This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots. Though many of the issues that helped fan the flames of the unrest – poverty, unemployment, and crime – persist in the neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, there is a growing sense that change is coming. The question is, to whose benefit.
The leading change agent is Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $1.5 billion Expo line extension from downtown to Santa Monica. Other projects that are part of a $6 billion-plus public and private investment around the periphery of South Los Angeles include USC’s Village development, a soccer stadium in Expo Park, Metro’s Crenshaw Line expansion from West Los Angeles to Los Angeles International Airport, a football stadium in Inglewood, and the Reef Project. These dollars are bringing housing, hotels, retail, and conference space – much needed amenities – to the region.
Progress has not arrived overnight. For decades, residents of South Los Angeles have witnessed multiple ribbon-cuttings – Marlton Square, District Square, and Vermont Knolls – with nothing to show for it. The 22-acre Marlton Square was first identified as a prime site for redevelopment in 1984 by then-Mayor Tom Bradley. Today, Kaiser is set to open a community center anchored around healthy living. More recently, a $1 billion redevelopment of 49 acres at Jordan Downs – 1,410 housing units, parks, and commercial space – was announced. It took 10 years to get off the ground, and if all goes well, it might take another 10 to complete. Other efforts to attract capital to the region (the rebranding of South Central Los Angeles to South Los Angeles, etc.) never achieved their intended outcome.
The lack of investment shows. South L.A.’s aggregated poverty rate stands at 45 percent, three times the national average. Its unemployment rate is 12 percent and its high school dropout rate is nearly 50 percent. Homeless encampments line some streets, and residents lack healthy food and recreational opportunities.
As progress is being made on the big-ticket infrastructure items, private- and public-sector leaders need to continue to focus on providing South L.A.’s greatest asset, its people, more opportunities to benefit from the region’s expanding economic success.
Path to success
Research has shown that the ability to create pathways to economic opportunity for low- and middle-income individuals and families is rooted in neighborhoods and a willingness from the public and private sectors to invest in neighborhood infrastructure. This includes affordable housing, small businesses, parks, and health and educational services, to name a few.
This past spring, community leaders from Vernon-Central, South Park, Florence, Exposition Park, Vermont Square, Leimert Park, and Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw neighborhoods helped secure a designation in the federal government’s Promise Zone program, which puts them at the front of the line for federal grants for education, workforce development, and healthy food programs. L.A.’s City Hall has also stepped up its efforts, passing a Jobs and Business Advancement Plan to provide targeted resources to L.A.’s local businesses and residents in communities most in need.
Below are some ideas to best leverage these efforts:
• Real Estate. City Hall should develop underutilized city-owned properties for economic and community development. The city just secured $50 million in new market tax credits and has tools such as empowerment zones and tax increment financing to support change.
• Procurement. Public and private institutions spend billions of dollars annually procuring goods and services. Not enough of those dollars are benefiting local businesses in Los Angeles, specifically women- and minority-owned businesses. Small businesses create a greater share of jobs in high-poverty, high-unemployment inner-city neighborhoods and they serve consumers. A build, hire, and buy local initiative, which targets small local firms, could have a great impact in South Los Angeles, especially when linked to efforts that provide small businesses better opportunities to obtain capital, business training, counseling, and mentoring.
• Workforce Development. Residents of South Los Angeles need better access to skills development initiatives that will propel them into well-paying jobs and/or provide them with the resources needed to start or grow a local business. L.A. Trade Tech, Cal State Los Angeles, and Cal State Dominguez Hills are leading efforts to provide teachers and students the resources they need to close the gap between job seekers’ skills and existing job opportunities within L.A.’s growing health care, applied sciences, entertainment, renewable energy, transportation, construction-facility services, utilities, and IT-professional services industries.
The resurgence of L.A.’s economy is a good sign that things are heading in the right direction. Now it is incumbent upon those of us with the resources and knowledge to remain committed to finding and advancing innovative solutions that will provide every Angeleno an opportunity to participate in L.A.’s growing success.
Michael H. Kelly is executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs.
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