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Senior Vice President, Related California
Founding Board Member, Council of Infill Builders
As Senior Vice President for Related California, Ms. Kang is responsible for business development, strategic planning and creative financing mechanisms for Related’s affordable residential developments. She comes to Related with over 20 years experience in affordable housing finance and development and has entitled and constructed more than 2,500 affordable multi-family housing units in California worth over $500 million.
Ms. Kang is an expert in navigating California’s complex land use entitlement processes, forging innovative public-private partnerships, and structuring multi-layered financing bringing difficult projects to fruition. Prior to joining Related, Ms. Kang was President and Co-Founder of Domus Development, LLC, where she led the company’s development activities for fifteen years.
Ms. Kang’s projects have received national accolades from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Institute of Architects, U.S. Green Building Council, and the 2014 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California’s highest environmental honor. She has been recognized with the Sacramento CREW Nancy Hotchkiss Woman of Impact Award, Smart Growth America’s LOCUS Leadership Award, Sacramento Housing Alliance Housing Innovator of the Year Award, Northern California Real Estate Woman of Influence Award, Sacramento Business Journal Women Who Mean Business Award, and the Sierra Business Council Visionary 2020 Award.
Ms. Kang serves as a Commissioner on the California Commission on Aging, appointed by Governor Brown in 2016 and Governor Newsom in 2020. She is a founding board member of the Council of Infill Builders and earned a Master of Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornell University.
As a founding board member of the Council of Infill Builders, Ms. Kang regularly advocates for statewide smart growth policies and legislation. Under Meea’s leadership the organization and was the lead advocate and co-sponsor for AB 744 (Chau 2015), AB 1568 (Bloom 2017) and AB 2097 (Friedman 2022).
President & Chief Executive Officer
Joint Venture Silicon Valley
Russell Hancock is President & Chief Executive Officer of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a position he has held since 2003. In these roles Dr. Hancock is best described variously: as a civic leader, community gatherer, institution builder, civic entrepreneur, social scientist, and outspoken advocate for regionalism. Since taking the helm he has grown the size of the organization ten-fold; assembled a potent board filled with mayors, CEOs and university presidents; built strategic partnerships; recruited a highly talented staff; founded the Institute for Regional Studies, and launched initiatives that are delivering measurable results to the region.
Russell is also the founder of the annual State of the Valley conference, a “town hall” meeting attracting more than 1,500 leaders for a day spent in dialogue and discussion about the Valley’s challenges and opportunities. The conference features the release of the Silicon Valley Index, a document now receiving national and international attention.
Hancock’s leadership in Silicon Valley builds on earlier work he led as Vice President of the Bay Area Council (1994-1999). There, he spearheaded the campaign extending BART to the San Francisco Airport. He also directed a broadly-based effort which ultimately created the Bay Area Water Transit Authority, charged with delivering a high-speed ferry system to the San Francisco Bay.
Educated at Harvard in the field of government, Russell received a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University where he currently teaches in the Public Policy Program. He returned to Stanford in 2000 to become the inaugural director of the Shorenstein Forum for Asia-Pacific Studies, Stanford’s gathering place for ranking officials, senior executives, journalists, and scholars who shape outcomes in the Pacific Rim. In addition to the research output of the Forum, he built up corporate programs, established international fellowships, raised money, and generated public events featuring a stream of presidents and ministers.
Russ was recruited to Joint Venture at a time when the organization was in a period of transition and instability. He is credited with the growth and increasing influence of the organization, to the point where today Joint Venture is Silicon Valley’s recognized clearing house for regional analysis, and for collaborative approaches to solving the region’s problems. The Joint Venture model is now being replicated in various metropolitan regions throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, and Russ has most recently provided advice to regional governments in Beijing, London, Madrid, the Netherlands, and Taipei. In 2011 the United States Government Accounting Office launched a national indicators project modeled on Joint Venture’s Index, with Russell providing high-level advice.
