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CCSCLA has been working diligently for 20 years to get this shopping center built.
The only logical response to this is, “Twenty years is long enough. Time to let somebody else try.” But that’s a blink of an eye in CRA time. It’s been nearly two decades since South L.A.’s civil unrest, or if you prefer, “economic referendum.” Following the riot, the Community Redevelopment Agency, with enthusiastic support from local pols, was given a shockingly broad mandate to seize, assemble and develop land for development of high-end retail, housing, and restaurants. The CRA new controls nearly a billion dollars worth of real estate in South L.A., and almost none of it has been developed.
They say failure is an orphan, but they’re wrong. Everything the CRA touches generates a new class of illegitimate parents, as participants blame each other for the debacle. McClendon’s complaint above is characteristic, but there are other hobgoblins. Eli Sasson, a developer who spent his own money to assemble several blocks of land for a development at Vermont Ave. and Manchester Ave., was denounced by Janis and other CRA officials in preparation for an eminent domain proceeding against him in 2008. Two years later, the status of the Vermont/Manchester project is cloudy, but the status of the project area is quite clear: Like almost all CRA areas, it is a vacant lot.
No less a figure than legendary Lakers point guard Magic Johnson served as a CRA scapegoat in 1999, when the itinerant local politician Mark Ridley-Thomas (then a city councilman, now a county supervisor) dumped him from the Marlton Square project in favor of the shady Chris Hammond. Then again, Magic is at a disadvantage in this game: He actually gets things built.
But the CRA, the Moriarty of public organizations, is the culprit at the scene of every crime. A bloated, self-perpetuating organization that turns poverty into penury; that could solve the budget deficit and revitalize the economy just by selling off its holdings and putting itself out of business; that elevates process over progress and political speech over any actual accomplishment; and that occasionally grabs the credit for successes private operators achieved in spite of the agency’s interference: The CRA is more than just an L.A. problem. It’s the perfect government agency.
Tim Cavanaugh is a senior editor at Reason magazine.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to CRA Chairman Bruce D. Ackerman. Ackerman died August 26.