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Like a River

Profile: Once a City planner and a planning deputy, District 1 Councilman Ed Reyes now taps lessons learned from his early vocational moorings--in a district that was ripe for someone with Reyes's specialized urbanist background. His final term in office is likely to witness a special focus on Los Angeles River rehabilitation and development.

It is the first day of his final two-year session as a Councilman. Ed Reyes staff whisks us behind the ropes to meet the Councilman right at his chair on the horseshoe in Council Chamber.

There's little room in Reyes' own agenda for savoring the moment or acknowledging plaudits on this, the first day of the Forty-Fourth Los Angeles City Council. In fact, Reyes is anxious to get on with things. After the Friday morning choir moment in Chamber--at the very first moment it's polite to do so--he sends an aide to greet us, shakes our hand assertively, walks us through the antechamber to Council, and opens up a conference room on City Hall's south side. Then he stands until we take our seats, and takes a seat himself as though ready for work.

Sitting down with Reyes, you jot down a few things that you don't typically hear from politicians. He will often sound more professorial than political on crime, for instance, noting that community outrage is often short-lived. And sometimes, when pressed about a tough political subject, he says "I was told that..." far more readily than most career politicians are usually willing to say.

No, Ed Reyes (photo, left, by Debbie Lopez) is not really a politician by trade.

So how did such a man, unashamed of his intellectual qualities, and with such a strong work ethic but few political instincts, come to City Council?

Former City Councilmembers Gloria Molina and Mike Hernandez recognized in Reyes, a planner who worked with both, a sui generis. Reyes's longstanding knowledge of the district in addition to his talents of a planner made him someone who would possibly be able to handle the special problems CD 1 with more understanding than a better-known public figure.

And in 2001 the special urban problems in the district were legion. What to do about Pico Union's gang problem. What to do about vendors in MacArthur Park. What to do about under-utilized Echo Park. What to do about blight in Lincoln Heights. What to do about the Los Angeles River's ungainly passage through the heart of the district. What to do about Chinatown's half-completed CRA rehabilitation. What to do about the coming Metro stops in Chinatown and Cypress Park. What to do about a district the size of St. Louis in population but in which only a few thousand people voted.

They were all classic problems for an urbanist to face, especially an urbanist with deep roots in the district.

Reyes came into Council in 2001 without any other attendant political ambitions. He drew from his urbanist tool-kit far more than on political wheeling-and-dealing to work on the district's problems. For example, early on, he conducted community meetings early on in Pico Union and around MacArthur Park, as a politician might have. But ever the urbanist, he also worked with Building and Safety to assure the cleanup of crack houses and gang homes through pressing landlords with code violations.

There have been many achievements along the way. Lincoln Heights has become far safer than it has been in local memory. Pico Union and MacArthur Park are safer too. The Metro Gold Line, which Reyes had worked on as a planner, opened for business, servicing Chinatown and Cypress Park. Echo Park has witnessed an astonishing flourishing of merchant activity--and much of it is homespun and locally owned. The first wave of the CRA's work in Chinatown has been completed to excellent success. Ditto the Cornfield. The revisiting and reshaping of Community Plans, which Reyes has left his personal mark on from his long road from city planner to chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee. The LA River segment that runs through the district is far less barren than it was 10 years ago.

But none of these please Ed Reyes as much as the fact that now, all through the district, people make demands on, argue with, and demand results from...Ed Reyes.

"The thing that pleases me most is, all the tigers in the district. We now have activists!" he grins. "There are arguments--people are engaged, people are arguing. We have far more community involvement."

This achievement--taking pride in the district's various clamorings--most of all brands him as someone who is a not really a politician.

Some of the argument Reyes encounters centers around the Los Angeles River, a project of special interest to Reyes throughout his tenure of office. There have been great strides in rehabilitation and returning nature to the flow of what was known two centuries ago as El Río de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula. But some in the district also worry that development of the river might mean overdevelopment.

During the long process of rehabilitation, Reyes has visited over seventy urban river settings around the country. He much admires Denver's riverfront, where the long-neglected South Platte became part of the city's much heralded greenbelt revolution in the 1990's.

Local political luminaries acknowledge Reyes' work on the river as especially exemplary of his urbanist visions as a Councilman, and expect him to finish his term of office with a Porciúncula flourish.

"Ed Reyes' planning background certainly pays off when it comes to Los Angeles River renovation," County Supervisor Gloria Molina told street-hassle in an email. "It requires someone with vision, practical know-how, and the patience to coordinate all the bureaucratic agencies necessary to make river revitalization actually materialize. Ed has it."

Work on the River, east of Fletcher.

The Supervisor especially notes the quality of patience, and that is the quality that comes up again and again when people are describing Ed Reyes. While returning Porciúncula to nature is in itself a Herculean task, appropriating development for it is even thornier.

How does Reyes, coming from one of LA's most faceless districts, have success in working with the various agencies necessary to translate vision into action?

Political consultant Mike Trujillo says "He's like a samurai warrior with a long sword who walks quietly."

The Councilman himself offers something less picturesque yet equally emphatic of the need for persistence and patience.

