CITYVIEW CHIEF BURTON TAKES LONG VIEW ON LA

January 25, 2021

Cityview Chief Executive Sean Burton. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Sean Burton seems to make an impact no matter where he goes.

Burton serves as chief executive at Cityview, one of the most active multifamily developers in L.A. The company has invested nearly $4 billion in urban projects, from Koreatown to the Westside, to help meet the city’s growing demand for housing. Many of Cityview’s projects are near transportation and work hubs.

Before landing at Cityview nearly 20 years ago, Burton made several high-profile stops, starting with a stint at the White House during President Bill Clinton’s administration. He then moved on to white-shoe law firm O’Melveny & Myers before a turn in corporate business development and strategy at Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

In his spare time, Burton is also president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, which oversees LAX.

But it’s at Cityview, which feeds Burton’s ongoing interest in building cities, where he has found his calling. The real estate veteran sat down with the Business Journal to discuss multifamily development, the coronavirus and the state of regulations in California.

What’s behind Cityview’s focus on multifamily projects?
We’ve always been passionate about housing. It’s such a critical part of the social infrastructure. When you give people safe, clean, well-
located housing, it frees them to live their life in the fullest way.

Has Covid affected your pipeline and strategy?
Covid has been a challenge. We have been focused first and foremost on keeping our communities and our residents safe. We have spent a lot of time with our asset management team and our property management team as well as working with outside experts and infectious disease specialists. … That’s been the first priority.

What kind of impact has the pandemic had on leasing?
We’ve seen a challenge when it comes to leasing. People have not felt comfortable leaving the house. Pre-Covid, we’d invested in a pretty robust virtual leasing platform, and we’ve gotten good at (using it). We had a project in Culver City that delivered about two weeks before the lockdown in March. We put a virtual leasing platform in place and aggressively went after the market with it, and as of now we’re more than 85% leased. All of that has happened during Covid, and that has been a refocus of the team.

Have designs for your projects changed because of the coronavirus?
We are continuing to think of how do we design differently and how are people going to live differently after Covid? Part of the issue is no one really knows. … As we’re designing our projects now, we’re creating optimum flexibility and optionality in the design, so we can make game-time decisions as we get closer to delivering these.

How important are outdoor spaces and amenities?
Amenities have always been a critical part of what we do. We don’t do high-rises by design. We like a five-story building. It’s a lot less expensive to construct and less risk. A feature in all of our projects has been great amenities. And that’s something millennials not just want but expect.
They think about an apartment building, the whole building, as their home as opposed to just their unit. Our most popular outdoor spaces are rooftop decks, and we spend a lot of time really getting creative on making those interesting.

How do you decide what markets to enter?
The markets we pick are markets where you have strong demand and weak supply. We like to be in markets where you see the demographics and population growing more quickly than the rest of the country. We like to see jobs grow more quickly than in the rest of the country, and you want to see incomes growing more quickly. On the supply side, we generally like going into markets where there are high barriers to entry, where it is difficult to build. And the reason we do that is we are adding real value when we are adding housing, and you have a lot less competition once you come out. We really look for that nexus of strong demand and weak supply. And micro-locations. We like to be near transit. We want to understand where our tenants are going to work, and they want to be near great restaurants and nightlife.

What factors determine if Cityview will sell or hold onto a building?
It’s dependent often on who our capital partner is. Every project that we build or buy and rehab is an area that we want to hold onto for the long run. We never try to time a market. We try to build places in areas we believe are going to be on the upswing for a while. With the right capital source we would hold all these projects forever.

How much of the money used for projects is outside funding versus internal funding?
Cityview invests in every single project that we do. We don’t do any third-party work on behalf of people. … The majority of the capital for those deals is from major pension systems, insurance companies, other private equity or opportunity funds. We’ve invested north of $4 billion over the last 15 years or so. We need capital partners to do that.

