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L.A. agency moves to building at center of dispute between Villaraigosa and former official

January 12, 2010 |  5:42 pm

Ending a yearlong bureaucratic tug of war, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office announced today that the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency would move out its longtime headquarters to an office on the western edge of downtown.

Rejecting a last-ditch offer from the current landlord, city officials signed a new lease Monday to move the agency into the Garland Building -- a site Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton described as “less expensive and more reliable” than its current headquarters.

The move had been the subject of a protracted dispute between the mayor’s team and Cecilia Estolano, who left her job as the top executive of the redevelopment agency in November. Sources have told The Times that the disagreement prompted the mayor to push Estolano out, a scenario she has repeatedly disputed.

Correspondence obtained by The Times showed just how strenuously Estolano and her colleagues objected to the mayor’s efforts to relocate them -- and revealed a tension that existed between city agencies. In one e-mail, she told Villaraigosa’s then-Chief of Staff Robin Kramer that negotiations for the Garland Building were “not a productive use of city staff time.”

In another, Estolano promised the agency’s chief operating officer, Glenn Wasserman, that she would use all of her “chits” with organized labor -- and the mayor himself -- to prevent the move. “If I’m unsuccessful, I’m leaving,” she wrote last March, adding: “I really don’t want to go back to practicing law right now.”

As far back as a year ago, Wasserman questioned Deputy Mayor Robert “Bud” Ovrom’s motives for seeking to have the redevelopment agency share space with the Community Development Department, another city agency that works out of the Garland Building. In that Jan. 30 e-mail, Wasserman voiced fears that the move would give Ovrom an excuse to have the redevelopment agency cover the costs of other city departments already in the Garland building.

“This makes me sick,” he wrote to Estolano. “He needs to explain why he thinks it would help the mayor’s economic development efforts to have me share the men’s room in our new offices with Richard Benbow and Robert Sainz” -- a reference to the top two executives at the Community Development Department.

“What is the logic behind this (other than another brilliant Bud Ovrom ‘reorg’ idea where CRA gets to pay for a city department’s overhead)?” he added.

As late as Oct. 8, Estolano boasted to Wasserman that the redevelopment agency had the power to block the move if it disagreed with the idea. “Bud will not determine our office space so don’t be intimidated by him,” she wrote to Wasserman.

One month later, Estolano announced that she had found a new job.

-- David Zahniser at City Hall