In this week that marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, President Obama on Thursday named Los Angeles as one of five cities to receive federal grants for so-called “Promise Zones.”
The president said these are neighborhoods where Washington helps local efforts to meet one national goal: "That a child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams."
The idea is for Washington to give local communities both the resources and the flexibility to tackle poverty street-by-street. L.A.’s share over a decade could be half a billion dollars.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was at the White House for the announcement. He said aid is too often isolated in a “silo.” This "Promise Zone" approach attempts to treat the challenge of poverty holistically.
"We know that we can’t prevent a child from dropping out of high school if we aren’t giving them health care," said Garcetti, "providing their parents with economic assistance, job training when they graduate, safe passages to and from school."
Five neighborhoods — Hollywood, Little Armenia, Koreatown, Westlake and Pico-Union — make up L.A.'s Promise Zone. More than a third of residents in those neighborhoods live below the poverty line – the highest rate in the city. The crime rate is twice that of L.A. as a whole. Mayor Garcetti says they were also chosen because they are contiguous – another requirement for the grant.
Congressman Xavier Becerra, one of a number of L.A. Democrats who lobbied for the city, was at the White House for the announcement. He said it was a rigorous application process in which the White House was looking for existing programs that were a “proven success.” He said the administration wasn't looking for people whose approach was, I’ve got a good idea on paper and gimme money and I’ll make it work. He said the Obama administration was looking for great ideas that have been working for a number of years that can grow.
The money is redirected from existing grants from various federal agencies. L.A. will invest in education, targeting low performing schools. Dollars will go to law enforcement, both for gang prevention and prosecution of misdemeanors. It’ll be leveraged with investments from developers to build and maintain affordable housing. There’s a jobs goal with money for transportation projects, and even covering the cost of waiving fees for TV pilots filmed in the zone. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said it also gives a real boost "to build a Hollywood Central Park."
The announcement came on the heels of an initial report from a blue ribbon commission that painted a bleak picture of the city. The 2020 Commission's report said the city suffers from slow job growth and an increase in the number of low-income jobs that leave Angelenos in poverty, and a public school system where fewer than 60 percent of the students graduate high school.
Schiff admitted there are a lot of other neighborhoods in Southern California that could use the federal dollars. He said that’s why the President promises 15 more Promise Zones in the future.