DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It’s rare that homeless advocates and big business interests coalesce around the same politician. Outgoing Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is termed out on July 1 after 12 years representing most of Downtown and South Los Angeles, was a rare exception.
That was a recurring theme during a nearly hour-long ceremony at City Hall on June 18 to honor Perry’s tenure as a council rep. She was praised by Skid Row housing providers, Downtown developers and community advocates from South L.A. and Little Tokyo, with soundtrack support from the USC marching band.
“To have the privilege to represent some of the finest people in the city of Los Angeles has meant the world to me,” a teary-eyed Perry said at the ceremony, which filled the council chambers to capacity.
During her tenure, she earned a reputation for leveraging big development projects to bring community benefits. That meant deals like helping the Wilshire Grand and labor officials negotiate a generous severance and benefits package for hotel workers in advance of the building’s demolition to make way for a new $1 billion complex.
While she supported major private development efforts, she also often negotiated for Community Redevelopment Agency revenues from Downtown-area projects to be spent on revitalization efforts in South Los Angeles.
That strategy of embracing Downtown growth in part to create jobs and economic opportunities elsewhere in her district was a shift from that of former rep Rita Walters.
“Her leadership was a sea change,” said Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the Central City Association. “ [Walters] pitted the southern end of the district against Downtown, a have and have-nots kind of thing. Jan saw the district as one, and in her efforts to help us bring investment, she wanted to see jobs also flow to the parts of the district that needed it.”
When Perry was elected in 2001, the revitalization of Downtown had begun, but it was still in its infancy. Staples Center, which Walters had strongly opposed, was completed in 1999, the same year that the city enacted the adaptive reuse ordinance that launched the housing renaissance in the Old Bank District.
Old Bank District developer Tom Gilmore relied on Perry during the construction and planning of his trio of apartment buildings at Fourth and Main streets as a guiding hand that helped the projects get key approvals.
“We needed to have a lot of interaction with the council office and Jan was perfectly suited to it because she was unique among council members in that she had a relationships with the business community and also a very active relationship with the homeless service providers and the affordable housing developers,” Gilmore said.
Skid Row to Bunker Hill
During Perry’s 12-year tenure, Downtown saw several major, transformative projects get completed. They include the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Walt Disney Concert Hall and L.A. Live.
Perry was engaged in the development of all three, but she told Los Angeles Downtown News last year that the project she was most proud of was the Downtown Women’s Center’s new home at Fifth and San Pedro streets. The facility allowed the nonprofit to double its capacity and house 71 formerly homeless women. Per a plan engineered by Perry, the city bought the DWC building (a former shoe factory that had been abandoned), then sold it to the DWC for $1.
“Jan has been an incredible leader,” said Mike Alvidrez, executive director Skid Row Housing Trust, another permanent supportive housing provider. Alvidrez has said that the organization often turned to Perry for help in aligning the various public resources that exist for homeless housing.
Since 2001, the Ninth District has gotten 5,000 new affordable housing units, including 1,200 units of permanent supportive housing in Skid Row alone, according to Perry’s office.
“She’s been our champion,” Alvidrez said.
In the Tuesday ceremony, supporters described her as a “fierce” and “tenacious” leader who was adept at completing projects.
“Jan was one of the most skilled people I know in City Hall in getting things done,” said Mayor-Elect Eric Garcetti.
Now that she’s termed out of City Hall, it’s uncertain what the future holds for Perry. So far, she hasn’t committed to a new job or initiative, she said.
Twelve years ago, Downtown stakeholders concentrated on nurturing investment and residential growth. Given the surge in the residential population, they were largely successful.
Going forward, Perry said the area’s key challenges will include maintaining a mixed-income housing balance, and continuing to make the urban core a more walkable place.
Looking back at her tenure in the council, Perry, who was quick to share the credit with her staff, said she was proud simply of the amount of work that got done across the district.
Among the projects was the South L.A. Wetlands, a nine-acre park funded in part by a voter-approved water bond that Perry authored. The city council voted on Tuesday to rename the park the Jan Perry Wetlands.
Despite her track record, Perry wasn’t always successful, but she said she had no regrets about her occasional defeats. Her most recent loss as a council representative came via the controversial redistricting process, during which most of Downtown was carved out of the Ninth District.
“I thought about every decision I made thoroughly and completely and when I lost, it was because I believed in my position,” she said.
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.