Urban Planning lecturer Joan Ling shared her expertise in housing development with the first class of the Howard and Irene Levine Affordable Housing Development Program, featured in the Blau Journal and the Architect’s Newspaper. The UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate hosted the training program for entry-level professionals to illuminate the constraints and opportunities of housing development in Los Angeles. The training was led by Ling, co-director of the Levine program, and other UCLA faculty and housing experts. On the first day of training, Ling declared, “Affordable housing development isn’t rocket science. It needs two things, land and money. Since there isn’t enough land, it’s land-use policy that needs expanding.” The success of the program in its first year has led the Ziman Center to increase the class size for 2019 and make it an annual program, the first of its kind among top U.S. universities.
Lecturer in Urban Planning Joan Ling was cited in Capital & Main on California state policies regarding housing. At a state Senate hearing in mid-November, Ling said that local governments have had years to address the housing crisis but have squandered their chances under current rules. Local governments do not always know what is best, she said, pointing to 40 years of “not zoning enough to provide housing for our population at the local level.” Ling said she believes that a new bill that provides housing near transit hubs while also protecting vulnerable communities is possible. “We need to craft policies that do no harm, particularly to low-income and minority communities who have borne the side effects of well-intentioned policies,” she said.
Since the Sixties: The SLA Homeownership Crisis // Housing, Equity & Community Series
Discrimination in the housing market was legal in California until the 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act, which finally upheld the State’s frustrated efforts to legislate equal access in 1963. Legalized discrimination and segregation led to highly unequal housing outcomes between white households who benefited from several programs designed to increase homeownership and people of color who were systematically excluded. The confluence of major historical events central to the struggles for equality in South Los Angeles makes it a particularly apt lens through which to reflect on the disparities that persist to this day. Homeownership rates have decreased county-wide, but the gap with South LA has remained just as large. This leaves a shrinking share to the population able to benefit from rising property values and exacerbates wealth inequality. At the same time, the combination of the housing crises and housing shortage locks an increasing number of household in South LA into extreme housing cost burden which makes the aspiration of maintaining a stable home as distant as it ever was.
Please join us on May 7th for a discussion on the key findings from the recently released report, South Los Angeles Since the Sixties, from the UCLA Luskin Center for Neighborhood Knowledge. Our distinguished panelists will examine what progress has been made in South LA, if any, in the domain of housing since the 1960s.
- Melany De La Cruz-Viesca: Assistant Director, UCLA Asian American Studies Center (AASC)
- Paul Ong, PhD: Research Professor, and Director of Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, UCLA
- Michael Lens: Assoc. Faculty Director, UCLA Lewis Center; and Professor of Urban Planning & Public Policy, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
**Lunch will be provided. Please bring your own beverage**
RSVP Here: https://bit.ly/2HlV1Ef
Urban planning lecturer Joan Ling, left, was among the panelists for a discussion about rent control in Los Angeles. Other panelists were Tony Samara and Doug Smith. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Zev Hurwitz
Though housing prices in Los Angeles are seemingly out of control, it may be control that can start to ease the burden for struggling renters.
At a panel conversation held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on Feb. 26, 2018, a trio of experts discussed the housing crisis in the area and the potential for new rent control and eviction protections to help stabilize living situations in Los Angeles.
Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, opened the event, “Protecting Renters: Discussions of Rent Control, Stabilization and Evictions,” and alluded to the growing homeless issue as “an indicator of the housing issue in Los Angeles.”
“Here in Los Angeles, renters are spending enormous sums of money on basic shelter,” Lens said. “For an alarming number of Angelenos, even basic shelter is out of reach.”
Lens noted that the most recent homeless data shows 57,000 individuals on a given night are without shelter — a 23 percent increase over the year prior.
“The homeless crisis is an indicator of the housing issue in Los Angeles,” he said.
Tony Samara, program director of land use and housing at Urban Habitat in the Bay Area, explained some of the major issues facing renters in California. The two most critical issues are lack of rent control policies and so-called just cause eviction protections.
“Just cause evictions mean that to evict a tenant, you have to have a reason,” Samara explained. “In the state of California, unless the city has a just cause ordinance, you can be evicted at the end of your lease or within 60 days on a month-to-month basis for no reason. It’s called no-fault eviction.”
