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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

The Players

The Players Editor’s Note: Successful economic development in the Valley is the result of the efforts of many people in both the public and private sectors. Here are a few of the key players. By SLAV KANDYBA Staff Reporter Vince Liuzzi Senior Vice President/ Regional Vice President for the San Fernando Valley Wells Fargo Bank Vince Liuzzi’s banking career has taken him from his native San Fernando Valley to New Mexico and Arizona. He made it back home, and the Valley is all the better for it. Although Liuzzi lives on the Westside now, Wells Fargo’s contributions to the Valley especially the northeast Valley have been numerous. The bank is supporting a number of organizations, mostly non-profit, in such areas as Pacoima and the city of San Fernando. “We believe passionately about providing banking services to this underserved community but we do it in a couple of ways,” Liuzzi said. They are: opening branches and offering financial literacy and education classes. “We provided a setting that included a social aspect. When we went to open a branch in Pacoima, we spent a good time trying to understand where the needs are.” Non-profits Pacoima Beautiful and M.E.N.D. have received monetary contributions from Wells Fargo, but some Wells Fargo executives are also serving on the organizations’ boards. In the city of San Fernando, where an original Wells Fargo stagecoach once was, Wells Fargo is sponsoring a Christmas parade. The bank is underwriting the parade and has agreed to fund it for the next three years, Liuzzi said. “Our hope is that because of the leadership we take in this community, other businesses will follow.” Liuzzi attended Pierce and Valley colleges and Cal State Northridge before going to the University of Washington where he graduated from a graduate banking program. Antonia “Becky” Villasenor Community Manager Pacoima Partners “I’ve been in non-profits all my adult life.” So says Becky Villasenor, who heads up Pacoima Partners, a coalition of people from the community working towards improving the quality of life in their area. The organization she manages was founded in 1998 and is helping to beautify the stretch of Van Nuys Boulevard that runs through Pacoima using a $3 million neighborhood block grant, among other activities. “Our mission is to create a vibrant community,” she said. Villasenor first heard about the position at Pacoima Partners through networking, applied and was hired four years ago. She said what attracted her was “the challenge of helping to turn the whole neighborhood around working with different people.” A self-described “social scientist,” Villasenor went to Occidental College and Claremont Graduate School, where she studied sociology and anthropology. “What I personally would like to do is to continue to contribute to the quality of life in L.A.,” she said. “Professionally, I want to keep seeing Pacoima be revitalized. That means removing the blight and improving the quality of life.” Villasenor is a graduate of the CORAL Southern California Neighborhood Leadership Program and the Valley Leadership Institute. Alex Padilla Los Angeles City Councilman, representing the 7th District City Council President Alex Padilla, a Pacoima native, was only 30 when he was first elected to the city council in 1999, becoming the third-youngest member in Los Angeles history. He made history again when he was picked twice to serve as council president, making him the first Latino to hold the post in more than a century. During Padilla’s run things have begun to turn around in the blight-infested northeast San Fernando Valley, one of the most economically distressed districts in the city. Padilla secured funding for a new water park in Pacoima and $9 million for the Valley Youth Initiative, a job skills training center. In August, he secured an additional $41,000 for the Business Improvement District in the northeast Valley along the San Fernando Road corridor. The money will go toward studies and needs assessment. The BID does not yet have finalized boundaries but would be in the area of the San Fernando Road corridor stretching from Sylmar to Pacoima. “A BID is one of the tools we have in the city of Los Angeles to revitalize our communities and to give a much-needed boost to small and family-owned businesses that are the anchor of our region’s economy,” Padilla said. Dan Selleck Owner Selleck Development Group Dan Selleck’s heart is with his home so he is investing in its development. The Westlake Village-based developer grew up in Van Nuys and attended high school in the area, and now can lay claim to several landmark developments in the community. Several years ago, Selleck acquired the former General Motors plant along Van Nuys Boulevard just north of Sherman Way, with the aim to redevelop the 68-acre site into a retail and industrial center. Selleck Development Group teamed up with Voit Development to build the center. Critics thought Selleck would never succeed in attracting big-box stores to the area, surrounded by a working-class community and blight. But the project was a success garnering stores such as Babies ‘R Us, Ross and a Mann movie theater. Selleck is currently in escrow to purchase the Sherman Way campus of the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, and plans to redevelop