Despite a push for quick passage, state legislation to “fast-track” redevelopment in riot-torn parts of the county — including 14 new or expanded ones in Los Angeles — was slowed last week by critics who charged it would short-circuit public review and benefit developers, not inner-city commerce.

After passing the Senate on a 27-5 vote in early July, the Los Angeles Area Economic Recovery Act was slated for a full Assembly vote late last month, but was pulled back for redrafting after stiff public opposition mounted. Authored by Assemblyman Curtis Tucker, D-Inglewood, the measure is intended to speed up post-riot revitalization by waiving procedural and environmental checks required by California law to create or expand redevelopment projects.

“The question is whether we want to keep the burned-out and looted buildings in an unproductive state for the 15 to 24 months it normally takes to get redevelopment projects approved or do we want to fast-track and facilitate the rebuilding,” said Tucker legislative aide, George Wiley. “Unless we do something now to get L.A. back on its feet right now, it will continue in its downward spiral and the state will have to keep paying out increased unemployment.”

As it stands now, the “urgency” legislation would apply to a 168 square miles of Los Angeles, Inglewood, Lynwood and Compton — the officials sponsors of AB394 — and all projects must be proposed before December 1993. Supporters say many bureaucratic shortcuts being eyed were used in disaster relief bills after the Loma Prieta earthquake and actual redevelopment will likely be scaled back to just 60 miles of commercial-industrial land, focusing in South Central.

For the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, the legislation could mean a huge expansion of its authority in poor, inner-city areas — places that critics claim agency has neglected in favor of downtown’s Central Business District and Bunker Hill.

“People need to understand that redevelopment is the only major tool we have for revitalization after this major disaster,” CRA Administrator Ed Avila said in an interview last week. “The state is out of money and the feds haven’t come in yet,” a reference to delays in a $4.6-billion package urban aid Congress is debating for big U.S. cities.

The City Council, Avila added, directed the agency to formulate a disaster recovery redevelopment plan and report back before month’s end. Koreatown, the Mid-Cities area and Wilmington are among the areas under consideration, as well as three sites near East Los Angeles and six around South Central, including in Watts and near the intersection of Broadway Street and Manchester Avenue. There is also one for Wilshire Center and another for Hollywood.

Most of the 14 proposals would be new projects.

Joining Mayor Tom Bradley and Rebuild L.A. Co-Chairman Peter Ueberroth in lobbying for swift passage of the bill are several City Council members, a Korean-American merchants association and several community groups. State Sen. Art Torres, D-Los Angeles, led the fight for AB394 in the upper chamber.

In a letter urging Gov. Pete Wilson to sign the bill, Ueberroth said stepped-up redevelopment would give the private sector “a financing mechanism to leverage scarce resources” needed to bolster industry, affordable housing and community services. Then too, because it takes years before a new redevelopment area generates tax increments, the CRA would probably have to float bonds, guarantee construction loans and offer subsidies to infuse capital up front.

A spokesperson for the governor said Wilson was waiting to see the bill’s “final form” before he takes a position.

But, opponents — including the county, several taxpayer-rights groups and local redevelopment gadflies — argue Tucker’s legislation is a revitalization sham that would gentrify depressed areas, fatten the wallets of politicians and big commercial builders while bringing little relief to riot victims.

“What we’re trying to expose is that redevelopment has been a grim fairy tale for inner-city residents and businesses and the only ones to benefit are private interests and big developers,” said Sherry Curtis, a consultant to the Paul Gann Citizens Committee, a non-profit group fighting waste in government. “The only thing redevelopment has done is take away scarce resources from the county and city’s general fund.”

Said Don Lippman, a Hollywood businessman leading the Coalition Against AB394, “This bill has removed all legal challenges to stop condemnation by the CRA, and it will result in massive urban renewal. The real looting is about to begin.”

CRA officials did not know how much the 14 areas would cost. However, in testimony against the bill in Sacramento, county officials said it would cost them $841 million in lost property taxes over an unspecified period. School district leaders said it would strip them of an additional $365 million.

Officials in the county’s administrative office did not return phone calls.

To get redevelopment project plans finished in six months, the measure in its original form would have: waived several fiscal review hearings that county and educational officials use to determine how much they would lose in diverted taxes; limit the ability of public agencies and residents to block urban renewal projects through litigation; and exempt proposed projects from scrutiny under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Normally, CEQA review, which analyzes large commercial and residential development for their impact on pollution, traffic and public safety, is applied to redevelopment plans before final approval is weighed by city councils.

Wiley, Tucker’s aide, said opponents were “premature” in blasting the bill because of the changes being studied. For instance, the redrafted version will restrict use of eminent domain in all residential areas and allow the formation of citizen committees to advise officials on the boundaries and scope of each project, a major concession.

“We’re trying to make this more palatable to everybody,” Wiley said, adding that the CEQA issue was “still up in the air.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents parts of South Central, has thrown his support behind Tucker’s bill, even though he has often been at odds with CRA efforts.

“I’m not going to allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated” when it comes to minority businesses being left out of revitalization booms and unwarranted jitters about eminent domain, he said. “But we have to do something to get the ball rolling.”

Ridley-Thomas said new redevelopment areas in his district could host health clubs, computer stores, textile shops and other small retail outlets and that outside investment would be sought as long as local businesses got assurances they would be included.

copyright Los Angeles Business Journal