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Miles to Go

Miles to Go James Acevedo has spent a career getting things to change, but he says there’s still plenty to do By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter James Acevedo has just moved into a new home. Workers are everywhere, sawing and hammering at 60-odd years of disrepair and neglect. “It needs a lot of work,” he says to his visitor again and again as he moves through the graceful house in Sherman Oaks, now pockmarked from wear and tear and overgrown with foliage. It is a refrain just as suited to Acevedo’s view of Los Angeles, a city he has worked to better for more than two decades. His journey from Brown Beret activist in his youth has taken Acevedo into mainstream politics, real estate development, urban policy-making and even city officialdom. Along the way he has learned to move easily between the potential of the city and the knot of entanglements – political, economic and cultural – that stands in its way. A Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner, Acevedo also is president of Neighborhood Empowerment and Economic Development Inc., a non-profit group that has been working to develop affordable housing in the San Fernando Valley, and a principal of Grapevine Development Partnership, a commercial development company focused on the retail sector. He has worked on the campaigns of Gov. Gray Davis and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and has helped elect state Sen. Richard Alarcon to the first Los Angeles City Council seat held by a Latino, Tony Cardenas to the first such Valley assembly seat and Alex Padilla, the current city council president. Today, as he works on the latest of those campaigns to elect Cardenas to the council seat that includes parts of Studio City and North Hollywood within its bounds Acevedo has accumulated his share of critics who say his efforts to broker a Latino power base in the city and his work, straddling public and private sectors, are grounded in self-interest. The way Acevedo sees it, it will take Latinos and other minorities working alongside the established power structure and government working alongside the private sector to move economic development forward. Question: How would you rate the San Fernando Valley’s progress in representing the interests of its diverse population so far? Answer: I’ve sat down in a lot of board rooms and community groups and I think people are working together more than they were historically. It’s still not great. If you look at the Fernando Award, or if you look at some of the economic development entities that exist in the Valley, you don’t see a lot of diversity. Q: What role do you think organizations like the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, Valley Economic Development Corp. and the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley should play in promoting more diversity? A: When the VEDC selected Roberto Barragan, that’s the first time I saw anybody talking about economic prosperity in the Valley really start to address diversity in any real way. I think if the institutional groups that have been there professing economic development start to realize that there are some good ideas from this community and integrate them in those discussions, not until then are you going to have bigger solutions to the issues that face people in the Valley. Q: What can these groups do? A: Affordable housing. Some people are concerned that affordable housing brings gangs and drugs. The thing that irks me the most, for example, is the conversation that goes on around the economic development table. The workforce in a lot of the business communities is those people that need the housing the most. The people that wait at the bus stops, they work in the restaurants, they work in people’s homes, they work in Warner Center. They’re all over the place, but they don’t live anywhere near these places. It’s those simple conversations, when you talk about economic growth and stability, that have to take place. Q: What are some of the other issues for the Valley economy in 2002? A: I think that most business people want stability. I think that stability in a region helps to promote the economy. I think when people talk about secession, it creates an instability. I believe, from a business perspective, you want regionalism. You want to be able to have the diversity at the table from every community. You don’t get there by saying, if you split it up things will get better. Q: How do you think the broader economic slump around the country is affecting the Valley? A: I sit on the Port (commission). We’ve had an increase of 8 & #733;, 9 & #733; percent in shipments over last year. That tells me that at least the world is still saying there’s a marketplace here and they’re still buying. The people at Disney tell me they are looking at a growth year. Just from what I hear from bankers, from the housing industry, talking to some of the retailers, as corny as this sounds, I think people are saying that they want to not allow what happened in New York to put a damper on economic growth. Q: What is Grapevine Development going to be doing this year? A: We’ve got some retail centers planned, not in Los Angeles. We’d like to look at some projects in L.A. That’s a challenge as well. Certain types of stores that will decide not to go into Pacoima are everywhere else. How do you convince the retail industry that there are more people that spend more money on their children and would like to do it in their own backyard? Q: Realistically, how do you attract national chains to communities like Pacoima when the per capita income is so low it’s hard to see a payoff? A: We have more density. When I go to (retailers), I don’t say, ‘Look, feel sorry for me because I’m a brown developer, and I want to do stuff in the brown and black communities.’ I tell them they will make a buck, and here’s how. You can put your market in Beverly Hills where you’ll sell one loaf of bread and everybody’s on a diet or you can put your market in certain communities where you’ve got 4 & #733; kids per family that are buying milk and eggs and cheese and it will make you a dollar. Q: What will be different this year from last? A: I think we’re going to see some falling off of some development. I think you’ll see some banks that are not going to invest their dollars in certain projects. I had a project that looked promising that people are saying, let’s wait and see. So I think you’re going to feel it. But I think if we put enough dollars together through public and private partnerships, I think we’ll be OK. Q: How successful do you think public-private partnerships have been so far in promoting economic development? A: Not very. I don’t think there’s really been a commitment on behalf of either community to put the necessary resources there to make it happen. We need to have more business people involved in the public sector. I find there’s a big void of understanding of a pro forma or how to put together a lease. And the same thing on the private side. They have real difficulty and get frustrated understanding why electeds do what they do. Q: How did you get the reputation of being a power broker? A: I think it’s difficult for people to have an understanding of why I do what I do. I think it’s easier for them to put people in a box. My goal is to see people get elected that will make significant changes in the world they live in, and I’ve been lucky enough to find talented people and they’ve been able to rise to positions of influence because they’re smart guys. And because I was involved with them. SNAPSHOT James Acevedo Title: President, Neighborhood Empowerment and Economic Development Inc.; Principal, Grapevine Development Corp.; Member, Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner Age: 49 Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, master’s degree in secondary education from Cal State Los Angeles Most admired person(s): My wife, my parents and my children Personal: Married, two children

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