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"The key is to pick a niche and be comfortable in
it so that you can move on a dime," Soboroff tells his three
apprentices over breakfast. A good example of a niche that has a
promising future, he says, is medium-priced housing in downtown
Los Angeles. "What will ultimately determine the success and
greatness of our downtown is not the Walt Disney Concert Hall or
Staples Center, which are wonderful," Soboroff notes, "but
the return of middle- and upper-end housing, along with supermarkets
Soboroff also teaches his students something about dealing with
difficult policy questions in the glare of public scrutiny. His
own Playa Vista project, for example, has been the frequent target
of environmentalists' barbs. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles
Times in June, UCLA anthropologist Peter Nabokov condemned
the project as a "criminal chapter" in the city's history
because Playa Vista is being built on Native-American burial grounds.
Soboroff, however, looks beyond such criticism. "When I talk
about Playa Vista as a public-policy project," he says, "I
say these are the things that give heart to L.A.: creating housing
for all, including policemen, firemen, teachers and nurses; creating
jobs; creating a great park system at no cost to the taxpayer; fixing
over 100 traffic bottlenecks that haven't been touched for 55 years;
helping the public education system by adopting 15 schools; and
being a great neighbor."
Soboroff's talks with the students are not focused exclusively
on such policy issues or their future success; he offers concrete
advice to help with immediate needs. De Forest, for example, faced
possible layoff due to budget cuts at the Mountain Recreation and
Conservation Authority, where he is an urban-projects specialist.
But thanks in no small measure to Soboroff, De Forest has managed
to hold on to his job. "Brainstorming with Steve has helped
me refine and stay focused on both my short-term and long-term goals,"
he says. "It's been the opportunity of a lifetime."