The Smartest Conversation in Town
Where’s Latino Left on Villanueva? | City of Hope Grows Again | Residential Twist Possible for NB Hotels | Alden’s Definition | Serrano’s Sales Pitch

Where’s Latino Left on Villanueva? | City of Hope Grows Again | Residential Twist Possible for NB Hotels | Alden’s Definition | Serrano’s Sales Pitch

Question for the local Latino-American left in LA:

Where is the outrage over LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who has specialized in outrageous behavior since the minute he took the oath of office three years ago?

A headshot of Alex Villanueva

And a follow-up for LA’s progressives in general, so many of whom claim to speak on behalf of the Latino community: Why isn’t there a longer and more varied line of candidates to compete with Villanueva, who plans to seek reelection, a process that starts with a primary election that’s less than a year away?

Villanueva benefited from the LA County Democratic Party’s endorsement in 2018, and his Latino name no doubt helped him eke out a win over eminently qualified incumbent Jim McDonnell. It was a case of party orthodoxy meeting racial identity politics—and it should stand as a lesson of the dangers inherent in both.

Villanueva has been anywhere from a disappointment to a disaster by several measures, coming off as gleefully mischievous in leading the nearly 18,000 law-enforcement officers and support staff of his agency. Indeed, the same Central Committee of the local Democrats that endorsed Villanueva in 2018 called on him to resign two months ago.

The thumb-in-the-eye leadership style started immediately, with the firing of the sheriff department’s top command staff and rehiring of a colleague who had a troubled personal and professional history before leaving the agency and subsequently serving as an aide on Villanueva’s campaign. The incumbent’s penchant for an unnecessarily combative approach with fellow elected officials has continued throughout his tenure—and has not served anyone well.

LA County voters can get rid of Villanueva as the county’s top cop by voting him out of office next year.

Getting rid of the culture that produced Villanueva is a different matter. The two main candidates to announce a challenge to the incumbent so far are former members of the sheriff’s department. One of them counted Villanueva as a mentor before the two had a falling out. The other achieved high rank in the bad old days of Lee Baca’s failing administration of the agency.

Is that sufficient for the local Democratic Party? Does that work for progressives in general, and the Latino left in particular?

Because it seems now is the time to show that they’ve been doing the work of politics over the past four years. A vibrant political organization and movement should be publicly discussing several potential candidates from inside and outside the sheriff’s department to give voters a menu of options and a glimpse of what normal looks like.

It seems, however, that not much remains normal about a political party and movement that have laid down so many ideological markers that they’re now tripping all over themselves while an unabashed rogue keeps his eye on reelection as the chief public safety officer in a county of 10 million people.

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Acquisition Boosts City of Hope Mission

Headshots of Annette Walker and Simon Tchekmedyian
Walker, Tchekmedyian

City of Hope brought the Pacific Shores Medical Group network of oncology and hematology clinics into its fold last week. The move extends the cancer specialist’s services deeper into Southern California including Orange County where it has a $1 billion-plus research and hospital campus underway.

City of Hope Orange County President Annette Walker and Pacific Shores Medical Group cofounder Simon Tchekmedyian talk about the latest opportunity as City of Hope continues on its mission of bringing cancer care closer to the community.

  • Annette, could you give an overview of what this partnership means, what Pacific Shores brings to City of Hope’s operations and outlook? (0:41)
  • Dr. Tchekmedyian, tell us about Pacific Shores. It’s been a successful provider of cancer care for decades. What made you and your colleagues view this as the right time to affiliate with City of Hope? (1:45)
  • Annette, how will the two entities complement each other? (3:35)
  • City of Hope and Pacific Shores both emphasize bringing their services close to the community. Is there a nice blend of cultures there, in terms of being part of the community? (6:16)
  • Annette, the acquisition comes amid a billion-dollar-plus building project. The campus started as a $200 million plan, so growth has come quickly. Has this been a matter of strategy meeting opportunity, and was Pacific Shores another opportunity to keep pushing on the growth plan? (7:17)
  • Dr. Tchekmedyian, can you talk about how you feel about joining the City of Hope team?  (9:37)
  • Annette, you’ve made it clear this is a matter of mission, not growth for the sake of growth. But it is amazing what can happen when sincerely applied mission meets opportunity. So I have to ask—should we expect any other surprises, opportunities for growth? (10:55)
  • Final thoughts: delivering on the promises made to the community and emphasizing a patient-first approach (12:00)

Fashion Island Hotel in Line for Residential Option

The Irvine Company recently signaled it plans to keep its Fashion Island Hotel in the hospitality business, seeming to knock back a buzz about a conversion of the 20-floor establishment into a residential development.

The Newport Beach-based real estate developer and property manager, which keeps headquarters just a couple of blocks from the hotel, seemed to have offered a definitive commitment on June 29, posting a statement on its website that says it will seek to lease the Fashion Island Hotel to a “premier operator.” The developer said it will “maintain our first-class standards” for the Fashion Island Hotel as well as the nearby Hotel Irvine.

