Community in Los Angeles
What is community in the city of Los Angeles?
We are such an apparent disjointed mass of land and people that it is difficult to see the whole picture. Consider this: we have some of the richest rich and some of the poorest poor, and every type of difference in ethnicity, heritage, ambition, dreams, beliefs, religions and traditions. We have fabulously interesting populations from the Middle East and Latin America. We have people who sleep on the street after injecting their veins with their hit for the day. We hear rumors that the same drugs are being consumed by members of the Hollywood elite who sit in the hills peering at their wrinkles as they age away. There are people who take immense pride in their personal and community accomplishments and those who suffer from horrendous self-loathing. So, the question is, how do we make ourselves into a community? What and who do we stand for? Who are we committed to?
People argue that Los Angeles has no soul, that our town is a place where individuals live separate existences, chasing the dream, the day, or the rush of existence. And, in part this characterization is true. However our larger community is based upon the smaller neighborhoods, the communities that are held together by a particular culture or language. These communities do work for their schools, for their children, and when there is a disaster, for one another. It is time to recognize this larger community, made up of the smaller communities, and come together so that our generous soul is obvious to all. The eighties are way long gone; it’s time to start demonstrating how we care about each other and our community. There are skills and riches beyond belief in this town. So, put down the pen, turn off the TV, cell phone, and computer, curb your vice and step outside to meet your neighbors. Hold your political representatives accountable — get to know them, know who they know, understand their influences — be their influence. This is our town. Let’s make it fantastic.
LAX Magazine got to know some people who are leading the way to better communities. From the scary streets of South Central to the rolling hills of Malibu, join us in getting to know some of our community leaders.
JIMMY VALENZUELA – Mentoring Youth
Jimmy Valenzuela is one of our community heroes. He has devoted his life to public service and works to develop and maintain programs aimed at keeping our economically disadvantaged youth striving for success. He was born and raised in the “hood” and his example of staying away from street crime and working on a healthy, happy, productive life works as a positive force for his message. Because he is “one of them”, local residents trust him. He is always there, working diligently with young and old residents alike, to educate them about a life outside of poverty and crime and into a life of education, success and giving back.
Jimmy is laid back and friendly and, no doubt, has seen it all. Born and raised in Boyle Heights, he and his family lived in Estrada Courts — one of the toughest, most gang based neighborhoods in the city. Unlike many in his neighborhood, Jimmy stayed in school and eventually graduated from California State University, Los Angeles.
Jimmy worked as the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement. He was at the helm for construction, planning, opening, programming and staffing for the $12M Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center. The Boyle Heights Technology Youth Center currently offers courses in web design, film editing and animation as well as housing a state-of-the-art recording studio. Jimmy ensured that the Tech Center offered high-quality programming to meet the needs of the community. One of the highlights is the music program that was developed in conjunction with Dr. Shelia Balkin, Jeff Greenberg/The Village Recorder, Harold Owens/Grammy Foundation, and Don Griffin/West L.A. Music.
These days, Jimmy acts as the Deputy Director of HIRE L.A.’s Youth, a program initiated by the City of Los Angeles Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Their goal is to connect young adults in Los Angeles with available work opportunities and to encourage positive work experience along with on-the-job training. This program focuses on preparing young adults, age 16-24, for the 21st century workforce and providing Los Angeles businesses with the most qualified entry-level applicants.
Jimmy is an example of how one person can make a huge difference in our community. His dedication to helping others should be a shining example for us all.
KATHLEEN RAWSON – White Glove Lady
Kathleen Rawson is a dynamic woman who is full of life. She is another example of living right. With her bright blue eyes and sensible shoes you can tell she’s a woman who gets things done. Good thing too, because she has a pretty important job. Kathleen is in charge of the Bayside District, which is a civic and business organization responsible for the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. We sat down and got to know Kathleen and found out what motivates her to keep the streets clean.
Bayside District is a downtown business area within the confines of Ocean Avenue to 7th Avenue and Highway 10 and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Kathleen says that Santa Monica is “a sanctuary from urban sprawl”. It is eight vibrant square miles where you can walk and ride bikes with ease. Bayside District helps this community by keeping the area clean, free of graffiti and promotes events that bring the community together. It is run by a board, which includes private and public sector leaders. They are united by their desire to develop their vision of a clean, friendly, safe, and entertaining community and Kathleen is the keeper of that vision.
She says that Santa Monica has a big heart and is well funded to address the issue of their homeless population. They work hard to try to identify folks who are merely down on their luck versus the people suffering from socially inappropriate behavior. Happily, Santa Monica has a very low crime rate — especially true for aggressive crimes.
