Urban farm bill could help transform South LA’s empty lots


A patch of dirt and weeds in an empty lot in South L.A. | Jordyn Holman

More farms might begin cropping up around South Los Angeles thanks to a proposed bill by the Los Angeles City Council.

Council members Curren Price and Felipe Fuentes recently introduced a motion to provide a property tax adjustment for private landowners who convert their vacant plots into “urban farms,” which the city council defines as commercial ventures that sell food.

The authors of the bill, entitled the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, said they see the property tax adjustment as a way to encourage landowners who are not using their property. Parcels of land between 0.10 and 3 acres in size would be eligible for the tax breaks.

The Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which has supported previous green initiatives taking place in South L.A., estimates 8,600 parcels in the city could be eligible. To get the tax adjustment, the land must be used for agriculture and educational purposes.

See also: Green alleys to take root in South LA

[Read more…]

City Council favors raising minimum wage for hotel workers

The vote tally -- three people dissenting. | LAANE Facebook

The vote tally — three people dissenting. | Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy/ Facebook

South L.A. residents working in the hotel industry might see their hourly wages rise by just over a half beginning next summer.

The Los Angeles City Council took a vote on the issue Wednesday, with 12 out of 15 council members agreeing to raise the minimum wage to $15.37 per hour for workers employed in the city’s largest hotels. The minimum wage is currently $9 per hour.

Council members Bernard Parks, Mitchell Englander and Paul Krekorian dissented. Because the city council did not reach a unanimous decision, it will revisit the issue next week for a final vote. The city council must reach a unanimous decision during next week’s vote for the higher minimum wage to take effect. [Read more…]

Sights and sounds from the Central Avenue Jazz Festival

The 19th annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival last weekend brought out crowds of L.A. residents to enjoy authentic Mexican and soul food, local crafts, and, of course, the sweet sounds of jazz. This year, the Jazz Festival was bigger than ever, with two music stages, kids activities and a plaza offering health screenings, stands representing local organizations and businesses, and artists making and selling a variety of crafts.

Watch the audio slideshow below for the sights and sounds of the festival. 

Visit our Flickr for photos from the event.

$15 minimum wage could help South LA hotel workers

Embassy Suites hotel workers on strike | LA County Federation of Labor

Three Los Angeles City Council members have launched a bid to increase the wages of the city’s hotel workers to $15.37 an hour, a major pay jump for more than 40 percent of the industry’s workers who live below the poverty line.

The raise would affect hotels with more than 100 rooms — 87 of them in L.A. — and an estimated 10,000 employees. Union workers said the increase could lift housekeepers, busboys and maintenance workers out of poverty.

That could be especially significant in South L.A.’s 9th District, an area with the city’s highest poverty rate.

“Income inequality is a persistent issue plaguing our country, our city and especially our under-served South Los Angeles community,” said District 9 councilman Curren Price, who is pushing for the wage increase along with councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nury Martinez representing West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, respectively. [Read more…]

Councilmembers call for increased hotel worker wages

Nury Martinez, Mike Bonin and Curren Price outside City Hall | Katherine Davis

Nury Martinez, Mike Bonin and Curren Price outside City Hall | Katherine Davis

City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Nury Martinez and Curren Price Jr. are proposing an increase of hotel worker wages to $15.37 per hour, a change that would apply to as many as 11,000 hotel employees working in hotels throughout Los Angeles that offer more than 100 rooms. The councilmembers, including Price from South L.A.’s District 9, say that as L.A.’s tourism industry grows, hotel workers deserve a share in the wealth. Some business organizations, however, are hesitant about the plan.

Click play on an audio story from Annenberg Radio News to hear arguments for and against the hike in pay. 

Wendy Greuel’s female trump card more attractive for women in District 9

Redistricting lawsuit filed on behalf of South LA voters

imageAttorney Leo Terrell filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of residents in the 8th, 9th and 10th Council Districts, alleging that city officials used race as the basis for redrawing boundary lines for those districts.

