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IRVINE, CA-Any developer who has ever sailed along smoothly through the entitlement process, only to be blind-sided at the last minute by opposition to a project, can appreciate the one of the tasks that Iger & Associates Government Interface Consultants performs for its clients. One of the specialties of the locally based firm, whose client list includes household names in the Southern California real estate development world, is in performing what company founder Christine Iger describes as “political due diligence” to determine what obstacles a client may face in getting a project through the approval process, whether it be an upcoming election that will alter the political climate or a community group that is likely to oppose a client’s project.

Iger is a 25-year industry veteran and former partner at the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips who spent more than 10 years as the CEO of the Orange County Chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California before establishing her company about five years ago. Her firm, which recently expanded its offices in Irvine and in the Inland Empire city of Palm Desert, finds itself busier than ever despite the slowing economy and capital markets.

“Our phones have been ringing with all sorts of calls from new clients and from existing clients who want help on new projects,” Iger tells GlobeSt.com. She says that business has been picking up steadily since the beginning of the year. Some callers have new projects that they want to entitle so that they can be ready when the market picks up again, while others are seeking new types of permits for previously entitled sites.

Considering how lengthy and time-consuming the entitlement process can be, especially in some Southern California jurisdictions, many if not most developers keep working on entitlements during good markets and bad so that they will be able to build when the timing is right. Iger has been through downturns before, in her role at the BIA, but this is the first time that she has been through a downturn at Iger & Associates. The difference, she says, is that while revenue and membership typically declined at the BIA during downturns, the demand for her government interface services at Iger & Associates has continued unabated and has even increased during the economic slowdown.

“We’re hiring and we’re busy,” says Iger, who points out that her firm represents a list of regional and national development firms that can keep working on entitlements even during down times because they are well financed. Her firm also represents clients in industries other than real estate, such as manufacturing, health care and finance. “If a company has a problem with government, we pretty much get hired to help solve it,” she says.

An example of the types of services Iger’s firm provides is its work for Irvine-based Hopkins Real Estate Group for HREG’s Providence Pointe development, a mixed-use project on 34 acres in Fontana, CA. Iger & Associates created the government relations strategy, and with the HREG development team, worked closely with the public officials and community stakeholders on approval for the project. “The political strategy for entitlement involved managing the expectations of the public officials along with the concerns of impacted stakeholders,” Iger says. Ultimately, the project was approved for residential and retail entitlement including grocery, quick serve retail and more than 180 residential units.

In addition to Hopkins Real Estate Group, the Iger & Associates commercial real estate client list includes companies like Developers Diversified Realty, World Premier Investments and Fairfield Residential LLC, plus a host of other firms involved in office, industrial, retail, multifamily, hotels, resorts and other commercial real estate projects. The firm is currently assisting real estate clients with pending projects throughout Southern California.

“Initially, a lot of clients will come to us for what we call political due diligence,,” Iger says. “That usually means that we will be working with a land acquisition team and that team might have 60 or 90 days to close the deal.” One of the chief concerns of clients is “what don’t they know,” the Iger & Associates president explains. “What’s on the horizon in terms of local regulations? Is there an election coming up that might change things, or is there is a community group in the wings that is ready to oppose something?”

It’s not that any of this information is secret, Iger explains, it’s just that firms like hers can access it faster because they work with city and county and agency staffs every day, so they know how get information quickly. “Buyers and sellers are busy building projects and closing deals, so they can’t be expected to know all these multitude of public officials and everything that is going on a daily basis,” she says. Although some firms specialize in a specific city or agency, Iger’s focus is on Southern California. “We are not the typical lobbying company. Most of our competitors have a city that they know really well, or a county or an industry. We are regional, so we cover the Inland Empire, Orange County and Los Angeles, concentrating on the cities and agencies throughout the region.”

From her vantage point working with private developers as well as public entities, Iger believes that public-private partnerships, already popular in many jurisdictions, will become increasingly important as a means for cities and counties to achieve their land use goals. “The public sector simply cannot finance everything,” she says. “The private sector will definitely be called upon to somehow put together the formula for the land use, schools, transportation, traffic planning and road work, but with the public sector managing as the private sector puts up a large portion of the money.”

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