The Art of Entitlements

Who Are the Individuals and Organizations of Influence?

By Larry Lazar, Guest Author

Long now, the decision making in local government has been a balance of appointed city staff and elected representatives. Many communities are a collection of “Giants” that shape and influence the discourse of City business and discussions. Concurrently, there is typically a systemic memory of those public leaders that came before and maintain the affiliations that made them successful leaders. To be sure, each jurisdiction is individual unto itself and maintains a stable of individuals and organizations that are influential in decision making.

The practice of Public Affairs regarding the representation of a proposed development project is truly a practice and not a set formula or instructions manual that can be applied in all situations. A successful program is the equilibrium of art and science…the very subject of future Argus College sessions. Understanding the culture of a jurisdiction includes identifying the informal individuals and organizations that may have influence upon the City staff and decision makers.

Each person, staff or decision maker, has a cadre of friends and associates whose advice and guidance is sought when confronted with a difficult situation or decision. Such advising individuals have earned their place as trusted “wise men and women” through their accomplishments either within or outside of government. The art is to identify these people or organizations and establish an ease of rapport.

Long, long ago in a place and time forgotten, a jurisdiction in north Orange County, California was confronted with a development project that could affect the very composition and nature of the town. Rightfully so, the residents and representatives were skeptical and cautious. By nature, many people are uncomfortable with change. Following a short period of community observation and project discussions with numerous people around the town, it became apparent that that one senior City staff member was the visionary philosophical and trusted leader and a former City decision member maintained the stature of community leader.

The former City decision maker had moved on to higher elected office and worked hard to continue to be identified leader emeritus of the town. Access to this elected official was accommodated through community members that readily volunteered to accommodate visits. Through candid discussions, a trust was accomplished.

As with any project, there are many bad days. Opponents were always on the offensive and varied from individuals to community groups to the local high school district. When you have a friend, you never have to ask for help. Though many “Giants” in the community offered help, the elected official provided insight to the vulnerabilities of opponents, particularly school district officials. Accordingly, the strategy of negotiating with the school district was calibrated to account for the inside observations and information provided.

Several of the current City decision makers and senior City staff looked for the nod from this elected official regarding the project. Once again, if you have a friend you never have to ask. The dance of this entitlement process was, in part, choreographed through the assistance of this trusted official providing credibility for the project, and mostly the project leader.

A tough project entitlement is tantamount to being in a life boat in choppy water. Discrimination though is needed in choosing whom you want in the life boat to increase the chances of a successful outcome.

Please feel free to share below your comments, experience, thoughts, or questions.

John Kaye has over 30 years experience within the land development and homebuilding industries, having held senior management positions with The Irvine Company, Koll Real Estate Group, and Brookfield Homes. As a developer, John has overseen the land acquisition, entitlements, and development of master planned communities, residential tracts, urban infill sites, and land assemblages. His experience and skill sets include land acquisition, land brokerage, project management, market analysis, finance, and strategic planning.

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