Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency holds emotional meeting, likely its last

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A California law passed last year wipes out all Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) by Feb. 1. Now that the system is winding down, the board that oversees the CRA of Los Angeles held en emotional meeting Thursday — likely to be its last.

The cash-strapped state is trying to save the tax money that funds redevelopment agencies, but the move to close them has created a lot of uncertainty and sadness among their employees.

The agency’s CEO Christine Essel could barely get through telling the Board of Commissioners that in all her years in government service, she’d never seen anything like this.

"Dissolving a 60-year institution in a matter of a month," Essel said. "The staff is killing themselves, and we’re all not sleeping enough, so I just want to thank them for what they’re doing and hang in there, we’re gonna work through this."

Nearly 200 people work at the Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, and they’re not shy about their role in projects that have given L.A. a new look, created jobs and created affordable housing.

Jenny Scanlon coordinates the agency’s downtown and harbor projects. "We can talk all day about Staples Center, and the Broad Museum and Grand Avenue, but that is just a very small part of what redevelopment does in the City of Los Angeles," Scanlon said.

A handful of the agency’s retired employees attended the meeting with questions about the future of their benefits.

General Counsel Kelly Martin was frustrated at not having all the answers. "I think that there were better ways to do this," Martin said. "We have models in our state for ways of liquidating and dissolving organizations that do not put at risk retirees [or] create uncertainty for employees."

But in this case, the state isn’t following them, she said.

Ken Fearn, the chairman of the board of commissioners, said he was sad to see the agency wind down so quickly. But he was optimistic about the future.

"Some form of redevelopment will continue," Fearn said, "because it is the lifeblood for improving communities that are underserved and it is the only lifeline that cities have to create jobs."

State Senator Alex Padilla has introduced a bill that will extend the life of redevelopment agencies another couple of months. But Gov. Jerry Brown said he opposed the idea.

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