In recent months, the Urban Land Institute's Los Angeles district has quietly been acquiring some of the region's most distinguished talent in the land use, development, and public service sectors to reaffirm ULI's role in the Southern California land use debate. Recently, TPR spoke with the architect of ULI L.A.'s resurgence, Wayne Ratkovich, chair of the executive board, and his newest hire, newly appointed Executive Director Katherine Perez.
Wayne, why did you agree to reassume the chair of Urban Land Institute's L.A.'s Executive Board, and what do you hope to accomplish in that role?
Wayne Ratkovich: I assumed the role of Chair of the Executive Committee in order to attract some of the best and brightest minds in Los Angeles to become members of ULI L.A.'s Executive Committee and to pursue the fulfillment of the mission that we have long had for ULI, which is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land in the Los Angeles area.
One of the hallmarks of ULI in the past, especially the district council in L.A., is its stature and leadership on issues of land use, growth, and livability. That voice seems to have diminished in Los Angeles over the last couple of years. How do you plan to renew and strengthen ULI LA?
Ratkovich: We are doing it several ways. First of all, we reconstituted the Executive Committee with about 40 of the more active real estate professionals in Los Angeles. We have a new executive director, Katherine Perez, who has a strong background in transportation and land use issues, and we have begun to form affiliations with other local groups. Both of the major universities in town-UCLA and USC-are part of the Executive Committee. We also hope to tie-in with the American Institute of Architects, the real estate section of the L.A. County Bar Association, and others, to speak with a common voice.
What is the place and role of the L.A. District Council within the national ULI?
Ratkovich: The Urban Land Institute of Los Angeles is a localized version of the national and international ULI. The mission is exactly the same except for the geography. We are more focused on issues that affect our community here in Los Angeles. But the fundamental issue, to provide responsible leadership in the use of land, remains the same. That's what Katherine and I hope to achieve in the coming year and the years to follow-to begin to formulate a platform to speak out on issues that we think are important to this area.
What was ULI LA's criteria for choosing a new executive director? Why, more simply, is Katherine Perez the perfect fit to be the executive director of the District Council?
Ratkovich: For those who know Katherine, the answer is obvious. Those who don't should know her, because she is a remarkable woman. Her background in public issues as deputy mayor in the city of Pasadena, with her own non-profit, the Transportation Land Use Collaborative, and her affiliation in recent years with Forest City, gave her all of the background and knowledge tools that make it appropriate for her to take on this task. We are really excited about her new role.
Katherine, how have you decided what your priorities will be in the first year of your tenure as ULI LA executive director.
Katherine Perez: I've been involved in ULI nationally and locally for many years. I come to ULI understanding its breath and its potential and have an appreciation for the opportunities that ULI will bring to ULI Los Angeles. I also have the benefit of having served on the ULI LA Executive Committee as well as national ULI Councils.
I will be working with the Executive Committee in setting the overall goals for the upcoming year, but I see three urgent priorities for ULI LA. First, we want to engage the leadership of the greater Los Angeles region with the members of ULI around the issues that face our cities. Whether it's workforce housing, responsible land use development, or open space and conservation, it's all of interest to the membership of ULI. We would like to work in partnership with city leaders on these issues.
The second goal is to use ULI as a forum or platform to explore land use and planning issues-which I think only ULI can offer because of the real estate experts and industry leaders that we have available in our membership. One huge asset we can offer is the ULI Senior Fellows, which we can bring to Los Angeles to give national and international perspectives to the challenges we face here in our region.
The third goal is to rally people together around the ideas that lead to the creation of better cities. That's a passion that I've had all of my professional life. As the mother of three, it also happens to be a very personal goal of mine. I want to create communities where families and children can live in healthy environments, safe communities, and in places where they want to raise their own families.
What possibilities does the reconstituted Executive Committee's membership offer for your efforts to revitalize ULI's involvement in Los Angeles and California?
Perez: We were on a call earlier today and Executive Committee member Ron Silverman quoted Walt Kelly, saying, "We are presented with insurmountable opportunities." That's exactly the way I would describe the opportunities offered through ULI. The Executive Committee, the Governing Committee, and the Board of Advisors are a "Who's Who" in real estate and finance for the greater Los Angeles region. ULI Los Angeles consists of a host of seasoned professionals as well as young leaders from the real estate and development industry, all of which are interested and willing partners anxious to engage together on the immense economic and development challenges we face in our region.
