Written by The Business Journal Staff
What we do:
Urban and regional planning, real estate economics and community development consulting for public, private and non-profit sector clients in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley region For example, we might help a city or developer determine feasible development options for senior housing, or serve as project manager for a planning effort across multiple jurisdictions.
Bachelor’s degree of economics, and master’s degree of city and regional planning from the University of California at Berkeley
Family: wife Marisa, son Gabriel, daughter Emma and Sweet Summer the dog.
Can you tell us a little about your career and how it led you to Sigala Inc, Michael?
I have always been interested in the “built environment” and how it is formed by the interaction of people, policy and the economy. What development looks like and where and how it happens is what led me to pursue my career. I worked in the Bay Area with planning and redevelopment consulting firms performing assignments in cities throughout California, but felt compelled to put my expertise to work at home in the San Joaquin Valley. We relocated to the Valley when I went to work for the City of Fresno. In 2008, I pursued my dream of starting my own consulting firm.
Are there any standout planning initiatives you are involved with that we should know about, Michael?
The recently completed San Joaquin Valley Interregional Goods Movement Plan (http://www.sjvcogs.org/goods.html) highlights the important role that the Valley plays in global movement of agricultural and related manufacturing goods, our economic base. The plan was conducted with all eight Valley regional planning agencies (COGs), Caltrans, the Port of Stockton, and other major stakeholders. The plan is very comprehensive, and lays the groundwork for extensive and coordinated improvements to our regional transportation network. Sigala Inc managed the project on behalf of the Valley COGs.
During your time with the City of Fresno, you were involved with housing projects in the downtown core. How would you characterize the current state of the effort to revitalize downtown, Michael?
Fresno is a large city and should have a vibrant downtown so I commend the Mayor, the Assemi family, and others for their vision and dedication. Downtowns should also, economically, take care of themselves. The public sector can “set the table” in a non-prescriptive manner by continuing to invest in the necessary public infrastructure improvements and permit streamlining that will make private sector led development more feasible, hence leading to more jobs. I remain hopeful that the investments from high-speed rail will aid in this effort.
Fresno is not alone, many cities, particularly in the Valley, are in the same predicament; our depressed regional economic conditions inherently impact our downtown’s revitalization efforts.
What are some of the opportunities and challenges facing your company, Michael?
The federal and state government are making a concerted effort to invest resources to the Valley in areas like smart growth, sustainable development, green house gas emission reductions, transportation and land use policy initiatives, high speed rail, etc. All of these represent opportunities for business growth for my company.
The biggest challenge is competing with Los Angeles and San Francisco firms, as many people in the Valley tend to think that these firms are more qualified than local companies offering similar services just because of their zip code. This is not always true and companies like Sigala Inc provide better customer service and have a better understanding of local issues. We create jobs here in the local economy and spend most of our revenues here, so this “challenge” is particularly bothersome.
What has been the fallout from the dissolution of Redevelopment Agencies in the Central Valley, Michael?
Huge. In the Valley this amounted to a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to our local cities. Redevelopment was an extremely useful tool for downtown revitalization, economic development and affordable housing so we are seeing many projects and initiatives delayed or eliminated. I started my company on the premise of doing a lot of redevelopment work, so we had to re-tool to survive. There are talks of bringing public redevelopment back on a limited basis around high-density transit uses, but this will not help our many rural communities.
How would you evaluate the Central Valley on its efforts to plan and grow toward the future, Michael?
Regional planning has really gained inertia in recent years. In the San Joaquin Valley, when our eight counties collaborate on planning initiatives and speak as one unified voice on policy, this demonstrates to other regions, Sacramento and Washington D.C. our commitment to our regional growth and prosperity. The Valley is getting much better at doing this. The overwhelming factor to evaluate planned growth is how we implement land use policies to maintain a healthy agricultural sector ($35 billion industry) while facilitating additional urban growth that represents a high quality of life for our residents. How well we come together and secure additional water for agriculture is also important. But we cannot ignore our social issues. There is extreme poverty with an under-educated work force in the Valley that cannot be lost sight of.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Michael?
I was born and raised in southeast/downtown Fresno, attended Sacred Heart Elementary and graduated from Roosevelt High School. My parents and other family came here in the 1950s by way of Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. I have five siblings.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Michael?
My dad was a house painter and from the time I was about 8 years old. My brother and I would go out during the summer and work with him. I learned how to work hard and to contribute to the family I also learned that I wanted to go to college.
What do you like to do on your spare time, Michael?
With two very active children in elementary school, this takes up a lot of spare time. However, I still have time for mountain biking, reading and am currently teaching myself guitar.