Dozens of community leaders and government officials gathered at the El Rey Theatre on July 22 for the Wilshire Corridor Forum V, the latest installment in a series designed to identify ways to improve the local area.
The forum was hosted by the Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce, and featured a report by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power general manager and deputy mayor Austin Beutner, as well as discussion by City Councilmembers Tom LaBonge, 4th District, and Paul Koretz, 5th District. The forum also included panel discussions on the current economic situation in the Wilshire area.
Beutner said the success of small businesses in the area will be key to the economic growth of the entire city, and said officials are working on several approaches to make it easier to conduct business in Los Angeles. He said in his role as head of the DWP, he will be working on initiatives to provide energy at a lower cost for businesses, while continuing to move towards using more sustainable resources. He added that he is attempting to move towards creating more transparency in the utility, and said he believed a dispute last spring over whether the DWP would turn over $73.5 million to the City of Los Angeles was mishandled.
“I don’t think that went down very well,” Beutner said. “Regardless of whether there was reconciliation or not, there was a lot of energy wasted. One thing we do in working with a department is try to get them to deliver services in a modern way. We are trying to change over policies and procedures that lead to these problems.”
Beutner also said communication is a significant component of boosting the city’s economy, and added that his staff is required to make five cold calls a day to business owners to try to identify ways the city can make it easier for specific entities. He also touted success in lowering taxes for small businesses, and said efforts are underway to reform the city’s business tax code.
“We recently passed a business tax holiday for all businesses in Los Angeles, and new businesses will not have to pay taxes for three years,” Beutner added. “Hopefully that will help make businesses more successful in Los Angeles.”
Other ways the city is trying to improve the business environment include creating and expanding enterprise zones and community redevelopment zones, which are geographical areas created by the state of California or the city or county of Los Angeles where special tax breaks and other incentives are offered to stimulate business. Beutner said he was successful in expanding state enterprise zones in the San Fernando Valley and near Los Angeles International Airport, and is working with the governor and Los Angeles County officials, to expand other enterprise zones and create new ones.
“It leads to real jobs and it makes a difference,” Beutner said. “Whether it’s working with city departments to help provide better services, outreach to businesses, or working on policy change, the foundation exists, and we have a different attitude.”
Koretz said he has been focused on budget issues recently, and finding ways to cut the city’s deficit while preventing layoffs and maintaining services. He said one of the issues he is currently working on is identifying funding for street maintenance, including medians throughout the district.
“There was no money in the budget for the maintenance of median islands, so if you see weeds on the islands on Burton Way or San Vicente or Highland Avenue, it is partly because of budget cuts we are trying to adjust for,” Koretz said. “There is a lot of money to be saved by addressing inefficiencies and the way we pay our bills.”
Koretz said he is looking into a plan where the city would pay its bills on time, but not right when the bill is received. The amount of interest that is generated on the city’s money during the 20 to 25 day period between when the city receives a bill and when it pays the bill could be significant, he said.
“Somewhere between $3 and $10 million is wasted every year because we pay our bills early,” Koretz added.
LaBonge said the community involvement in the Miracle Mile should stand as an example to other districts. He added that the most important thing for the area in terms of economic impact is getting the subway completed down Wilshire Boulevard.
“We have the collaboration to be successful, but we have to be resourceful. We have a ten-year vision for the subway, and we have to plan now for when the subway comes,” LaBonge said. “We will have stations at Wilshire and La Brea and Wilshire and Fairfax, and I am going to fight to have knock-out panels (passageways from the underground subway platform to the street) at a variety of corners.”
LaBonge also said he is supportive of plans to create bus-only lanes on Wilshire Boulevard during rush hours, and plans to support efforts to create better north/south transportation lines that will link Wilshire Boulevard with places like The Grove and the Farmers Market, as well as Hollywood and West Hollywood.
Panel discussions on the current state and the future of the Miracle Mile were also held to identify ways to move forward. Several panelists said the area has weathered some tough times during the recent economic downturn, but that it is starting to experience a recovery.
“The recovery is here, and it has been going on since 2009, but why don’t we feel it? It is because unemployment remains at sky high levels,” said Kimberly Ritter, associate economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. “We are seeing an increase in retail sales and consumer spending is on the rise, tourism is also starting to come back, and occupancy rates are up…but it’s going to be slow and it’s going to depend a lot on employment. We lost 8.4 million jobs in the recession, and in the first half of 2010 we brought back one million.”
Melody Kanschat, president of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also participated in the panel and said the museum is working to improve the entire surrounding community. She said the museum is seen as an attraction that can bring people to the Miracle Mile, and then encourage them to venture out to see what else the neighborhood has to offer. She also said the museum’s expansion, including a new exhibition space known as the Lynda and Stewart Resnik Pavilion, scheduled to open this fall, will help generate more interest in the area.
“The Miracle Mile has become known internationally as a destination,” Kanschat said. “Everyone is focused on the Miracle Mile as a fabulous place with plenty of opportunity. At LACMA, we have experienced pretty good growth during the past two years, and we have also tried to be good neighbors. We want to make sure the Miracle Mile looks good and is welcoming to people.”
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