Wayne talked briefly about the global offices, the national district councils, and the entire membership of ULI LA. I'd like to think that I bring a sense of collaboration to ULI. This year, ULI Los Angeles will be partnering with San Francisco, the Central Valley, the Inland Empire, and Orange County in convening leaders from across the state to address issues of water, climate change and transit as they relate to land use. ULI California has a role to fill in being an advocate for making responsible land use choices.
To create the Board of Advisors, Wayne went to a number of leaders that he felt added a seasoned perspective to ULI and tapped them to serve in this capacity. For example, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard is in his third term dealing with the issues of affordable housing and some of the toughest land use, transportation, and economic development challenges that they have faced in a long time. Rick Caruso has been recruited as a member of the esteemed Board of Advisors. We have Gail Goldberg involved also as an advisor. She is probably one of the most exciting directors of planning in the country, and we are lucky to have her in Los Angeles. Other advisors include Stu Ketchum and Robert Lowe from Lowe Enterprises, Robert Maguire, Mike Matkins, Buzz McCoy who is a ULI Life Trustee, Bill Tooley, and Bruce Ludwig. And we also have Stan Ross, a mentor to many in the real estate community, as an advisor to ULI LA.
Wayne went to all of these people and asked them to step back into ULI in this new role-to provide perspective, experience, and expertise to the Executive Committee and staff. You just can't find that kind of resource in other organizations in the region. Our Governance Committee is comprised of the six previous chairs-which Wayne put together and I will work with going forward. If you put all these people together it represents a phenomenal advantage that ULI LA brings in terms of industry brain-trust working together on our agenda over the next year.
Is sustainability a ULI LA priority? If so, how will you focus ULI's expertise and membership to best elevate the planning and land use dialogue in our City Halls, planning and transportation commissions, and state Legislature?
Perez: Sustainability is one of the core issues that ULI LA and ULI National will be focusing on. We will be addressing sustainability as it pertains to land use and development. One of the things that ULI does very well, and will continue to do, is project case studies. There is a strong desire for people to come and share ideas, explore efforts that worked, and understand why some efforts didn't work. There is an opportunity to learn from each other, as developers, designers, and planners, to build in sustainable and environmentally responsible ways. How do we get better at it? How do we improve upon the last project? We're all doing that at different levels, and ULI will showcase best practices and ask our national partners to present national case studies. For example, if someone is developing a transit oriented development project, let's use ULI's vast inventory of examples across the country to educate and inform that process. Hopefully that will be helpful in Los Angeles.
The metropolitan Los Angeles region, as you know from your Forest City experience, is dealing with housing and mortgage crises. Is this a good time or a bad time for ULI LA to reassert itself?
Perez: There is no better time than now for ULI LA to provide the platform to not only discuss the critical real estate and development issues but also hopefully find common solutions in how we are going to climb out of this real estate crisis we find ourselves in today. We will come out of this cycle but how we emerge is just as important. Right now is the time that we must plan together, we must come together, and we will, at the end of the day, learn from each other. The pressures are coming from every angle – capital markets, construction costs, and overall tough economic conditions aren't the optimum environment for any development deal. Confidence is low and no one is sure where the ‘bottom' is so investors and developers are waiting it out. Now is absolutely the right time for ULI to be front and center on these issues.
The private sector in Los Angeles, for all its wealth and investment experience, has been relatively silent as a civic force in the arenas of infrastructure, development, and planning. ULI has been known for decades as the private sector's think tank and a credible voice in policy making. But recently, as you also know, the private sector has not had an active voice. How will ULI LA reassert itself? A year from now, how will we know if the private sector, through ULI, has meaningfully reasserted itself?
Perez: I'm speaking on behalf of our Executive Committee and certainly on behalf of our Chair Wayne Ratkovich when I say that ULI will be an advocate for responsible land use in not only L.A., but in the entire state of California. It is our role and responsibility. Pulling together all of the different pieces of infrastructure, transit, housing, and open space in a collaborative way to move forward will require a common agenda. As Dan Garcia, my dear friend and mentor, used to say, "We share a common enterprise to create better cities." That's our goal. We look forward to next year at this time, when we can look back and say, "We took some very important steps forward. We did that in a responsible way. We did that in full partnership with our colleagues." The private sector through ULI LA has an important role and responsibility in that new direction.