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Who is Really Funded by the Developers and the Oil Companies?

POWER POLITICS--California’s Senate District 27 comprises some of the most beautiful and valuable real estate in the country. From the beaches of Malibu to the Santa Monica Mountains to the flat lands of the San Fernando Valley and beyond into Ventura County, it is treasured by environmentalists and coveted by their mortal enemies — the developers. 

In order to build in what is called SD-27, California's 27th Senate district, you need to be “entitled” — you need to have the right. Those rights are called “entitlements” and the lawyers with the right connections, the ones who can get you those entitlements, are considered royalty. When one of them decides to run for office the gloves come off. 

The Rezniks are the king and queen of entitlements. They have gotten entitlements for billions of dollars worth of real estate deals, so when Janice Kamenir Reznik abruptly decided she was entitled to the State Senate seat vacated by Fran Pavley she just took for granted that the other candidates would politely get out of her way. After all, Reznik & Reznik specialized in entitlements. 

They had helped Shappell Industries, the developers of Porter Ranch, get all their entitlements to build next to the Aliso Canyon underground gas storage yard, now the largest natural gas storage facility in the Western U.S.  But now all those homeowners are entitled to is righteous anger and reimbursement for the cost of moving out until the leak was capped and for the cleanup of the oil slime that coats their homes.

But let’s start at the beginning:  

As hubby Ben points out, in an interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, "There were no land use lawyers back then." In 1979, when Shappell approached Reznik & Reznik for help with some land use issues, Ben and his partner, Janice, had created a whole new specialty – land use litigation - and we all know the rest.  

Janice blames lack of oversight for Porter Ranch, noting on her website that "the debacle in Porter Ranch, which is part of the 27th District, revealed that the legislature was asleep at the switch." 

But when the facts are revealed, it seems that the developers of Porter Ranch were not into disclosure. When Porter Ranch was permitted, the environmental report didn’t mention that oil field just down the road, as the Daily News reports.    

Ben and Janice were there "in the trenches" as Ben revealed to the Journal back in 2011, making sure those switches stayed turned off! During the 1980s the Rezniks represented virtually all the biggest developers, according to the LA Times. If you live in the Valley, just look out your window or maybe just inhale and you can experience the results of their labors, or as Janice calls them, “accomplishments.” 

Expanding their reach soon after Porter Ranch was built, the Rezniks went after the oil companies themselves - not as adversaries but as clients, hiring a former SoCalGas company regulatory attorney to head up their brand new Energy and Utility Division! So as methane wafted over SD 27, where Janice plans to reign, we know whom to thank - the Rezniks.  And don't be fooled - the firm name is Reznik & Reznik - the first is Ben and second is Janice - or is it the other way around?  

But the Rezniks weren’t through with the Valley – there was still Ventura Boulevard – the charming, historical low-rise walkable Main Street of the San Fernando Valley.  Remember when the afternoon sun hit the Encino backyards north of Ventura? Well thanks to the Rezniks the sun shines there no more.  Finally the City Council stepped in and created a plan to limit the height of buildings along the Boulevard – but not before Reznik extracted an exemption for his client’s 172-unit apartment building in Encino.  The LA Times reported on the negotiations. 

And on the Encino project in particular: When homeowners objected to the scale of the project, “Ben went nuclear,” the Times reported, cynically threatening to add subsidized (read Section 8) housing to the plan.  He got 150 units and he and his developer client headed right to the bank. 

In 1997, facing cash-flow problems, the Rezniks headed to the West Side, leaving behind a complaint about violations of their profit sharing plan and their office building which was put up for sale – but not their home.  Too bad the Reznik’s division which represented management against labor wasn't there to defend them.   

Reznik even went so far as to use labor negotiations to try to weaken CEQA – a long range goal: “That’s part of where the reform needs to take place so you can avoid a situation where CEQA is used as a leverage tool for someone to gain other advantages that have nothing to do with the environmental welfare of the community at large,” Reznik said, according to DTLA News. In 2015 Reznik predicted CEQA reform.  Sorry, Ben.  Even Jerry Brown can’t help you with this one.  

But even at Jeffer Mengals, where he oversaw over $20 billion in real estate deals, nothing was too petty for Reznik.  When his client Norman Bench Advertising lost its exclusive contract to manage the bus benches, Patt Morrison reports that Norman started removing all the benches leaving mothers, children, the old and infirm to stand for as long as it took to for the bus to come.  Nice work.  L.A. scrambled to get another firm to rebuild them. 

But let’s be fair - the Rezniks represented homeowners too - like this sheik who wanted to build an 85,000-square-foot mega mansion in Brentwood. The sheik filled the profile of the Rezniks' typical client - he had big problems and deep pockets! Vanity Fair called their article on the project "There Goes the Neighborhood"! .
Ben and Janice are a team. They raise money together – whether from developers or big oil (Chevron) aka the California Dental Association whom you can thank for all those mailers!   The Resniks use their connections well and if they get control of the gold mine that is SD 27 you can kiss CEQA goodbye along with much of what is left of our open space.  And if the developers want CEQA “reform” what will Chevron demand?    

If you want to trust SD 27 to Team Reznik then you know how to vote.  Maybe we would be better off with the Barrows … of Bonnie and Clyde.  

 

(Dorothy Reik is  head of Progressive Democrats for America of the Malibu/Santa Monica area and  a member of the California State Central Committee. Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of CityWatch or its other writers or contributors.)

-cw