John Whitaker brings more than 50 years of exceptional legal counsel to developers of major downtown Los Angeles projects and other domestic and foreign investors in large-scale office, residential, lodging and retail buildings, to the firm’s award-winning land use practice group. His best-in-class counsel and track record for successfully navigating some of DTLA’s most complex projects has been instrumental for the real estate industry’s evolving legal landscape. John has played a significant role in the revitalization of the Los Angeles city center since the late 1970s. He counseled major developers including Greenland USA, The Ratkovich Company, Related Group and Brookfield Properties, and served on the TFAR Task Force, which played a pivotal role in drafting City and Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) policies, including the current TFAR ordinance. John has become the go-to resource for transfers of floor area rights. Notably, Whitaker provided legal oversight to The South Group in the early 2000s for three condominium high-rise buildings – Elleven, Luma and Evo – the first ground-up construction of residential condominium buildings in downtown Los Angeles in 20 years. Following the dissolution of CRAs in 2012, Whitaker was appointed by the Central City Association to work alongside City planning on a new Downtown Development Code. He helps clients navigate new regulations and advises on their rights and obligations with regard to existing and pending projects.
John's other notable owner/developer clients include CIM Group, Jade Enterprises, Amacon, Omni Los Angeles Hotel, Five Plants Associates, California Primary Physicians Property Group, 1200 S. Figueroa Development, Inc., Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc., IDS Real Estate Group, Park Fifth Associates, The Hanover Company and the YWCA.
John's practice also includes significant projects outside Downtown Los Angeles for clients such as The Ratkovich Company, Farmers Group, Inc., AIG, Gerding Edlen Development, CIM Group, Dedeaux Properties, Dart Entities, Capital Records, and the Taix Restaurant.
IDS Real Estate Group/Greenland USA – Initial entitlement and subsequent re-entitlement for IDS of several adjacent blocks bordered by 8th Street, 9th Street, Francisco Street, and the 110 Freeway and further re-entitlement of the entire site for Greenland USA. The site known as Metropolis has been developed with a hotel and three mixed-use high-rise residential towers.
Related Group/Grand Avenue Site - Planned 3.2 million square feet of mixed use (residential, hotel, office, retail) development on the Grand Avenue Parcels in the Civic Center area of downtown Los Angeles. Negotiated a DDA with the Joint Powers Authority (“JPA”), Ground Leases with the JPA, County and CRA, a Development Agreement with the City, agreement with the City regarding hotel TOT rebates and parking tax rebates and design and development agreements with the County and State for the concurrent renovation of the 15-acre Civic Center Park.
Playa Vista Howard Hughes Buildings – Acquisition from a court appointed Receiver of 11 historic Howard Hughes buildings totaling 537,130 square feet on four parcels of land in Playa Vista, California, totaling 1,200,000 sf which includes the Spruce Goose hangar and which was renovated to create an office and production space campus known as “The Hercules Campus at Playa Vista”. The Spruce Goose parcel has been leased to Google and sold to a foreign investor. The remainder of the Hercules Campus was sold to a domestic investor.
Taix Restaurant – Representation of the Taix family in the sale-lease back of the Taix Restaurant for a significant future residential mixed-use project on the site and a related parking parcel.
The Hanover Company – Acquisition and development of the 717 Olympic residential tower, including the creation of a new sign district with other property owners for the block bounded by Olympic Boulevard, 9th Street, Figueroa Street, and Flower Street.
Park Fifth Associates (Downtown LA Project) - (Houk Development Company, Namco Capital Group and Africa Israel) – Planned 1.3 million square feet (13:1) of mixed-use development (residential condominiums, hotel, retail) on approximately 100,000-square-foot site between Olive and Hill Streets north of Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. Completed the first 13:1 Transfer of Floor Area Ratio transaction (approximately 700,000 square feet) under the then new City of Los Angeles TFAR Ordinance. The negotiated TFAR Plan included use of funds for improvement and maintenance of Pershing Square, for development by the Downtown Women’s Center of a 75 unit permanent supportive housing development and for development by the Skid Row Housing Trust of 74 permanent supportive residences for extremely low income individuals who live in the Central City.
