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Small Businesses Give Riordan Mixed Reviews

October 24, 2000|KAREN ROBINSON-JACOBS

Seven years ago, Richard J. Riordan swept into the Los Angeles mayor's office--a multimillionaire businessman schooled in how business works and ready to impart some of those lessons to the crowd at City Hall.

Elected with strong backing from the San Fernando Valley, Riordan has long been viewed as "the business mayor" and generally finds a supportive crowd for his annual "State of the Valley" address to the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., a leading business group, and at other Valley business events.

Now, as Riordan approaches the end of his two-term tenure and prepares for his final VICA address next month, corporate executives and business leaders generally give him high marks for improving the business climate, according to recent interviews.

They cite his help in turning the old Hughes defense plant in West Hills and the former General Motors factory in Panorama City into new commercial centers. They use words like "savior" and "godsend," then apologize for sounding so gushy.

But not everyone shares that perception. Some small-business owners interviewed last week--even people who say they like the affable mayor--had a hard time pointing to a single benefit accrued to their modest enterprises under Riordan's regime.

They too cite the Hughes and GM accomplishments--but to support the thesis that the well-to-do businessman spent most of his energy promoting big projects backed by other well-to-do businessmen. They use phrases like "trickle-down theory" and "He's forgotten about the little guy."

To be fair, said others, when you view the Riordan record you have to ask: Compared to what?

"You have to compare him to his predecessors and look at the reality," said David Goodreau, chairman of the Small Manufacturers' Assn. of California, which has more than 100 members in the San Fernando Valley.

He spoke of the restraints placed on business improvement efforts by a City Council that Goodreau feels is "generally speaking, not very business sensitive and not very Valley sensitive, historically."

And, he added: "There are some very powerful and very vocal constituents on the other side of the hill. The mayor's done the best he could. I think he has fought for us."

The wants and needs of the business community throughout the city have been near and dear to Riordan since he promised, in his 1993 acceptance speech, to "be a mayor dedicated to bringing business back to this city . . ."

And he has done that, luring in new businesses and often retaining old ones.

Alan Greenspan, Bill Clinton and a long-running bull market notwithstanding, Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo feels that "most people would choose the mayor" as the one person locally responsible for the economic turnaround in the Valley.

Delgadillo noted that after the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake, "The mayor was instrumental in delivering resources from the federal government, especially to the business community."

Noting that some of the buildings at the former Hughes Aircraft Co. site had been red-tagged after the temblor, Delgadillo said Riordan "brought that site back to life."

The property is now home to the West Hills Corporate Village, a 560,000-square-foot office park that stands 100% leased. Delgadillo said the resurrection of the Hughes site "was the signal turnaround transaction for the San Fernando Valley."

Likewise, he said, re-crafting the shuttered General Motors plant into a retail/industrial center dubbed The Plant, signaled a turnaround for "one of the low-to-moderate income areas of the San Fernando Valley."

Other Riordan accomplishments listed by business leaders include getting GM to locate its new Design Center in North Hollywood, providing funds to help create the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, helping broker a deal that led biomed standout MiniMed to build its new headquarters in Northridge and freezing city business taxes for five years for most businesses expanding or locating within a federally defined "empowerment zone" in several areas of the city, including Pacoima.

In terms of small business assistance, Riordan mentioned such programs as the Minority Business Opportunity Committee, which he said has increased "by several thousand" the number of women and minority owned firms helped by the city.

"I think it's fantastic," said Riordan of his record on small business assistance. "Every place I go in the city it's the one thing I am praised on more than anything--for cutting the red tape and getting them contracts that they never had access to before."

But small-business owners like Lee Lieberstein, owner of Best Printers in Chatsworth, see it a bit differently.

Like other small business owners queried, Lieberstein, a past president of the California Women Business Owners, believes that Riordan has paid more attention to the big guns in the Valley business community than to the small-scale shops.

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