November 17, 2018

L.A. City Council Approves Resolution Calling on UCLA to Cancel SJP Event

Screenshot from Facebook.

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 6 in favor of a resolution calling on UCLA to cancel the upcoming National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) conference.

According to a source, city councilman Paul Koretz introduced the resolution, which stated the concern that the conference “will promote anti-Semitism.”

“SJP members have posted violent anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media, ranging from calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people, to the admiration of Adolf Hitler and hateful calls to ‘kill Jews’ ‘kill all Zionists’ and ‘let’s stuff some Jews in the oven,’” the resolution states.

The resolution also noted that SJP’s website “comparing Israel to the Nazis” would constitute as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Additionally, the resolution stated the concern that SJP would be excluding students from attending the conference who are not approved by SJP or other pro-Palestinian groups on campus.

“A public university should not allow any group to implement a litmus test for event participation on their campus based on an attendee’s beliefs, religion, or national origin,” the resolution states.

Therefore, the resolution argued that this would violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally assisted programs or activities.”

“The Regents of the University of California should let UCLA know that it is not appropriate for SJP to have a meeting on campus, especially where many of the leaders of the organization are calling for violence against Jews,” the resolution stated. “It is never a good time to have this type of event, but given the atmosphere in the country, including the recent shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and arson at synagogues in New York, it is inappropriate for UCLA to host such a conference.”

Koretz said in a statement, “As we work to increase security at Los Angeles Jewish community institutions in light of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, bringing the SJP conference to Los Angeles in which leaders and members exhort to ‘kill all the Jews’ and ‘stuff some Jews in the oven’ is also a significant threat to public safety. “

Additionally, Koretz sent a letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block expressing similar concerns to what was mentioned in the resolution as well as pointing out that SJP members were involved in a May disruption of a Students Supporting Israel (SSI) event on campus.

“As a UCLA alumnus and as the City Councilmember representing the Fifth District that includes UCLA, I am shocked and disappointed that the University would allow such an event to occur on campus,” Koretz wrote.

Koretz later added, “Although UCLA has a responsibility to allow freedom of speech, our campuses should never become an environment where students of any origin are harassed, bullied, or prohibited from learning.”

On Oct. 31, UCLA issued a cease-and-desist letter to National SJP for using the UCLA Bruin Bear playing with a Palestinian kite as their logo for the conference. NSJP tweeted on Nov. 5 that UCLA’s cease-and-desist letter was “discriminatory” and that they are “extensively reviewing our legal rights with our attorneys.”

UCLA has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Journal as of publication time.

City Council Kicks Off Jewish Heritage Month

David Ryu.

Did you know that Silver Lake was named after a Jewish man, Herman Silver, who served as president of the L.A. City Council in 1900? Or that South Los Angeles was once a center of Sephardic Jewry?

These were just a couple of the insights gleaned at “KLAL: A Celebration of Jewish-Angeleno Culture and Civic Engagement,” held May 4 at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

The celebration, which kicked off Jewish American Heritage Month, featured elected officials, community leaders and even a klezmer-Latino band.

“I take pride whenever any council member brings any kind of diversity to the chambers,” Fourth District L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu told the Journal. “Whether it is Black History Month, whether it’s El Grito [Mexican Independence Day], whatever it is, it is always an opportunity.”

Ryu, who organized the event with the help of other council members, added, “It is a teaching moment, for myself and for everybody else in the city of Los Angeles, and I think it is very important that as council members, we try to bring forth as much diversity as possible.”

The Korean-American councilmember displayed his knack for the ancient Jewish tradition of schmoozing at the event, shaking hands with guests like he was a macher at Saturday morning services.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garretti speaks at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at City Hall. From left: L.A. City Council members Bob Blumenfield, David Ryu and Mitch Englander, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, and L.A. City Council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian join him. Photo by Betsy Annas, Los Angeles City Council Photography

After the meet and greet, the eclectic sounds of the Ellis Island Band, featuring an accordion, brass, strings and handclapping percussion, filled the cavernous space of the rotunda room.

“Nothing like a Jewish mariachi band to get us started,” L.A. City Third District Councilmember Bob Blumenfield quipped as attendees settled in for an array of remarks by elected officials.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti discussed how Jewish civic contributions to Los Angeles date back to Morris Goodman, who became the city’s first Jewish council member in 1850.

“This was a town that didn’t really care back then whether you were Jewish or not,” Garcetti said.

The Mexican-Jewish mayor was not the only one to delve into the Jewish roots of the city.

The Korean-American councilmember displayed his knack for the ancient Jewish tradition of schmoozing.

Fifth District Councilmember Paul Koretz discussed changes to the Fairfax neighborhood, where skateboard shops, trendy restaurants and hip clothing stores dominate the once-Jewish stretch of Mid-City.

Speakers delivered remarks peppered with Jewish history provided to them by Steve Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California. Sass worked with Caroline Luce, the digital project manager of the Mapping Jewish L.A. project at the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, to display an exhibition on L.A. Jewish history on the third floor of City Hall.

“We wanted to represent the breadth and depth of Jewish heritage,” Luce said.

The exhibition, which features information on the Los Angeles Jewish Home, Bet Tzedek and other Los Angeles Jewish institutions, will be on display for the remainder of the month.

Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture. In 2006, then-president George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month at the urging of the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida Jewish community leaders.

Jewish American Heritage Month coincides with Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and Ryu celebrated both.

“Whether it is Asian heritage or Jewish heritage, it is about celebrating diversity,” Ryu said. “It is about celebrating everybody who makes us Americans.”

Moving & Shaking: Federation Lights Menorah at City Hall; Jewish Communal Professionals Honored

Los Angeles City Councilmembers, City Attorney, City Controller and Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles celebrate Hanukkah with the Menorah lighting ceremony in Los Angeles City Hall Rotunda. Photo courtesy of City of Los Angeles

Marking the first day of Hanukkah, the Los Angeles City Council and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held a menorah lighting ceremony on Dec. 13 at City Hall.

“The Federation was honored to partner with our elected officials to host and celebrate Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, at City Hall,” said Alisa Finstein, Federation’s senior vice president of community engagement. “This event brings all corners of our community together each year to light candles, sing songs, eat sufganiyot and remember the miracle that happened long ago.”

Among the elected officials and Jewish community leaders who attended the morning event in the City Hall rotunda were City Council members Paul Koretz, Bob Blumenfield, Mitch O’Farrell, Paul Krekorian, Monica Rodriguez and David Ryu; Becky Sobelman-Stern, Federation’s executive vice president and chief program officer; and Federation board member Jesse Gabriel. Rabbis Joshua Hoffman and Jaclyn Cohen led the celebration.

From left: Shalom Institute Executive Director Bill Kaplan and Shalom Institute honorees Michael and Linda Bennett, Adam Weiss, and Arthur Pinchev and Shalom Institute Associate Executive Director Joel Charnick attend the Shalom Institute gala at the Skirball Cultural Center. Photo by Dmitry Rogozhin Photography.

Shalom Institute, the home of Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, honored four leaders’ contributions and commitment to its organization and to the Jewish community.

About 330 people attended the Dec. 2 event at the Skirball Cultural Center that celebrated the achievements of Adam Weiss, Linda and Michael Bennett, and Arthur Pinchev.

The gathering also raised nearly $200,000 for the Shalom Institute’s Sherut L’Olam Teen Leadership and Advocacy Program, the Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center and Garden, and Camp JCA Shalom scholarships.

Weiss, president of the Shalom Institute, received the Rae and David Finegood Leadership Award. He has helped the organization secure its land in Malibu, solidify its financial position and begin to implement its strategic plan.

The Bennetts were honored with the inaugural Marla Bennett Inspiration Award, named for their daughter, a Camp JCA Shalom camper, counselor in training, unit head and program director who was killed in a 2002 bombing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “Linda and Michael’s unwavering support and vision ensures that future generations can benefit from all Marla was passionate about,” a Shalom Institute statement said.

Pinchev, director of Shalom Institute’s Sherut L’Olam: Teen Leadership and Advocacy Program, which trains students to become leaders on environmental and social justice issues, received the Vision Award. He was recognized for improving the program and engaging more teens from bar and bat mitzvah age through high school.

Shalom Institute staff who attended included Executive Director Bill Kaplan and Development and Community Engagement Director Marsha Katz Rothpan. Other attendees included Jacob Knobel, recipient of the Shalom Institute’s 2013 Emerging Young Leaders Award; and David Spieser, who serves on the Shalom Institute board of directors.

