Volume #1 Issue #2
May 2014


A Model for Community Outreach and Engagement and the Difference One Person Can Make

Talking with a Westside Neighborhood Council representative about transit-oriented development and people in Westchester about development at the airport, I heard about the great work of Lisa Trifiletti. I met with Lisa and was inspired by who she is and impressed by the community outreach approach she utilizes not typically done by government agencies. In this newsletter, I am excited to share information with you about Lisa Trifiletti and Los Angeles World Airport's Northside Plan Update which was just released two weeks ago, as well as providing you with an example of an effective community outreach effort.


So Who Is Lisa Trifiletti And What Are People Saying About Her?


Lisa Trifiletti is the Director of Environmental and Land Use Planning for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA).  She manages all entitlement applications and environmental documents for all proposed projects at all airports. She also serves as the project manager responsible for coordination with Metro on the Airport Metro Connector Project. Lisa gets things done and she cares. Gina Marie Lindsey, General Manager of LAWA, should be credited and praised for having recruited Lisa, understanding the need to hire someone with her background who could create a better community relations process.and then giving her the ability to implement a robust and effective community engagement strategy.


It is important to understand Lisa's background and past experience to appreciate her success. A native of Los Angeles, Lisa received her BA in history and secondary education from Boston College and her Master's degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her career working in low-income communities as a teacher. She then worked for Councilmember Jack Weiss, but left when she received a full scholarship to Loyola Law School to be a public interest law scholar. After law school, she joined the prestigious law firm, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. She subsequently returned to Council District 5 where she served as District Counsel and Chief Planning Deputy for Councilmembers Jack Weiss and Paul Koretz, managing all transportation, planning and land use matters. In 2010, Lisa was hired to assist LAWA work with the local community, Council District 11 and a myriad of government agencies to develop the master plan for the Northside properties. Lisa's experience as a teacher and working as a Council Deputy have helped her connect with the community to create an exemplary inclusive engagement process. Gina Marie Lindsey, General Manager of LAWA, should be credited for having recruited Lisa, understanding the need to hire someone with her know-how who could create a better process.and then giving her the ability to implement a robust and effective community engagement strategy.


Lisa's background is impressive, no doubt, but what is more impressive are Lisa's accomplishments and the respect and regard she has earned.


I heard repeatedly from Westchester stakeholders that in the past the airport wasn't up front with the community; they didn't listen; and they did whatever they wanted to the detriment of the community at large. In contrast, at a recent Airport Relations Committee meeting for the Westchester Neighborhood Council, former Chair Craig Eggers praised the airport for having actually sought out the community's concerns about the Northside development and incorporating that feedback into the plan. Denny Schneider, a community activist on airport issues, said that "Lisa is a breath of fresh air. She deals openly and effectively. She does her homework and she works with the objective of a win-win situation." The community has seen that Lisa listens to their concerns and does what she can to address them and when she cannot address the concern, she explains why. Lisa herself said that she personally cares and won't lie to the community.


Don Duckworth, Executive Director of the Westchester Town Center Business Improvement District says that Lisa has brought about a dramatic change. The business community felt that they were ignored in the past and seen as an obstacle; whereas Lisa has fully engaged them in the process for the Northside Plan Update. Instead of saying something cannot be done, Lisa looks into the matter and helps airport staff and the community understand the issues involved and the point of view of the others. The Westchester Chamber of Commerce gave Lisa an award in recognition of her efforts. There is now a mutual feeling that the airport and community share a common neighborhood and can and should work together to improve it.


Kathryn Evans, a former Neighborhood Council board member, gave an example of the listening and proactive approach now taking place, in that a first iteration of the Northside plan called for a Paseo running along Westchester Parkway that was abutting homes. After community feedback, the Paseo was re-designed away from the homes and a true buffer created. 