Most cities in California do not have such protections for renters, weakening the ability for tenants to plan ahead. Samara noted growth in advocacy campaigns by tenants’ rights groups aiming to broaden the scope of just cause protections and rent control.
“These policies won’t solve all our problems but will at least provide more stability,” he said.
Doug Smith, a staff attorney at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is a 2013 alumnus of UCLA’s Urban Planning department and the UCLA School of Law. Smith spoke about how the effects on a community without tenant protections might force families into overcrowded, substandard living conditions — or even homelessness.
“The consequences are really traumatic, and we’re seeing that played out in communities without these policies,” Smith said.
Smith noted that four Los Angeles County cities — Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Los Angeles — do have some protections, but the other 84 regional cities do not.
“If you live in one of those cities, those protections are really important,” he said. “They can help stabilize your situation, allow you to continue to live in your home and invest in your community.”
Joan Ling MA UP ’82, a longtime lecturer in Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, noted the cost of housing for moderate-income Angelenos has risen tremendously in the past 20 years.
“In 1998, 96 percent of units were affordable to moderate level incomes,” she said. “Today, only 15 percent are affordable to that group.”
One big obstacle to the spreading of tenant protections is the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which blocked major rent control policies and allowed landlords to dramatically raise rents on units that become available. A repeal effort has stalled in the state government, though some Californians are working to place a measure on a statewide ballot to repeal the law.
Beyond a full Costa-Hawkins repeal, Ling explained that rent control laws may be a disincentive to developers of new projects because they would be limited in their revenue generating. However, she said that compromise is possible.
“You don’t have to say that all housing units will fall under rent control,” Ling said. For instance, housing 10 years old or older would be subject to it.
Ling also noted that data show renters in areas with protections are more civically engaged and tend to remain invested in the community for longer than do tenants in unprotected neighborhoods.
The event was the second in the Housing Equity and Community Series hosted by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. It drew more than 60 students, faculty and community members.
Video of the event can be found here.
California’s housing crisis is hitting renters hard. With rents fast increasing in Los Angeles, many people are scared. Whether they fear rent increases that push housing costs out of reach or being scared that improvements to the building mean a rent increase is imminent, the rental market can scary. California is known for strong tenant protections, but existing state laws like the Ellis Act (evicting tenants to convert buildings to ownership) or Costa-Hawkins Act (not allowing new construction to be under rent control) weakens these tenant protections. What’s the appetite for reforming these laws? How are they currently affecting residents in Los Angeles? What can be done to put renters in Los Angeles on a more stable foundation?
- Joan Ling MA UP ’82, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
- Tony Samara, Urban Habitat
- Mike Lens, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Lunch Provided. RSVP at https://protectingrenters.eventbrite.com
Downtown Los Angeles is being revitalized with a wave of new construction. But the emphasis on high-rise towers with spectacular views is not a model that works well in other parts of the city. Photo by Thomas R. Shrout Jr.
By Les Dunseith
“In Los Angeles, we do have a rather broken planning system,” Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning, said during an interview after the defeat of a controversial ballot initiative, Measure S, that had sought to clamp down on Los Angeles development.
Lens and other UCLA Luskin faculty members with expertise in housing density, land use and the related issues of home affordability and transportation say Measure S reflected long-simmering dissatisfaction with how vital decisions about growth, density and housing affordability are made. And they hope increased public awareness will lead to positive change in the state’s planning process.
“L.A. has a very low-density zoning law,” explained Michael Manville MA ’03 PhD ’09, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin. “Its general plan is set up for the city as it was 40 years ago. The zoning never caught up with the fact that L.A. became much more urban.
“Now, as a result, in many parts of the city, to build any kind of housing that we actually need — multifamily housing — it’s illegal.”
That means that a zoning exception must be granted for large housing projects, which leads to often-protracted negotiations between developers and members of the L.A. City Council.
“There is a feeling — that is often true — that developers can get something built if they give enough money to the right council member in the right circumstance,” Lens said. “Then the developers build something big where the community never expected something big to go.”
The current process often frustrates citizens, but the benefits to select policymakers and large real estate developers get in the way of reform efforts, Manville noted.
