Saturday, April 14, 2007

Redevelopment Director Cecilia Estolano Speaks to the Downtown News

Anyone following downtown development has to keep an eye on the happenings at the City's Community Redevelopment Agency, or Redevelopment, to use the parlance of city hall staffers.

The Agency has a tremendous impact on zoning changes, development projects, and community benefits. This agency is the lead agency for a lot of the changes we are going to see downtown, including, most recently, the Grand Street project.

Last May, the CRA hired a new Executive Director. This is a big job. This person has to manage a several million dollar budget, direct the work of dozens of staff people, and create a vision for the role of the Agency in shaping neighborhoods (such as our own).

The Downtown News, always getting the best scoop, was the first to sit down with the new ED, Cecilia Estolano -- the woman that was hired by the Redevelopment Commissioners, the City Council, and the Mayor to lead this critical City Department.

There were two critical questions that most intrigued me about the interview.

First, since I moved to downtown I have complained about the lack of public parks in the area. Now I know that the size of the homeless population in the area probably makes residents feel that any green space would quickly become a problem. However, I lived in San Francisco -- a city with an equally challenging homeless population, and green space was a consistent element of life in the City. I am sure we can develop creative solutions so parks become a place that are used by the loft dwellers and the homeless alike. In other words, I don't think we have any excuses to avoid building green spaces downtown.

When responding to a question about how her practice as an environmental attorney may affect her vision of development, Ms Estolano proclaimed:

"It's wonderful to be working for a board and a mayor and council members who see the value of sustainable urbanism. But when I came here I wanted to make sure that was a core value of the agency and so in every speech I gave, and every time I talked to staff members, I made it clear that I expected us to move into sustainable urbanism, that we would find a way to reform the agency's internal practices as well as our relationship with developers to encourage that kind of activity."

You can only imagine my glee.

I was also very impressed by another thing Ms Estolano said during her interview. Check this out:

"I think it's a challenge to keep it of a diverse economic background. Right now, we pretty much have a bipolar Downtown residential population. We have the homeless and the SRO dwellers and we have the folks that live in the lofts and there is a big gulf in between. That's not a healthy community.."

This is a great statement. The same Downtown News that brought us this interview, also had a story about all of the yet-to-be-named fancypants that are going to be moving into the Biscuit Company Lofts. I have been hearing alot recently about well-to-do lawyers and entertainment types that are trying to make downtown their home. With all of the change coming, it is very important the the CRA do everything it can to be sure that working class and middle class folks have a place to live here too.

I couldn't say it better than when Ms. Estolano said, "we need to have people who are administrative assistants who live Downtown as well as the associates of law firms."

Cheers to Ms Estolano!

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