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In A Construction Boom, More LA Developers Are Putting The Community First


Los Angeles has long held the title of most densely populated city in the U.S., which means new construction projects make a big impact on existing communities — from nuisances like noise and traffic congestion to issues of gentrification and displacement. As construction and development in Southern California reaches a fever pitch, CRE stakeholders are finding that doubling down on community involvement helps them achieve sustainable success.

“It’s not a good look for a developer or a business to come into an area, put up some buildings, profit off of the community and then leave,” said John Parker, CEO and co-founder of LA-based construction firm Parker Brown. “The companies driving CRE deals have long had a bad rap for chasing the dollar without much regard for what gets built or who gets displaced. I hope we’re entering an era of mindful development, where more and more of our colleagues across the industry are concerned with improving the communities where we are doing business.” 

Parker has worked to build a portfolio of socially responsible projects, from museums to sobriety centers. For years, Parker said, the firm has worked with a nonprofit shelter for domestic violence victims in its home community of Canoga Park, helping with renovations and financial support.

Parker said working on socially responsible projects isn’t all about selflessness — it can be a win-win, leading to increased lender interest for projects and other sources of revenue for a company, including federal grants and tax benefits.

Further, a community-first ideology — no matter the project — can lead to a smoother approvals process and stronger relationships for future projects, Parker said.

“We’re seeing more of our colleagues looking at the success of firms that approach a project collaboratively, and then asking how they can contribute to the revitalization or improvement of an area when they create a new space,” he said. “This mentality in development is great for communities, and it’s also going to have a positive impact on your business, helping to make your projects and workflow more sustainable.” 

Especially in opportunity zones, LA-area residents are concerned with gentrification and displacement, growing more skeptical about whether development is an unequivocal good. Parker said it is the industry’s responsibility to consider the projects they undertake and their social and environmental impacts good and bad, while seeking out opportunities to give back.

Developer Rickey Gelb said his company shares Parker’s community-minded approach. Gelb has worked with Parker Brown on projects including a mental health facility and the Grenada Hills Department of Motor Vehicles, as well as Gelb Enterprises’ own new corporate office in Warner Center, Woodland Hills.

“If developers don’t do their homework and just cross each bridge as they come to it, it’s risky for everyone involved,” Gelb said. “We try to make sure our projects suit a community’s goals, because first, it’s common decency, and second, it means we can cultivate a long-lasting positive working relationship in the areas where we do the highest volume of business.”

Gelb said, like Parker Brown, his firm has done philanthropic work with charitable organizations, including children’s programs such as the Boys and Girls Club and an LAPD program called Jeopardy, which focuses on providing positive opportunities and services to at-risk teens. Gelb said while not all of the company's projects involve doing good directly, they are constantly assessing what impacts projects will have.

“We tend to work on a relatively small scale, so we find that while no project of ours is going to completely rock an entire neighborhood like a giant mixed-use development might, we do really need to vet the individual tenants we court and lease to," Gelb said. "For example, there is a new world of marijuana dispensary tenants looking for space, but that’s not necessarily a well-suited business opportunity for every community.”

Marijuana is now legal in California, but Gelb said that doesn’t mean neighborhoods are excited to see dispensaries on their main streets. While some studies report that marijuana dispensaries make their home neighborhoods safer, others show an 84% increase in property crimes in adjacent neighborhoods.

His company also avoids working with adult entertainment, liquor stores, check-cashers and dance clubs.

“We try to be discerning out of consideration for our neighbors, but one unexpected issue we had was a problem with Zumba tenants,” Gelb said. “It turned out they played music constantly, all day long, and the music gets louder and louder as the day goes on. This was an unforeseen issue, but we responded to the community and addressed it. It’s in everyone’s best interest for us to take care of our good relationships in the neighborhoods where we do business.”

Gelb said his company has a large focus on office tenants, in part because of their relatively low impact on neighborhoods in terms of noise, traffic and other nuisances.

When Gelb embarks on a project, he said his first stops are the town council and local homeowners associations. Similarly, John Parker has served as a board member and as president of the United Chambers of San Fernando Valley and in the LA political scene.

These relationships, Parker and Gelb said, pave the way for community involvement, and they also help developers and other CRE stakeholders learn what communities really want — a business advantage that benefits everyone.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Parker Brown. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.