Five Minutes With Jan Perry

by Jeremy Loudenback

When Jan Perry came to the Bedrosian Center’s Lunch with a Leader last month, we had opportunity to ask her a few questions about her 12-year run as a council member representing District 9 (which includes much of South Los Angeles and some parts of downtown), how to stimulate small business growth in her new position as interim general manager of the economic and workforce development department for the Garcetti administration, and what lies ahead in her own political future.

Looking back, what is your proudest accomplishment as a city councilwoman?

I have several—mainly the amount of housing I built, which was over 5000 units of affordable housing, many of it built for people suffering from mental illness or the formerly homeless; the construction of two wetlands in South Los Angeles; the restoration of the Dunbar Hotel, which is housing for people 55 and older, plus it’s an iconic landmark, not only for South L.A. but I think for the whole country; bringing it in $15 billion in private investment over 12 years and about $50 million in net new tax revenue for the general fund over the next 20 years. I think I changed the direction of the city. I stayed focused on my tasks, and the trajectory of the city is different now because of those efforts.

In your new position as interim general manager of the economic and workforce development department, what is your plan for increasing economic opportunity for South Los Angeles?

Raphael Bostic, Jan PerrySouth Los Angeles and its revenue connection to downtown had been severed through districting and also through the loss of the community redevelopment agency, which enabled net new property tax revenue to be invested into areas that were deemed to be disadvantaged. In order bring investment into areas where there is no net new revenue is going to be more challenging. In my new position as general manager of the economic development department, I’m going to push for more transactions—real estate projects that go beyond what you traditionally see in South Los Angeles, such as mixed use opportunities—and to try to do that more often, and also infrastructure opportunities. I’m also responsible for making sure that people have the benefit of job opportunities for projects that have some sort of investment from the public sector. Public dollars means there an obligation to employ people. I’m going to change the underwriting guidelines for deals get done so that when developers enter into a process, they know what the rules of engagement are. But hopefully there will be a component of that which creates community benefit.

Speaking of mixed-use developments, why haven’t they been as prevalent in South Los Angeles?

Carrying costs, land acquisition, land assemblage. Carrying costs up front in the pre-development phase are hard. Unless you have a developer who can absorb that, it’s hard. There are a few developers like that– Tom Safran and Associates comes to mind. They did the Dunbar restoration, and they did a project on 30th and Central. Both are mixed use, mixed income. So you create different streams of revenue to sustain and to maintain. I think that’s the future.

Small businesses are a huge part of the business community here. What can the city of Los Angeles do to improve opportunities for small businesses?

We do have the ability to offer technical assistance to startups, independents, and people who need to rethink their approach. In the past the city has not done a very good job at tracking what it does and it hasn’t been very effective at outreach. They don’t even use, for example, social media to the extent they should. Technology can make an enormous difference. We’re need to hire more bodies to do what we should be doing [on social media] and to be more tactical about how we do it.

Do you look at any other cities as inspiration for how they approach small businesses?

The mayor’s people did a lecture about this, and they like Minneapolis for its metrics. I don’t know how that translates here. I’ve actually been in Minneapolis and saw the rebirth of their downtown area, though a lot of that was based on Target being there.

I look at any situation where things begin to bubble, pop up, and come to fruition. I was in Cleveland about a month ago. I was a born in that area, and I always return to certain areas where when I was younger, I would think, “If I was mayor, I would redesign this or that.” There’s an area called Little Italy and Coventry. When I’m there, I always go take pictures to see how it’s changed and ask people questions about why it’s this way or that way.

Inevitably, it has something to do something with to do with the ability to do revenue sharing with the private sector, so they have an incentive to come; revenue sharing on parking, so people have places to park; proximity to public transportation; and also building a city that is attractive and attentive to young people and also to people who are older or who might need to downsize. Portland is an exceptional looking city. I don’t know what it is in fact or how it feels to live there, but I try to take a little piece of wherever I am and analyze it.

What’s in your future? Are you still planning to host a radio talk show with your one-time rival for the mayor’s office, Kevin James?

We’re still working on it. We’ve done three pilots, and we’re shopping it around, but that’s just a side dish. I love being in public service. I do enjoy politics. I’m sure that I will stay in politics, and at some point, I will run for office again. But for now this is great. We have an interesting chemistry. When Kevin was on the radio when I was a councilperson, there were occasions where I had to call him up and tell him off. But I appreciated his intellect. Discourse—it’s a lost art.