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Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Anaheim Director Of Community And Economic Development John Woodhead

This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles. 

John Woodhead is the man behind the city of Anaheim's biggest developments.

As the director of community and economic development for Anaheim — the largest city in Orange County — Woodhead is responsible for structuring the economic development strategy for the city.

City of Anaheim Director of Development John Woodhead

Under his watch, Woodhead has spearheaded multibillion-dollar new developments in the Anaheim Resort District that includes Disneyland Resort, the Anaheim Convention Center and the Platinum Triangle, which is home of Angel Stadium, Honda Center and Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. 

The money generated by the resort district filters down to the city's neighborhoods.

With Disneyland's Star Wars-themed land, Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, slated to open sometime in the summer of 2019, all eyes will be on Anaheim and deals that Woodhead helped shape in the Anaheim Resort District.  

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry? 

Woodhead: I look for ways to create and maximize resources to invest in Anaheim’s community, people, businesses and places. My job starts with enhancing and creating revenue streams for Anaheim but becomes more interesting when we reinvest those funds in our neighborhoods and people, creating a full spectrum of housing opportunities throughout the city and a workforce capable of thriving in today’s job market generally, and Anaheim’s 20,000 businesses, in particular.

Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do? 

Woodhead: I would be a veterinarian. As a kid, I grew up surrounded by animals, with pets that included the usual dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters, to more exotic chipmunks, squirrels, lizards, snakes and a wolf. My family vacationed in some of the wilder parts of the West where the wild things roam, so I have always had a deep affinity for animals. 

Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had? 

Woodhead: Lifeguarding on cold, foggy, flat water days when very few people ventured into the water. 

Bisnow: What was your first big deal? 

Woodhead: I was the lead city attorney on a shared (fortunately) experience that ultimately failed called Sportstown, a proposed development in the Angel Stadium parking lot that included a dinner theater called Tinseltown and a behemoth of a structure called Gotcha Glacier in which visitors would be able to ski, snowboard, ice skate, skydive and surf indoors. Not surprisingly, Tinseltown failed and became the Grove of Anaheim, a concert venue today, while the Glacier (with financing proposed by the now defunct Enron and Gotcha International, a surfwear company) failed to find a hospitable environment in the Southern California sun. 

Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure? 

Woodhead: While the Glacier was a big deal, the inability to consummate an agreement to keep the Angels in Anaheim while swapping out the dated asphalt moonscape around Angel Stadium for a vibrant, mixed-use Angels District continues to be my biggest failure. But it’s not over until it’s over … stay tuned.

City of Anaheim Director of Development John Woodhead with his family

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be? 

Woodhead: I would eliminate strip centers. They’re boring, obsolete and Anaheim is burdened with several million square feet of underperforming crap that defies sensible reuse. The lack of depth on these sites makes it nearly impossible to provide a different type of land use and the notion of razing them to create yet another regional arterial super-street with four lanes in each direction bifurcating another neighborhood doesn’t do much for me either. 

Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?  

Woodhead: We are all impacted daily to some degree by someone driving poorly while texting (or “Wayzing” or whatever we do on our cellphones). Why does everyone think that it’s OK if they do it because they have some non-distractible superpower?! We don’t. 

Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor? 

Woodhead: My father. Dad had a calm, gentle manner regardless of the situation and was a very good attorney. Tom Clark, an attorney with Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Rauth is a close second; helping me appreciate that the best attorneys do a lot more than practice law when providing advice and counsel. 

Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever received? 

Woodhead: My dad conned me into going to law school, arguing that it would improve my ethical thinking and prepare me for a worthwhile career I might pursue. He continued the con after I graduated and was offered an obscene amount of money to be a baby attorney by reminding me that the best attorneys (or brightest minds?) in the family ended up practicing very little law. 

Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance? 

Woodhead: My dogs — they’re not just a big part of my family, they are just plain big and tend to dictate where we eat out, where we vacation and what cars we drive. 

City of Anaheim Director of Development John Woodhead

Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world? 

Woodhead: A number of awesome Pacific-fusion restaurants in Vancouver, B.C.  Japanese/Peruvian anyone?

Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say? 

Woodhead: I’m confused. If you have not been colluding with the Russians, what exactly is it that you have been doing?

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken? 

Woodhead: I’d say my biggest risk occurred when I was 16. I was involved in a skiing photo shoot that entailed me jumping off of the lip of a cornice on a run called Hangman’s at Mammoth. As teenagers are prone to do, I went bigger and bigger with each successful jump until I finally went too far and ended up flying over a rock cliff headfirst. Somehow I survived with only a couple of broken ribs, but my mom, who was watching unbeknownst to me, never forgave me for thinking momentarily that she had lost her only son. Four years later, I left college with a quarter to go to graduate because I wasn’t mentally prepared to go to law school. My family was certain I wouldn’t return to finish, so they refer to that incident as “taking my big risk.”

Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown? 

Woodhead: I don’t visit much anymore, but it would be the family home where one of my sisters currently resides. Or maybe it’s the Mission Inn. A toss-up. 

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night? 

Woodhead: It’s a cliché, but it fits — my two boys’ future. Today’s public discourse has sunk to depths unfathomable only a few years ago, peppered with alternative facts and the revelation of one venal scandal after another. This is not normal. This is not acceptable. We’ve lost a shared moral compass, so I’m struggling with providing the boys with one that can survive the current brutish environment. 

Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about? 

Woodhead: Skiing, fly fishing, surfing — recreating outdoors in beautiful places. Not sure how I’ve survived working in an office.