of race and class, and all of us should be concerned by what we saw there,” Villaraigosa said. “But in many ways, what we saw there, you could easily see here in the city of Los Angeles, and in Chicago and New York.”
Villaraigosa cited the Los Angeles area’s high poverty rate. According to the 2000 U.S. census, the Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange counties area has the highest percentage of families in poverty among the nation’s metropolitan areas.
Villaraigosa said the city could do more to reduce poverty.
“Great cities grow and prosper together,” Villaraigosa said. “But for far too long, neighborhoods in need all across Los Angeles have been left behind. My appointees to the CRA commission bring the breadth and depth of experience needed to aggressively move important projects forward to revitalize our neighborhoods, bringing back economic development, jobs and housing.”
Some appointees agreed that the redevelopment agency, which has traditionally spent the bulk of its money on downtown, needs to be more aggressive in poorer areas.
Brenda Shockley, a nominee from Olympic Park, contrasted the decades it took to approve the Marlton Square shopping center in South Los Angeles with the relatively few years it took to approve Staples Center downtown.
“We all know that 25 years is a pretty long time to do a shopping development,” said Shockley, president of the nonprofit Community Building Inc. “If we just contrast that to the Staples arena, it points up that if you have the will, not only will you have the resources, but you will also have the speed.”
Also appointed Monday to the panel: Bruce Ackerman, president of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley; real estate attorney William H. Jackson III; Madeline Janis Aparicio, executive director of the labor group Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy; Joan Ling, executive director of the Community Corp., a nonprofit housing group; John Perez, political director of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 324; and Mark Rios, an architect.
The Times identified six of the appointees Sept. 2, but Villaraigosa said the formal announcement was delayed because of the city’s need to deal with Gulf Coast evacuees.
Perez, who is a first cousin to the mayor, said he would challenge the way the agency does business. He has already raised concerns about the size of a $262-million city subsidy and loan package for a hotel planned next to the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The mayor said it should not be difficult for commissioners to see where the city should focus its redevelopment money.
“All you need to do is get in your car and go see the lack of development, go see all those abandoned buildings, go see the lack of affordable housing,” Villaraigosa said. “You don’t need a rocket scientist or an expert to tell you that here in South Los Angeles there hasn’t been the kind of investment that we need.”