The Silicon Valley Business Journal perpetually names Russell to its annual list of Silicon Valley’s most influential “players.” Considered one of the Valley’s leading expositors, his interviews regularly appear in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week, The Financial Times and Forbes. He is also a frequent guest on NBC Nightly News.
In private life Russ lives in Palo Alto where he raised three children with his wife Marguerite. A devout Mormon, he serves in the stake presidency of the Menlo Park LDS Stake. He also leads a parallel life as a concert pianist, appearing as soloist with symphony orchestras across the nation. He is a founding member of The Saint Michael Trio, artists in residence at Montalvo Arts Center and a sensation on Spotify. His most recent solo appearances include the Flint Center, Bismarck’s Belle Mehus Auditorium, the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, and the Mostly Mozart Festival in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He enjoys promoting the Bay Area’s civic orchestras, and has appeared as soloist with the Peninsula, Saratoga, Nova Vista, Oakland Temple Hill, and Redwood Symphonies.
City of Oakland
Mayor Thao is one of the Bay Area’s strongest and most effective progressive leaders. Her family story – escaping genocide, poverty, and abuse – has made her into a determined, empathetic leader. Her commitment to racial justice, building affordable housing, advocating for low-wage workers, and protecting tenants can be seen in her many accomplishments as a City Council member and will drive her work to improve the lives of Oakland residents as Oakland’s 51st Mayor.
Born and raised in Stockton, CA, Mayor Thao grew up in poverty as the daughter of Hmong refugees. Her family used social services and lived in public housing. She left home at 17, and in her early 20s found herself in an abusive relationship, isolated from her family, and pregnant. She escaped this domestic violence, but soon had a baby and no permanent housing. For months, she and her son Ben slept on couches or in her car. When Ben was 10 months old, she got a job at a local community college and started taking classes. With the help of welfare and a Head Start program for her son, she put herself through school. She became class valedictorian, then transferred to UC Berkeley, where she co-founded a food access program for low-income students and graduated with a degree in legal studies.
Shortly after graduating, she got a job as a legislative aide for an Oakland City Councilmember and worked her way up to Chief of Staff. In 2018, she ran for City Council District 4 and won, becoming the first Hmong-American Councilmember in California history. As a Councilmember, she bridged political divides to make progress on many key issues. In the last budget, she brought the Council together to make historic investments in violence prevention programs while also ensuring funding for three new police academies. Last year, Mayor Thao negotiated a historic agreement between organized labor and the Oakland business community to modernize the city’s business tax structure and secure millions in new revenue for public services.
Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Ahmad Thomas is the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the region’s most dynamic business association. As a change agent and next generation business leader, Thomas partners with the organization’s 350+ member companies to promote entrepreneurial solutions to strengthen Silicon Valley business competitiveness, bolster its innovation ecosystem, and create shared economic value throughout the greater Bay Area.
A hallmark of his leadership is in catalyzing industry-leading initiatives to operationalize change around diversity, equity, and inclusion from the Boardroom to the C-suites and beyond. A former investment banker and senior Congressional aide, he brings nearly 20 years of experience working both in and on behalf of non-profit social enterprises, governments, and businesses, where he has honed a deep understanding of the essentiality of public-private partnerships and the intersection of equity, policy, and technology that drives Silicon Valley’s innovation infrastructure. Thomas holds a B.S. from Cornell University, Master’s degree from the London School of Economics, and M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
City of San Jose
Laura Foote became a housing activist in 2014, when she became one of the key founders of the YIMBY movement. As a Founder and the Executive Director of YIMBY Action, Laura has grown the organization into a thriving grassroots political organization with tens of thousands of activists. As of 2022, YIMBY Action grew to 46 chapters in cities across the country. Laura is widely recognized as an authority on effective housing activism in the US. Her work building the YIMBY movement has been covered in Forbes, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, the book Golden Gates, and more. She holds a B.A. in Economics from Hamilton College.
