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Friday, Aug 19, 2022
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Valley’s Most Influential: Limits to Power

L.A. has Eli Broad, Ed Roski Jr., Michael Milken the list goes on and on. But the power brokers in the San Fernando Valley are few and far between. Some say it’s the geography, some think it’s the politics, others say it’s money. But whatever the reason, even prominent names in the Valley typically only hold sway in their own tightly defined enclaves. Theirs is rifle-powered influence, not the kind that reverberates over the breadth of the Valley and certainly not the city. “I think the Valley tends to be very introverted and introspective when it comes to what it does,” said Bruce Ackerman, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “I sit on a few boards, but as I look around the table, the number of Valley people is very limited. That mountain range is more than a physical crest. It’s truly a mental block.” When the Business Journal set out to identify the Valley’s so-called influential people who wield power in the area, we found a number of prominent individuals and a number of influential leaders. But for the most part, the influence of each of the individuals identified in this report, is local. When it comes to the Valley, there are no Eli Broads. To be sure, there is financial wherewithal among some of the most powerful Valley leaders. But many of those who exert the strongest influence are not among the wealthiest. “What you’ve got here in my opinion, you’ve got a lot of smaller power brokers who are there by virtue of what they do,” said Ackerman, “not necessarily because they have money or influence.” Consider power brokers like Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, or Jerry Silver, who holds a similar position among Encino homeowners. Developers who have worked in Sherman Oaks or Encino are keenly aware that without the support of these organizations, their projects are not likely to fly, and they regularly seek the counsel of these groups. “I think they are very influential,” said Todd Shaw, president of PCS Development Inc., a firm that has built several projects in the Valley, of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. “And because Richard is the top guy, he is very influential. If they get negative, they definitely have the money and the influence to get the message out.” But if these power brokers can be relied upon to look after the interests of the communities they serve, they are also decidedly absent from the larger Valley picture. “Who are the big concerns in the Valley that give money?” asked Jill Banks Barad, president of Jill Barad & Associates, a public relations, fundraising and political consulting firm in Sherman Oaks. “For years they tried to build a cultural center in the San Fernando Valley. We have no theater. We have no museum. They couldn’t do it. There was no one who said, ‘boy, that’s what I want to do.'” That stands in stark contrast to what happens on the other side of the hill. Eli Broad’s name, for instance, has been at the forefront of numerous citywide efforts including the development of the Disney Concert Hall and the current move to remake Grand Avenue downtown. Ed Roski Jr. got the Staples Center built, the late Marvin Davis got the Carousel for Hope Ball moved from Denver to Los Angeles and they and others have been responsible for major fundraising that has built museums, hospital wings, even schools. Generous giving There is certainly much charitable giving in the Valley. Galpin Motors owner Bert Boeckmann, for example, gives millions through his Boeckmann Charitable Foundation. But even the most generous Valleyites do not use their wealth and influence to help shape policies and move projects to the forefront as happens elsewhere in L.A. “In big cities where you have downtown development, major players have a lot more voice,” said Ira Handelman, president of Handelman Consulting, a firm that specializes in government and community relations. “But when everything you do is impactful of single-family areas, it’s not like somebody could dominate that.” Others say it is not simply the nature of the businesses and the business executives in the Valley. It is the Valley itself. For years believing that they were cut off from the power elite of Los Angeles, Valley residents turned inward. “There may be something to the physical Valley,” said Brad Rosenheim, principal at Rosenheim & Associates, a Woodland Hills-based land use and community relations consulting firm. “It doesn’t meld with anything else. It always strikes me that the Westside view is more global and academic and the people here are more local and pragmatic about day to day.” With large distances, not only between the Valley and other parts of the city, but also between one Valley community and another, many not only see themselves as separate from L.A., they also see themselves as separate from other communities in the Valley. “Basically you have people who are very focused on neighborhoods,” said Roberto Barragan, president of the Valley Economic Development Center. “They have no interest in branching out, or in being elected to office or exerting any power outside their own community.” Where the powerful on the West Side or downtown have used their money and their influence to remake Los Angeles, those in the Valley tend to have more modest goals. They may sit on boards, they may support local politicians, but rarely do they show up on the kinds of A Lists that are consulted by those seeking to impact the city, county or the nation. The idea of an arts center, for instance, has been floating around the Valley for a decade, and while many have voiced their support for such a center no individual has picked up the cause. As with many Valley-based endeavors, an institution, in this case California State University Northridge, is leading the charge for an arts center. It remains to be seen whether the school will be able to raise the $50 million needed and where the funding will come from (see related story on Page 1). Meanwhile, to the West, Thousand Oaks, a much newer and far less populous city, managed to get a civic arts center built 10 years ago. Political influence When city officials sought a site for a Children’s Museum, it was Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla, not the area’s business elite, who led the effort to locate the museum in the Valley. Some say the fortunes in the Valley are simply not large enough to support the kinds of efforts seen elsewhere. The Valley’s richest hardly compare to the huge fortunes of those in the entertainment community on the Westside. Those who lead major entertainment companies in Burbank, Studio City or Universal City focus their efforts outside the Valley. And even someone like Alfred Mann, who has given millions to fund a variety of causes, has centered his efforts in his own community biotechnology. But others point out that the distance, both geographic and political, from the center of Los Angeles, has left the Valley without the political muscle required for many of these ventures. “You don’t see the mayor of L.A. taking the lead on raising money,” said Barragan. “The closest thing you have (in the Valley) is Alex Padilla. You need a mayor saying, I want a performing arts center and you, mister corporate or you mister rich person here join me.” Then too, many of the Valley’s most powerful have tended to identify more with the larger city than the Valley itself, because that is where the political power resides. “Most of the decisions for the Valley are made downtown,” said Bob Scott, a public policy analyst with CivicCenter Group. “There are a lot of people who potentially have power, but they’re doing their coordinating with people to the south.”

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