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An Effective Jobs Program for Los Angeles is Past Due! Here’s What Must be Done

THE CITY-It might be good news that Los Angeles City Council President, Herb Wesson, has appointed a special, five member Ad Hoc Committee (City Council Jobs Committee) to develop a jobs program for Los Angeles.   The emphasis is on might because the Los Angeles Times has already identified a number of pitfalls that could be expected from this approach to create (another) City of Los Angeles jobs program.  They include:   

  • Creating a tax holiday for some companies. 
  • Wooing a few companies to move several miles east from Santa Monica. 
  • Creating subsidies for luxury malls or condo developers. 
  • Offer a concierge service to a select group of businesses for approval processes. 

The Times then recommended that the new City Council Committee develop a coherent strategy and workable plan to actually create good jobs. 

Before the City Council’s new Ad Hoc Committee steps into the lurch, however, they might consider that they are hardly filling a vacuum.  Academic researchers, non-profits, and many public agencies have been examining this same question for decades, in particular after the Los Angeles civil disturbances of 1965 and 1992.  

Their Council staff should have little trouble tracking down and examining many of these prior studies, plans, and programs.  Once they do, they will discover that some programs were absolute failures, some are worth resurrecting, and others managed to achieve the goals of retaining existing jobs and/or creating new jobs.  In some cases, the programs are even ongoing, such as those operated by the City’s own Economic and Work Force Development Department, as well as LA County’s Economic Development Corporation 

General Plan Framework:  To begin, it might also come as a surprise to the Ad Hoc Committee that LA’s legally adopted General Plan, in particular the General Plan Framework Element’s Chapter 7, is a detailed economic development plan, with many implementing programs.  Most of its 15 pages focus on job retention and creation.  Even though this section of the City’s General Plan has been ignored since the City Council adopted it in 1996, it still contains valuable data, goals, and programs.  

Furthermore, among the Framework’s own valuable job and economic development proposals are the following, conveniently consolidated in the Framework’s Chapter 10, Implementation.  

P35:  Establish a comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and a pro-active Business Attraction and Retention Program that will:

a. Coordinate the City's economic development functions and business support services to provide better service delivery and eliminate duplicative functions.

b. Include methods to maximize the use of non-local financial incentive programs, such as those provided by the State and Federal government.

c. Actively promote the information resources available through the City's various departments (e.g., the export assistance program and foreign trade zone program), and effectively coordinate the provision of the City's technical assistance through the City's centralized economic development function.

d. Identify local labor force resources and emerging industries.

e. Actively assist firms in understanding and complying with State and Federal regulations.

f. Use the Regional Comprehensive Plan and Guide (RCPG) developed by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) as a guide for identifying target industries.

g. Direct available economic development resources to targeted locations within the City and to specific emerging industrial sectors.

Furthermore, the Framework’s monitoring program, as well as the mitigation measures in its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) – if finally implemented -- would carefully measure job retention and creation in Los Angeles.  It could then disaggregate these findings by Council District, Community Plan areas, or other geographical categories.  This monitoring program and the annual reports that it was intended to produce, include many measures related to economic development.  

State of California:  Instead of reinventing several spokes in the wheel, it makes far more sense to update this Framework chapter and relevant sections of the FEIR as a stand-alone Economic Development Element of the City’s General Plan.  In fact, the State of California General Plan Guidelines contain a section on economic development that could become a model for this new element.   

It presents many useful programs that perfectly apply to Los Angeles, such as the identification of local economic development trends, current and projected economic conditions, labor force demographics, land uses available for economic development, infrastructure assets and liabilities, capital improvement financing, and fee studies. 

But, there is still much more to be evaluated. 

If we go back to the 1990s, after the 1992 civil disturbance, the second largest in American history, the private sector created Rebuild LA, a program that distributed over $300 million in investment capital to firms rebuilding in areas with extensive property damage.  Its files are still available, comfortably resting in several boxes at Loyola Marymount University’s library.   

Mayor Villaraigosa: The Ad Hoc Committee might also look at the jobs program of LA’s previous mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.  Only a few years ago, he anointed his Deputy Mayor, Austin Beutner, as LA’s “jobs czar.”  In an article in the Planning Report, Beutner outlined his detailed jobs program.  It included suggestions also worth the consideration of the new Council Committee.  For example, Deputy Mayor Beutner recommended that the City develop a long-term framework for maximizing the city’s competitiveness by integrating economic development into community plans, by developing tourism beginning with arrivals at LAX, and by cultivating Internet-based companies. 

This brief survey of several prior efforts at job creation in Los Angeles, such as Mayor Villaraigosa’s, is just the tip of the iceberg.  Far more studies and programs are there, all waiting for the Ad Hoc Committee to review and then possibly revive and revamp them. 

Next Steps:  Once they take on this task, several things should become apparent. 

First, anyone who takes on this task without looking at the recent past is bound to make avoidable mistakes and then be quickly forgotten. 

Second, preserving existing jobs is just as important as creating new ones.  This is because the Los Angeles region lost an enormous number of jobs, many well paying, over the past four decades.  According to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Los Angeles shed more jobs between 1990 and 2013 than any other metropolitan area in the United States. 

Third, while the City Council Ad Hoc Jobs Committee is reflexively framing job creation as the task of the private sector, when, in fact, many jobs are in non-profits and public agencies.  Furthermore, according to the LA Times Michael Hiltzik, one of the primary reasons that LA’s unemployment rate soared during the Great Recession was job loss in the public sector. 

Fourth, the quality of the work force and the quality of public services and public infrastructure all play a major role in job preservation and creation.  If the local work force is poorly educated, if local streets and sidewalks are falling apart, and if mass transit cannot keep up with user demand, then, in effect, local cities are showing many employers to the door.  Zone variances, fee waivers, negligent code enforcement may induce a few existing companies to stay put and lure a few newcomers to vacant office buildings and factories, but the stats speak for themselves.  The population of Los Angeles has grown by over a half million people since 1990, while the number of employees has been frozen in time. 

Should the Ad Hoc Committee be considering all of these factors and more?  Obviously, yes.  Will they, however, actually do so?  Unlikely, but failure occasionally causes the most unlikely people to do the right thing.

 

(Dick Platkin writes, consults, and teaches about planning issues in Los Angeles.  He also writes for CityWatch and  welcomes questions and comments at rhplatkin@gmail.com.) 

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 57

Pub: Jul 14, 2015