What If

A New  Strategy for Building Better Neighborhoods reportA New Strategy for Building Better Neighborhoods


The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is challenged with developing and implementing geographically based action strategies to facilitate the social infrastructure of a community as well as its physical and economic revitalization. However, due to the severe nature of blight and economic disinvestments, many project areas have not yet been able to produce sufficient tax increment to finance CRA work programs. Additionally, in these Los Angeles inner city communities a limited availability of developable land, lack of adequate community infrastructure, environmental contamination, and the regulatory approval processes are key barriers to development.

Similarly, the CRA's current policy of exacting community facilities through agreements with commercial developers is viewed as an obstacle for many private investors. These existing conditions add risk and additional cost to the development process, so much so that it severely limits the number of private sector developers and investors willing to pursue development in targeted communities. Additionally, lack of available public sector resources and rules that restrict the creativity and the risk-taking required to engage in predevelopment activities necessary to set the stage for private sector investment, have compounded the challenge of neighborhood revitalization.

As a result, the CRA is often limited to pursuing small, individual projects that become temporary band-aids for gaping redevelopment wounds - projects like residential rehabilitation, facade improvement and streetscape enhancements. While these strategies are important for showing progress in project areas, they fail to leverage extremely limited financing tools and attract the degree of economic investment required to reverse deteriorated conditions.

Even when presented with opportunities for large-scale mixed-use projects that may attract further private investment, the CRA is only able to assist private developers on a site-by-site basis and, in today's economic climate, rarely has funding to close required project-financing gaps. This piecemeal approach to redevelopment often results in a small deal flow and seldom achieves catalytic neighborhood improvement. For the most part, progress in many project areas comes to a screeching halt soon after plan adoption.

A new redevelopment model for the CRA is herein suggested. By partnering with an "intermediary" organization to engage in predevelopment project planning that leverages bond financing for a variety of community infrastructure projects, the CRA can acheive a holistic approach to redevelopment. This new model can provide the missing link between redevelopment plan adoption and desired private sector investment in project areas.

Holistic, or collaborative, predevelopment planning focuses on building much needed community infrastructure projects. This planning approach has demonstrated to other cities, like San Diego and Glendale, that government agencies can achieve faster and more widespread neighborhood revitalization than when they use traditional redevelopment strategies alone. Agencies can leverage public dollars more efficiently with a partner who manages predevelopment work that brings together key government, business and community organizations. This process yields individual benefits for participants and collective gain for the entire community.

While the CRA and other City departments have staff members with the skills to carry out portions of predevelopment activities, they do not have the resources, time nor mandate to ensure win-win solutions for all the parties involved. A predevelopment partner, on the other hand, is specifically organized to execute this role. The partner must bring a successful history of navigating the internal culture of cities, school districts and other government departments, attract resources to expand predevelopment activities, and bear the initial risk inherent in managing predevelopment activities.

Armed with this new redevelopment approach, the CRA can take advantage of several voter-approved bond programs that are available for community infrastructure projects. New school facilities development, in particular, is at the heart of this strategy. School development can eliminate economic and physical blight. Schools play a key role in decisions by individuals and businesses to remain or locate in a particular area. With new schools as an anchor for collaborative land use planning, the City can amplify redevelopment benefits by leveraging additional public funding for neighborhood parks, police stations, libraries and pre-schools (including early care and education). The result of this strategy can significantly reduce the real and perceived risk for the private sector and spur significant revitalization in CRA project areas. Building new schools and other community amenities with available public funding through a collaborative process can be a linchpin to greater economic development and a tremendous redevelopment opportunity for Los Angeles' inner city and suburban neighborhoods.