MOLLOY:Q & A;/fine/40" (including glance box)/mike1st/mark2nd


Staff Reporter

Last week, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency marked its 50th anniversary. During its half-century history the agency has guided the investment of more than $8 billion from private developers, transformed the downtown L.A. skyline and brought new development into areas as far-flung as Reseda and San Pedro. However, the CRA has also been a frequent target of criticism from groups that say it has neglected the concerns of small businesses and residents in favor of major developers.

With the rebounding economy, the CRA has not faded into the background. Rather, it has stepped up its efforts in Hollywood and in major downtown projects like the proposed Staples Center arena and Catholic cathedral. And the CRA is attempting to launch a major redevelopment zone in East Los Angeles.

Spearheading the CRA's efforts is planning and redevelopment veteran John Molloy, who came to the agency in late 1995 after serving as head of the Sacramento Redevelopment and Housing Agency. A native of Bristol, Conn., Molloy, 51, served 30 years with the U.S. Air Force, the Air Force Reserve and the California Air National Guard, from which he recently retired with the rank of colonel. After serving in Vietnam, Molloy left the Air Force to pursue a career in public administration and regional planning.

Molloy lives in the Bunker Hill section of downtown Los Angeles.

Question: In smaller cities like Burbank and Culver City, redevelopment efforts are typically very focused. With so many areas in L.A. needing attention, how does the CRA decide where to focus?

Answer: There is no single CRA focus for Los Angeles, because this city is so diverse. There are many different focal points. The focus in South Los Angeles is completely different than the focus in downtown or the San Fernando Valley.

In South L.A., for example, our main focus is to bring new commercial development to the area. In downtown, because of limited funding available through tax increment financing, we are trying to bring new projects on line using an absolute minimum in public funds. And in the San Fernando Valley, our focus is to prevent investment from fleeing in places like Canoga Park and North Hollywood. It takes a tremendous force of will to remain focused on these different objectives.

Q: Right now, attention seems turned toward revitalizing Hollywood. What is the CRA's role in that?

A: We view Hollywood as actually three different Hollywoods: where people live; what the entertainment industry needs to thrive; and making Hollywood a world-class tourist destination.

In making Hollywood a more livable place, we have helped develop more affordable housing, helped the Gay and Lesbian Center as well as a variety of other social service centers in Hollywood, and put seed money into business improvement districts.

In attending to the needs of the (entertainment) industry, we have been very proactive in trying to make loans and provide incentives for pre- and post-production houses to remain in Hollywood.

The tourist part is where the beautification of Hollywood Boulevard and several of the big projects come in, like the El Capitan and Egyptian theaters and the TrizecHahn project at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

Q: On the TrizecHahn project, why should the city be on the hook for $90 million in bonds for the parking lot and theater that will host the Academy Awards?

A: The bonding itself is completely self-financed. The $60 million bond for the parking lot will pay for itself and, as a bonus, we will own it when all the bonds are paid off. I'd say that's a good investment. The provision of parking is commonly viewed as a public service in redevelopment projects; that's why the federal tax code allows parking lots to be financed through tax-exempt bonds.

The $30 million in bonds for the Academy Theater is also self-financed, so the city will get all its money back. And, don't forget, the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) will only use the theater for the month of March; the rest of the time, it can be used for other events. For the price we are paying, it is an investment that is well made.

Q: So, do you think Hollywood can be turned around? Ten years ago many wrote it off as a hopeless case.

A: Yes, I do. I tell you, though, you have to be tough and hang in there. Redevelopment is a process that can take 30 to 40 years to bring an area back, and it's not always popular to view these things for the long term. You go along incrementally making improvements, gradually building up a head of steam. I thought we were definitely on a positive course before the TrizecHahn project; now, with this project, I think the timetable will be greatly accelerated. Within three to four years, we will have a Hollywood Boulevard that people will be coming from miles around to see.

Q: What about some of the other, less-glamorous areas of the city?

A: Let's look at South Central L.A. We are in negotiations with Magic Johnson's firm for an exciting project in the Santa Barbara Plaza area near Crenshaw Mall. They are very good to work with, but they are tough negotiators. We are hopeful that we can bring that project to fruition.

In the San Pedro area, we are working on an exciting project that for the first time is going to link the waterfront with the downtown area right next to it. And in East Los Angeles, we are embarking on a 1,600-acre redevelopment project that will include most of the commercial area in that community. There is a lot of industrial space there that needs to be cleaned up and redeveloped.

Q: One frequent criticism of the CRA is that the agency is essentially a vehicle for steering huge projects to major developers, many of whom are big campaign contributors. What is your reaction?

A: There is no question that many of the major projects go to big development firms. That's because you have to deal with the people who can accomplish the task. If you are trying to engender development projects where the marketplace has essentially failed and that is our core mission then you have to deal with the people who can bring the resources to the table and do the job.

Q: Another criticism is that the CRA is used by City Council members to get pet projects in their districts. How true is that?

A: I wouldn't use the term "pet projects." But it is true, council members are interested in certain projects in their districts. Many of the areas in need of redevelopment are obvious to anyone entering the district for the first time. The council members are doing their jobs when they push for projects to redevelop those areas. Take (Councilwoman) Jackie Goldberg, for example. She has pushed us over and over again to move on Hollywood redevelopment. I think she's been a very positive force.

Q: Businesses that have been in the same locations for decades are often very reluctant to relocate to make way for redevelopment. What are you doing to address their concerns?

A: First and most importantly, we have a policy of trying to keep to a minimum the number of businesses that have to be relocated. Ten or 20 years ago, when CRAs around the country viewed redevelopment as a way to clear huge tracts of land and start from a clean slate, that was not the case. Now our main goal is to redevelop around the existing businesses. That means giving loans and grants to improve their storefronts and moving them only when it is absolutely necessary.

That's not to say we don't move businesses at all. On the (Staples Center) sports arena project, for example, we will have to relocate businesses to make way for the parking lot. All those businesses will of course receive compensation for their move.

Q: How did you get into the redevelopment business?

A: When I was in the U.S. Air Force, I knew I didn't want to remain there forever. So I picked up a master's degree in public administration and had to take a course in public planning. That's how I found out I liked the whole area of urban planning. When I left the Air Force, I came down to USC to get a master's in urban and regional planning. Then in 1975 I joined the Sacramento Redevelopment and Housing Agency. I was there for 20 years, ending as head of the agency.

Q: When you get up in the morning, what motivates you to come to work?

A: The knowledge that I am bringing resources to make positive changes in people's lives. The challenges are tremendous; projects take years, even decades, to come together. But it's worth it when you see things like the Coburn School on Bunker Hill making a difference in the lives of our young people, or when you bring new business opportunities to people in South Central Los Angeles.

John E. Molloy

Title: Administrator

Organization: Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency

Born: Bristol, Conn., 1946

Education: Bachelor's degree in zoology and chemistry from the University of Connecticut; master's degree in public administration from Golden Gate University; Ph.D. in public administration and master's degree in urban and regional planning from USC.

Most Admired Person: Franklin Roosevelt

Hobbies: Hiking in Griffith Park, skiing, cartography

Turning Point in Career: While in the Air Force, deciding to enter urban planning.

Personal: Married, two sons.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.