“Developers who can afford to play the game like it,” Manville said, noting that although they must wait as long as a year to start building on land that is sitting unused during negotiations, the developers end up with the “right to build extra units in a very hot property market. And that probably means more profit.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Paavo Monkkonen MPP ’05 recently analyzed California’s ongoing housing crisis in a policy brief, or white paper, that provides a detailed look at why people are deeply troubled by the current process as outlined in California’s General Plan and various community plans that govern housing density decisions.
“One of the main things I learned in writing the white paper is that nobody likes new development near them,” Monkkonen said.
The result is a Catch-22 that squeezes the general public from both directions, leaving the average L.A. resident with a choice between paying high rent or seeking a risky loan to buy a home they really can’t afford.
‘A City Can Only Sprawl So Far’
A look at the population and housing numbers for Los Angeles clearly illustrates the problem, said UCLA Luskin’s Joan Ling MA UP ‘82, a longtime lecturer in urban planning who has deep experience in real estate analysis and affordable housing. She cited a study by Greg Morrow PhD ’13. “In 1960, there were 2 million people living in the City of Los Angeles, and the zoning capacity was set for 10 million people. In 2010, the city’s population was 4 million people, but the zoning capacity had been reduced to 4.3 million. So, in fact, we had enough zoning capacity for only 200,000 to 300,000 in additional growth.”
It’s a bad situation that is projected to get even worse. By 2040, Los Angeles is projected to grow by another 800,000 people.
“So where are these people going to go?” Ling asked. “That’s the real problem.”
California has enticing natural features. But most areas are unsuitable for human occupation, or the land is already used by industry or agriculture.
“A city can only sprawl so far,” Ling explained, noting that traffic in Southern California has become a daily nightmare for many people.
The NIMBY (not in my back yard) syndrome is an ever-present issue in California, Monkkonen said. When a new, higher-density project is proposed almost anywhere, neighborhoods rise up to block it. “So this is what happens when we have built horizontally to the fringes of the metropolitan area as much as commute times will allow — we get traffic jams and a lack of affordable housing,” he explained.
California’s flawed system of zoning effectively blocks housing affordability, according to several faculty members in the Department of Urban Planning. For example, Monkkonen noted that condos are much cheaper to build and thus much more affordable than single-family homes, but condos “are illegal in 75 percent of L.A. Effectively, using the power of the state, we have prevented the majority of the people in the U.S. and the majority of the people in L.A. from ever buying a home.”
The state’s love of automobiles and its idyllic notion of cul-de-sac suburbs — the California Dream itself — is part of the problem.
“People come here with a certain picture of Los Angeles,” Lens noted. “A place with yards. A place where you have the freedom to get in your car and go where you need to go.”
‘A Horrible Place to Walk or Bike’
It’s a belief system that also contributes to a popular “American idea that when you talk about density, you talk about high-rise buildings,” Manville said. “Not too many people understand that Paris is twice as dense as New York City, and Paris has no high-rise buildings. It’s just that it’s consistently four to six stories.”
Manville thinks that Los Angeles could get a lot denser, and yet remain livable, just by turning many single-story neighborhoods into two-story neighborhoods, especially along major boulevards.
“L.A. has pulled off this amazing trick, where you have a city in which large portions are relatively flat, where the weather is always nice, and it’s a horrible place to walk or bike,” Manville said.
Certainly, a denser neighborhood is going to end up with more congestion, Manville acknowledged. “But the thing that people forget is that most of their driving probably isn’t in their neighborhood. If [new housing] is not built in their neighborhood, then it’s going to be built somewhere. And they’re probably still going to encounter those cars somewhere else.”
If the density is done well, then people experience more opportunities not to be in their cars. “If the density isn’t done well, then you can get the worst of all worlds,” he said.
A denser neighborhood, if it’s designed carefully, becomes a more pleasant place to walk and live. Manville points to London, which embraced the idea that to manage its congestion, it needed to charge people to drive.
“If you actually do something that makes congestion better — which is what charging does and nothing else does — then you can knock down a lot of the concerns about more density. And a lot more good things can flow from that,” Manville said.