Cyndi Hench, the chair of the Westchester Neighborhood Council said that Lisa's approach is up-front, forthcoming, open and transparent. She commented that Lisa came to the community two years before the issuance of the EIR and incorporated community issues in the plan, which had never been done before.  "Lisa shared information and helped people understand the issues. She understands the community process having been a Council Deputy. I respect her beyond words. Lisa was the right person for that job.  People feel good working with her." Cyndi also said that Lisa has built a great team around her who carry out the work in her same style. At the Neighborhood Council Airport Relations Committee meeting Mariana Valdivia, who works on Lisa's team, commented on Lisa's vision and leadership. Talking with Mariana after the meeting, Mariana said she is proud to be part of a team that believes that the community's concerns matter and should help shape the development. 

Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the airport and surrounding neighborhoods, said 
"Lisa is a rock star, and we're lucky to have her at LAX. Her work to update the LAX Northside Plan is a bright, shining, example of what we can accomplish together when we bring the community in as a partner in planning for the future of our airport. The openness, honesty and enthusiasm she brings is going a long way toward making LAX a world class airport that is a first class neighbor."


As the Councilmember stated, clearly, the difference in the current airport planning efforts is the all-inclusive approach that Lisa is spearheading. I am sharing these comments to highlight the value of this kind of personalized outreach and engagement effort which can make a difference for any project.


The Northside Plan Update Case Study


The Northside Plan area consists of 340 acres bordered by Sepulveda Westway and Sepulveda Boulevard on the east, South Pershing Drive on the west, the airport on the south and Manchester Avenue, 88th Street and 91st Street on the north. The property was originally acquired by LAX for development over 30 years ago. The original Northside Plan from 1984 included 4.5 million square feet of commercial development. The Northside Plan Update DEIR which was just released May 15, 2014 calls for a reduction in overall square footage to 2.3 million square feet, height restrictions of 60 feet, and an increase in the buffer for the residential community from 50 ft. to 100 ft. Planned buildings are oriented so as not to overlook neighbors' backyards. There are 318 project design features (26 pages' worth) which address issues of concern raised by stakeholders during the planning process. In addition to the plan update, a new set of urban design guidelines for the area has been created and a checklist so that a planner can insure compliance.


Denny Schneider explained the complexity of the challenges Lisa was faced with. LAWA originally received funding to acquire the Northside properties for sound mitigation. The FAA required that LAWA account for how that money was spent which it could not produce. The 1984 Northside Plan, which would have dealt with the issues the properties were purchased for, never resulted in development. Then, during the negotiations of various alternatives in the master plan in 2012, LAWA arbitrarily cut the size of the proposed Northside development in half in an attempt to get the surrounding neighbors and business community to support the movement of the runway closer to Westchester Parkway. The community stood in unanimous opposition to moving the runway closer to homes and local businesses; which was subsequently put on hold. The residential and local business community were organized opposing airport efforts when the Northside Plan Update began.


Lisa began the process of developing the Northside Plan Update by beginning an extensive outreach effort within the community. The outreach efforts began with individual meetings with key leaders in the community. She met with neighbors to find out what went wrong in the past and what they wanted to see in the update plan. She met with advocates for AYSO, a dog park, open space and parks, and the business community. She met with community members in their homes and back yards and at their businesses. She also gathered a group of well-respected real estate professionals to create a plan which incorporated neighborhood concerns and sound real estate development objectives.


She met with the FAA and did research from microfiche to understand the development constraints as a result of how the land was originally acquired so that she could explain it in meetings and public forums. Her teaching background provided her with the experience needed to be able to break down complex concepts in a way that could be easily communicated to and understood by the public. Outreach efforts included open houses, charettes, and going door-to-door along 91st Street. She made it a point to know everyone and deal with their issues. For example, there was an issue with gopher holes in someone's backyard that they told her about and she took care of the problem. People took Lisa on drives to show her problem areas and they had her cell phone number to call with issues.


