The real story about Compton, the ‘Brickyard,’ and UPS
And all the exhaustive details on how Compton became wedged between a ‘Brickyard’ and a hard place By CYNTHIA MACON and SUSAN ADAMS United Parcel Service, a transportation leader is coming to Compton joining the ranks of 25
And all the exhaustive details on how Compton became wedged between a ‘Brickyard’ and a hard place
By CYNTHIA MACON and SUSAN ADAMS
United Parcel Service, a transportation leader is coming to Compton joining the ranks of 25 other Fortune 500 companies now operating in the city. This new enterprise should feel like gold but the terms of the deal and lack of transparency have left many citizens with the feeling of holding a black lump of coal. The problems lie directly with Compton Mayor Aja Brown, the City Council, and the continuing disavowal of public concerns and true story of the Brickyard.
To understand the disenchantment, you have to know and experience the local history and lore. And while the national media may be fooled and smile upon this as evidence of the coronation of Mayor Brown, and the delivery of promised progress for Compton, local citizens, especially those in residence surrounding the Brickyard, after four years of Brown’s administration, are not nearly as rapt in wonder.
Compton has always been a blue-collar working people city and the prospect of UPS jobs, tax revenue, and prestige is cause for celebration. The problem is not UPS. It is the City of Compton and the forces at work such as Brown’s tax fiasco, the city council’s disregard of the public will and input, glossed over concerns about the impact of the community, backroom deals, and revelations of county and union interests entering the equation.
For alert residents, these critical issues mute any celebration. After all, this is Compton, and how it is “supposed” to work is never how it “ends up” working. You must wait for the side deals and people to surface and the real reality in implementation to manifest. A straight line is always made crooked in Compton.
Notably, Mayor Aja Brown is the one reportedly responsible for committing a major blunder rumored among the reasons Amazon—the originally intended occupant for which the Brickyard complex was designed—chose to opt out forcing Compton into a last-minute non-negotiable position with UPS. In a late-hour “Hail Mary” attempt to salvage her failed term her last year in office, Mayor Brown—against the advice of the Chamber of Commerce and the business community who warned of the city losing its competitiveness edge—mounted a campaign to pass a one-percent sales tax increase called “Measure P.”
Backed by outsiders, developers, unions, and county interests, Brown was successful in a highly questionable and now Superior Court-contested election to raise the sales tax on Compton’s low-income residents and businesses from nine to 10 percent, the highest in the state of California and among the highest in the nation. It did not take long, however, for her chickens to come home to roost.
Amazon bowed out and Compton, to remain competitive and lure UPS, was forced to offer a 30 percent reduction in the very same sales taxes the mayor hyped would bring in needed revenue. To cover up the faux pas, Brown attempted from the dais to spin the facts stating the reason was instead “property taxes,” this after UPS had clearly stated the break would be on capital improvement purchases.
At this point, First District Councilwoman Janna Zurita was forced to clarify and nail Brown on yet another attempted “in-your-face” mistruth, the abundance of which is a noted characteristic of the mayor. The irony of Measure P losing Amazon, and of a billion dollar multi-national international corporation UPS, now getting a tax break is not lost upon the underprivileged residents of Compton now saddled with some of the highest sales, utility, assessment, and property taxes in the nation, seeing hardly any other visible improvements during her time in office, but simply to bolster Mayor Brown’s empty promises and political ascent.
You see, despite the national PR obsession, the reality here at home in Compton is the Brown administration has been a dismal failure. UPS is an atypical success in four years of punctuated fiascoes. Murder and crime have reversed, the mayor is now a proponent of bringing the marijuana industry to Compton of all places, her gang summits proved a disaster, park and neighborhood street improvements remain undone, the $40 million city deficit she claims she solved a mirage and internal one, and her Measure P one-cent advertised measure turned into a $267 million elephant, but only after its passage. Mayor Brown peddles influence and contracts even to felons, and her dependence and deference to outsiders, unions, developers, and county interests such as Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas have driven not only her campaigns, but her priorities it seems—trucks, ports, and industry—causing residents to question her allegiance and loyalty to the city and even her sudden appearance on the scene.
But still, the most shocking revelation for the public was the inadvertent announcement the Brickyard, the 59-acre largest single open parcel in the city, was now owned and in the hands of a county entity, the Los Angeles County Employee Retirement Association (LACERA), a union headquartered out of the mayor’s hometown of Pasadena. For many, this was an absolute deal breaker for Compton residents fearful for decades of growing county influence and possible take-over of Compton, a charter city.
Knowledge of such an impending transaction would have led to protests in the streets but the deal was done without a mumbling word to the public, leading many to wonder how long was this deal in the works or who behind-the-scenes orchestrated this maneuver. And notably, the leasing agent, CBRE, changed the name from the “Compton Brickyard” to the “Brickyard South Bay” even omitting Compton’s name on their brochure’s sales map signaling, for some, advancing gentrification, growing regional identification and interests, and a lack of confidence in the Compton Brand while at the same time fooling and selling citizens on their supposed love for the city.
And citizens are asking what does land purchases by the county and outsiders, along with a possible explosion of land speculation due to marijuana cultivation bode for future residential living in Compton. Where will citizens live when others desire the land.
So when Compton residents learned of the impending economic incentive deal with UPS and came to the city council armed with intelligent salient questions and observations, the city council passed the resolution right then and there without further contemplation or returning to address the concerns or heed the wishes of the community. Apparently, the emergency nature of the situation found the city between a brickyard and a hard place. But the question then becomes what is the role of the community to come and speak at city council meetings when there is a glaring pattern of dismissal and disregard of their input?
Residents requested a lower percentage and a shorter time period than 10 years for the sales tax incentive, a greater number of jobs than the 50 full-time guaranteed, desired answers on traffic patterns, questioned the accounting and benefactors of $70 million in promised purchases by UPS, and balked at Compton CareerLink Center training and enrollment being democratic. Tellingly, one citizen made the observation only city council cronies had previously received earlier promised jobs as it appears there is no trickle down to citizens as advertised and promised when politicians and developers are in action trying to get public buy-in.
And as a priority of the city is obviously being placed upon getting streets ready for the trucks to line-up coming from the Brickyard, their transit routes still remain under scrutiny. In particular, what steps will be taken to protect the residential nature of Wilmington Avenue and the closing off of truck traffic from a street lined with five elementary and middle schools.
The Brickyard also has received low score marks on the possibility of increased cancer and fume-related illnesses in residents, especially those adjacent and surrounding the site. But all of these questions and insights, given the city’s lack of energy in proactively acknowledging and responding to residents’ concerns in the past, can be filed along with this golden corporate bonanza under: “Package undelivered, not at home.”
Cynthia Macon and Susan Adams are Daughters of Compton.
Disclaimer: This opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily the opinion of the Compton Herald or its publisher, and editor.