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Regional Chamber of Commerce Chief to Resign

Entrepreneurs: The president of the 5-county Los Angeles-area organization will end his four-year tenure in March.

February 02, 2001|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce President Ezunial Burts will step down March 1, the organization announced Thursday.

Burts, 54, who held the office for four years, said he is leaving so new board Chairman Charlie Woo can chart a fresh course. The chamber's board of directors is expected to name an interim president in several weeks.

Once the city's premier business advocacy group with considerable sway over local politics and land-use issues, the chamber's influence, some business leaders said, began waning when the organization broadened its mission in the 1970s to represent the five-county region.

"They're in kind of a tough spot," said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "When you're an umbrella organization, you have to pull members from all these different regions and convince them there's value in joining."

Membership, which peaked at 4,000 in the early 1980s, had fallen by half when Burts took over from longtime President Ray Remy. Today, membership stands at 1,300.

In an interview, Burts said membership is "irrelevant" in measuring the chamber's stature and effectiveness. "The quality of the members that we have today is the best it's ever been," he said.

During his tenure, Burts sought to bring more small businesses, particularly those in growing and emerging industries, into the chamber's fold. He also sought to increase its profile from City Hall to Congress.

Carol Schatz, president of the Center City Assn. and the Downtown Center Business Improvement District, said Burts and the chamber worked closely with her to pass charter reform in Los Angeles and revise the city's business tax.

Burts also forged partnerships with smaller chambers and other business organizations to work on common goals.

"The Los Angeles Area Chamber is not a threat to them," Burts said, "only something that can complement what they are doing."

The board is negotiating with the Los Angeles Unified School District to sell the chamber's 6-year-old headquarters on Bixel Street.

Burts denied reports that declining revenue at the chamber prompted the move to sell the building. He said he leaves the organization with an operating surplus and budgetary reserve, but he would not give specific figures.

Burts said he will consider other business opportunities after a brief rest. Before taking the chamber's helm, Burts was executive director for the Port of Los Angeles.

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