`Rebuild L.A.' Finds Itself At Center of Controversy
LOS ANGELES — OUTSIDE the downtown headquarters of Rebuild L.A., the private group trying to help inner-city residents, new vans are being donated to community organizations caught in last year's rioting. TV cameras roll.
"The public may think things are moving slow in rebuilding this city," says Ron Carter, an official of the Marcus Garvey School in South Central L.A."But gestures like this show it is happening."
Across town at the offices of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, a minority advocacy group, researchers announce the results of a study concluding that "dashed expectations, outright misrepresentation, and chaos" marred the first year of operations by Rebuild L.A. (RLA). "Rebuild L.A. has been a disaster," says one speaker, Cynthia Hamilton, a professor of Pan-African studies at California State University at Los Angeles.
It is exactly one year since the start of the Los Angeles riots that caused 53 deaths and $1.3 billion in damage, and nearly every assessment of the riots' impact focuses on Rebuild L.A., a private task force appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to spearhead recovery efforts. However, there is no agreement about whether the group, which is headed by former Olympics organizer Peter Ueberroth, has done a good job.
RLA's 50 paid staff members and 1,200 volunteers solicit business involvement in funding con- tracts and job-training programs for small businesses located in the inner-city. Though $500 million has been committed by dozens of corporations - including Shell, IBM, Hyundai, and Toyota - RLA's own estimates claim $5 billion is needed to develop 75,000 jobs along with a viable housing and retail base in South Central Los Angeles.
Many minority activists are critical of RLA's efforts. "It has not helped those most affected," claims Jorge Mancillas, director of the Union of Latino Merchants. "They simply haven't done what they set out to." Such prominent black leaders as Rep. Maxine Waters (D) of California and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have joined the chorus of criticism over the pace and agenda of RLA.
But RLA members say the public is asking too much, too soon. "The way we get kicked around, you'd think we were supposed to solve decades of inner-city neglect overnight," says Rocky Delgadillo, an RLA project manager.
Mr. Delgadillo lists dozens of training, funding, and underwriting programs organized by RLA in cooperation with such companies as Benjamin Moore Paints, Chief Auto Parts, Pioneer Electronics, and others. Such efforts, he says, need to build for at least five years.
There is no doubt that the task RLA and the community face is monumental. Of 1,112 buildings damaged or destroyed in three days of rioting that began April 29, 1992, 669 were demolished or salvaged for scrap. Permits for repair and reconstruction have been issued for only 176. Hundreds of Korean businesses burned out in the riots have reopened, but more than two-thirds of all 2,000 firms destroyed or damaged have not reopened.
"The No. 1 issue one year later is that we're still at Square 1," says Fernando Oaxaca, co-chairman of Latinos for a New L.A.
To add to RLA's woes, during the past year Los Angeles County has seen a rise in both unemployment (from 9 percent last year to 10.4 percent in 1993) and homicides (244 from Jan. 1 to March 31, 1993, compared to 228 during the same period last year).
Frustrated by inaction, grass-roots organizations have formed to compete with RLA. Mark Whitlock, founding director of one group that tries to empower inner-city blacks, says the riots have helped coalesce a sense of community that did not exist before. Latino groups say they have been galvanized by fights to receive money from the federal government.
But the Rev. Cecil Murray, pastor of the First AME Church in South Central Los Angeles, is skeptical. "Grass roots does not have enough empowerment, government does not have enough will, and RLA does not have the mandate" to solve this city's widespread social ills, he says.
Mr. Murray and other minority leaders increasingly say the L.A. experience should be the basis for a revolution in the national debate over urban policy.
In its year-long assessment, the Labor/Community Strategy Center lays out detailed strategies in housing, transportation, tax, welfare, and education that, the center hopes, can be a model for all United States cities. The center's director, Eric Mann, challenges such traditional rubrics as the "public/private partnership" - which forms the basis of RLA's efforts - because, he says, they inherently subordinate social responsibility to the profit motive. "We are purposely trying to be controversial to spa rk a new national dialogue," he says.