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Joining the Valley do-gooders

March 12, 2007|Eryn Brown

WHEN I THINK of extension courses, I usually imagine arranging flowers in crystal vases, or listening to lectures by former secretaries of State as I sit in a comfy lecture hall, latte in hand. I don't picture myself spending four hours crunched into an undersized chair at Los Angeles Valley College talking about turn lanes and the new BestBuy they're building on Van Nuys Boulevard.

But that's exactly what I did a few Saturdays ago, when I joined five of my San Fernando Valley neighbors for a class on "How to Be a Community Activist."

And I kind of liked it.

We weren't training to save the whales or protest the war in Iraq. Our teacher writes a column on land use for a neighborhood paper. She's also a member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., which is known for talking tough on development. The group's president, Richard H. Close, made a name for himself in the battles for Proposition 13 in 1978 and for Valley secession in 2002.

I've always reflexively dismissed the conservative strain of Valley activism. To me, Proposition 13 seems cranky; secession, provincial. I try to fight my NIMBY impulses, not celebrate them.

It really doesn't bother me that there's a new condo building going up at the end of my block. I'll readily concede that maintaining shopping centers with vast open-air parking lots is probably not the best use of scarce acreage on Ventura Boulevard.

But there was something about the class that struck a chord with me. It had never occurred to me that there was a small army of people who were looking out for my neighborhood. They lure information about suspect building projects from construction workers (tip for that task: bring along your dog), drag neighbors into hours-long meetings about speed bumps (tip: ply them with bagels) and hound staffers for support from City Council members (tip: ditto).

Listening to the teacher speak of how she relishes "village life" reminded me that I also love walking to the Portuguese bakery around the corner and the local pharmacy down the street, which has a tiny post office counter in the back. The difference is, I've taken these things for granted.

In class, someone mentioned that my favorite movie theater, a five-screen gem with balconies, is closing to make way for a new development. I wonder what that means for the yoga studio I go to, which is on the same block?

Maybe it's time to invest in some bagels.


Eryn Brown

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