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Council Culture

By |April 12th, 2022|From The Newsletter|

It’s not really in my nature to get political. I tend to keep my head down, do my work, ignore the chatter and move forward. So it was out of my comfort zone to attend two events last month; first a “Meet & Greet,” for City Council nominee Katy Yaroslavsky followed by a panel of the four candidates running to represent District 5 (that’s us). It’s easy to gloss over these smaller, city-level elections in favor of the glitzier national ones. I’ll admit I don’t always vote when the ballot is so localized, waiting instead for the bigger elections with more recognizable names. But after some time, you realize that the local elections are often more impacting than whoever is running for President. One of the problems I’ve noticed is unless you’re willing to put in the work and really get to know who the candidates are, you’re in a sense throwing away your vote because you don’t know anything about whose box you’re checking on the ballot.

The City Council plays an integral role in our city. Paul Koretz had represented our area for several years, and while he had a few fans, there were many more constituents who were thoroughly frustrated by the job he was doing. To be fair, though, it sounds like a difficult, thankless job in which he was most likely met with angry, irritated constituents complaining about a multitude of issues that were not getting addressed. I imagine the list of problems is triple the length of actual solutions and no matter how altruistic the reasons of becoming a civil servant may be, it’s easy to leave the position feeling depleted and frustrated by lack of action, too. So, to that end, I applaud anyone who is attempting to be elected and take on this role next. It’s not an easy thing to do but from what I witnessed, the candidates all seem to have the energy and passion to do the job well.

But what exactly is the job in the first place? (and don’t quote me, I’m no expert!)  In broad strokes, the City Council is responsible for creating and enacting laws for the city. They’re like the legislative and judicial branch all in one. Each councilmember represents his/her district and together they try to create laws and budgets to benefit their constituents. The mayor works closely with the council and it’s imperative that councilmembers work together in order to create consensus to get the mayor on board with what they want to do.

Councilmembers also take existing city laws and budgets and try to massage them into better serving their community. Because the city of Los Angeles is so huge, our councilmembers often need to work with various L.A. County organizations, reaching across different individual bureaucracies to access resources. They also should be well versed in acquiring available funds on the state and federal levels to help pay for what we need.It was interesting to hear the panel of candidates tackle the biggest issues currently facing our District 5. They each had about ninety seconds to address everything from how to handle the increasing homeless problem; how to create more affordable housing; how to fix traffic headaches and ensure pedestrian safety; how to tackle climate change; how to increase/decrease the roles of police officers; and basically how to better the lives of millions of people from east of the 405 to Koreatown and south of Mulholland to Palms. It’s a huge undertaking and whoever gets the job definitely has his/her work cut out for them.

But now comes the fun part! Between today and the primary on June 7, take a minute to research the four candidates and see who resonates closest with you and who you would like to be your representative on the City Council. Here are the four people running: Jimmy Biblarz, Scott Epstein, Katy Young Yaroslavsky and Sam Yebri. They each have comprehensive websites that detail their professional backgrounds, government experience, where they stand on the issues and how they’ll go about solving them. Then, you may want to find out the next time they’re speaking and try to catch them in person. At the event we attended for Katy Yaroslavsky, we talked at length about crime and how it feels as though the criminals are emboldened to commit these acts because there doesn’t seem to be any real consequences to their actions. She told me about her plan to get more support for police officers and reallocate the mental health and homeless calls to qualified professionals in those fields, thereby allowing officers to patrol more often, arrive quicker and concentrate on why they wanted to be police officers in the first place: to keep our neighborhoods safe.

I wish good luck to Katy and all the other candidates. They are taking on a herculean task by just running for this particular office and no matter who ultimately wins, I’m glad there are those willing to put themselves out there just to help make our city (and community within the city) a better place for all.

