An Executive Summary with Charlie Long

The Executive Summary is a brief video series in which Bay Area real estate and land use professionals discuss the arc of their careers, personal interests, and the impact of ULI on their careers.

An Executive Summary with Charlie Long

Charles A. Long is a developer specializing in mixed use infill projects, including acquisition, entitlement, consulting and real estate negotiations. He has 36 years of diverse experience in local government and development with an emphasis on economic development, finance and public-private partnerships. He served for eight years as city manager in Fairfield, California, a city with a national reputation as innovative and well managed.

Charlie is a full member of the Urban Land Institute and, within ULI, a member of the Public Private Partnership Council and a faculty member of the ULI Real Estate School, teaching both in the US and internationally. He has worked on fourteen ULI Advisory Panels, most recently chairing a panel in Dallas, TX. He is co-chair of the Sustainability Committee for the San Francisco District Council and, in that capacity, initiated several reports including recommendations for streamlining California’s environmental review process. He authored a book for ULI, Finance for Real Estate Development, and is also building a program called Real Estate 101 for Public Officials, training a volunteer faculty to teach public officials about how to do public private partnerships.

Full-Length Interview

I’m Charlie Long.  I have my own company, Charles A. Long Properties, LLC.

First Job in Real Estate / Land Use Field:

Well my first job in land use and real estate actually was when I started working for the city of Fairfield back in 1978 as the director of the Redevelopment Agency.  I had the opportunity to be involved on one of the first public/private partnerships that involved city participation and the profits of a private development.  In terms of getting involved as a developer, I actually only started development in late 2005 just in time for the great recession to hit the real estate industry.

Mentors in Your Career:

A guy that I would point to that’s forgotten more about real estate development than I’ve ever known is Rick Dishnica, who’s the immediate past chair of ULI San Francisco.  Also a good mentor has been Alex Rose at Continental Development.  He’s on the board of trustees at ULI.  Good friend and mentor has been Ehud Mouchly.  He was involved a lot in putting together the Trends Conference.  I can just point to lots of other folks in ULI who have been very generous in helping me get up to speed in understanding this business.

Greatest Career Satisfaction:

I have several transit-oriented development projects that I’ve been working on.  I have one that I’m currently gnawing on in the East Bay and we’ll see how it comes out of the ground in the next few years.  I’ve also finished writing a book for ULI.  It was just published, Finance for Real Estate Development.  And I do a lot of teaching for ULI as well.  And that sort of leads into my second professional mission and that is I truly enjoy making people stronger.  Making people more capable.  And I like having strong people around me who express their opinions.  So I seek people that disagree with me and who I can figure out, and who I can learn from.

Toughest Challenges Faced in Your Career:

Oh the toughest challenge I faced in my career.  Well I was fired in ’96 as the city manager in Fairfield.  And I truly loved being the city manager.  I was the manager there for eight years, which I guess is longer than the average duration in that kind of position.  It’s a highly politically volatile position. And in any community and in communities that are growing, it has a lot of controversy.

Lessons Learned from Past Real Estate Cycles:

Well in terms of learning from real estate cycles, I think one of the things a developer learns very quickly is don’t base your proforma on wishful thinking.  Base it on what the current market and what the current costs are because frankly if you can’t pencil the project on that basis, you probably won’t be able to guess well enough about what the future holds to be able to pencil the project in the future.  And I found myself benefitting from that advice, which was advice that was given to me by one of my mentors in a variety of ways.  I think the most important was: I had a bunch of property tied up in 2007 just before the crash.  And we were just at the point of starting to spend big money in terms of CEQA analysis and design.  And we essentially looked at what the market was doing in terms of the change in pricing and the change in market values and we said, “you know, the current market is making these projects not viable.”  And so we walked away.  Boy, I tell you the property that we did not end up tying up and spending money ended up being one of the best places that we’ve never made money.  So yeah, I think that learning from the real estate cycles and learning from how the market can change causes you to be very, very careful about not rejecting wishful thinking out of the future.

Favorite Places in the Bay Area / World:

Have you been to London lately and walked on that Thames River walk?  My wife and I stopped there on our way back and forth from Africa in March.  You know, you can walk down to the London Tower, back across the bridge to the Tate Museum.  In the evening, you can sit out and have an outdoor dinner, go to the National Theater and never have to use a car.  It’s a great place.

Favorite Ways to Unwind:

My favorite way to unwind… I probably get on a bicycle and ride 40 or 50 miles.  That’ll unwind me.  We have a place in upstate New York in the Adirondacks where we try to spend two to three weeks a summer with the kids and a group.  And then, just preparing dinner, eating, arguing and solving the problems of the world.

ULI’s Impact on Your Career:

You know, ULI’s impact on my career has really been a result of this organization articulating a set of values.  Now I believe very strongly that development is a value driven business.  It’s about doing things that you’re proud of.  And ULI sets the standard in terms of describing the means to the end in terms of things that developers can do that they end up looking back on, saying you know, I’m proud I did that.  The other thing that ULI does is it models the second most important—well, I’d say equally important value—and that is trustworthiness.  This is a relationship-based business.  It’s about doing business with people you trust.  And at ULI what you have is a group of people who behave in a way where their word is their bond.  And where making money is part of what they do, but basically being reliable and trustworthy is the key behavior towards success.

The Executive Summary, developed by Rob DeWaters and Miles Garber, aims to foster wider professional and personal connections across the ULI San Francisco membership.