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Villaraigosa picks former Paramount executive to lead redevelopment agency [Updated]

May 4, 2010 |  5:14 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has selected Christine Essel, a former entertainment industry executive who recently lost a bruising campaign for City Council, to serve as his top executive at the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency, officials said Tuesday.

Villaraigosa’s appointees on the seven-member board will take up the nomination Thursday. Essel would then need to be confirmed by the City Council.

The selection drew cheers from one business leader who said Essel would put a greater focus on small businesses and provide new momentum for stalled real estate development projects.

“I’ve seen her in action. She’s a business person, not a bureaucrat,” said Gene Hale, chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce.

[Updated at 5:40 p.m.: Essel’s appointment was also greeted warmly by one of the redevelopment agency’s harshest critics: Carol Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn. Schatz has complained in recent years about the agency’s practice of imposing specific conditions on real estate projects, such as agreements that govern the hiring of unionized construction workers.

“She will move this agency, which has drifted off course, in the right direction -- making it a job creator, not a job killer,” said Schatz, who added: “It’s been a job killer for five years.”]

Essel was senior vice president of government and community affairs for Paramount Pictures and has served in recent years as one of Villaraigosa’s appointed airport commissioners. She also chaired the Central City Assn.'s board of directors in 2007 and 2008.

The appointment comes at a difficult time for the agency, which is coping with a projected state budget cut of $85 million over the next two years. The announcement also comes five months after Essel ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the council to represent San Fernando Valley neighborhoods such as Studio City, Valley Village and Sunland-Tujunga.

During that campaign, labor and business groups provided more than $800,000 in “independent expenditure” contributions on Essel’s behalf. She lost to Paul Krekorian, then a state Assembly member.

Villaraigosa also announced that he will name Calvin “Cal” Hollis as the redevelopment agency’s chief operating officer. Hollis was one of the candidates for the top executive job and has been running the agency for the past five months.

"Their combined experience and expertise in real estate development and public affairs make Chris and Cal the right team to lead the Community Redevelopment Agency’s efforts to create more jobs for Los Angeles," Villaraigosa said in a statement.

The redevelopment agency’s last permanent chief executive was Cecilia Estolano. Sources familiar with the agency said that Villaraigosa forced Estolano out in the wake of a dispute over where agency offices should be located. Estolano disputed that scenario, saying she left to take another job.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall