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Learning from Chris Essel




How can an average citizen possibly benefit from knowing a single thing about LA's Community Redevelopment Agency? Most pitchfork people think it's simply a civic albatross; most homeowners have no clue how it can affect their neighborhoods; most politicians look at it as a potential slush fund for a pet project or three; and most newspaper people (certainly TV and radio folks) don't do much reporting on it other than to say the agency spent this much on this and that much on that.

The truth is, there's an enormous amount of civic benefit to derive from knowing how the CRA "works," what it has and hasn't done, and what it might do next. Real estate people speculate on where the next redevelopment zone might occur. The City's relationship to transit-hub development depends on the CRA working in concert with both MTA officials and Council. And now, as your scribe has been insisting for a while, the agency is accounting for itself as a job creator--which means a different set of metrics than the ones the auditors are used to.

Agency head Chris Essel spoke to the Downtown News's Ryan Vaillancourt last week and the result is 3,800 words describing the state of the Community Redevelopment Agency today. A few snips:

We figured there might be some way they might come after redevelopment dollars, but all-out elimination? It was nonsensical to those of us that live in the redevelopment world because of the dire need for job creation, to get the economy moving, to get construction rolling again, especially within the city, in the infill areas. It didn't make any sense that we were harming our economic future by grabbing dollars today and eliminating the one tool that the city and state had. It just didn't sync up, especially given Jerry's success using redevelopment in Oakland...

In this environment, when we complete an affordable housing project or have a successful public improvement project or do a groundbreaking, it doesn't necessarily get the coverage of, "Look at what redevelopment has provided this community." There was a lot more interest in the media of what we bring. There were certainly the stories out there as well on how redevelopment might have been misused. I think it's fair certainly. These are tax dollars and there should be transparency, accountability and all should come to light...

It [CleanTech Manufacturing Center downtown] is a very top priority. It's one of our key objectives agency-wide. It's a young project area. It's got a tremendous opportunity for job creation and is the next phase for Downtown redevelopment. It's where we need to be going next. It will clearly get a tremendous amount of focus from the agency. We also have the cleantech incubator project in the Arts District that we've worked on with the DWP. So we've got the two anchors...

The Strategic Planning Group has a focus on economic development programs. They're the group that established the Industrial Incentive Program, the healthy foods initiative and others. And it's agency-wide. We're centralizing a function here that will allow all our project areas to tap into it and create an agenda, one that begins to shift the agency toward more economic development and job creation opportunities. It's the unit that can help guide us to the redevelopment of the 21st century. And, we're looking at taking it one step further: What have other cities done to create resources beyond what is our traditional resource [tax increment] that would help us further our agenda in our communities? Given that I'm likely to have fewer resources one way or another, how to we bring in more, and do more with the resources we have?
&c. Take a look.