Terrell accused the City Council of redrawing the boundaries to create a predominantly African American voting bloc in the 10th District represented by Council President Herb Wesson, who is African American. Many of the black neighborhoods represented by 8th District Councilmember Bernard C. Parks, who is also African American, were taken out of the 8th and put into Wesson’s district.

Parks has said moving those neighborhoods out of the 8th District has been economically disastrous for his district.

“Over the last two years we were leading the city in creating jobs, but the 30,000 jobs were taken out just by the drawing of a line. This community leads the city in homelessness, unemployment and foreclosures,” Park recently told Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce.

In a news release, Terrell said,” Key Redistricting Commission and City Council members redrew the City Council district boundaries, with the explicit purpose of increasing the African American voter registration percentage in District 10, and increasing the Latino voter registration percentage in District 9.”

District 9 is now represented by Jan Perry, who is African American. Perry is termed out and running for mayor of Los Angeles.

Terrell also points to how redistricting “diluted the voting power of the Asian American community” by breaking up parts of Koreatown and Downtown Los Angeles and moving them into other districts. The redistricting commission moved much of the downtown neighborhoods out of District 9, leaving it with mostly low-income neighborhoods in South Central Los Angeles. Voters will be electing a new city council member in District 9 on Tuesday.

“Shame on this city when minorities disenfranchise minorities,” Terrell told the Los Angeles City Council today.

Councilmember Herb Wesson did not comment on Terrell’s lawsuit.

How shutting down the CRA will impact South LA

imageUnless alternative funding can be found, the next phase of the Crossings at 29th street, an affordable housing project in district 9 will come to a halt.

Today is the California Redevelopment Agency’s last official day and the future of dozens of projects in South Los Angeles are at risk of becoming casualties of politics, money and allegations of corruption.

More than 50 housing, public infrastructure, commercial, community service and program development projects in South LA will be on the chopping block, unless other funding can be found to move them forward – 34 are in Councilwoman Jan Perry’s 9th District. Another 17 are in Bernard Parks’ 8th District.

“The pending closure of the agency means that many potential projects, such as the rehabilitation of the Angelus Funeral Home, a historic Paul Williams structure, will be hard pressed to find new funding and it will be incredibly difficult to fill these gaps and get these projects done,” Perry said in a statement.

Also in danger, construction of affordable housing projects such as the extension of the Crossings at 29th Street, which just last week celebrated the grand opening of its first phase.

In CD 8, the controversial Marlton Square project in the Crenshaw district and the Vision Theater in Leimert Park could come to a screeching halt.

The L.A. CRA owns the Marlton Square property, which has been in redevelopment limbo for 20 years. “There were some missteps with the previous developer,” admits Los Angeles CRA spokesman David Bloom. “It’s impossible to say what will happen now, but presumably, it will be sold off. The reality is that some of the properties we own will be more attractive to buyers.”

Technically, more than 400 redevelopment agencies across the state will no longer exist after February 1st, but the winding down of the CRA’s operations and of many projects currently underway need to be taken care of.

imageMarlton Square, in district 8, was in redevelopment limbo for 20 years. Demolition finally started in 2011, but now its future is uncertain.

“The government must now appoint three people who live in LA County to be part of a board to run a designated local authority to take over the job of the agency to wind down,” explains Bloom. Until successor agencies are designated to pick up where the redevelopment agency left off, employees will continue going to work during the transition period.

The mission of redevelopment agencies was to improve areas and neighborhoods officially designated as blighted by targeting them for economic development. These areas would benefit from infrastructure improvements, construction of affordable housing projects, business assistance and other programs.

But critics argue that millions of dollars were being invested in areas that were not blighted and hardly any money was spent in areas that were in dire need of economic development.

“The CRA was the biggest cesspool in the world. It never delivered what it was supposed to do – reinvest in underdeveloped communities,” complains author and political science professor Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad. “Hollywood Boulevard got redeveloped. It got millions of dollars. And communities that should’ve been prioritized didn’t. Almost all of South LA should have gotten money, but didn’t.”