What markets outside of L.A. are interesting to Cityview?
We’re all over the West Coast. Outside of L.A., the Bay Area has obviously taken some hits during Covid, but we think it will be poised for a pretty strong rebound. You have great jobs in the Bay Area and a great workforce that wants to be there. …  We’ve done a lot in Silicon Valley and like the dynamics of Silicon Valley going forward. We like the East Bay as an alternative to urban San Francisco. The jury’s still out on San Francisco proper. They have some real issues that they have to deal with there. We like Denver quite a bit … it’s one of the most popular destinations in the country for millennials to move to. … We like some of the demand characteristics of the Dallas market, and the Pacific Northwest has promise.

Have California policies regarding things like rent control affected Cityview?
Reasonable regulation makes sense, and we are not opposed to it. Some of the recent propositions like Prop. 21 would really be damaging to California. … The intent is good, but the consequences would lead to a lot less housing being built, a lot less housing being renovated, which is going to be bad for California and bad for the community. … Elected officials both locally and in Sacramento need to focus on policies that can help California build more supply. … You need policies in place that encourage private capital to come in and take the risk to build those and need local jurisdictions to be cooperative on entitlements, and you need state laws that are supportive, and then the private market can come in and build those houses.

What’s next for Cityview?
We’re going to continue to focus on building and buying multifamily in these great West Coast locations. That’s urban locations, that’s premier suburban locations that really feed off the jobs in these cities. We’re going to continue to do that and will do everything from development, which we’ve done quite a bit of, to value-add to core-plus and continue to run the core portfolio that we have. We expect to grow coming out of this downturn just like we grew coming out of the last downturn.

Early in your career, you worked at the White House during the Clinton administration. How did you get into politics?
One of the best jobs I ever had was working in the White House at 21 years old. I had heard Bill Clinton speak when he was governor of Arkansas about building a bridge to the future and creating opportunity and leveling the playing field. I come from a pretty humble background myself, and I thought what he was saying made a lot of sense. … We all thought we were going to change the world. One of the things I learned when I was there was that the people who were doing the most interesting jobs were not necessarily coming from careers in government but from business or law, and they came back into the government to use those skills, and that’s why I decided to go to law school.

Would you go back into politics?
I will always be involved in politics in one way or the other. I was a supporter of President (Joe) Biden very early on. I signed on with him before he even entered the race and hosted his first event here in Los Angeles. My wife and I had him at the house a year ago in September at a very difficult time to raise capital. … We all have a duty to be involved in a civic capacity.

What was your experience like as a transactional attorney at O’Melveny & Myers?
I was in the corporate group, but we did a lot of large real estate transactions, and I loved the complexity and that it was very tangible, that you could go out and walk the property and kick the tires, if you will. It was very different from other more esoteric disciplines, so I really started to like real estate. I liked the impact it had on the community it was in.

You also worked at Warner Bros. What did that experience teach you?
I took the opportunity at Warner Bros. to go into the corporate business development group, which did corporate venture capital. That’s where I stopped being a lawyer and started being a businessperson and learned how to invest. We invested in companies all over the world, and I traveled a lot.

How did you go from that to Cityview?
I was missing the tangible connection to cities and looking for an opportunity to get back. After five years, Cityview was being started, and the whole thesis of Cityview was there was going to be a resurgence of cities.

You’re currently president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners, which oversees LAX and Van Nuys Airport. What made you interested in this role?
I’m very interested in LAX for a number of reasons. One is it’s the largest economic development engine in Southern California. It supports over 600,000 jobs. Tourism is an incredibly important part of the economy in the Southland, and the No. 1 place that drives tourism is LAX. … Improving LAX and modernizing it and bringing it to the 21st century is critical to the health of Los Angeles and its economy.

How do you balance the airports, politics, and Cityview?
It’s affected my golf game. I don’t sleep that much. I just really have to focus and be engaged and not waste a lot of time. It is very time-consuming. What makes it easy is I’m passionate about everything I do, so it doesn’t always feel like work.

Sarah Hunt

Senior Associate, Business Development & Capital Relations

Ms. Hunt joined Cityview in 2021 and is a Senior Associate on the Business Development & Capital Relations team.  She is primarily responsible for relationship management, investor communications, and marketing collateral.  Additionally, she works closely with internal functional teams on due diligence efforts and supports investor reporting and special projects.  She is also a member of Cityview’s Sustainability Committee focused on communication of ESG initiatives to investors.

