Small Businesses Get a Boost

The Board of Supervisors with recipients of the inaugural Los Angeles County Department Recognition Awards, celebrating leadership in contracting excellence. Photo by Martin Zamora/ Board of Supervisors.

Los Angeles County hit a milestone in its efforts to bolster the small business community, awarding them $100 million in additional procurement contracts over the past fiscal year.

The ultimate goal is to have small businesses and social enterprises account for 25 percent of the County’s contracts for goods and services by the year 2020. For businesses owned by disabled veterans, the target is 3 percent.

When those goals are achieved, small businesses, social enterprises and disabled veteran-owned businesses could have more than $1 billion worth contracts from Los Angeles County. Currently, the small business community accounts for about half of the County’s 3.5 million private sector jobs.

County Department of Public Works executive director Mark Pestrella accepts the scroll.

“We established these targets because it is smart economic development policy for our region to invest in its small business community,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Small businesses provide half of all jobs in the region and are more likely to employ youth and the underprivileged, and to hire locally.”

The Supervisor recently handed out awards to recognize County departments, community partners and advocates who worked hard to ensure that small businesses are given more contracting opportunities and equipped with the resources they need to succeed.

County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs director Brian Stiger hosted the ceremony. “We are proud to work with so many departments doing commendable work towards helping the County achieve the small business utilization goal,” he said. “I hope the awards ceremony encourages all departments to recognize the power they have to make a positive impact on the local economy.”

The awardees were: Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services assistant director Paul Goldman for Advocate of the Year; Department of Public Works executive director Mark Pestrella for notable achievement in LSBE Utilization; and City of LA Department of Public Works Bureau of Contract Administration director John L. Reamer, Jr. for Excellence in Collaboration.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and DCBA Director Brian Stiger with City of LA Department of Public Works Bureau of Contract Administration director John Reamer, Jr., who received the award for Excellence in Collaboration. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

 

Proposed Vermont Manchester Project Advances

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilman Marqueece Harris Dawson flanked by supporters of the proposed project who testified before the Board of Supervisors. Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

After being a source of blight for 25 years, a vacant lot spanning two city blocks in Southwest Los Angeles is poised to be transformed into a Los Angeles County facility offering a range of critical services, including housing, transit, job training, retail and a school for underserved youth.

The Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to acquire ownership of the property at the corner of Vermont and Manchester Avenues, which has remained mostly undeveloped since being decimated during the civil unrest of 1992. Over the decades, it has received more than three dozen notices of violations from the City of Los Angeles.

Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

“The County now has an opportunity to construct what will be a catalytic project that would meet many of the needs of the surrounding community,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “It’s on a prominent corridor where it can catalyze additional investments in all directions. With meaningful community engagement moving forward, we can design tremendous amenities that can make the corner of Vermont and Manchester a source of pride once again, rather than a long-standing example of stagnation and even worse.”

The elements of the proposed project reflect the priorities of the recently adopted South Los Angeles Community Plan, as well as recent surveys by the Public Health Department and local community organizations. The proposed project includes 180 affordable housing units; 50,000 square feet on the ground floor to serve community needs, potentially including social services and transit career training centers; a transit plaza and parking lot; a public college preparatory boarding school designed to serve 400 youth from 6th to 12th grades who are currently served by the County’s social safety net; and retail shops. The acquisition is expected to cause minimal disruption as the site is vacant.

Several members of the community, as well as two elected officials, spoke in support of the proposed project. “Over and over, residents have been promised various degrees of redevelopment, resources, jobs and housing on this site, yet there it sits, 25 years later, occasionally filling with trash, periodically hosting trespassers,” U.S. Rep. Karen Bass said in a letter to the Board. “The area sits vacant, and the nuisance created by its disuse and neglect causes problems with health, blight and crime. By contrast, the County proposes to meet multiple needs here and serve the broader community.”

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson and several community leaders testified in support of the proposed project. Photo by Bryan Chan/Board of Supervisors.

“Having spent the last 25 years in and around this particular set of parcels, this proposal comes as a great relief to me and thousands of other folks,” added Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who noted there have been multiple reports of crime on the vacant lot.

Pastor Aguilar Williams, Jr., a longtime resident, said, “We have no confidence in the developer. The developer has had this property vacant for more than 25 years. It’s abandoned and it’s really serving no purpose in our community.”

Danielle Strickland, with the Southwest Neighborhood Council, added, “We deserve to have a place where we can enjoy some amenities in our own community, instead of having to look at this eyesore that’s been there for forever.”

Following the Board’s unanimous vote, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas declared, “The comments generally underscore the fact that investment is sorely needed at this location. The community has waited way too long, and now is the time for us to move forward.” He called the proposed project an “opportunity to right a wrong for which this community has suffered over decades.”

Looking Back on a Year
as Chairman of the Board

Remarks by Outgoing Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Hall of Administration on December 5, 2017.

Thank you, Madame Chair Sheila Kuehl, for allowing me the opportunity to make remarks at the conclusion of what has been a historic year. First, I would like to thank Sachi Hamai, Lori Glasgow, Mary Wickham, and their teams for their exceptional work over the past year.

