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PR Firm Specializes in Land Use


This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Tuesday, May 22, 2007.
By TINA FORDE Valley Press Business Editor

PALMDALE - George Passantino and his Riverside County-based partner Andew Andersen have expanded their young public relations company, Passantino Andersen Communications, to provide additional services to help land developers navigate through the complicated governmental approval process.

The company's growth into the land-use market comes during a soft market that demands efficiency.

"We are a communications firm whose specialty is land use and public affairs," Passantino said at his office Wednesday. "We work with developers and government agencies to help them get projects approved as rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible.

"In real estate and home building markets, cutting costs is critical. When a developer has a project in the pipeline, he has debt service. If there are delays, it chews up money that has been set aside to develop the project. It hampers his ability to thrive in the market."

Land use, he said, "is becoming a tricky practice. Opponents are becoming more organized and politically savvy. In our business model, if in the course of doing our work we take a couple of months off the developer's approval time or preserve a lot (maintain their density), they end up making money off hiring us."

The job of their public relations firm, he said, is to reach out to the community, to offer technical assistance and explain what to expect; they take issues out of the abstract and make them real.

"A lot of people don't realize they have a stake in economic development in the community," he said. "We help the public find a voice in the discussions."

He said, "Our core competency is persuasive communications with the public. The homebuilders' core competency is building homes. We bring a specialized knowledge to what they do. It's the same for retail, municipal and ballot issues."

"We also have the ability to help generate capital," Passantino said. With their contacts with investors, he said, the firm can "secure capital to make projects pencil (to make the budget work)."

Passantino, 35, and Andersen, 39, worked for other firms before launching their own company in January. In addition to Passantino and Andersen, the team includes Executive Assistant Kelly Tasker and Senior Vice President Matt Denham ("Our technical and financial wizard").

They have as clients Wal-Mart, Strata Equity Group and the Building Industry Association, San Bernardino Chapter.

"The growth of our organization has been pretty incredible," Passantino said.

The team recently scored a major success with California City's Measure A, a parcel tax that funds the city's public safety and fire departments. With a small sales tax base, Passantino said, the city was "desperately" in need of funding after the parcel tax extension on the Nov. 6 ballot received less than 50% of the votes, when it needed 66.6% to pass. The measure again was put on the March ballot and the city hired Passentino to promote it.

"It passed with 68% of the vote," Passantino said. "In four months it was a dramatic turnaround. We did a good job communicating the benefits of the measure to the public."

In 1994, as a newly minted graduate of California State University, Bakersfield, in economics and statistics, Passantino moved from Bakersfield to Sacramento with his bride Michelle - formerly Herrera - to jump headfirst into the political scene.

"We had no jobs and no money," Passantino said. "We wanted to work in politics and the capital."

He found a position as an unpaid intern in the legislative office of Assemblywoman Barbara Alby of Sacramento, and within a month was promoted to paid worker. Climbing the ranks of the office, he handled constituents' mail, handed out resolutions and certificates and "my role just grew."

He took on the responsibility of shepherding bills through the legislative process, the crowning achievement of which was the passage of Megan's Law.

"One of her (Alby's) primary interests was child protection, closing loopholes of the bad guys in child care," Passantino said. "It was my first exposure to grass roots. The way we got these bills passed was by mobilizing a statewide grass-roots coalition. There is nothing more powerful than a crying mom in the legislative chambers. We worked with victims' rights and law enforcement. It was my first glimpse of the power of effective communication. Those people who voted no, we made them vote yes by showing them how sideways they were with the public."

As legislative lead for the Megan's Law bill, Passantino hired Andersen, who managed the media campaign.

"We accomplished a lot. California's version of Megan's Law is an incredible tool to protect kids. It's a source of pride to have been able to play a role," he said.

Passantino then worked for the Reason Foundation, and Andersen, who was general manager of a public relations firm in the Inland empire, hired him to handle land use, public affairs, campaigns, municipal matters and public outreach.

"Election campaigns can be fun," Passantino said. "But I really like the land-use projects."

When they started their own firm, he said, "We jumped out of the plane and pulled the parachute."

Passantino Andersen Communications is at 190 Sierra Court, Suite B-111. For details, call (661) 538-1100 or visit www.passantinoandersen.com.


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