After World War II, the United States led an effort to rebuild war-torn Europe. After hate decimated New York City on 9/11, the world stood at the ready to help the city rebuild. After systemic racism was once again laid bare by the 1992 Civil Unrest in Los Angeles, our city leaders made deep commitments to Rebuild LA. Our public investment and personal commitment to the people who had been traumatized by years of conflict and division helped in the physical, economic, and emotional reconstruction needed after each of these traumatic events.
The twelve months of this pandemic have taken an emotional and psychological toll on all of us, but the economic pain has harshly targeted certain communities. When our city became the national epicenter of COVID-19, our most vulnerable community members bore the brunt of the crisis. Most upper-income earners remained largely unscathed and indeed increased their wealth while other families, neighbors, and fellow Angelenos continue to pay the price for this pandemic, and have been fractured by its profound impact on all facets of life.
With the passage of a new, massive federal COVID relief package, our city will receive some $1.3 billion in funds aimed at helping our communities recover from the economic fallout of this deadly pandemic.
With so much money flooding in, we have a unique opportunity to remake our city in a way that reflects our values. We have an obligation to address historical inequities that have divided us for generations, and to ensure a more equitable Los Angeles going forward.
LA’s history has contributed to the inequality we see today. Decades of discriminatory policies in housing, racist policing, as well as zoning and planning decisions have isolated poor Black and Brown neighborhoods from the rest of Los Angeles. The policies of the past have created the inequitable impacts of our present COVID-19 reality.
According to research conducted by Advancement Project CA, South LA and East LA zip codes rank among the highest in the state for risks for infection, deaths, and a longer economic recovery, much less economic improvement. Meanwhile, 10 of the richest neighborhoods in Los Angeles County combined, representing about 323,000 people, have about 700 fewer confirmed coronavirus cases than just the city of Compton (95,000 people) alone, underscoring the vast differences in how this virus is being experienced across communities.
Government is a key driver to address systemic inequality. Thus far, our city has failed to meet the challenge. While the COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated many of those inequalities, our rebuilding efforts coming out of this pandemic will shape our city for generations to come.
That’s why community and civic leaders have developed a proposal to help ensure the city does not make the same mistakes we have made for decades.
We call on the City of Los Angeles to direct a $1 billion dollar investment over the next two years towards poor and working-class families hit hardest by COVID, and develop a formula targeting 80% of the resources towards communities hardest hit by COVID. Those funds should be accountable to the people so that we see results for dollars spent.
We should also use this opportunity to reimagine our city budget, and not simply replace what was there before. While city employees need full pay for full work, we adamantly believe the LAPD does not require additional funding. This is an opportunity to invest in additional mental health services that can reduce the need for police on the streets, and create a more humane response to community issues. Imagine the positive impact on public safety and the economy if this city invests in careers for our youth, housing for all and economic opportunity for disadvantaged women.
The COVID vaccine has tapped into our collective humanity and desire to care for our communities. We have seen people stepping up to help their neighbors, to provide charitable donations, and volunteer at vaccination clinics–demonstrating that there is more awareness than ever about the need for more equity and equal opportunity for all of us.
We are at a critical moment in our city’s history, one that comes from tremendous hardship and suffering. But one that also provides a great opportunity to build back better.
We must seize this moment to invest in imagination and needs, not backfilling the past. Let’s rebuild Los Angeles in a way that reflects our values and extends opportunity to all Angelinos.
Alberto Retana is president and CEO of Community Coalition and April Verrett is the president of S.E.I.U. Local 2015.