Bloom quickly defended that investment: “People who don’t think Hollywood was blighted have no idea what it looked like. Downtown was not what it’s like now and that’s because of what the CRA did. The agency helped transform areas that were blighted – it was work over many decades so they no longer look blighted.”

Based on a 2011 list of Los Angeles redevelopment projects, the CRA set aside only about $32 million for all of South LA. By comparison, the agency earmarked $52 million for the downtown parking garage that would be adjacent to Eli Broad’s Broad’s proposed museum in the L.A. Civic Center.

Councilwoman Perry, whose district stands a lot to lose by the CRA’s demise, also justified the redevelopment agency’s existence. “I can personally attest to the efficacy of the CRA and the amazing work that we were able to accomplish in partnership. From developing housing for the formerly homeless, to building new grocery stores in areas where there historically had been none to restoring communities by building quality affordable housing, the CRA has helped us reinvigorate and rehabilitate neighborhoods.”

While dozens of projects in South LA will no longer have agency funding, it doesn’t mean they’ll never be built. It will just be harder to get them off the ground, as it will require finding other pools of money. With mounting state and municipal budget deficits, raising funds for even the most well-meaning projects will be a challenge. The bigger question will be who would spearhead efforts to find a way to help and how long it will take to fund the projects that seek to transform South LA from an impoverished area to a prosperous community.

Editor’s note: State law determines that funding for redevelopment projects comes from tax revenues raised in the area where the project is located. When redevelopment agencies improve “blighted” areas, property values in those areas rise, increasing property tax revenues. That increase, a result of redevelopment activity, is referred to as a “tax increment.” The money raised with the tax increment, along with the sale of bonds, finance projects in the area where the taxes were generated.

After the story was published, CRA LA spokesman David Bloom contacted us to say it was unfair to suggest the agency was to blame for the disparity in the different redevelopment project areas. He writes: “Under the provisions of the redevelopment law, funds from a given project area could ONLY be spent in THAT project area. If an area generated fewer resources, we had fewer to spend… The agency invested considerable dollars across many years in South LA. And the proof of the agency’s efforts lies in the great distress that officeholders and community groups are showing at the agency’s dissolution.”

A full list of L.A. projects that will be negatively impacted by the closure of CRA:

Projects that will move forward because they’re considered to have “enforceable obligations:”

Perry to testify at D9 redistricting hearing

imageCouncilwoman Jan Perry is scheduled to testify at the first public hearing of the City’s Redistricting Commission in District 9, which will be held tomorrow from 11 am to 2 pm at the Santee Educational Complex. The school is located at 1921 South Maple Avenue 90011.

Perry, who will be joining community members and stakeholders from her district, says she wants to get people involved early in a process that will shape their political representation for the next ten years.

The City Council district boundaries are re-drawn every 10 years to account for population changes, which are determined as a result of the Census.

The Redistricting Commission makes recommendations to the City Council that will help establish new boundaries for City Council districts.

During public hearings, community members can make comments and provide public input directly to Commissioners.

Here’s the meeting agenda:image

Perry re-elected as L.A. City Council’s President Pro Tempore

imageDistrict 9 Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is serving her third term in the Los Angeles City Council, was re-elected as President Pro Tempore in vote of 12-1. Councilman Richard Alarcon voted against her appointment.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue to address the challenges ahead,” Councilwoman Perry said in a statement.

The city’s new fiscal year began July 1st. Eric Garcetti, of District 13, was unanimously re-elected as Council President.

Councilwoman Perry is only one of two women on the City Council. That’s why, she says: “this position is even more meaningful to me; I hope that young women will see that they too have a place in local politics and can be leaders in their community.”

Perry was first elected to the City Council in 2001. She will be ineligible for re-election to her current seat at the end of her term, but is currently exploring a possible mayoral bid in 2013.