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Wilson Names Home Builder for Major Cabinet Post : Nominee: President of Beverly Hills firm will be secretary for business, transportation and housing. He now sits on savings and loan regulatory board.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying California faces new challenges at a time of “economic downturn,” Gov.-elect Pete Wilson on Wednesday named a Los Angeles-area home builder to be his secretary for business, transportation and housing.

Carl D. Covitz, 51, president and owner of Landmark Communities Inc. of Beverly Hills, described himself as a “product of the California dream” and said he hoped to keep that dream alive by expanding business opportunities in the state.

Covitz currently is a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of San Francisco, which oversees the savings and loan system. A Republican with self-described “moderate conservative” leanings, he was appointed in 1989 by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to be chairman of the city’s Housing Authority, which he led for about 18 months.

From 1987 to 1989, Covitz also served as a top deputy in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development under former Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr., who has been accused of giving favored treatment to influential Republican developers. But Covitz has never been accused of wrongdoing in connection with that controversy.

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The secretary for business, transportation and housing often has been the Cabinet official with the closest ties to the governor and is the chief executive’s primary liaison to the business community, which can be important when it comes time to raise campaign contributions. Although Covitz has no experience in state government, he is a longtime Wilson friend and supporter.

Wilson, appearing at a news conference with his nominee, said Covitz will oversee the Administration’s effort to promote the creation of more jobs to serve what he described as California’s inevitable population growth.

“We are confronted with new challenges. We are experiencing an economic downturn,” Wilson said. “We are pressed to make the maximum effort to produce new jobs for new Californians.”

Covitz will oversee 38,000 employees in 12 departments and a budget of $6 billion. Among the departments under his control will be the departments of Transportation, Motor Vehicles and Housing and Community Development.

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Wilson said he will ask Covitz to study the possibility of merging the two departments that regulate the state’s banks and savings and loans because fewer savings and loans are seeking state charters.

“It may well be that the decline in the amount of activity to be regulated at the state level in terms of (savings and loans) warrants tucking it into the division which now deals with banking,” Wilson said.

Like most of Wilson’s appointees to date, Covitz declined to discuss any specific ideas he has for the agency or new programs he would like to create. He said he hoped to move “quickly” and “efficiently” to implement the state’s expanded road-building program, paid for by a recent voter-approved increase in the gasoline tax.

Covitz is a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce in Pennsylvania and has a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University.

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He began his professional career in 1962 as a product manager for Bristol-Myers Co. and worked in marketing for Rheingold Breweries, Canada Dry and ITT.

He said he came to California in 1973 “with a pregnant wife and no job.” He started a real estate development firm that now has construction, finance and management interests nationwide.

“I am perhaps the product of the California dream,” Covitz said, adding that he hopes to make it easier for others to follow in his footsteps. “What we have to do is maintain the environment and economic climate that encourages business.”

Although he is a Republican, Covitz has ties to both major political parties. He has contributed to the campaigns of Democratic Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp and former Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, a conservative Republican. He gave at least $2,000 to Wilson during his campaign for governor.

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When Bradley, a Democrat, appointed Covitz to head the Los Angeles City Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, the authority was under criticism for poor management and for allowing the city’s 21 public housing projects to fall into disrepair.

Ozie Gonzaque, who served with Covitz on the board, said he was an effective leader during his time as chairman.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Gonzaque said. “He was very open-minded. He was willing to go into the projects and learn.”

Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this story.

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