People Interview: Stepping Into the Fray
As aide to ex-Mayor Bradley, Wendy Greuel spent years at City Hall but as L.A.'s newest councilmember, she faces whole new tempest of public issues.
Lifelong San Fernando Valley resident Wendy Greuel has been close to L.A. city politics for much of her work life, primarily as a longtime aide to former Mayor Tom Bradley. But she could hardly have foreseen the improbable events that landed her on the L.A. City Council.
Last summer, longtime councilman Joel Wachs announced his early resignation. Greuel, an executive with DreamWorks SKG when she entered the race to replace Wachs, was seen as a longshot against the favorite, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, but eventually beat him in a runoff.
As the newest city councilmember, Greuel made her biggest splash by proposing, with fellow councilwoman Janice Hahn, to place a boroughs measure on the November ballot alongside the Hollywood and San Fernando Valley secession measures.
Question: If secession passes in November, would you run for a council seat in the new Valley city? Or would you move to keep your seat on the L.A. City Council?
Answer: Look, I just spent most of the last year campaigning for a seat, so now I'm focused on serving my constituents and their needs and the needs of the community. That's precisely the kind of question people get frustrated about politicians always looking to their next elected office and not focusing on the one they have now.
Q: Have you taken a position on secession itself?
A: I have not taken a position, pro or con. I'm concerned about how to make this city better. I did say during the campaign that if I had to vote on secession, I would vote, "no." But my role now is to make sure people have an educated choice as they make up their minds on where they stand.
Q: Secession proponents say the boroughs proposal is just a ploy to confuse voters.
A: I had been discussing this issue of boroughs throughout my campaign for city council. During the campaign, the common theme I heard was, "We're not satisfied with the status quo." So I talked with my colleagues, Janice Hahn, Dennis Zine, Tom LaBonge and Jan Perry about the idea of putting a boroughs proposal on the ballot. A presentation I heard last month on boroughs by (State Librarian) Kevin Starr served to crystallize what we'd been talking about.
Q: But the boroughs idea had been rejected by the charter reform commissions four years ago.
A: The idea was discussed in the charter commissions, but it wasn't fully vetted. Look, it won't be like New York's boroughs or London's boroughs; it will be a distinctly Los Angeles borough system. Let's try to look at a way in which we can change government to provide local control. We want to put this idea out there to have a debate, a real debate, about how to make this city better. And yes, that's an acknowledgement that the status quo is not good enough. People who are still dissatisfied with the status quo but who don't want to secede will be looking for something positive to latch onto, and this boroughs proposal can provide that.
Q: What are the details of your proposal?
A: The proposal calls for the city charter to be changed to say that there will be a boroughs system in Los Angeles. Each of the boroughs would be responsible for things that are primarily local, like street maintenance, recreation and parks, libraries, tree-trimming.
Q: The new area planning commissions and neighborhood councils that are now forming were intended to do just what you say boroughs will do. Many say we should give those entities a chance.
A: I didn't get elected to just sit in my chair every day and let things happen. I decided I would speak out, be bold and challenge the system, to try to make a difference in this city (and not wait for the neighborhood councils to prove themselves). The political will is there now to make these types of changes.
Q: Secession is obviously the number one issue right now. But what are some other issues that you want to focus on while in office?
A: I've been focusing on a couple issues: public safety and increasing the amount of green space. I've been working with the local police officers in my area to make sure the senior lead officer program is fully up and running effectively. I'm also looking at recruitment, ways we can get more officers on the street. I've also been successful in getting a new park out in the Sunland-Tujunga area; the final vote is near. I'm also chair of the Housing Committee and we're going to be looking at ways we can increase home ownership in this city.
Q: Why did you vote against the Community Redevelopment Agency's recent downtown redevelopment proposal?
A: My first priority is to make sure that Valley residents receive their fair share of city services and an equitable return on their tax dollars. At the time of the vote, there were simply too many unanswered questions and not enough guarantees that other parts of Los Angeles, including the San Fernando Valley, would benefit from the redevelopment project.
Q: You spent some time running your family building supply and trucking business. Did you gain an appreciation for how tough it is to run a business in Los Angeles?
A: Indeed I did. When I first took the job with Mayor Bradley right after I graduated college, my father called me up and read to me a whole list of taxes he wanted me to ask the mayor to reduce or eliminate. That made me sensitive to the needs of business and the need for jobs in this city.
Q: What made you leave public service four years ago to go to work for DreamWorks?
A: A friend recommended me for the DreamWorks job and then called me. They asked if I would be interested in joining their community and public affairs section. I said I don't know a whole lot about the entertainment industry. But they were actually looking for someone who knew the community. It was a great four-and-a-half years. I really learned about the industry's depth in L.A., especially when it comes to job creation.
Q: What is the entertainment industry looking for from local government?
A: The interest for them is to not have a whole lot of bureaucracy and red tape when it comes to filming. That's where the city and the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. can help. But the cutting of red tape must of course be balanced with neighborhood concerns. I want to make sure there isn't an overabundance of filming in certain communities that causes continual disruptions.
Q: What made you decide to return to politics last year with your run for City Council?
A: When Joel Wachs decided to retire last summer, it was a surprise move to a lot of people. A lot of my friends started calling me and said, "We know you live in the Second District and you should run for his seat." I then looked back over my whole career and asked what was the most satisfying to me. And it was my time working for the city. You can touch and feel the impact you have on an individual.
Q: You met your fiance, Dean Schramm, on the campaign trail. How did that happen?
A: I first met Dean at one of my campaign events, just two weeks into the campaign. His courtship was precinct walking and fundraising for me. We figured if we could make it through this campaign, with all the phone-banking and fundraising, we could probably do anything in life together.
Q: When's the wedding?
A: July 27. And we don't quite have everything done.
PROFILE: Wendy Greuel
Title: City Councilwoman, Second District
Organization: Los Angeles City Council
Born: Encino, May 1961
Education: B.A., political science, UCLA
Career Turning Point: Internship as high school student in office of former L.A. City Councilman Joel Wachs
Most Admired People: Former Mayor Tom Bradley; former Housing and Urban Development Department Secretary Henry Cisneros; grandfather who started family building supply and trucking business.
Personal: Lives in Van Nuys. Engaged to Dean Schramm, a literary agent representing writers and directors with the Jim Preminger Agency.
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