Ms. Hunt has over six years of real estate investment, capital formation, and investor relations experience.  Prior to joining Cityview, she was an Associate with Chicago-based Magnolia Capital.  During her tenure, she worked on equity capital raises for numerous real estate investment vehicles.  Prior to Magnolia, Ms. Hunt was a Financial Analyst with LaSalle Investment Management where she oversaw the financial performance of assets with over $1 billion in value.

Ms. Hunt received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Finance, Investment, and Banking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rob Lester

Managing Director, Business Development & Capital Relations
Rob Lester is responsible for business development and capital formation efforts for the Firm’s investment platforms, developing strategic growth initiatives, and creating long-term relationships with investors and partners. He has nearly 25 years of investment banking and private capital formation experience. Prior to joining Cityview, he was Managing Director with Macquarie Capital, and a Managing Principal with Blackstone. ​

Damian Gancman

Chief Financial Officer
Damian Gancman oversees the finance, accounting and reporting processes for Cityview. Prior to joining Cityview in 2005, Damian was at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Los Angeles. He holds a Masters in Real Estate Development from the University of Southern California and a dual Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Psychology from UC Berkeley.

Jennifer Halvas

Senior VP of Operations & Associate General Counsel
Jennifer Halvas oversees firm operations and is responsible for identifying best practices and implementing policies and procedures across all departments. Jennifer also manages the legal aspects of project-related matters, including acquisition, development, management and disposition. She was previously at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where she represented a variety of clients in real estate, project development and finance transactions. Jennifer holds a B.A. with honors from the University of Southern California and a JD from Vanderbilt Law School.

Tony Cardoza

Managing Director, Acquisitions
Tony Cardoza is responsible for Cityview’s acquisition activities throughout the West Coast. He has 21 years of experience in real estate investment and management. Previously, Tony ran the investment group for Real Estate Capital Partners in the Western U.S., which developed and acquired over 5,000 multifamily units. Prior to that, he worked for Prometheus Real Estate Group in a land and multifamily acquisitions role on the West Coast. Tony holds a B.A. in Economics from Middlebury College and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.​

Matthew Falley

General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer
Matt Falley oversees and directs the company’s legal affairs and is the firm’s Chief Compliance Officer. Matt was previously a partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP, where he represented numerous clients in the real estate industry, including Cityview. Matt holds a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a JD from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall), where he was a member of “California Law Review” and Order of the Coif.​

Adam Perry

Senior Vice President, Development and Construction
Adam Perry oversees all aspects of the commercial real estate development process from acquisition due diligence and entitlement processing through design budgeting, contracting, construction management, closeout and turnover. Prior to joining Cityview, Adam worked at CIM group as an Associate Vice President of Development overseeing ground up retail, office and mixed-use developments. ​ Adam holds a BA Degree in Political Science and History from UCLA and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Devang Shah

Managing Director, Acquisitions
Devang Shah is responsible for multifamily value add acquisition and asset management in Southern California. He has 22 years of experience in real estate investment, development, design, construction and asset management. Previously, Devang was the principal of Marketcents Inc. an independent project management firm, serving as an owner’s representative to investment firms, builders and developers. Prior to that, he worked was Vice-President at RCLCo, LLC, a national independent real estate consulting firm. ​

Melissa B. Delgado

VP, Asset Management
Melissa Delgado is responsible for overseeing Cityview’s asset management and portfolio operations. Prior to joining Cityview, Melissa was a Senior Director at TruAmerica Multifamily LLC where she was responsible for achieving the investment objectives of an $800 million portfolio. Earlier in her career, Melissa was an asset manager for Kennedy Wilson’s Southern California portfolio. Prior to that, she was a Vice President and Head of Marketing at Kepler Capital Markets, an investment bank in New York. ​

Shane Robinson

Vice President, Property Management
Shane Robinson is Vice President of Property Management responsible for overseeing Westhome Property Management and their daily operations. Shane has over 20 years of experience overseeing multifamily properties. Previously, Shane was the Regional Vice President for Sunrise Management responsible for the expansion and management for its Los Angeles portfolio. Prior to that he was Regional Portfolio Manager for GHP Management. ​

Con Howe

Managing Director

Con Howe leads Cityview’s partnerships to finance, assemble and entitle land for development in the greater Los Angeles area. With over 40 years of experience in planning, entitlements and development, he assists all Cityview funds with acquisitions and development strategies. Prior to coming to Cityview he was the Director of Planning for the City of Los Angeles responsible for the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance and zoning to encourage infill housing. Previously he was the Executive Director of the New York City Planning Department.