ULI San Francisco
Natalie Sandoval is Executive Director at the Urban Land Institute San Francisco (ULI SF) and has over 15 years of experience in real estate, economic development, urban planning, and landscape architecture. She has been with ULI SF since 2016 and a member of ULI since 2007.
Over the last seven years, she led all of the organization’s public sector work, was instrumental in launching and directing its Housing the Bay initiative and ULI’s Diversity Equity and Inclusion efforts, and has touched nearly all of its programmatic work during her tenure.
Natalie’s experience in the industry includes leadership positions around the country. Prior to joining ULI, she worked in the New York office of HR&A Advisors, an economic development and real estate consulting firm, as the Director of Marketing and Business Development. Prior to HR&A, she was the first Marketing and Business Development Manager for SWA Group, an international landscape architecture and urban design firm. Natalie received her MBA from the Presidio Graduate School and holds a BA from Bard College.
San Francisco Foundation
Fred Blackwell is the CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the country. The San Francisco Foundation works hand-in-hand with donors, community leaders, and both public and private partners to create thriving communities throughout the Bay Area. Since joining the foundation in 2014, Blackwell has led it in a renewed commitment to social justice through an equity agenda focused on racial and economic inclusion.
Blackwell, an Oakland native, is a nationally recognized community leader with a longstanding career in the Bay Area. Prior to joining the foundation, he served as interim city administrator for the city of Oakland, where he previously served as the assistant city administrator. He was the executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Development in San Francisco; he served as the director of the Making Connections Initiative for the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the Lower San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland; he was a Multicultural Fellow in Neighborhood and Community Development at the San Francisco Foundation; and he subsequently managed a multiyear comprehensive community initiative for the San Francisco Foundation in West Oakland.
Blackwell serves on the board of the Independent Sector, the Bridgespan Group, the dean’s advisory council for UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design, and the community advisory council of the San Francisco Federal Reserve. He previously served on the boards of the California Redevelopment Association, Urban Habitat Program, NCG, LeaderSpring, and Leadership Excellence. He is a visiting professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley. He holds a master’s degree in city planning from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from Morehouse College.
City of Emeryville
Courtney Welch is an Oakland native, housing advocate, and experienced civic leader. Courtney works in housing law compliance, government affairs, and anti-poverty work in Alameda County. In addition to her role, she serves as chair of the Alameda County Housing and Community Development Advisory Board, is a member of the Alameda County ALL IN Steering Committee, and a member of the Emeryville City Council where she is serving as the 2023 Vice Mayor.
SiteLab urban studio
Laura Crescimano is a co-founder and leader of SITELAB urban studio. Laura’s work investigates the social and political power of space. Designing both processes and places, Laura’s projects range from Downtown West, where she led a multidisciplinary design team for the mixed use expansion of Downtown San Jose and new campus for Google, to the recent Public Realm Action Plan for Downtown San Francisco, to a toolkit for the homeless services non-profit Lava Mae to open-source their mobile showers and approach to service.
Laura has written and lectured on placemaking, urban design and the arts, temporary urbanism, design entrepreneurism, the urban evolution of the workplace, and taught Design and Activism at UC Berkeley. Laura serves on the San Francisco Waterfront Design Advisory Committee and the board of The Greenhouse Project.
Director of Transactions
Kelly is the Director of Transactions for BlackRock’s Real Estate Equity Group and the regional lead for Northern California, Pacific Northwest and Utah. She and her team source, evaluate and conduct all acquisitions, dispositions and developments of real estate assets in the Western United States. During her career she has worked on over $3.0 billion of real estate transactions, including direct acquisitions and joint ventures, of multifamily, office, retail, and industrial product types with core, value-add and opportunistic investment strategies. She has Bachelor’s degrees in International Business and German from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and an International MBA through a dual master’s degree program with the University of North Carolina in Wilmington and the University of Bremen in Germany.