Front row, from left: Camp Ramah in California Executive Director Rabbi Joe Menashe, board members Karmi Monsher and Lesley Wolman and board chair Andrew Spitzer and (back row, from left) Camp Ramah in California honorees Abner and Roz Goldstine and Abby and Jonny Mars. Photo courtesy of Camp Ramah in California

Camp Ramah in California, which operates a Jewish summer camp in Ojai, held its annual gala celebration on Dec. 3 at Sinai Temple.

More than 530 Ramah families, friends and community members celebrated the evening’s honoree couples: Roz and Abner Goldstine, and Abby and Jonny Mars.  The Goldstines are involved in a number of community organizations. Jonny, who is a member of the organizaton’s board of directors, and Abby Mars received the inaugural Alumni Leadership Award.

Proceeds from the evening established Camp Ramah in California’s Mercaz Yisrael: Endowment for Israel Programs, to enhance programs that include Ramah’s Israel Seminar summer experience in Israel for campers, and Mishlachot, a program bringing Israeli counselors to Ramah for the summer.

The event began with cocktails, followed by dinner and the program.

The Conservative camp in Ojai draws young Jews from around the world, who become known as “Ramahniks.”

From left: Masa Israel Journey Project Manager Julia Smelensky, Masa Israel Journey’s new southwest regional director Avital Khaazanov and American Israel Gap-Year Fair founder and Executive Director Phyllis Folb participate in the American Israel
Gap-Year Association Fair. Photo courtesy of Phyllis Folb

The fifth annual American Israel Gap-Year Association (AIGYA) Fair was held at YULA Girls School on Nov. 16.

Participants included Masa Israel Journey’s Project Manager, Julia Smelensky, and its new southwest regional director, Avital Khaazanov; AIGYA founder and Executive Director Phyllis Folb; The Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University’s experiential education director, Meir Balofsky; and Artzi Executive Director Yishai Ashkenazi.

Students attended the event to learn about gap-year opportunities in Israel after they graduate from high school. They spoke with representatives of various Israel-based gap-year programs.

Skirball Cultural Center Founding President Uri Herscher (left) presents Rob Eshman, former Jewish Journal editor-in-chief and publisher, with the Career Achievement Award. Photo by Marvin Steindler Photography.

The Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California held its JCPSC Honors 37th annual dinner on Dec. 14 at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, honoring the contributions and achievement of eight outstanding Jewish communal professionals.

The event honored former Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman with the Career Achievement Award.

“I’m proud to say that for a good period of my life I was a Jewish professional, and it is so humbling to count myself among people who have dedicated their professional lives to serving this community, upholding its values and making those values come to life every single day,” Eshman said upon receiving the award from Uri Herscher, founding president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center.

The other honorees and their awards were: IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban and MAZON President and CEO Abby Leibman, the Alan J. Kassin Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement; Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Executive Vice President Carol Koransky, the Bobbi Asimow Award for Professional Mentorship; Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Services Dan Rothblatt, the Award for Professional Excellence in Fundraising; Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles Director of Community Engagement Ashley Waterman, the Mark Meltzer Young Professional Award; and Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County Director of Senior Care Cally Clein and Senior Director of Program Impact Terri Moses, the Dora and Charles Mesnick Award for Achievement in Senior Adult Programming.

“We all stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us,” Rothblatt said. “Recognition from one’s peers is sweet and rare.”

The approximately 230 attendees included Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi at IKAR; Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles; and Becky Sobelman-Stern, Federation’s executive vice president and chief program officer.

JCPSC Co-Presidents David Bubis and Randy Lapin delivered opening remarks.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

 

Young renegade, longtime leader vie in 3-way council race for District 5

Left: Jesse Creed is running to unseat Paul Koretz in Los Angeles’ District 5. Photo courtesy of creedforcouncil.com. Right: Paul Koretz is a two-term incumbent councilman for Los Angeles’ District 5. Photo courtesy of paulkoretz2017.com

Attorney Jesse Creed is hoping for an upset win in the March 7 primary for Los Angeles Council District 5, a race pitting him against two-term incumbent Paul Koretz, 61, a familiar face in the organized Jewish community and longtime leader in the city.

If that sounds far-fetched, Creed, 31, says he is inspired by former Jewish elected officials Zev Yaroslavsky and Roz Wyman, who were in their 20s when they first won seats to represent the district.

“This district is famous for electing young renegades,” Creed said in a phone interview. “Roz Wyman was 22. Zev was 26… This district confounds, it absolutely confounds. I’d be the youngest person serving on the city council today.”

An oddly configured district that includes neighborhoods on the Westside, the San Fernando Valley, Bel Air, Westwood and Pico-Robertson, among others, District 5 is approximately 20 percent Jewish, according to estimates by Creed and Koretz. The district has been represented by a Jewish councilmember since 1953, the year Wyman was elected.

Creed and Koretz participated in a candidates’ forum on Feb. 12 at Leo Baeck Temple and agreed to be interviewed for this story.

Koretz and Creed have more than Judaism in common: They are both Democrats -— though L.A. City Council is a nonpartisan position — and both oppose Measure S, which would place a maximum two-year moratorium on certain development projects in the city.

Supporters of Measure S argue its passage would combat the interests of billionaire developers whose projects cause traffic and disrupt neighborhoods. Opponents say the measure would worsen the affordable housing shortage in Los Angeles and lead to fewer construction jobs.

While Koretz has not publicly opposed the measure, he said in the interview he plans to vote against it. He said passage could kill the plan for George Lucas’ Museum of Narrative Art at Exposition Park, and the moratorium could potentially last longer than two years, leading to negative economic consequences for the city.

Creed attributed his opposition to the city’s affordable housing crisis. “If it was just on the Westside, I would have a different opinion, but at this point I’m not willing to put any gas on the fire of this housing shortage we have in this city,” Creed said at Leo Baeck Temple.

Mark Herd, who has run unsuccessfully for national and state offices as a Libertarian, is also competing for the seat. He appeared at the Leo Baeck Temple forum, which was moderated by KCRW’s Warren Olney, but declined to be interviewed for this story after he was unhappy with his portrayal in a Los Angeles Times editorial that endorsed Koretz.

At the forum, Herd offered support for Measure S, saying it would reduce traffic gridlock and help maintain the character of neighborhoods. “I hate to say it, but it’s the only solution on March 7,” Herd said. “So, if you like gridlock and don’t care about your specific [neighborhood plans] … then vote no on Measure S.”

Koretz told Olney that one area he would like to focus on is climate change if he is elected for a third, and final, term.

“I’m going to be laser-focused on having L.A. become the leader in fighting climate change, not only in the city of Los Angeles but so that will reflect nationally and worldwide,” he said.

Due to changes in the election schedule, the winner of the race will serve 5 1/2 years rather than the customary four, a change to eliminate local odd-year elections and improve voter turnout.

A candidate exceeding 50 percent of the vote will win; otherwise, the top two finishers will face each other in a May 16 runoff.

During the campaign, Creed has criticized Koretz’s relationship with political donors. He said he believes Koretz is too beholden to real estate developers.

As of Jan. 21, Koretz’s campaign had raised more than $387,000, while Creed’s campaign had raised just over $264,000, according to the L.A. City Ethics Commission.

Koretz has emphasized Creed’s lack of experience and his lack of attachment in the district, where he has never even coached a baseball team, as Koretz framed it at Leo Baeck Temple.

Creed, who left the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson to devote himself full time to the campaign, has touted his effort toward expanding housing for veterans at the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration (VA) campus, which is not within the fifth district. He was brought in to implement the settlement agreement between the VA and veterans who had sued it.

Other issues addressed during the campaign have included homelessness, mansionization and traffic reduction. Mansionization is the practice of homeowners expanding the size of their houses beyond the character of the neighborhood.

“I think every district needs to chip in to help with the homelessness crisis,” said Creed, a Toronto native who was raised in a Conservative household.

Creed attended high school at Palisades Charter High School and was involved with the Chabad movement. During a phone interview, he recalled how he was unaware that he had Crohn’s disease at the time of his bar mitzvah, which was held at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice.

“I was incredibly ill, so a lot of it I don’t really remember,” he said. “I felt like there was a muse coming through me, inspiring me to recite my haftorah and then it disappeared. I just had to do it.”

A summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, where he was a top graduate in his class, Creed has been endorsed by philanthropist Bruce Corwin as well as several entertainment industry figures, including Renee Zellweger.

Creed attributes his success at school and as a lawyer to hard work.

“Everything I accomplished I earned it by working harder than anybody else around me and I want to work harder than anybody else for you,” he said to the audience at Leo Baeck.