A photo of Fashion Island Hotel
Fashion Island Hotel

There could be some wiggle room in all of this, though.

The Irvine Company has, indeed, committed to keeping the hotels in the hospitality business. But nothing its representatives have said forecloses the possibility of renovating a portion of the Fashion Island Hotel or Hotel Irvine into residences. And you only have to look to the Ritz-Carlton at LA Live in Downtown LA for a first-class hotel with a residential component.

The Irvine Company responded to a recent follow-up inquiry on the matter by pointing to the release it posted in late June, declining further comment.

An upcoming meeting of the Newport Beach City Council could offer the next clue about what’s in store.

The seven-member body is due for an August 24 vote on whether Fashion Island Hotel, the Renaissance Newport Beach, the Newport Beach Marriott, and the Hyatt Regency JWA will be granted the option to redevelop an amount of space equal to 30% of their current room counts into residences. A hotel that takes advantage of the option could mix apartments or condominiums into their premises, a move that would offer greater certainty on revenue streams as the hospitality industry grapples with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and girds for its aftermath.

The grant of an option for partial residential redevelopment to select hotels was made as part of an effort to comply with state regulations requiring certain amounts of new housing units, according to Seimone Jurjis, community development director for the city. The notion got a push from Covid, as city officials began to look at ways to help the hospitality industry, a key segment of the local economy.

None of the hotels or any other entity or individual requested the 30% designation, according to Jurjis, who said the option was granted under the authority of a “determination” by his office. The move is legal for the office of the community development director but subject to challenge.

Members of Still Protecting Our Newport—a group of locals who favor tight restrictions on new development—did challenge Jurjis’ determination, but were turned down by the city’s Planning Commission. The group has appealed to the City Council.

A denial of the appeal by the council could prompt the group to take the matter to the California Coastal Commission, which might exercise some authority based on the Fashion Island Hotel’s proximity to the ocean.

Stay tuned.

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Chinatown Follow-Up

Here’s a follow-up to an item a few weeks back on the sale of the Dynasty Center in Chinatown and the potential for a redevelopment of the retail hub into creative offices:

It remains notable that the deal could change LA’s Chinatown in a more substantial way than any of the upscale residential developments that draw protests. This one could wipe away a main hub of entrepreneurship and employment in the ethnic enclave, hitting at a major center of the neighborhood’s way of life.

It’s just as notable that a whole new way of life has taken shape in the vast suburban Chinatown of the San Gabriel Valley—leaving LA’s older version looking like a shoe waiting to drop as SoCal reshapes itself to new realities.

That’s what dynamic economies and societies do.

It’s also notable that this isn’t the first shift on the landscape for Chinatown in LA. You’ll still hear some old-timers refer to the enclave just north of DTLA as “New Chinatown.”  That’s because it rose in the 1930s after an original Chinatown district was bulldozed to make way for Union Station.


Mike Stockstill, co-author of the upcoming book about the Irvine Ranch that has a working title of “The Big Plan” sent along a correction to the related item in last week’s column: Taylor & Francis Group is part of Routledge, a U.K.-based publisher of business and academic titles.

About Alden Global

A note that’s not quite out of the blue on Alden Global Capital—which owns the OC Register, LA Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram and eight other dailies in SoCal:

It seems most of the stories about the firm describe it as a hedge fund, but none explains what a hedge fund is.

It’s tough to say what a hedge fund is these days. There was a time when the name referred to specialty firms that got into various, often-complex deals or financial instruments to hedge against risks in the broader markets.

These days the term seems to be used in many instances to suggest an aggressive or even avaricious style of investing.

Alden Global, meanwhile, describes itself as an “investment manager,” which is certainly accurate even if it lacks specificity.

It looks from here as though the firm’s newspaper business makes it a distressed-asset specialist. It now owns about 200 titles in the woebegone legacy media sector, including the Register, Daily News, Press-Telegram, as well as Torrance Daily Breeze, Riverside Press-Enterprise, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, San Bernardino Sun, Redlands Daily Facts, Pasadena Star-News, Whittier Daily News and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Some might call Alden Global a “bottom feeder,” which would be somewhat hopeful, since the term generally applies to companies that see opportunities to buy in cheap and make a profit when things pick up.

Then there’s “grave dancer,” which applies to investors who know how to pick over dying or dead operations to find pockets of profitable assets to be stripped from the body.

I’m going to stick with “investment manager” in describing Alden Global—at least until there’s some better definition to the prospects and outlook for its newspapers.

Perhaps that will emerge before the firm acquires any more newspapers in SoCal.

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Sullivan Says 

Photos of the Vargas Brothers
Vargas brothers

Hats off to Mario Serrano as the hardest-working media relations pro working the boxing circuit in SoCal—and take note that his recent updates show that Fernando “El Feroz” Vargas Jr. and Amado “El Malvado” Vargas are both undefeated as they take the first steps in pro careers that will no doubt be measured against their father, two-time lightweight world champ Fernando Vargas Sr., who put the La Colonia Boxing Gym in Oxnard on the map with fight fans around the world.

Follow me on Twitter @SullivanSaysSC.