WHEN THE L.A. CITY COUNCIL wanted to keep Wal-Mart from driving small businesses out of low-income neighborhoods, it turned to Cecilia Estolano, an experienced attorney who wrote a law requiring such big-box “superstores” to prove that they won’t have a blighting impact before they open in Los Angeles.

Now, the 39-year-old Silver Lake resident is taking on blight in a much more ambitious way, by serving as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s newly appointed head of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which works to bring new homes, jobs and businesses to 32 struggling sections of the city.

The daughter of a tool-and-die maker, Estolano first made her mark at City Hall by handling environmental issues for former mayor Tom Bradley. A decade later, she was supervising 60 attorneys for her former boss, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Estolano helped the city settle a lawsuit over the sanitation department’s frequent sewage spills onto South Los Angeles streets and into the Santa Monica Bay, and more recently headed a citizens’ committee charged with allocating $500 million toward storm-water cleanup projects in Ballona Creek, the Los Angeles River and the ocean.

Estolano, who is openly gay, said she is looking to help the redevelopment agency manage the real-estate booms that have fueled new housing construction in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles. But she is even more intent on luring new shops, stores and restaurants to underserved neighborhoods in South Los Angeles and on the Eastside.

“There is pent-up demand for good retail establishments. Everybody knows it,” she said. “Nobody has been willing to invest yet, but I think they’re about to.”

—David Zahniser

LA Weekly