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Taking Leimert Park Village to the Next Level

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 4.38.35 PMCommunity development experts commissioned by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas unveiled their final recommendations for taking advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalize Leimert Park Village, one of the historic centers of African American art and culture in Los Angeles County.

The 1.19-square mile neighborhood just west of Exposition Park  is poised for a surge in new investment and economic development as a stop on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, slated for completion in 2019.

“I believe the train can be a tool for taking Leimert Park Village to a whole new level,” he said during a keynote speech at Transit Oriented Los Angeles 2015: Investing in Vibrant Communities.

“If developed right, sites along the Crenshaw/LAX Line truly have the potential to transform surrounding communities,” he added. “With open-mindedness and progressive thinking, we would be able not only to ease traffic congestion but to revitalize the economic fabric of these neighborhoods.”

It was on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in 2013 that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to build an underground station at Leimert Park Village. He later tapped the Urban Land Institute, one of the nation’s most respected sources of objective information on urban planning, growth and development, to assemble a Technical Assistance Panel that would craft criteria and recommendations to guide investment in the community.

In its final report, ULI concluded “Leimert Park Village has all the key ingredients in place — an engaged community, strong political leadership, and an authentic and uniquely built environment — to enhance its prominence and prosperity while also protecting its cultural integrity.”

Among their key recommendations were:

  • making improvements to Leimert Plaza Park and completing renovations to the landmark Vision Theater, so both can serve as anchors for cultural programming that would draw both residents and visitors;
  • filling empty storefronts and surface parking lots along Degnan Boulevard with retail, dining, and cultural amenities, as well as housing intended for local artists; and
  • integrating art into public spaces and making streetscape improvements such as adding bike lanes, lighting, and a paseo similar to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

ULI’s technical assistance panel included experts in real estate development and financing, land use planning and design, and economic development and marketing. They stressed their recommendations for “catalytic investment” and “urban revitalization” are “designed to enhance, not redefine, the existing character of Leimert Park Village as the cultural capital of the African American community.”

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Click Here For Full ULI Report
 

Creating Job Opportunities for Veterans and Their Spouses

The Board of Supervisors has adopted a new hiring policy that opens up thousands of job opportunities for military veterans and their spouses at Los Angeles County construction projects.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich, the Board approved a Local Worker Hiring Program policy that sets aside a portion of the labor on construction projects for veterans and their spouses.

“Veterans deserve all that we can reasonably do to ensure that they can support themselves and their families,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

“Our returning veterans deserve our gratitude and our assistance in transitioning to civilian employment,” added Supervisor Antonovich.

Under the policy, the County’s contractors must demonstrate a “good faith” effort to hire veterans and their spouses to complete at least 5 percent of the construction hours for projects worth less than $2.5 million, as well as for all job order contracts.

To be eligible, veterans must have received an honorable or general discharge, or retired from any branch of the Armed Forces. They must also be residents of the County.

The Board is still deciding whether to make it mandatory for the County’s contractors to employ at least some veterans and their spouses for projects valued at more than $2.5 million. It asked experts to report on the economic impact such a policy might have.

Supervisor Kuehl emphasized the new policy would benefit not only veterans but their spouses. “That’s important because it’s not always clear, especially for those veterans who have been seriously injured, whether they could be the sole providers for their families.”

Veterans have historically found it difficult to reenter the workforce after serving their country. A 2014 report from the USC School of Social Work found eight out of 10 service members leave the military without a job, and at least 40% leave without having identified permanent housing.

A 2015 report from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs found veterans have an 8 percent higher unemployment rate when compared to non-veterans. It also found more than half of veterans experience unemployment upon separation from service.

Currently, an estimated 4,300 veterans are homeless in the County.

Keith Jeffreys, executive director of the nonprofit United States Veterans’ Artists Alliance, expressed gratitude for the new policy, calling it “a spectacular effort.”

“This… creates a level playing field for veterans, and gives them a leg up to make up for time that they have lost,” he said.