Neighborhood Ladies’ Wine Nights

By |March 24th, 2022|From The Newsletter|

For many years, once every couple of months, neighborhood ladies would get together to enjoy a little wine, delicious snacks and lots of laughs! Of course we had to take a pause for the last few years due to the pandemic but now that Covid numbers are (hopefully) waning and the weather is warming, now seems like a great time to bring the “Wine Nights” back! Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join. The first one in this post-pandemic world will be held on April 12 from 7-9pm. If you would like to come, please send me an email and I’ll forward you the evite. If you are interested in hosting on in the future, that would be great as we need hosts to keep the party going.  No pressure for anything fancy! These get-togethers are really just an excuse to get out of the house for a few hours, see old friends/neighbors and hopefully meet some new ones. In the past we’ve included jewelry shopping, book readings and other special guests in the festivities. I hope you’ll join us in April! Here’s my email to get all the details:

By Lilli Lee

Hello March

By |March 14th, 2022|From The Newsletter|

Hard to believe it’s been two whole years since that fateful day back in March 2020 when we got the call saying our boys would be sent home for two weeks until this new corona virus could be knocked out. Two weeks and two years later and it’s pretty incredible that Covid 19 is still in our lives and at the forefront of the news cycle and conversation. Will it still here be a year or two from now? Who knows but one thing’s for sure: none of us will forget where we were back in March 2020 and every day that we move away from that undeniably confusing and terrifying time is one step forward in the right direction. There is a part of me that wants to remember some of what we experienced back in those early days because it’s a good reminder as to what we ought not take for granted. Supply chain hiccoughs aside, I’m grateful all these months later when I go into the market and see the shelves stocked with food and toilet paper. And two years ago, our days may not have been considered very ‘fun,’ however it was a blessing to spend all that extra bonus time with the boys.

I think I’ll look back on those days with even more wistful longing now that the meter is running on our eldest son’s time left living here at home. How did that happen? I think when we started this newsletter he was around 6 or 7 and now we’re focusing on where he may go to college in just a few short months. I’m sure many of you have been through this process and know what it feels like. But for my wife and me, this is unchartered territory. We have had zero experience with college applications since filling out our own 30+ years ago. That was of course decades before electronic portals and passwords; detailed personal statements and glitchy Zoom interviews. Back then it was waiting by the mailbox for either a big envelope (good news!) or thin (not so good!). Today there is a whole new language of “Early Decision,” vs. “Early Action,” “Early Action II,” “Regular Decision,” and all the various acceptance rates associated with each scenario. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy, it’s fair to say you practically need a college degree just to figure out what it all means.

I’m sure every generation is aghast at how the current pool of applicants is so much more qualified than those who came before them. These seniors must be so accomplished to be competitive, it’s as if their whole childhood needs to be focused on what they can do that no one else can do in order to have a fighting chance. It’s crazy. I really feel for them. And with all the talk about mental health and how we need to let kids be kids, the reality is: the college application is expecting them to be superhuman. The pressure is enormous and it’s so insane that getting great grades and a handful of interests/activities is just the bare minimum. In casual conversation with other parents, we’ve all agreed that there’s simply no WAY we could’ve gotten into our colleges of choice if we had to apply today!

As far as our son is concerned, we’re lucky in that he’s taken the lead on navigating this path and we haven’t gotten into too many fights or arguments about essays or deadlines as other families have. We’ve essentially gotten out of his way, let him decide where to apply and then do the work towards getting there. He’s so self-motivated that we (maybe naively) didn’t deem it necessary to seek outside help. His school counselor seemed fine and we were confident he’d assist with pertinent details to keep our boy on track. Which worked great up until his unexpected departure from school late last month! We were suddenly adrift at sea without a captain and given we really didn’t know what we were doing, that was not a great feeling to have this late in the game. But I give our son an enormous amount of credit for handling the blip with ease and plunging forward.

There were one or two other minor snafus during the last few months. We were out to dinner one night and he mentioned that an application was due before midnight and he still had a few finishing touches to complete. He didn’t seem too concerned about it so we finished eating, went home and at about 8:45 he asked us if we thought he should answer the optional bonus question. We shrugged and said, “Sure! Why not?” A few laughs and jokes later, he got down to business and we heard the keyboard clicking away. At 9:04 we heard an audible scream followed by footsteps running up the stairs to yell that the midnight deadline he had been unconcerned about was midnight EASTERN STANDARD TIME and his entire application had been locked out of the system because he was four minutes late turning it in. After a tense hour or two bemoaning his mistake and complaining about the unfairness of it all, he emailed the admissions office, explained his position and asked for an extension. As he would learn the following morning, a great many west coast applicants suffered the same fate. The college determined it didn’t specify the deadline clearly enough on its website and told everyone who didn’t get it in on time they had until the end of day to do it. Big sigh of relief and major crisis #1 successfully averted.

