Santa Monica Lookout
Former Santa Monica Police Chief Helps Reinvigorate Inglewood
Editor's Note: A previous version of the article stated that Inglewood faced a budget deficit of $8.9 million to $17.9 million for the 2012/2013 financial year. The actual projected deficit is $4.3 million. The Lookout regrets this error.
By Jason Islas
March 14, 2013 -- When former Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts was elected mayor of Inglewood in 2011, the city was in dire straits, facing an almost $18 million deficit, dilapidated infrastructure and public safety issues.
Though he said there is still much work to be done, two years into his first term as mayor, Butts believes that the City of Champions has made some strides toward improving its lot.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment for Butts has been the negotiation of a development agreement with Madison Square Garden Co. to buy the Great Western Forum for $23.5 million.
“The first thing I did (as mayor) was get in contact with Madison Square Garden and entered discussions about the forum,” he said. “They purchased the forum and are about to spend $50 to $75 million to renovate it.”
The renovation, Butts hopes, will pump some needed vitality into the city's economy.
“It'll result in over 300 construction jobs, 260 full-time jobs,” he said. The purchase has also led to a pledge of $180 million toward the Hollywood Park Tomorrow project.
The project would be a comprehensive redevelopment of the 238-acre site, replacing the race track and parking lots with 650,000 square feet of retail, 2,500 homes and four parks.
Butts hopes the redevelopment project will turn the site into the central business core of the community.
“The rising tide will raise Market Street,” he said, referring to Inglewood's traditional commercial core.
During his tenure, Butts has managed to cut the City's projected deficit down to $4.3 million in the 2012/2013 financial year by cutting the City's personnel costs by $3.8 million.
He's also proud of the fact that by reconfiguring Inglewood's response to gang violence, the murder rate has dropped 35 percent since he's been in office.
Since Butts was elected in a run-off election in 2011, the city has straightened out a mismanaged Residential Sound Insulation program that Butts hopes will insulate 1,000 homes in the LAX flight path from jet noise in the next year.
There is still much work to be done, Butts said.
Last September, the State took over administration of the Inglewood school district with Governor Jerry Brown granting the financially-troubled district some $55 million in emergency loans.
And Butts said that the City has fallen victim to “petty politics” and “self-interested” local politicians.
He hopes that will change with this year's City Council election next month.
In 1991, when Butts left his post as deputy chief of Inglewood after 19 years on the force to become SMPD's chief, he never anticipated returning to the town as mayor.
“I was never seeking any of the positions I've obtained after I became the deputy chief of police,” he said.
By the time he left Santa Monica in 2006, he had left his mark on the city.
"At times, he's been one of the most popular people in Santa Monica, far more popular than any City Council member,” Council member Bob Holbrook told The Lookout in 2006. "He's had a remarkable career," Holbrook said.
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