Wed, Feb

In Praise of Zev Yaroslavsky


THE VIEW FROM HERE-I remember back in the day (the year I got married, as a matter of fact) when a young man, a political novice, driving a broken-down car and knocking ceaselessly door-by-door, was running for LA City Council.  His opponent was expected to be a shoe-in:  endorsed by both California U. S. Senators, various Congressmembers, and then-Mayor Bradley (for whom he had been an aide).  But Zev’s shoe-leather, no-frills campaign was backed by both sides of the aisle at the local level—the one that counted. He was unequivocal in his far-left policy points, unafraid to call himself a “flaming liberal.”  

He won and went on to be re-elected 5 more times.  He later ran for L.A County Supervisor and was re-elected 4 times.  And what an amazing record he has amassed ever since! 


I was awestruck by his unwavering support (of what should not have been a controversial issue) of improvements at El Cariso County Park located in Sylmar (a pet project of his).  About a year ago, I received a rather frantic phone call saying that the County was about to cut down more than a hundred olive trees at the park, many of which were close to a century old.  Sylmar has quite a cultural and natural history including the broad landscape of trees for which it is named (sea of trees)—a fabulous panorama, a location where generations of families have played and picnicked and held birthday parties and soccer games. 

I immediately called my friend, then-Congressmember Howard Berman (what a shame he lost to a Democratic competitor in nothing less than a nasty race).  He, in turn, called his long-time friend, Zev Yaroslavsky who was able to put a halt to this planned plundering of nature until a town hall meeting could be held to discuss the matter. 

Under the auspices of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council and co-chaired by Maria Chong-Castillo, a senior staff member to the Supervisor, a well-attended meeting took place.  One significant outcome of the meeting was the creation of a committee (of which I was a part) which would meet with Maria and a variety of County officials on a bi-monthly basis until a recommendation could be made. 

The meetings were so contentious (not because of its members but from threatening input from some residents of the community) that officers from the Sheriff’s Department had to be called to protect the committee participants.   These residents considered the park theirs (even though it is a County park, open to everyone).  They wanted to keep outsiders out (a buzz word for minorities).  They did not want to compromise on any policy points.  

Despite these confrontations, the committee worked diligently and from it emerged a wonderful plan that did accommodate the apprehensions and trepidations of all concerned.  However, it was not until Zev, himself, came down and lauded the efforts of the committee that a resolution was reached.  He stated in no uncertain terms that this park had great meaning for him and that out of our plans would come park modifications that would create one of the most modern parks in our system—addressing noise abatement, green technologies, ADA compliance, expansion and modernization of facilities, new soccer and football fields (some with state-of-the-art artificial turf and others with natural grass), timer-lit basketball and tennis courts, upgraded swimming pool, an on-site sheriff’s substation—a seemingly infinite list of enhancements. 

Zev put an end to the hostilities, quelled the disgraceful behavior, and put his stamp-of-approval on what has become a much better facility for individuals and families to congregate. 

I was also very impressed recently as I was working at a campaign headquarters when an obviously unhealthy woman walked in, asking for help.  We heard her story; it was heart-rending.  We made some calls.  I called Mr. Yaroslavsky’s office and was able to obtain immediate assistance for this poor woman.  She could not afford medicine or any other care and had been given somewhat of a run-around.  Zev’s office took the lead and within a day or two, the woman was getting the medication and follow-up care she needed. 

Of course, now we have the roll-out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Zev is an indefatigable supporter.  Moreover, since the beginning of his career, he has been a healthcare advocate.  Back in 2002, he was a sponsor of Measure B which passed overwhelmingly by popular vote and, as a result, kept two public hospitals open and was able to maintain emergency and trauma-care services, services, in fact, that helped care for the woman referenced above. 

He has long been an environmentalist, both as a City Councilmember and Supervisor.  He was successful in backing a local measure that blocked oil drilling along our coast.  He was instrumental in preserving open space for and restricting development of the Santa Monica Mountains.  These measures were controversial at the time, but Zev (and then-Cong. Howard Berman) and other colleagues made a commitment to this effort and saw it through. 

He advocated for light-rail and busways for more efficient and less-costly transportation and supported the Orange Line which crossed the San Fernando Valley.  He seems always to be ahead of his time in his advocacies and, consequently, is always willing to buck the tides against him and prevail with what are now very popular policy positions 

The Supervisor has backed anti-tobacco initiatives.  Today we see companies like Starbucks (always in the forefront for social and economic justice) which declared that there would not only be no smoking inside its premises but in their outdoor cafes and within 25 feet of their stores, thus affecting their immediate neighbors.  It is people like Zev Yaroslavsky (and Howard Schultz) who are true leaders in altruistic policy-making. 

He was behind passage of a local freedom-of-information act, the ramifications of which affect all of us. 

He launched programs that helped house the most at-risk homeless, a program broadened by help from the Federal government to assist our veterans as well.  The County now has an Interdepartmental Council on Homelessness.  

Zev is a patron of the arts.  Ergo, part of the project at El Cariso County Park has a monetary set-aside dedicated to including artistic displays designed by members of our own greater community.  It is said that a community flourishes when the arts are encouraged in all their ramifications:  paintings, sculptures, walkways, landscaping, and so forth.  On the other hand, communities and nations decline when the arts are not an integral part of society.  Knowledge of and exposure to art and culture and history are necessary components to enriching our lives and passing down a worthy legacy to future generations. 

Zev Yaroslavsky is to be commended, praised, lauded, applauded for all that he has done for the County and City of Los Angeles.  We shall miss him when his supervisorial term runs out.  He has a large footprint to fill; hopefully, the next supervisor for District 3 will be at least as good and will continue on the path that Zev has walked with such dignity and honesty and commitment for a generation. 

Good luck to you, Supervisor Yaroslavsky.  May the rest of your life be as fruitful as the first part has been.


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. She also writes for CityWatch.)








Vol 11 Issue 84

Pub: Oct 18, 2013