Billionaire shopping-mall developer Rick Caruso delivered what sounded like a political stump speech before a crowd of Valley business leaders Friday—while still keeping mum on whether he plans to run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2013.
Serving as keynote speaker for the Valley's United Chambers of Commerce Small Business Awards breakfast at the Warner Center Marriott, Caruso called for better public transportation, the breakdown of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the elimination of the gross receipts tax.
His company, Caruso Affiliated, owns the Encino Marketplace at Hayvenhurst Avenue and Ventura Boulevard, as well as the Americana at Brand in Glendale, the Grove and Burton Place Retail Center in Los Angeles, the Commons at Calabasas, Village at Moorpark, the Promenade at Westlake, the Lakes at Thousand Oaks and Waterside Marina Del Rey.
“What I thought I’d do today is give you the developer’s point of view on how to make Los Angeles more livable,” Caruso said at the awards breakfast.
He explained his belief that if each neighborhood had its own shopping center to act as a community hub, the city could be connected through those centers, he said.
“Today the Grove gets 20 million visitors per year. That’s 7 million more than Disneyland,” Caruso said. “So the question is, if a developer can create a livable and inviting space. Can the city do the same for its residents? And I believe the answer is yes. So how do we make L.A. more livable?”
First, he said, Los Angeles Unified School District is too big.
“700,000 students, 30,000 teachers, 1,100 schools spanning 700 miles. It’s the wrong scale. There’s no way you can feel connected to that,” Caruso said. “And everyone who studies public education will tell you that the most important thing is that there’s a connection between the school and the community.”
“I’m a big believer that the L.A. Unified School District needs to be broken up,” he said to loud applause.
Second, he said, there’s too much regulation in Los Angeles. Caruso questioned how Los Angeles can compete with other cities long term.
“[Can you compete] when you have a gross receipts tax that takes a percentage off the top before a business ever makes a profit?” he asked. “I think the answer is no, because the cities around us are not doing that. So we need to revamp the gross receipts tax, and frankly, I think we need to get rid of it.”
Public transportation is also a key issue for Caruso, who said he owns the smallest, licensed railroad by the California Public Utilities Commission: the shiny green and brass trolly at the Grove.
He believes the city should use the playful spirit of the Grove trolly to build an efficient, above ground public transportation system throughout the city.
“If you build an engaging, interesting transportation system in Los Angeles, at the street level, where people can get off and walk Ventura Boulevard, shop, get back on, go grab a bite, get back on, connect to their car, and then get home, or vice versa, all of a sudden, you’re serving that customer and you’re serving those businesses to move the customer around and start spending dollars along boulevards. What are they going to do in a tube underground?” Caruso asked.