By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In addition to the large and often controversial projects redevelopment agencies are known for, the agency under Estolano began to pursue a number of unusually imaginative projects, such as turning decrepit alleys in park-poor Watts into narrow parks. The Cleantech Manufacturing Center was among those ideas.
“It seems to me that the idea jumped out of her head one day,” Glenn F. Wasserman, the agency’s chief operating officer, told the Weekly. Under her plan, Los Angeles would create a corridor of green technology companies along a strip of the L.A. River near downtown. Estolano believed the plan would boost L.A.’s manufacturing sector and attract badly needed, higher-paying middle-class jobs.
One hot selling point, as Estolano had seen it, was that such a tech corridor could give battered L.A. new cachet and respect. But the project was not simply a one-hit wonder in environmentalism’s name, her backers say. “Sustainability was always very important to her,” notes Wasserman, who worked for Estolano.
Under Estolano’s Healthy Neighborhoods Policy, developers receiving more than $1 million in redevelopment agency funding must meet a certain national energy efficiency standard. Specifically, their projects must achieve a silver rating, known as LEED certification, from the U.S. Green Building Council. The program provided developers of smaller projects with green-building consultations at no cost.
Another fan of Estolano’s is Los Angeles County’s chief executive officer, Bill Fujioka. “She’s smart, she’s honorable. I absolutely think the world of her,” raves Fujioka, who has spent 33 years in local government and served as Los Angeles City Hall’s chief administrative officer — its chief number-cruncher — for eight years under various mayors.
“When Cecilia says she’s going to do something, she does it,” Fujioka adds.
The timing of her departure comes as the Villaraigosa administration is suffering from a brain drain that has left key departments scrambling to find top government managers with serious big-city experience. Her “resignation” came two days after the departure of LAPD Chief William Bratton, and the mayor in 2009 also lost the chiefs of the Department of Water and Power and the Department of Building and Safety, both of whom resigned amid controversy.
Villaraigosa also saw the departure in 2009 of his chief of staff, Robin Kramer.
Ovrom is widely seen as a capable government manager. He once headed the CRA and was Burbank’s city manager for 18 years.
But others chosen by Villaraigosa have left some City Hall observers baffled. In 2009, the mayor chose as his chief of staff the Reverend Jeff Carr, a newcomer to municipal government who briefly ran the mayor’s untested — and still unproven — antigang program in 2009, and who lacks serious credentials in government and in municipal policy-making.
Villaraigosa’s selection of Carson as his chief deputy mayor also raised eyebrows. Carson’s key calling cards are his Democratic Party and fund-raising machine. Carson was Hillary Clinton’s media liaison when she ran for president. He also worked for former President Clinton at the Clinton Foundation.
Carson is close to billionaire Steve Bing, a rich campaign-donation machine who gives huge sums to Villaraigosa’s causes.
Carson has little hands-on experience with urban issues or municipal policy. Yet he was given broad authority over such areas as transportation, commercial and residential development, and housing and economic development. Ovrom, a deputy mayor in charge of economic development, reported to Carson.
Estolano got high marks as one of the few people in the Villaraigosa administration who knew how to encourage job-creation. “She understood the basic relationship between the industrial economy and its ability to generate wealth and create upward mobility,” says urbanologist Joel Kotkin, an expert on the macroeconomies of cities. She knew that “You were never going to get lots of green jobs unless you had jobs.”
Kotkin, a senior fellow with the Center for an Urban Future in New York, adds, “I think Villaraigosa has no strategic vision at all. His strategic vision is money and power — for him.” Kotkin sees the mayor as someone who lacks deep interest in or understanding of how cities grow or maintain their health.
By contrast, Kotkin says, Estolano “understood more about the core drivers.” When Villaraigosa chose her to run the CRA, Kotkin says, “I was just astounded that Villaraigosa would appoint someone that intelligent.”
David Abel, who has analyzed planning and development in Los Angeles for 21 years through his Planning Report newsletter, credits Estolano, along with city Planning Director Gail Goldberg, for thinking about the broader economy even while other L.A. city leaders became too politically invested in the booming real estate market and land speculation that prevailed before the recession.
“She fought to preserve industrial land — that’s not a particularly popular topic in City Hall,” he says, referring to how Villaraigosa sided with real estate interests who were gobbling up industrial land for condos and apartments, wiping out well-paying manufacturing jobs as they went. That approach leaves the city more vulnerable to a land boom that went bust. The two women, Estolano and Goldberg, were roughly reprimanded by Los Angeles City Council members** over their fight to maintain industrial lands as a way to save badly needed industrial jobs.