Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative: (CD-ROM 0637; 4, 45, AVID)

Rebuilding Disinvested Neighborhood “Main Streets” From the Bus Stop Up

“LANI is a vision that touches everyone who encounters it. It is like a palette of paints allowing each neighborhood to design its colors, textures, and uses. Government is there to provide the paint, but only the community can compose the picture.”
– former Deputy Mayor Rae James

The Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative (LANI), sponsored by Mayor Richard Riordan, is undertaking a 30-month demonstration project that seeks to provide an economic stimulus to eight transit-dependent neighborhoods through community planned transportation improvements, housing, and commercial rehabilitation and development. Incorporated in 1994, LANI has established community organizations in each neighborhood and provided technical support, training, and funding for demonstration projects around transit facilities. Projects vary greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, but all share a common focus on bus stops as centers of community life.

Project Background: LANI has its roots in the Los Angeles riots of April, 1992, when it was evident that people, in the words of the original LANI proposal, “had no feeling of ownership or caring about what happened to their neighborhoods. Residents felt disconnected–and in many cases they were.”

Rather than simply take a city initiated “triage” approach to neighborhood renewal, the Mayor’s Office of the City of Los Angeles developed the concept for LANI, whereby with a minimum of financial support coupled with dedicated technical assistance, neighborhoods would be empowered to address their own economic opportunities. Moreover, it was important not merely to plan communities, but actually to implement projects which establish linkages between other programs in communities and build in the self-reliance necessary to continue efforts in the future. The projects all had existing community organizations and some level of planning work already in place; these were considered to be the main ingredients for short-term success. Importantly, the City Council representative for the district had to endorse LANI, identify the appropriate community groups, and provide continued leadership and cooperation with that local group.

Within six months of its conception, LANI became a reality. A board of directors with diverse backgrounds in real estate development, transportation, urban planning, finance, labor law, communications, and community organization was established and an executive director hired. Funding commitments were obtained from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and local public and private sources. Eight “Recognized Community Organizations” (RCO’s) were set-up, composed of community members representing businesses, commercial property owners, residents, and institutions.

In another six months, each of the eight RCO’s had completed a project work plan which defined specific physical improvements, such as transit and pedestrian amenities, to be implemented in 1995. They also developed longer-term programs to revitalize the neighborhood main streets, create jobs, and assist youth. The work plans identified goals and prioritized needs determined by community meetings, outreach, and previous planning work. Organization and decision making structures were developed and the scope of work for designers of the initial projects outlined.

Funding: The core of the funding for the LANI comes from the FTA Liveable Communities program, which is providing $250,000 in support to each neighborhood through the LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Overall, contributions from the FTA/MTA have totaled $2.3 million. MTA also provides free office space overhead for LANI.

Meanwhile, the City of Los Angeles has contributed a total of $800,000. This includes the $115,000 that City Council approved for the program start-up and administrative expenses. Since the initial contribution, the majority of the City’s money has gone directly to the eight neighborhoods where LANI operates. (The County of LA helped fund LANI as well. $200,000 was approved by the state ballot for county transit stores and 138 transit shelters.)

Local neighborhoods have also been successful in obtaining donations, such as meeting refreshments, flyer printings, and meeting spaces. Local businesses have donated trees and private companies have donated legal, accounting, and design services. Of course, much of the implementation of projects relies on community volunteers.

Leimert Park, one LANI neighborhood, has leveraged over $1 million in local government money to fund various aspects of its demonstration project. $600,000 was contributed by the City Department of Parks and Recreation to upgrade the local park. $285,000 was donated by the Community Redevelopment Authority to pay for needed street work, including decorative paving and bump outs. $400,000 was granted by the local City Council office for re-striping and improving lighting in parking lots and landscaping. These improvements have attracted a mixed-use retail/office development project, which has recently purchased land in the area.

Impacts: LANI has encouraged other on-going efforts in neighborhoods and has served as a catalyst for community participation and action. These design and planning efforts have also served to boost efforts to organize merchants into local merchants associations that will have the capacity to become permanent vehicles for community revitalization. In Leimert Park, Community Development Block Grant funds will be used to hire a consultant to develop a non-profit organization to manage and administer the new merchant’s association and to coordinate other efforts aimed at attracting further funding.

Lessons Learned: LANI, although still in its early stages, has combined many key ingredients: community involvement, a focus on creating places along corridors which are appealing to pedestrians, and short-term, visible projects, all focused on transit. In the next year, the true test will be weighing the impact of the first phase of plans and seeing how neighborhoods take the next step toward making their communities more liveable and transit-friendly.

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