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Equity Office Daily Brief: April 23, 2018

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Daily Brief

April 23, 2018

  EquilityOffice

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Government wants to take blighted property neglected after L.A. riots; owner objects

L.A. Times

 

Ever since the 1992 riots, there have been promises but not changes at the corner of Vermont and Manchester avenues. Property owner Eli Sasson has over the years proposed a shopping center, a housing development and an entertainment complex for a vacant...

 


Santa Monica's Appetize to Use Its Payment Technology at New LAFC Stadium

LA Business Journal

 

Santa Monica-based technology company Appetize said Major League Soccer team, Los Angeles Football Club, will use its payment software to handle food and beverage concessions sales at the club’s newly-opened $350 million Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park. Appetize’s foodservice and...

 


Culver City Snack Brand Debuts With Kroger

LA Business Journal

 

Culver Citybased Snack It Forward is crunching its way forward with Kroger Co. as a retail client. Snack It Forward says it makes a healthier version of popular junk food Cheetos, called Peatos. Peatos are made out of “pulses,” which are edible seeds...

 



BLOG & ONLINE NEWS

 

Electric Vehicle Car-Sharing Service Brings a New Kind of Drive Time to Downtown

LA Downtown News

 

DTLA - Despite what seems like near-constant gridlock across the city, and Los Angeles’ reputation as an auto-focused metropolis, not everyone who lives here owns a car. That is particularly true in Downtown, where a growing number of individuals have given up...

 


Netflix To Raise $1.5 Billion For Content Acquisition

SoCal Tech

 

Netflix, the provider of online streaming services which has major operations in Los Angeles, is planning to raise $1.5 billion in debt to fund content acquisition, production and development, potential acquisitions and strategic transactions, and other efforts, the company said this...

 


Saviynt Secures $40M

SoCal Tech

 

Los Angeles-based Saviynt, a developer of identity management software, announced this week that it has raised $40M in a Series A funding round. The funding came from Carrick Capital Partners. Saviynt is led by CEO Amit Saha. According to the company, it...

 


The Blockchain For Real Estate, Explained

Forbes

 

There is a lot being written about blockchains, bitcoin and related technologies, and for many real estate professionals, this is part of a brave, new, confusing world of technology. Like the original internet, the blockchain is a revolution in technology that...

 

FULL TEXT


Government wants to take blighted property neglected after L.A. riots; owner objects

L.A. Times

 

Ever since the 1992 riots, there have been promises but not changes at the corner of Vermont and Manchester avenues.

Property owner Eli Sasson has over the years proposed a shopping center, a housing development and an entertainment complex for a vacant lot the size of three football fields in South Los Angeles.

But his ideas never manifested into brick and mortar.

Citing its blighted conditions, a city redevelopment agency seized the property a decade ago through eminent domain, only to lose it when the state dissolved the department amid a budget shortfall.

Now the government is once again trying to take the land — and Sasson finds himself again trying to hold on.

On Monday, L.A. County will ask a judge for control of Sasson's land, a move that could end 26 years of stagnation at one of the largest plots of undeveloped land in a neighborhood hit hard by the 1992 riots.

To some, the lengthy legal battle illustrates the difficulty of pushing landlords to fill the empty lots that linger in South L.A. amid a development boom sweeping so much of the city. Many on the Southside have been waiting decades to see vacant lots develop, and worry about missing opportunities during a period of so much construction.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, whose South L.A. district includes many barren lots, said he fears some property owners simply want to hoard real estate rather than develop it. "And they're wealthy, so nobody will say anything to them."

Sasson's representatives argue that he has a development plan ready to go but has been stymied by other forces. They argue that taking the land would amount to government overreach and would in its own way stifle development.

"Why stop this project that is ready to go, that is going to fulfill every single need that we have heard?" said Jennifer Duenas, chief operations officer of Sassony Group, the company behind Sasson's development plans.

The county argues that the 16 parcels on Vermont Avenue in the two blocks north of Manchester Avenue have the right size, location and vacancy to accommodate affordable housing, a boarding school, a transit plaza and "community-serving" retail, developed with a mix of private and public funds. It has set aside $15.7 million in taxpayer money to obtain the land.

People representing Sasson argue that there are other lots the county could buy from willing owners. They say city and county officials have conspired against Sasson to sabotage his attempts to create his dream development, the Vermont Entertainment Village, which he says could rival L.A. Live.

The Israeli-born Sasson, 77, positions himself as a developer with a philanthropic heart who wants to revive Vermont Knolls, a neighborhood of high crime and low means.

