October 1, 2001 - From the October, 2001 issue

Soboroff Isn't Mayor, But He Is . . . Playa Vista's Mr. President

After being edged out of the Mayoral primary by L.A.'s current Mayor, many people pondered where Steve Soboroff would end up. Would he go back to business and real estate? Would he continue to pursue a political agenda? Or would he rekindle his passion for the environment and schools? With the recent announcement that he will start as Playa Vista's new President in November, the answer would be, all of those. TPR was pleased to talk to Steve about his priorities for Playa Vista, how the project fits with his passion for solving the traffic ills of L.A. and how the site will benefit not just the residents, but the passers by and the greater L.A. region. TPR is pleased to offer this candid interview.


Steve Soboroff

Steve, you've just been named as Playa Vista's next president. What intrigues you about this project? And what convinced you to accept this position, as opposed to the other opportunities that were available to you after the mayoral election?

Playa Vista is a perfect place for me to hang my various hats: business, real estate, environmental, school and political. And because of that, taking this job was an easy and very natural decision to make. I'm proud to be associated with Playa Vista.

With the release of Playa Vista's Phase 2 EIR scheduled for later this year, how do you incorporate your land use vision into the remaining portion of the 1,000-acre development?

This project is well designed, offers substantial open space and truly benefits the surrounding communities enormously. But the most important aspect of the current Playa Vista plan is the balance that has evolved over the many years of community discussions.

One particular aspect that intrigues me is the partnership with the Trust for Public Land. Playa Vista has granted TPL an option to purchase almost 200 acres and convert them into passive open space. It's a model that worked on the Cornfields and Taylor Yards, and it's a model that offers promise here too.

One of the major campaign themes during your mayoral campaign was traffic and relieving congestion in L.A. One of the historic arguments against Playa Vista has been that it will create enormous amounts of traffic and gridlock. How do you reconcile your position and create a public-private urban infill project that works for all stakeholders?

It's a one-word answer: mitigation. The traffic mitigation plan that we are presently working on deals with the traffic that begins at the Santa Monica Freeway and goes past the airport, as well as congestion that starts at the beach and flows to the San Diego Freeway. So our plan not only mitigates the traffic impacts on people living and working in this wonderful new community, but in the surrounding areas as well. These measures will soften traffic issues for the Westside, meeting my goal of "making traffic work."

Developing Playa Vista is going to necessitate a cooperative relationship with the City's political leadership. From your 8 years with Mayor Riordan, you know just how important a relationship with the City's Mayor is. What do you envision your relationship being with the new Mayor's Office? And how will it be different now that you're on the outside looking into City Hall?

The Mayor was very complementary about this appointment. And I think that both he and the Council believe that because of the wide array of programmatic elements-affordable housing, apartments, condominiums, town homes, single-family housing, not to mention training programs, sustainability, educational programs and environmental programs-that this project provides sorely needed amenities for the City. For those reasons, I believe that Playa Vista will continue to have very strong City support.

The Mayor and Council may have responded kindly to your appointment, but there's a quote from Marcia Hanscom, the Exec. Director of the Wetlands Action Network, in the L.A. Times, saying, "It's a big mistake for Mr. Soboroff. Many prominent people went down with the Titanic, and that's what's happening with Playa Vista." Do you have any wise or insightful comments re: Marcia's quote?

The current debate regarding the wetlands portion of the site reminds me of the Venice Boardwalk project. That community had been fighting over the Boardwalk for 13 years. But, with the help of Ruth Galanter and the good folks at the Dept. of Rec. and Parks we managed to put that project together in a period of 6 months and built consensus with a group of people that had totally polarized views.

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This situation is just like that one. I've talked to Marcia and I've asked to meet her at the Ballona wetlands, just to talk. I want to hear her concerns. And I'm going to be respectful and receptive of her view. All I ask is that people are respectful and accepting of mine. No side gets everything, but no one loses.

Let me get your reaction to another quote, this one from the July issue of TPR. Peter Denniston, former President of Playa Vista, said, "We put a high value on the importance of providing a broad mix of housing opportunities, but meeting the housing need only solves part of the problem. We must also look at the importance of providing quality jobs that enhance the quality of life that our residents enjoy, while lessening traffic congestion." Would it be accurate to say this is also your position?

There's no question about it. Peter Denniston is right on with that statement. And I'm not just talking about construction jobs. Construction jobs are nice, they're good and high-paying, but they are short-term.

However, the jobs created by the commercial component, the Frank Gehry project, etc., will provide many long-term jobs. This is a healthy project for Los Angeles, environmentally, traffic-wise and economically. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have taken this job.

Peter also commented that the Playa Vista CEO job requires passion. I doubt few people question that you will bring passion to this new responsibility. But how will you focus that passion?

It's easy to focus passion on something that's balanced and right. I want to take the work that Peter has done to the next level-to make this project a balanced one that's good for the people who reside here, those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods and those who merely travel past. That's where my passion really lies. It's not the business part of it that provides me with passion. It's not the real estate part. It's the educational, the environmental and the traffic mitigation parts; the segments of Playa Vista that draw on my background and create something tangible that the public can enjoy. That's why I'm passionate and excited.

You've been quoted as saying that you hope to see the remainder of Playa Vista completed in 5-7 years. How does that ambitious agenda get accomplished?

This is a step-by-step, day-by-day project that has the potential of maturing in that time period. We have a good team, a balanced project and the ability to implement. Barring uncontrollable circumstances, a 5-7 year timeline is my goal.

Steve, a year from now, what are we going to be the benchmarks that can reasonably be expected to be met by Playa Vista? What should our readers look to in judging your success?

A year from now, the reality of this project will be a tangible and real emerging community. People will be living, working, recreating and shopping here. We will see some of the traffic mitigation measures already implemented and others under construction. A year from now we'll be well towards our goal of making Angelenos as proud of Playa Vista as we are of L.A.

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© 2020 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.