Capri Capital (South LA Project) – Planned rehabilitation and expansion of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Shopping Center in South Los Angeles, California to include approximately 765,000 square feet of new retail, including one or more new anchor tenants and relocation, upgrading and expansion of existing tenant space, the addition of a Debbie Allen Dance Studio, up to 800 new residential units and a new 497,800-square-foot hotel.
Gerding Edlen (Hollywood Project) - Planned high-rise mixed-use (market rate and work force residential condominiums, retail, office and public park) development on the corner of Sunset and Gordon in Hollywood, California, including restoration of a portion of the Old Spaghetti Factory building on the site. Negotiated a comprehensive Owner Participation Agreement with the CRA, which included subsidies for the work force housing, office and public park components, and related agreements with the CRA and the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.
Archstone Smith (Anaheim Project) - Planned multi-phased mixed-use (hotel, office, entertainment, retail, sports facility and possible residential) development on approximately 50 acres adjacent to Angels Stadium in Anaheim, California. Negotiated an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and related documents with the City of Anaheim regarding acquisition of the development site from the City and the future development of the site including providing parking rights on the development site to adjacent landowners.
Alcon Laboratories – Acquisition of new headquarters building and expansion site in Orange County, California.
Kam Sang Company and Shen Zhen New World Investment (USA) Inc. – Acquisition of Marriott Los Angeles Downtown Hotel.
US Ventures GP Limited – Sale of Fresh & Easy markets distribution and warehouse building and related property to 2 Sisters Food Group, Inc., an affiliate of Fresh & Easy markets.
Fidelity Pacific Station – Sale of office condominium parcel and separate sale of all residential condominium units in Pacific Station project in Encinitas, California.
IDS/Greenland USA/Metropolis Site - Planned 3 million square feet (10:1) of mixed use (residential, hotel, office, retail) development on the two blocks adjacent to the Harbor Freeway known as the Metropolis Site. Provided legal counsel regarding required TFAR for 1.1 million square feet, including modification of existing OPA and Development Agreement to allow residential uses and optional additional density
CIM Group (with Lee Homes) - 60,000-square-foot, full-service Ralphs Supermarket (the first supermarket in downtown) and full block residential project in South Park. Provided legal counsel for new and adaptive reuse development, substantial CRA subsidies including DDA and affordable housing covenants
Brookfield Properties – Provided land use and entitlement work for projects located at 333 South Hope Street and 725 South Figueroa Street
MPG Office (Maguire Properties)/Brookfield Properties – Provided land use and entitlement work for 755 South Figueroa development site. Negotiated a Fourth Implementation Agreement to the existing OPA which extended the entitlements for up to an additional nine years. The site is now owned and being developed by Brookfield.
South Group (Gerding Edlen and Williams & Dame) - Six phased high-rise residential condominium project. Phases 1, 2, and 3 (approximately 750 units) developed on block bounded by 11th Street, Grand Avenue, 12th Street, and Hope Street in South Park. Provided legal counsel for a 50,000-square-foot Variation from CRA and 12 to 15 Variances from the City for each parcel. Phases 4, 5 and 6 (approximately 1,000 units) planned on sites acquired from AEG south of 12th Street between Figueroa and Flower Streets to become part of LA Live’s development. Negotiated amendments to AEG’s existing entitlement documents and amendment to the existing Specific Plan to allow additional residential development and signage on the site. The site is now owned and being developed by 1200 S. Figueroa Development, Inc.
Moinian Group – Planned 870,000 square feet of residential development in two towers and 250,000 square feet of street-oriented retail development (including several restaurants, a specialty market, a boutique hotel and a health club) on site acquired from AEG bounded by 11th Street, Flower Street, 12th Street, and Figueroa Street, to become part of LA Live’s development. Provided legal counsel for the acquisition of the site, for entitlements and signage with respect to the developer’s proposed development on the site and for an affordable housing agreement with a coalition of affordable housing developers.
Hanover Company - 26 story luxury apartment tower (156 units) on northeast corner of Figueroa Street and Olympic Boulevard adjacent to the LA Live development. Provided legal representation to obtain approval from the City and CRA for a Supplemental Use District for signage on the block. Obtained 50,000-square-foot Variation from CRA and amendments to AEG’s existing entitlement documents.
