How to make or break L.A.

Russell Goldsmith is the chairman of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs and chief executive of City National Bank. Michael Kelly is the executive director of the coalition.

On May 21, Angelenos will have the opportunity to elect a new mayor, along with a city attorney, city controller and several City Council members. The importance of this election cannot be overstated.

It is generally well known that City Hall shapes tax, regulatory and land-use policies and provides oversight and appointment powers over numerous commissions, departments, agencies and the civil workforce. What many may not know is that it also owns economic assets that are responsible for a large portion of the region’s workforce and overall economic horsepower: LAX, the Port of Los Angeles, the Convention Center and the Department of Water and Power.

Since 1980, the city has added 1 million residents but lost 165,000 net jobs. L.A.'s unemployment rate stands at 11.4%, well above the state and national average.

The people we will elect next month will need to devote a significant share of their efforts toward advancing investments in the fixed assets that are under their control.

The Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy and Jobs, a bipartisan group of leaders from business, labor, academia and nonprofits, has identified the following opportunities that would grow Los Angeles’ economy and put more people to work:


The Convention Center. Los Angeles has an average 329 days of sunshine a year and unparalleled attractions, yet 13 U.S. cities attract more convention business. City Hall should take proactive steps to improve the operating and governance structure of the Convention Center and transform its decades-old facilities into a top-tier destination. Virtually all major U.S. cities have invested in their convention centers because they create significant economic activity and jobs. One large convention can produce up to $30 million in local spending on hotels, restaurants, shops, museums and tourism, plus much-needed tax revenue for the city.

LAX. The airport is responsible for 158,000 jobs and $21 billion in annual economic impact for the city alone, and multiples of that in Southern California. Four years ago, City Hall approved a $4-billion capital improvement campaign that is now updating infrastructure, domestic terminals and, most notably, expanding the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Yet, after 20 years of debate and community opposition and six safety studies, City Hall needs to finalize a plan to fully modernize the airport’s ground transportation system and move the north runway 260 feet farther north on LAX property.

This would make LAX safer and unlock a series of capital improvement projects totaling $8.5 billion, create 90,500 jobs and turn LAX into a more competitive, appealing and productive 21st century airport -- at no further cost to the city budget.

The Port of Los Angeles. The port has long been the single largest job generator and economic engine for the city and the region, moving more containers than any other port in the nation to retailers and consumers throughout the region and country. The port’s $1.2-billion capital improvement program is one positive step to keep it competitive after the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Another step is essential. After a decade of debate and delays, city leaders also need to approve the plans of BNSF Railway Co. and Union Pacific to invest $1 billion in private money in two much-needed rail lines to the port. This would expedite the movement of containerized cargo and other freight from the port, take trucks off local freeways, improve air quality and create 8,000 jobs.

City-owned real estate. After 20 years of debate, City Hall needs to fully implement the creation of a citywide economic development structure that would work every day to help businesses and entrepreneurs invest in and develop some of the most underutilized real estate holdings owned by the city -- vacant land, office buildings, surface parking lots and other properties, as well as land at LAX and the port and DWP properties.

The most resilient and economically successful cities are those in which citizens recognize they have a stake -- economically -- in the political leadership.

Los Angeles voters should use the next few weeks to ask the candidates questions about the city’s economic future and what they will do specifically to foster job and economic growth. Then vote for leaders who will not just study the blueprints and delay tough decisions, but who will act with a sense of urgency and in the best interests of the whole city to create a better quality of life for all of us.