By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Steve Barr, the ballsy, visionary, sometimes impossible founder of Green Dot Public Schools, still recalls the reaction he got from the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA) when he suggested they partner to open schools in education-poor downtown.
"I remember them looking at us, and saying, why would we want to put in schools?," he says.
Barr saw the schools as good for education in "what was probably the highest-need area" of Los Angeles — and as an enticement to developers.
"This was in the beginning of the [downtown] buildup," he explains — around 2002. "It's a lot easier to maintain populations if you build schools, so that people like my wife and I, when we move downtown and we get pregnant, we don't have to move out."
Barr had just returned from visiting Jerry Brown, then mayor of Oakland, who had announced his goal to attract 10,000 new residents to that troubled city's downtown. Barr told him, "You're not going to get 10,000 people to move downtown — unless you improve schools."
The tunnel vision of the CRA/LA still stuns Barr, who says, " How do you sustain that growth without coming up with a plan?"
But few new schools appeared during downtown Los Angeles' 2002-08 building boom, and the effects of that shortsightedness emerged in the 2010 U.S. Census. It showed that downtown's thousands of new condo units are heavily dominated by households without children. Families are staying away in droves.
California schools are at the heart of an escalating dogfight, this time between now-Gov. Brown and the powerful Los Angeles redevelopment agency.
Looking to patch the state's deficit hole and help public schools, Brown in January aggressively targeted the $5 billion in taxes annually collected by redevelopment agencies statewide, the biggest of which is CRA/LA.
Selected by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the CRA's leaders, including chief Christine Essel, frequently agree to subsidize projects that sweeten the bottom line for politically favored developers in areas that are no longer blighted, such as fashionable Bunker Hill downtown.
Yet CRA/LA has largely failed to support the Los Angeles sector with the most entrenched and widespread blight — working-class black and Latino South L.A.
Brown thrilled the CRA's critics by announcing in January that he would seek to dismantle all 525 redevelopment agencies in California — and use their pots of taxpayer money for pressing public needs. L.A. leaders fiercely fought back, with Essel and the L.A. City Council moving to legally commit as much of the money as possible to the city's purported "priorities" in fighting blight.
In late June, the Legislature approved a law — a modification of Brown's idea — that lets redevelopment agencies stay alive if they hand over some of their taxpayer money. The CRA/LA must give the state $97 million next year.
Essel's mad dash since January to prevent Brown from accessing CRA/LA's vast cash resources for schools and other public needs has produced a fascinating new list of 108 city "priorities."
The list illustrates how Los Angeles goes about fighting "blight."
Essel's spokesman, David Bloom, says the agency moved "to protect priority projects throughout the city," and that "affordable housing" came out a big winner.
But when asked by the Weekly to provide the list, Bloom insisted that the sophisticated agency did not make up a list and, further, that the CRA/LA did not have a list of affordable housing projects the agency and City Council voted to protect.
In January the Weekly obtained an earlier "priority" list, which showed that $1 in every $10 the agency wanted to protect was to be spent on two luxury downtown projects associated with billionaire Eli Broad: a parking lot for his private museum, and the posh proposed Grand Avenue hotel and shopping district.
Now, a fresh analysis by the Weekly reveals that the agency intends to pour huge sums of "anti-blight" money into vibrant and bustling Bunker Hill, the Civic Center and Koreatown — while providing little to nothing specific for the Watts Project Area and only a fractional amount to the entirety of South Los Angeles.
One standout juxtaposition of rich versus poor is a $125 million proposed downtown "streetcar" to move tourists and sports fans between Bunker Hill and Staples Center. The streetcar is slated to get a CRA subsidy of $8.3 million — a big score for billionaire Phil Anschutz, owner of Staples Center. By comparison, the agency's entire South Los Angeles Region will get investments, loans and bonds totaling a mere $5.4 million.
The streetcar subsidy was approved even as the MTA slashed its regular bus service to the city's low-income areas such as Pacoima.
"Ten million for the downtown streetcar?" asks L.A. urban renewalist Robert Garcia, executive director of City Project. "You could put in buses for a fraction of the cost that could serve many more people at a much lower price and be fair and efficient."
Bloom argues that the CRA could only set into motion projects that were ready. Still others say state law requires redevelopment agencies to spend property taxes in the same area where the taxes were generated by previous redevelopment projects. That means the taxes generated by downtown skyscrapers stay downtown.
I just paiid $ 22.89 for an iP a d 2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $ 38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $ 657 which only cost me $ 62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, bit.ly/r8qxL7
the la weekly makes it quite clear on how they think of the privatization of public schools when they describe barr in such nice terms. Barr and his ilk are robber barons who are stealing money to make themselves richer. The name of the game now a days is which billionaire is richer. It doesn't matter who they rob, cheat, or steal from, the game to get to the top is the most important.
Why there has not been investigation into the million of dollars CRA, Councilwoma Janice Hahn,Cultural Affairs and the Mayor has taken from Watts. Have anyone came out to Watts on a tourof the blight that has not change in the last twenty years in Watts. So why is Watts's fund going toother parts of Los Angeles.
"Families are staying away in droves." Is staying away really an activity that can be done in droves?
It's the same all over the state. All these RDAs do is dump precious and scarce public funds into the hands of greedy developers who build stuf that does not improve blight, would have been built anyway for profit OR something utterly useless that would/should never have been built. No jobs (other than RDA employees) are created & nothing is improved other than developers getting an undeserved/unneeded public subsidy. The big winners are the politicians who get "kickbacks" in the form of campaign contributions and under the table jobs for friends and family. In good times this would be a scandal but with the economy & public budgets the way they are this is literally criminal.
No small irony in not mentioning that Philip Anschutz, Eli Broad, and Steve Barr are the leaders in school privatization, which like redevelopment under Mayor Villaraigosa, funnels tons of taxpayer money into their greedy hands.
No mention and Barr's privatization projects, funded by Broad, Anschutz, and their plutocratic billionaire ilk exacerbate segregation, class inequality, and further marginalize cultures outside of the dominant reactionary WASP expectations? Barr is a visionary all right, he has played a major part in creating what the celebrated educator and author Jonathan Kozol terms "Savage Inequalities."
@rdsathene, Tibby Rothman here, the bylined writer of the above story. Barr went into school districts and parts of town where few invested major resources, financial or otherwise. A couple of years ago, I talked to a Green Dot student who was the first in his family (meaning siblings, parents, grandparents) to get into college--definitely economic development there.
You might want to click on my avatar icon to read my biography. I'm an education writer and activist who has enough dirt on Barr and Green Dot to write an entire book on them. I've been covering them for over a decade. If you research beyond their slick marketing literature, then you will find an entirely different narrative than Barr as superman. A single anecdote of a Green Dot student succeeding, while I'm glad for that individual, doesn't make for a cogent case for school privatization or charter executives stuffing money into their pockets. Look into Green Dot's remediation rates, and then let's talk about their "results."
CRA/LA has nothing to do with blight. Its sole purpose is to funnel tax dollars to private developers who then support councilmembers.
Schools Ha, what a laugh! What planet are you from? CRA/LA has nothing to do with making LA a better place to live. It's about giving tax dollars to millionaires and billionaires.
It's a vast waste land of corruption and incompetence which has taken $3 BILLION tax dollars away from the city and schools. If we had abolished the CRA/LA in 2004, LA would be solvent today and we would not be downsizing fire stations, lay off employees and have the worst roads in the nation.