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VICA’s Victory Lap

For 70 years, the Valley Industry & Commerce Association has been representing businesses in the San Fernando Valley area. With more than 400 members, the Van Nuys advocacy group – which is celebrating its anniversary this month – has stayed relevant over those seven decades by providing the voice of business to lawmakers at the local, state and national levels. President Stuart Waldman said the group has always stuck to making sure the Valley gets its fair share. “Whether it is bringing the 101 Freeway into the Valley in 1956 or creating the 118 Freeway or helping businesses boom or creating Warner Center, VICA has been at the forefront of all this,” said Waldman, who became head of VICA in 2008. The organization is governed by an 80-member board and operated by a staff of five. From its offices in an office building near Van Nuys Airport, Waldman and the staff track and follow legislation that affects business, coordinate committee meetings, visits to Sacramento and Washington, D.C. and set up events, such as the Leaders Forum with Metrolink Chief Executive Stephanie Wiggins taking place on May 30 or next month’s Valley Business Hall of Fame dinner, which awards longstanding local businesses. Nancy Hoffman Vanyek, chief executive of the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that she works well with Waldman. One thing he excels at is knowing the nitty gritty background on bills, the kind of stuff most people don’t want to read, Vanyek said. “When we work with them it is great complement to each other; that we are able to talk about how (bills) affect businesses at the same time as explaining how the language of the bill is written,” she added. But there have been big issues confronting the Valley and its business community that VICA has stepped up to be involved over the years. Stuart Solomon, a former chairman and association member since 1970, listed off some of those issues, including at-grade railroad crossings for the tracks cutting through the Valley, petitioning the state to create the School of Engineering at California State University – Northridge and making sure that the Chatsworth and Northridge areas maintained industrial space. “VICA was involved in getting that MR zoning,” Solomon said. “That’s why you do not see the usual retail corners in that area.” Coby King made transportation issues the focal point when he served as chairman in 2014-2015, an outgrowth of his serving as chair of VICA’s transportation committee. King said he was determined in the run-up to what become known as Measure M, the Valley was, unlike in the previous measures, going to get its fair share. Measure M was a voter initiative in 2016 that approved a half-cent sales tax for transportation and transit projects. Under his leadership, he and staff worked to put together a list of projects that would benefit the Valley and then narrowed those down to three capital projects – light rail on Van Nuys Boulevard; improving the Orange Line busway; and ensuring sufficient funding for the Sepulveda transit corridor. “It was a real battle,” King recalled. “We worked with the local officials, we worked with the neighborhood councils and we put together a coalition to support that plan.” Former VICA President Bonny Herman recalled one gutsy move by the group took place when workers compensation insurance was a big issue. VICA took out a full-page ad costing about $15,000 in the Los Angeles Times with the faces of legislators who were not helpful toward undoing the problem. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson was astonished that the group would be so bold, Herman remembered. “It was a very dicey thing to do,” she said. “Our leadership agonized over it because many of them were personal friends of these legislators.” “We really stuck our neck out and called out the legislators on the state level,” Solomon added. VICA’s staff is made up of Vice President Jessica Yasukochi; Elizabeth Hawley, the legislative affairs director; Legislative Affairs Manager Armando Flores; Office Manager Cathy Mendoza and Legislative Affairs Associate Ryan Hallenberg. Industrial roots The association was founded in 1949 by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and four businesses in the Valley. As the years went, Anheuser-Busch, General Motors Co., Valley Federal Savings and Valley Presbyterian Hospital all became members. Early leaders include Fritz Burns, a developer who founded Panorama City. “It was a right after the war and there was a big boom in residential construction out here and business wanted to make sure it wasn’t overwhelmed, as it were,” said Martin Cooper, a former chairman. For the next 32 years, the city-power utility would provide administrative support to what was then known as the Industrial Association of the San Fernando Valley. Solomon said that it wasn’t until 1981 that it hired its first employee and executive director and not long afterward the name was changed. “We changed the name to accommodate the commercial members and broaden our horizons as it were,” said Sandy Paris, another longtime VICA member who served as president – as the chairman position was then known – in 1988. Herman, who served as president for 20 years beginning in 1986, instituted the annual Business Forecast Conference, the lobbying trips to the nation’s capital, the dinners with local and state office holders and the printing of the government handbook. “When I left, there were 17 committees dealing with issues from air to water,” Herman said. There are currently 13 committees in the association. After Herman left in 2006, she was replaced by Brendan Huffman, who came to the association after serving as director of public policy for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. One change he brought about was shrinking the board as it was way too large, Huffman said, adding that the board reduced its membership by 20 percent to the current 80 members. “It got a little smaller and a little more manageable,” Huffman said. Paris characterized the approach of the association is to let the members lead. While the staff may speak for the members, presentations on issues are done by members, and it’s the members who go to City Hall, Sacramento and Washington. “One of the strengths of the organization is that it is member represented,” Paris said. There is some disagreement among former chairman about that assessment. Cooper, who served as chairman in 2004-2005, and King, who became involved with the group nearly 20 years ago, are of the opinion that VICA is more staff driven these days. “I am not suggesting that is good or bad, but it is different,” Cooper said. “That professionalization of the staff has been a big contributor to our success,” King added. However, King stated that a strong and active board and committee chairs and co-chairs do bring experts and leaders in their fields that can put together programs that are informative for the membership. When he first got involved with the association, the committee chairs put together the meeting agendas and wrote the position papers. The committees met infrequently, unlike today when many meet on a regular basis and have seen an increase in attendance in the last five to 10 years, King said. “It is that combination of really strong leadership at the committee and board level combined with the professional staff that we have that makes VICA a real powerhouse,” he added. Increased engagement Waldman said that having a larger staff has resulted in the association being more customer-service driven than it had been. Issues that it would not have taken up can now be addressed, such as the 2028 Summer Olympic games, the film and television production tax credit, and a possible ban of sweetened beverages. “That doesn’t affect all of our members and in the past, we might not have actually engaged,” Waldman said. “Now we are able to engage on those issues that might affect a few of our members.” But for all its strengths there are areas that it can improve. Cooper said the group can do better in having representation of large businesses. It also needs to improve in building a leadership ladder, he added. “You never want to be in the position when you look around and say, ‘Who is going to be our next chair?’” Cooper said. “VICA has to do a better job of having bench strength of leadership.” Sometimes it is not as easy for VICA, because it is focused on the Valley, to get the same resources that other organization focused on other areas are able to get, King said. “We really could do more if we had more, and we are looking for ways to increase the amount of resources that we have,” he added. And Waldman said the group is constantly fighting to get recognition for the Valley. When meeting with representatives of large companies, they sometimes express a negative view of the Valley and ask why they should get involved. But he can open their eyes by telling them that the area is more diverse than a lot of cities, can economically stand alone as a city and has the population of a large city, Waldman said. “There is a challenge that we constantly have to remind people that the Valley is a part of L.A., but we are also distinct from L.A.,” he added. Robert Scott, who served as chairman in 2006-2007, said that VICA has always done a great job in creating a sense of place for the Valley, which has been historically difficult for the residents and businesses. “Because it may not always jibe or match up with City Hall or the other cities, like Burbank, Glendale and San Fernando,” Scott said. “It is an important player.”

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Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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