He said his history of adjusting to new communities as his family moved from place to place would serve him well if elected.

“Having been an outsider in many points in my life … makes me fiercely independent in many ways and gives me the courage to stand up to power, like I’m doing in this race,” he said.

Koretz’s father escaped Nazi Germany and was a Democratic activist who introduced Koretz to politics when he was a boy. The councilman’s role in Los Angeles civic life dates back to campaigning for the incorporation of the City of West Hollywood in 1984. Around that time, he met his wife, Gail, through a Jewish dating service he described as “primitive,” which had advertised in the Jewish Journal. They have been married 30 years.

He served on the West Hollywood City Council and in the California State Assembly prior to his election to the City Council.

A fan of Ray Bradbury fiction, Koretz said he’d wanted to be a science fiction writer before he became a politician.

“West Hollywood happened,” he said, “and I haven’t written any fiction in over 30 years.”

Anti-BDS bill gains city council support

The Los Angeles City Council demonstrated its support for Israel on June 14 in a unanimous vote (13-0) in favor of a resolution to support California Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s Assembly Bill (AB) 2844. Two council members were absent from the vote.

Bloom’s version of AB 2844, titled “California Combating the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions of Israel Act of 2016,” would prohibit California from entering into contracts with companies engaged in a boycott against Israel. A later version of the bill, amended by the Appropriations Committee, passed the state Assembly on June 2 with the new title, “Public Contracts: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Recognized Sovereign Nations or Peoples.” The committee deleted all mention of Israel, and also stripped a demand that the state cease business with companies participating in economic boycotts. 

These changes are now the subject of debate among the bill’s original Assembly backers, who say they will no longer support it unless it is changed by the state’s Senate. 

The L.A. resolution, authored by L.A. City Councilman Bob Blumenfield, states that the city would support AB 2844 “if amended to its prior version.”

“My resolution shows that the city of Los Angeles supports restoring AB 2844 to its original form. The unanimous vote and the outpouring of public support sends a strong message that Los Angeles does not want to be complicit in the BDS anti-Semitic movement. BDS is a global effort to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel and we must do everything we can to stop it,” Blumenfield said in a statement June 14. 

Members of the pro-Israel community addressed the council before the vote, including Janna Weinstein Smith, regional director of American Jewish Committee (AJC), Dean Schramm, outgoing regional president at AJC, and Sam Yebri, president of the Iranian-Jewish organization 30 Years After. 

“Today is a positive thing, because L.A. City Council took a stand against BDS in general,” Smith said, “and now we’re on to the Senate.”

New restrictions on L.A. residential development

Los Angeles City Council has approved temporary restrictions on the alteration or development of homes in areas where residents have expressed frustration with home builders demolishing existing houses and replacing them with much larger structures that neighbors believe are at odds with the character of the neighborhood.

The new regulations on “mansionization” are intended to be a temporary solution as the city undertakes a longer process of reviewing and tightening current rules across the city. A city council committee approved the temporary restrictions a week before the full council took up the issue March 25.

In recent years, mansionization has grown increasingly controversial as home developers have sought to capitalize on rising home prices in some of Los Angeles’ most desirable housing markets.  In the race to succeed Councilman Tom LaBonge in District 4, for example, both candidates set to appear on the May ballot — Carolyn Ramsay and David Ryu — have made promises of new restrictions on mansionization campaign centerpieces. 

The new regulations, known as interim control ordinances, are intended to prevent new buildings that are greatly larger than other homes in their neighborhoods, walling those houses in and potentially decreasing their values. 

In 2008, Los Angeles lawmakers passed the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance, tying the permitted square footage of new homes to the size of the lots they occupy. In the years since, those rules have come under scrutiny for perceived loopholes that allow developers to build outsized, boxy homes.   

The new rules, authored by Councilman Paul Koretz, last just 45 days, though council can extend them for up to two years — by which point planning officials say they should be done reviewing the codes that regulate single-home development. Council passed the stopgap measures unanimously.

“With these temporary protections in place, we can begin addressing the permanent fixes, and create a more tailored effort to these varying problems,” Koretz said, addressing the rest of council.  

In five neighborhoods currently under review for historic preservation — including Sunset Square and Holmby — the new rules temporarily ban all demolitions of single-family homes. In other neighborhoods around the city, the new rules vary widely. 

In La Brea Hancock, Miracle Mile and Larchmont Heights, for example, new homes cannot be more than 20 percent larger than those being demolished. In the Beverlywood and Fairfax areas, bonus space for green building and architectural features is limited to 15 percent under the new measures, while in other neighborhoods, including Kentwood, Mar Vista and East Venice, the ordinances temporarily end all such bonuses. 

Some critics argue that the interim ordinances unfairly punish all homeowners for a problem created by a relatively small number of builders. 

“I, for my family, hope that this goes away so the value of my home does not plummet, as I anticipate happening,” Robert Silverman, who lives in Koretz’s District 5, said at the committee meeting, expressing opposition to how the interim rules would affect those neighborhoods not under historical review. 

Silverman also said that the new regulations adversely affect homeowners in his neighborhood who are currently trying to sell their homes and are now in limbo because no one knows what kind of home they will be able to build on that property.

Councilman Gil Cedillo promised at the council meeting that permanent rules would address the needs of a “new American household,” in which millennials move back home in their early 20s, sometimes bringing significant others with them. These families should be able to renovate and expand their homes to accommodate their needs, said Cedillo, stressing that the new ordinances are only temporary.

The other affected neighborhoods are Valley Village, South Hollywood, Old Granada Hills, the Oaks of Los Feliz, Lower Council District 5, Faircrest Heights and Bel Air.

From the Freedom Rides to the L.A. City Council

When traveling by air, rail, or bus across country on business or pleasure, I always recall the summer of 1961, when the Freedom Rides made interstate travel the democratic activity we take for granted.

Racial segregation on trains or in bus stations is unthinkable today. But I remember the days when it was the law or custom in many places, especially in the South. I was raised in New Orleans, and learned early from family what segregated life was like as a Negro and would probably be like for the rest of my life. I also remember the Freedom Rides. In August 1961, I was one of a group of 11 men and women who boarded a train from Los Angeles to Mississippi.

We Freedom Riders—some 400 or so people across the U.S.—bore witness to our conviction that segregation was illegal. We were a disciplined, organized, and racially mixed group. We rode trains, buses, and planes; we sought service at dining facilities, restrooms, and waiting rooms. And more often than not, we were arrested and jailed for violation of local laws. We expected to be incarcerated and were aware that there could be violence directed against us. But we were committed.   

Fifty-four years have passed since that summer—but just last weekend, I joined Ellen Broms from the L.A. Freedom Rider group in Sacramento. We met to travel together to memorial services for poet and fellow Freedom Rider Steve Sanfield. We joined Steve’s family, friends, and admirers at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center in Nevada City, California, site of the Sierra Storytelling Festival that Steve founded 30 years ago.

When I met him, Steve was working at the historic Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood. He was a recent graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts. He was gentle, an articulate man of conscience.

I had recently graduated from UCLA, where I was active in the L.A. chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). As a student, I served as a CORE liaison with student activists in the South. We spoke often by phone about what was going on there and how we could support their causes from Los Angeles. After graduation, I continued this work with CORE—talking and working with like-minded people like Steve and Ellen who sought an end to segregation and racial injustice in Los Angeles and across the nation.

We closely followed the Freedom Rides after they started in May. Riders were beaten and jailed, and a bus was firebombed outside of Anniston, Alabama. Students from Tennessee vowed that this violence would not stop the rides, and the movement picked up steam over the summer as activists joined them from across the U.S. by traveling to Jackson, Mississippi.

By August, the Freedom Rides were slowing down as focus shifted to action in the courts. Steve, Ellen and I—and other CORE activists and students in L.A.— were eager to participate in what turned out to be one of the last organized Freedom Rides. In preparation for our journey, we went through an orientation and training in CORE’s non-violent philosophy and tactics. No matter what happened—if someone spit on you, called you names, knocked you down—you pledged not to fight back.

We knew we were putting ourselves at great risk. But we were not deterred. Riders who were under 21 had to get permission from their parents. And all of us wrote our last wills and testaments.

We left L.A.’s Union Station on August 9, 1961. When our train arrived in Houston, the 11 of us from L.A. joined seven members of the Progressive Youth Association, mostly students from Texas Southern University. Our plan was to desegregate the coffee shop at Houston’s Union Station and then continue on to Jackson, Mississippi.

