The Cheapest Rent in Downtown LA

by Conor Friedersdorf

Tim Cavanaugh writes:

Eli Broad’s new agreement to build a downtown Los Angeles art museum gives the capricious billionaire and medieval patron of the arts what may be the sweetest rental deal of the century: a 99-year lease of a large parcel in downtown L.A. for a mere $7.7 million.

If that figure is accurate (more below), this means one of the 100 richest people on the planet is leasing a full block on Grand Avenue for $6,481.48 a month. The owner of the land (in this case, L.A.’s Community Redevelopment Agency) could have gotten more than that with four rental units.

Instead, L.A. taxpayers will be funding the creation of yet another art museum, as part of Broad’s long-term goal of bringing “culture” to  a city full of actors, musicians, filmmakers, writers and artists.

Though I've been staying on the west side of Los Angeles, near its border with Venice, I've found myself hanging out in our revitalized downtown far more than I anticipated before moving back to California, and I'd probably go there even more frequently if the expensive subway system the city installed afforded a means of getting back and forth instead of being conspicuously absent from Santa Monica and its surrounding communities.

I can't say I endorse or object to another art museum, but I can attest that Southern California's various redevelopment agencies are rife with idiotic projects.

In Rancho Cucamonga, a prosperous community I used to cover for the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, city officials were able to game the system by using redevelopment money and tax advantages to develop parcels that weren't blighted by any reasonable standard.

The Los Angeles Times once published published a good piece on redevelopment agency efforts in North Hollywood (can't find it online for some reason):

Two decades and $117 million in public money later, efforts by the city of Los Angeles to rescue suburban North Hollywood from creeping blight have largely struck out, a Times computer analysis has found.

North Hollywood had seemed a promising candidate in 1979 for one of the city's most ambitious redevelopment projects ever. It sits adjacent to enclaves of entertainment industry jobs in the San Fernando Valley and is freeway-close to downtown. Plans called for a Metro Rail subway station, now set to open this June, with the potential to attract thousands of daily commuters and new business to the area.

But the meager results logged so far in North Hollywood offer a cautionary tale to hundreds of other California communities that are investing more than $ 1.5 billion annually in hopes of reviving fading areas.

The number of vacant and deteriorating homes--a key indicator of blight--has doubled in the 20 years that the city's Community Redevelopment Agency has been on the job in North Hollywood. Only a fraction of the new homes and businesses the CRA pledged to build have been erected, and plywood boards still protect shut-down storefronts.

Of perhaps greater significance, North Hollywood's recovery has lagged behind other depressed areas in Los Angeles that improved without any money from the city's CRA, according to the Times analysis of census, property and employment data. 

Redevelopment efforts are easily gamed by developers, rife with confounding incentives, frequently complicit in eminent domain abuses, often done in areas that aren't even in need of special development help, and presided over by bodies even less responsive and accountable to the public than usual municipal bureaucracies.

California would be better off without them.