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Tuesday, Feb 7, 2023

Employers Seek Live-Work Sites

In one of the nation’s most costly housing markets, Valley employers are reinventing the company town for people who want to live where they work. MGA Entertainment’s campus in Chatsworth, for example, takes inspiration from Asian work-life communities to create a university campus atmosphere for its employees and those who work nearby. Project 24 is aptly named for its 24 acres of land and a 24/7 work-life atmosphere. The project is currently under construction by Uncommon Developers. It will offer employees of the toy company apartments at below market rates. Units will be available as soon as June, executives said, in the complex at 9220 Winnetka Ave. “We’ve offered rent concessions to the employees to lower the rent, and they also have first choice to whatever units are available,” said Jason Larian, co-managing partner of Uncommon Developers and son of Isaac Larian, chief executive of MGA. “Now we’re in the pre-leasing period with just the employees, but they have their pick of whatever unit they’d like.” Another housing initiative in the works comes from Los Robles Regional Medical Center – executives are discussing subsidized housing as part of a doctor residency program planned to launch in July. Spokespeople for the hospital were unresponsive, however, when the Business Journal called to get more details about the program. Project 24 Four apartment buildings will offer 660 units ranging from studio lofts to three-bedroom apartments and average square footage for the units will be 990 square feet. The office portion of the project, a 225,000 square foot upgrade from MGA’s former headquarters in Van Nuys, was officially completed in December, although employees were using the space as early as May, according to Ryan Hekmat, co-managing partner at Uncommon and son-in-law to Isaac Larian. The Business Journal’s editorial team took a tour of the new building in the fall. The spacious, sophisticated contemporary worksite featured sculptures made by Angela Neman, wife of Isaac Larian. The Uncommon team is in phase one of the housing project – the first apartment building, which has 186 units and a retail plaza inside of it. The second apartment building is also under construction; the other two complexes, as well as a parking structure, will be on the south and southwest side of the campus. Jason Larian said it was a “little premature” to talk about rent prices right now, but that will change once leases are signed. Employees of surrounding companies are eligible for similar concessions, he said, if they opt to be part of a walk to work program. “We are absolutely in communication with our neighbors, which are rather large companies as well,” added Hekmat. “We’re also offering them a walk to work program. We waive application fees; we incentivize them as well.” Thomas Marroquin, director of residential management for Uncommon, cited companies in the aerospace industry, such as Sensor Systems Inc., Ontic and Aerojet Rocketdyne, and big gaming studios as those eligible for its incentive. Those not affiliated with the walk to work program or MGA will be able to live in the complexes, but at full market rate. An abundance of amenities on the MGA campus is the icing on the cake for its employees, with 14,000 square feet of retail space, 5 acres of open space, a dog park, daycare, amphitheater, outdoor movie theater and shuttle for residents that need to reach the Metro Orange Line station. “What we’ve seen for a lot of people is it’s a no-brainer for them. If you’re working here, living here would be fantastic. You’re living across the street from work. If you have kids, responsibilities at home, it makes your life infinitely easier,” said Jason Larian. “How many times have you gone to work and you’ve forgotten something at home, or you have an emergency at home and you have to leave? What happens is, that stress is gone.” Residents and the site’s developers are keen to see how the 430-employee company’s carbon footprint is reduced, with less people spending time in their cars to get to work and public transit easily accessible. “We’re cutting back on commutes, we’re cutting back on greenhouse gases and we’re creating a much more workable and livable environment for people. … This is a win-win for them,” said Jason Larian. “Not only that, the community itself, the Neighborhood Council and everybody we went in front of during the entitlement phase was really supportive of this as well.” Housing shortage For employees and those concerned about the state’s housing crisis, employer involvement in the form of a campus with housing or subsidized housing as part of a hospital residency program comes as a response to a bigger issue. “It says more about the sad state of our housing policy and what we’ve done over the past 30 to 40 years in our jobs-rich communities, in terms of not building nearly enough,” said Frank Petrilli, a land use attorney at the firm Arent Fox in the Bay Area. “That’s the only way to get and keep talent. It’s too expensive otherwise.” Housing legislation such as SB50, Petrilli said, have been shut down after floating around the California Senate for nearly two years. The bill, presented by Sen. Scott Wiener, would have mandated up zoning of single-family residential areas to allow for denser projects and building projects close to transit. For housing shortages in the San Fernando Valley, Jason Larian sees the MGA model as a way for people to rethink housing density and create a different dialogue outside the usual NIMBY rhetoric. “People, they want a big acre of land to themselves and don’t want any density. The fact of the matter is that in order to tackle this, you have to rethink density, how people live, and adopt a lifestyle very different than what it is now,” said Jason Larian. “With 24, it’s a good case study on what can work.” The folks at Uncommon looked to China and Hong Kong for inspiration from self-contained communities, places with a seamless transition between work and play. Executives took note of the tall buildings with floors dedicated only to offices, while others served as apartments, study rooms and daycare, with public transit on the ground floor. “It was really beautiful to see how great everything worked. Instead of spending time running around the city to get from A to Z, people had more time for their families, they were more productive and all around happier,” added Jason Larian. “We took that model and we said, ‘How do we apply that to something that would work in the states and in Los Angeles?’” For Uncommon, the MGA campus is just the beginning. The company plans to use the Chatsworth project as a showcase of sorts – using the same model with other large employers. “This is just one of our projects. We are looking in the future to partner up with other companies on other campuses. That’s something we’re actively looking to grow,” said Hekmet.

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