Friday, January 25, 2008

Mayor's Business Committe Snubs Neighborhood Councils!

Below is my story in today's CITYWATCH:

LA Biz Committee Bans NCs from 21st Century Los Angeles
Economy & Jobs
By Brady Westwater

(BACK STORY-Fifteen months ago, the Mayor appointed 26 community leaders to an Economy and Jobs Committee and charged them with developing specific action recommendations for economic development and the creation of jobs. The committee’s report … containing 100 recommendations … was released. What follows is Brady Westwater’s analysis of that report. To read that report and to follow along with the analysis, visit: )

When 26 people were appointed to master plan 21st Century Los Angeles's economy – not one member was chosen to represent Neighborhood Councils despite the fact we are the only group created to advise the city.

Those 26 people then asked 200 more people over a period of 15 months to participate in their discussions – and, again, not a single one of those people listed in the 141page report was chosen to represent neighborhood councils.

And in the entire 141 page report about the future of Los Angeles –there is exactly one mention of neighborhood councils. And that is their recommendation that we should be investigated.

The 141 (including the introduction) page report does not even once call for us to be talked to or worked with or consulted with – even though many other groups and organizations are being asked to participate. Instead, Russell Goldsmith and his 25 co-conspirators made it clear the only relevance of neighborhood councils in the future of this city is that we need to be investigated.

Now for the good news.

The report lists 100 action items - some which are actually realistic and specific enough to do some good, plus there are a handful of blatantly dishonest political cows of the type which drive jobs out of this city (and which need to be butchered), but, surprisingly, there are also some strikingly honest examples of just how badly business is treated in this city by every level of government – and why employers and jobs are fleeing Los Angeles.

Now due to the size of the report I'll just hit a few highlights that might be of interest to NC's and leave out the airport and the harbor sections since they can be addressed by NC's in those areas.
Page 18 – In the revitalization of South Los Angeles section, the report calls for rebuilding the housing projects of South Los Angeles with mixed income communities – but with at least a 1-for-1 replacement of subsidized housing and – miracle of miracles – it calls for a financially self-sustaining business model of having the market rate housing paying for the costs of building the subsidized housing. (Note: The first meeting this spring of LA NC Congress Economic Development Committee will be a forum on how to create sustainable affordable housing in Los Angeles.)
On Page 20, they go back to their old ways by trying to blackmail developers into subsidizing developments in less desirable areas, other than their own, before they can get a building permit, thus forcing their tenants to have to pay higher rents. Now granted, as proposed, this is only a program for city owned land – but as the CRA has shown – the law means little when it comes to individual board members expanding their powers of coercion when behind closed door.

A real world solution to this problem would be for the builder to develop a business model – with the city's help – that would make the less desirable site financially self-sustainable – but of course that would require creativity and intelligence on the city's part.
Page 23 – Developing a better educated workforce. There are a lot of excellent ideas here, but the biggest needed change is ignored.

Besides there being inadequate vocational training in high school – the requirements for graduation from high school make absolutely no sense in some areas – particularly in mathematics.

While students going to college, or who will be in a field that requires algebra or geometry, should be taking those classes, 90% of students have no need for either. I myself took AP algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry and physics – but not once have I ever needed to use any of that other than the most elemental of algebraic equations which I could just as easily have learned in math classes. It was all a waste of my time.

But today we are destroying an entire generation of students who are being turned off from school – or forced to drop out because they cannot handle a subject they have no need to learn. And, this does not affect our need to have scientists or engineers. If anything, freeing up teachers to teach those who really want to learn those subjects will benefit everyone. We need to keep kids in high school long enough to graduate and then decide if they want to go to college or not.
Page 39 – Create Creative Community Zones with live/work spaces as job incubators. Great idea, except in the one area this was organically happening – the Downtown former industrial district – live work spaces have been made illegal by the CRA and the Planning Department in their never ending quest to drive jobs out of Los Angeles.
Page 47, 55, 115- and many other pages. Horror story after horror story about how City Hall today goes out of its way to destroy businesses in Los Angeles. After ten years of bringing jobs and businesses to Downtown I can say that 90% of my time is spent overcoming roadblocks the city has created. And in just the last six months – this nightmare has gotten so bad I wonder if it's even worth trying any more. But page 116 also identifies one of the few heroes of City Hall – Jorge Guzman - and from personal experience I can verify he's… Greeeat!

The one major obstacle that they fail to identify – though - is the fire department's building inspectors. They can take up to a year to approve a virtually finished building by having inspection after inspection – and asking for new changes on each inspection and then a new inspector will disapprove what another inspector had approved and ask for everything to be ripped out and redone and then another inspector with show up for one day, disapprove those 'approved' changes – and then vanish forever. And it never ends.

