News And Politics

Looking forward: Jan Perry on the outlook for South L.A.

April 2, 2012, 4:30 p.m.

Ninth District Councilwoman and 2013 mayoral candidate Jan Perry is pictured above (center) at the opening of her second wetlands project located at 54th Street and Avalon Boulevard. (Credit: José Martinez/OnCentral)

This is the second segment of a two-part series about Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry, redistricting and South L.A. In Part 1, she talks about why redistricting was a disaster, at least for her Ninth District.

Part of the reason L.A. City Councilwoman and 2013 mayoral candidate Jan Perry is so upset about how the redistricting process went down is the fact that South L.A., as she puts it, is "on the cusp" of something good – a renaissance, perhaps.

"Over the last 10 years, I think that we have begun to rise," said Perry to OnCentral. She's been in office since 2001.

The redistricting process, Perry said, left her with a Ninth District that's still recovering from the devastation of the Watts Riots of 1965 and the South Central riots of 1992 – and now one that, without its downtown portion, doesn't really have an economic engine anymore.

"I think we've made a lot of progress," the councilwoman said. "Look at streets like Central Avenue. You'll see new grocery stores, new housing, a new LEED-certified [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified] City Hall, a farmers market on Thursday. You see over 30 new schools, you see parents walking to take and pick up their children from school." But Perry is realistic about the challenges that South L.A. and, more specifically, her constituents face.

"There are still some very basic challenges that require more work, and that has to do with healthcare on a daily basis," she said, pointing to the area's lack of healthy food options and heavy concentration of childhood obesity.

"There's a need to create more park space that is not only available, but maintained and secure so that children and their families can exercise," she added. "Then there's just the basics – dental care, eye care, elder care, prenatal care. There are a number of clinics in South L.A. and they have become people's default option because there aren't a lot of options in the area."

Add that to the fact that people have to make "terrible choices" like whether to take the bus or buy milk or pay their credit cards off, as Perry said, and you have an area that has a long way to go in terms of reaching the apex of its rise.

Perry said the southside's "need is vast," something which becomes disheartening for her when the redistricting process seems to ignore South L.A. – or when her newest wetlands project is vandalized.

"I was so upset because I got a report that there were young people jumping in the water and pulling out the irrigation equipment," said Perry. "I was so disheartened. It took us eight years to get this thing funded. Every step of the way it was a fight. People tend to marginalize South L.A. I think if these young people knew how hard it was to get this thing built – I like to think they wouldn't have done what they did."

Despite the obstacles, both little and large, Perry remains optimistic, in part because of some of her accomplishments as councilwoman and in part because of the community she serves.

"I feel a sense of responsibility to create an infrastructure so that people will be able to advocate for themselves, no matter who's in office," she said, pointing out that she'll hit her term limit next year.

Perry highlighted the public-private partnerships she created in leveraging federal and private funds in order to create buildings like Rittenhouse Square on South Central Avenue and 33rd Street, where Perry incentivized developers to put commercial and retail properties on the ground floor and then build affordable housing on the floors above. Now with downtown out of her district, Perry has lost that leverage and has to look for new strategies to incentivize developers. She still has the Convention Center to use as a major tool, but the need is far greater than that.

The loss of the Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) was another big hit to Perry. She said with the CRAs, "every transportation corridor – north, south, east, west – south of the Santa Monica Freeway was a redevelopment corridor." The potential for development along the major corridors was and still is "wide open," said the councilwoman – but without the CRAs, no one is there to encourage or fund it.

But still, Perry calls her district a "coalition district" for a reason.

"I've been able to create the momentum for people to work together and to be more accepting of each other," she said, pointing to the fact that the majority of her district is Latino. "So if you look at the testimony that was offered [at the redistricting hearings by citizens], you would see a coalition of people from all different ethnic groups saying the same thing. I was really thrilled by that."

Collaboration seems to be the root of a lot of Perry's hope for the area. She pointed to the promise of project labor agreements – pre-hire collective bargaining agreements with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project – in putting people back to work, calling that a "great synergistic relationship."

"I feel very encouraged by the kind of nexus that's been created through relationships," said Perry. "Those relationships have to continue no matter what."

Those relationships are what will make the opening of the new Expo Line a positive development, said Perry. It's also what will help fulfill the need to provide healthy eating options for South L.A. – she remembers seeing nearly 800 people in line on the opening day for one of the area's brand-new grocery stores.

Throughout all this, it's her constituents who keep her going, she said.

"The level and the depth of the faith and commitment, the willingness to stay and never retreat – it's an inspiration," said Perry, who's especially privy to that because she goes to churches on the southside nearly every Sunday. "I think many of these churches have been the fabric that have held this community together for decades. It fills me full of hope. It just has to keep going. We have to keep the momentum moving forward so that people don't give up."

That resilience – from religious communities and nonprofits and community advocates alike – is why Perry does what she does. And she's hoping that when the Ninth District loses her as a councilwoman next year, they'll gain her as a mayor.

"[I'll be] a partner [as mayor]," said Perry. "Someone who will ask you to help and participate. And then we will continue to build our community and move it forward."

With her ongoing redistricting battle and upcoming mayoral campaign in mind, Perry added matter-of-factly – and with a smile – that she's a "survivor."

"Don't take me on because you're going to lose," she said. "I'm relentless."

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