Bay Area Housing Finance Authority
Kate Hartley, the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority’s (BAHFA) inaugural director, has worked throughout the Bay Area on housing financing and development for over three decades. She began her career with a market-rate developer converting vacant factories into new residential developments in San Francisco, and later, as an affordable developer, focused on housing for seniors, families, and people with special needs. As a regional financial consultant, Kate specialized in layering low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, state subsidies, and HUD funds to help her clients build new developments and preserve existing homes. Kate worked at the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) from 2014-2019, serving first as deputy director and later director, where she oversaw the financing and completion of 10,000 new or preserved affordable units. Prior to her appointment as director of BAHFA, she was the Chief Lending and Investment Officer for the Housing Accelerator Fund, where she helped create a new financing and development model that produced homeless housing faster and more cost-effectively than typical publicly funded developments. Kate’s current goal is to provide pathways to more housing, more efficiently, at the regional level to deliver the housing the Bay Area needs.
Yusef Freeman is a Partner at The Vistria Group in Real Estate. He is based in Oakland, CA. Prior to joining Vistria, Yusef served as the Sr. Managing Director of California for the Jonathan Rose Companies, leading ground-up development and acquisitions on the West Coast out of the Companies’ Oakland, CA office. He served as a Vice President of Investments in the transactions group at PGIM Real Estate, sourcing investment opportunities for the real estate private equity funds of the company. In addition, he was the Managing Director for McCormack Baron Salazar, leading west coast operations and new business development nationally for the company, and a Graduate Program lecturer in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley.
Freeman holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley where he spent one year studying abroad at the American University in Cairo, Egypt; a Master of Public Administration from New York University, where he majored in public finance as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow; and an alum of the Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence Fellowship Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He serves on the board of the National Housing Trust and as an advisor to the Terner Center at UC Berkeley and Catalyst Housing.
Senior Advisor for Housing Initiatives
Office of Mayor London Breed, City and County of San Francisco
Scott Shafer came to KQED in 1998 to host the statewide California Report. Prior to that he had extended stints in politics and government. Using that inside experience, he is now Senior Editor for KQED’s Politics and Government Desk where he provides reporting, hosting and analysis while also overseeing the politics desk. Scott co-hosts the weekly show and podcast Political Breakdown and he collaborated on The Political Mind of Jerry Brown, an eight-part series about the life and extraordinary political career of the former governor. For fun, he plays water polo with the San Francisco Tsunami.
Senior Vice President, Development
Swathi Bonda is a Senior Vice President of Development at Lendlease. Prior to working at Lendlease, Swathi worked at led affordable housing development for Forest City’s New York office, including nearly 800 units of mixed-income housing at Pacific Park Brooklyn (formerly Atlantic Yards). Before becoming a real estate developer, Swathi she was a Senior Consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton and an Economist with Fannie Mae. Swathi earned both her B.S. in Economics and MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves on the the Kelsey’s Board of Directors, ULI San Francisco’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Housing the Bay’s Steering Committee.
Principal & Founder
Riaz is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Riaz Capital, an integrated workforce housing developer and institutional-grade sponsor with a core team of over thirty professionals with over $600M of Real Estate Assets Under Management. Managing a portfolio of over 1,500 residences, and with over 1,700 residences in the pipeline, Riaz Capital is one of the most active developers in the Bay Area. A lifelong resident of the Bay Area, Riaz is committed to improving the Oakland community serving as a board member for various community and political groups including Oakland Promise and the urban planning think tank SPUR. Beyond his work locally, Riaz is also committed to helping those less fortunate in his ancestral country of India and as an active board member of the American India Foundation,
Riaz has been thinking about workforce housing for most of his professional life. Growing up in a real estate family, Riaz detoured early in his career from the family business to develop his own style by founding a design / build firm and developing over 50 ultra-luxury residences in the Bay Area. Riaz refocused his vision to workforce housing and over the following decade, built a portfolio of over 1,500 residences across the East Bay. In the process, Riaz constantly reimagined how to apply market-rate strategies and designs to workforce housing, ultimately becoming a leading expert in the creation of “NOAH” (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing).