Then there was the time he was going to be interviewed by a graduate from a college he was very eager to attend. He set up the appointment with the alum’s assistant and then got to work researching the intricacies of the university and creating lists of potential questions to ask his interviewer, as well as compiling additional points of interests in case he needed to share what he knew about the school and its wide range of programs. He was ready!

So, imagine his shock and horror when he received an email from the alumni’s assistant saying her boss “…was on the Zoom and waited as long as he could but finally had to leave since you never showed up.” WHAT?!? After all that excitement at being granted an interview followed by hours of work preparing, our boy got his dates messed up and thought it was scheduled for Thursday instead of Tuesday. Whoops. It happens! We’ve all done it and probably more than once but that certainly didn’t make him feel any better about it at the time. He was embarrassed and mortified and figured he had ruined any chance he had at getting into the school.

But true to form, he immediately apologized, owned his mistake and asked if there was any way to reschedule (and of course promised to write down the right date this time). Luckily another time was mutually agreed upon and the interview occurred, this time without a hitch. After apologizing yet again for his regretful mistake, they had a robust and enthusiastic chat. Major crisis #2 averted as well.

As of this writing, we don’t know if he’s been accepted to either of these schools but regardless, I’m proud of how he’s handled himself throughout the process. Even if he gets rejected from these and others, he certainly learned a few valuable lessons that will probably be more impactful than what he’ll eventually learn in college. Namely: when you fall down, you get back up again. You take your lumps and you just keep going. Not everything will go your way and in fact, many times you’ll face crisis’s that won’t get fixed so easily. The trick is to just do your best and hope things work out. Or as the British like to say: Stay Calm and Carry On. This can be said for college application mishaps, parenting fails… and even real estate transactions. Because mistakes happen all the time but it’s how you handle them that is really the true test of character.

A tip of the hat to all of you currently going through this challenging time, too. May your fights be few and acceptances ample. And if your kids are anything like mine, might I suggest a nice appointment book as a graduation gift?

Hometown Hero Celebrates Centennial

By |February 25th, 2022|From The Newsletter|

There is an overdue effort underway to celebrate the accomplishments of Charlie Sifford, often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of Golf.” Sifford was born in 1922 in North Carolina, during the racist Jim Crow era. He was a caddie, but not allowed to play golf on the whites-only course despite his massive talent. After a decorated stint in the military, Sifford made his way into the UGA, the professional circuit for African American golfers. During the Jim Crow era non-white golfers were relegated to playing municipal courses, except in cities that had Jewish Country Clubs, which warmly welcomed them. He relocated his family to Los Angeles, where he played many rounds at Rancho and Hillcrest. While playing at Hillcrest he became friendly with Stanely Mosk, the soon to be California Attorney General and the longest tenured justice to ever sit on the California Supreme Court. Mosk recognized Charlie’s phenomenal talent and the injustice of the PGA’s “Caucasian Only” clause in its constitution, which prohibited non-whites from competing on that circuit. In 1958, Mosk joined Sifford in his fight against the PGA to abolish that clause. The duo was successful and in 1961 Charlie Sifford became the first African American to compete on the PGA TOUR. Sifford went on to win the LA Open at our very own Rancho Park Golf Course in 1969, one of his proudest professional achievements. Charlie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2014 and was the first Black player admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame. He is Tiger Woods’ honorary “grandpa” and Tiger named his son Charlie after him. It’s widely accepted that if Charlie Sifford had not paved the way, there would be no Tiger Woods to follow. It’s my belief that Sifford is a prominent athlete with a storied legacy who deserves to be remembered, especially by the neighborhood that witnessed some of his earliest success.

