Real Property Law

Interview With Crocker Real Estate Symposium Organizers Eric Altoon and Thomas Lombardi

By John (J.R.) Richards

Chair of the LA County Bar Association Real Estate Section, Eric Altoon and the Co-Chair of the California Lawyers Association Real Property Section Tom Lombardi
Eric Altoon and Tom Lombardi

I am here with two really important people in the real estate law world, the Chair of the LA County Bar Association Real Estate Section, Eric Altoon and the Co-Chair of the California Lawyers Association Real Property Section Tom Lombardi.

Mr. Altoon is the principal of the Law Offices of Eric A. Altoon located in Porter Beach, California.  Tom Lombardi, as we know from our former interview soon to be reposted, is a principal at Lombardi and Donohue located in the Financial District of Los Angeles, CA.

So the two of you headed an effort between your two organizations to develop an annual symposium called the “Crocker Commercial Real Estate Symposium.”  First off, tell me about this year’s event.

LOMBARDI: The program was quite a success.  We had 115 attendees at the Jonathan Club in Downtown Los Angeles for the afternoon of September 26 2019.  It was a total of 3.75 MCLE credits.  Paul Habibi just did a great job moderating the Opportunity Zone Presentation.  Angela Huang, Jeff Weller, Andrew Fogg, Michael Gonzales and Kate Hirsh provided excellent insight about the West Adams District of Los Angeles.  We also got to hear from Brian Kang and Pamela Westoff about commercial lease negotiation issues.  Gary Tenzer, Gregg Loubier, Anne Lanphar spoke about Opportunity Zone Financing with moderator Sarah Spyksma.  There were so many co-sponsor bars it would be impossible to name the off the top of my head.  I would like to thank Silver Sponsor Greenberg Glusker.

This appears to me to be the first joint effort between the former California State Bar Association (now CLA) and the LA County Bar, how did this come about?

ALTOON: Tom reached out to me and my predecessor about a year ago about a potential co-sponsorship of a half-day real estate symposium.  It took several months to convince the LACBA to be on board given the economic issues facing the LACBA.  In July, we had an opportunity to propose the co-sponsorship to the LACBA board and they overwhelmingly approved.

LOMBARDI: Our group, which is statewide, has wanted to team up with the LA County Bar for some time.  We have members who have been active in both, myself and Norm Chernin come to mind.  We are also welcoming Pamela Westoff as a new member of our board.  The California Bar Association (now the CLA) has been viewed as a Northern California Organization.  We are teaming up with the LA County Bar Association to break that mold in addition to many other efforts.

Why the name “Crocker Symposium?”

ALTOON: It is named after Benjamin Crocker, who was one of the founding members of the Real Property Section of the LACBA.  He passed away unexpectedly at the age of 35 in the 1970s so this is a way of honoring him.

LOMBARDI: Benjamin Crocker was a fascinating man.  He helped develop playgrounds for kids.  He was very active in Pasadena and a graduate of Stanford Law School.  He was a director at Goodwill Industries and a lifetime member of the Sierra Club.

image of Altoon and Lombardi

I saw there was a panel on Los Angeles Opportunity Zones.  Is the focus of this event intended to be on the Greater Los Angeles Area?

ALTOON: Yes, Los Angeles has 193 opportunity zones approved in 13 council districts.

How were/are the speakers selected?

LOMBARDI: This year our group did most of the laboring oar gathering speakers.  We have had a couple of excellent speakers on Opportunity Zone before including Andrew Fogg, Michael Gonzales Pamela Westoff and Gary Tenzer.  With their help we were able to secure yet another all star line up for the Crocker Symposium.

How were/are the topics selected?

LOMBARDI: We were looking to team up with the LA County Bar on a CLE for commercial real estate.  We have other CLE or what we call RES’ (Real Estate Seminars) about residential real estate and “Women in Leasing” and the northern California REAL.  We even have a Cannabis Law Symposium coming up.  The focus here was on commercial real estate and dovetails well with the Crocker Symposium.

What was/were the most engaging topics this year?