The congestion toll in London has added housing and allowed transportation authorities to “take back a lot of the space that had previously been allocated to cars,” Manville said. “There are just so many more sidewalks and bicycle lanes and lanes dedicated to buses that make the transit go much faster.”
Monkkonen points to Vancouver, Canada, as another potential model for Los Angeles. “It’s a place where single-family home neighborhoods have had the density increased without changing how it looks. In Vancouver, they have a basement unit, a ground-level unit and a second-floor unit. They look like single-family homes, but there are actually three households there.”
The only way to handle a constantly growing population, Monkkonen argued, is to set aside our neighborhood-based ideals and look at the region as a whole.
Like her colleagues, Ling sees the need to increase housing density in Los Angeles, but it is “equally important to require that this density be coupled with inclusionary zoning.
A proportion of this extra density must be built as affordable housing.”
In downtown Los Angeles, a boom in construction has brought gleaming new high-rises along with a handful of medium-density projects. Most people think downtown is better now, Ling said, but it’s not a model that works throughout the city.
A Tipping Point for California?
Where, then, should the new housing be built?
“That’s the question,” Ling said. “Where are we going to put it? If this planning was rational, we would put them where the density is most-suited, where people most want to live. But, in reality, issues like this are very much decided on the local level, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, district-by-district.”
In Monkkonen’s view, the best chance to solve California’s housing crisis lies at the state level. In his white paper, he says the state should take action by enforcing and enhancing existing laws, developing ways to make planning decisions at a metropolitan, not neighborhood, scale.
“As long as cities decide within their boundaries where to put the housing, it will work,” Monkkonen said of the idea. “The state would just say, ‘You must have housing,’ and enforce the rules if cities do not comply.”
The state has had rules on the books for 40 years to promote the creation of new housing, but they are rarely enforced. Perhaps California has reached a tipping point that would make state action more feasible?
“Oregon gets a lot of attention in planning scholarship,” Manville said. “They do have a very strong statewide land use program, where the state plays a very active role.”
California could do it too, even in places where resistance would be strong.
These ideas — stronger statewide leadership, looser zoning laws, smarter growth, improved transit, denser housing — are viewed by the UCLA Luskin faculty members as essential changes. Despite the disenchantment that spawned Measure S and similar outcries over growth, they remain generally upbeat about the region’s prospects for a more livable future.
In 20 years, Ling said, “I hope we would live comfortably and closely together, in a city were we don’t need to drive anymore because there will be autonomous cars that move us from our house to the transit station. I’d like L.A. to look like many of the arrondissements in central Paris, filled with six-story buildings in a walkable neighborhood.
“That’s what I would like to see. And we have to believe that it’s possible,” she said, pausing a moment to consider what may happen if the advice of planners like her continues to go unheard. “Otherwise, it could be very bad.”
First-year MURP students, from left, Leilah Moeinzadeh, Katrina Lapira, Eve Bachrach and Soham Dhesi participated in the forum. Photos by Stan Paul
By Stan Paul
A century ago, the great-grandmother of UCLA Luskin’s Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris faced raising and educating her children alone. She and her family had been expelled from Russia following the 1917 revolution, losing their property, and Loukaitou-Sideris told those gathered at an open forum to mark “A Day Without a Woman” that her great-grandfather died on the journey to Greece.
Her great-grandmother persevered, raising one of the first women in the labor force in Greece, Loukaitou-Sideris’ grandmother, who soon was “climbing the ladder” on her way to becoming a manager in the Greek railway system.
Loukaitou-Sideris credits her family, especially her father, with supporting her decision as a young woman to find her own path in the United States, where her academic and professional aspirations led to her becoming a professor of urban planning at UCLA and also the university’s associate provost for academic planning.
“I was a lucky one,” said Loukaitou-Sideris at the March 9, 2017, dialogue for students, faculty and staff at the Luskin School in observance of International Women’s Day.
Other participants shared their own perspectives, recognizing women who had influenced their lives. Attendees also talked about ongoing equality issues and how to break down gender barriers that continue to exist. With gratitude, they recognized the strength, struggle, and perseverance of female role models in advancing women’s rights in society and the workplace.
