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13 Mar. 2019 | Comments (0)

When one thinks of Los Angeles, Hollywood, beaches, and palm trees often come to mind. The second-largest city in the United States and the gateway to the Pacific Rim, Los Angeles is at the heart of the Californian economy—the world’s fifth largest. The population of LA County is larger than 43 of the US’s 50 States. It is the entertainment capital of the country and a major tourist destination. Yet, this booming metropolis faces a large homeless population, is on the frontline of the immigration issue, and has a troubled school district and aging infrastructure. 

The Conference Board’s Corporate Social Responsibility Council met in Los Angeles in early February to learn from business, nonprofit, government, and civic leaders about the issues and opportunities facing the City of Angels. The exploration started with a conversation with Dr. Manuel Pastor, noted University of Southern California Professor and author of State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future. Dr. Pastor talked about LA’s demographic and economic changes, the housing crisis, the huge disparities that still exist, and the shift of California’s business power from south to north. 

In 2018, Mayor Eric Garcetti established the Mayor’s Office for Volunteer Engagement to be the catalyst for civic engagement. Los Angeles has been lacking in volunteer infrastructure and support since much of the aerospace, petroleum and bank headquarters moved out in the later part of the last century. Under the brand “Volunteer LA,” the organization hopes to connect more Angelenos with opportunities to serve. During a discussion of this new initiative, the council heard from the Mayor’s Office, as well as the Governor’s Office and Points of Light about the concept of a “civic life.”

In a separate session, Ambassador Nina Hachigian, Deputy Mayor for International Affairs, discussed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their relation to the city. She said: “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not about some far-off place, but are things we work on day in and day out as a city. The SDG framework is a good way for the city to measure its work and some of the SDGs are viewed more broadly than written. An example is Goal #6: Gender Equality. This doesn’t include the LGBTQ community, which is important to LA.” Hachigian cautioned that some global statistics are misleading when used in Los Angeles are misleading. As an example, data show education scores are higher than reality, because they are distorted by world-class universities.

Long-time civic leader Lisa Cleri Reale led an exploration of the homeless issue in LA. She took council members through blocks of Skid Row, where we saw streets lined with pup tents and other forms of temporary shelter. We also stopped at Inner City Arts, an oasis of learning, achievement, and creativity in the heart of Skid Row, and a vital partner in creating a safer, healthier Los Angeles.

The Council meeting concluded with an important roundtable discussion, moderated by Reale, on homelessness. The discussion featured:

  • Elise Buik, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, told us that a new study by the University of Southern California will show that it is 40 percent cheaper to house the homeless versus leaving them on the streets when considering the costs of police, fire, emergency rooms, sanitation, health, and many other services that are provided on the streets. 
  • Hon. Mark Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor, County of Los Angeles, has been leading the fight on homelessness at the county level. He told the council that a third of the county’s homelessness are severely mentally ill and another third have some form of addiction.
  • Jerry Neuman, Partner, DLA Piper and Chair, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, has been chairing the Business Leaders Task Force on Homelessness for the last 10 years. He said that previously business was missing from the discussion, but now is a full participant in finding solutions.
  • Alan Pullman, Senior Principle and Founder, Studio One Eleven, spoke of the opportunity to build housing capacity without displacing people. He also mentioned that shelters and long-term solutions need to take into consideration the diversity of the homeless, which includes young people, seniors, singles, families, and pets.

Los Angeles has a bright future built on a successful and storied past. Unlikely bedfellows are coming together to tackle the issues of jobs, housing, mobility, poverty, homelessness, and climate change, among others, in new and innovative ways that observers are replicating.

  • About the Author:Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman has a distinguished history working with corporations, non-profits, civic and government agencies on strategic direction and innovative programs.He leads Jeff Hoffman & Associates, a …

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