MilliCare - The Donald on Green

The Donald on Green

I’ve said this before, I am no Donald Trump fan. I don’t believe him to be the business guru most people make him out to be and based on his record in California, his development credentials – though substantial – are not 24K gold plated (see my 2009 column for the California Real Estate Journal below for more.)

While The Donald does seem to know gold, he clearly doesn’t know green as illustrated by his recent comments on Squawk Box – see the link below. He has so many factual errors that I won’t bother to correct them all – for example, it is a myth that reading in the dark causes you to lose your eye sight much less that it is significantly darker in a state-of-the-art green building than in a building with outdated lighting. Nonetheless, The Donald’s comments do serve a useful purpose in illustrating the pervasive ignorance that surrounds sustainability, or in this case the willful disregard of truth because people prefer business as usual.

Trump on Green

By Michael Gottlieb

Development Do’s and Don’ts with Trump

By Micheal Gottlieb

I’m not a big Donald Trump fan. I don’t like his television show. I don’t like his catch-phrase. I don’t like his hair. And I don’t like how his very public persona colors the already-skewed general perception of real estate developers.

I do appreciate Trump’s entrepreneurial approach to business, dedication to quality across a spectrum of real estate product types and his vision in successfully delivering real estate projects around the world.

For all of his accomplishments, however, it seems that Trump has something to learn about California real estate development based on his experiences here, including a failed fight with the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1998 to build what would have been the world’s tallest building on the former Ambassador Hotel site and his $100 million lawsuit filed last month against the city of Palos Verdes, accusing the city of fraud and civil rights violations for refusing to allow him to maintain the “Trump image” at his golf course. Trump purchased the 300-acre Ocean Trails Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes in 2002 for a bargain $27 million after the course lost three holes to the Pacific Ocean in a 1999 landslide. Trump redeveloped the course and seeks to add a high-end residential community, but a conflict escalated with the city and culminated in the lawsuit, which alleges that city officials are holding Trump to unfair standards and regulations.

New York City may have been the birthplace of zoning, but the Brooklyn native apparently has yet to come to terms with the fact that California has made entitlement an art form. You can get a shovel into the ground in less than a year in Manhattan, but you’re doing well here if you can start construction in under five years.

So let me offer a few development tips based on Trump’s California experiences:

Don’t build before you get approvals. Trump eventually got the city’s retroactive approval for a 70-foot flagpole topped by a massive American flag that was erected illegally on the golf course in 2006. Trump accused the city of being unpatriotic because it initially insisted that the flagpole be removed because accessory structures over 16 feet tall require a conditional use permit and variance in Palos Verdes. Love ’em or hate ’em, such codes are intended to preserve the quality of communities – something even the most patriotic developers should appreciate.

Don’t mess with trees. Californians are tree huggers. Ask anyone who has ever tried to develop in Thousand Oaks. Palos Verdes demanded that Trump remove ficus trees he planted to block views of surrounding properties. He’s lucky an EIR wasn’t required to remove them.

Don’t take signage lightly. Signs are a contentious issue in Southern California as L.A.’s recent billboard moratorium demonstrates. It remains a mystery as to who placed official-looking illegal freeway signs pointing the way to the Trump National Golf Club for a 25-mile radius in September 2006. Trump denied any involvement in the incident, which occurred about six months after he failed to get approval to rename Ocean Trails Drive Trump National Drive. City code had little precedent for naming streets after businesses with the exception of Ocean Trails, but there was no precedent for naming Palos Verdes streets after living people. Death seems like a steep price for a little extra branding.

Don’t sue unless it is the last resort. Nothing tarnishes a developer’s relationship with a city more than suing it. Home Depot just dropped a suit against the city of Los Angeles for blocking plans to build a store in the Sunland Tujunga. Considering that Home Depot intended to revitalize a long-vacant Kmart site that was zoned for retail, Trump’s legal complaints over the obstacles his operating golf course faces seem to equate to less than $100 million.

Do promote your project. The key to successful development in tough-to-entitle areas is active communication and engaging the public with your plans. Trump has received a lot of publicity for his first California real estate development venture. And there is no such thing as bad press. Right?

© 2009 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.