So much of the facilitation and implementation of our work is guided by the Chief Executive Office, County Counsel and Executive Office, and I believe we are incredibly well served in each capacity. I’d also like to extend my appreciation to all of the other departments, offices and commissions, as well as my four outstanding colleagues.

We have gotten a substantial amount done collectively this past year.  And we do it all in service of the more than 10 million residents of Los Angeles County and the millions more who visit, do business, work, worship, or attend school in the County.

A Historic Board with Daunting Challenges

A year ago, we welcomed our newly elected colleagues, Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger, to the dais. But the November election also compelled us to keep a watchful eye on imminent changes to the federal agenda that threatened to endanger the health and economic well-being of our residents. And we have had to shift that vigilance into action on multiple occasions. When the House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was first introduced last March, we were ready, largely because this Board had unanimously approved a motion to develop options for maintaining health insurance coverage within the County in the face of a federal repeal.

Despite a stream of harmful policies and threats that have emanated from Washington – ranging from immigration to tax reform – this Board has enacted inclusive and progressive policies that strengthen the social services safety net.  And we have done so while responsibly overseeing a $30.1-billion balanced budget – the largest in the County’s history. Our fiscal prudence was reinforced by stellar ratings from the three major rating agencies: Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s, earlier this year. Moody’s upgrade from Aa1 to Aa2 represented its highest rating of Los Angeles County in a decade. Every upgrade allows us to obtain lower interest rates that translate into real savings to the County.

Priorities and Successes as Chairman

When I assumed the chairmanship, I asked the Board to join me in championing three priorities:

  • Funding and executing the strategies put forth by the County’s Homelessness Initiative
  • Expanding the footprint of the bioscience sector, which has outpaced all other sectors in job growth since 2001
  • Cultivating a renaissance of the arts across Los Angeles County.

I am proud of the substantial strides we have made in all of these areas.

Homelessness and Our Moral Imperative

Last March, voters overwhelmingly passed Measure H, which established an unprecedented 10-year funding stream for programs to end and prevent homelessness in the County. And although the tax increase went into effect just two months ago, we have seen incredible progress to date:

  • From May through September 2017, multi-disciplinary street engagement teams have initiated contact with more than 4,000 people; engaged more than 3,000 people, and connected more than 1,000 people to services. Almost 400 people are being helped to find permanent housing.
  • From April through September 2017, disability benefits advocates embedded in Department of Public  Social Services  offices and the jails have screened and enrolled more than 2,000 people eligible for disability/Veterans Affairs benefits, and almost 400 people have been linked to permanent supportive housing and/or mental health services.
  • And last month, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Los Angeles to dedicate Measure H funds to provide supportive services for 10,000 individuals and families who will live in new homes being built with Measure HHH bonds.

Sixteen other cities have expressed interest in similar partnerships to create new permanent supportive housing through the commitment of Measure H-funded supportive services, in tandem with new construction opportunities. We are well on our way to showing the voters that we will make use of the additional resources they have entrusted to us to help solve this crisis.

Bioscience and the Innovation Economy

Over the past year, we have also made progress in establishing bioscience hubs at the County’s medical research facilities. These campuses are poised to become great incubators for scientific discovery, life-saving medical treatments and devices, and generate well-paying jobs in the process!

Specifically, we broke ground on two County-funded bioscience incubators, one at Cal State LA and the other on the Harbor-UCLA Campus. We continue to support our world-renowned research institutions as they formulate new discoveries that improve the lives or our constituents, such as the development of the first new sickle cell treatment in the last 20 years by Dr. Yutaka Niihara at LA BioMed. Additionally, we are exploring the feasibility of establishing a bioscience investment fund to assist early stage companies. We have also retooled our workforce training programs to provide training in the bioscience and life science industry.

Arts and the Creative Economy

This Board also understands the potential of the arts to deepen the vitality of our communities. Our work in the arts has been guided by a commitment to a new cultural policy for the County that focuses on equity, diversity, inclusion and access. We have seen investment in art institutions and organizations in all corners of the County, placed artists in our own County Departments, and expanded the Arts Internship Program. Moreover, we are considering transforming our Arts Commission into a stand-alone County Department.

Complex, Challenging Issues with Unanimous Support

But our work extends far beyond these initiatives and the other Board-approved priorities. We have also collectively worked on:

And while this list is far from exhaustive, it is critical that this Board continue to elevate these matters in order to make meaningful, systemic change. We must do so by continuing to build a culture of integration across County departments, promoting transparency in our work and collaboration with the many external stakeholders we serve.

In closing, I want to again express my gratitude to Dr. Lori Glasgow and her team, who provide daily support for the Board Chair. My staff and I have appreciated the consistent professionalism, responsiveness and leadership displayed by her office. The innovations made by the Executive Office over the past year to increase transparency and enhance the experience of our constituents at these meetings have been impressive and long overdue. I am most proud that this Board continues to be governed by the values of integrity, inclusivity and diversity. And I am confident that we will continue to practice intentional civility towards one another and our constituents, as we remain resolute in tackling the wide range of issues before us. I have the utmost confidence in our new Chair, Sheila James Kuehl, to guide us down that path.