 

Cracking Down on Wage Theft

 

Fairpay2Taking unprecedented action to address wage theft in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to establish a program that would receive, investigate and resolve claims of wage theft, as well as conduct education and outreach to both workers and employers.

Acting on a motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Board called for the creation of a Wage Enforcement Program amid research showing more than 600,000 wage theft violations occur in the County each week.

Wage theft occurs when a worker is paid less than the minimum wage, is denied overtime, is paid only in tips, does not receive meal and rest breaks, has illegal paycheck deductions, is coerced to work off the clock, or is misclassified as an independent contractor, intern or volunteer.

“It is imperative that Los Angeles County crack down on unscrupulous employers because wage theft is both illegal and immoral, victimizing not only workers but their families,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

“By creating a Wage Enforcement Program, the first of its kind in the County, we can help ensure that workers are paid fairly,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added. “It also levels the playing field for responsible employers.”

A 2014 report from the UCLA Labor Center found that, in a given week, 655,000 low-wage workers in the County experience at least one violation. County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said, in a separate report, “Although enforcement of wage theft has historically been the responsibility of State and Federal agencies, they have insufficient resources to address the problem.” With a PowerPoint presentation, the CEO made the case that the County has regulatory tools for wage enforcement.  

In their motion, Supervisors Solis and Ridley-Thomas said, “it is clear that existing enforcement  mechanisms are insufficient and that the County must follow the lead of the ten other local governments within California that have created their own wage theft enforcement mechanism.”

The motion designated the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs as the entity responsible for enforcing the County’s Minimum Wage Ordinance, and also called for the immediate implementation of the Wage Enforcement Program.

Supervisor Solis noted victims of wage theft are disproportionately immigrants, women and people of color.

 “Immigrants suffer minimum wage violations at twice the rate of their native-born counterparts. African-Americans suffer wage theft at twice the rate of their white counterparts. More than 50 percent of immigrant Latinas in the County earn less than the minimum wage,” said Supervisor Solis. “Enforcement is key to stopping this crime and helping many of our County residents.”

LA County Hosts First-Ever Hack Day

Los Angeles County hosted its first hack day aimed at engaging, educating, and empowering boys and girls of color to break into the field of Information Technology. South LA Hack Day, was held Saturday, October 24 at the Lennox Library and Constituent Services Center, and coincided with Open Data Week.

“South LA Hack Day encourages innovation by introducing young coders to develop software applications,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This kind of outreach will help keep Los Angeles County on the cutting edge of technology.”

HackDayTechnology giants Microsoft, IDEO, CGI and NeoGov led a series of workshops for about 100 youth ages 16-25 about such topics as turning an idea into a product, developing software applications, and launching a career in Information Technology.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who played a crucial role in making vast troves of County data and records public through the creation of the user-friendly website data.lacounty.gov, hosted the event. He will be joined by representatives from the County’s Department of Human Resources, Public Library, and Office of the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, as well as community partners Girl Code LA, Urban Teens Exploring Technology, and Digital LA.

Microsoft led a workshop about mining open data to create software applications, and ZeneHome founder Chris Shafer was among the speakers. A recent graduate of the University of Southern California, Shafer used property data provided by the County to create a real estate web application that helps to educate home owners, brings transparency to the home ownership experience, and optimizes financing options.

“We are heavily utilizing the information provided via the open data initiative to fulfill our mission,” Shafer said. “We are very thankful for this public data.”

Also leading a workshop was IDEO, a design firm whose innovations include Apple’s first mouse and whose next project is updating the County’s voting system. At South LA Hack Day, IDEO asked the junior computer scientists for feedback on how to make voting more accessible to the younger generation. Their input will be integrated into the new voting system.

In a separate workshop, the County Department of Human Resources, NeoGov and CGI  discussed opportunities for launching a young coder’s career in the field of Information Technology. NeoGov is an on-demand human resources company designing software for the public sector. CGI is among the leading independent Information Technology and business services firms in the world.

South LA Hack Day also coincided with Girls Empowerment Month throughout the County, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas conducted significant outreach to bridge the digital divide. Women represent only 6% of corporate Chief Information Officers but at the event, girls and young women almost half of those registered to participate.