In a 2016 interview with The Times, Sasson said he considers himself "more of a doer guy." The lack of progress on his properties has earned him a less flattering title from critics: "Mr. Flake."

Since the 1980s, Sasson has owned the majority of the stretch of retail property on Vermont. When a mob burned it down after four police officers were acquitted in the beating of black motorist Rodney King, Sasson vowed just months later to rebuild.

As years passed and the properties remained vacant, they became a target for city leaders seeking to revitalize the community.

They all had their own ideas. In 1994, Mark Ridley-Thomas, then a city councilman and now one of the county supervisors pushing for the use of eminent domain, sought affordable housing, senior housing, an alternative high school and a government building. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) envisioned a pedestrian-friendly commercial thoroughfare like Old Town Pasadena or Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.

Over the years, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency tried pushing Sasson into developing the site. When that didn't work, the agency moved to seize the land in 2008 using eminent domain, which in certain circumstances allows governments to take private property for public use.

But before the deal was finalized, Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved L.A.'s Community Redevelopment Agency and others like it across the state because of a budgetary shortfall. Sasson paid almost $9.2 million to reclaim the property and later received $5.2 million in legal fees and damages from the city.

In the years since, Sasson's vision for the project has evolved. Once slated for retail, Sasson's plan for a privately funded development has expanded to include an outdoor performance space, a banquet hall, a supermarket, a pharmacy, restaurants and shops. A 2015 groundbreaking brought out politicians and community leaders.

But in 2017, the four acres remained vacant and the county sprang into action, filing its own eminent domain proceedings that cited 37 safety violations on the site.

"The people of the Vermont-Manchester community deserve much better," Ridley-Thomas said. "And they have grown weary of the excuses and nonperformance of this developer."

Sasson declined to speak for this article, but in 2016 he told The Times he blamed the delays on his desire to please various officials and residents, who sent him mixed messages.

Sassony Group's Duenas says the city has contributed to blight on the property, which has been the site of homeless encampments and multiple fires. She points to emails in which the office of Councilman Harris-Dawson demanded the company remove fencing that surrounded the lot, which Duenas said wound up encouraging vagrancy.

Sasson's attorney, Robert Silverstein, has filed two lawsuits against the county alleging misuse of public funds in pursuing its legal battle, violation of Sasson's right to due process and failure to follow state environmental laws.

Duenas says city and county officials are pushing a skewed narrative by faulting Sasson for the blight.

"If you make it look like we don't know what we're doing, and I have all these citations, it justifies your story to the community" to seize the land through eminent domain, Duenas said.

Sasson has supporters in the community who question whether the county's plan is the best use of the land. As of December, he had the backing of Waters, who wrote a letter to the county Board of Supervisors opposing its planned seizure and used her star power to draw 200 South L.A. residents to a February town hall meeting about the project. (She has since said she remains neutral on the subject.)

The Vermont Knolls neighborhood is in one of the city's poorest districts. Detectives dub a stretch of it "death alley" because of its high homicide rates.

Empty lots still sit as painful reminders of the area's unequal recovery from the 1992 riots.

But in recent years, the development boom in downtown has stretched south, with plans for a renovated mall, a professional soccer stadium and a museum.

There are more incentives to build than ever before, but also the prospect that property values in the area will keep rising.

Sasson owns several undeveloped properties in the area. Others include several aging strip malls in South L.A. and a boarded-up building on the bustling Broadway corridor in downtown L.A. that was badly damaged in a 2007 fire, which advertises "Store for Lease. Call Eli."

Ridley-Thomas said that officials hope this case will put owners of undeveloped properties on notice — such as the dentist who owns a dozen commercial properties nearby on the corner of Broadway and Manchester Avenue that house abandoned or demolished buildings.

Eminent domain is an inherently controversial tactic opposed by property rights advocates who believe the government should not interfere with an individual's land holdings.

Legal experts said the county has a good chance of winning if it can prove its project is in the public interest and is necessary.

"Challenging the power of eminent domain is rare and difficult," said Gideon Kanner, an eminent domain specialist and professor emeritus at Loyola Law School. "If the owner of the land says: 'This is a lousy way to use this land. I have a better idea' — that goes to the question of public necessity."

At the February town hall meeting, Sasson and Duenas laid out their plan for an entertainment center that would bring jobs, live concerts and education seminars held by NASA.