the site into residential housing. The hospital’s owner Catholic Healthcare West recently announced it was closing the hospital. Roberto Barragan President Valley Economic Development Center Roberto Barragan oversees a lending institution that has grown six-fold in the number of employees and whose budget has quadrupled since 1994. VEDC proved instrumental to the survival of small businesses in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, helping hundreds of them secure Small Business Administration loans in addition to direct loans. Overall, VEDC has supplied more than 10,000 businesses with more than $100 million in loan financing over the past decade a feat that Barragan is proud of. “It’s rare that we can’t find money they need,” Barragan said. VEDC doles out loans from $1,000 to $700,000, depending on a particular business’ needs. Just last year, the organization gave out 400 loans worth about $10 million. Bruce Ackerman President and CEO Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley One of Bruce Ackerman’s responsibilities as president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley is to track down businesses that are considering leaving the area (sometimes, the state) and convince them to stay. Ackerman recently was involved with a “red team” effort in Simi Valley, where a plastics manufacturer is considering moving to Arizona because of the poor business climate in California. Ackerman, in fact, has been on a number of such “red teams,” including one that was assembled last year by Councilman Dennis Zine to hold talks with Boeing Co.’s Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power plant in Canoga Park. As head of the Alliance, Ackerman oversees an organization that acts as a coordinator of overall economic development strategies for the area, getting public and private entities together to map a plan to keep the economy healthy. Ackerman is a native of Nebraska, and attended the University of Nebraska. However, he spent most of his career working for local chambers of commerce in the San Fernando Valley. He also worked at the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership. Bob Voit and Tim Regan President and Vice President of Development and Acquisitions Voit Development Cos. Woodland Hills-based Voit Development Companies has developed a variety of property in the San Fernando Valley, from the east to the West: from Warner Center to The Plant in Van Nuys. One of its most notable recent achievements, however, is the Marvin Braude San Fernando Valley Constituent Center on Van Nuys Boulevard, which houses local and state government offices, city services and has space for retail shops. The Braude Center was the first public-private development partnership of its kind. Voit is currently building a 3-level subterranean parking structure at Braude, which will add 300 parking stalls the site already has 200 parking spots. Voit also has a 480,000-foot development in progress in Sun Valley next to the Burbank Airport. The first phase of the project includes construction of 10 buildings totaling 204,000-square feet. “It went faster than expected and we’re breaking ground on the next phase in a couple of weeks,” said Tim Regan, vice president of development and acquisitions. Mary Paterson Executive Director Canoga Park Improvement Association Mary Paterson has lived and worked in Canoga Park for 23 years, for years as a manager of Follow Your Heart Foods. She was also a community resource director there. Her responsibilities now extend over much more. As executive director of the Canoga Park Improvement Association, she is responsible for the administrative matters of one of eight Business Improvement Districts in the Valley the Canoga Park Improvement Association. The purpose of the association is to attract redevelopment to the Antique Row, the strip of Sherman Way between Canoga Avenue and Topanga Canyon Boulevard. It is there that she hopes restaurants and art galleries one day attract theatergoers who attend shows at the Madrid Theatre and the West Valley Playhouse. With Canoga Park property owners recently voting to renew the BID for another five years that has a good chance of happening. “We just want to be able to get all of the people focused,” Paterson said. “We’re all working on the same outcome.” Cary Lefton Manager Agora Realty and Management One project Cary Lefton is most proud of is Plaza del Valle in Panorama City. “We’re very proud of the community plaza and the ownership that has taken place,” he said. The developer, who started Agora with Michael Bollenbacher, was a general contractor once working on Carl’s Jr. and Denny’s stores in the Valley and “progressed into becoming property managers and forming partnerships.” Over in Chatsworth, Agora just completed a 78,000-square-foot retail center on the northeast corner of Devonshire and Mason streets that will be anchored by stores including Trader Joe’s, Smart & Final and Denny’s. “That’s the most recent acquisition in the Valley where we rehabbed” a location, Lefton said. But Lefton’s sights are set on the east Valley, where he believes potential for development is “tremendous.” “We’ve been acknowledged for being a positive influence on the local economy, providing employment opportunities and renovating an area that has been depressed for a long period of time,” Lefton said.

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