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Developers Who Make A Difference

Los Angeles

When developers get together outside of work, they do much more than sing along to Jefferson Starship's We Built This City at karaoke clubs. (Didn't even know they did that, did you?)

For the past seven years, Jewish community groups in LA that have a capital improvement need have called on the Real Estate Principals Organization to help. The RPO acts as an independent group within the real estate and construction division of The Jewish Federation of Greater LA. The RPO's founding chairman, California Landmark prez Ken Kahan (with wife Roneet), saw an opportunity for members to use their real estate expertise to fulfill philanthropic goals in the Jewish community. "These are individuals who are owners of their companies and are successful in their specific real estate asset classes."

The RPO allocates money through a rigorous grant process. Jewish Federation VP-partnerships and innovation Scott Minkow tells us the RPO issues an RFP once a year and generally receives 15 to 20 proposals, funding six to eight on average. Requests come in from a variety of community groups from schools, camps and museums to Hillel programs that serve college students. The applicants are quizzed on the scope and feasibility of the project, timeline, and how they'll be better equipped to serve the needs of their community.

RPO boasts a number of LA's top developers and owners, including Mark Weinstein, whom we snapped in December. Hudson Pacific Properties' Victor Coleman and The Ezralow Co's Bryan Ezralow serve as co-chairs. Other members include Rexford Industrial's Howard Schwimmer, NewMark Merrill's Sandy Sigal, and Hackman Capital's Michael Hackman. One thought in forming RPO was how best to tap the strengths of people who are behind some of the biggest construction projects and companies in LA.

Last month, the Friendship Circle, a nonprofit that serves children with
special needs, cut the ribbon on a new playground, and RPO provided the project's first grant. After receiving the proposals, Scott says the members of RPO fan out across the city, visiting the sites, examining the budgets, and asking detailed questions. "This is a real hands-on group—they like to see things." Then, they get together to discuss the projects and hash it all out.

The playground was designed for kids of all abilities. Since its first funding cycle in 2007, the RPO has handed out more than $2.1M. Ken says they often require matching dollars. "We use the term leverage a lot." (This is real estate; if you're not leveraging, you're not doing it right.) But help isn't just in the form of money. Ken notes many charities are good at what they do, but real estate questions often come up. "Sometimes, we're simply giving strategic advice about whether they should sell or renovate, or who they should look to for planning and architectural design."