Chase Ballard

Vice President, Construction Management
Chase Ballard is Vice President of Construction Management at Cityview. He is responsible for overseeing the Construction Management team and their daily operations. Chase and his team are involved in every stage of our value add renovation opportunities, from pre-acquisition through project completion, executing projects that include interior renovations, common area improvements and deferred maintenance. Prior to joining Cityview, Chase was a Director of Capital Projects with Greystar Real Estate Partners.​

Ramtin Esfandiari

Ramtin Esfandiari joined Cityview in 2018 and is responsible for managing acquisitions, including sourcing, underwriting and closing multifamily development deals. Prior to joining Cityview, Ramtin was on the Acquisitions team at The Bascom Group where he underwrote over $9 billion in multifamily acquisitions across the U.S. and supported all aspects of the acquisition process. Ramtin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Economics from the University of California, Irvine.

Dana Gomez-Gayne

Vice President and Associate General Counsel

Dana Gomez-Gayne manages the legal aspects of all project-related matters, including acquisition, development, management and disposition, and advises Cityview on corporate formation and maintenance, insurance, risk management and other legal matters. She was previously an Associate at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP where she represented a variety of clients in real estate, project development and finance transactions. Gomez-Gayne also has a background in fundraising development and worked at Teach For America raising philanthropic funds from regional and national corporations and foundations. She is a graduate of Pomona College and Pepperdine University School of Law.

Chris Brown

Director, Capital Relations

Chris Brown is responsible for capital raising and investor relations at Cityview. Chris has over seven years of real estate investment and capital raising experience. Prior to joining Cityview, he was a member of the Fund Advisory team at JLL working on equity capital raises for private real estate investment vehicles. Prior to JLL, Chris worked on the Portfolio Management team at Clarion Partners and the Asset Management team at LaSalle Investment Management. Chris graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s Degrees in Finance and Real Estate. He is a general securities representative.

Zory Grigoryan

Director, Development

As Director of Development, Zory Grigoryan is responsible for the full cycle development of several of Cityview’s projects, which includes managing the due diligence, underwriting, entitlement, design engineering, construction processes and turnover to asset management. Prior to joining Cityview, Grigoryan worked for Oakmont Capital as a Project Manager overseeing the development and construction of several multifamily projects. Prior to that, he worked at Cobalt Construction as a Project Manager on the construction of numerous mixed use and multifamily projects. During his career, Grigoryan has been responsible for the development, preconstruction and construction of over 1,500 units.

Grigoryan holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Construction Management from the California State University of Northridge, where he was the top ranked graduate of his year. During his time at Cobalt Construction, Grigoryan was also selected as distinguished alumni by the CSUN department faculty and appointed as ambassador for alumni recruitment by CSUN construction management department’s board of governors committee.

Kyle Naye

Senior Director, Acquisitions

Kyle Naye is Senior Director, Acquisitions of Cityview.  As Senior Director of Acquisitions, he is responsible for managing acquisitions, including sourcing, underwriting, closing and developing comprehensive business plans for investors.  Naye primarily focuses on non-California markets across the Western U.S., including Seattle, Portland, Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Dallas, and Austin.  In his role, Naye works closely with the Cityview team to manage and expand strategic acquisitions across the firm’s vertically integrated platform.

Prior to joining Cityview, Naye was a vice president of originations at PGIM Real Estate, where he provided transactions and underwriting oversight for core-plus and high-yield debt vehicles. He also held a prior role at PGIM managing the underwriting, investment committee preparation and closing of $992 million in multifamily, retail and office assets across the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. At earlier stages of his career, Naye was a senior associate of acquisitions at Clarion Partners, senior real estate analyst at Northmarq and an officer in the United States Navy.