Our task as Freedom Riders was to sit down in places like that coffee shop—and then go to jail. The idea was to generate publicity to put pressure on lawmakers to make change. Segregationists called us “outside agitators,” which is exactly right. We did what local activists couldn’t have done without great personal risk to themselves and their families. Young people from other parts of the country (like Steve, Ellen, and me) didn’t need to worry about getting jobs—we weren’t planning to stick around. The only way to get to us was to take us into temporary custody.

It only took 45 minutes before we were arrested at the Union Station coffee shop. Local law enforcement knew a Freedom Ride was coming through and were waiting for us when we entered. Their vehicles were parked at the nearby curb. We took seats at the whites-only counter and requested service. We were refused. A police commander asked us to leave the premises. Not a single one of us moved, and he announced that we were all under arrest. We were ordered into the nearby vehicles and taken to jail. The process was smooth and efficient, much like going through an airline security check these days.

We were booked into the Harris County Jail, where we were segregated by gender and race in the jail’s general population. We black males were welcomed as heroes by the men in our tank once they found out that we were Freedom Riders. Of everyone—black and white, male and female—the white men received the worst treatment. Steve Sanfield, along with Steve McNichols and Robert Kaufman (all of whom are deceased now) and Joe Stevenson were beaten bloody by other prisoners, and carried physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives. Like many Freedom Riders, they paid a personal price to secure the right for all of us to travel without racial restrictions.

We spent a few weeks in jail. As soon as our lawyers visited and saw how the white riders were being abused, we were bailed out. We had our days in court and were found guilty of misdemeanor “unlawful assembly” charges. These charges were later overturned on appeal. Upon our release, I returned to Los Angeles with my fellow CORE members.

The rest is history. The violence against Freedom Riders and their incarceration got a huge amount of publicity across the U.S. and abroad. That attention, and the demands of the public, prodded President John F. Kennedy into action. In November 1961, his administration pressured the Interstate Commerce Commission to act.

And change came. The “whites only” and “colored” signs were removed from train station coffee shops and bus station restrooms. The Freedom Riders had secured an end to racial discrimination in interstate travel facilities, and freedom of movement for everyone. It was a crack in the massive scheme of segregation. I am proud to have been a part of it.

We L.A. Freedom Riders moved on with our lives. For me, that meant entering the new world of civic and electoral politics of Los Angeles, motivated by my experiences in the civil rights movement and my desire to help meet the need for a more representative government. For Ellen, it meant finishing her education and gaining employment as a social worker in California state government. For Steve, it was back to literature and a creative life as a storyteller, poet, author of children’s books, and builder of a cultural institution.

I recalled those days of August 1961 when I attended Steve Sanfield’s memorial last weekend. I thought of his courage—and the courage of every Freedom Rider—when I traveled by Greyhound, and walked through bus terminals free of the racial animus that we helped to eradicate.

Robert Farrell served as a member of Los Angeles City Council for the 8th District from 1974 to 1991. He is a graduate of UCLA. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a partnership of UCLA and Zócalo Public Square.

List set for March ballot on city council candidates

On Dec. 12, the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office finalized the list of candidates set to appear on the March 2015 ballot. In addition to seven City Council seats, Los Angeles voters will decide the fate of four seats on the Board of Education and four seats on the Community College Board of Trustees.

If a candidate receives a majority of votes on March 3, they win the seat outright. However, if no candidate receives a majority, a runoff election is set for May 19.

Council Member Mitch Englander of District 12 in the Northern San Fernando Valley is running unopposed. 

In Council District 4, 14 candidates are vying for the seat being vacated by Tom LaBonge, who is leaving due to term-limits. By far the most expensive council race, candidates include Carolyn Ramsay, a longtime aide to LaBonge who most recently served as his chief of staff, David Ryu, a community health director, Joan Pelico, chief of staff to Councilmember Paul Koretz, and Wally Knox, an attorney and former California State Assembly member. The two other candidates in District 4 who have raised significant funds are Teddy Davis, a lawyer and news director who briefly served as press secretary to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Steve Veres, a trustee on the Community College Board.

Paul Krekorian is running for reelection in Council District 2, which includes North Hollywood, Studio City, and Valley Village. Eric Preven, a television producer who ran earlier this year in the Democratic primary for the County Board of Supervisor’s third district, is his only opposition.

In another closely watched and hotly contested council race, District 14’s José Huizar is running for reelection against former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina, who had reached her term limit for the county. Though Huizar has held the seat since 2005, Molina has been a powerful presence in the district. She previously served as the Councilmember for District 1 in the late 1980s. Three other candidates are also running for the seat: Nadine Diaz, John O’Neill, and Mario Chavez.

In District 8 in South Los Angeles, four candidates are running to replace Bernard Parks, who is also leaving because of term limits. Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of the Community Coalition, is the frontrunner for the seat. Community development expert Forescee Hogan-Rowles, State Commissioner Bobbie Jean Anderson, and Robert L. Cole, of the Los Angeles County Citizens’ Economy & Efficiency Commission are also running for the seat.

In Council District 10, Herb Wesson is running for reelection against physician and theologian Delaney Smith and attorney Grace Yoo. 

The ballot order was also determined last week in a random public drawing. The ordering will be used on the ballot of the March 3 Nominating Election and, if necessary, on the ballot for the General Municipal Election on May 19. The next financial filing date is January 10, at which point the field of candidates is likely to narrow significantly. 

Yaroslavsky, a ‘canny change agent’

When we think of Jews involved in Los Angeles politics, we often divide them into two camps: liberal Democrats and Jewish Republicans. Liberal Democrats, as we picture them, are integrated into the broader progressive movements of Los Angeles. They are linked with multiethnic coalitions going back to the Tom Bradley days and are likely secular and upscale. Jewish Republicans tend to strongly criticize President Barack Obama on Israel, and though they are rarely as socially conservative as the Republican Party’s base, they often feel marginalized by the general belief that Jews are liberal.

To understand the remarkable career of Zev Yaroslavsky, who completes his long run as a Los Angeles city councilman and Los Angeles County supervisor on Nov. 30, one must go beyond such simplistic analysis and consider that there is also a Jewish Democratic base that is not quite as liberal as the image of Jews in politics, yet which is strongly Democratic, Jewish-identified and a bit localistic. That is where Yaroslavsky came from politically, and his ability to articulate and channel that point of view has made him one of the city’s and the county’s most important historical figures.

In 1975, the 26-year-old Jewish activist took on the political establishment in a race for L.A.’s 5th City Council District seat, then held by Ed Edelman, who had just been elected to fill the seat in the 3rd District of the County Board of Supervisors. Yaroslavsky ran the Southern California Council on Soviet Jewry, a small but highly effective organization that had a big impact on the Los Angeles Jewish community. Without people quite realizing it, the energetic UCLA graduate had developed his own constituency, without being connected to the Bradley coalition. 

In the primary, Yaroslavsky ran against former councilmember Rosalind Wyman — the first Jew elected to office in 20th-century L.A. and who had previously occupied the seat — and Frances Savitch, a close aide to the newly elected Mayor Bradley. The Black-Jewish coalition behind Bradley was on its way to making interracial history and seemed unbeatable.  

Yaroslavsky and Savitch edged out Wyman in the primary to face each other in the runoff. When I was working on a book on the Bradley coalition, I looked at voting returns from the 1975 race, and I could see that Yaroslavsky had the flatlands around Fairfax, while Savitch had the hillsides, like Bel Air. Yaroslavsky won handily. In fact, that runoff was the last seriously contested race he ever faced.

Yaroslavsky joined a city council filled with unusual characters, in a city government dominated by Bradley and City Council President John Ferraro. At the time, I was working as a council deputy in the office of Bradley ally David Cunningham of the 10th District, and I watched Yaroslavsky in fascination. He was like a rocket, appearing at council meetings followed by TV cameras, a fairly unusual occurrence at City Hall.  

Not being part of the Bradley coalition, Yaroslavsky took on the mayor once, unsuccessfully, and as he ruefully told a Los Angeles Times reporter, got his first lesson in power at city hall. But he soon became a canny change agent, particularly in leading the bitter and successful fight to limit Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) surveillance of civilians and to eliminate the use of chokeholds. He earned the loathing of then-Police Chief Daryl Gates, who referred to “Zev and his Marxist friends.” A shared willingness to challenge Gates and the LAPD brought Bradley and Yaroslavsky closer together.

