Explaining Southern California's economy

Villaraigosa rolls out new Council on Innovation and Industry for L.A.

LA Mayor, will.i.am And Americans Promoting Study Abroad Announce Major Beijing Concert To Benefit Study Abroad

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hopes that a focused group of movers and shakers will help the city attract more startup investment. He says it's about much more than just job creation.

Today, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa rolled out his Council on Industry and Innovation at the Variety Venture Capital & New Media Summit. What does the mayor have in mind? He wants to turbocharge L.A.'s efforts to catch up to Silicon Valley — although it's unlikely the city will ever really close that gap.

The council’s membership is a who’s who of L.A. tech, finance, and entertainment leaders. It's been under construction since last year and includes six sub-committees that will focus on areas such as attracting investment capital to the city, improving education's role in innovation, and enhancing networking opportunities. 

Villaraigosa said that the council isn’t just about jobs and job creation. It’s about "creating a narrative about L.A. as an innovation center."

The mayor, who began forming the council last year, says that narrative has been unclear. And that’s no surprise because L.A. is know as the capital of the entertainment business. When it comes to technology and startup investment, it’s overshadowed by Silicon Valley, home to tech giants like Apple and Google. Silicon Valley has always drawn the bulk of venture funding, something like 70 percent over the past decade. That leaves L.A., New York, Massachusetts, and everyone else to fight over the rest.  

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Hello Kiva! Villaraigosa welcomes microlending to LA

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Matt DeBord/KPCC

The kitchen at Café 22 isn't large. But it is clean and efficient.

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Roberto Barragan (L) of VEDC, Kiva City LA's field partner, looks on.

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Right across the street from LA County USC Medical Center.

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The restaurant is all about healthy eating — and drinking!

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Matt DeBord/KPCC

Open for breakfast.

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Matt DeBord/KPCC

Bety Paleteria operates an entire fleet of these.


Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a stop in South L.A. this morning to celebrate a small business — Café 22, a healthy food eatery across the street from L.A. County USC Medical Center — and welcome a new financing opportunity aimed specifically at small business to town: Kiva.

Kiva is a non-profit service that connects donors with needy entrepreneurs around the globe. They don't make the loans; they facilitate the relationships. As its president (and former PayPal executive) Premal Shah said, they're like the Match.com of microfinance, enabling small-scale philanthropists to get money into the hands of businesspeople who have a tough time getting loans from big banks. 

To do this, Kiva works with "field partners" — lending organizations around the world. Kiva takes businesses, individuals, and often in the developing world, women's labor collectives, and posts their pictures and business needs online, along with a loan amount. People can then use Kiva's website to contribute money, which the lendees then pay back over time. In the developing world, these loans are typically very small, and they're funding by people making $25 donations which they have the option of "reinvesting" after payback — or re-loaning to a new business. 

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Time to privatize the L.A. Zoo?

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Patricia Nazario/KPCC

The LA Zoo's Elephants of Asia Exhibit opened this past December. If the Zoo were privatized, it would save the city almost $18 million per year.

I've been digging through Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's budget proposal for Los Angeles' fiscal 2012-13. The bottom line is that the Mayor, through cuts and revenue enhancements, plans to eliminate a $200-million-plus deficit in a total budget of $7.2 billion. 

When you ponder the numbers, it's the very large ones that jump out at you:

• A police department that costs $1.3 billion to fund and consumes $449 million in pension payments, which when totaled account for nearly a quarter of the entire budget

• A City Attorney's office that costs nearly $100 million

• A city zoo that gobbles up almost $18 million per year

Okay, so that last number isn't all that huge. However, within the context of the budget deficit — $238 million — the zoo represents almost 8 percent. (And it's not even the total cost to operate the zoo, which is about $26 million annually.) You don't have to be an investment genius to recognize that figuring out a way to unload that cost would yield the city a decent return and reduce the need to, say, lay off clerks in the LAPD, something that Chief Charlie Beck has said will require the department to change the way it handles some of its business.

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