Anh Le

Director, Development

After 8 years in the construction industry managed complex multi-use development projects, Anh Le joined Cityview in 2018 as Director of Development. Le manages ground-up developments in Northern and Southern California and leads consultant teams through entitlement, design, permitting, budgeting, contracting, construction management and project turnover. She works closely with designers, neighborhood groups and Cityview’s in-house Asset Management team to deliver best-in-class multifamily projects. Prior to Cityview, Le worked as a project engineer and project manager at Cobalt Construction. Le holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Irvine.

Steve Roberts

Director, Development and Construction
Steve Roberts is responsible for the development of several of Cityview’s ground-up multi-family assets, including due diligence, design, entitlement, permitting, construction, and market delivery. Prior to joining Cityview, Steve managed several nationally award-winning projects as Vice President of Development for Community Dynamics, a Santa Monica based developer of residential and mixed-use communities. Steve has built his career on creating exceptional communities that deliver high-quality housing to residents, first-rate design for neighbors and municipalities, as well as strong financial returns to investors. Steve holds a BA in Urban Studies and Planning from UCSD and earned an MBA and Master of Real Estate Development from the University of Southern California.

Denise Katz

Director Asset Management

Denise Katz manages Cityview’s core and development assets across multiple investment vehicles and is responsible for maximizing the operational and financial performance of the assets.  Denise has over twelve years of experience in real estate. Prior to joining Cityview, Denise was Regional Vice President at CIM Group of a $2.4 billion portfolio in the Western US and Latin American markets. During her time at CIM, she managed end-to-end transitions of development projects, acquisitions, and dispositions of office, multifamily, retail, parking, condominium, and mixed-use projects. She holds a double major Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Psychology from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Noah Watts-Russell

Director Asset Management
Noah Watts-Russell is Director, Asset Management of Cityview. As Director of Asset Management, he oversees Cityview’s value-add portfolio and is responsible for establishing and driving the portfolio business plans to maximize performance and value. Prior to joining Cityview, Noah was an Associate in the Real Estate division at The Blackstone Group where he oversaw over $15bn in multifamily real estate (>70,000 units, covering market rate, affordable and rent-controlled) and worked on over $2bn in total sales and $1bn in refinancing. Prior to Blackstone, Noah managed the FP&A team at LivCor, Blackstone’s multifamily asset management company. Noah holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from Washington University in St. Louis.

Tina O’ Brien

HR Manager

Tina O’Brien, HR Manager, is a national and state-certified HR Professional (SHRM-CP, PHRca), overseeing all aspects of Human Resources for both Cityview and Westhome employees. Her experience spans the spectrum of the HR field, including recruitment, employee relations, performance management, benefits, compliance and employee development. She joined Cityview in summer 2021 from a telecom technology firm in Van Nuys, and previously worked for a private real estate investment and property management company in Beverly Hills. Tina is an LA native and she’s committed to helping grow our vibrant, healthy corporate culture here at Cityview.

Jonathan Anderson

Controller

Jonathan Anderson is the Controller of Cityview and provides leadership and oversight over the finance, accounting, and shared services departments.  Prior to joining the Cityview team, Jonathan worked at CIM Group where he held several finance and accounting roles during his tenure, most recently as head of private fund reporting and prior to that as director of SEC reporting for one of CIM Group’s publicly traded REITs.  Jonathan began his career in Ernst & Young’s assurance practice where he served both public and private clients in the real estate and asset management industries.  Jonathan graduated from the University of Southern California with both a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in real estate finance.

Sean Burton

Chief Executive Officer
Sean Burton has been with Cityview since 2003. Prior to joining Cityview, Sean was vice president of corporate business development and strategy at Warner Bros. Before that, he was an attorney in the real estate and corporate groups at O’Melveny & Myers, LLP and also served in the White House during the Clinton Administration. From 2013 to 2021, Sean served as President of the Board of Airport Commissioners which oversees the LAX and Van Nuys airports. Sean holds a B.A. from the University of California, Irvine and a JD from New York University School of Law.