Third Street Promenade has existed since 1997 and has had a “phenomenal evolution”. The development came about with a $13M public sector investment along with several billions of private funding resulting in the dynamic environment of today. The Bayside District (Kathleen’s group) was created to protect the vitality of the project.
The day that we met she was on her way to have lunch with the Santa Monica Police Chief. She says that everyday on the job is different and that her team spends time looking at ways to enhance the experience of downtown Santa Monica. Of course, she is thrilled at the opening of Santa Monica Place and the future vitality of the area.
CLARENCE A. DANIELS, JR. – To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected
Clarence A. Daniels, Jr. has owned and operated CMS Hospitality since 1992. His company provides concession services at airports throughout the country. Clarence is a successful business executive who continues to focus on and give back to the community. We sat down with Clarence and discussed the concept of community in Los Angeles including the challenges and opportunities of giving back.
Clarence has a background as a civil rights lawyer who then ventured into business, working as a top executive for the Marriott Corporation. While he was a full-fledged member of corporate America, he never lost his focus on equality, fairness and leveling the playing field. When Marriott bought Host International in the early ‘80’s, Clarence had the opportunity to learn the airport concessions business. Today, CMS Hospitality employs 150 people and has operations in six different airports including Los Angeles (LAX) and Atlanta (ATL).
CMS Hospitality has benefited from the Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) program, which was started by the federal government and embraced by cities, like L.A., to encourage women and minority owned businesses to get involved with the business side of airport concessions. Because of this, Clarence feels that he needs to keep circulating the benefits to others. His strong commitment to community involvement compels him to actively take on paid interns from tough local high schools such as Belmont and Freemont. He does this for several reasons including training kids in the growing industry of travel and tourism and showing the interns the potential for minority business ownership.
Clarence feels that part of the problem with community in Los Angeles is that there is no central city. L.A. is a conglomeration of many smaller cities in one — it’s hard to not get isolated. People really have to put forth an effort to get involved. Clarence and his wife work very hard to be an active part of the community including sitting on several boards like the Los Angeles Urban League, Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce (GLAAACC) and he’s an active member of the 100 Black Men of Los Angeles — a mentorship organization dedicated to getting disadvantaged youth into the University of California system.
He does feel that things are getting better in L.A. and that, as a community, we are becoming more engaged. The refurbishment of Hollywood and the revitalization of downtown are helping to make L.A. a more attactive community. The preservation of some incredible buildings creates new interest in the distinctive architecture of decades long gone. More people are becoming involved in the debates around public education. In the past, people have written off L.A. Unified School District and now there are more people paying attention to the problems and solutions, including notable philanthropists such as Eli and Edythe Broad. “We’re not going to have a vital city, unless we have a well educated work force and people who have a high level of civic mindedness. Getting engaged in the political system is important.” says Clarence.
BRIAN KABATECK & MARK GERAGOS – One Block At A Time
Brian Kabateck and Mark Geragos are two big time downtown L.A. lawyers who are doing their part to make downtown Los Angeles a better place. Known for their high profile clients such as the late Michael Jackson, Brian and Mark are preserving some of our most historical architectural gems, supporting the arts, and expanding a sense of community into the downtown sector. They feel that downtown L.A. is really improving and they want to do their part to make it safe and vibrant with culture. Downtown didn’t used to be a destination that it now is. There is a growing sense of community among the business owners and residents — even the transient community.
Brian and Mark agree, “This is our community”. They have purchased two historic buildings around the 7th Street corridor. Their first acquisition was the Engine Company No. 28 on Figueroa. The building houses the Company No. 28 restaurant on the first floor and Mark and Brian’s law offices on the higher levels. Two years ago they bought the Fine Arts Building, which Mark calls “the finest architectural gem in Los Angeles”. Both buildings are historically significant and with a restaurant in one and an art gallery in the other, it’s a great area for entertaining with friends. But their community efforts are not limited to preserving historical buildings and supporting the arts. Because they are both lawyers, they are able to use their position and skills to help those less fortunate.
Brian’s specific focus is the courts. He feels that they must be made more accessible for all people to use, to get a “fair day in court”. People can’t be evicted from their homes without an opportunity to be heard. Brian sits on the board for Inner City Law Center which is a non profit, public interest law firm that helps the homeless, residents of substandard housing, and displaced veterans. Their website tells horrific stories of slumlords and poor people living in unspeakable conditions with vermin and rodents. It’s illegal for landlords to rent out property that are uninhabitable, but some poor or nearly homeless people feel they have no choice. Brian says that the slumlord situation needs to be reviewed and prosecuted wherever possible. Mental health courts need to be available and open so that people with critical issues can be fairly adjudicated. He also wants nursing homes to be regulated better.