"It's style and work ethic. You have to say, 'This is what I want, this is what I need,'" Reyes says. "It's about learning how to get in there."

While his district has experienced the same kinds of decline in crime that the rest of the City has experienced, there have been significant flare-ups this year. Two high-profile crimes, the beating of Brian Stow at Dodger Stadium and the killing of Trader Joe's employee on Sunset in Echo Park, rocked the sense of security in the neighborhood. There has historically been tension between privileged Anglos and underprivileged Latinos in the neighborhood.

"They have the ability to co-exist until there's a crisis," Reyes says of conflicts in Echo Park. "But a crisis does pass, and then people learn to respect each other again."

"Now people are walking their dogs at night in Lincoln Heights," he also notes. "People didn't do that ten years ago."

He doesn't give the impression that he will even run for office again after his present term expires.

"The future? I'm very focused on how to get my kids through college," Reyes laughs.

He describes the characteristics of who might make a good Councilman to follow him, and they sound a lot like those of Jose Gardea, his chief of staff.

"Yes," he nods, when I ask if he will support Gardea. "Yes."

And then Ed Reyes re-joins his Council meeting, a man determined to keep asking for what he wants; a man determined to keep on getting in there.

Jolene Combs

Memorial: A public memorial service for Jolene has been set for Friday, July 22, at 3 p.m. at Riviera United Methodist Church on Palos Verdes Blvd. in Redondo Beach.

A much beloved figure in local journalism education, Jolene Combs, passed away two nights ago, suddenly and unexpectedly.

A graduate of USC and much a part of the Trojan family, Jolene was a lifelong local journalism education figure who ran a very popular journalism program at El Camino College in the South Bay. The program's alumni are scattered at newspapers throughout California and the US.

Jolene had been retired for about three years from her community college perch but became deeply involved in high school journalism curriculum planning almost immediately. Last year, she co-anchored a program that brought journalism back to 10 LAUSD high schools, training advisers as well as students. She was also much involved with the Journalism Education Association's national conference for high school students, last held this past April in Anaheim.

The Daily Breeze profiled Jolene when she retired in March 2008; and once again, because of LANG's anti-archiving policy, the profile is no longer online.

A spokesperson for the family told me this morning that the cause of Jolene's death was a heart attack, brought on by a severe pneumonia that was aggravated by an advanced but previously undiagnosed lung cancer.

A memorial service is pending.

Alan Jackson: Action Figure

DA candidate Jackson takes on a full docket--
and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich

"Trutanich's record cannot stand up against mine," the prosecutor in the lime green tie tells me.

One of LA County's top prosecutors, Alan Jackson entered the race for District Attorney of Los Angeles County a few months back. He has an early leg up in fundraising on some other would-be opponents. The election is still eleven months away--a long way to go. But the field is fairly set, and everyone knows that LA's own Carmen Trutanich is the 800-pound gorilla not yet sprung from the cage, waiting for the right moment to pound his chest and assert himself.

I remind Jackson, a self-described centrist Republican, that there is enough of a stigma in the County against such that Carmen Trutanich switched party affiliations previous to his successful City race.

"That's not me," Jackson says. "I don't do that."

Jackson feels his longstanding experience in the DA's office, including time in gang units and on high profile capital cases, has prepped him for the top job. A graduate of Pepperdine School of Law (who calls Pepperdine's emeritus Dean of Law Ron Phillips a mentor), Jackson is a political centrist.

The lawyer--very youthful-looking at 46--thinks his boss Steve Cooley has generally done a great job while DA. He doesn't at all begrudge the present District Attorney siding with prosecutor Jackie Lacey in the race. In changing the office, he may like to attempt to optimize the work of the 1,000 attorneys serving the County especially by implementing specialty-training programs, drawing from attorney's union input to provide the tools they need to make transitions when called to do so.

"We're all considered fungible," Jackson says of working for the County as a DA. "Generally, we keep it running well." But he thinks organizing the office around special training can help make the office more efficient still.

This all stands in sharp contrast to Trutanich's spotty track record organizing the LA's City Attorney office. Trutanich has been beleaguered by relations with the very people he most directly serves: LA's City Council. Jackson conversely sees himself as a person who can work cross-agency relationships very well, an important element of the crime-fighting equation.

Time after time, he draws distinctions between him and Trutanich.

"People in my office are always going to be welcome to speak truth to power," he insists.

Raised by a single mom in Texas, Jackson joined the military before studying law. He appears to have boundless energy--at one point earlier this spring he was simultaneously working six different murder cases. He has worked in the County's high-intensity gang unit, and published monographs on forensic based evidence and gang crimes.

"Do you need some paper?" he asks at one point, watching me rifle through some notes. Even while talking a mile a minute, Jackson gives the impression of being fully engaged in the moment, every moment, and misses few things.

The Lily Burk case. The Phil Spector case. The prosecutor who secured convictions in some of LA's most diabolical crimes in recent memory knows exactly how good he is at convicting criminals and convincing juries.

But as a centrist Republican, can he also convince voters?

"Criminals have no party affiliation," he says he tells rooms of Democrats. He also intends to hire "the best in the business" to take his message County-wide.