By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Joe Lim is a staff person,” he said. “City Council sets policy. And I am telling you right now that there is still a possibility to discuss integrating a new feature in the design that, in my opinion, wouldn’t take that much out of the original project, given the moneys that were allotted.” He mentioned a $3 million fund for creek “beautification” available from county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke’s office as a possible incentive. “I think such an enhancement to the overall project would add to the backdrop of the entire shopping center. It would only add to an attraction spot we can use to, if you will, market our community. And I, because I do sit on the council and also on the watershed board, I would definitely be willing to carry something like that. I would like to sit with the supervisor’s office to see how we can access those funds, and then sit down with Prism to see how we can build the project and beautify the creek. I will take that ideal,” he pledged, “and I will run with it.”
At the last council meeting of the summer, in late July, however, Hall, who greets the audience looking dashing in a double-breasted gray suit with a fluid drape, doesn’t breathe a word about the creek or the auto-plaza site. He does, however, exhort Edwards, when she gets up to announce Congresswoman McDonald’s schedule of events in places like Carson and Gardena, to carry a message to her boss: “Could you ask her to hold just one of her events here in the fine city of Compton? Just one? I mean,” he says, “this is the 37th district.”
And then there is the matter of Harless Cowan, a primly coifed black woman with several rows of pearls around her long neck, whom Mayor Eric Perrodin would like to hire, for $90,000 a year, to help “change Compton’s negative image.” It is the day after a Los Angeles Times story sent the city reeling with its front-page report on Compton’s homicide rate, which has suddenly jumped while neighboring cities’ rates have dropped. And after Perrodin, conscious that he rules under the specter of past corruption, assures the audience that he has “no personal relationship” with the elegant public-relations expert near the back of the room, he explains why Compton needs her: Because while Compton still has gangs and crime, it also has citywide softball games and community-service awards and City Council meetings like this one, where elderly men from the local VFW present the fire department with new American flags to replace the tattered ones on the town’s four stations. Compton wants tax dollars, yes, but its residents also want what everyone else wants — a better life for themselves and a better future for their children.
“Look,” says Perrodin, “we got some negative publicity yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, and I’ve been trying to put out fires ever since. That’s what I did all day yesterday, I put out fires. We had to have meetings yesterday to put out the huge bonfire yesterday regarding murders in the city of Compton.”
He has Cowan stand up; she smiles and waves, looking like a vision from the days when people went to charm school and read their Emily Post. “This lady is a professional,” he says. “If you don’t want to be professional, stay where you are. I’m moving on. And the city of Compton is moving on. We’re going to have to raise the bar and stop settling for mediocrity in this city.” Among the moves Cowan has planned, he says, is to “interface with Southern California Edison on a right of way so we can have a greenbelt.”
At that, Alex Kenefick, sitting in front of me, turns around and beams an approving smile. Later he tells me he thinks hiring Cowan is a great idea.
It is possible that Perrodin is right, that Compton is simply undervaluing itself. The design of the mall, then, is a case in point: To expand on Arceneaux’s argument about how things get done differently in Beverly Hills, were a mall to be built in a finer, tonier suburb, you can bet that any natural water would serve an almost sacred purpose in any developer’s plan.
A habitat in spite of itself
“We would like it if Compton weren’t cast as the bad guy here,” says Alex Kenefick, speaking for both his own organization and Heal the Bay. “The bad guy is Proposition 13 — the law that froze property taxes in California in 1978.” Starved of property-tax revenue, Kenefick says, cities have been forced ever since to chase down retail revenue, which brings in jobs and sales-tax money. And so he imagines a balanced alternative to the current Gateway Towne Center configuration, one along the lines of Market Creek Plaza in San Diego, built alongside Chollas Creek, which the city of San Diego is currently in the process of restoring to its native state. Working in partnership with local residents, the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation transformed the long-abandoned former site of an aerospace factory into a $23 million retail and housing development with several retail franchises offering “creekside dining,” a bank, a fitness center, a 500-seat outdoor amphitheater and a 57,000-square-foot Food 4 Less, all built to emphasize the landscape — the amphitheater even has a stage that rises and falls with the water level. Like Compton, the southeastern San Diego neighborhood around Market Creek Plaza is predominantly black and Latino; like Compton, it had been doomed as a high investment risk in a low-income neighborhood. Before Market Creek Plaza, supermarkets had avoided the area for 30 years.
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