DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - On July 1, a silent but important change occurred in Los Angeles. That is the day the hotly contested city redistricting took effect. The machinations — and they were machinations in every sense of the word — were agreed to by the majority of the City Council and blessed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Lawsuits against the redrawn council borders could still come, but unless there is a successful challenge, people in the 15 districts need to accept and live with the new boundaries. In Downtown, it means that Ninth District Councilwoman Jan Perry no longer represents most of the community. Only a small geographic area, the Staples Center/L.A. Live/Convention Center campus, remains in the Ninth. The rest of the Central City has been subsumed into the 14th District, the territory of José Huizar.
This page will address the issues and challenges facing Huizar in a future week, but for now, the changeover provides a chance to look at what occurred under Perry.
Perry was sworn into office in 2001. Since then, she has been the best, most effective and forward-thinking council rep Downtown Los Angeles has ever seen. The only person who comes close in terms of on-the-ground achievements and understanding how to build and strengthen a community was Edward Roybal, who served the Ninth from 1949-1962 (Gil Lindsay was very influential in his nearly three decades in the Ninth from the 1960s through the ’80s, but his legacy is not as strong as that of Perry and Roybal).
Part of the reason Perry was so important is because she followed the black hole that was the administration of Rita Walters. Although the large residential base in South Los Angeles elected Walters three times, she gave short shrift to Downtown. She missed opportunities to generate jobs by consistently failing to work with the local business community. She will forever be remembered for fighting against the development of Staples Center, a key catalyst for Downtown.
By contrast Perry, who is running for mayor, understood the gains that could be made not just for Downtown or the Ninth District, but for all of Los Angeles by dedicating resources, including public funds, to Downtown. While some people insist that the Central City has sucked up an inordinate share of government money, the benefits that have arisen from advances in this community (jobs and tax dollars, for a start) show that the process has widespread rewards.
In Los Angeles, council members wield tremendous power in their districts, and they have the ability to help specific projects advance. By contrast, a council rep can stall a project. Perry generally used her power and dedicated her resources in the right way. One example will be among the last developments that bear her fingerprints: After a minor kerfuffle, the council last month approved a signage district for a group of four South Park buildings, including a proposed 21-story tower for the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. FIDM jumped through all the necessary hoops in the eight years the project has been on the table. It deserves to go forward, and it will benefit the neighborhood.
Perry was often a champion for local business interests. She supported dozens of housing projects, and the residential revolution in turn led to the opening of hundreds of Downtown bars, restaurants and community-oriented businesses. This resulted in a steady cycle of job creation, from construction work to employees in the service industry. Many positions, including those in new hotels, are union jobs that allow more families to advance into the middle class.
Perry has also put more time, energy and resources into Skid Row than any politician ever. In one sense this is an unlikely move: Investing political capital in the community pays few dividends. Skid Row residents and service providers are not contributing much to her mayoral run. They won’t provide many votes come election day.
Perry has been a regular on neighborhood walks through the district, and has shown no fear of getting into the grit of the community. At the same time, she has helped secure all manner of public dollars for various housing projects in the effort to get people off the streets. A key part of her legacy is that she facilitated the creation of hundreds of units of permanent supportive housing. If the rest of the council members would dedicate even half the time and resources Perry does to addressing homelessness, then the city would be much farther along in fighting this scourge.
Perry’s accomplishments beyond Downtown have also been impressive. There are new wetlands areas and housing projects she supported in other parts of the Ninth. She successfully used the momentum here to benefit the rest of the district.
Jan Perry has set the bar high for all future Downtown council representatives. The community is a much better place today than it was when she arrived. Downtown has been fortunate to have her as its champion.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2012