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Area Must Become Business Friendly: SANTA MONICA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: STATE OF THE CITY

A first-ever strategic plan for economic development for Los Angeles County was presented at the State of the City program on Thursday morning, January 21, at Santa Monica College’s Broad Stage. The program, an annual presentation of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, also marked the last formal appearance of Lamont Ewell as City Manager; his successor Rod Gould welcomed the opportunity to work with “a tremendously dynamic and exciting city.”

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was honored by the Chamber for his many contributions to the vitality of the regional economy and for bringing the 2010 Los Angeles Marathon to Santa Monica. The March 21 race has been rerouted to pass through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills as well as Los Angeles, with the finish line at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard at the end of historic Route 66.

McCourt presented a slide show featuring the many iconic scenes that the new route will pass, all against the background music of the Henry Glover/Morris Levy song about all the people “out there having fun / in the warm California sun.”

The Chamber changed the format for this year’s State of the City and presented a single speaker rather than a panel. Iao Katagiri of RAND Corporation, who chairs the Chamber board this year, told the Mirror that the current economy suggested a serious program that got down to business.

Bill Allen, President/CEO of the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), presented the economic development plan that was adopted last month by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to strengthen the economy, improve the environment, and invigorate communities in the region over the next five years.

He described L.A. County as not only the entertainment capital of America, but also the creative capital as well as the manufacturing, international trade, and business capital of America. That said, he explained that the region is not creating enough jobs for its growing population.

The plan developed by LAEDC, a first-ever consensus of its kind, identifies “five core aspirational goals critical to ensuring L.A. County’s continued growth and economic success,” in LAEDC’s words: 1) Preparing an educated workforce, 2) Creating a businessfriendly environment, 3) Enhancing our quality of life, 4) Implementing smart land use, and 5) Creating 21st century infrastructure.

In discussing the creation of a businessfriendly environment, Allen said that it was not just a matter of government policies but that the public had to be engaged as well. When he traveled abroad to promote foreign investment in Southern California, businesses often told him that L.A. County was not only known for its NIMBY attitude (Not In My BackYard), but that we were known as BANANAs and CAVE people – BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone; and CAVE: Citizens Against Virtually Everything.

He illustrated the point with a story he attributed to former L.A. City Councilmember Wendy Greuel, who tried to please her constituents by proposing various developments for a blighted property in their area. After they objected to a commercial project and then a housing project (more traffic, more density), she obtained funding to develop a park. “It will attract homeless people,” they complained.

On the subject of smart land use, he noted that the City of Los Angeles only set aside eight percent of its land for industrial use and then allowed one third of that to be used for housing. But the new people have to work, he observed.

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