ALTOON: The audience was composed of attendees interested in all or at least one of the 3 topics.  Opportunity zones was the newer of the 3 topics but there were knew approaches to leasing and financing matters discussed by the respective panelists.

LOMBARDI: They were all good.

Did the Crocker Symposium also provide time to socialize?

ALTOON: Yes; there were short breaks in between each of the 3 breakout sessions and a networking event that followed the last session.

image of Lombardi

LOMBARDI: It was good to see people stick around for the social event afterwards.  It is always interesting to talk about the subjects raised by the speakers.  I enjoy it when all of the guest have a good time.

There were many other co-sponsoring bar associations, how did you round up so much enthusiasm?

LOMBARDI: A lot of that had to do with connections established by the LA County Bar.

The list of sponsors was equally impressive.  Did you find potential sponsors really embraced this event?

LOMBARDI: This was a joint effort.  Fortunately, commercial real estate raises a significant amount of enthusiasm.

What are the plans for the future of the Crocker Symposium?

ALTOON: The hope is to make this an ongoing annual event.  We plan to initiate discussions for Crocker 2020 by next month.  We plan to provide the same quality of education, diversity of panelists and network opportunities.  We may keep it as a half day program but we will also discuss whether to make it a full day program.

LOMBARDI: Agreed, the potential here is tremendous.  We are going to continue our joint effort to make this an even better event.

What are some other great programs or events in the books for the LACB real estate section this year?

ALTOON: Each year we plan at least 24 programs in various areas of real estate law, some which are geared toward junior lawyers (e.g., leasing 101, finance 101, how to review a survey, top 10 real estate cases, etc.) and some which are for the more experienced real estate attorney. On November 20th, we have a program on restaurant leases.  On December 3rd, we have a program on the language of loans.  On February 4th, we have a program on common mistakes real estate attorneys make when drafting documents.

What are some other great programs or events in the books for the CLA RPLS real estate section this year?

LOMBARDI: As I stated earlier, we have a lot of events.  Some of the upcoming events are webinars and webinar replays, statewide holiday parties, the 2/5/2020 REAL Symposium at Stanford University, the 4/23-4/26/2020 The Spring Conference in San Francisco and the 4/25/20120 Cannabis Law Symposium.  I believe that will be in San Francisco too.

What are some of the current goals/challenges of your respective organizations?

ALTOON: The LACBA has seen a drop in membership each year over the past decade.  This is due, in part, to continuing legal education courses being offered at much cheaper rates and firms discouraging younger attorneys from becoming members.  I strongly believe these firms are doing a disservice to younger attorneys.  The LACBA not only provides some of the best continuing legal education in town but offers incredible mentorship and social/business networking opportunities that will help younger attorneys grow their book of business.  We are working to provide more programs on the Westside to make the venue more convenient for attorneys on the Westside and to increase the number of social events.

LOMBARDI: We want to invigorate our 6,000 members statewide by providing top notch CLE’s statewide and available online.  The Real Property Journal is a pillar to what we do and will continue.  Also, the social aspect of law and wellness are important.  All of this will be done with diversity and inclusion in mind.

Are there other ways that CLA and the LACB can continue to work together?  For example, we could possibly cross-publish articles in our e-bulletin.  Any good ideas on that front?

ALTOON: Co-sponsorship does not have to be limited to the Crocker Symposium.  It can expand to any of our hour long lunch and/or evening programs and our social networking events.

LOMBARDI: This has been a good first step to doing more together, for sure.

Eric, I noticed that you have several sub-sections in the LACB RP…how many members do you have?  How are all of the sub-sections coordinated?

ALTOON: The LACBA Real Property Section has about 800 members and the section itself is made up of 6 subsections: (i) commercial development and leasing; (ii) finance; (iii) land use; (iv) title insurance; (v) general real property; and (vi) construction.  Each subsection has at least one chair and a steering committee made up of any number of people.  Each subsection plans at least 4 programs per year and gets help with the planning and marketing of the programs from the vice chairs of programming and communications.

LOMBARDI: Our group is in the process of revitalizing our sub-sections.  The model discussed by Eric is similar to what we are doing.

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