A pack of veteran L.A. City Hall gadflies will have a little fun, this Wednesday, with Governor Jerry Brown's big bloody butchering of California's redevelopment agencies (RDAs) — and the notorious L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency, in particular.
Miki Jackson (No. 1 enemy of the slimy Community College Board) and John Walsh (Hollywood density-watcher with the most wonderfully terrible necktie collection this side of City Councilman Tom LaBonge) are holding “Drop Dead CRA Day“…
… on the morning of February 1. The celebration will be staged during the public-comment period for the day's L.A. City Council meeting. Full event details here.
There will be no shortage of refreshments: Jackson says that special CRA Kool-Aid will be served at council chambers, memorializing the agency's tendency to “always hand out the Jim Jones Kool-Aid to everybody, telling them how everything was going great.” (When in fact, the agency was subsidizing the dreams of billionaires instead of de-blighting the ghetto, as tasked.)
Initially, Walsh had advised us that “champagne will be served and a funeral wreath bestowed to surviving CRA board members.” But the HollywoodHighlands.org duo G-rated the event's drink of choice when they realized that alcohol probably isn't allowed inside City Hall.
And that kind of worked out, symbolically: “Much like the CRA, the advertisement was champagne, and instead you get Kool-Aid,” says Jackson, laughing.
The spirit of the makeshift holiday is lighthearted, yet ultimately still furious — many CRA scars are far from healed. Special guests will include the daughter of L.A. actor/personality Nick Stewart, who “had the world-celebrated Ebony Showcase Theater stolen from [him and his wife] by the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency,” according to Jackson's presser.
They're not the only ones with a grudge. Since the Brown administration began probing the efficiency of the RDAs, hundreds of sketchy projects and warped statistics have been brought to light across California. We explored a bunch of them here. And most recently, there was the giant concrete wall that the CRA erected on a Hollywood Hills viewline — see “Los Angeles CRA Creates Blight.”
The agencies' counterargument has always been that they create jobs, bolster local economy and beautify skylines.
But all that urban construction probably would have gone down anyway — and it might have used private-sector cash, instead of taxpayer money that would otherwise go toward schools and services.
Even Curbed LA bought into the RDA's self-hype this month, with infographic “What the Downtown LA Skyline Would Look Like Without the Community Redevelopment Agency of LA.” Former California treasurer Mark Paul combats said propaganda today:
If you walk the streets of downtown Sacramento, you can see there's hardly a block that redevelopment hasn't touched or a building that it hasn't subsidized: the downtown shopping mall; the new hotels; the office buildings; the restored movie palace; the restaurants; the new and renovated apartment buildings (including the converted auto dealership where Gov. Jerry Brown bunks); the Dive Bar where a mermaid swims in a 7,500-gallon aquarium over the counter.
How much of this to credit to redevelopment is a harder question. The economics literature is firm that redevelopment doesn't yield a net increase in growth and jobs across whole regions. Like moving a wad of hundreds of millions of dollars from your left pocket to your right, redevelopment changes the location of the bulge but doesn't make the wad bigger. (Unless the pocket belongs to one of the politically connected property owners or developers at the center of the game.)
Hopefully, “Drop Dead CRA Day” will mark the bitter end. It's being celebrated on Groundhog Day, says Walsh via email, because “our goal is to keep CRA buried in the hole of its own making 'til the end of time.”
The good news is that city officials have abandoned their former support of the CRA in recent days. But in Los Angeles, where the CRA initially managed to squirrel $1 billion in assets into a separate city fund, it's still not entirely clear whether the agency will be dismantled to the full extent of Brown's mandate. Stop by City Hall on Wednesday morning and help hammer the nails in the coffin.