Laguna Beach resident to lead board at USC real estate research center

Laguna Beach resident Bill Witte is chairman and CEO of Related California. Courtesy of Related California

The University of Southern California’s Lusk Center for Real Estate, a nationally-recognized real estate research center, named Bill Witte of Laguna Beach as its board chair Thursday.

Also CEO and chairman of housing developer Related California, Witte becomes board chair after serving for three years as vice-chair. He replaces FivePoint Holdings CEO Emile Haddad.

“Building upon the strong history, research and resources of the university, it is my mission to lead the Lusk Center and help address the unique and challenging environment the real estate industry finds itself in today in dealing both with the COVID pandemic as well as an unprecedented homeless crisis and need for affordable and bridge housing,” Witte said in a prepared statement.

Since founding Related California in 1989, Witte has overseen both the company’s affordable and market-rate divisions. Today, the company is one of California’s largest developers of urban and multifamily housing. The Related California portfolio encompasses tens of thousands of affordable and mixed-income housing units, including the 27-unit Alice Court low-income senior complex at 450 Glenneyre St.

Witte is a former deputy mayor for Housing and Neighborhoods under San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and director of Housing and Economic Development under then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

In 2016, Witte’s team spearheaded a proposal to develop a 25-story, 100-unit condominium tower known as Museum House in Newport Beach. The controversial project from Related California Urban Housing, LLC, was slated to replace the single-story OC Museum of Art at the San Clemente Drive location.

A successful petition by Line in the Sand PAC teed up a referendum that would have allowed Newport Beach voters to block the project. In February 2017, the Newport Beach City Council voted 5 to 2 to rescind its prior approval of Museum House.

Nadine Watt, CEO of Watt Companies, is the Lusk Center’s new vice-chair. She and Witte will continue “a tradition of strong leadership” at the organization, said Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center.

“Just as I have had the good fortune of being able to rely on Stan [Ross] and Emile’s council in years past, I now have the good fortune of being able to rely on Bill and Nadine’s wisdom and expertise in the years to come,” Green said.

Sarah Hall contributed reporting to this story.

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