Goodbye, Mike

By |February 4th, 2022|From The Newsletter|

We knew this day would come but you’re never really prepared to accept it, no matter how inevitable it is. My wife’s father, Michael Harris, passed away on December 29. To call him just my father-in-law doesn’t do justice to the role he played in my life. You’ve gotten to know him a bit through his monthly columns in this newsletter. He loved history and thought our neighborhood would benefit from learning a bit about the past. Growing up in the area, he was deeply rooted in Cheviot Hills and knew it was rich in worthy stories, if only someone would mine for the nuggets and share them with the community. In fact it was his idea to actually do this newsletter and relished his role in providing a column month after month. A grammar fanatic with an eagle eye, he generously proofread all the other articles and offered editorial comments and other helpful notes if pieces veered off track. Providing this service was his joy and recreation. His 9-5 job was that of an attorney in the longest running law partnership in Los Angeles (“Rogers and Harris”) that was never added to or detracted from. He was a real old-fashioned lawyer and handled pretty much anything and everything that came across his desk in a quiet, non-flashy way. He cut his teeth in the business in the early 1960’s by being in-house council for the Mirisch Corporation, handling contracts for big movies and movie stars of the day. That led him to open his own firm with his partner Stan Rogers, a friend he met while they both attended UCLA Law School. Though he was never boastful, I know it was a source of pride that he was named editor of the UCLA Law Review when he was a student there. He also enjoyed his time at Stanford University, however, having felt guilty at the hefty price tag, he made it a point to graduate in three years. None of his higher learning could compare to the glory days he felt while attending Hamilton High School. He loved the friends he met, the classes he took, the wholesome/rah-rah blue jeans and bobby socks image that going to school in the early 1950’s provided. I think to a British family living in Los Angeles, he was living the ideal American dream.

My father-in-law loved this neighborhood. He moved to a home on Glenbarr Avenue in 1944 when he was nine years old and his parents continued living there until they died in 1986 and 2008, respectively. Every Sunday the extended family would gather on the back patio, sometimes friends or neighbors would join, and they’d have a proper British tea-time. If a relative started to seriously date someone, that new person would be invited to come by and that was always the ultimate test of a potential suitor: could he/she withstand the family scrutiny over a hot cup of tea? Pleased to say, I believe I passed that crucial hurdle many decades ago although who knows what kind of gossip was said about me behind my back afterwards (my wife will never admit to this, still).

My father-in-law was my friend, my lawyer and one of my most trusted advisors in all things business. His way of giving advice wasn’t so obvious- he’d never definitively tell me what I should do if faced with a complicated decision or fork in the road. But sometimes just figuring out what HE would do if in the same position was enough to steer me in the right direction. He was not a fan of drama or controversy or prolonged disputes. Early in his career he referred to himself as a “pioneer” because he prided himself on being an “early settler.” Ironic for a lawyer not to be a fierce fighter but he always got the job done and in a way that endeared him to friends and foes alike. I recommended him to everyone who asked for an attorney because he literally knew and handled every facet of the law. The sheer outpouring of condolences from so many of you who used him speaks volumes to his character and what a good guy he was.

I think he got into the law because it was expected of him but if he had asserted himself or followed his dreams, he would’ve been a farmer or a writer. He respected honest and hard work in one of what he deemed were the three essential fields: food, clothing or shelter. A staunch yet non-preachy vegetarian, he took great pleasure in growing a few vegetables and proudly showed off his fledgling backyard crops to his three impressed grandsons. He lived a simple, very unshowy life. The only thing he ever bought for himself that he really, really wanted was a 1961 Morgan convertible. Even though he passed away in December, I think a part of him died the day he gave that car to the boys and me a few months earlier. He loved driving it and treated it like it was a temperamental child: it needing his attention and his cajoling with it to get it to perform appropriately. He watched our excitement at receiving this prized possession, pleased that he was bringing joy into our house but also sad knowing that his failing health didn’t allow him to drive it any longer. I think it gave him peace knowing that we would care for it and love it as much as he did (which we do) and it provided us with plenty of things to talk about the last few months when he was stuck at home in bed.

I guess when it’s all said and done, he lived a great and honorable life. He had a proud and loving family- two doting daughters, a devoted son-inlaw and three fantastic grandsons who adored him. He achieved a dream that was hatched ever since winning the Bank of America award for English while at Hamilton: he became a published author of two books about the Westside of Los Angeles and was working on the 3rd with his brother when he passed away (it will be published posthumously). He was an ideal role model, and great example of someone who knew the difference between right and wrong and always chose the former (but got a kick out of the latter). There will never be another like him and his passing has created a void in this family that will never be filled. Love ya, Mike. Hope there’s a Morgan up there for you to zip around in. We’ll be waving from the one you left behind.