“I’m here to show solidarity with my fellow women and celebrate the role we play in society,” said Leilah Moeinsadeh, a first-year Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) student.
Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, added, “I think of … things that women have to deal with that I don’t have to deal with, things my position and status as a man have exempted me from. So, it’s important to reflect on how to treat people, particularly women, with the respect they deserve.”
Lens said much of his life and career have been shaped disproportionately by women in positive ways, explaining that he grew up with his mother in a single-parent household. Mentors, advisers and supervisors in and out of academia — many of them women – “have shaped my career in ways I never expected,” he said.
Joan Ling, lecturer in urban planning, pointed out that challenges remain. “Today reminds me of all the work ahead of us,” she said. “It’s not enough, because it’s not about women being equal to men. It’s about changing the paradigm about how we look at power and influence.”
Ling, a graduate of the urban planning master’s program, added, “And, [it’s about] using different metrics to measure our ability to have control over our lives and live a just life.”
Ling’s grandmother — raised in China during a time when young girls’ feet were bound to stunt growth — was “crippled because her feet were bound into 4-inch stumps when she was a child.” Ling’s mother didn’t go to school because at that time it was not considered important for a girl to be educated. “I want those things to change,” Ling said. “But beyond that — equality and education and opportunities — it’s really redefining how we run the world.”
The discussion also covered political issues such as gender-neutral restroom legislation across the nation and the day-to-day challenges of being a mother and keeping up with the requirements of a Ph.D. program. Other topics included the logic of planning buildings to include lactation rooms in the workplace, as well as discussion of housing, jobs, women of color, transgender women and the role of students in dismantling barriers.
“An international day of recognition is a great way to ignite conversation, but something as important as gender equality should not be designated to a discussion once a year, it must be ongoing,” said Alexis Oberlander, urban planning graduate adviser, who helped organize the event and served as moderator. “I was excited by the ideas the students presented, and I hope those ideas invigorate more dialogue and action.”
UCLA Luskin hosted a panel discussion on Feb. 9, 2017, to discuss the pros and cons of Measure S, a ballot measure to limit local development. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Zev Hurwitz
The merits of an upcoming ballot initiative, Measure S, that would mean big changes for big development projects in the city brought together a panel of UCLA faculty members.
If passed by voters in March 2017, Measure S would impose a temporary moratorium on development projects that require changes to zoning, land use and building height laws in Los Angeles. In addition, the measure would restrict other changes and impose mandatory review procedures to the Los Angeles General Plan, while preventing project applicants from conducting their own Environmental Impact Reports (EIR).
“If you’re a developer and you want to do some affordable housing … it would be informally discouraged in wealthier areas,” said Joan Ling, a longtime lecturer in the UCLA Luskin Department of Urban Planning. “There’s a lot of talk about reforming land use laws in L.A., but there’s very little desire for actual results because the councilmembers want control of what gets built and that is tied to election campaign fundraising.”
In addition to Ling, the panel, which was produced by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, included urban planning faculty members Paavo Monkkonen and Michael Manville. Jonathan Zasloff, a professor of Law at UCLA School of Law, also joined the conversation, which was moderated by Rosslyn “Beth” Hummer, the chair of the Land Use Planning and Environmental Subcommittee of the Real Property Section of the L.A. County Bar Association.
Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning, introduced the panel and gave background on the ballot measure. Most panelists oppose Measure S, he noted, but the goal of the forum was to forecast both electoral scenarios.
“Measure S is something that urban planners should be informed about,” he said to an audience comprised mostly of master’s students in UCLA Luskin’s program. “Our goal here is not to push you in any one direction. We’re hoping to provide you with the best possible projections for what might happen if Measure S is actually passed.”
Ling talked about the housing regulatory infrastructure in the city, the leadership of which includes a planning director designated by the mayor and the 15-member City Council. She described the zoning and development realities for what she referred to as Los Angeles’ three cities, “the rich areas, the very low-income areas and the transitional areas.”
Monkkonen discussed a recent White Paper he authored in which concerns of residential leaders about construction in California were voiced. He identified several major reasons why neighborhoods and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) leaders opposed big development projects.