Los Angeles native Dez White is one of the youngest female African-American tech entrepreneurs to invent and launch a suite of apps with her company, Invisible Text. She also founded Girl Code LA, a community partner for Saturday’s event, as way to mentor girl coders.

“I think young women don’t even realize computer sciences are an option,” White said. “I was intimidated at first, and now I’m in love with technology.” White shared her success story with young coders on Saturday.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has long been a leader in advancing the county’s Information Technology systems and his accomplishments include:

“The future of our county depends on the digital literacy of its residents,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Bridging the digital divide with diversity will allow Los Angeles County to play a pivotal role as a tech leader in the years ahead.”

Job Creation: Essential Los Angeles County Business

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The economic crisis that began in 2007 was a defining event for industry leaders and government institutions at all levels. For the fortunate, the turmoil of the Great Recession is slowly becoming a distant memory, one that is relegated to the past. For far too many, however, the struggle continues, especially for communities of color where economic inequality persists and the availability of good paying jobs remains a scare commodity.

The nationwide and countywide unemployment rates have improved to 5 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively, which are significantly better than the 10.2 percent and 12.6 percent recorded as a result of the Great Recession.

Still, compare that with the current unemployment rate in the Los Angeles County cities of Willowbrook, 10 percent; Compton, 9.6 percent; Inglewood, 8.1 percent; Carson, 7.9 percent; and Lynwood, 7.6 percent. One has to wonder whether the slump is indeed a distant memory, particularly for communities of color.

The Second District of Los Angeles County has the county’s highest poverty rate at 22 percent – that’s one out of every five residents – as well as the lowest median household income: $42,695 a year. These statistics are shockingly tragic, especially in a County deemed the world’s 19th largest economy, with a gross domestic product exceeding $544 billion.

Our collective response to the greatest economic downturn since the 1930’s has been, at best, reactive but more accurately described as disjointed and haphazard. At first, we witnessed massive layoffs by both the private and public sectors in an effort to reduce costs in the face of declining revenues.

Although Los Angeles County government was unique and able to avoid layoffs and furloughs, services to those most in need were curtailed or eliminated, and our aging, dilapidated infrastructure was left for the next generation to address. Subsequent legislation at the federal and state levels eventually set the stage for righting local budgets and the resurgence currently underway.

As the national economy continues to show signs of improvement, it is imperative that we plan and prepare for the future. As history has taught us, economies operate in cycles and the next downturn, unwelcome as it may be, is only a matter of time.

If the Great Recession taught County leaders anything, it is that our ability to meet our core responsibility of providing a safety net for those in great need – the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, the youth – while ensuring that our communities remain safe and healthy, is intimately and extrinsically tied to the health and vitality of our economy, with the tax revenues it affords us.

It is for this reason that the County is taking a significant step forward in acknowledging the value that it can bring to the table for ensuring that our local economy continues to provide quality jobs needed to sustain healthy, vibrant communities.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will entertain a motion (Ridley-Thomas and Solis) to create a County Economic Development Trust Fund that would provide loans to small and medium-sized manufacturers, as well as technical support to the bioscience industry, among other industry sectors.

Bioscience, although currently a small sector of the regional economy with approximately 40,000 jobs, has significant growth potential according to a 2014 County-commissioned study by the Battelle Memorial Institute. It was one of the few industry sectors in the County that continued to expand during the recent recession.

The Trust Fund will also support other emerging industries, such as aerospace, health services and trade; renovate old storefronts to revitalize local commercial corridors; and expand joint investments with cities and community-based economic development organizations.

This new economic development effort at the County will be guided by our commitment to local hire programs and living wages, and will be done in partnership with community-based economic development organizations and local municipalities. And it will work hand-in-hand with the County’s ongoing investment to train our workforce for the industries of the future.

Los Angeles County must be proactive and catalytic. Our collective vigilance to ensure that our regional economy becomes healthier and that all communities share in this prosperity is the hard lesson learned, but not forgotten, from the greatest recession of the modern era.

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