Monday, December 15, 2014


Monrovia, California

December 15, 2014

It has been raining in southern California, which, for the benefit of my readers from places like the Eastern US and Europe, is a sort of significant event.  A couple of weeks ago there were two straight days of rain, bringing the annual total rainfall since July 1 from practically nothing to something like 2.3 inches.  That's was quite a deluge by LA standards.  Friday it rained again, adding another inch or so and catapulting us past the average for this time of year.  I think the average for an entire year (measured from July 1 to June 30) is about 12-15 inches. Los Angeles and environs would be expected to get a lot more rain than the areas east of the city, what with moisture coming off the ocean and all that.  (Palm Springs, about 100 miles inland, averages less than 5 inches a year.)  The rainy season, such as it is, is in the winter months, and from about April through November it rains so seldom that when it sprinkles for a few minutes I find myself looking skyward, slightly perturbed, thinking, "What's this? Did a jet empty its holding tank or something?"

Of course the newspapers will bitch, as they're wont to do, that this isn't going to relieve the drought, which has been several years in the making, but hell, what do they want, no rain?  Because this is the desert, or at least the edge of it, when it's dry for long stretches the soil gets hard packed and less absorbent, so there will be some flooding problems.  Most of the storm drains have been dry forever, and probably are filled with debris and animal nests and God knows what else, since why would anyone think to check them out on the otherwise endless sunny days?  Like fixing a leaking roof when it's not raining.  Oh, and then there are the mudslides from the hills.  As they say, every silver cloud has a dark lining.  It seems to be in the nature of people to find a problem in the midst of a boon of some kind.  When it comes to the weather, everyone's a critic.

You know it's a generally dry area when you can remember the last time it rained hard (here you Easterners may read "moderately and steadily, for most of the day"),  And I do remember it, with particularity.  It was in the fall of 2013, and on that day as well as a week ago Tuesday I was walking the half mile or so from a parking lot in Chinatown to the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration where I ply my current trade as a mediator, all dressed up in my fancy duds.  My Sunday-go-to-meetin' suit, as Jed Clampett might say.  I had a big umbrella both times, but got soaked from the thighs down.  Since I only work two or three days a week you could call this a coincidence, but I prefer to think of it as my personal sacrifice to the rain gods.

All of which brings me gradually, a drop at a time, to my main topic.  Speaking of Jed Clampett, and actually more generally of old situation comedies from my childhood and that of most of the folks who read this, I'm reminded of something.  As I've mentioned before in this blog the mighty County of Los Angeles is ruled by a board of five supervisors, one elected from each of five districts that divide it into chunks containing about 2 million people each.  That of course means there are 10 million souls in this county alone, making it the most populous county in the nation.  In fact, if LA County were a state it would rank eighth in population in the US.  And most of these souls are crammed into the lower third of the county in a vast and often ugly expanse of overpriced one- and two-story dwellings.

These five supervisor's districts vary greatly in geographic size and shape, so as to be fairly equal in population, but are gerrymandered somewhat to achieve representation by some of the county's  major ethnic groups .  There's the predominantly African American 2nd District that covers the central and southern part of the city of Los Angeles and adjacent communities--Compton, Inglewood, Hawthorne, etc.  Its supervisor is Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was once the head of the LA branch of the SCLC.  Then there's the heavily Hispanic 1st District, including East LA and several other communities, whose supervisor is a woman named Hilda Solis.  The 4th District, headed by a guy named Don Knabe, sort of wraps around the chin of the county.  The 5th District, where I live, covers the San Gabriel Valley, Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale, and the vast two-thirds of the land mass of the county north of the mountains, which has comparatively few people.  Its supervisor is Michael Antonovich, the longest serving supervisor, who for some odd reason began to be called "mayor" as well as supervisor a few weeks back.  The Mayor of the Board of Supervisors, I guess, whatever the hell that means.  Finally there is the 3rd District, covering the more affluent west side communities and the northern part of the city--including Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Bel Air, the San Fernando Valley, and Malibu, This district is home to much of the Jewish community, the Russian mob, actors and would-be actors, Scientologists, wackos and grifters, and women with artificially-created fish lips and apple cheeks--in other words, what most outsiders imagine when they think of Los Angeles.  In November's election that district's long-time former supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, who was term limited, was replaced by a 73-year-old woman named Sheila Kuehl.
Here I should pause to confess my comparative ignorance of exactly how the County governs itself.  There are, of necessity, overlapping jursidictional matters.  The City of Los Angeles and dozens of other cities have their own governments.  But there are many areas that are directly run and policed by the County.  My ignorance is especially glaring given the fact that I sort of work for the LA County Department of Consumer Affairs.  Technically this isn't true, since I'm employed by a temp agency that contracts with the County, but for all practical purposes I'm a County employee, going to work at the central County building, named after a guy named Kenneth Hahn, who was once a long-serving supervisor, and who is now dead, which is what generally precedes getting a building named after you.  This quintumvirate of county supervisors occupy offices on the 8th floor, the penthouse, of the self-same block-long building in which I work in the basement.  They are rarely if ever seen, sort of like the Great and Powerful Oz.  In fact the only one I've met is Mark Ridley-Thomas, who spoke at some mediation conference I had to attend, and whose mere presence at the conference seemed to be a big deal and to lend great credence to the mediation program. He was on that occasion down on the 1st floor of the same building where he and I both work, although he didn't seem to quite know where he was.  He was accompanied by two guys who seemed to be his bodyguards or handlers, and who, if they had been wearing bow ties instead of neckties, would have resembled denizens of the Nation of Islam.  It  didn't seem to me that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas had ever been on the 1st floor before.  I think the supervisors have their own private elevator from the underground garage to the 8th floor.  I should add that his remarks at the conference were brief and pointless.

