Central City Association
The Central City Association, an alliance of businesses in downtown L.A., started in the 1920s as the Downtown Businessmen's Association, at a time when the number of businessmen's associations seemed to rival that of businessmen. There was the Jonathan Club, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Merchants & Manufacturers Association. Today, the CCA is one of the last heirs of downtown boosterism.
Carol Schatz, president and CEO of the CCA, was one of the architects of what she calls the "downtown L.A. renaissance." It began in 1999 when Staples Center opened, the first in a succession of big development projects by AEG. Two months later, to little fanfare, the city council passed the adaptive reuse ordinance, a bill the CCA had been lobbying for that made it easier for developers to convert older office space into apartments and lofts. This set off an inter-city migration toward downtown.
"It was the housing that was critical," says Schatz. "Staples has had enormous impact, but if you don't create a residential community, then people are just driving in and out."
Urban historian Joel Kotkin is skeptical of the CCA’s vision. He points out that downtown represents only about 2.5 percent of jobs in Los Angeles.
"Is there a major corporation headquartered in downtown L.A.?" he says. "I don't think so. I think there's a bunch of branch offices, a bunch of law firms. That's not exactly leadership."
Others point out that Schatz's renaissance has come at the expense of many homeless people who used to live in downtown L.A. In particular, the 2006 Safer Cities Initiative, championed by the CCA (as well as Mayor Villaraigosa), deployed an additional 50 police officers to skid row.
"It cleaned up a neighborhood like a leaf blower cleans up the neighborhood — it just pushed people to a different area," says Greg Spiegel, director of public policy at the Inner City Law Center.
Schatz, by all accounts (including her own), is extremely well connected. She boasts ties with Eli Broad and Tim Leiweke, and was an early supporter of Councilmember Jan Perry, who represents downtown L.A. Unlike the Chamber of Commerce, members of the CCA are unified around a specific goal: improve downtown, which gives them a louder voice than other modern business groups.
"You cannot define a great city by a beach, two theme parks and a sign. You can't have a great city unless you have a great city center."
The "downtown renaissance":
*Los Angeles Ethics Commission
“Carol Schatz's vision of L.A. is, 'Let's take as much from the neighborhoods and put it downtown.' "
—Joel Kotkin, author and urban historian
City of L.A. direct campaign contributions since 1998*:
City Councilmembers serving in 2010 to whom the CCA has given money*:
15 (out of 15)