“Some people have concerns about the built environment of their neighborhoods,” Monkkonen said. “They’re concerned about strains on services, their roads, their schools. They have anger at developers for being rich and seeming to get away with things.”
Zasloff noted that the movement to put Measure S and similar initiatives on the ballot is not uncommon for residents who want to maintain the status quo for housing in their neighborhoods.
“When you consider that the vast majority of wealth for many Americans is tied up in their house … many people are scared for what this is going to do to their property values,” he said. “It’s a real concern for people when they set financial expectations for themselves and aren’t sure where to go with them.”
Opponents of big development projects are often concerned about increases in traffic resulting from new population density. Manville said he thinks Measure S would provide little benefit regarding congestion, however.
“It ends up being a very small and uncertain reduction in traffic, played against a much more certain cost in housing prices,” Manville said.
The measure is opposed by the Los Angeles chapters of both the Democratic and Republican parties —giving it a rare bipartisan opposition.
Asked to name one positive that is coming out of the Measure S movement, Zasloff replied that the threat of ballot items similar to Measure S keeps pressure on local elected officials to be more involved with constituency planning.
“If there were a way to scare the bejesus out of City Council on a regular basis, that would probably be helpful,” he said.
The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and drew more than 50 students, faculty and community members. Additional resources, including a video, case law and information about other Measure S events, can be found here.
By Les Dunseith
Working together from a restored 1920s office building in the heart of a city they are helping to revitalize, three graduates of the UCLA Luskin Urban Planning program are fulfilling a shared vision of diversity and innovation.
Their goal? Change the world.
“UCLA, when we went there — and I think it is still the case today — is really about integration,” says Jennifer LeSar MA UP ’92, one of the founding partners of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors. “You are not just a transportation planner or an affordable housing person or an environmental planner. You understand the integration of it all.”
The company, which provides strategic counsel to public agencies, foundations, business associations and civic organizations, reflects the partners’ deep respect for each other, a bond that first formed about three decades ago for LeSar and her close friend and company co-founder Cecilia V. Estolano MA UP ’91. Through professional interactions, they later met their third business partner, Katherine Perez-Estolano MA UP ’97, and her values were closely aligned.
“We knew that there were diverse people of color who were anxious to make a difference,” says Perez-Estolano.
ELP Advisors and its sister firm, San Diego-based LeSar Development Consultants, makes a point of recruiting smart, talented people who reflect the gender, cultural and ethnic diversity of Southern California.
“Every time I would go and meet with other people who had their own companies, their top folks were all white men,” Perez-Estolano remembers. “And I thought this is not the world that we are planning for.”
Their vision crystalized at UCLA — they cite faculty members such as Martin Wachs, Joan Ling MA UP ’82 and Goetz Wolff as key influencers — and their commitment to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs remains a vital aspect of their personal and business interactions today. All three are active in alumni activities, and Estolano and Perez-Estalano have both served as Luskin Senior Fellows. They coordinated a visit by a delegation of planners from Panama a few years ago. Their firm also hosted a reception for Professor Ananya Roy when she first came to UCLA in 2015.
And the close association with UCLA has benefited the company as well. Three of ELP Advisors’ six full-time employees are also UCLA Luskin alumni, and the firm has employed a steady stream of interns from the Luskin School since its founding in 2011.
LeSar notes the “amazing talent pool at UCLA.” Estolano says their firms are a direct reflection of the “particular way that UCLA teaches students how to be urban planners. In order to be an activist planner, you have to have strong sense of civic purpose.”
Estolano continues: “The idea of building a company owned by three women with multiple core competencies in Southern California, the most diverse place in the country, based upon the graduate educations and work experience that we have had, and an ability to hire staff out of the institutions from which have come, was our vision then and still is to this day.”
Their many professional accomplishments contributed to the three founders’ decision to join forces at ELP Advisors. But there is a personal side to it, too.
Katherine Perez, a former Deputy to Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, and Cecilia Estolano, the former chief executive officer of the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, married in 2013. LeSar’s spouse is San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who served as Assembly Speaker from 2014 until March of this year.
