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In Tune with the Downtown Beat

By Jorge Casuso

Dec. 8 -- Before John Warfel opened a real estate brokerage firm, before he got involved in City policy and joined the Bayside District Board, he was an aspiring sculptor turned professional rhythm-and-blues bass player with an economics degree.

"There was no grand plan," said Warfel, who was elected board chair in July. "I just sort of saved money I earned as a musician and invested it in real estate. One thing led to another, and it just evolved."

Between meetings - with clients before and after lunch, then the Chamber Land Use Committee at four followed by the Bayside Board at six - Warfel took a breather in his high-rise Downtown office with a sweeping view of the City he has called home since 1976.

Two blocks away, visitors and workers strolled down the Promenade that is the heart of the District his Board helps to run - from making sure the streets are swept to approving marketing plans for merchants to helping set general policies.

"The Bayside's role is really to nurture the Downtown Business District and in particular the street life and environment that grew up and evolved," said Warfel, who joined the Board in 1998 and was reappointed to a second four-year term by the City Council earlier this year.

"It can be everything from specific nuts-and-bolts maintenance issues to gathering the information to help guide the City's policies and the future direction of the Bayside District," he said.

Urged by City officials to join the Bayside Board after his involvement with parking for a Downtown development project in the mid-1990s, Warfel was well-prepared for the volunteer post, having run his own real estate investment company, Metropolitan Pacific Capital.

As a real estate consultant, Warfel advises clients on how to diversify their real estate portfolios - what to develop, what to buy, sell or exchange. It's something he does with the holdings of his company, which also develops and manages properties.

Having learned "critical thinking" in school has helped in both his professional and civic endeavors, Warfel said. So has his "willingness to accept the situation and work with that situation."

Warfel's day-to-day business dealings help him understand "what the private sector, particularly merchants and business people, need, the realities they deal with on a daily basis and what affects their ability to provide the services they are trying to provide."

As a dual art and economics major at Claremont College, the northern California native had no inkling he would ever be involved in developing properties and policies that would help shape the cityscape.

After trying his hand in art school at creating "large abstract sculptures" made of concrete, plaster and steel, Warfel moved to Los Angeles where he made a living as a studio musician playing bass on dance and rhythm and blues records.

But after signing on as an artist with RCA and Columbia and producing records, Warfel decided to move on. Synthesizers were taking over the parts played by musicians - first the string players, then the drummers and bass players were replaced by programmed machines.

"I grew out of it," Warfel said. "The music business is a young person's pursuit."

Warfel moved from Venice to Santa Monica, where he saw the Promenade at its lowest point - shuttered storefronts, rock-bottom rents, dead streets after sundown.

"What they (City officials) started with was pretty depressed," Warfel said. "It was hard for people to imagine it being this successful."
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