Longtime resident Joy Enix, 53, walked out. She said she had seen this presentation at least three times before. She no longer believes Sasson will build the shopping center he has promised, but she's not happy with what the county is pitching, either.

"His mall looks like Disneyland to me, and the county project doesn't go far enough," she said.

Pastor Rodney Hilson, 62, interjected to say he supports Sasson's plan. He wants the shops, restaurants and pharmacies he sees in other neighborhoods.

Later, Duenas said Sasson was so "committed to South Los Angeles" that he has purchased more property near the vacant lot at Manchester and Kansas avenues. He plans to tear down an abandoned building there soon and build a strip mall.

A few people in the crowd groaned.

-Angel Jennings

Santa Monica's Appetize to Use Its Payment Technology at New LAFC Stadium

LA Business Journal

 

Santa Monica-based technology company Appetize said Major League Soccer team, Los Angeles Football Club, will use its payment software to handle food and beverage concessions sales at the club’s newly-opened $350 million Banc of California Stadium in Exposition Park.

Appetize’s foodservice and retail payment platform runs on an Android and iOs-based system and enables contactless payment, as well as transactions paid through Android Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, to speed up transactions in arena and similar environments. The stadium will also use Appetize’s inventory management and analytics aspects.

The 22,000-seat stadium will use more than 200 of Appetize payment devices in club seating and concession stands. Appetize’s handheld point-of-sale terminals will also be used in some areas of the stadium.

“We want to push technology and innovation to deliver the best experience to our audience when they come to our stadium, combining our Mobile First strategy with our world class technology infrastructure,” said Larry Freedman, LAFC executive vice president and chief business officer, in a statement. “Appetize aligns our strategy and enables our plans for the future.”

Appetize clients include Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Forum, Dodger Stadium, Hollywood Palladium, the Wiltern and the Galen Center at USC.

-Joshua Niv

Culver City Snack Brand Debuts With Kroger

LA Business Journal

 

Culver Citybased Snack It Forward is crunching its way forward with Kroger Co. as a retail client. Snack It Forward says it makes a healthier version of popular junk food Cheetos, called Peatos.

Peatos are made out of “pulses,” which are edible seeds of plants such as lentils and peas. The official launch of the new brand was in February, and the product now is on shelves in 1,700 Kroger stores.

Snack It Forward also is stocking its snacks at other Albertsons Cos. Inc. subsidiaries and grocery stores including Vons and Pavilions. A planned partnership with Safeway stores is coming up, said Nick Desai, Snack It Forward’s chief executive.

The company also makes fruit snacks under Sunkist brand in addition to Peatos, and counts 20 employees. The privatelyheld company doesn’t disclose financials, but annual revenue was estimated at more than $10 million last year. It was founded in 2011 as Energy Labs and changed to its current name in 2016.

Desai said that funding primarily has come from high networth individuals including

Apu Mody, a former president of Mars Inc.’s North American Mars Food unit.

A 3 oz. Peatos packet retails for $2.99, and a 1 oz. goes for $1.29. They come in four flavors: classic cheese, fiery hot, chili cheese, and masala.

Desai, who had a stint in investment banking before turning to entrepreneurism, tapped into personal experience when looking into healthier alternatives.

“I remember many childhood trips to India where my parents are from and most of the savory snacks that come from there are lentil and peabased.

In the U.S., similar products are marketed as healthier.”

Snack It Forward has contract manufacturing operations in California, the Midwest and the East Coast. Desai declined to provide exact locations but said that Peatos’ growth helped strengthen and grow its supply chain.

The goal of the snack, he said, isn’t to add more products catering to a few who shop at highend food stores but to provide a viable option for the many customers “who do eat snacks like Cheetos and Lays.”

-Shwanika Narayan

Electric Vehicle Car-Sharing Service Brings a New Kind of Drive Time to Downtown

LA Downtown News

 

DTLA - Despite what seems like near-constant gridlock across the city, and Los Angeles’ reputation as an auto-focused metropolis, not everyone who lives here owns a car. That is particularly true in Downtown, where a growing number of individuals have given up their vehicles in favor of mass transit, or families have realized that they can get by with just one car.

So it’s not surprising that a number of alternatives to driving solo have taken hold in Downtown. In addition to the increasing number of people who walk between home and work, Uber and Lyft are commonplace. Bicycles lanes are appearing across the community and the L.A. Department of Transportation is working on an expansion of the DASH bus system.

The concept of app-fueled car sharing is also taking hold. Getaround, which allows individuals to rent out their personal vehicles, began service in Downtown late last month. Other systems have been operating even longer.