The designated area for retail close to the Westchester Business District has poor accessibility and visibility so the area could not comfortably support a development similar to The Grove which the community desired. The void analysis for retail showed that there was high demand for auto dealerships and big box retail. However, since the community did not want big box retail because of the negative traffic impact, a restriction was put in the plan to only allow retail uses under 100,000 square feet. Otis College of Art and Design, located in Westchester, wanted to expand within the Northside Plan area, but there were FAA restrictions that could have prevented that. Lisa worked with the FAA to enable Otis to be included in the R&D designated area. Because of how the area was originally acquired, the FAA requires that every part of the property be sold for fair market value. Working with experts, a plan was devised to transfer some development rights to certain areas to be bought by developers to pay for the open space and community amenities. That issue is, however, still a stumbling block to the creation of a desired biofiltration facility similar to the one under the Japanese Garden in the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley. The Bureau of Sanitation is required to purchase or lease the land at fair market value for which there is no funding and no other opportunities for the transfer of development rights for purchase by developers.


What Has Made The Difference?


Craig Eggers was quoted in an L.A. Times article about LAX by Dan Weikel saying that "the lack of transparency and concern for the community helped trigger strong opposition to earlier LAX master plans -- a fight that delayed airport improvements for years. A 2006 court settlement finally cleared the way for certain projects but shelved others."


The current outreach efforts on the Northside Plan Update were more inclusive than what had been done previously. The result reflects the consensus forged during the collaborative planning process. This approach which focused on first understanding the community, its concerns and its needs and incorporating that into a market-based plan should result in a plan that can be implemented in a timely manner rather than face years of legal challenges. There still may be issues that need to be addressed, but the tenor of the dialogue will most likely be different from the past.


Lisa shared that the following were key elements that contributed to a successful plan development process:

  • Having a sound plan that incorporated the best real estate advice and that addressed the concerns and needs of the community.
  • Being able to articulate the justification for the plan so it was easily understood.
  • Respect for people and stakeholder interests.
  • Emphasis on building relationships, talking to people early and often and being responsive.
  • Not only talking the talk, but walking the walk.
  • Building bridges between various stakeholder groups.
  • Managing expectations.
  • When you don't have answers, say it - no BS.
  • Understanding the needs of the community and letting that shape the project.
  • Being responsive to people as if a Field Deputy in a Council Office.
  • Providing Nordstrom level customer service.

What she didn't mention that needs to be said is that LAWA got it right bringing in Lisa Trifiletti to lead the Northside Plan Update. Her background of working with community, her belief in the importance of relationships and deeply caring, being hands on and delivering more than expected, all were key ingredients in creating a plan that will be less contentious and can move smoothly through the approval process.


Key Take-Away Ideas


Although the community engagement strategy used for the Northside Plan Update seems simple and makes practical sense, how often do we hear of project proponents bringing fully developed plans to a community for their support or tweaking without addressing community concerns, or they bring plans with the greatest amount of density possible at first so they have room to negotiate downward? How much smoother a process, which is less contentious, might be created by meeting with the community first and incorporating their issues into an initial project plan? Engaging the community from the beginning helps ensure buy-in and ownership. Understanding and having experience working with the community and building relationships with stakeholders based on mutual trust and respect is critical.

North County Transit District is Seeking a Developer for a Joint Development at the Solana Beach Transit Station

The North County Transit District (NCTD) has an RFP out seeking development proposals for the property known as the Solana Beach Transit Station located in the City of Solana Beach, California. The development site consists of approximately 1.5 acres of vacant land contiguous with and immediately south of the existing train station building. The solicitation is titled Solana Beach Joint Development Project. The deadline has been extended until June 13, 2014 at 3 pm.

To register to participate in this solicitation, go to www.gonctd.com and click on "Contracting
Opportunities" at the bottom of the page. The Online Bidding System is described and contains a link to the registration page of the PlanetBids Vendor Portal for NCTD. Registering with PlanetBids for this solicitation is the only way to participate. Or to be redirected to the PlanetBids site, click here.

How We Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

Community Change Partners specializes in providing personalized community outreach and engagement consulting, community assessments, governmental relations consulting, proposal and grant writing services, project management services, help in conceptualizing projects, and innovative ideas for programming a development. Our goal is to provide exceptional service customized to meet the unique needs of each client. Find out more by clicking here to visit our website: www.communitychangepartners.com.

Tsilah Burman
(818) 416-2253 cell
(424) 273-4408 office
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