Reiff: Great Park Developer Eyes Amazon, Criticizes Slow-Growth Measure

Another big Irvine developer has joined the scramble to land giant Amazon’s second headquarters.

FivePoint Holdings CEO Emile Haddad says he’s ready to be part of the effort kick-started by Donald Bren’s Irvine Company to woo the giant on-line retailer to Irvine.

Moreover, Haddad says he’s also involved in similar efforts underway in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where FivePoint also has major developments.

“We want it to be California,” Hadddad said in an interview for the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs show. “We would love to have it be Irvine but we’d love it to be San Francisco and Los Angeles as well.”

Haddad said FivePoint will be “working with our public partners” – the cities and agencies in all three locales.

Amazon’s specs include enough room to accommodate an 8 million-square-foot operation and enough housing for 50,000 workers, which Haddad said translates into 20-25,000 housing units. (Amazon has indicated it only needs 500,000 to a million square feet initially, with additional expansion phased in over the next decade.)

Haddad said either the Irvine Company or FivePoint could meet that criteria in Irvine, where Bren is building out his ranch and Haddad is developing around the Great Park.

But Haddad described the process as more collaborative than competitive.

“We’re very excited that Mr. Bren came out and put Irvine at the same level as New York or San Francisco,” he said. “We would be working with the Irvine Company, with the city of Irvine and I assume that there’s going to be a larger group of people, regional groups public and private, that would be part of this.”

Haddad said Five Point has about 20,000 home sites and five to six million square feet of commercial space in San Francisco, where it is redeveloping the San Francisco and Hunters Point Shipyards and former Candlestick Park sites.

“In San Francisco, nobody else has the critical mass,” Haddad said.

And Haddad suggested Amazon could have a virtual company town at Newhall Ranch, FivePoint’s sprawling property in Santa Clarita in northwest Los Angeles County where Newhall has approvals for 21,000 homes and 11.5 million square feet of commercial space.

The long-delayed project was approved in July by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. FivePoint is projecting a construction start in mid-2018 despite lawsuits from project opponents.

“Newhall fits all the criteria put out by Amazon in terms of a location,” Haddad said. “It could also be a distribution center for Amazon because of the central location to the Central Valley, Los Angeles, Orange County and the Antelope Valley … and we’re right on the 5 freeway which is the artery of commerce that connects Mexico to Canada.”

Yet California cities do not make some pundits’ “most likely” lists, which typically give Texas, Denver or several East Coast locales the inside track on landing Amazon. Some wonder if Seattle-based Amazon wants to place another HQ on the West Coast and critics cite California’s high taxes and stringent regulations.

Haddad agreed that California is “unfriendly to business” and has other “challenges.”

“If Amazon decides to take a site that is going to require a CEQA (environmental review) process, is that going to be a lengthy process? The answer is yes,” Haddad said. “Is that going to chill Amazon? The answer is yes.”

But in other ways, Haddad said, California is an ideal location for Amazon.

“Things that are changing the world are coming out of California,” he said. “And if you really want to be in a place where you can tap into great research universities, lifestyle, the concentration of talent, then California will stack up at the top of the list.”

A potential roadblock to bringing Amazon to Irvine is a residents’ slow-growth initiative that is being proposed for the November 2018 ballot.

Haddad joined the Irvine Company in opposition to the proposed measure. “No growth stops a lot more than just traffic,” he said. “You have job creation, you have a generation today that wants to live in Orange County but they cannot live in Orange County because of affordability and you’re pushing them away.”

But Haddad acknowledged the dissatisfaction fueling the initiative.
“In the last probably seven years, I think the approval process in Irvine got away from the masterplanning concept and we started to see things more piecemeal,” Haddad said. “I’m hoping that this means nothing more than a wake-up call so we can start addressing things proactively rather than reactively.”

Haddad’s comments about Amazon and the initiative are part of a wide-ranging discussion that airs Sunday, Oct. 1, at 5 p.m. on PBS SoCal. The program will also air at other times that week on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox. All show times are at www.rickreiff.com. An excerpt of the interview is available on YouTube.

  • Smeagel4T

    Will FivePoint Holdings be paying the extortion to Amazon, or are they expecting us to pay it?

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  • Arthur Strauss, MD

    More smoke and mirrors – Irvine for Responsible Growth’s initiative effort is a call for what has been missing in Irvine – SMART growth in line with what residents want and that infrastructure can support. A 500,000 sq foot Amazon site with 50K workers needing 20K homes is neither responsible nor smart but certainly would be profitable to both 5 Points and the Irvine Company. Maybe drones could take people to work over the traffic standstill that would be around the clock!

    • Rivett

      Haddad and Bren ought to stick to building houses, or at least read the RFP, because they clearly don’t understand what Amazon is looking for in a second HQ. Hint, is it not west coast, high cost of living, already impacted housing market. They have plenty of places they could double down on already if that’s what they were after.