Downtown L.A.: The Future of San Francisco's Tenderloin?

I recently "put to bed" (as we say in the magazine biz) a story about San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon's efforts ...
by | April 20, 2010 AT 3:00 AM

Golden Gate I recently "put to bed" (as we say in the magazine biz) a story about San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon's efforts to clean up the Tenderloin -- a neighborhood of 20,000 souls, known for its SROs (single-room occupancy -- basically a residential hotel), its social services, and some serious behavioral problems, such as open air drug dealing - without changing its character. It'll be appearing soon in our May issue. But while the story is about San Francisco (and a new police chief's struggle to change the way things are done there), the backstory is really about L.A.

As attentive readers of Governing know, I have a thing for Los Angeles. But L.A.'s experiences seemed particularly relevant for several reasons. First, Chief Gascon is an LAPD veteran who started out in Hollywood Division. Back in the late 70s, Hollywood was known mainly for decrepit grandeur, run-away teens, and streetwalkers -- streetwalkers by the hundreds. Today, it's one of the most popular parts of the city, a neighborhood that was recently called out by the New York Times as "one of 31 places to visit in 2009." The similarities between Hollywood in the 70s and 80s and the Tenderloin today are, as Chief Gascon noted in our conversation, striking. Indeed, the Chief told me, Hollywood's transformation is one of the things that gives him hope for the Tenderloin.


There's another striking Los Angeles parallel too -- downtown. Like the Tenderloin, Los Angeles's Spring Street corridor was once a neighborhood of SROs pressing up against Skid Row. Today, despite the economic downtown, downtown Los Angeles is home to an interesting mix of affordable "micro-lofts" like the Alexandria (left), service providers, book stores, barber shorts, art galleries, cafes, and home to about 40,000 residents, many of them new to downtown living.

Here, though, the similarities end. Hollywood and, to a lesser extent, downtown L.A., have thrived by embracing development, including an element of gentrification. By contrast, most of the Tenderloin's stakeholders are adamantly opposed to gentrification. Instead, they want to improve conditions on the ground without changing the character of the neighborhood. Could such a strategy work? That's the jumping off point for my upcoming piece. Look for it in the May issue of Governing! (Tenderloin photo: John Buntin, Alexandra Hotel photo: David Kidd)

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