Rebuilding Los Angeles

THE efforts of Peter Ueberroth and his team to help Los Angeles rise from the ashes of last April's riots have had some notable successes.

The agency headed by Mr. Ueberroth, Rebuild Los Angeles (RLA), has persuaded Vons Companies Inc., the largest supermarket chain in southern California, to agree to build 12 new stores in L.A.'s black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Hughes Aircraft (a General Motors subsidiary) will direct $15 million in contracts toward inner-city suppliers. These commitments, and others, are part of a strategy to create 57,000 new jobs in South-Central Los Angeles and surrounding areas.

Expanded employment is the foundation for the urban rebuilding envisioned by Ueberroth, a former baseball commissioner and organizer of the 1984 Olympics. RLA is off to a good start, but the hurdles are many.

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California is immersed in a fiscal melodrama at present, with everything on hold pending the outcome of the budget duel between the Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson. Even without that backdrop, however, taxpayer support for aid to L.A. would be cool. Many Californians see the city's burned-out neighborhoods as self-inflicted damage that shouldn't be "rewarded."

Washington was going to chip in with tax incentives for rebuilding. But Congress's urban-aid bill has ballooned into a $31 billion tax bill with only $3 billion aimed at cities. "Enterprize-zone" tax breaks are no cure-all, but they deserve a thorough test. The bickering over how many zones and how to underwrite them should cease.

All RLA's problems aren't located in distant capitals. The agency has also had a challenge satisfying various local activists who felt underrepresented on its somewhat ungainly board of directors. The board has more than 60 members, which raises questions about its effectiveness as a decisionmaking body.

In addition, city bureaucracy has slowed the process of getting building permits. Some small merchants in South-Central and other areas complain that their desires to rebuild have been overshadowed by the drive to bring in new businesses.

Still, the agency has momentum. Ueberroth's skill at recruiting private-sector partners can help lay a foundation. The critical cement will have to come from the communities themselves. People have to be prepared for the opportunites that open up.

Community-based organizations - schools, counseling and job-training centers, community development corporations - can help germinate positive attitudes among people used to thinking of themselves as expendable.

It's crucial that the rebuilding effort draw people together, not serve as an occasion for different groups to compete for resources. As a longtime community organizer from Chicago, put it, "everyone has to plan for everyone."

"Solutions" can't simply be parachuted in from outside, even by such benevolent agencies as Rebuild Los Angeles. They have to grow from within too.

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