For month after month after month, they will never tell the builder what it is they want him to do. The only possible answer is that the LAFD is on the payroll of competing cities to bankrupt every business in Downtown Los Angeles.
Page 57- Just when you think that intelligent life might exist in this city – you run across something like recommendation number 80; the proposed "Economic Prosperity Element' for the General Plan – not to be confused with very similar prewar 'Japan Co-Prosperity Sphere' or 'Mao's Great Leap Forward'. This terrifying proposal would require anyone who builds anything in LA to be responsible for providing for the 'life goals' of everyone in the area they are building. Yes – 'life goals".

It is the kind of innocuous camel's nose in the tent proposal that is meant to seem harmless when you read it, but which is really meant to be a tool for special interest groups to cripple business in this city. So I'm curious as to which special interest group slipped this Trojan Horse into the plan. And if anything remotely like this passes, every shakedown artist in LA will be lined up whenever anyone wants to build anything, making LA the new Detroit.
Page 59-Preserving appropriate industrial zoned land is a good idea –but two horribly bad policy suggestions are made here which are then 'supported' by the report's dishonest manipulation of the facts.

The proposals are: freezing the amount of industrial land in Los Angeles –whether or not it is creating jobs – and permanently outlawing both parks and live/work housing starting at the end of the Arts District for the entire length of the LA River through Downtown Los Angeles.

Yes - not a single park will ever be allowed within Downtown proper along the river nor will any housing or jobs for the creative live/work communities, the report claims to be interested attracting to Los Angeles, ever be allowed. This will condemn the most densely populated part of the city, the most park poor part of the city on a per capita basis – to a parkless future and a river lined with concrete, railroad tracks and warehouses filled with a handful of low paying jobs.

The report begins by falsely stating there are only two reasons for the flight of manufacturing jobs from LA – the lack of properly zoned land and the lack empty industrial buildings.

Not mentioned is that the biggest demand in LA is for warehouses with very few and very low paying jobs.

Not mentioned is that the real reason factories are leaving LA is that it is no longer economically feasible to manufacture most items in any high cost city such as Los Angeles.

Not mentioned is that most of these jobs are going overseas since even low cost rural areas in the South and the Mid-West can no longer support those jobs.

Even more dishonest are the false comparisons between retail jobs and 'high paying industrial jobs' given for Downtown when the real choice is between much higher paying jobs created by live work creative and light industrial mixed use communities and the far lower paying jobs that are already leaving those areas.

In parts of the city such as Downtown – this plan will drive high paying jobs and creative industries out of Los Angeles and will kill countless future jobs. In fact, both the Planning Department and the CRA have refused to publicly debate charges their salary comparisons for Downtown are totally fraudulent when they announced that all public workshops on this subject were canceled. They cannot afford to allow the truth to get out.
Page 63 – Trying to get LA's proper share of State and Federal funds. Excellent stuff – except it misses that LA is also shortchanged when it comes to getting money from major private foundations. They need to go back and review how much cities such as San Francisco and New York get from the large foundations compared to Los Angeles.
Page 70 – The need for Los Angeles to have an actual city department for economic development. Now there's a no-brainer. We are likely the only major city without such a department and we have the lack of jobs and businesses to prove it.
Now even though I have largely covered items which I have questions about – that doesn't mean that 90% of the report isn't pretty good stuff; it's just that any item that needs to be publicly debated by the Neighborhood Councils needs to be identified ASAP. So let me know what ticking time bombs I may have missed – or other suggestions for improvements concerning the report's recommendations.

And since this committee appears to have gone out of its way to make certain no one they spoke with was asked as a spokesperson for the neighborhood council movement (even though they did speak with individuals who inadvertently had NC connections), we must be pro-active on this subject … particularly since the process for implementing these proposals appears even more top down driven than the process that developed the 100 recommendations.

Ironically, that could be the Committee's ultimate failure, if fail it does; their failure to engage the public in the process and their failure to allow for any public participation in the debate before determining their recommendations; and now their current failure to call for the NC's – or any community based groups – to help in evaluating and implementing these proposals.

So read the report and let me know if you think we should get involved in a citywide debate on this report and if we should ask to be formally represented on the implementation committees.

Or, if we should just 'receive and file'.

(Brady Westwater is a writer, a long-time downtown and neighborhood council activist and Chair of the LA NC Congress Economic Development Committee. He can be reached at:

Read the complete LAEJC report at: )

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