Yaroslavsky’s role changed in the mid-1980s, when he joined forces with Councilmember Marvin Braude of the 11th District (west of the 5th District, centered in Brentwood, also with a large Jewish population) to champion a slow-growth movement that was increasingly popular on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley. The slow-growth movement led to a real break with the Bradley forces, who were concerned that it would stifle development in the south and east sides of the city and that it would divide the Westside-Southside Bradley coalition. In 1986, Yaroslavsky and Braude (along with Hollywood’s councilmember Joel Wachs) led the popular and successful movement to pass the landmark Proposition U, to limit the height of buildings outside downtown.

The battle against growth solidified Yaroslavsky’s historic standing with his base constituency and further strengthened his ties to the formidable political combine of Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman and Howard Berman. But it also foreshadowed Yaroslavsky’s later difficulties in connecting with the growing minority political forces in the city. In 1988, the Waxman-Berman team made clear their preference that Yaroslavsky challenge Bradley in 1989. But after a disparaging memo about Bradley emerged from the Berman camp, Yaroslavsky chose not to enter the race.

Yaroslavsky again passed on the mayor’s race in 1993, a year in which his chances might have been the best he would ever have. A year after a massive civil disorder, the city was in despair, turning against Bradley’s liberal coalition and its hopeful successor Michael Woo, but was not ready to go hard right. Even Republican Richard Riordan, who ultimately won the city’s top seat, said he would only be “tough enough to turn L.A. around.” A Democrat not tied to the current regime would have been a perfect fit. I remember watching Yaroslavsky moderate a debate between Riordan and Woo at a synagogue and having the distinct impression that Yaroslavsky could have beaten both of them (running from the center-left against Riordan, and from the center-right against Woo).  

In any case, his skill as a representative meant that if a citywide race was not in the cards, he could easily move into a seat in Congress if such a position would open up.  

Instead, Yaroslavsky succeeded Edelman to the county board in 1994. Following another easy election, Yaroslavsky joined a board that had already become more Democratic with the entry of Gloria Molina in 1991. He became the swing vote, the centrist Democrat on a Democratic-majority board. He would trade the tremendous visibility he had enjoyed as a councilmember and potential mayoral candidate for much more power, exercised less visibly. In a profile on the eve of the 2013 mayoral race, when he was once again being mentioned as a candidate, Rex Weiner, writing in the Jewish Daily Forward, called him “the most powerful American Jewish politician you’ve never heard of.” 

On the immensely powerful county stage, Yaroslavsky played a central role in building the still-emerging system of mass transportation for the county, especially in the San Fernando Valley. He was also a determined and effective ally for the arts community; he shored up support for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and played a key role in getting the Walt Disney Concert Hall built, all the while generating county support for many other Los Angeles performing-arts venues. He continued to promote open-space conservation, and what had been a divisive debate over growth within the city became a major set of victories limiting development on hillsides and other areas.

Yaroslavsky may have been at his most effective leading the budget-conscious board majority that took great pride in helping the county to avoid cyclical crises. The county’s ability to withstand the Great Recession that began in 2008 without having to make major cuts certainly reflected the budget role Yaroslavsky had begun taking on the City Council, which reached fruition on the Board of Supervisors. As a keen student of county government operations, he might well have become a successful elected county executive if that much-needed reform had ever gotten off the ground.

Yaroslavsky’s electoral strength was indicated by the importance his endorsement could have had in the 2014 race to succeed him. With Waxman endorsing Sheila Kuehl, Bobby Shriver’s best hope for an upset rested with getting Yaroslavsky’s backing. When he  stayed neutral, Shriver’s hill was too steep to climb.

With Jerry Brown re-elected as governor in 2014, we were reminded that even in an era of term limits, with politicians racing from office to office, some politicians of substance can pass through several incarnations while maintaining their political strength. Brown, once the iconoclastic young governor who alternately outraged and fascinated those in the power structure in the 1970s, now is the wise adult in the room, governing a California more stable than he found it.  

Like Brown, Yaroslavsky made his mark in the 1970s as a challenger to the status quo, even one dominated by his fellow Democrats. Forty years later, he leaves public office an accomplished and popular legislator and a representative. Yaroslavsky evolved from a firebrand councilmember to a smart manager who knows his constituency and has made an indelible mark on the city and county of Los Angeles. 

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Zev Yaroslavsky won’t run for Congress

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will not make a bid for the seat currently held by retiring Congressman Henry Waxman (D – Beverly Hills).

Yaroslavsky’s announcement, emailed to the Journal early Friday afternoon, brings to an end wide speculation over the past week about whether Yaroslavsky, who was first elected to Los Angeles City Council in 1975, might make a play for Waxman’s seat.

This is not the first time that Yaroslavsky, 65, has declined to run in a race that many thought he could win – and he obliquely acknowledged as much in his statement.

“The last thing I thought I would be doing in February, 2014, was considering another run for office,” Yaroslavsky said. “But I was asked by several close political and personal friends to think about that proposition, and over the last week, I have done so. In the end, I decided against starting a new career in Congress at this stage of my life.”

Waxman, a 20-term incumbent, announced on Jan. 30 that he would retire from Congress at the end of 2014. Immediately following the announcement, two prominent Democrats — former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and State Senator Ted Lieu — announced they would run for the seat. The field of potential candidates is still quite fluid: Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights activist who has never held public office, briefly considered running for Waxman’s seat, only to decide to run for Lieu’s seat in the State Senate instead.

The primary ballot is expected to be very crowded, but political observers had argued Yaroslavsky would have been a top candidate for the seat.

Had he been elected, Yaroslavsky would not have been the oldest freshman to join the House of Representatives. Rep. Allan Lowenthal (D – Long Beach), was 71 when he was first elected to Congress in 2012.

But Yaroslavsky’s rationale to forgo the race recalls his reason for passing on the 2013 Los Angeles mayoral race. After months of telling reporters that he was thinking about running for mayor, he announced in August 2012 that he would not run.

Yaroslavsky referenced that decision in announcing this one.

“I said in 2012 that four decades in elected office was long enough, and I meant it,” Yaroslavsky said in a statement on Friday, Feb. 7. “I am committed to public service and to advancing those public policies I have believed in all my life, but I intend to do so outside of elected office.”

Yaroslavsky, who has represented the third district on the Board of Supervisors since 1994, cannot run for reelection this year because of term limits. He has not said what it is that he’ll do after leaving office in December.

In fact, Waxman is among those who are curious about what Yaroslavsky will do after he leaves office later this year. Waxman said he brought it up in a conversation with Yaroslavsky on Jan. 30. 

“When I started the conversation,” Waxman told the Journal, “I said to him, ‘Quack,’ because we’re both lame ducks. And I told him, we need to go into business together. What are we going to do?”

Moving and Shaking: Ariel Sharon and Anne Samson honored

From left: At Los Angeles City Hall, businessman and activist Joe Shooshani, L.A. councilmember Bob Blumenfield, Jerry Levey, Israel Consul General David Siegel, Councilmember Paul Koretz and Adam King gathered to commemorate the passing of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon. Photo courtesy of Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

On Jan. 14, the Los Angeles City Council honored the legacy and contributions of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died Jan. 11 after spending eight years in a coma. 

An event in the John Ferraro Council Chambers at Los Angeles City Hall drew representatives of the Israeli government, including Consul General of Israel David Siegel, and L.A. City Council members.

“The state of Israel, along with the rest of the world, bows its head in mourning,” read a recent statement by the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, which helped organize the event. 

Sharon will always be remembered and his memory continues to live on our hearts,” Siegel added in the statement. 

Among those present for the event were L.A. City Council member Paul Koretz.


Anne Samson of Beverly Hills will be honored posthumously Jan. 26 at the Ben Zakkai Honor Society’s NCSY National Scholarship Dinner in New York.

NCSY is the Orthodox Union’s international youth movement. Samson, who was killed in an August automobile accident, will be inducted into the Ben Zakkai Honor Society and recognized with the Ezra Ben Zion Lightman Memorial Award, an honor named for a national NCSY adviser who had a strong influence on the lives of young people.

“Anne and her husband, Lee, have been associated with the Orthodox Union for more than four decades,” according to a press release. “Anne and Lee worked closely together innovating creative programs to reach teenagers, most notably, the first NCSY summer program — Camp NCSY — where young people from all over the West Coast found inspiration and education.”

Lee Samson was the first fulltime NCSY regional director. 

Proceeds from the scholarship dinner will help teens attend NCSY national programs, including summer travel. Also this year, the Samson family established a memorial fund to provide assistance to programs such as the organization’s Jerusalem Journal summer program, which offers hundreds of public school students their first experience in Israel.

