This column on February 13, 2014 (Promise Zones, Negligence and Accountability) began “South Los Angeles was righteously outraged on being excluded in the first round of Promise Zones, even though it has many of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and desperately needs additional resources.” It described the purpose of President Obama’s Promise Zones initiative: “Its intent is to revitalize high poverty communities across the country by attracting private investment, improving affordable housing, improving educational opportunities, providing tax incentives for hiring workers and investing in the Promise Zones, reducing violent crime and assisting local leaders in navigating federal programs.”
Only communities that were previously selected to participate in a related set of programs were eligible to apply for Common Zones designation. Presumably, no South Los Angeles groups or neighborhoods had participated in such programs and were, therefore, not eligible to become a Promise Zone. It‘s also possible they were not even notified they were ineligible to apply or told which agency—private or governmental—was responsible for informing them of the eligibility requirements. Whatever the case, South LA’s exclusion was totally unacceptable.
Following the naming of the Promise Zones in Los Angeles (Pico-Union, Westlake, Koreatown, Hollywood and East Hollywood), Mayor Garcetti pledged, “All parts of Los Angeles will be included in the Promise Zone where we have poverty, including South Los Angeles, but to my disappointment, the rules in Washington did not allow it.” Actually, his office participated in determining areas to be designated Common Zones but Garcetti said nothing about that. He did say, “I, as mayor, am not going to accept those technical rules as the reason not to expand and grow my efforts to end poverty and make safer and more livable communities, especially in South Los Angeles.”
In a letter to President Obama dated February 19, 2014 Congresswomen Karen Bass and Janice Hahn wrote, “…..Los Angeles, as the second largest city in the United States, faces unique needs and we hope that you will recognize these concerns for awarding future grants when formulating criteria for the next round of grants that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will release by the end of February.” That did not happen.
Bass and Hahn recommended eliminating the previous eligibility requirements, giving preference to areas with high rates of poverty and not penalizing applications from cities like Los Angeles that received a Promise Zone because of its large, diverse population.
An LA Times article (4/07/14) raises additional questions and sheds some light on the reasons why South Los Angeles was not considered for a Promise Zone. First, the boundaries of the approved Los Angeles Promise Zone included crowded immigrant communities around MacArthur Park and Koreatown, as well as upscale areas of Hollywood and Los Feliz. Needless to say, excluding South Los Angeles, one of the city’s highest poverty areas continues to outrage South Los Angeles leaders and residents.
The article clarifies that only one group, a non-profit headed by Dixon Slingerland, a major campaign fundraiser for Obama, met the previously funded program criteria. Garcetti’s office, working with Slingerlands’s Youth Policy Institute, drew the Promise Zones’ boundaries around an area where the non-profit was already implementing federal grants. Communities south of the 10 Freeway, several in chronic poverty, were left out but none of this was communicated to the public. Congresswoman Janice Hahn said, “It just seems like those that have, keep getting….and those that never had, don’t even have a chance.” City Councilman Bernard Parks, who represents part of South Los Angeles, said Slingerlands’s political ties influenced the Promise Zone designation. “You know why they came out first….It was preordained.”
Slingerland denied this and said his campaign fundraising was irrelevant. The Times reported since Obama took office, Slingerland has been to the White House 19 times and his personal donations are considerable. Since 2007, he’s given more than $179,000 to the campaigns of Obama, Garcetti, Gov. Jerry Brown, members of Congress and state and local candidates. Mayor Garcetti described Slingerland as, “A very good connector of people.”
When President Obama proposed the Promise Zones last year, he described the target as “inescapable pockets of poverty” and said the program would help 20 of the hardest hit towns in America get back on their feet. Janice Hahn asks, “Are these grants really fulfilling his goals for America?” And Mayor Garcetti said he wished the rules would have allowed for more LA neighborhoods to be eligible, although he was fully aware South LA was out of the loop all along and apparently said nothing to its leaders until after the LA Promise Zone was announced.
The Times article asserts that as the formal Promise Zone applicant, the mayor’s office had the final say on the boundaries. Slingerland and others in the Youth Policy Institute worked on the map with a team led by Garcetti’s deputy chief of staff. A major problem was a lack of transparency, not only by the mayor’s office, but by South Los Angeles’ political and community leadership that knew, or should have known, what was going on—or not going on. South Los Angeles being excluded boils down to a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability by all parties, including the federal government, the mayor’s office and South Los Angeles leadership.
South Los Angeles’ not being designated a Promise Zone was unconscionable but hopefully, there were lessons learned and henceforth, Mayor Garcetti as well as South Los Angeles leadership will always give top priority to any program specifically designed to improve the lives of those most impoverished. In his first State of the City address, Mayor Garcetti said, “Back to basics means back to trust.” Let’s hold him, South Los Angeles leaders and ourselves accountable for developing and sustaining such trust.