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Business Issues Forum: Christine Essel, CEO of CRA/LA


Christine Essel, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA/LA), was the featured speaker at a recent JMBM “Business Issues Forum” hosted by Ben Reznik. Ms. Essel has taken command of an agency whose governing board she chaired in the 1990s. She brings with her 30 years experience in planning and development as senior vice president at Paramount Studios where she also served as the senior vice president of Government and Community Affairs. The following is a brief summary of Ms. Essel’s remarks:

As I see it, the challenge in this new assignment is to root out dysfunctionality in an agency which is viewed as being unfriendly. It appears to be a good time to undertake this process, because we’re seeing limited development in our spheres of influence which provides an opportunity to evaluate our role. We are dealing with a “good news/ bad news” scenario. The good news is CRA/LA still has $700 million in the bank! The bad news is that with most development on hold, our revenue stream — which relies on tax increment financing — has been significantly curtailed. Additionally, the State is taking $85 million from our budget this year. We are also in the process of reducing our 261 member staff through early retirement. We expect 40 senior staff to be leaving by January 1, 2011.

My objective going forward is to position CRA/LA as an integral part of the economic recovery in Los Angeles. In this regard we have established an Industrial Incentive Program as well as an Economic Development Opportunity Fund and are actively involved in the process of planning and developing the Green Technology Corridor. CRA/LA is also participating in development of 32 Transit Oriented Development (TOD) locations.

I want to reach out to development and financial communities with the message that there is a new and improved CRA/LA anxious to work closely with them in bringing economic vitality back to our city. I see myself as a change agent overseeing the transformation of CRA/LA. But in order to accomplish this, I need the voices of the development and financial communities to be heard. I hope I can count on your support!