I'm not sure how much actual work the supervisors do, since they employ a County Executive to do  the day-to day-stuff.  You don't see them at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and they don't get the press that the Mayor of Los Angeles or the always-under-the-gun sheriff get.  They probably like it that way.  I guess they're sort of like the board of directors of a huge corporation, content to know among themselves that they wield considerable power, that their votes can ratify labor contracts, decide tax and zoning issues, build (or not build) jails and other buildings, and determine how much money goes for social services, parks and recreation, and infrastructure of all kinds.  They can't fire the sheriff, who is separately elected, but I think they can tighten or loosen the Sheriff Department's purse strings more or less at will and harass him with investigations if they wish to.  Any investigation into the activities of the LA County Sheriff's Department is bound to cause at least a minir shit storm, since like most large municipal police forces it is as corrupt and ruthless as the day is long.  The supervisors meet weekly and/or monthly in a room somewhere in the building--I think on the 4th floor--where they confront the people, great and small, who petition them, and take up the weighty matters of the county.  They also have local offices within their districts.  But as to how much real work they do--well, who knows?  They could work their asses off, or pretty much let the county run itself, like most governments do.  I do know that whenever we mediators hear the word "supervisor" we're supposed to more or less drop everything and genuflect.

But back to the recently-elected 3rd District Supervisor, Sheila Kuehl.  It turns out that Sheila Kuehl was the actress who played Zelda Gilroy on the old sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, from 1959 to 1963.  She acted under the name Sheila James then.  Her character Zelda was this smart girl who was very fond of Dobie, who in turn always had his eye on some unattainable beauty like Thalia Menninger, played by Tuesday Weld.  Zelda always sat next to Dobie in class, and scrunched her nose at him and called him Poopsie.  Dobie's sidekick was Maynard G. Krebs, played by Bob Denver, who went on to be Gilligan on Gilligan's Island, a vastly inferior show.  And there was Dobie's nemesis Chatsworth Osborne, Jr., played by Steve Franken, who died a couple of years ago and was the subject of a posting on this blog.

Electing former actors to high office is nothing new in California politics, as we all know.  Two of the state's governors were actors, and one even went on to become President of the United States (I forget his name).  As for Sheila Kuehl, now Supervisor Kuehl, she seems to have had a career characterized by more integrity and quality than some other local actors-turned-politicians.  After Dobie Gillis ended, she continued to play parts here and there on TV shows, until she quit show business in the early 1970s.  Like her character Zelda, she was smart as a whip, and graduated from UCLA and went on to get her law degree from Harvard, after which she came back to LA and practiced law for the next couple of decades.  Then in about 1994 she was elected to the California General Assembly as an openly gay candidate, perhaps the first in the state.  In 2000 she was elected to the state senate and served two terms there.  Then this year she edged out the former Mayor of Santa Monica, Bobby Shriver (Maria Shriver's brother and the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy), for the 3rd District Supervisor position.    

My hope is to encounter my new boss Sheila Kuehl, a remnant of my past when I sat in front of the TV every week to watch Dobie and Maynard G. Krebs and Zelda, and of course Dobie's longsuffering parents, Herbert T. and Winifred Gillis.  Chances are not great that this will happen, since I am only one of almost 100,000 county employees (not all of whom work in my building by any means).  I suppose I could go up to the 8th floor and just say hi.  I don't know how it's set up, but I might have to make an appointment, and more than likely she wouldn't be there anyway.  The supervisors do, as I said, convene weekly or monthly or something in their stately hearing room, but I think it's while I'm busy working. I'm hoping for a chance meeting in the parking garage as I walk across to the Superior Court building in the morning.  Sheila is no longer the perky teenager she was on TV as Zelda Gilroy, but if you look at the photos accompanying this posting you'll see that in her eyes and her nose she's the same person.

Since there are at least two generations after me, including most of my coworkers, who have no idea who Dobie Gillis or Zelda Gilroy were, those of us who do remember her as Zelda are becoming rarer with the passing years, and although she probably regards her political career and her present position as more important than that of a teenage actress who called her costar Poopsie, for me it would be a delight to shake the hand of someone who graced my pre-teen television evenings, and to thank her for the memories.