Mark feels that we need to make micro and macro efforts to better the community. He hosts fundraiser events at his house and donates his time for free legal help. He considers 7th and Fig more of his home than his residence in Pasadena and he’s got a homeless buddy who lives on the HSBC corner. Mark gives him money in exchange for keeping the area clean. He feels that we need to make societal change, there has to be a city wide, county wide, community wide concern. The solution for them is one block at a time, taking each block and owning it.
CHRISTIAN WARREN & BOBBY HUGHES – The Local Proprietor
Running any business is no small task. The paperwork, long hours, taxes, government, and employees can take all the fun out of what started as something you love. But you carry on, creating jobs, and stimulating the economy the best way you can. That is the life of local small business owner.
One of the small local businesses in the LAX/Westchester community is The Melody Bar & Grill. Christian Warren and Bobby Hughes run the neighborhood gathering spot and they’ve done an amazing job transforming the place. It used to be rather scary complete with gang related violence in the parking lot. These days, there is a dress code, more mellow music, and way better food. The Melody Bar & Grill is serving up some of the best food in the area and has incredible live music on Wednesday nights. They have made vast improvements to the venue such as installing windows and an inviting patio area on the Sepulveda side of the building.
Christian and Bobby are old school, Westside, bar industry guys — formerly of Ma’Kai in Santa Monica. They say that there is a strong sense of community among the service industry folks who work in the same areas. The community of bartenders on the Westside is like one big family and it’s not uncommon for everyone to chip in or organize a fundraiser if someone has unmanageable medical bills.
They have had their work cut out for them to try and invigorate the property and change the unwanted clientele — while keeping the regulars, and while staying open for business. Overcoming an unfortunate reputation, they have succeeded in turning a formerly seedy establishment into a destination for which they are proud. They are committed to high quality in their food, drink and entertainment and look forward to being a safe and fun community destination for years to come.
ASHLEY DIESTEL – The Youth
Generation Y’ers are alternately accused of being spoiled, entitled, needy, of poor work ethic, and of being self-absorbed. So, it can be hard for older age groups not to slap themselves on the forehead while asking, “What is this world coming to?” Especially in a city like Los Angeles, where most of the young role-models are movie stars and pop singers, it’s easy for the youth to lose sight of the importance of being involved in the community and giving back on an individual level. However, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ashley Diestel, and she just might be able to change your perception of Generation Y.
Ashley’s history of giving back began when she was just a teenager at California High School in San Ramon. Aside from being involved in student leadership and a peer helper, she joined the YMCA’s Youth and Government Program in order to get a sense of what it’s like to be an elected official. Youth and Government allows students the opportunity to serve in a model government process from local, all the way up to international levels and actually meet at the state capitol to deliberate bills written by the students during the year.
After graduating from Cal High her interest in government only grew stronger as she relocated to the Los Angeles area to major in Political Science and History at Loyola Marymount University. During the course of her collegiate career she worked for three elected officials and landed a position at the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce. During her time at the Chamber she founded the group LAX Coastal Young Professionals; an organization created not only for networking and advancing professionalism in young people, but to also provide an outlet for them to donate their time and money to charitable causes. The group has participated in numerous community outreach activities such as Adopt-a-Family programs and home renovation projects. They adopted a beach in Playa del Rey where they combined a beach clean-up with a pub-crawl three times a year! All of this earned them the distinction of being voted “Most Valued Program” by the Chamber of Commerce itself.
After leaving the Chamber and starting a new career as the Marketing and Business Travel Coordinator at the Westin Los Angeles Airport while still serving as Vice-Chair of the LAX Young Professionals, she found herself eager to find a new vessel for community outreach. She was encouraged by an old mentor at the Chamber to run for City Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey and just like that, at the age of 24, she was the youngest person ever to be elected as a Neighborhood Council Officer. Although there is a certain prestige that goes along with being an elected official, Ashley takes much greater pleasure in knowing that she’s helping the voice of the community to be heard.
In her free time (which isn’t very much as you can tell) she enjoys playing kickball in the WAKA (World Adult Kickball Association) that unsurprisingly donates profits received from spectator fees and team based fund-raisers to a charity of their choice. And currently, Ashley is helping the Young Professionals plan an event with Undershares inc., an organization that provides donated underwear, socks, and diapers to families in need. Her father said that at age 3 she told him she wanted to be a U.S. Senator. While she is certainly following the right path to achieve that goal, she couldn’t be happier right where she is.
There is so much that we can all do to work to make Los Angeles a better place.
- Hire from HIRE L.A.’s Youth for the growth of your business.
- Get involved — plan and attend fundraisers.
- Donate your time to helping people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica.
- Check out organizations like Los Angeles Urban League, 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, Inner City Law Center.
Just like the good folks on these pages, do something, own it, and let’s make Los Angeles a vibrant, caring community.