Los Angeles: On the Way Up

Six years ago this month, at a City Hall news conference with Mayor Villaraigosa, I delivered a report crafted by an outstanding and diverse team of LA leaders. This Mayor's commission - the Los Angeles Economy and Jobs Committee (LAEJC) - made 100 specific recommendations for the City to foster the growth of jobs and the economy of LA.

Six years later there is still plenty of work that needs to be done, as last week's initial report from the 2020 Commission correctly reminded City policymakers.

It is constructive and important for all public officials and private citizens to see the truth and focus on how LA can create much-needed additional job and economic growth. New ideas and even emphasizing unfinished good ideas are important and deserve attention.

I look forward to seeing the recommendations to come from the distinguished 2020 Commission. At the same time, the truth about LA's current economy needs to be accurate and balanced.

No one should believe that LA is "a city in decline," as they state. In fact, six years after our 2008 LAEJC report and from where I sit as both the CEO of the largest bank based here in Los Angeles and as the chair of the LA Coalition for the Economy and Jobs - LA is actually on the way up.

In the past six years, real progress has been made at LAX, in downtown LA, in our transportation infrastructure, at USC and UCLA, in the emergence of Silicon Beach and much more.

PUBLIC SAFETY: This is a vital pre-requisite to a healthy economy. The police force is larger today and crime has been dropping for 11 straight years.

A REAWAKENING DOWNTOWN: LA's downtown is in the middle of a renaissance -- and you can see it in the cranes rising from the skyline -- from Eli Broad's $140 million art museum, to downtown's first Whole Foods, to new condos and apartments, to the new Target, more hotels, and a $160 million renovation of Macy's Plaza. There's a major Western milestone coming - LA's first new office tower in nearly 25 years. The 73-story $1.1 billion investment in LA is the new Wilshire Grand Hotel and office tower. It will employ 11,500 workers during construction and will be the tallest building west of Chicago. City National's Plaza's 104 floors are now more than 90% full; (it was half empty 10 years ago). In fact this month's GQ Magazine described LA as the "coolest new downtown city in America."

GROWING MASS TRANSIT: Angelenos are driving less and using transit more. Ridership on the Expo Line jumped nearly 40% between August 2012 and August 2013. Measure R, the transit tax approved by voters in 2008 for mass transit improvements, is being put to very good use and will invest over $30 billion in LA plus billions more of federal funds to build out LA Metro's 12 new public rail lines to connect our neighborhoods. This will ease traffic congestion, spur trade and tourism, improve air quality, spur development in these transit corridors (see Culver City) and create more than 250,000 quality jobs. Soon the widening of the 405 freeway on the Westside will be completed, easing traffic congestion for literally hundreds of thousands of drivers.

AN EXPANDING USC: After years of wrangling and unnecessary delays, the $1 billion USC Village project was approved in December by the City Planning Commission. That means that USC can now apply for permits to invest in and construct a new town square for the University, including retail, student housing and academic space. The new project will cut down on traffic congestion and is expected to create 12,000 new jobs while improving their LA neighborhood. A MUCH IMPROVED LAX: One of the LAEJC report's key recommendations six years ago was improving LAX - the second largest job generator in our region. Under Gina Marie Lindsay's leadership; LAX is making significant improvements. The new Tom Bradley International West Terminal is a state-of-the-art facility where LA welcomes its most valuable visitors. More airlines are now bringing A380s to LAX than any other U.S. airport. Many other capital improvements to the other terminals are moving ahead. A key to all this was the City Council's approval last year of the airport's much-needed and delayed plan to move the north runway to enhance productivity, safety and more investment at LAX. This momentum needs to be maintained by City officials to ensure all this that happens.

A VIBRANT TECH COMMUNITY: More than $720 million in venture capital flowed into Los Angeles-area firms just in the third quarter of 2013 - more than double the amount in the second quarter. Our tech bankers are seeing that LA's Silicon Beach is a dynamic and growing hub for growing tech and entertainment companies. It posted the biggest venture capital deal in the U.S. in the third quarter of last year - the $500 million investment in Beats Electronics in Santa Monica, demonstrating the dramatic potential for LA's growing base of firms that blend technology and entertainment. We are now attracting and retaining more of the tech talent from our own world-class universities like UCLA, Cal Tech and USC.

These are just some of the many positive things going on in our city. Of course, there are very real problems that government officials need to address more effectively, such as the quality of education provided at LAUSD, City pension costs that LA cannot afford, too many unemployed Angelenos, the decline in high-skill jobs and high-skill residents, too much traffic, and the reduction in film production in LA and California.

Clearly there is still much more that needs to be done for Los Angeles to solve its problems and optimize its remarkable resources and opportunities as a thriving and diverse world class, global metropolis. Of course government at every level needs to do much more and be pro-active to help business and labor and non-profits and universities to grow jobs and the economy.

To continue the progress that has been made to grow LA's economy will require stronger political and civic leadership and a real commitment to responsibly meet the needs of all sectors in this City and this region for greater jobs and economic growth - and to do so responsibly and productively without raising taxes or bending to the unreasonable requirements of small but noisy self-interested groups.

However, despite all its challenges and problems, LA has the talent, resources and opportunities to create more economic prosperity for its citizens. It is clearly not "a city in decline."

Fortunately both our new mayor and our City Council president say that they are focused on job and economic growth. It is important that they and all of us see LA as it really is - a city that is the envy of the world for its many strengths and opportunities, its industries and entrepreneurs, its cultural and educational resources and much, much more.

While much has been accomplished to grow jobs in LA in the past six years, there are still too many problems for public officials to ignore or to delay taking much-needed steps. Many further actions are warranted. New ideas are needed. But there are also many good things underway and many good ideas waiting for support. Many are listed at LAEJC.com including the report of the 2008 Mayoral Committee.

While much has been accomplished and much more remains to be done, LA is definitely on the way up.

This post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Business Journal.