Speaking to a roomful of San Fernando Valley business owners and leaders, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said on Thursday, Jan. 12, that she wants to send a signal that “L.A. is open for business” and tied the need to get homeless people off the streets with supporting businesses.
Appearing at a conference hosted by the Valley Economic Alliance at California State University, Northridge, Bass drew a connection between the two issues.
“One of our biggest problems is the income disparity, and then the most extreme manifestation of that are tents on our streets,” Bass said. “Well, the only way we’re going to address that is good-paying jobs. And who employs Angelenos, other than small businesses?”
At the same time, she asked, “How do you attract businesses if people see 40,000 people on the street?”
Bass was referring to the roughly 42,000 homeless people estimated to be living on streets in L.A. Her first action as mayor was to declare a state of emergency on homelessness.
She has since then issued an executive directive to fast-track the construction of affordable housing projects and has launched an initiative, Inside Safe, to move homeless people off the streets and into temporary housing in hotels and motels.
Bass, who has been in office a month, announced during the discussion moderated by former Calabasas Mayor Fred Gaines that she plans to hire a deputy mayor for business and convene a business council.
She noted that the number one comment she heard from the business community during her mayoral campaign was that the city was not friendly to businesses. What’s more, Bass heard that when businesses decided to leave L.A., nobody from the city attempted to convince them to stay.
That’s something she said she wants to change.
“When I pull a cabinet together and have a deputy mayor and the other staff in place, I want to aggressively stay in contact with the business organizations,” she said. “So if any of you here decide to leave L.A. … we’ll try to persuade you to stay.”
Thursday’s Valley Economic Alliance conference also featured a presentation by Metro chief executive Stephanie Wiggins, who highlighted upcoming projects and plans to improve public transportation for Valley residents.
More than $5 billion in improvement projects are slated for the Valley over the next decade, which will help support the region’s economic vitality, Wiggins said.
This includes a multi-billion-dollar East San Fernando Valley light rail project, which will add 11 new stations along a 6.7 mile route. The first phase will link the G Line (Orange) bus route in Van Nuys to Metrolink rail lines traveling between Ventura County and Antelope Valley. Full-scale construction is slated to begin in late 2023 or early 2024.
Metro is also planning to make improvements along the G Line, including improving bicycle paths and the reliability of buses, and increasing rider capacity to shorten average commute times by 30 percent between Chatsworth and North Hollywood. Other upgrades include adding five major bus stop facilities with amenities, improving about 400 bus shelters and switching to all-electric buses.
“We’re confident that Valley residents will see and notice the difference and make Metro their first choice for transportation,” said Wiggins, who also noted that by the end of the month about 300 Metro “ambassadors” will be deployed to support riders and report issues to the agency.
Metro has also improved lighting and installed more cameras to address safety concerns and is evaluating whether to hire more transit officers to deal with harassment that some riders have reported, she said.
Other projects planned in the next decade include new bus rapid transit lines between North Hollywood and Pasadena. Metro is also evaluating converting carpool lanes to express toll lanes along the 405 Freeway between the 10 and 101 freeways to reduce commute times for more drivers, and a transit project along Sepulveda Boulevard as an alternative for commuters on the 405.
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Overall improvements to Metro’s vast network of infrastructure should help drive the Valley’s economic growth, Wiggins said.
“The Valley should see marked improvements in the speed and reliability of the transit system. … People who ride transit will enjoy new amenities, bus shelters and mobility hubs, which could give more opportunities for retail, and most of all, better connections to destinations both inside and outside the Valley,” she said.