Real estate attorney Susan Lee Daly knew
her parents had escaped from North Korea;
but it wasn’t until 2013, when one of her
sons interviewed her mother for a school
assignment on immigration, that she heard
the whole story.
Daly’s mother, who grew up under the
Japanese occupation of the peninsula,
escaped from the Communist North at age
19 with her aunt and 12-year-old cousin.
“They left on a train heading south and
were detained by North Korean soldiers and
sent to a detention facility,” says Daly. “At
the facility they escaped with the help of a
paid guide. They slept during the day in a
safe house and walked single file at night,
so North Korean soldiers would not detect
them. My mom remembers being provided
a single match to light only in emergency.”
She didn’t have to light it. In the end,
they trekked across the frozen Han River
at the 38th Parallel, hitched a ride and
arrived in Seoul with no money. After
learning to type from a friend, she started
work at the U.S. Embassy.
“There, she met my [North Korean-born]
father, who was a photojournalist,” says Daly.
When he left the Embassy in 1968, he moved
the entire family to Los Angeles for a new life.
Daly adds, “My mother first worked for
the U.S. Embassy and then she ended up
getting a job for the CIA.”
“I know,” she says, laughing. “You meet
my mom; she’s 4-foot- 11.” Daly remembers
entering the second grade without any
knowledge of English—although she had
recently been given a new English name.
“The school thought it would be easier for
us to acclimate to life in the U.S.,” she says.
Today Daly is a partner at Hecht Solberg
Robinson Goldberg & Bagley. As a real
estate attorney, she guides developers with
residential, commercial and mixed-use
common interest projects in downtown
San Diego and Los Angeles. She’s built a
reputation for solving a variety of problems.
For example: the complications
surrounding the construction of Vantage
REAL ESTATE ATTORNEY SUSAN LEE DALY’S PARENTS CROSSED THE 38TH PARALLEL,
THEN AN OCEAN, TO GIVE HER THIS OPPORTUNITY BY JESSICA TAM
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Pointe high-rise, a mile north of Petco
Park. “It was basically selling by the hour
on the hour” in 2004, Daly says. But as
construction of the 679-unit condominium
project neared completion, the world
economy collapsed and real estate values
plummeted. Buyers wanted out of their
deals; potential buyers couldn’t get
financing. When the Canadian developer
Pointe of View had to pay off a $210 million
construction loan, it turned to Daly.
She had the idea to restructure
and create a vertical master-planned
community. Splitting it into five
subprojects, with units for rent and for
sale, meant her client didn’t have to sell so
many units to meet presale requirements
set by mortgage lenders. But they did get
an offer for the entire project, and, in 2010,
Vantage Pointe sold for $200 million.
More recently, for the 900-unit
Pinnacle Towers project going up in
downtown San Diego, Daly has structured
the deal so the developer can handle
an up or down real estate market. “It
gives our client the flexibility to do a for-
sale or for-rent or a combination,” says
Daly. “It also has an affordable housing
component in the project.”
The two 45-story Pinnacle Towers will
be the biggest project in downtown San
Diego, but Daly knows the developer has
more plans—and work—in store.
Work she doesn’t mind.
“When I think I’m working too hard, I
think about my parents and how hard it
was for them,” she says. “The book Nothing
to Envy [subtitled: Ordinary Lives in North
Korea] was very difficult for me to read
because I thought it could have been my
parents if they did not leave. And sadly,
it was probably my grandparents’ life
because they did not leave. My parents’
experiences, their strong work ethic and
the sacrifices they made for their children
made me who I am today. … I don’t think I
had any choice other than to work hard. I
had amazing role models.”