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Is LA a 'city in decline'? City council weighs in on bleak assessment

L.A. City Councilman Felipe Fuentes' reaction to the 2020 Commission's grim assessment of Los Angeles is to
L.A. City Councilman Felipe Fuentes' reaction to the 2020 Commission's grim assessment of Los Angeles is to "swing for the fences."
Grant Slater/KPCC

An independent report that found Los Angeles is a "city in decline" received mixed reactions Friday from members of the Los Angeles City Council, most of whom quibbled with the negative outlook of the 2020 Commission. 

The commission's co-chairs, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and former city jobs czar Austin Beutner, outlined what they see as the city's challenges in attracting jobs, educating children and making Los Angeles a livable city. 

Some members of the council used Friday's meeting to point out what they saw as the shortcomings or omissions of the report, which was unveiled earlier this week. 

"I think there was a conventional wisdom about the battle between progress and NIMBY-ism that was overstated," said Westside councilman Mike Bonin, referring to the Not In My Back Yard attitude. "Most development projects in my district happen without controversy and without problems."

Councilman Paul Krekorian said one of his disappointments in the report was that it didn't acknowledge challenges the city has little control over.

He noted as an example: "We know that that public [education] system has been systematically starved for over three decades and none of that has anything whatever to do with city government. But it's a challenge that we have to face."

Councilman Paul Koretz told commissioners he would be "pleasantly surprised" if they could find a way to help the city's homeless population. 

"If there are things that you think would be a great idea, but you know there’s not a chance in hell this council can ever move forward with it, try not to focus on that," he said. 

But Councilman Felipe Fuentes, one of the newer members of the city council, took exception with that approach. 

"These are very difficult challenges and I’m going to disagree a little bit with Mr. Koretz," Fuentes said. "I think we ought to swing for the fences because that’s what Los Angeles deserves. It’s why we ran for office. It’s what we’re elected to do." 

The commission's report, “A Time for Truth,” notes that almost 30 percent of Angelenos live below the poverty line and another 12 percent are unemployed. Councilman Curren Price’s Ninth District has the distinction of being the poorest in Los Angeles. 

“We’re minutes away from City Hall but it’s almost like a world of two cities and we’ve got to change that. We lag far behind the rest of the city in almost every measure possible,” Price said.

The White House announced Thursday that Los Angeles would be one of five cities to receive federal "Promise Zone" grants to fight poverty. The money will help the neighborhoods of Hollywood, Little Armenia, Koreatown, Westlake and Pico-Union. None of the money will go to the South L.A. community. 

“I don’t begrudge our neighbors nor do I question their needs," Price said. "I just know that the stats are indisputable." 

Recommendations from the 2020 Commission are expected in 90 days.