Amacon – Proposed 221,324-square-foot high-rise, mixed-use (159 residential condominiums and 4 retail condominium units) development at 1133 South Hope Street. The project included a TFAR transaction under the 2007 TFAR Ordinance and was the first use of the provisions of the new Downtown Residential Ordinance.
Jade Enterprises/Onyx Site – Entitled two residential towers for 410 apartments and 42,000 square feet of retail south of Pico between Flower Street and Grand Avenue which included TFAR as part of the project. This was the first TFAR project processed through the Planning Department following dissolution of the CRA.
Clarett Hollywood (Blvd 6200) – Planned 1,130,000 sf. mixed use (residential and retail) development near Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California. Represented the investment partner in the proposed two phase project.
Gerding Edlen (Koreatown Project) – Planned high-rise mixed use (residential, retail, and public park) development on the southeast corner of Wilshire and Vermont in Koreatown portion of Los Angeles, California
Capitol Records – Creation of a campus surrounding its headquarters building in Hollywood, California. Provided legal counsel for all aspects of the project, which included a DDA with the CRA, site acquisition of adjacent parcels, and ongoing negotiations with other owners and proposed developers on the block.
ACCO Engineered Systems - Acquisition of new headquarters building in Pasadena, California
Acquisition of the former Macy's Plaza on 7th Street consisting of a Sheraton Hotel, Macy's anchored retail mall and high rise office building which has been renovated to create The Bloc
YWCA of Greater Los Angeles – New Job Corps Campus on Olive Street south of Olympic Boulevard with $2,000,000 grant from CRA and $8,000,000 funding from South Group in consideration of affordable housing credits from CRA and City. Legal representation included negotiation of an OPA and a financeable funding Agreement for a $8,000,000, two-year disbursement schedule.
The Kor Group – Conversion of seven warehouse buildings on M zoned land located at 530 South Hewitt Street into 297 Joint Live/Work Artist In Residence condominium units and 5,700 square feet of retail space.
Millennium Biltmore Hotel – Proposed conversion of 240,000 square feet of office space to luxury condominium units at the downtown Millennium Biltmore Hotel, plus proposed transfer of TFAR to 13:1 density for the site in order to add a new high rise residential condominium and/or office tower on southeast corner of 5th Street and Grand Avenue.
Los Angeles Streetcar, Inc. – Land use and real estate aspects of planned downtown street car as part of Bringing Back Broadway project to connect Convention Center with Civic Center.
Related Group (Downtown LA Project) - Planned 3.2 million square feet of mixed use (residential, hotel, office, retail) development on the Grand Avenue Parcels in the Civic Center area of downtown Los Angeles. Negotiated a DDA with the Joint Powers Authority (“JPA”), Ground Leases with the JPA, County and CRA, a Development Agreement with the City, agreements with the City regarding hotel TOT rebates and parking tax rebates and design and development agreements with the County and State for the concurrent design and renovation of the 15-acre Civic Center Park
- News, The Mann Report, 1.8.19
- News, Law360, 12.13.18
- News, Century City News, 11.5.18
- News, The Real Deal, 11.1.18
- News, Bisnow, 10.24.18
- News, Daily Journal, 10.23.18
- Press Release, Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP, 10.23.18
Awards & Affiliations
Honors & Recognitions
USC Gould School of Law Real Estate Law and Business Forum Lifetime Achievement Award, 2014
Daily Journal, Top Development, Land Use and Municipal Infrastructure Lawyer, 2014
Los Angeles County Bar Association Real Property Section's 2013 Outstanding Real Estate Lawyer
Best Lawyers, Real Estate Law, 1989-2022
Los Angeles Headquarters Association, Bill Harkness Service Award, 2001
Treasures of CCA Award Recipient, 1996
Humanitarian Award from the Homeless Outreach Program, 1993
Urban Land Institute, Los Angeles District Council Advisory Board, Member
Central City Association Working Group with City Planning, Past Chair
Los Angeles County Bar Association Real Property Section, Past Chair
State Bar Real Property Law Section, Past Vice Chair and member of Executive Committee
Downtown Breakfast Club, Member
Bar & Court Admissions
- State Bar of California
J.D., University of Southern California, Gould School of Law
B.A., Stanford University