In successive projects and ventures, Riaz explored co-living, adaptive reuse micro-units, student housing, and traditional ground-up construction – all of which led to the firm’s custom workforce housing solution – the Micro-Living Studio.
Riaz holds a bachelor’s degree in Economic History from the London School of Economics.
Manager, Housing Affordability,
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
As Housing Manager for the Housing Affordability program at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), Xiomara supports the team in achieving their goals of protection, preservation, and production of housing, so people of all income levels and backgrounds can live, work, and thrive in the communities they call home. Prior to CZI, she worked for Bay Area Council’s housing policy efforts on the local, regional and state level. Her experience includes various roles in community outreach and project management in the land use and commercial real estate industry, both in the nonprofit and private sector. Prior to joining the Council, Xiomara oversaw the public affairs program for Universal Paragon. She also worked for a tech‐startup focusing on accessory dwelling units (or “casitas”) and the Urban Land Institute’s San Francisco District Council. She received a Bachelor of Arts in International Development Studies from UCLA and a Master’s in Business Administration from Lorry I. Lokey School of Business at Mills College.
Assistant Deputy Director, Local Government Relations and Accountability
California Department of Housing and Community Development
David Zisser is the Assistant Deputy Director for Local Government Relations and Accountability at the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), where he leads a team charged with expanding on HCD’s accountability work through a holistic strategy that includes: ensuring all 539 cities and counties in the state plan effectively for their fair share of the state’s housing needs, awarding prohousing incentives and planning grants to support local jurisdictions in promoting housing production and in complying with state housing laws, providing education and technical assistance to help jurisdictions understand the law, and holding jurisdictions accountable through enforcement actions as needed. Before joining HCD, David served as the Associate Director of Housing California, a Senior Staff Attorney at Public Advocates, Counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and a Housing Fellow at the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. David earned his Bachelor’s in Sociology at UCLA, his J.D. at UC College of the Law, San Francisco (formerly UC Hastings), and his Master’s in City Planning at UC Berkeley.
Supervising Deputy Attorney General
California Department of Justice
David Pai is a Supervising Deputy Attorney General at the California Department of Justice. He represents state agencies and officials on land use disputes arising from laws designed to boost housing production, ensure public access to California’s coastline, and protect natural habitats and waterways. He also litigated employment and public safety matters for over a decade. His practice mirrors the breadth of the State’s interests—from defending a state agency’s right to recover emergency response costs from DUI arrestees, to removing local constraints against housing developments, to defending the Coastal Act from regulatory takings challenges.
Vice President, Public Policy
Bay Area Council
Louis Mirante is Vice President of Public Policy at the Bay Area Council, focusing on the Council’s housing policy and legislation work. Prior to joining the Council, Louis was the legislative director of California YIMBY, a statewide housing advocacy and coalition-building organization that in just five years rose from the margins to become one of California’s leading housing policy groups. In this role Louis helped craft and win approval for key state legislation to boost housing production and hold local governments accountable for meeting their housing obligations.
Louis has also held positions with the California Department of Finance, the California Department of Transportation, and the California Air Resources Board, giving him important experience in the workings of the California’s administrative state, as well as insight into the implementation of transportation and climate policies. Mirante serves on the board of the Casita Coalition, a statewide advocacy and policy group the Council helped form to promote the construction of accessory dwelling units and other missing middle housing typologies.
Louis graduated with highest honors from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a degree in political science, and his award-winning thesis focused on the effects of state supreme court design on judicial outcomes. He was in the University’s inaugural class of Bonderman Fellows, which funds its members to travel the world for a year after graduation. Originally from the East Bay, Louis is based in the Council’s Sacramento office.
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