On Friday, April 20, a new player joined the lineup. What sets BlueLA apart is that the city government itself has a stake, and the cars are all electric.

BlueLA is a collaboration between LADOT and Blue Solutions, a car sharing and mobility-focused subsidiary of the French transportation company the Bolloré Group. It seeks to serve a variety of customers, with a special focus on people in low-income communities who only need a car part-time.

The program offers a fleet of compact hatchback-style vehicles built by Bolloré. They are set up at charging hubs around the city, with stations already operating or in the works in Downtown, Koreatown and Echo Park. It is launching with 25 cars and 35 charging stations. All of the cars are four-seat rides with the BlueLA logo painted on the side.

Three of the initial seven hubs are in Downtown, with three more expected to open in the Central City in the coming months. The company expects to have 100 vehicles available at 40 locations by the end of the year, and to triple in size by 2021. The service operates 24 hours a day.

Blue Solutions Managing Director Christophe Arnaud said the initial stations were chosen as target areas where people either may not have a car, or where they might walk or bike to work and need a vehicle only for short trips.

“Each station’s location was chosen to support the low-income communities,” Arnaud said.

BlueLA comes in the wake of other cities that have launched their own car-sharing service. Indianapolis partnered with the Bolloré Group to start BlueIndy in 2015. Chicago’s Department of Transportation is exploring a pilot program for a similar service called Car2Go. 

The LADOT developed the idea of an affordable, electric car-sharing service and began searching for partners in 2016, according to a department spokesperson. 

The service operates on a membership system, with users paying $5 a month for access and 20 cents a minute for a ride (it works out to $12 an hour). People are billed on a credit card tied to their account.

For households of four with an annual income below $45,000, membership is $1 a month, and rides are 15 cents a minute, or $9 an hour. To qualify for the lower rate, users must provide a pay stub or other income statement.

“Our aim was to bring sustainable, accessible solutions to Los Angeles,” said LADOT spokesman Oliver Hou. “This gives everyone freedom of movement while respecting the environment.”

The initial hubs in Downtown Los Angeles are at Sixth and Bixel streets, Glendale and Beverly boulevards, and 11th and Santee streets. There are five charging stations at each location.

Additional hubs are planned for Los Angeles Trade Technical College, the Los Angeles Flower Market and City Hall. 

The system operates in a manner similar to Metro’s Bike Share program. To access a vehicle, users press either a Metro TAP card or a BlueLA card to a central kiosk at each hub (BlueLA cards are mailed to users after they register). The card enables a user to remove the charging cord from a car, unlock it and drive away.

People can use the cars for as long as they want, provided they stay within 25 miles of a charging station and the battery does not run out. The system allows the service to call users and ask them to turn around if they get too far away. When the charge hits 30%, BlueLA notifies the driver to return to a hub.  

The cars can travel 160 miles on a full charge in an urban area, Arnaud said. To end the session, users return the vehicle to a hub, lock it and plug in the charging cord. 

Similar to Metro’s Bike Share, an app allows drivers to see where cars are available and book a vehicle in advance. The service provides auto insurance coverage, but it is secondary to a driver’s personal auto insurance. Tickets are the driver’s responsibility, and users must work with BlueLA’s insurance provider in the event of an accident.

The cars have GPS tracking, navigation service on a display screen, and a car-return system that highlights stations that have an available space for drop-off. 

BlueLA is one of approximately half a dozen car-sharing services operating in the Los Angeles area. The company Getaround launched in Los Angeles in March, and allows people in Downtown and other neighborhoods to rent out their personal vehicles.

Getaround General Manager James Correa said there is a high demand for car sharing services in the city, and there is room for many options to meet demand. He sees a growing user base in neighborhoods known for congestion and limited parking.

“It’s a trend in general for urban dwellers who are eschewing car ownership,” Correa said. “If there are more providers in the market, it’s good. More people are learning and experimenting with car sharing.” 

There are other local options, too. General Motors brought its car-sharing service, Maven, to Downtown in 2016. Then there’s Zipcar, which has a number of stations and a variety of company-owned vehicles around Downtown.