LA County & City Team Up Against Homelessness

Los Angeles county and city officials have reached a key milestone in their partnership to create 10,000 units of permanent supportive housing over the next decade.

Under a newly signed memorandum of understanding with the county, Los Angeles becomes the first city in the region to formally join forces on a framework to increase permanent supportive housing — a proven approach that combines housing subsidies with essential services and healthcare to help chronically homeless individuals and families stay housed.

Los Angeles County and City officials sign a memorandum of agreement to collaborate in the fight against homelessness. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

Under the agreement, the County will provide intensive case management and health services to residents of permanent supportive housing units to be built in the city of Los Angeles. Discussions are underway to develop similar agreements with cities throughout the county.

“We are not just building housing, we are rebuilding lives,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This unprecedented agreement will ensure that critical Measure H-funded services from the county will be swiftly provided to help people thrive in the thousands of units that will be constructed by the city under Proposition HHH.”

“The fight to end homelessness belongs to everybody in Los Angeles,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We’re standing together at all levels of government to get people the shelter and services they need more quickly and efficiently than ever before.”

The agreement was celebrated during the grand opening ceremony for the Silver Star Apartments — a 49-unit supportive housing community in the Crenshaw area for homeless veterans with disabilities. Built and operated with both public and private funding, the apartments represent the kind of collaborative approach for permanent supportive housing envisioned by the newly signed memorandum of understanding.

“I thank the voters of Los Angeles for stepping up and supporting Measure H and Proposition HHH and joining in the fight to end homelessness for those who are most vulnerable,” said Dora Leong Gallo, chief executive officer of A Community of Friends, which developed Silver Star Apartments. “Everyone deserves to have a home and be treated with respect.”

Ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally open Silver Star Apartments, a 49-unit permanent supportive housing complex for veterans with disabilities who had experienced homelessness.

Taxing Our Tolerance
For An Affordable Housing Crisis

Op-Ed

By Mark Ridley-Thomas

There is no piece of legislation that weighs more heavily on Americans’ purse strings than the Republican tax reform proposal currently making its way through Congress.

While few can argue that our current tax code is anything short of byzantine, many of the provisions being considered by the Senate and House of Representatives would have a devastating impact on federal, state and local governments’ ability to provide vital services.

Repealing exclusions for adoption assistance programs, eliminating tax deductions for student loans and medical expenses, changing credits for producing electricity from renewable energy projects – these are just a few of the deeply troubling proposals projected to deepen the federal deficit.

The Senate’s bill creates a gap of $2.4 trillion over the next decade. The House of Representatives’ bill more than doubles that, to $5.9 trillion.

There are profound challenges in trying to create synergy among states with vastly different economic realities – most notably in their real estate markets. Much of the debate has centered on potential reductions to the mortgage interest deduction program, which is particularly alarming to individuals in states like California and New York, which abound with high-priced real estate. But there are other features in the House’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or HR 1 that dramatically threaten the housing market, and we should all pay attention.

The lure of lower tax brackets for all comes at a steep price: predictably worsening our affordable housing crisis. What about the word crisis doesn’t Donald Trump understand?

In California, financial support for affordable housing already suffered a huge setback in 2013 when redevelopment agencies – which were required to dedicate 20 percent of their tax increment to affordable housing – were dissolved.

Now, HR 1 proposes to eliminate multifamily housing bonds critical to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program on which 40 percent of all housing developments nationwide rely for financing. In California, more than 99 percent of the affordable units built over the past 30 years have relied on tax credits, including nearly 20,000 last year alone. The elimination of this program would cost California $2.2 billion in federally catalyzed investments annually.

Given that Los Angeles County has a projected shortage of more than half a million affordable units, we can’t afford to lose this tool.

The proposed lowering of the corporate tax rate will also have deep implications for the tax credit market. Corporate investors buy tax credits to lower their annual federal tax bill for 10 years. If a corporation already has a lower tax bill, they would not have the same incentive to pay as much for tax credits, driving down their value.

But it’s not just affordable housing development that is threatened. HR 1 also proposes getting rid of the mortgage credit certificate program, which assists first-time homebuyers by providing federal tax credits on up to 20 percent of the annual interest paid on mortgage loans.

Without these programs, the search for an affordable home becomes even more out of reach for millions of Americans who live in a state of housing insecurity every day, whether already homeless or on the verge of being unable to afford rising rent.

Perhaps more than at any other time in our history, we have a president who has shown indifference to the economic inequalities that plague this nation. Taking away our most effective resources for facilitating the type of housing that is critical to creating diverse and inclusive communities will only exacerbate disparity and deepen division.

Incentivizing – not dismantling – the development of affordable housing should be front and center as Congress considers tax reform legislation. Indeed, this will help stabilize families and make our communities, from New York to California, stronger.