The Argonaut Interview: Patti Sinclair Instrumental co-president of Playa Capital leaves legacy after 12 years
By Gary Walker
It is home to over 6,000 residents as well as dozens of retail businesses, and welcomes thousands of visitors to its shops, basketball courts and parks.
It is Playa Vista, one of the most well-known planned master communities in the United States.
Patti Sinclair is one of the executives of Playa Capital, the entity that owned Playa Vista, who was heavily involved in the shaping of the community through lawsuits, national publicity and the construction of two phases of the development. The former co-president recently left her position after the company was sold Dec. 5.
The Argonaut was the first Los Angeles-based newspaper last month to report a possible sale of residential property in the second stage of development known as the Village by Playa Capital to Brookfield Residential Properties. The Village is a 111-acre development that will contain 2,600 residential units, 175,000 square feet of office space, and 150,000 square feet of retail space.
Sinclair agreed to an interview several weeks before news of the pending sale and she was later unavailable for comment on the transaction, which according to real estate sources was slated to be finalized by the end of the second week in December.
A former partner at the Los Angeles firm of Latham & Watkins, Sinclair became Playa Capital’s general counsel Oct. 3, 2000. She was the company’s chief legal officer for nearly a decade until she became co- president in 2010 after former Playa Capital President Steve Soboroff stepped down from running the day-to-day operations of the company.
As co-president, Sinclair focused on project planning and entitlements, environmental and regulatory matters, governmental and community affairs, and media relations.
During the interview Sinclair talked about some of the lessons learned from Phase I that will be employed in Phase II, what she feels is a common misperception of Playa Vista and the vision that Playa Capital executives have had for Playa Vista since it was built in 2003.
What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest misconceptions about Playa Vista?
That it is not a diverse community. It’s multiracial and it spans across the socioeconomic spectrum because we have very low income apartments to very, very high-end condominiums and apartments.
What are some of the first buildings that will be built in the next phase?
What you’ll see coming up most immediately is the Jewish Home for the Aging will be building an assisted living facility in the Village with over 200 units with a range of senior independent assisted living as well as some dementia care.
When the Village was approved in 2010, we made two promises to Mr. (Los Angeles Councilman Bill) Rosendahl: that we would build the assisted living facility as opposed to more office space, where the (land) entitlements are and we’re delighted to have them. This is their first facility on the Westside and they’ve been looking for one for many years.
The second thing out of the blocks will be the (Runway) retail center and it will be much more of a lifestyle, high-end kind of complex. There will also be a national drug store chain coming as well as an upscale theater and a combination of dining choices, including chef-driven, white cloth fine dining experiences to fast, casual gourmet burgers, specialty sandwiches and gourmet coffees.
There will also be housing in the second phase of Playa Vista – workforce housing, apartments, and condominiums. Did you take a different approach from the types of housing that will be featured in Phase II?
We’ve actually learned a lot from Phase I. We’ve tried very hard to keep up with what the community has defined Playa Vista to be. When we started on this journey, we had an idea of who might want to live here, but there are now people who live here whom we did not expect would.
For example, we really didn’t think that people with young children would want to live here, so we really didn’t design a lot of the housing in the first phase for a growing family. But with the advent of the elementary school (Playa Vista Elementary School opened in August) and the fact that people living here have children who have played together want to stay here, that has informed what we thought about what we would do for Phase II.
Do you see the Village in a sense as the nexus between the two stages of development as well as the fruition of Playa Vista’s “live, work and play” concept?
That’s exactly right. It is a vision that people talk a lot about, but it is a vision that is very rarely realized. To have started here when I did, when the project was literally dirt and to see it now is really exciting.
We were at the forefront of a whole lot of things that people now have come to prefer. We were doing sustainability, we were doing pedestrian-friendly before people understood what pedestrian-friendly really meant.
Sometimes when you’re involved in an endeavor it’s hard to see how your venture will look like in the end. Have you seen things that have taken on their own life, so to speak, in an organic fashion that was not planned?
That’s right. That’s what’s so great about building a community like this. Some of what has happened here was not what anyone envisioned. You make a place where people want to live and then you stand back and let them take over their community, and the elementary school is a great example of that.
It wasn’t until the parents of Playa Vista showed up with their strollers down at Beaudry (Street, where the headquarters of Los Angeles Unified School District is located) and said ‘here are the children that will go to that school’ that LAUSD realized that the need for a school here was real.
Do you find it ironic that some have opposed Playa Vista from an environmental standpoint when you were one of the first communities to implement elements of sustainability?
I think you will find that with those who have opposed Playa Vista over the years, it was really about ‘not in my backyard.’ Many responsible environmental groups stood with us on the state transaction and have been very supportive of the riparian corridor, the freshwater marsh and what our water quality mechanisms are doing for the Santa Monica Bay.
How would you characterize your time at Playa Capital?
It’s been a pretty extraordinary experience to live it and see it grow and then to see the people who live here take ownership of their community in ways that are pretty unique to Los Angeles.§