-Nicholas Slayton

Netflix To Raise $1.5 Billion For Content Acquisition

SoCal Tech

 

Netflix, the provider of online streaming services which has major operations in Los Angeles, is planning to raise $1.5 billion in debt to fund content acquisition, production and development, potential acquisitions and strategic transactions, and other efforts, the company said this morning. Netflix said that the interest rate, redemption provisions, maturity date and other terms debt will be negotiated with its purchasers. The new funding will undoubtedly impact the Los Angeles region, where Netflix has based most of its content efforts. Netflix most recently was looking to buy LA billboard advertising company Regency Outdoor Advertising, and has a major operation in Hollywood.

Saviynt Secures $40M

SoCal Tech

 

Los Angeles-based Saviynt, a developer of identity management software, announced this week that it has raised $40M in a Series A funding round. The funding came from Carrick Capital Partners. Saviynt is led by CEO Amit Saha. According to the company, it will use the new funding round to expand its U.S. and international field operations, to build out its ecosystem of technology and system integration partners, for its product roadmap, and customer service. Savyint's product work with such third party systems as SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, EPIC, and Workday, and are used to manage access to those systems as companies go through re-roganizations, mergers and acquisitions, process changes, and more.

The Blockchain For Real Estate, Explained

Forbes

 

There is a lot being written about blockchains, bitcoin and related technologies, and for many real estate professionals, this is part of a brave, new, confusing world of technology. Like the original internet, the blockchain is a revolution in technology that will touch all people and all businesses. So people are paying attention, but many still don’t understand what the blockchain is.

Imagine that you and your best friend Bob are standing on a stage in an auditorium, and there are 1,000 people in the audience. In front of these 1,000 people, you hand your car keys to Bob, and Bob hands you his Rolex. You declare, “Bob, you now own my car.”

Bob declares back to you, “You now own my Rolex.” There are 1,000 witnesses who can each declare, without doubt, that your car now belongs to Bob, and the Rolex belongs to you. If anyone in the audience later tells a conflicting account of who owns the car or the Rolex, the other 999 people will refute it. And, if you take a spare set of your keys and try to give that same car to someone else, the 1,000 audience members will confirm that Bob owns the car, as each of them witnessed the “transaction.” This is the essence of how the blockchain works.

In its most simple sense, the blockchain is a series of computers (thousands to potentially millions of them) that each keep the same record of an event or transaction in a ledger that is open to the public. Each record is encrypted, and the ledger is virtually hack-proof. Since all these computers see the same thing, they offer consensus that the recorded event or transaction is valid. The most important value of the blockchain is that it allows two or more parties to interact with, say, a financial transaction, with no middleman.

Bitcoin

Bitcoin is merely an application of the blockchain. You buy a bitcoin with cash. You transfer ownership of the bitcoin to someone else with the consensus of thousands of “witnesses,” and that someone else can then sell the bitcoin for cash. It’s one way to transfer money without a bank or other third party. There no physical coin, however; it’s not like a subway token. It’s a digital asset, assured by the blockchain.

Interestingly enough, when people buy homes with bitcoin, they really are still buying with cash. It’s just being converted to bitcoin first. So, the next time you read about a bitcoin home sale, it is generally still a traditional cash sale.

The Blockchain Has Many Applications

What makes the blockchain universal is how it can be implemented for just about any kind of transaction, record-keeping or agreement between one or more parties. These can include:

• Smart contracts.

• Voting and elections.

• Supply chain management.

• Intellectual rights, patents, trademarks.

• Property rights.

• Criminals records.

• Medical records and history.

• Personal records and credit history.

As long as there is information that represents an agreement or record, the blockchain can record, encrypt and protect that information for eternity.

Real Estate And The Blockchain

For real estate, the blockchain has the potential to change the way we do business. We are developing smart contracts, which will enable real estate contracts, escrows, property records (deeds, for example) to be completed and monies distributed without title companies or attorneys. These contracts are often compared to a vending machine concept: You deposit your money, and the machine spits out a product with no human intervention.

In the near future, it may be possible for a homebuyer to buy a home and complete the sale (along with escrow and title insurance) by clicking on a shopping cart on a website. The blockchain will ensure that the buyer gets the title or deed and the seller gets the cash (via a cryptocurrency). The blockchain will also record the title or deed to the appropriate public records, such as a county in the United States or similar.

Real estate professionals will continue to thrive in the era of the blockchain. The advice, knowledge and hand-holding of real estate professionals will always be an important part of a buyer or seller’s process. However, the handling of money and transactions will inevitably change, and that change is already underway. Brokerages will need to adapt their business models to understand and enable smart transactions but otherwise will continue to thrive in the era of the blockchain.

-Mark Zilbert

Daily Brief April 23, 2018 unsubscribe

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