Anne Samson was born in 1947 in a displaced persons camp in Salzburg, Austria. Her parents, Emil and Eva Katz, were Holocaust survivors from Hungary who lost most of their family members in Auschwitz. In 1949, Anne and her parents immigrated to Los Angeles.

She grew up in the Bnei Akiva youth movement and attended Camp Moshava every summer, where she met the love of her life, Lee Samson. The couple married in 1966 and spent the months following the Six-Day War volunteering in Israel.

Another event on Feb. 9 will call attention to Anne Samson’s legacy at the Orthodox Union’s Israel Center in Jerusalem.


Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Honoring Ed Edelman: A man of vision

During the 30 years Ed Edelman spent serving in public office — first as a member of Los Angeles City Council and then as a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — he consistently fought on behalf of L.A.’s least fortunate residents. A staunch liberal, Edelman found himself in the legislative minority for most of his time on the Board of Supervisors, but he still managed to marshal enough support to post an impressive list of accomplishments — including setting up the first County Department of Children and Family Services, establishing a commission to oversee the county Sheriff’s Department, and strengthening government support for some of the region’s most beloved cultural venues, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hollywood Bowl. 

On Nov. 13, Edelman — who also created Los Angeles County’s Commission on Disability — will receive an award from Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), a public-interest law firm that Edelman himself helped found in 1975.  

The Founder’s Award, to be presented at DRLC’s Franklin D. Roosevelt Dinner, will celebrate Edelman’s achievements on behalf of the disabled — but it is hard to ignore the cruel irony of his receiving such an honor today. 

Edelman, now 83, once played tennis and the cello with the same passion he brought to his work as a lawmaker, but over the past eight years, he has suffered a slow deterioration in his physical abilities, the result of a rare disease, Atypical Parkinson’s.

Yet his wife of 45 years, Mari Edelman, who will accept the award on her husband’s behalf, said in an interview last month that despite his not being able to move his body and having recently lost the ability to speak, she still sees him demonstrating his care for others. 

“When he’s trying to articulate something, almost invariably, what he’s trying to do is ask how people are,” Mari Edelman said in October, speaking by phone from their home in Westwood. “Did such a person find a job? Did so-and-so get out of the hospital? Are they going to be OK? Whatever it is, he wants to know how other people are doing.”

Over the last few years, in addition to increasingly speaking for her husband, Mari Edelman also has been learning about his political journey, which she chronicled in “The Passions and Politics of Ed Edelman,” an hour-long documentary she wrote, directed and produced and that aired on PBS in Southern California in January. (It is currently being picked up by stations around the country for a showing in February 2014, she said.) 

Ed Edelman got his start in a Democratic Club in the 1950s, as an undergraduate at UCLA, where he also earned a law degree. He went on to work for the Kennedy administration and, in 1965, mounted a successful challenge to the incumbent councilwoman representing the 5th District, Roz Wyman, also a Democrat — and in 1973, won election to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. 

While he was growing up, Edelman’s family belonged to Congregation Mogen David, then a traditional synagogue. Mari Edelman, who came from a less Jewishly affiliated background than her husband, said that Edelman’s mother, “a dynamo and very gregarious,” probably helped him win his first election by pushing his candidacy within Los Angeles’ Jewish community. 

After the couple married in 1968, Mari Edelman mostly steered clear of her husband’s political world, focusing instead on her own career as a clinical psychologist and on raising the couple’s two daughters. Today, after spending two years poring over Ed Edelman’s archived papers and interviewing nearly 100 people who knew him professionally, she has a better idea of the kind of politician Ed Edelman was. 

“His humanity never surprised me,” Mari Edelman said. “That, in a way, is why I wanted to do the film.”

“What surprised me,” she added, “was how much he did and how clever he was, what incredible political instincts he had. He’s a people person, but I was blown away by his strategies.”

He advocated for the homeless, for children involved with the justice system, for the mentally ill and the disabled — people without strong constituencies. 

Although she attributes Edelman’s work on behalf of those less fortunate in part to the Jewish values inculcated in him during his upbringing, Mari Edelman said that her husband confessed to having a “Walter Mitty complex,” believing “he was or could be anything he wanted.” But while the fictional James Thurber character lives out his triumphs only in fantasy, Ed Edelman realized his own, refusing to give up on causes that others might have abandoned. 

In office, though, Ed Edelman was not a liberal firebrand. His style of leadership more often involved hashing out differences with his political opponents behind closed doors. And though he had his critics, Edelman’s method produced results, and between 1973 and 1993, he orchestrated the renovation of the Edelman Westside Mental Health Center, the construction of the Edmund D. Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park and the preservation of the land in the Santa Monica Mountains that became Summit Valley Edmund D. Edelman Park. 

“For Ed to do what he did on the losing end of a minority on the board was extraordinary,” said Joel Bellman, spokesman for current L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Bellman worked for Edelman from 1989 until 1994. 

Edelman also set himself apart with his willingness to take on tough issues like the AIDS crisis; he also favored gay rights far earlier than many other leaders did and worked consistently for the socially marginalized. 

“The county government is really the social services arm of the region; the city [of Los Angeles] is sort of secondary in that,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “The ability of the county to take the lead to help the people who have the greatest needs but don’t have the strongest constituencies presents a real challenge, and that’s really where Edelman made his mark.” 

Some of Disability Rights Legal Center’s biggest cases involve suing the very arms of government in which Edelman served; in 2003, for instance, DRLC successfully sued to stop the county from closing the Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, which provides rehabilitation services to Medi-Cal patients. Yet it’s entirely understandable why this public interest firm would want to honor the former county supervisor.

“There’s a degree of callousness and indifference to people with disabilities,” DRLC Executive Director Paula Pearlman said. “There’s a perception that nobody’s going to represent them, nobody’s going to stand up for them. There’s a belief that you can get away with discriminating against them.”

For DRLC, honoring Edelman is a way to remind his successors of his example in advocating for the voiceless — including the disabled. 

“Even elected officials need advocates to point them in the right direction, to remind them of what the right thing is to do,” Pearlman said. 

In the documentary film, Ed Edelman summed up just what doing “the right thing” meant to him. 

“Don’t give up hope,” he said, speaking directly to the camera in a halting voice. 

“Keep striving. Keep trying to improve yourself and your community. We need people that care for one another.”

The Passions and Politics of Ed Edelman will begin airing on PBS stations nationwide in February 2014.

Putting the brakes on runaway shopping carts

On a recent Friday afternoon, Mariz Mosseri went shopping for groceries, as she does on most Fridays. She trolled the aisles of Elat Market and Glatt Mart, Pico-Robertson’s two largest kosher supermarkets, which sit side-by-side on Pico Boulevard. 

Mosseri bought meat, vegetables, sliced bread and other necessities for Shabbat, and when she finished at the checkout, she pushed her black-metal shopping cart, brimming with plastic bags, out into the street and continued with it down the alley that runs behind the markets, and then turned onto Wooster Street. 

After speaking to this reporter, she headed home with her cartful of goods. Twenty minutes later, the cart was sitting empty in the driveway in front of her apartment. 

“They have a truck, they pick it up,” Mosseri explained. 

These days, Mosseri’s actions are standard practice in the neighborhood. 

But talk to the grocers, who typically spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars each month retrieving carts from around the neighborhood, and also shell out even more to replace dozens that go missing each year, and you’ll learn that they wish they could find a way, perhaps using technology, to keep those same carts from leaving their stores’ premises at all. 

These stores face a problem that larger groceries do not — parking is seriously limited in their lots. So they’ve tolerated the practice of people walking off with the carts — and paid dearly — to accommodate their customers.

In May, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance sponsored by Councilman Tony Cardenas mandating that no new stores will operate the way these stores do. The ordinance requires that all newly built and significantly remodeled stores with six or more shopping carts implement a retention system to keep them on site, and a spokesperson from Cardenas’ office said the city plans to study whether and how to expand the law to include existing stores as well. Such a plan could force the Pico-Robertson markets to change their shopping-cart usage policy. 

For now, however, well-dressed people pushing shopping carts up and down sidewalks, and leaving those carts on the streets, are as common a sight in this densely populated and very Jewish neighborhood as the temporary booths that will pop up on lawns when Sukkot arrives in October. 

The carts get picked up quickly, so what in other neighborhoods might immediately become unwelcome urban blight, in Pico-Robertson is more likely a potential hazard to a parked car’s paint job.

What for regular customers at the four major kosher grocery stores in Pico-Robertson is a welcome convenience is, for the owners, one more cost of doing business. New shopping carts go for about $100 apiece, and the owners know what the current “release and retrieve” system is costing them. 

