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L.A. redevelopment chief to leave Villaraigosa administration [Updated]

November 4, 2009 |  5:21 pm
Cecilia V. Estolano, head of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, said today that she would resign to take a job with an Oakland-based environmental group focused on generating green jobs in underserved neighborhoods.

The departure was the latest sign of a reshuffling in the administration of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, coming one month after he announced the resignation of H. David Nahai, the former head of the Department of Water and Power.

Estolano said that she did not yet know what her title would be at Green for All but that she planned to leave her CRA post at the end of this month. She said she was excited about trying to replicate the city’s job-creation and environmental programs in other communities across the nation.

“This is a great opportunity for us to take what we’ve done in Los Angeles to scale nationally,” said Estolano, who added that she had been talking with the group for a month.
Green for All received national attention after its co-founder Van Jones was named as a green jobs advisor to President Obama. Jones resigned in September after he was targeted by conservative critics who faulted him for having, before his appointment, made coarse comments about Republicans and signed a petition questioning whether the U.S. government had a hand in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The mayor has dramatically restructured his office over the last three months, naming three new top executives. Last month, he announced that Nahai was leaving to work as an advisor to the Clinton Climate Initiative, an environmental effort created by former President Clinton. That announcement came after Nahai saw his support in the mayor’s office crumble.

Two sources familiar with the situation said Estolano and the mayor’s office were at odds in recent months over a plan to move the redevelopment agency out of its Spring Street headquarters and into a less-expensive building with other city agencies more than a mile away. Estolano resisted the mayor’s plan for the move but ultimately agreed to do so, those sources said.

Estolano said she had initially hoped to keep the CRA's office in the city’s historic core. But she denied that the issue caused tension with the mayor’s office and said she was very proud of the work she and Villaraigosa had done together.

Hours before Estolano made her announcement, redevelopment agency Commissioner Alejandro Ortiz said he had had a conversation with someone in the mayor’s office about Estolano’s work. He refused to provide details. “It’s kind of a sensitive situation,” said Ortiz, one of seven mayoral appointees. “I’d rather not get into it, actually.”

News of Estolano’s departure disappointed some advocates for the poor, who praised her for focusing heavily on affordable housing and requiring real estate developers to provide “community benefits,” such as higher-wage jobs. “She is one of the only people within the CRA that we’ve had positive experiences with,” said Becky Dennison, co-director of the Community Action Network, a group that represents low-income residents in downtown Los Angeles.

Estolano won high marks from other redevelopment agency board members for her work overseeing 32 project areas across the city. Most recently, she had been working with the mayor’s office to bring rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda to a city-owned site along the Los Angeles River. That deal collapsed last week when AnsaldoBreda refused to sign the contract it negotiated with another agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for 100 new rail cars.

CRA Chairman Bruce D. Ackerman said Wednesday that Estolano had done a “fabulous job” and that he had received no warning of her departure. “We have made so much progress in the last three years compared to where we were 10 years ago,” he said.

Villaraigosa hired Estolano in 2006. Before that, she had worked for the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and for former City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo.

[Updated at 6:50 p.m.] In a statement, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised Estolano's "steady leadership." "Over the past few years, we have seen ambitious redevelopment ideas come to fruition in some of our most distressed communities," he said. "Cecilia was at the forefront of our efforts to create a clean tech corridor, and it was her unwavering commitment to provide living-wage jobs for hard-working Angelenos that resulted in project labor agreements." 

-- Maeve Reston and David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall