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Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Ways

The television monitor said it all.

There live, via satellite was Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan describing to a CNBC news anchor the steps other cities can take to enjoy the kind of growth L.A. has had over the last year or so.

“The Quiet Boom,” as the June 20 segment was titled, was a chance for Riordan to shine, and he played it in characteristic avuncular style: Self-deprecating, but darn proud of progress the city has made.

There is cause for Riordan and L.A.’s other powers-that-be to crow, if quietly. Six months since the Business Journal published its “25 Ways to Make L.A. Grow” special edition, there has been a palpable shift in the perception of L.A.’s economic prospects, even if in the ensuing months few tangible goals have been fully met.

There’s still no NFL team anywhere near to calling Los Angeles home. Traffic continues to clog the city’s arteries. And promoting “Made in L.A.” goods remains nothing but a concept.

But for better or worse, some nettlesome issues have come to a close this year. Progress has been made on several others. And, importantly, no disasters natural or otherwise have struck.

“We went through several years where if it wasn’t earthquakes it was fires, and if it wasn’t fires then riots but the last six months have been really good,” said Linda Griego, former director of Rebuild Los Angeles, and a current member of the City Council-appointed charter reform commission.

Indeed, the natural and economic stability this year has been just what the business community ordered.

“I can brag about all the things the Business Team has done, and those are pieces of the puzzle,” Riordan said in an interview with the Business Journal last week. “But the main thing (we’ve done) is to create an atmosphere where businesses want to come here.”

Safety has been a big part of that. Riordan made the connection between crime and commerce when he first ran for mayor in 1993 and has hammered on it ever since.

The effort appears to have paid off. A report released last month documented an 11 percent drop in L.A. crime last year. While much of that is attributable to changes in demographics (there are fewer boys and young men, the demographic group that accounts for most criminal activity) the 2,000 extra officers added to the LAPD in the last four years haven’t hurt.

For whatever reason, “criminal activity has been down this year, and that’s good,” said William Gartner, who holds a chair in entrepreneurship at USC. “Crime is a huge driver of business optimism, and businesses are simply safer.”

Another clear success for the city in 1997 has been its embrace of the entertainment/technology hybrid known as multimedia.

In April the City Council passed a tax incentive measure to encourage start-up multimedia firms within city borders. Riordan’s Business Team is helping orchestrate a home-grown trade show that will debut next fall to replace the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), which moved to Atlanta. And the decrepit El Dorado hotel in downtown L.A. is being converted into 260 multimedia studios with the help of federal and state money.

“They’re really going full guns in whatever way they can,” said Bill Manassero, director of the Software Council of Southern California, an industry trade group. By nurturing the industry locally, the city ensures it gets a piece of future tax revenues that multimedia will generate, Manassero said.

Capitalizing on issues like safety and innovation, Los Angeles has made arguably its largest stride this year in elevating and enhancing its public image.

Indoctrinating Angelenos and others on L.A.’s attributes is the charge of the New Los Angeles Marketing Partnership, a public-private group devoted to encouraging local business growth. According to NewLamp, L.A.’s image has improved more in 1997 than at any time since the 1984 Olympic Games.

“We’re hearing from national audiences that something’s happening out here,” said NewLamp Executive Director Regina Birdsell. “They’re calling me to do stories. The Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Business Week, they’re sending more reporters to grow their bureaus in this market and I think that’s an indicator.”

A national print advertising campaign singing the city’s praises, a business information hotline, and a local P.R. campaign claiming that “It’s amazing what grows here,” all organized by NewLamp, have led the effort.

Less clear-cut than safety, technology or image has been progress toward reform of L.A.’s city charter, a 700-page document that essentially delineates power among the city’s elected officials.

Riordan and other proponents of recasting the charter to create a stronger mayor’s office successfully campaigned for passage of a charter reform measure in April, and the since-elected commission are being sworn in this week.

But far from the pro-mayor, pro-business panel that backers envisioned, the elected members are largely candidates who were sponsored by local labor unions. They, and the existence of a competing, City Council-appointed charter reform commission, have led many to declare truly substantive charter reform dead on arrival.

On a handful of social issues, the city’s track record is similarly mixed.

Nothing substantial has been accomplished on the goal of reducing local homelessness. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 homeless people reside in L.A., with more expected as welfare reform takes hold.

Health care for the uninsured remains inadequate. Last week Kaiser Permanente announced it would provide $20 million worth of free health care annually for the next five years to the state’s uninsured, low-income children. With the bulk of California’s uninsured residing in the greater Los Angeles region, much of that largesse is expected to occur locally. Still, it is a drop in the bucket toward fully satiating the need, a fact everyone including Kaiser readily admits.

Downsizing of Los Angeles County hospitals and a corresponding beefing-up of clinics continues. But a definitive plan for a replacement of the linchpin County-USC Medical Center is stalled at the Board of Supervisors.

Where L.A. can take some limited pride on the social-issues front, according to John Bryant, CEO of the non-profit Operation Hope, is in the field of increasing minority access to capital.

Operation Hope is a public-private partnership that secures business and home loans for primarily Latino and African American inner-city residents.

Since the end of 1996, the organization has secured $4 million in loans for L.A. residents, or 25 percent of its total funding of $16 million since its inception in 1992.

In addition, the federal government provided a record $1.3 billion in secured loans to South Central businesses and home buyers in the last year. And the post-riot Community Development Bank has, after months of groundwork, finally begun to dole out loans for businesses, Bryant said.

“We’ve seen the greatest progress in our history in the period from (the end) of last year to now,” Bryant said. “And that’s translating into some real possibilities for inner-city communities.”

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