“This is the biggest problem we have in the store,” said Kevin Novin, who has managed Elat Market since it opened more than 25 years ago. He estimated that over that time he has spent more than $1 million for carts, and that he spends about $100,000 a year just on cart retrieval. 

The owners of the other supermarkets in the heart of the neighborhood — Glatt Mart, Livonia Glatt Market just a few blocks to the west, and Pico Glatt Mart, which is about a mile away — told much the same story. 

“I’m supposed to have 40 [carts], but every six months, I usually have to purchase 20 more,” said Farzad Kohanzadeh, owner of the 2,300-square-foot Livonia Glatt Market. 

The missing carts often don’t turn up — Kohanzadeh said he once saw an unfamiliar truck come through the neighborhood late at night, picking up carts off the street, never to return. 

But when missing carts do reappear, it can be in very unlikely locations. 

“We have people who call us from the Hollywood Hills, ‘Come and pick up your shopping cart,’ ” Glatt Mart owner Meir Davidpour said. “We had one by Dodger Stadium.”

For now, the “one-way rental” of a store’s shopping cart has proved popular among customers, so much so that all four of the stores have hired an independent contractor to retrieve the carts from around the neighborhood, at a cost of $2 a cart. 

On a Tuesday afternoon, a beat-up truck pulled up to the driveway of Elat Market laden with carts collected from driveways, alleyways and doorways, as well as sidewalks, front lawns and street curbs. The carts sat on the truck’s wide, low flatbed, held in place by a mixture of straps and chains. 

The driver pulled the carts off the back of the truck, one by one. 

“Twelve,” he called out to Mordechai when all the yellow-handled carts were on the pavement. 

Mordechai, who gave only his first name, manages the market’s loading dock (which doubles as rear entrance) on a part-time basis; he made a note on a sheet of paper, and the truck, which also unloaded a couple of Glatt Mart’s red-and-black carts, turned back into the street, away from Glatt Mart, to continue its rounds. 

All the stores’ regulars know about the cart-collecting truck. 

Mermell Nicholas, 93, travels by bus from his apartment in Beverly Hills to shop at the kosher markets twice a week. On a Tuesday afternoon, he was sitting on a bench near a bus stop at the intersection of Pico and Robertson. Next to him was a Glatt Mart cart with a few bags inside. 

He said he’d seen the cart-collecting truck the previous week, and said that watching the workers lift the heavy steel carts onto the truck’s flatbed was “amazing.” 

“You push it down, the back wheels, and the front end flies up,” Nicholas said. 

Of course, not everybody likes the truck — or the carts it collects. 

“The only time we have peace is Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Other than that, you park your car at your own risk,” said Lisbeth Caiaffa, who has lived three doors down from the Elat Market parking lot since 2003. “It’s a war zone during the week.”

Spotting a reporter taking notes, a few neighbors stopped for a moment in front of Caiaffa’s lawn. 

“They’ve hit my car,” a broad-shouldered man wearing a baseball cap said, before continuing down Wooster. “Those trucks are wide.” 

But if the trucks and the carts are an annoyance to some, the biggest complaints from the neighbors relate to parking. Caiaffa expressed frustration at having to compete for street parking with the customers from Elat Market and Glatt Mart. 

Some will even park a cart in the street, “as a strategy to block off a parking space,” Caiaffa said. 

She is just as annoyed with customers who idle in their cars in the middle of the street, waiting to make the turn into the Elat or Glatt parking lots. 

“The LAPD needs to come down here and start ticketing people for blocking the street,” said Brooks Thomas, who lives on Wooster. 

Paul Neuman, director of communications for Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the district, said that some neighbors have contacted the office. 

“There have been some constituent calls and comments, but they have lessened a bit as of late,” Neuman said, adding that the markets had increased their staffing of their parking lots recently. 

The new city ordinance doesn’t apply to existing stores — although the city has instructed its planning department to conduct a study on how to apply the requirement to keep carts on grocery properties. And, if that requirement were implemented, it could require the owners of the Pico-Robertson markets to hire additional staff to escort every shopping cart that went out their doors, no matter whether the customer wanted assistance or not. 

The stores already do some of this, to varying degrees. Moreover, in addition to paying the independent cart collector for his services, the groceries’ owners also periodically instruct their staff to pick up any carts left outside in the area immediately surrounding their stores. 

But the other “containment systems” — physical barriers and electronic wheel-locking mechanisms — aren’t options for these grocers. 

For one, all four stores have parking lots that are not immediately adjacent to their buildings, which means customers must cross city-owned or private property — streets and alleys, for example — so erecting a physical barrier to prevent the carts from leaving the stores would also cut off customer access to the parking lot. Furthermore, according to Elat Market’s Novin and Glatt Mart’s Davidpour, the city will not allow the grocery store owners to install the electronic perimeters that are necessary to run a wheel-locking system that would cross those city-owned sidewalks or alleys. 

And as for the truck that currently trolls the streets in Pico-Robertson, that wouldn’t satisfy the new ordinance as written. 

“That’s not a containment system. That’s a retrieval system,” said Tom Rothmann of the Los Angeles City Planning Department. “The point is to not let them go off the site.”

Rothmann said that the future for Pico-Robertson shoppers might look something like other cities, where folding carts — “granny wagons” — are sold at the register “for a nominal fee.” 

“People in New York walk more than half a block with their groceries,” he said. 

“We would love to set up barriers,” Glatt Mart’s Davidpour said. He and his co-owners also own Cambridge Farms, a kosher grocery store in Valley Village, and there they use a wheel-locking system for the store and its adjacent lot, Davidpour said.

“We have about 300 shopping carts and we haven’t lost a single one in the last four years,” Davidpour said.  

According to a leading manufacturer of cart-retention systems, what Los Angeles won’t allow has already been done in other cities in California, including Sacramento, San Francisco and Long Beach. 

“It’s a matter of what the particular design calls for — where the perimeter stopping point is to be placed — and what are the city’s proclivities,” John French, the founder and CEO of Carttronics, said. His San Diego-based company has installed 3,000 cart retention systems in 35 counties. “In the case of L.A., I would think that they would be willing to be accommodating.”

In the meantime, many customers appear to be doing what they can to make sure that the carts don’t go missing. One Friday afternoon, I saw a woman heading toward Pico Glatt Mart pick up a cart on her way to the store and push it down the block, into the store. 

And it turned out that Mermell Nicholas, the 93-year-old on the bench at the neighborhood’s eponymous intersection, wasn’t waiting for the bus that stops on the south side of Pico. He got up, took his bags out of the shopping cart and carried them across the street to the stop for the bus that heads north on Robertson. 

Nicholas explained that pushing the cart across Pico would make it more difficult for the cart to make it back to the store. 

But was it really necessary to take the cart down the block in the first place? 

Nicholas — who was carrying 20 pounds of fruit and vegetables, not to mention eggs, soup mix, and some other items — put it this way.

“Every bit helps.”

Jew vs. Jew in dispute over Chabad of North Hollywood expansion

How big is too big for a synagogue in a residential neighborhood?

That’s the question at the heart of complaints by some neighbors, including some Jewish ones, about the new home for Chabad of North Hollywood, which is under construction on a corner of West Chandler Boulevard near Valley College, in Sherman Oaks. The new building, which could accommodate up to 200 worshippers, is about eight times the size of the synagogue’s former home, which occupied the same site.

This dispute has been going on for four years, since the project was first announced in 2008, but is about to get a new airing at the Los Angeles Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday, June 26. For the 12,000-square-foot structure, whose exterior walls already rise two stories – about 28 feet—above ground, Chabad of North Hollywood was granted a conditional use permit by the Los Angeles City Council in 2009, as well as a variance allowing for just five onsite parking spaces.

That decision rankled a group of neighbors opposing the project, and they took the matter to California Superior Court, which in 2010 ruled against them. In August 2011, the California Court of Appeal reversed that decision and ordered the Los Angeles City Council to set aside its initial approval. Which is what brings the matter now to the city council’s planning committee.

What will happen at that hearing is far from certain, however.

“To me this is what we call a ‘fix-it’ case,” said Benjamin M. Reznik, the prominent land-use attorney who is representing the Chabad group. Reznik has submitted materials, officially known as “findings,” to the committee that he said will allow the city to both approve the project for a second time and comply with the court’s order. 

“The court never said you can’t approve this project,” Reznik said.

The eight pages worth of findings submitted by Reznik to the committee members on June 21, allege that the Department of City Planning’s zoning administrator “erred” and “abused her discretion” in multiple ways when she approved a smaller version of the project in November 2008.

