Whole Foods Center Plans Will Not Be Affected by Developer's New Job
• Project to Be Shepherded by Two Longtime Staffers Associated with the Company at the Helm
BY ANNE SOBLE
Longtime Malibu business and civic leader Steve Soboroff emailed the Malibu Surfside News that "all is going great with Whole Foods in the Park," even as he finds himself in the eye of a hurricane surrounding the position he assumed last week, vice chairman of the L.A. Dodgers reporting directly to team owner Frank McCourt.
Just hours after Soboroff sent an email to the editor of the Malibu Surfside News and other undisclosed recipients late on April 19 that he "wanted [them] to know [of his decision to take the job] before it becomes public," Major League Baseball announced its takeover of the Dodgers' franchise and put Soboroff in the media spotlight as McCourt's champion.
In the initial email, Soboroff had said, "I would value your ideas and support, as later today or tomorrow, there will be a press release announcing my third job in 62 years: vice chairman of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I think this will be a great place for me to help make L.A. a better place."
Soboroff, who has always relished a full business plate, added, "I will also remain as a board member and chairman of the Weingart Foundation."
About Whole Foods in the Park, the email indicated that "Michael Heslov and Cindy McAfee will ably continue to run Soboroff Partners and the creation of our Whole Foods project in Malibu."
In Malibu, Soboroff was an active participant in community and local government matters; he promoted resolution of water quality issues, aired development concerns, and offered to assist with relocation of the temporary skateboard park as plans for the Whole Foods center progressed. That project is currently in the middle of the EIR process and will require hookup to a Civic Center sewer project to be completed.
The self-described lifelong Dodgers fan has publicly indicated that he was blindsided by the MLB decision, but his subsequent statements appear to indicate that he has decided to make the best of it. At first, Soboroff blasted the MLB action in the media, fiercely defending the man who hired him, but he now appears to be tempering his general stance.
However, many Dodgers fans and sports commentators are voicing approval for the takeover, largely because of a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the McCourts' personal lives and lifestyles have had an adverse effect on their beloved baseball team.
Tom Schieffer, a former president of the Texas Rangers was appointed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers and investigate the finances of the team and its related entities.
How that relates to Soboroff's position and the organizational chain of command has not been spelled out publicly.
A former U.S. ambassador, Schieffer was an investor in the ownership group that purchased the Rangers baseball team in 1989. He has to approve all transactions over $5000, including undisclosed amounts to be paid to Soboroff.
A press release that predated the MLB takeover by hours indicates McCourt hired the former owner of Cross Creek Plaza shopping center, later renamed Malibu Creek Plaza, "with responsibility for leading efforts to improve the fan experience at the stadium, strengthening ties to the region's community and philanthropic organizations, and expanding conservation and sustainability programs at Dodger Stadium."
In addition to his prior Malibu business dealings, Soboroff is a former president of the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission, former CEO of Playa Vista, and current chair of the EXPO Center in Exposition Park. He served as senior advisor to former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, and was his anointed successor in an unsuccessful race for mayor in 2001.
The press release adds that Soboroff planned "to meet with fans and other Dodger stakeholders to hear their ideas for improving the Dodger experience. [He would be] in every section of the ballpark checking things out, listening to fans, and taking strong actions in a number of areas."
McCourt may also have had his sights set on development options for Chavez Ravine when he selected Soboroff, who has demonstrated an ability to take unpopular projects—as any such property development would likely be—to completion.
But it is as McCourt's booster and flag-bearer that Soboroff will have his work cut out for him, with many observers wondering whether McCourt's image makeover may require nothing short of a miracle.