Panel Calls for Solutions to L.A.'s Severe Urban Problems

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LIFE for the underclasses of Los Angeles has not progressed in the quarter of a century between the 1965 Watts riots and the spring 1992 riots, says the state committee investigating the crisis here.

"Poverty, segregation, lack of education and employment opportunities, widespread perceptions of police abuse and unequal consumer services [were] the principal grievances which led to civil disturbances of the 1960s," says a new report by the state Assembly Special Committee on the Los Angeles Crisis. "Little has changed in 1992...."

The findings were released Friday by the 17-member bipartisan committee established in May to collect information and to recommend state actions. The Assembly committee, which held eight hearings, was the only official body to explore the underlying causes of the riots that followed the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers on charges of beating motorist Rodney King. The riots caused billions in damage and left 51 people dead.

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The committee, chaired by Assemblyman Curtis Tucker (D) of Inglewood, found that although the level of despair and poverty in South Central Los Angeles mirrors that of the 1960s, current problems are exacerbated by "an increasing concentration of wealth at the top of the income scale and a decreasing federal and state commitment to urban programs."

The panel cited virtually every grievance listed by the McCone and Kerner commissions that investigated the earlier Watts riots. The committee also stated that recommendations and reforms suggested by the two earlier panels have remained largely unfulfilled.

With the earlier failures - and California's current budget problems - in mind, the panel recommended a broad array of solutions that do not depend on massive government largess. Rather, the panel recommended redistributing existing funds and dramatically altering the ways private businesses operate in urban areas.

The panel called for legislation that would encourage investment in the inner cities by state employee pension funds. And it recommended setting aside state offices to oversee community relations and immigrant affairs.

The panel also called for better consumer-insurance packages and the creation of a state scholarship program that would award grants to high school seniors who provide leadership in ethnic relations.

But the committee has not provided a price tag for its set of recommendations. Nor has it detailed how those recommendations ought to be implemented.

While the Assembly report has not yet been widely distributed, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Linda Griego reportedly welcomed most of the panel's ideas, while at the same time criticizing its focus on long-term solutions instead of on helping hundreds of businesses that need urgent aid.

One recommendation observers feel will be highly controversial is the call for the creation of a Los Angeles Revitalization Zone Development Authority, a quasi-public financing authority with state-chartered powers to raise capital. The new agency would replace the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in financing the development of riot-torn areas.

Underlining recent criticism of the existing CRA for neglecting inner-city development, the report says that "the very communities that could gain the greatest benefit from the CRA's package of tools are the communities that fear the agency the most."

The report notes that "nothing proposed by this committee will cost Californians as much as another crisis in Los Angeles," but it adds that "the current [state] fiscal crisis may limit the state's ability to support some of our recommendations."

Entitled "To Rebuild is Not Enough," here are some of the report's other recommendations:

* Establish a crisis-claims-resolution panel for one year to ensure timely and fair resolution of insurance claims in L.A.

* Create a strategic economic plan to identify the state's economic strengths and weaknesses and plot a course for future growth.

* Increase the number of minority judges on the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

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