Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The Los Angeles City Council proclaimed Friday “Zev Yaroslavsky Day” in honor of the departing county supervisor who inspired respect, and occasional fear, among fellow public officials during his almost 40-year career.

Yaroslavsky, whose time in elected office include 20 years on the council, followed by another two decades representing the affluent Westside/San Fernando Valley-based 3rd District, will term out in December.

Councilman Paul Koretz hosted a presentation honoring Yaroslavsky, whom he described as “one of the greatest leaders and public servants” Los Angeles has seen.

Yaroslavsky, 65, served five terms on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Prior to that, he held the 5th District City Council seat from 1975 until 1994.

City officials said Yaroslavsky left his mark in the areas of family and children health services and transportation, including working to keep trauma centers open, advocating for school-based clinics, ensuring that the Metro Orange and Expo lines were built, helping to negotiate the details of the public transportation funding initiative that became Measure R, and other efforts.

“Job well done. Job well done, and I love you,” Council President Herb Wesson told Yaroslavsky.

Mayor Eric Garcetti joined the City Council to thank Yaroslavsky, declaring the county supervisor a “gold standard” by which other officials should measure themselves.

Garcetti said Yaroslavsky gave him advice about a profession in which “you land here, and nobody really tells you what the playbook is, you don’t always find the teachers, you don’t always have people who said ‘Oh, that’s happened before, let me help guide you.”‘

“You have been able to define what public service means, and be a great friend and teacher to me,” Garcetti told his mentor.

City Attorney Mike Feuer said it will be “tough” to have Yaroslavsky “leave government here in metropolitan Los Angeles because he has been such a fixture.

“Zev epitomizes what it means to be tough and tenacious,” he said.

Yaroslavsky cut a intimidating figure among his admirers, including junior council members like Mike Bonin who said he felt intimidated when he sat with the county supervisor on a construction authority panel overseeing Metro’s Expo Line project.

Bonin said he “was almost wetting my pants” at the prospect of saying or doing something “stupid,” then getting “barked at by the ‘wolf,”‘ referring to Yaroslavsky, but fortunately, he came away mostly unscathed, save for a possible “eye-roll.”

“You are incredibly smart … brutally frank … and your decision- making process is incredibly responsible,” Bonin told Yaroslavsky.

Councilman Felipe Fuentes echoed the sentiment, recounting that as a “hot shot deputy mayor,” he was brought down several notches after getting “ripped to shreds” by Yaroslavsky at a county commission meeting.

Yaroslavsky counseled those in the Council Chamber today to work for the interest of “people we don’t see,” because they do not actively reach out to government officials.

“The people who can hire advocates and lawyers to come get to the city or county government — frankly they can pretty much take care of themselves,” Yaroslavsky said. “But it’s the people … who are on the margins of society,” such as the poor, mentally ill, homeless, as well as abused children and the elderly.

The same obligation should be paid to “the average working stiff in our communities … who shouldn’t go the extra mile to get the attention of their government,” he said. “They think that’s what they pay us to do, and they’re right. And it’s not easy to be about those folks, and it’s not easy saying no to our friends.”

Koretz recounted Yaroslavsky’s first bid to join the City Council that resulted in an unlikely victory over a pair of politically power opponents, Roz Wyman and Frances M. Savitch, who was backed by then-Mayor Tom Bradley. His win made him the youngest member of the governing body at the time — at the age of 26 — as well the third youngest ever to get elected to the governing body.

The “relatively unknown” candidate “wasn’t supposed to get elected. He wasn’t even supposed to finish third,” said Koretz, who served as Yaroslavsky’s “lawn-sign coordinator” during the campaign.

“He had a few rabbis and a few community people, and he just worked his tail off,” Koretz said.

Prior to running for City Council, the Boyle Heights-born Yaroslavsky was best known for advocating on behalf of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union while a UCLA student, and later, as director of the Southern California Council on Soviet Jewry in 1971, when he led a boat into Los Angeles harbor to paint the words “Let My People Go” on the side of a Soviet ship.

In addition to today’s recognition, Koretz is lobbying to name a playground in Holmby Hills’ Holmby Park after Yaroslavsky.

The Metro Board, the regional transportation panel that he sits on, also recently voted to rename the North Hollywood Red Line station after him.

City News Service

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