If the three-member committee adopts those findings, the project would then come before the full L.A. City Council for approval, which could happen as early as June 27.

That outcome, however, would be unlikely to satisfy Jeff Gantman, who lives near the Chabad Synagogue and is one of the leaders of the West Chandler Boulevard Neighborhood Association, the group opposing the expansion.

Gantman, who is Jewish, emphasized in an interview that he is neither opposed to Chabad’s presence in the neighborhood, nor to the group’s desire to expand.

“They’ve been here for 30 years,” Gantman said. “They were here when I bought this house.”

But along with the building’s size—Gantman called it “a blemish on an otherwise residential neighborhood” – his frustration is focused on the L.A. City Council members who approved the 12,000 square-foot project in 2009, despite an earlier ruling by the Department of City Planning that said it should not exceed 10,300 square feet.

“We didn’t sue Chabad,” Gantman said. “We sued the city. They’re enabling Chabad to do what they do.”

The triangular building site, which was so quiet on a recent morning that birds could be heard chirping from the tall trees nearby, is bounded by two well-trafficked thoroughfares—Chandler Boulevard to the south and the Orange Line Busway to the north. The aluminum framing of the building’s second story rises to about twice the height of the sound-blocking wall separating it from the busway.

That’s also about twice as high as most of the nearby houses on streets off Chandler, west of the synagogue. Most of the houses on Chandler also have significant open space on their sites, and many of the private driveways appeared large enough to fit two cars. Only a few cars were parked on the street.

That the city demanded only minimal parking on the site is a point of contention between the supporters and opponents of the Chabad expansion project.

Rabbi Aaron Abend, the leader of Chabad of North Hollywood, said in an email that the synagogue regularly attracts about 150 congregants to Saturday morning services, which currently are being held in temporary structures located on the site during construction, and said that 95 percent of those who attend would describe themselves as Orthodox. In addition to prayer services, Chabad of North Hollywood offers adult education classes and youth programming, including a once-a-week Hebrew school program that currently enrolls 35 elementary school-aged students.

In an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on June 18 outlining the current status of the dispute, Reznik said that because the building’s users are Orthodox, the small number of on-site parking spaces was not an issue.

“Right adjacent to this synagogue, about 15 cars can park, just on its side of the street. That’s not an impact on the neighborhood,” Reznik told The Journal. An additional 12 cars will be able to park on an adjacent site, by arrangement with the MTA, Reznik said.

“To say to people that the project won’t have any impact on the surrounding neighborhood, it’s not being honest,” Gantman said.

But behind disputes about issues like parking allotments and zoning regulations are sentiments that suggest this might be a case of less religious Jews objecting to the growing presence of Orthodox Jews in their neighborhood. In an October 2011 article from the Los Angeles Daily News, reporter Dakota Smith wrote that Chabad supporters believe their Jewish opponents are motivated by “fear that Orthodox families ‘will become the majority’ in the neighborhood.”

Gantman, who described himself as a “proud Jew,” denied that anti-Semitic or anti-Orthodox sentiments are driving his group. He said that “three-quarters or more” of the members are themselves Jewish. Responding to questions in an email, Abend declined to engage in any speculation about what motivates the opponents of the expansion.

“There are a handful of people who have vocally opposed the project since its inception; it would be inappropriate for me to speculate as to what their motives are,” Abend wrote.

Further complicating this matter is the fact that it was former Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss who helped pave the way for the project to go forward in its current larger form on June 19, 2009,  less than two weeks before he left office.

According to Gantman, Weiss presented his proposal to the council as a compromise, but, Gantman said Weiss did not meet with the neighborhood group in advance. According to an article that appeared in the Times on June 9, 2009, the city council considered a large number of high-profile projects in Weiss’s district just before his departure.

Weiss could not be reached by the Journal for comment. He also declined to comment for the Times’ recent article about the Chabad dispute.

A deputy for Councilman Paul Koretz, who succeeded Weiss to represent the fifth council district in 2009, called the situation at Chabad of North Hollywood a “mess.” His deputy told the Times that “at this point, the best Koretz can do is allow neighbors to air their grievances — something that didn’t happen the first time around.”

With the Los Angeles City Council’s approval of new district lines on June 20, responsibility for the site of this conflict is set to change again. When the new district lines take effect on July 1, the Chabad of North Hollywood will be located in Council District 4, currently represented by Tom LaBonge.

A Map Is a Mirror

No one said redistricting is fun. But this once-a-decade political ritual does provide a mirror to how much leverage a community has, or lacks.

In the case of the proposed map for the Los Angeles City Council, this time the mirror says what many in our community are still reluctant to admit: That Jewish action has shifted to the San Fernando Valley.

We should have caught on long ago, but “city Jew” is still one of the great myths that dies hard. In 1992, the Westside seat then represented by Congressman Mel Levine merged with Long Beach, for a loss of one of three Jewish seats in the House of Representatives.

Perhaps now, with the potential loss of one of three Westside seats in City Hall and the creation of a new seat in the central/eastern Valley, it is finally time to take seriously the dominance of Jewish life over the hill.

It’s not that Jews are declining on the Westside — Jews still represent 10 percent of total city population, as well as 30 percent of the registered voters citywide. But the latest census is historic for declaring that the Westward expansion, which began in 1918 when Jews first left Boyle Heights to start Mishkon Tephilo on Main Street in Venice, has been outpaced by the northwest drift.

In a city of explosive ethnic growth, and competing geographic interests, not growing isn’t good enough. Gone forever are the days when Jewish representatives occupied seven of 15 council seats.

That’s why the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission merged Districts 6 and 11, now represented by, respectively, Ruth Galanter and Cindy Miscikowski.

And, of course, it hurts. Every redistricting session is a shark fight, a search for meat. This time, sadly, it looks like Galanter, who was on the wrong side of the battle in which Alex Padilla became council president, is vulnerable.

(Her loss is not a foregone conclusion. She’s fighting the peculiarities of redistricting, by which Galanter serves out her remaining year by representing the new Valley district, people who did not vote for her.)

But Galanter aside, the Westside and the Valley must come to terms with changing Los Angeles realities. Any new Valley city would be predominantly both Jewish and Latino. These two groups are the lynchpin of secession: they will provide the “yes” or “no” upon which the new city will rise or fall.

In the new Los Angeles map, Latinos will comprise fully 47 percent of the registered voters in five districts, all in the Valley or the East side.

The Jewish population in the Valley is the future — it has grown 25 percent over two decades.

The new as yet unnumbered district “B,” includes Encino, Valley Glen, North Hollywood and all non-Latinos east to Tujunga. The creation of this new Valley seat silenced even those on the Westside who most wanted to cry foul.

In conversations with Westside activists this week, I heard a reluctance to accuse the commission of ethnic bad faith: one and all are coming to terms with demographic reality, much as it hurts.

The character of this new “Jewish district” is unclear. It went sizably for Jimmy Hahn for mayor, but so did much of the Jewish vote. And it voted for Mike Feuer for city attorney (against the winner, Rocky Delgadillo) in almost the same majority as did voters in the combined District 11-6.

I don’t necessarily recommend reading the proposed map instead of watching reruns of “The Sopranos,” but there is a certain symmetry to the way the commission accomplished its task.

Raphael Sonenschein, an expert in Los Angeles black-Jewish relations, headed the city charter commission the set the tone for the remapping process. He tells me that the charter added the requirement that wherever possible neighborhood boundaries must be respected.

“That’s the biggest change,” he said. “Place and race matter.”

“Place and race” means that most districts are either in the city or the Valley, no longer the long strips that crossing Mulholland that made the Valley feel ignored. As a result, the new map mirrors the current Jewish political reality: that the Jewish community is now a collection of communities. We live in neighborhoods and feel connected to each other.

Ron Turovsky represented Councilmember Jack Weiss on the redistricting panel.

“Time and again we heard Jewish representatives talk about the importance of the community staying together,” Turovsky told me.

As a result, District 5 has what might be called an enhanced Jewish presence, with the addition of Carthay Circle as well as Westwood, Pico-Robertson and Beverlywood.

In the newly merged 11-6, Galanter’s Venice Jewish community once made me think of New York’s Greenwich Village, with its left-radical leanings. Today, it seems an even fit with Miscikowski’s District 11, the silk-stocking elite.

Time changes many things.

The Redistricting Commission holds public hearings this
Monday Feb. 11 in Woodland Hills and Wednesday in West Los Angeles. For
information visit www.lacitydistricts.org; call the
hotline: (213) 473-4595; or e-mail: redistricting@laccrc.lacity.org .