The three also believe that their backgrounds mesh particularly well. “If you look at Katherine’s career, and my career, and Cecilia’s career, we have all worked in different sectors,” says LeSar, who also has an MBA from UCLA and is an expert in community development and real estate finance. Estolano, who is a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, has expertise in sustainable economic development and urban revitalization. Perez-Estolano, who in 2013 was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the board of directors of the California High Speed Rail Authority, brings knowledge of transportation and stakeholder engagement.
They have a professional contact list — “a giant Rolodex” as Perez-Estolano notes it once would have been called — that few companies can match.
It has helped them land clients such as Los Angeles County, the Metropolitan Water District, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Goldhirsh Foundation. The latter is a great example of the firms’ strengths, Estolano says.
The Goldhirsh Foundation “wanted to completely change their approach” to philanthropy and orient it toward making L.A. the best it can be by 2050. The resulting 2050 Report “really put us on the map,” Estolano recalls. “And the folks we hired to do a lot of the analysis, gather the data and design the report, they are just top-flight. And they are still working with us.”
ELP Advisors takes pride in solving solutions that have stumped others. “We are just scrappy,” Estolano says, “and resourceful. We are smart people, and we have broad-ranging interests. So, if a client has a difficult problem and they really can’t figure out how to get at it, sometimes they just give us a call and ask us what we think. And I say, sure, we know how to do that. We can figure it out!”
Success hasn’t always come easily, however. For one, they started ELP Advisors while the Great Recession was still dragging down the economy and hindering new projects. Then, just a few months after ELP Advisors opened for business, Gov. Brown dissolved the state’s redevelopment agency.
“We formed at a time that, in hindsight, was the worst possible,” LeSar recalls.
But they quickly adapted, putting their knowledge to good use to help clients adapt to the new reality they were facing. “So,” Estolano says, “we made lemonade out of lemons! What we thought would be a negative for us ended up creating a base for our company to expand.”
LeSar adds, “We learned some hard lessons, and that’s OK. You know, most small businesses don’t survive. Most women-owned businesses don’t survive. Most businesses of color don’t survive. And I don’t really know any other businesses today that are quite like ours.”
Each partner brings talents that complement the others. They say their success is based on hard work and smart choices. And it’s also based on staying true to their principles: Inclusion. Diversity. Gender equality. Community engagement.
“You live in our city, you live in our neighborhood, and you have a right to participate in these processes,” Perez-Estolano says about the firm’s commitment to getting involved at every level. “We had people who would understand how they could actually change the outcome by getting involved, participating on local city commissions, by running for city councils, by running for county offices or state offices. That was, to me, the pipeline of future leadership.”
A recent example of this commitment to the community is a project spearheaded by Estolano and Tulsi Patel MURP ’14, a senior associate at ELP Advisors. The L.A. Bioscience Hub and its Biotech Leaders Academy launched in summer 2016 to promote entrepreneurship training for community college students from underrepresented groups. The pilot program, funded by a grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation, introduced 10 students of color (six of them women) to professional opportunities related to a growing biosciences sector in the East Los Angeles area.
It’s another example of the three UCLA graduates’ commitment to open doors for people who might not otherwise get a chance to succeed. It also shows their dedication to the value of education, which underlies everything they do, including their advice to current and future UCLA Luskin students about what it takes to succeed.
“I think the core skills are in writing, research and quantitative analysis,” LeSar says. “And be a creative thinker!”
For Perez-Estolano, being adaptable is important. “The world changes rapidly today,” she says, “and you have to embrace that as a planner.”
Estolano advises today’s students to take full advantage of their educations at UCLA Luskin. “Your classmates are going to be your greatest network,” she says. “Do not turn your back on the school. Your school can be a huge asset for you, and even if you can only do a little bit, always give to this school.”
“It’s about changing the future,” she says. “If you have a commitment to keeping the school strong — to honor its mission — it will continue to graduate people that will change the world.”
Joan Ling is a real estate adviser and policy analyst in urban planning.
She has experience in real estate financial analysis, affordable housing and urban mixed use development, and state and local land use and housing policy, legislation and regulation.
Ling is Board Director, Housing California and MoveLA and former Treasurer, Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles and former Executive Director, Community Corporation of Santa Monica.
Here current research focus is on the nexus between land use policy and real estate development as well as analysis of community benefits project and program level feasibility.