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VEDC’s Barragan Candidate for Deputy Mayor

VEDC’s Barragan Candidate for Deputy Mayor By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Although city officials won’t confirm it, Roberto Barragan, president of the Valley Economic Development Center Inc., appears to be a leading candidate for the city’s most powerful economic development post. Barragan confirmed he is a candidate for deputy mayor for economic development, a position held most recently by now-City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Barragan said he’s prepared to leave his post at the VEDC, where he has worked for the last six years, to enhance the atmosphere the Los Angeles small business community works in and to consolidate the city’s various economic development departments to improve their efficiency. City officials declined to say who the other candidates are for deputy mayor (a position that has been vacant since Delgadillo moved over to the City Attorney’s office) or when Mayor James Hahn would be likely to make his selection. “I did apply for the position, but I have no idea if I’m even under consideration at this point,” Barragan said. Although officials are reluctant to discuss the status of the application process, local business leaders and city hall insiders say Barragan would be a solid choice for the job. “I think his work with the VEDC speaks for itself,” said Delgadillo. “He would be a welcome addition to that post.” Bruce Ackerman, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley and a VEDC board member, said he pushed Barragan to apply for the post because of his experience with small business development. City Councilman Nick Pacheco, who sits on the council economic development and employment committee, said Barragan would get his nod if he were in the position to do the choosing. “I haven’t heard of any other candidates, but I can tell you I can’t think of anyone else I can recommend,” said Pacheco. Julie Wong, a spokeswoman for Hahn, declined to discuss the process for choosing a deputy mayor. “We just don’t discuss pending applications with the press,” said Wong. During the administration of former Mayor Richard Riordan, the deputy mayor for economic development was considered one of the highest-profile positions in city government, one with direct ties to the mayor, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the mayor’s business team and most of the city’s prominent developers. Barragan, 41, has been credited in many Valley business circles with the successful transformation of the VEDC, the largest non-profit small business development organization in metropolitan Los Angeles. He took over the post shortly after his predecessor, John Rooney, resigned following an internal rift with fellow board members and then-VEDC Chairman David Honda. It was Honda who initially asked for Rooney’s resignation in June of 1999 after Rooney was accused of fraud. That action produced swift retaliation from some pro-Rooney VEDC board members, which resulted in Honda’s own resignation a month later, followed by Rooney’s departure about 30 days after that. To say Barragan was in the hot seat upon his promotion to president is an understatement: morale among VEDC staff was at an all-time low, as was the agency’s reputation in the business community, particularly among those organizations who had investments in the agency. But according to Barragan and Ackerman, things couldn’t be more different today. “We did a complete turnaround here,” said Barragan. “We’ve gone from 40 to 55 employees, moved our headquarters into a new 12,500-square-foot-facility, gone from three offices to six and now serve Santa Monica and Glendale. We have also managed to increase our operating budget to $4 million from $3 million two years ago.” Ackerman said one reason Barragan would be an excellent candidate is because he has heretofore remained silent on the push for Valley secession. Hahn, who has said in the past he’d support a vote on secession, formed a political action committee recently to defeat the initiative by enlisting the help of some of the city’s big developers and attorneys, who have vowed to raise a $5 million war chest to accomplish the task. “I think it would be an absolutely brilliant thing for Roberto to do,” said Ackerman. “He’s politically savvy, he understands what’s going on and he’s not really made any enemies in the to-be-or-not-to-be issues concerning secession.” Delgadillo said he’s heard from several candidates for the position he once held. However, he declined to name them. And, he noted, Barragan’s work at the VEDC has caught the attention of the business community citywide. Barragan served as the VEDC’s vice president for business lending prior to the move to president a little over two years ago. So why does he want to leave VEDC? “To have the ability to basically impact economic development on a citywide basis would be the greatest opportunity,” said Barragan. He said his plan for the position is threefold, beginning with placing more emphasis on small business. “The focus of the city’s business development has been on big business and development up until now,” said Barragan. “But the fact is we are in a recession now and it is the small businesses that are hurting. They are the ones who live here and own property here and even they are having to focus on things like layoffs and cost-cutting, and for many of them, that means laying off themselves.” Barragan said he would also push for consolidation of the city’s various economic development functions, including the CRA, into one centralized department with one source of funding. That department, said Barragan, would be run by a commission and, as deputy mayor, he would serve as the liaison between Hahn and the executive chosen to head the commission. “Right now, those (divisions) and the different departments dealing with industrial and commercial development are spread out between about a dozen different departments throughout the city, with no central person responsible for them,” said Barragan. “So when we do a project, we need about 10 people at the table and each of them comes with their own source of funding.” Finally, Barragan said he’d like to see more housing components included in proposals for commercial developments in order to make them more profitable. “I’d like to see us leverage city resources better,” said Barragan. “We need to be getting a lot more impact for our money. Right now it’s just patchwork and it’s the projects that are more popular that are also being viewed as more desperate.” Pacheco said the council has been considering a plan to consolidate the city’s business and economic development departments for a few years, but has so far not done so because it is used to tracking projects by the funding they get. To group them together, said Pacheco, would make that harder, but not impossible and he said he would support the idea. Although he supports the notion of a centralized business and development department, Delgadillo said there is some risk involved if, by doing so, Hahn puts some distance between himself and developers and business owners. “Actually, it’s an idea that I and Riordan put out there back in 1994, so I think it’s a good one,” said Delgadillo. “But one thing you need to keep in mind is if someone calls a business on behalf of the mayor, that gets top priority. If it’s an executive in charge of a commission, that’s another story.” Delgadillo said he’d like to see the city’s economic development teams make a better effort to invest in what he called “emerging neighborhoods,” such as North Hollywood and Pacoima. “If one was a shrewd investor one would invest in those areas,” said Delgadillo. “That’s exactly where we need to focus.” He also said the Valley business community should be asked to play a heavy role in the city’s overall plans for economic recovery. “I can tell you this, I discovered early on that the Valley economy was critical to the overall economy of Los Angeles, and it was often overlooked as a place that is home to what I would call wealth-generating jobs,” said Delgadillo. Ackerman said he was not concerned about the prospect of losing Barragan at VEDC because so many improvements have been made there under his leadership that the organization would be left on solid footing. “To his credit, he’s got the VEDC in a position where, if he were to leave, we would feel comfortable because of the work he’s done,” said Ackerman. “He’s developed such a great staff that if he were to leave, I think we’d want to take our time and make sure we got a (replacement) with the right mix.”

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