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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

CRA Reorganization: Getting Close to the Community

CRA Reorganization: Getting Close to the Community By BRAD SMITH Staff Reporter When former Burbank City Manager Robert R. “Bud” Ovrom was hired in 2003 to take over the chief executive officer’s chair at the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, he got a lot of advice as to what the mayor, city council, and redevelopment board wanted him to accomplish. “The thing (Los Angeles officials) kept saying to me was ‘we want you to do for North Hollywood what you did for Burbank,”‘ Ovrom said. “Or they said ‘we want you to do for San Pedro what’s been done in Long Beach,’ or ‘we want you to do for Hollywood what’s been done for Pasadena’ but the thing is, city council districts in Los Angeles is the size of Burbank and Glendale together.” So Ovrom proposed a sweeping reorganization of the CRA, which uses tax money to encourage investment and economic growth in designated “project areas” across the city, from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. Before Ovrom came on board, the agency’s managers most with civil service protection had offices in downtown Los Angeles, even if the project areas they oversaw were miles away. The planned reorganization would change that, creating seven new regions within the city, each with a headquarters that managed a group of geographically adjacent project areas, and each with a regional manager who was exempt from civil service protection, and thus could be hired or fired at Ovrom’s discretion. That was in March 2003. Seventeen months later, after a series of battles with public employees unions, the plan was approved on a 3-2 vote by the CRA Board. It will go to the City Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee this month and on to the full council later in the year. “I wish it had been a larger margin of support, but in Los Angeles a win is a win,” Ovrom said afterward. “I feel good about the council; I think we’ll do well at the committee and good at the council.” The reorganization plan is strongly supported by Mayor James Hahn, and even some of his rivals in the 2004 mayoral election are supportive. “The council has consistently requested that services move into the community, and it would appear this is consistent with those priorities,” said Councilman Bernard Parks, one of four major challengers to Hahn in the mayoral race. “I think Bud has heard those concerns and developed an organization that will serve the city well,” said Parks, whose South Los Angeles district includes several redevelopment project areas. “The goal is to provide both the resources and the authority to use them out in the communities, and I think this organization is designed to do that.” Approval expected Council President Alex Padilla declined to comment on the plan, citing the upcoming hearings, but Hahn expects the 15-member City Council will vote to approve Ovrom’s proposal. “We’re confident it is going to get an affirmative vote in the council,” said Renata Simril, Hahn’s deputy mayor for economic development. “Mayor Hahn is very supportive of redevelopment; he sees it as part of the economic development agenda and is confident that the faster we get the reorganization plan done the faster we’re going to see results.” California law allows municipalities to create redevelopment areas to encourage growth in neighborhoods that meet requirements related to poverty, blight, or other economic needs. To do so, redevelopment agencies can use property taxes raised within a given project area, the proceeds from bonds issued for a specific area, grants, and revenue from parking, leases, and land sales within a given district. The CRA can buy land, including through eminent domain, from property owners in order to create parcels large enough for new commercial developments; it also can coordinate efforts by business improvement districts to improve landscaping and fa & #231;ades in commercial areas. The Los Angeles CRA was founded in 1948, and spent much of the first decades concentrating on developing the city’s “new” downtown around Bunker Hill; today, there are 34 project areas, including four in the San Fernando Valley. Under Ovrom’s plan, the existing areas are clustered under seven regional headquarters East Valley, West Valley, Hollywood & Central, Downtown, East Los Angeles, South Los Angeles, and Harbor-Watts. In the San Fernando Valley, the West Valley region includes the Reseda-Canoga Park project area, which encompasses projects ranging from affordable housing to streetscape improvements in the commercial corridors in Reseda and Canoga Park. Management duties The East Valley region includes the Pacoima/Panorama City, Laurel Canyon, and North Hollywood project areas, which currently include efforts ranging from the 16.7 acre NoHo Commons mixed-use project to the planned Pacoima Center development on the site of the former Price-Pfister plumbing fixture factory in Pacoima. Leslie Lambert, formerly project manager for the Reseda-Canoga Park Redevelopment Project, will serve as manager for the West Valley region; while David Riccitiello, who previously worked on the Staples Center, is manager of the East Valley region. The CRA is giving $15 million to Santa Monica-based J.H. Snyder, the NoHo Commons developer, in return for an affordable housing element among the 738 residential units being built as part of the project. The agency is also giving an $800,000 grant and a $7.4 million loan to the developer on the Pacoima site, to include a supermarket and a 137,000-square-foot home improvement store. With that level of financing and the reorganization, Ovrom acknowledges he will have no excuse for failure. “These projects really are moving forward,” he said. “I think you’re going to see the results of this start happening very fast.”

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