In last Wednesday’s city council debate (or more accurately, public relations exercise) on convention center billboards, Councilman Ed Reyes claimed that the plan would help poor people in the area get jobs, pay their rent, and feed their children. He called on his council colleagues to “ignore” opponents of the plan to put 50,000 square feet of advertising signage on the convention center facade, calling them people “who don’t live in this area, who don’t understand the level of poverty that exists here.”
Reyes played this class card earlier this year, in the debate on allowing digital billboards in an MTA bus yard alongside the 10 freeway. At least in that case, the council’s action promised something tangible for residents of one of L.A.’s less privileged neighborhoods, namely a wetlands park. However, Reyes offered no evidence to support the idea that the billboards on the convention center will significantly improve the lives of the people living in nearby neighborhoods that indeed suffer a disproportionate share of poverty, gang violence, and shortage of decent, affordable housing.
There is evidence, though, that urban renewal developments like the Staples/Convention Center/L.A. Live mega-complex often lead to gentrification that ends up pushing poor people out of surrounding neighborhoods. And while some lower-paying service sector jobs may be created, the often-massive tax breaks and other concessions made to developers of such complexes can rob the city of the financial means to build new housing and undertake ventures such as industrial development that can create high-paying jobs.
For example, the city gave developers of the proposed 54-story hotel to be built next to the convention center tax breaks and direct subsidies of nearly $280 million. In contrast, the advertising signs that will loom in the windshields of hundreds of thousands of freeway drivers every day and night will bring a guaranteed $2 million a year to the city’s general fund. Bill Rosendahl, the only council member to vote against the billboard deal, called it a “very bad deal” for the city and a “great deal” for AEG, the company given the exclusive rights to put up the signs. Was he the only one at the table who could do the math?
For more in the media on the convention center billboards, including some video of the council meeting, see Who owns L.A.: Judge for yourself from the great Convention Center billboard farce. And for a very good analysis of what is bad, not only with the billboards, but with developments such as L.A. Live, read Blinded By The Light In Downtown L.A.Dennis Hathaway